A WAAAF in Townsville
by Ena Sugden

Record of Service and Some Observations

Helen Ena Suttie (later Sugden)  TOWNSVILLE 1942-44

IRPP Townsville   8/9/42
W/T Station Townsville 9/9/42
12 Sigs Unit  Townsville 7/12/42
W/T Station Townsville 15/5/44

I had no idea I had been posted to these units as I remained in the same Sturt St. building of Sigs unit in Townsville!!

On a few occasions I was taken by “tender” on duty to a secret abode, where exactly in Townsville I do not know, as it was always at night, evening shift or “dogwatch”, 5pm until midnight or midnight until 8am.

The room where I operated the cipher machine also contained a teleprinter which was connected to the main sig. station in Townsville.

An Air Operators room was adjacent with a hatch between. An aerial photo of this place shows a house with garden gate and fence, a bee hive, looking just like a normal house would look. We worked underground, air conditioned. 

Our barracks were a complete block, St Patrick’s Convent on The Strand.

The first accommodation we took over was the “Little Flower Academy”

Later occupying St Patrick’s then another building next to what which housed WAAAF Officers and then St. Rita’s where I moved to a few months on and remained until I left Sept. 1944.

Initially 41 Squadron occupied St Patrick’s which was ghastly as when we would come off “dog watch” to sleep one was in a bed on the verandah up stairs in the “Little Flower Academy” with mosquito net down, I would crawl along the floor to bed so as not to be seen. I could always sleep but at 4 – ish in the afternoon one would be wakened with “Wakey wakey, time to get up !”,  voices from the opposite  upper verandah of St. Pats by the 41 Squadron boys . That didn’t last too long because the WAAAF took over St Pat’s.  Our mess was downstairs and accommodation upstairs.

The signal station was staffed by WAAAF and RAAF for the first six or so months, but after then completely by WAAAF officers and other ranks of WAAAF. Prior to that time RAAF officers were O.C. of the shift. When I first went to Townsville we worked:-

Day shift 8am to 5pm
Evening shift 5pm until midnight
“Dog watch” midnight to until 8am

These hours played havoc with girls who could not sleep during the day coming off “dog watch”.  I always had my 7 or 8 hours sleep. Later on four shifts were introduced with 2 days off as opposed to 3 shifts with 1 day off. The health of the girls improved.

The convent where I spent my barracked time, firstly “Little Flower” then St. Rita’s where I spent most of my time were (I believe still are) in the same block on the Strand.

The Catholic Church was behind St Rita’s. A hole in the fence was very handy to go through from St. Rita’s through the church yard to the side street if you didn’t have a leave pass.

On leaving the mess after lunch on 7th September 1943, I walked out the front and a lass standing there said “A plane has crashed into the water”

Sure enough, much activity occurred and the water was being churned up by boats appearing on the scene. Later learned it was a Catalina, it had been to Merauke. Air Commodore Cobby was on board. He had an office upstairs in our sig. building. I decoded a signal from someone congratulating him on his award of George Medal some days later. Not long after this episode a chap form 41 Squadron approached a few of us (WAAAF’s) to come out in their crash boat to visit a US Navy LCI as the two officers on board would like to meet some Australian women.

Five of us went out in the crash boat onto the LCI one evening. The skipper was Lieut. Jack Kennedy and his 2IC was Stanislous Kepner. My friend Olive Duncan and I went out on quite a few occasions over about a month.

I was always intrigued as to how the LCI arrived in Townsville and for what purpose. Maybe if a website was established we could find out more about the ship.

Having read PT-109 by Donovan I see where Jack Kennedy spent the time of one month to reconvert PT-59, the refitting being completed on 7th October 1943.

Olive and I were told Jack was returning to the States?? Naturally, war time, movements were not discussed.


Was President John F. Kennedy
ever in Townsville during WW2?

I'd doubt it.



I'd like to thank Dick Sugden for his assistance with this home page.


Can anyone help me with more information?


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This page first produced 2 May 2005

This page last updated 15 January 2020