TOWNSVILLE WAAAF RECRUIT COURSE
By April 1942, the Fifth Air Force, USAAC was rapidly establishing itself in Townsville which was becoming a major repair, maintenance and supply base for the Americans. A number of Senior American officers were posted to Townsville. As there were not enough American service personnel in the area to act as drivers, Section Officer Rentoul received an instruction from the Air Officer Commanding North-Eastern Area to conduct a WAAAF recruit course using local enlistments. This had the prime purpose of providing 12 drivers for the US Forces in the Townsville area.
The American Officers treated their WAAAF drivers much less formally than RAAF Officers would. This gave Section Officer Rentoul, some challenges in maintaining the high standard of dress, behaviour and morale that she demanded for all her WAAAF personnel.
This course was the only WAAAF Recruit Course in Townsville during WW2. Members of this course were as follows:-
|ENLISTMENT NAME||CHRISTIAN NAME||MARRIED NAME||SERVICE NO.||ROLE|
DMT = Driver Motor Transport
OPS = Operations
ACW Jan Arthur was a regular driver for General Kenneth Walker, USAAC, the Commanding Officer of Fifth Bomber Command.
Lorna Mittelheuser was one of the recruits for this WAAAF Recruit course in Townsville. Here's her story:-
"Early 1942 I submitted an application to join the Air Force and within a very short space of time I had been to Townsville for interviews, medical check etc and called up to join a small group (about 15, I think) of north Queensland women who had also volunteered. St. Anne's Church of England School was to be our home and we were trained there for a week in Air Force procedure and drill on the tennis court. One photo shows some of us being inspected one morning but others were on duty and not present. Our officer in charge was F/O Rintoul who was followed later by S/O Stark."
"Some of the girls became D.M.T.'s and the remainder were to become signal or cypher clerks. The Chief Signals Officer at that time, (I think it was W/Cdr. Eric Read & others were Minchin, Gronow, Cunningham - most were permanent Air Force men) wanted an office secretary and as I could type and take shorthand, that became my appointment. In those days (Coral Sea Battle time) NEAHQ was the northernmost command and included New Guinea. The C.S.O. was a Wing Commander and had a number of officers responsible for different signals area - ground installations, radar, equipment in aircraft etc - in offices of the Headquarters building. Later when the Americans came, each officer, including the C.S.O. had an equivalent American officer, but I had only to work with the Australians. I was on day shift except for once a month when I had to do all night duty to help handle urgent signals."
"During 1942 many more WAAAF arrived in Townsville & the Academy of the Little Flower on The Strand was opened up for WAAAF occupation. I was, by then an acting Corporal and was asked to go down there with some of the new arrivals. Each morning I had to march the day shift up from The Strand to the Headquarters building. One very pleasant advantage of this move was a room to myself at the top of the stairs and a view across The Strand to the waters of the bay.
A significant change occurred about February, 1943, when No. 12 Signals Unit was formed & signals personnel were transferred to it. However the C.S.O. and immediate staff still worked at NEA Headquarters building. I think about October 1943 a new officer was appointed to take charge of 12 Signals Unit and the C.S.O. and a few of his office staff, including myself, returned to the NEAHQ establishment and became part of Air Operations. This meant a change of work environment as rooms had been "dug out" into the back of Castle Hill with a camouflaged entrance. One of my photos shows office staff on the top of part of this camouflage and another one shows us waiting for transport. By this time too I had returned to live at St. Anne's.
"Whenever possible I would go to Magnetic Island on my days off as boats left the wharf in Ross River not far from the centre of town & within walking distance of St. Anne's & the Strand Barracks. The Air Force at Garbutt & other units around Townsville held dances & welcomed the WAAAF, arriving in open-sided vehicles. Many Army men were trained in areas around Townsville, especially the Bohle River. It was quite common for a WAAAF to know a member of one of the services "in transit" and there would be group meetings of some half a dozen of her friends with half a dozen of his. We'd enjoy each others company knowing full well we'd probably never meet again. When the Americans arrived they too held dances & as they had more money than our boys, the girls were far from reluctant to accept their hospitality. I became a Sergeant in 1943 and a small Sergeant's Mess was set up at St. Anne's in a room adjoining the tennis court. We were allowed to wear civilian dress on occasions.
"One officer on being transferred to Signals Research at Air Force Headquarters, St. Kilda Road, told me if I had to be transferred from Townsville and would like to go to Melbourne, to get the C.S.O. to let him know. By this time I was familiar with most of the technical terms sometimes used. He meant it too because in the middle of 1944 the word came that I had to leave the tropics. After some leave at home I reported to Sandgate and sure enough I was to go to Signals Research at Air Force Headquarters. It was winter & I only had khaki uniforms. All I got was a greatcoat until I reached Melbourne."
"I guess I should mention I was in Townsville when the Japanese planes came over & dropped bombs. There were slit trenches, not too stable, in the street outside St. Anne's & at that stage not so many WAAAF there, so we all got into them & watched the searchlights piercing the darkness & not knowing what was happening. Eventually the "all clear" sounded & we were allowed to return to out wire stretchers with hay filled sacks on them."
"I'm sure now that where we worked was Sidney St. & sometimes the term "Air Command" as well as "Air Operations" was used. Inside the heavy doors we were expected to keep to our own rooms & knew little of what else was there & security was stressed. I think the walls & floors were concrete with some sort of floor covering & there was a large "operations" room with maps on walls & tables, marked with coded pins. I have no recollection of an member of other Services being there on a regular basis. A couple of my friends were draughtsmen & spent their time drawing maps & charts but I never saw where they worked."
Left to Right in the line-up of recruits:- Lorna Mittelheuser, Betty Donaghue, Isobel Short, ?, Marjorie Cale, and Jan Arthur.
Close-up of the above photo.
On top of the camouflaged entrance to Air Operations, Sidney Street, West End, Townsville.
Back Row: Sgt. Joe Evans,
ACW Norma Hope-Pearson, ACW Betty Paul, Sgt. Lorna Mittelheuser, LAC Les Toohey.
Seated: LAC Bannister, ACW Mary Ayre and LAC Milton Moore (Sgt. Les Edwards was absent that day)
Waiting for transport near Air Operations, Sidney Street, West End.
Back Row: Stan Doley, Lorna Mittelheuser, Les Edwards, Betty Paul, Milton Moore, Joe Evans, Fran Hoy, and Les Toohey.
Front Rows: all unknown
I'd like to thank Lorna Crosswell (nee Mittelheuser) for her assistance with this home page.
I'd also like to thank Carmel Dollisson, daughter of Marjorie Dollisson (nee Cale), for her assistance with this web page.
Can anyone help me with more information?
"Australia @ War" WWII Research Products
© Peter Dunn 2015
This page first produced 7 May 2003
This page last updated 15 January 2020