Autumn 2005

St Marys & District Historical Society Inc - Quarterly Newsletter


The Soldiers - Gallipoli

Down some cold field in a world unspoken
the young men are walking together, slim and tall,
and though they laugh to one another, silence is not broken;
there is no sound however clear they call.

They are speaking together of what they loved in vain here,
but the air is too thin to carry the things they say.
They were young and golden, but they came on pain here,
and their youth is age now, their gold is grey.

Yet their hearts are not changed, and they cry to one another,
'What have they done with the lives we laid aside?
Are they young with our youth, gold with our gold, my brother?
Do they smile in the face of death, because we died?'

Down some cold field in a world uncharted
the young seek each other with questioning eyes.
They question each other, the young, the golden hearted,
of the world that they were robbed of in their quiet paradise.

Humbert Wolfe, Requiem: The Soldier (1916)

See you at the dawn ceremony 5.30 am 25th April - St
Marys RSL
& Don’t forget the Veteran’s march in St Marys on the
17th April, at
2.30 pm at Victoria Park

Page No. 1

WWII - St Marys Women

Every year during March, when women around the world celebrate International Women’s Day, Women’s History Month is dedicated to remembering and celebrating the extraordinary variety of women who have contributed to Australia in earlier centuries, and in recent years.

During 2005 three anniversaries are to be remembered - sixty years since the ending of WW2, 90 years since the ANZACS landed at Gallipoli and 30 years since Vietnam. When we talk of past wars, we instinctively think of our men at war and often overlook the participation of our women folk who served in our armed forces.

“Fellow Australians, it is my melancholy duty to inform you officially, that in consequence of a persistence by Germany in her invasion of Poland, Great Britain has declared war upon her and that as a result, Australia is also at war”.

On the 3rd September 1939, Prime Minister Robert Menzies gave the above address to the nation. World War Two had broken out two days earlier when Germany invaded Poland. After Britain and France declared war on Germany, Australia (part of the British Empire), promptly followed suit. It would be six years before Australia and the world, was at peace again.

War service would take Australians to virtually every corner of the world. Nearly one million served in the armed services (Navy, Army and Air Force) or Merchant Marine, otherwise known as the Merchant Navy.

Australians served on two ‘fronts’ – in war zones and on the home front. About half the Australian servicemen and women saw active service, with the rest manning coastal defences and headquarters. Women could serve only in the Australian Army Nursing Service and Voluntary Aid Detachments (supporting nurses) but from mid-1941 women began serving in non-medical roles in all three armed forces, performing military duties for the most part within Australia, as well as serving in the air force and naval nursing services.

Listed below are the names of several women who were born at St Marys and enlisted in our Armed Services:
Captain Nellie Gray “Timmy” LUKE - Australian Army
Private Nancy Joan COBCROFT - Australian Army
Aircraftwoman Dorothy May SAINSBURY - Royal Australian Air Force
Aircraftwoman Joan Croftan COTGRAVE - Royal Australian Air Force
Aircraftwoman Daphne Brenda BROWN - Royal Australian Air Force
Aircraftwoman Joan STEIN - Royal Australian Air Force
Signalman Doreen Lily PORTER - Australian Womens Army Service
Signalman Audrey May BASEDOW - Australian Womens Army Service
Private Barbara Dorothy Anne McINTOSH - AAMWS (AIF)

AWAS: Australian Women’s Army Service. In July 1941 the Australian Army received approval to recruit women into an auxiliary force to be known as the Australian Women’s Army Service or AWAS. On 13 August, 1941, the War Cabinet approved in principle the formation of the Australian Women’s Army Service (AWAS).

Page No. 2

The Army started to recruit single women ages 18 to 45 years old in August 1941 through the Women’s National Voluntary Registry. Initially widows with dependent children were allowed to enlist but this ceased in 1943. The Australian Women’s Army Service became operation in October 1941.

Preference was given to women with signals and administrative skills. They were paid wages equal to two-thirds that of their male equivalent. They were restricted to service within Australia.

The AWAS had their own rank and administrative arrangement and they reported to the Chief of General Staff (CGS). The Commanding Officer or “Controller” of the AWAS was equivalent to a Lieutenant Colonel.

Approximately 24,000 women enlisted in the AWAS during WW2 - 3,618 of these served with the Royal Australian Artillery (RAA) and 3,600 with the Corps of Signals

By 1945 some women were allowed to serve at the advanced headquarters in Lae, while some others were sent to Hollandia.

AAMWS: Australian Army Medical Women’s Service. Nurses in the AAMWS served in operational battle fields in the South West Pacific area during WW2.

276 AAMWS Officers and 4,418 other ranks served in Australia during WW2 and 41 AAMWS Officers and 416 other ranks served outside of Australia.

WW2 Overview
WW2 Nominal Roll
Women’s History Month Australia –
Researched & submitted by member Carol Volkiene


“AHS Centaur”
The loss of the hospital ship “AHS Centaur” sunk by a Japanese submarine in the Pacific during World War 2.

Member Ernie Evans, had a brother John, who was part of the medical personnel aboard the unarmed, brilliantly lit Centaur, who lost his life along with 267 of the 332 non-combatants which included 11 of the 12 female nurses. The only nurse who survived was Sister Savage. The ship went down in 3 minutes

There are many unanswered questions as to why the Centaur was so close to the Brisbane coastline in 1943, off Moreton Island and not 110 miles offshore as ordered. Ernie said that one of John’s mates who survived visited his mother for some time after the war.

Ernie said that there is also “hearsay” that there was a troopship close to the Centaur at the time of the sinking and that was the target, not the hospital ship.

Few people today are aware of the war at sea which raged along the Australian coastline during World War II. A total of forty-one allied ships were sunk adjacent to our shoreline by the actions of mine laying German surface raiders (Pinquin, Atlantis, and Kormoran) and Japanese submarines.

Page No. 3

Naval and merchant seamen were losing their lives only a few kilometres beyond the beaches. This silent war was kept from the knowledge of the Australian public at the time to prevent panic and the loss of morale.

Most attacks took place in the years 1942 to 1944 when Japanese submarines operating from the forward base of occupied Guam prowled the eastern and northern seaboard.

These were large vessels, often equipped with a small spotting aircraft which flew reconnaissance flights over Newcastle and Sydney. They were 1-21, 1-24, 1-27, 1-76, 1-77, 1- 181 and others.

By day they hid at sea beyond the continental shelf in deep water and approached the coast by night or in rough weather to harry shipping.

The loss on 19 November 1941 of the light cruiser HMAS Sydney off Geraldton, Western Australia with the loss of 645 naval seamen was the most severe. St Marys lost a favourite son, Reggie Cot, who went down with the ship.
Information courtesy of Tweed Heads & District Historical Society website.



Our President, Norma Thorburn who has received the “Citizen of the Year” award for 2005 from Penrith Council on Australia Day.

Our Patron, Sister Mary Louise Petro who was named on the state’s first honour role to mark International Women’s Day and she also received the UWS (University of Western Sydney) award “Woman of the West”.


The St Marys & District Historical Society meets every 4th Saturday at 1 pm - at the St Marys Arts & Craft Centre 2 - 6 Mamre Road, St Marys.


Website -

This Newsletter is a free publication. Articles in this Newsletter may be republished if permission is given by the Society.

Please contact:-



Norma Thorburn 9623-2307

Lyn Forde 9673-3506

(While care is taken to ensure that all articles are accurate, the opinions expressed in this newsletter are not necessarily those of the Society) Any comments on this Newsletter are encouraged


Editor & Publisher: Lyn Forde

Page No. 4