Girl Guides in Wartime

With the approach of ANZAC Day, there’s always a lot of interest in our wartime history, so this week we’ll be talking about how Girl Guides contributed during World War II. Check out our earlier posts about Girl Guides WA’s efforts in World War I here and World War II here.

Women’s Land ArmyAWLA

From the outbreak of World War II, women had taken positions left vacant on the land by men enlisting. In 1942, the Commonwealth Government felt the need for a coordinated scheme.

Sally Carlton had been a Brownie, Guide and Ranger Leader since 1930, as well as a Trainer, and she was the Western Australian delegate in Sydney at the conference to organise this scheme.

On her return to Perth, a meeting of young women was called and over 300 hundred gathered at Thomas St School. The majority volunteered for work on the land. Very soon, groups of girls were working in country areas to harvest flax, pick tomatoes, and assist in the tobacco industry. Some worked singly and other in pairs on farms and stations in the dairy or cattle industry, sheep husbandry and poultry raising. 396 women served the nation in this state as full time members of the AWLA.

Women’s Army Service

Colonel S.H. Irving, with WA members of the Australian Women's Army Service draft. Image: Australian War Memorial.

Colonel S.H. Irving, with WA members of the Australian Women’s Army Service draft. Image: Australian War Memorial.

The Controller of the Australian Women’s Army Service (AWAS) in 1941-1942, was Miss Sybil Howy Irving, State Secretary of Girl Guides Victoria from 1924-1940. With no official training she was appointed to the rank equal to Lieutenant Colonel on the basis of her family background and her Girl Guides training!

She set about selecting 28 women from Guide Leaders, knowing they could handle young women, as the nucleus of the AWAS. These women, with Lt-Col. Irving, did their training at Guide House, Yarra Junction, in Victoria.  Overall, she successfully established a framework for 24,000 women soldiers.

*For more information see Patsy Adam-Smith’s Australian Women at War. (1984)

Signalling Training

Initially in World War II, Naval signal men were trained in Morse code and Semaphore by Girl Guide Leaders in Sydney. The woman who organised this group of trainers was a Guiding woman from NSW, and the wife of a Naval Commander.

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