Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 40, September 1996
By Lola Tye
I joined the NZ WAAC in October 1942 and at first we were billeted at the YWCA in Upper Queen Street, Auckland, until the barracks at Alexandra Park were ready. That first night there were 12 in the basement and all but me smoked in bed. At Alexandra Park later we had four to a hut in two tiers of bunks. When it rained the drips came down the inside of the weatherboards. There was an initial period of six weeks while we all learnt drill and Morse Code. Then I was posted to HQ in the old Teacher's Training College in Auckland until after the Battle of the Coral Sea.
When the war moved further away I went back to Signals base. You get no choices in the Army and I was surprised to be put in charge of the canteen. I didn't even know the difference between cigarette and pipe tobacco. However the boys soon told me! I wasn't there too long before I was sent with a group to Army School at Trentham to learn instrument mechanics, basic electricity and engineering for servicing the telephones and radios.
By the time we left Trentham we were repairing field telephones and tank radios which came back from the Pacific. During this time a group of us applied for Overseas Service. There were a few months back at Northern District Signals. The base had been shifted to an old home in Mountain Road. There I worked with the Transport Section fixing walkie talkies and field telephones for the cadets at secondary school until sent to Miramar for three weeks training and injections for the 15th Reinforcements.
We left Wellington on 21 April 1945, 50 WAAC and 4000 troops on the ship, "Empress of Scotland". We called at Melbourne where we picked up 30 Voluntary Aids (from an Hospital ship which had been diverted to the Pacific) and various odds and ends from the Pacific front but had no shore leave. Time passed on board very happily. From 2-3pm each day there was a dance on deck. It was great fun. The girls were ushered in, the music started, the ropes were lifted and the men swooped in! After two dances the deck was cleared and another unit was given the chance to dance!
At Colombo we had 3 hours leave. VE day came and we were in the middle of the Indian Ocean. We celebrated as best we could and at night there was dancing.
On 15 May 1945 we arrived at Maadi Camp in the desert. We were housed in five long buildings with two to a cubicle and six tents, an ablution block and Mess Hut. I was drafted to 'records'. The movements of each soldier were recorded as in a double entry system and we were kept very busy as we had, not only to record movements of the Middle East troops, but also those returning from Italy and the prisoners of war who came back through Maadi Camp. Then there was the working out of all the ribbons and medals and stars for each soldier before they were embarked for New Zealand.
It was busy but not all work and we enjoyed visits to other units and South Africans, particularly we felt akin to Kiwis. We had motion pictures and leave huts where there was always entertainment and some trips out at weekends and the clubs. In December we had 14 days leave in Palestine, altogether a great experience.
The day the ship left Port Said for New Zealand with the last of the New Zealand troops from Maadi five of us WAACs were embarked on the "Dunotta Castle" to sail to the United Kingdom and London headquarters. The ship was returning from Palestine with mainly British troops. We called at Malta and Naples but did not have any leave. We passed by Gibraltar and the Bay of Biscay, which was very calm, as was the English Channel when we anchored off the Isle of Wight. It was an emotional moment for the British troops - they were home again. For us it was the beginning of a new adventure. It was 13 February 1946.
Our Officers met us at Southampton and ushered us up to London and to the Fernleaf club in Knightsbridge. We were given a week's disembarkation leave, plus a free rail warrant. I drew mine for Inverness!
Records work was similar. There were still units coming through from Italy and there were lots of Kiwis who had taken study-leave in UK. At the beginning we worked from 9 00 am to 6 00 pm, six days a week but it wasn't long before we organised to have every second weekend on leave so that we could explore England. The spring was beautiful. Our route to work lay along the Mall, past Buckingham Palace to the Strand and we watched the buds thicken on the trees - not just burst out as they do here.
The Kiwi Football team had a playing tour in England and part of my job was to go to Tilbury to embark troops returning to New Zealand. The Kiwi Team was terrible. We would check them going up one gang plank and they would come down the other. As the ship sailed we just hoped that they were all on board.
Then there was the Victory Parade. We sat in the Mall under the New Zealand flag all night so as to get a good view and lots of compatriots came to talk to us. We could see the dais so had a really good view of the Parade and there were fireworks at night over the Thames.
We had another week's leave in the autumn. I went to see my mother's relatives in Ireland. Late in the year I received news of my father's illness and applied to return home, where I arrived on 6 December 1946. After one month's leave I was demobbed in January 1947.