I sat down last week with Aussie grown, Ness Leal, from Murray Bridge to listen to her honourable story of serving in the WAAF division of the Air Force.
A little while ago I had heard in passing conversation that Ness had not only served in the Air Force but had achieved a status at the top of her class. When I heard this, I had an instant desire to talk to Ness and find out more.
She agreed to meet with me, and I couldn’t have been more thrilled, I live for these stories. It is just simply, a time so different from now.
Something that might seem common or accepted to us in 2019, like a woman joining the military, was monumental in Ness’ time in the 1940s.
When Ness was growing up, she was the sibling to four boys. Education was not valued for women back then. She graduated Primary school and that was the extent of her education…until the military.
“Now I didn’t sign on for long, only 12 months in 1942, this was a time prior to conscription for full time service.”
“I was stationed at Victor Harbour as a cook, the men were flying out and taking the food out to the islands, where they were fighting.”
“When I began, I was only one of two WAAF cooks and there were ten RAAF (men) cooks.”
“The WAAF’s were known as the Women Auxiliary Australian Air Force, and we were employed in jobs that the men formerly performed, so that Australia could release the men for service and combat.”
“By the time my 12 months had come to an end, there were only two RAAF (men) cooks and at least twelve WAAF.”
So, you could see how important Ness’ role was for her time, an honoured job to be releasing men for combat.
“There is no WAAF now, in fact, just after I left, the division became the Women’s Royal Australian Air Force. Of course, now it is all just called the RAAF and women can perform any job they please.”
During her time serving, Ness met her husband, Cecil, who she affectionately tells me was a “foot-slogger” in the army.
“He should have never been able to join up because he was Railway Fire Fighter on the Eyre Peninsula, which was considered another form of servicemen or essential services.”
“But he wanted to join and so he told the military he was only a labourer, and he got in.”
“He was age 24 and I was only 18… there’s another story for you!”
Ness picks up a pitch in her voice that wasn’t there before, a hint of mischievousness I would call it.
“I had only met him once before we started writing to each other, I was in Melbourne after that, while he was off taking his commanders course.”
“On the fifth time we met…we got married!”
Ness is a proud war-widow, mother and matriarch of five generations beneath her.
She is lovingly known by her great grandchildren as “Old Nan”.