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Resident stories

A woman in wartime

Written by Margot Taylor
on April 23, 2021

When Jessie Reed’s older brother Graeme was flying dive bomber planes overseas Jessie was inspired to serve Australia too.

“I realised women could contribute a lot to the needs of the services, particularly because I had that association with Graeme being in the air force already,” she said.

In 1943, when Jessie was 19-years-old, she became one of 27,000 Australian women to join the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF).

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Going from a job as an office worker, to the WAAF, Jessie soon realised her new fulltime volunteer role required her to “work wherever and whenever they needed”.

“It wasn’t a nine to five job, we were enlisted and some of us would pack parachutes, others would make uniforms, it was whatever they needed done,” Jessie said.

Women working in the WAAF were placed in one of more than 70 different musterings, ranging from driving trucks to electrical and gas work.

“I was fortunate enough that I was posted in Melbourne and the section where I was allotted was an office area, so I found there wasn’t a great deal of difference between what I had been doing in the civilian world.

“I was still able to live with my parents in Hawthorn and do most of the work in central Melbourne.

“We wore a deep blue tunic type uniform, you felt very well-turned-out in it.”

While Jessie did not think much about the sacrifice she was making to be in the WAAF, her and Graeme’s enlistment had a significant impact on their mother, Elizabeth MacDonald.

“Our mother was really very worried because she personally was afraid of flying,” Jessie said.

“She was very good at accepting that this was part of the work we had to do, but it wasn’t an easy life for her and in that respect, it wasn’t an easy life for us because we didn’t like to see our mother concerned.”

Jessie can clearly recall being in Melbourne’s CBD when news the war was over broke.

“People were running through the streets and waving hats, others were calling out to each other ‘it’s over, it’s all over!’ it was wonderful and quite inspiring in many ways.”

After the war ended Jessie remained in the WAAF until it was demobilised in 1947.

“When the war was over, we were released,” she said.

“We could stay on as service girls, but we didn’t have the same sort of standing as an enlisted person.”

The WAAF forced her to grow up quickly.

“I learnt a lot of things I hadn’t been aware of as a 19-year-old. It was a good part of our lives.

“You look back with a lot of appreciation that you were able to be in the right place at the right time.”

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