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1941 - 1947
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Tasmania was the first home for the Australian Women's Army Service.
The Australian Women's Army Service (AWAS) was formed in 1941 to enable men to be released from certain military duties in Australia so they could be employed in fighting units overseas.
The first AWAS Training School commenced at Fahan School, Sandy Bay, on 12 January 1942, and was the first training school for women military personnel in the Commonwealth. Rookies also trained at: Elwick Race Course; "Alverstoke", in New Town; and St Michael's Collegiate, Hobart.
It soon became apparent a permanent camp was needed. Garrison troops vacated a Broadmarsh camp for the AWAS who were transported from Hobart on an army lorry. On arrival at Broadmarsh the women received their uniforms along with their tin utensils, palliases (mattresses they had to fill with straw) and a blanket. Gradually beds arrived and china replaced the tin utensils. In April 1943, the camp was moved to the main military camp at Brighton.
By the end of 1943, 500 women in Tasmania had enlisted in the AWAS. By the end of the war, there were over 24 000 women enlisted in the AWAS throughout Australia undertaking non-combatant roles such as clerks, cooks, anti-aircraft gunners, search light operators, ambulance drivers and signals operators.
In 1944, a few Voluntary Aid Detachments (VAD) were selected to join the Royal Australian Nursing Corp (RANC) in the Middle East. On returning to Australia, they were transferred to the Australian Army Medical Women's Service (AAMWS). In October 1944, Cabinet approved the posting of a maximum of 500 AWAS to New Guinea, 25 Tasmanians were chosen to go. Two Tasmanian AWAS members were subsequently Mentioned in Dispatches: Major Margaret Spencer and Sergeant Gwen Turmine.
After the war, the AWAS raised money for various charities. On 30 June 1947, AWAS and AAMWS were demobilised. In 1956, an Ex-AWAS and AAMWS Association was formed in Tasmania. The final meeting of this Association was 6 October 2001.
The Hobart ex-AWAS association was disbanded in 2005.
Photo Credit: Australian Women's Army Service, 1945, AWM091457