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Australian Women's Army Service (AWAS)

later called the Women's Royal Australian Army Corps

The formation of the Australian Women's Army Service (AWAS) was authorised by the government on 13 August 1941 to "release men from certain military duties for employment in fighting units." 

The AWAS was the only non-medical women's service to send personnel overseas during the war; in 1944 and 1945 AWAS served in both Dutch and Australian New Guinea. 

Click to enlarge By 30 June 1947 all members of the AWAS had been demobilised. Facing a severe manpower shortage due to the demands of the Korean War and national service in a time of full employment, enlistment for the Women's Royal Australian Army Corps (WRAAC) began in April 1951. 

In the late 1970s female soldiers began to be integrated into the Army at large and in early 1984, the WRAAC was disbanded.

Early 1930s. A studio portrait of Miss Sybil Howy Irving MBE, who in 1941, was invited to form and administer the Australian Women's Army Service (AWAS) as the Controller of AWAS with the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel (Lt Col). In October 1941 Lt Col Irving set about selecting twenty-eight women as officers to form the nucleus of the AWAS. 

They were women selected for their proven leadership in their own trade, profession or in some form of community service. By 23 November 1941, these women together with Lt-Col Irving commenced training at Guide House, Yarra Junction, Victoria. 

At the conclusion of the training the officers were appointed to constitute the AWAS Headquarters and AWAS Training Schools in the various Army Commands. Eventually the AWAS numbered over 20,000. Before becoming the Controller of AWAS Miss Irving had been made a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in 1939 for her work as secretary for the Girl Guides Association, Victoria. The portrait shows Miss Irving in a nursing uniform however it is not clear when or if she served as a nurse and the AWAS had no medical role to play. (Donor J. Radford) 
Click to enlarge Melbourne, Australia. 1942-10. Rifle Drill For Members Of The Australian Women's Army Service Attached To An Anti-Aircraft Unit. Click to enlarge  << Belmont, Qld. 1944-01-09. Warrant Officer G. R. Page, instructing (1) Lance Bombardier L. Molloy (2); Gunner F. M. Fowler (3) and Gunner P. A. Holden (4); Australian Women's Army Service personnel in the handling of the Owen gun at the Australian Volunteer Defence Corps heavy anti-aircraft small arms training school.


Click to enlarge In July 1941 the Australian Army received approval to recruit women into an auxiliary force to be known as the Australian Women's Army Service or AWAS. 

On 13 August 1941, the War Cabinet approved in principle the formation of the Australian Women's Army Service (AWAS).

AWAS Uniform. Note the shoulder title and the colour patch

Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge The Army started to recruit single women aged 18 to 45 years old in August 1941 through the Women's National Voluntary Registry. 

Initially widows with dependent children were allowed to enlist but this ceased in 1943. 

The Australian Women's Army Service  became operational in October 1941.

Preference was given to women with signals and administrative skills. 

They were paid wages equal to two-thirds that of their male equivalent.

awas01.jpg (17396 bytes)

Melbourne, Australia. 1942-08. Driver Doreen Kirkpatrick, of the Australian Women's Army Service wearing her best uniform and smile.

They were restricted to service within Australia. 

The AWAS had their own rank and administrative arrangements and they reported to the Chief of General Staff (CGS).

 The Commanding Officer or "Controller" of the AWAS was equivalent to a Lieutenant Colonel.

Approximately 24,000 women enlisted in the AWAS during WW2. 3,618 of these served with the Royal Australian Artillery (RAA) and 3,600 with the Corps of Signals.  

By 1945 some women were allowed to serve at the advanced headquarters in Lae, while some other were sent to Hollandia.

uniform-awas.jpg (11282 bytes) Melbourne, Vic. 1944-11-06. The outdoor summer uniform worn by the Australian Women's Army Service.
Lae, New Guinea, 1945-05-07. Lieutenant-Colonel M.J. Spencer, Assistant Controller AWAS climbing the Jacob's ladder up the side of the MV Duntroon which bought a group of 342 AWAS from Australia. The AWAS will go to the AWAS barracks at Butibum Road. awas2.jpg (15954 bytes)
awas3.jpg (25753 bytes) Mareeba, QLD. 1945-02-26. Corporal J Daniel, (1), with Private J E Lovell, (2), and  Pte J Collins, (3), at 3 AWAS Barracks.
Click to enlarge

 After lectures at 3.30 p.m. a rush is made on the canteen where tea and soft drinks are served. (negative by Bottomley).

 A 1941 report on AWAS

It is expected that by the end of the year Australia will have 20,000 women in the uniform of the Australian women's army service. 

Already five thousand of these women are on the army strength and have been able to release an equivalent number of men for more active service in the field. 

Should the 20,000 objective be reached it will mean that an extra division of fighting troops will be available for service in the front line. 

So far the women's army has only been used for light duties on headquarter establishments where they have been able to take over the work of clerks, orderlies, cooks, waitresses and motor drivers. 

Recently, however, some have been taken into the signals section of the army and it is expected that others will eventually be trained in the use of anti-aircraft equipments. 

The rapid progress made in the organisation of the AWAS, and the success that has crowned their work, is an indication that the women of Australia are gallantly taking their part in what is gradually becoming an "all-in national war effort".

3 unidentified AWAS personnel.

WRAAC. Women's Royal Australian Army Corps - History 

  • The formation of the Women's Royal Australian Army Corps was to become a reality after World War II and
  • The disbandment of the Australian Women's Army Service (AWAS) in June 1947.

 WRAAC; Corps Badge

WRAAC Physical Training uniform (shirt & shorts)


25 March:
Consideration was made to re-establish the three Women's services, by the Australian Government.

15 July:
It was Cabinets decision for the approval of enlistment of women into the Army.

9 August:
A dress committee met on this date in 1950.

Rhys Williams was a former AWAS  was commissioned to design the uniforms. Rhys was also a fashion designer. Preference was given for the Highland Green.

Shoulder title of WAAC


Lieutenant Colonel Kathleen Best, OBE., RRS., became the founding Director of the newly formed Women's Australian Army Corps. Lt-Col. Best, was born in Sydney in 1910, trained as a nurse, specialising in midwifery. When the Second World War broke out, she enlisted into the Army in 1940. As the youngest Matron, being sent to Greece, Palestine, Egypt and Ethiopia.

After returning to Australia, her position was the appointment of Controller of the VAD's. When the service was re-organised, her position was as Controller of the AAMWS in June 1942. It was in 1944, Lt-Col. Best returned to civilian life. Then came the selection for Director of the newly formed WAAC. The position was accepted and held the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.  

23 April:
Colonel Sybil Irving MBE, was appointed Honorary Colonel. Best known for appointment as Controller of the AWAS, holding the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. Born into a Military family, her father was Major General GG Irving. Colonel Irving held positions as Secretary of the Girl Guides Association in Victoria, when she was awarded the MBE. In 1940, she became the Assistant Secretary of the Red Cross in Victoria, holding that position until 1951. Lt-Col. Irving was made an Honorary Colonel, 23 April 1951 - 23 April 1961. Colonel Irving, passed away on 24 March 1973.

The design for the WAAC uniform was given the approval. The first members wore either Civilian clothes or AWAS uniforms that were left over from World War II. A rush order was given to have three Officers and 5 Other Ranks uniforms to be made for the Jubilee Celebration of the Opening of Parliament.

His Majesty, King George VI, granted the Corps, "ROYAL" patronage for the Corps to be renamed, Women's Royal Australian Army Corps with the acronym being WRAAC. It was recorded that the Corps name should NEVER to be referred to as WRAACs.

Jubilee celebration - "Opening of Parliament".

9 July:
The first WRAAC recruits were trained at Studley Park, near Camden in New South Wales. Recruits from Eastern and Northern Commands were trained here. Warrant Officer Patricia Rawlings, was the first Chief Instructor for the first training course.

For the new recruits, enlisting in the Southern and Central Commands, went to the new training camp at Lonsdale Bight in Victoria. The WRAAC Training Company.

Approval was given to raise the WRAAC Citizens Military Force.

The Corps badge was designed by Colonel Best. The first Badge was issued two years later.

For the first time, WRAAC members, appeared in the Military Tattoo.


WRAAC rank badge for Lance Corporal and Corporal.


17 January:
Approval was granted for the WRAAC School, to be established at Mildura, providing Recruit, Junior and Senior NCO's, Warrant Officer's and Officer Training. Major Crane, appointed Chief Instructor for the Officer refresher course.

The first Officer Cadet Course, for WRAAC and RAANC members, began at the new WRAAC School, Mildura.

WRAAC Training was moved to Queenscliff, Victoria.

Lt-Col. Best was promoted to Colonel.

WRAAC personnel, for the first time were posted to National Service Units.


Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth, gave approval for the appointment of Her Royal Highness, Princess Margaret, as Colonel-In-Chief of the WRAAC.

More than 10,000 women served Australia, with distinction and dedication in the WRAAC (Regular Corps), the Citizen Military Force and later the Army Reserves.

The WRAAC was disbanded in 1984. This followed moves in the late 1970's, to align male and female training and duties and for the transfer (or the direct enlistment of the new recruits) into employer Corps in the 1980's.

The WRAAC Badge: Click to enlarge      collar dogs

The design of the WRAAC badge was approved in 1951, they were not issued until 1953.
The badge consists of the five stars of the Southern Cross, representing the Southern Hemisphere, superimposed on a silver lozenge, which in Heraldic terms, characterises WOMEN. Gilt gum leaves surround the lozenge to signify the Australian Corps and the abbreviated letters from the Women's Royal Australian Army Corps (WRAAC), formed on the scroll at the base of the badge.

Surmounting the badge is the Saint Edward's (Queen's) Crown.

In February 1956, Queen Elizabeth II, gave approval for the alliance between the WRAAC and the Women's Royal Army Corps (WRAC) in the United Kingdom.

WRAAC Regimental Theme Song:
The Corps, Regimental march is "Soldiers of the Queen", is played on most occasions when members of the Corps are assembled.


31 January:
WRAAC School finally disbanded.

Click to go to WRAC UK Women's Royal Army Corps Association UK

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