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Womens Australian National Service (WANS) in Wagga Wagga

This is the second blog post in the series on women’s voluntary services in Wagga Wagga and looks at the work of the Womens Australian National Service (WANS).

Inaugural gathering in 1940

The inaugural gathering of Wagga women who were interested in training in the different branches of the Women’s Australian National Service (WANS) was held at the Capitol Theatre on July 5, 1940.

Capitol Theatre, Wagga Wagga NSW, 1956

The area officer was Miss Dorothy Davidson of the Gurwood Street School, assisted by Mrs Kath Higgins of Wollundry Avenue, who later became Commandant.

WANS break down traditional barriers

It was not easy for women to break into the traditionally male dominated fields, so the WANS trained rigorously in many different areas. The motor transport course consisted of weekly lectures as well as practical work and ran for a period of three and a half months. It was essential for recruits to have held a driver’s license for at least twelve months and that they should be of “good physique”.

Mr Harvey from Browne Bros Motors had trained similar groups in the past and offered his expertise to the WANS.

Business firms and the Council also assisted by lending trucks and, with this cooperation, the women were able to accompany regular drivers which enabled them to gain the valuable experience necessary to pass the examinations to obtain their motor mechanic’s certificate.

The WANS contribution to the salvage collections which were delivered to Sydney for the Mayor’s Patriotic Fund was reported to be invaluable.

The WANS in 1943 - centre front is Mrs Kath Higgins, Commandant (Courtesy of Libby Blake)

Ambulances, Canoeing & Camoflague

Mr MP Loth, Superintendent of Wagga District Ambulance, stressed the importance of working smoothly and having poise and confidence in an emergency.

He instructed the WANS and the Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) together for stretcher practice to encourage the girls to feel comfortable with other groups; this also helped them with the Home Nursing course.

In 1942, the canoeing unit was training on a regular basis and thirty Wagga WANS members were engaged in the making of camouflage nets.

In addition to all their training, the WANS members worked with a will and enthusiasm to raise funds by making and selling goods for market days and running card parties; each platoon was also responsible for holding fund-raising dances on a regular basis.

WANS demonstrate their skills to members of public

The WANS members demonstrated their excellent training in December 1942 when, under the command of Mrs Kath Higgins, they were able to display their work to 150 people present on the evening.

They wore their smart blue uniforms and they marched to the flagpole in formation and were led by a bugler and drummers.

As well as drill and first aid competitions, they also demonstrated their ambulance work. Because of their training, WANS members had become honorary staff of the District Ambulance Service as stretcher bearers and drivers.

The WANS worked remarkably hard on becoming fit and with Corporal Tom Lacey, as instructor, they attended squad drill on a weekly basis at the drill hall between Docker and Dobbs Street.

The Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) marching in formation at the Wagga Showground

Marching for the War effort

They marched in public for the first time, together with the Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) and the Women’s Emergency Signalling Corp (WESC), on ANZAC Day in 1941.

The WANS marched on a regular basis and joined many Patriotic gymkhanas and street marches, as well as church parades for special occasions.

At the end of August 1941, the first NSW Instruction Camp was held in Sydney, near Turramurra, for a period of ten days. The camp was primitive and quite a shock for the six attending Wagga WANS members.  On their return, Mrs Kath Higgins and Miss Cox reported on the experience and despite the discomfort they said they were looking forward to the next camp.

An interesting report regarding the camp, written by Kath Higgins, can be found in the Daily Advertiser on September 19, 1941.  The WANS disbanded after the close of the war; however, the women would never forget their experiences.

References:Wagga Wagga, A History” by Sherry Morris; “The Daily Advertiser” 1940-1944.

This article first appeared in the  Riverina Weekender – 3 &4 October 2009

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  • Thomas King says:

    My aunt was a WAN sergeant in WW2 in Sydney and worked out of an army establishment in Marlborough Street Leichhardt NSW, opposite the police station. She was never part of the Wagga Wagga group. She also has an old newspaper photo clipping of herself marching in George Street Sydney. She is attempting to establish whether she has any entitlements to any medals, etc. The National Archives website appears not to have any information about the WANS – can anyone please point me in a direction where I could find some info for her?

    July 8, 2010 at 7:41 am
  • Fiona Sullivan says:

    Hi Thomas, Fact Sheet 39 – Civilian Service in World War Two from the National Archives will answer all of your questions.

    July 8, 2010 at 9:40 am
  • Thomas King says:

    Many thanks for that information Fiona, which I shall pass on to my Aunt. Regards, Thomas

    July 8, 2010 at 10:05 pm
  • Malcolm Robinson says:

    My mother, Phillis Marion Robinson, was in the WANS for the latter part of WW2 working in Sydney.
    The building was in George Street North where they were making camouflage netting.
    There seems to be no reference on the NET to to these ladies.

    November 12, 2010 at 9:50 am
  • David Donaldson says:

    Gosh, a great likeness of Kath Higgins in that photo. My mother’s friend (both English WW1 brides) and author of “Betty in Bushland” (A&R Sydney, 1937).
    Malcolm is right, above. That knotting of camouflage nets never stopped. If there was two minutes to spare, anyone did another few knots, taking pride in doing them right.
    WANS must for these educated and capable women have been an outlet for purposeful energies beyond domestic roles and the (admittedly valuable, then) CWA.
    In Adelaide, there is still a centre called Wanslea, now (2011) a part of Anglicare.

    April 10, 2011 at 2:44 pm