Lillian Brennan with a picture of her late husband Colin, who served in the Second World War.
Lillian Brennan with a picture of her late husband Colin, who served in the Second World War. Renee Albrecht

Women and the war: rations, isolation and blackouts

"YOU would be dancing with a fellow one night, and next week his name would be in the casualty list.”

Lillian Brennan was only a teenager when the Second World War broke out, but although the conflict was half a world away for women in Australia it was impossible to ignore.

All three of Mrs Brennan's brothers served in the war, as well as her late husband (whom she met after his service), and at the time she said the seriousness was not really felt.

"I was just coming into my teens and when the European war started I think we thought of it as being a big adventure,” she said.

"I'm sure mum and dad were very anxious.”.

It all changed when Pearl Harbour was bombed, though.

"Then it really came home to us,” she said.

"We had food rations, clothes rations and black out conditions.

"You came home after the movies down Mary St and it was pitch black.”

With a reported 11,000 men camped around Gympie, Mrs Brennan said there was always a palpable tension in the air - because, as she said, your first time meeting someone new might be the last.

"You didn't know if you'd ever see them again after they were shipped out.”

Of all her memories from the era, she said there was one in particular which had never left her.

"In the war years, all the news was delivered by telegram - you got good news, you got bad news, all by telegram.

"We would stand on our veranda, because we were about midway, and we could watch the telegram boy turn into the street, and you'd hold your breath until he got past.”

Double duty

Dorothy Simon saw both sides of the war as a member of the Women's Auxiliary Australia Air Force while also having brothers in the service.

For Mrs Simon, one of the most memorable parts was the rationing system , which was a bit of a "farce” with all the bartering and horse-trading which went on.

There was also an extensive market for booze and cigarettes on the black market.

"There was a shortage of food,” she said. "People lived precariously because they didn't know what would happen.”

PROUD SERVICE: Dorothy Simon, with a photo of herself while she served in the WAAAF.
PROUD SERVICE: Dorothy Simon, with a photo of herself while she served in the WAAAF. Renee Albrecht

Over the years, she said there was one thing which always stood out for her - the youth of the air gunners she was helping train to go overseas.

"(They) didn't really know what they were letting themselves in for.”

However, with so many people involved in the conflict she said support could always be found.

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"Everybody was very proud of the people in the air force, army, navy, and the ladies who worked on the land,” she said.

"They did a wonderful job taking over from the farmers and the farmers' sons and they have to have due respect given to them.”

Another era

It was a vastly different experience for Dulcie Dyne when her husband, former Gympie mayor Ron, was deployed to the Vietnam War.

With two children aged two and three, Mrs Dyne said she declined her husband's suggestion to live with his mum in Mackay and instead moved to Sydney.

Unfortunately, the atmosphere surrounding the conflict left her mostly in isolation.

It was a different era for Dulcie Dyne, here with a photo of her late husband Ron who served in the Vietnam War.
It was a different era for Dulcie Dyne, here with a photo of her late husband Ron who served in the Vietnam War. Renee Albrecht

"You didn't tell anyone that your husband was in Vietnam, you didn't tell anyone that they were in the army,” she said. "The feeling of the public was so anti-Vietnam.”

She said the reality was you had no choice but to adapt - and there was very little in the way of support for people like her.

"It's a very strange experience,” she said. "It changes you.

"You become far more independent.”

Unfortunately, it also left a scar for years after the conflict.

For one, she said Mr Dyne would not wear his uniform to work.

"People would spit on them.

"I can recall Ron saying to me 'if you see a group forming outside the house, ring me straight away' and we will get somebody there.”

"The feeling was terrible.”

Gympie Times


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