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Joyce Strawhorn, RM Begg Kyneton Aged Care, Kyneton

As a teenage girl when World War II broke out, Joyce Strawhorn found it all terribly exciting.

Image: An ambulance from the 1940s, Text: World War Two, equal rights, Women

As a teenage girl when World War II broke out, Joyce Strawhorn found it all terribly exciting.

World War Two

‘It was fabulous because it was the beginning of everything. I used to get furious at different things when women didn't have the same rights, but they certainly did after the war; women had a voice, put it that way.’

Joyce grew up in Coburg as one of three children and was working locally at Lincoln Mills when the war began.

‘I got a job at Essendon Airport. I used to hold the dolly for the man that riveted the holes in the aircraft.’

She then volunteered to work as a domestic at the nurses’ quarters at Laverton air base.

‘The men treated us like the nurses. They used to snap us with a salute when we walked past, and we had our own row of seats in the cinema. It really was lovely. We were treated beautifully. I loved every minute.’

Flying pioneer

When the Women’s Auxiliary Training Corp (WATC) was formed, Joyce joined up and attended lectures by pioneering pilot Lady Nancy Lyle. Lady Lyle was the first woman to fly to Tasmania, the first to fly for the armed forces and the author of a guide for beginner pilots called, ‘Simple Flying for Simple People’.

‘Thinking back, (Lady Lyle) was quite mad,’ Joyce says.

‘My main memory of her was she put a chair on a table and another chair at the side and she climbed up on the table and sat there with a broom saying what the plane did when you put the rudder down. Oh, she really was a wacky person.’

Change of career

Towards the end of the war, Joyce became an ambulance driver.

‘We used to go to all the army camps in Victoria and pick up sick people and take them to Heidelberg (Repatriation Hospital, now part of Austin Health). When the war ended, I drove one of the ambulances that went to Spencer Street to pick up the Australian POWs and took them to Heidelberg. We drove along streets lined with screaming crowds welcoming them home.’

Joyce married a sailor and had a son, but the couple parted and, after her father died, Joyce moved to Kyneton with her mother, brother and his wife.

‘We bought the Royal George hotel in Kyneton and the four of us worked in it for a while, but mum's mortgage had to be paid. It wasn't a good investment. So, mum and I went back to Melbourne, and I got a job dress making in a factory to pay the loan. I did piecework then for the rest of my working life.’

Happily married

The hotel venture was not a total bust however, as that is where Joyce met a young sheep farmer called Ken.

‘We went together for five years and then, when mum’s mortgage was paid, we got married.’

They stayed happily married for 57 years with Joyce always taking Ken breakfast in bed – a legacy of the days she’d try to keep him away from her sewing machine.

‘He would try and tell me how to do it quicker. It drove me mad,’ she laughs.

Joyce has always lived by this advice from her younger brother: ‘What’s the use of worrying? You can’t do anything about it. Look to the future and move forward – the past is history’.

Reviewed 30 January 2024