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Australian & New Zealand Women in War



War has traditionally been viewed as a man’s game, but women have historically been an integral part of wartime efforts. Their involvement in many difficult tasks made a huge contribution in supporting the war - it wasn’t just darning socks and nursing the wounded.


In 1941 the Australian Government faced a shortage of men to support the economy and to fight in the Armed Services. With a population of approximately 7.1 million, only 2 million people in Australia were able to work. By mid 1943 it was estimated that Australia would need a combined Armed Services of 500,000, plus 250,000 working in the munitions, shipbuilding and aircraft industry, and that was in addition to 50,000 directly supporting other war supplies. Relying on the men of Australia to fill these roles was unrealistic, so employing large numbers of women was the only option.


Women were required to be strong. Not just emotionally, but they needed physical strength too to perform their duties. Four women, for example, were required to operate the huge Sperry searchlights which were used to search the skies; these also required the women to set up a generator to power them. Women in ammunition factories worked tirelessly to mix highly explosive ingredients used for shells and bombs that made their skin turn yellow (earning them the nickname “canary girls”).


And of course that’s without mentioning the thousands of brave women who served as nurses in hospitals, on ships and trains, and on the front line. In locations reaching from France to India, more than 3,000 women faced the dangers and demands of wartime nursing and were an essential part of the military medical service.


At the end of the war, many women continued to be active members of the community, either returning to work or continuing in their new roles, and this made a huge step towards granting women liberation and the same rights as men.


In honour of Anzac day, we want to express our gratitude to the women of Australia and New Zealand whose contributions to war efforts will never be forgotten. We salute you.


Erilan Team


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