Isabel Lorna Chrisfield nee Brocklehurst.
AWAS 26/1/42 to 11/12/48
2nd Australian Ambulance Car Coy.
Driver of ambulances, cars and trucks to meet hospital ships and trains, transferring army patients to hospitals and convalescent homes throughout NSW.
W.O.1 Ronald Marcham Chrisfield
AIF 3/7/41 to 2/10/47
2,164 Aust. General Transport Coy.
Transferred to 2nd Aust Ambulance Car Coy. As Sergeant Major and Driving Instructor.
Member of Aust. Regular Army until 30/6/59.
Kandos and Rylstone History P.29
By Kim Hughes
What Isabel did in the war.
Germany invaded Poland on 1st September, 1939. So, England and Australia (and all the other countries in the Empire) declared war on Germany.
The war affected millions of people’s lives and Isabel Chrisfield was one of those people. As the war got closer to Australia the women pressed to be allowed to join the army, and finally an organisation started in 1940 called the National Defence League.
The organisation met in rooms in O’Connell Street, Sydney. They learnt map-reading, signals, first aid, and drill among other things.
To be part of the National Defence League it was compulsory for every person to have a drivers licence, if they had a car and were willing to use it, they used to go out in the country on the weekends at Bivouacs. They all had to report to Victoria Barracks in Sydney on the 26 of January 1942 because they had their medical examinations (fortunately Isabel Chrisfield passed). Two doctors thought about refusing Isabel Chrisfield because she had funny feet, but because she wanted to drive and not do much marching, they enlisted her.
Isabel Chrisfield, Ada Cottages, Kandos NSW
My Army Life Story
Written for Combined Church's Womens Group Meeting at
Anglican Hall, Kandos on 21/8/95
adapted for Kandos High School Year 9 Veteran Affairs Project 20/11/00
When Germany invaded Poland on 1st September, 1939, England, which included Australia and all other countries of the Empire, declared war on Germany on 3rd September 1939.
This affected the lives of millions of people of which I was one. The War has been relived now for many months showing the young people of today and even some older ones, who had not been born at that time, what terrible things the Germans, and later the Japanese, did to our people.
As the war progressed and got closer to Australia the women of this country lobbied to be allowed to join the army. So as far as the ones interested in driving and transport were concerned, eventually an organisation was formed in 1940, which I joined, called 'The National Defence League'. We used to meet in rooms in O'Connell Street Sydney in he evenings to learn map reading, signals, First Aid, and drill just to name a few things. To belong, everybody had to have a driver’s licence and if they owned a car, and were happy to use it, we used to go out into the country to the weekends on Bivouacs.
When Japan attacked Pearl Harbour in December 1941 and the Americans entered the war, things went into motion very quickly and the Australian Women’s Army Service (AWAS) was formed.
The member of the National Defence League were automatically in the first call up of women on 26th January 1942. We all had to report to Victoria Barracks in Sydney on that day to have our medical examination, which fortunately I passed. Two doctors had a consultation as to whether they would accept me because I had funny feet, but, decided as I was going to be a driver and not do much marching, they would sign me up. Thank goodness, for if they had refused to enlist me I would have been denied many amazing experiences. I was 21 years of age at this time.
From Victoria Barracks we were sent to the Sydney Showground and bedded down in the horse boxes with paliasses (mattresses made of straw) on hard boards to sleep on. The soldiers had previously lived in the boxes and had given them all a name. The one I had was called the "Do Drop Inn".
We did not live in the Showground for very long and from there were transferred to the 2nd Australian Ambulance Car Co in Avoca Street, Kingsford to take over the car and driving of the ambulances, staff cars and trucks to release the men from those jobs so they could be sent overseas. A few of us at a time were sent to a Rookies School at Killara to learn how to live army style, the main thing being discipline. The thing that is uppermost in my mind were the lessons we had on how to make beds correctly. As we had had such training in the National Defence League, we only had to stay there for a few days.
We then returned to Avoca Street, Kingsford and commenced our training in driving ambulances to enable us to get our army driving licences. We did most of our training driving around Centennial Park. Automatic gear boxes were only being invented in those days, only fitted to staff cars and one little emergency ambulance we had and they weren't the smooth operating gear boxes of today. To change gears on the big ambulances we had to do what they called 'the double shuffle' which meant when changing gear, up or down, the clutch had to be pushed in, the gear put n neutral, the engine revved with the accelerator, the clutch again pushed in and the gear lever put into another gear. It was most important that everything was done very smoothly to ensure the ambulances were not jarred in any way. It was also impressed on us that you always 'drove around a corner to keep the ambulance in a stable upright position, not allowing it to lean sideways.
When, eventually we were tested for our licences, to our surprise, we were lined up in Rainbow Street Coogee. If anybody here knows Coogee, you will realise just what a hilly place it is. We were all made to drive these large Chevrolet ambulances up and down the steep hills changing to every gear by the time we got to the top and from top to bottom. Some of us did not pass the first time. When we all eventually received our licences we were then schooled in driving in convoy.
Our routine each day was to arise at 6am, shower, dress and have breakfast before parade time and roll call. After parade our first duty was to check petrol, oil, water and tyres on our ambulances. There was not a petrol pump in those early days and we had to carry petrol to the vehicles in 4 gallon drums, quite a job, especially when 2 or 3 drums were needed. We all did the maintenance on our own vehicles, changing oil, greasing through grease nipples, change tyres if necessary and keep the engine and every part very clean. Of course, it was often we had to go on night duty so the routine was changed.
At the entrance to 2nd Australian Ambulance Car Co there was a sentry box and we were all rostered to man it day and night. Further up the drive was a Transport Office which we were also rostered to man day and night, keeping records of all vehicles that went in and out, checking on the drivers G2 which was a form which had to be filled in by the driver, keeping a record of where she went, the reason for the trip, mileage etc.
We were also trained in what to do on the occasion of an air raid and I can remember the siren going on a couple of occasions and we had to get our ambulance out of the barracks as quickly as possible to spots we had been allotted in the Kingsford, Randwick or Coogee area.
Our unit had detachments at all army hospitals on army camps all over NSW.
We used to go in convoy from HQs to meet any hospital ships with wounded returning from overseas, hospital trains, some at Central Station and some at Rosehill Racecourse Railway Station, loaded with wounded who had been taken off ships up north and sent by train to Sydney. We took most patients to 113AGH at Concord or 103AGH at Baulkham Hills. Infectious Diseases had to be taken to Prince Henry Hospital at Long Bay. If patients were very sick or were stretcher cases we would be assigned an orderly to travel with us.
When the patients were recovered enough we would transfer them to Convalescent Homes, of which there were quite a few, some up the North Shore and other places, but the main, and I think the largest one was Duntryleague at Orange.
In 1942 a ship loaded with large (2 ton) Austin ambulances was travelling from England to Singapore, but Singapore fell to the Japanese before it arrived so the ship was diverted to Sydney. The ambulances were sent to 2nd Australian Ambulance Car Co and we drove them. I think in some books on the Royal Family you will find a photo of the Queen (Princess Elizabeth as she was then) driving and maintaining one of these ambulances during the war. She also wore the same uniforms we were issued with for driving, trousers, jacket and trousers.
I was sent on detachment to Bathurst for a few months in 1942, the camp was on Lime Kilns Road. I can remember how cold it was. Returned to HQs and in 1943 sent on detachment to an army hospital hidden in the bushes on Mt Keira above Wollongong. We were accommodated in a small house near the hospital. A happy time was had there. Towards the end of the war I was stationed at Fort Scratchley near Newcastle for a short time.
Of course in those days there were trams in all the streets in Sydney which made driving of large vehicles a lot more difficult. I will always remember driving a 3 ton truck down Broadway, near Grace Bros, with very little space between the tram and the parked cars near the curb. The trams were always stopping and vehicles had to be very careful to stop to let the passengers get from the tram to the footpath.
You will remember, I mentioned earlier about there being a Transport Office in the barracks we had to man. Well, I will always remember one day in 1945 I was on duty in the said Transport Office when a jeep drove in and out of it unfurled the tallest soldier I had seen. I then discovered he was our new Sergeant Major, who had come to take the place of the Sgt. Major we had had since we were called up. To cut a long story short he was Warrant Officer lst class Ronald Marcham Chrisfield and I have no need to tell you the rest of the story.
Ron had been a member of the 2/164 Transport Company in Victoria travelling between Victoria and Darwin carrying troops, stores and equipment. If you have seen the news lately you will have heard and seen about the drivers and trucks that have just relived that part of the war, arriving in Darwin last Sunday.
I would just like to say also that Ron after being discharged from the AIF in 1947 joined the regular army and was chosen in 1952 to train on Daimler cars in Melbourne in the Royal Car Co to prepare for the visit and drive Her Royal Highness Princess Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh, but as you all know King George died before they arrived here and so Princess Elizabeth had automatically become Queen Elizabeth 11. She had to return to England. When she eventually came out here in 1953 Ron decided he would not return to the Royal Car Co. At that stage we had a 3 year old daughter and a baby son.
It seems terrible that it had to be a war with so much death and cruelty that gave us the opportunities to have such wonderful experiences, learn the things we did and make the wonderful friends we did. If it had not been for the war I would not have met and married Ron Chrisfield, had a wonderful marriage, and had the wonderful family I have today. I am so proud of them all. If only Ron was alive to join in all 'Australia Remembers' memories.
The AWAS were not allowed to go overseas as many of them would like to have done, but I really feel we were needed here in Australia.
I did not mention earlier that when at HQ in Kingsford and not on duty on Sundays we were allowed leave to attend church in Randwick, we Presbyterians went to the Round Church as it was called at Peter's corner in Randwick. We always enjoyed listening to the Minister there, Rev. Grant
My brother, F/Lieut John Brocklehurst was a pilot in 77 Squadron in the Air Force stationed in New Guinea flying Kittyhawks. For a while at one stage he was stationed on an American Aircraft Carrier. It is sad that he also did not live quite long enough to be part of "The Australia Remembers". Both he and Ron would have had some wonderful stories to tell.
My mother belonged to an organisation, the name of which I cannot remember, which found homes for servicemen on leave who came from other countries and other states of Australia. She had many interesting servicemen to look after, give them 'home life' they missed so much.
Two things I forgot to mention. One was the fact our only means of getting news from overseas was by owning a short wave radio, other wise nobody knew what was happening.
Secondly was the Army way of telling time. One of the first things we learnt in the army was army time which of course today is very much part of our lives. The clocks went for 24 hours, midnight being 2359 hours.
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