Four sisters earned their stripes

Brendan LeicesterCountryman

Woodanilling took a different approach to this year’s Anzac Day commemorations by recognising the role women have played in war.

Woodanilling Country Women’s Association (CWA) member Leslie Ramsell has a strong family link to war service.

First and foremost was her mother Peggy Doreen Ramsell (nee Bohan), who was a sergeant in the Australian Women’s Army Service (AWAS) during World War II, where she served from 1942 to 1946.

Sgt Bohan’s elder sisters Netta and Olive Bohan and Jessie Goudge also served in the AWAS.

Both Jessie Goudge and Netta Bohan, who were in their mid-20s when they enlisted, also received their sergeant stripes.

According to the Woodanilling CWA, they are considered to be the only four sisters in Australia to be in the AWAS together at the same time.

Established in August 1941, the AWAS recruited women between 18 and 45, with more than 24,000 women nationwide enlisted during WWII.

The AWAS had 71 barracks nationwide, where women received wages two-thirds of the male equivalent.

While enlisted, women completed a variety of different roles ranging from clerk or typist to cook or driver.

However, as Leslie explained, it was hard work, and a far cry from a simple story about a band of sisters working for the women’s army.

“While the men were overseas serving their country, the women were required to do the jobs that men did,” she said.

“This would include things like servicing machinery, trucks, cars and the like. Some of the more experienced women drove these vehicles and even learnt basic military training, including rifle skills.”

Drivers had a huge responsibility during that time and would often be in charge of driving ambulances, three-tonne trucks, floating jeeps and even Bren gun carriers.

While Sgt Bohan was not involved in this aspect of the AWAS, her role was no less important.

“She was one of seven children, and was the youngest of the three sisters,” Leslie said.

“She was only 15 years old when she entered the services, so she put her age up by three years and still had to get permission to join.”

Sgt Bohan served at both the Midland Barracks and the 31st AWAS Barracks at Hobbs Hall in Karrakatta, where she was a secretarial typist.

“A fine one at that,” Leslie said. “When you’ve got a good secretary you don’t let them go and Mum was certainly that.”

However, it wasn’t all easygoing, particularly during the initial stages of Sgt Bohan’s four-year stint.

“She was in the ordnance (weapons/artillery) department and was in charge of putting together these long lists that used to go out,” Leslie said.

“They used to be on triplicate paper, very fine, two pieces of carbon paper in between and the sheets which used to be eight inches long.

“If you made one mistake you had to start again because they had to be original — suffice to say Mum had to learn the hard way.”

After 1496 days of service with the AWAS, Sgt Bohan was granted her Certificate of Discharge on July 19, 1946, however, it wasn’t without a bit of contention.

“She met a bit of a difficulty with the discharge because they found there was only two months between her birth age and one her elder sister’s. So Mum stayed an extra year before she could be discharged, but she was more than happy to stay because she knew it would be hard finding work after she left.”

In June, 1947, two years after WWII ended, the AWAS was demobilised.

In that same year, Sgt Bohan married Keith Ramsell, who served as a field ambulance officer in New Guinea during 1942.

And although Sgt Bohan, now Sgt Ramsell, didn’t receive any bravery awards or medals of honour, her three surviving children could not be more proud of her role in serving her country.

Lest we forget.

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