Jean Mascord was working at the Commonwealth Bank when World War II broke out. She was obviously a good worker because despite the fact that she was only 18, the Bank had her 'manpowered'.
This meant she was capable of doing a man's job and prevented her from joining up.
But she was determined to do her bit for the war and while working diligently at the bank during the day she also joined the Hurstville branch of the Voluntary Aid Detachments (VADs), working often at what was to become the Concord Repatriation Hospital.
When the war ended, Jean seized the chance to make good use of her VAD training and volunteered for overseas service on the repatriation ships bringing ex-POWs home.
But first she had to pass an interview and medical inspection and gain Manpower clearance to leave Australia. Having finally achieved all this, she sailed on HMS Glory on 26 September 1945.
Being the first women ever to sail as part of the ship's company on Royal Navy warships, they were granted officer status.
When the ship sailed the VADs had no idea of their destination or how long they would be away but that was part of the adventure. Eventually the Captain told them they were heading for Manila to collect repatriated Canadian POWs and thence to Vancouver.
When they finally reached Manila, they were allowed ashore.
"Manila is a mad house. Yanks dashing around in jeeps & trucks at terrific speeds – M.P.s everywhere – got used to being stared at & whistled after a while. Not one place left untouched - bomb craters in middle of roads, condemned houses & buildings about to fall down & bullet marked walls," she wrote in her diary.
They met some AIF ex-POWs in Manila.
"Terribly thrilled & very sorry they were not coming with us," she wrote. "Only 200 left in Manila. First question they asked was 'Are all the trees at Manly really cut down'. Had worked on Docks, Railway & mines – suffering from Beri Beri."
9 October 1945:
When the first ex-POWs started to come aboard they were thrilled to see women on board. "First patients arrived about 12. Terrific panic. I could have wept. The exertion & excitement so great we had to put everyone to bed ourselves. Mostly malnutrition, Beri Beri, T.B. & amputations."
"Have four very bright Canadians to look after. They call me No 5. When you think that they were all fit men 4 years ago it makes you see red. All POW have a dazed look. Terribly grateful for any little thing we do."
11 October 1945:
"Got on duty to find hospital had been flooded – some chaps very upset, thought they were torpedoed again – poor devils."
"The boys have settled down a lot. They no longer ask may they eat, but know there is plenty – However, some can't eat & others hoard their scraps, whilst others clean their plates of every vestige of gravy & food – It makes one's heart sick."
15 October 1945:
"This morning Owens died at 6 o'clock. He was only 27 and looked 40. He had been sick only a month – accute TB. I attended the funeral on QD [Quarter Deck] at 5 0'clock. Very impressive – horrible when the splash was heard."
17 October 1945:
"Scott, who has had cerebal Malaria, has come out of his delirium and won't have any one attend him but me. Before no woman could go near him. Jap women had tortured him."
20 October 1945:
"Pearl Harbour. Went straight on deck after breakfast to watch us come in. Wonderful sight, just like picture post cards.
24 October 1945:
"Passengers put on a concert tonight – Jolly good fun. It finished with everyone singing 'There'll always be an England', 'Land of Hope & Glory' and 'The King'. It gave the impression that despite 4 years imprisonment if war were declared tomorrow they would all enlist again."
26 October 1945:
"We are not putting the passengers off at Vancouver, but at Esquimalt, the Naval Base on Vancouver Island. All the vessels in the harbour gave us a rousing welcome with whistles & fog horns and there was a band on the wharf."
Having farewelled their patients, the ship sailed on to Vancouver where the girls were given two weeks leave. Apart from shopping, they did a lot of sight-seeing including a trip through the Rockies.
The Glory sailed from Vancouver on 5 November and spent a rough two weeks crossing the Pacific to Hong Kong.
"Hong Kong waterfront is completely smashed, but the city itself is intact. The Residential area has been Looted & ruined tho'. The people and smells are terrific [terrible]. They talk about the teeming millions of China, well now I can believe it, but how they manage to survive disease is beyond me."
The Glory left Hong Kong on 23 November with some Chinese internees aboard, heading for Manila. There they unloaded the Chinese and took on Dutch who were going to Balikpapan. Because there was no nursing required, the VADs carried out welfare work instead.
28 November 1945:
"Gosh it was good to see the old Aussie uniform again. At first only a few lounged down to see us come in, but when they recognised our uniform there was quite a panic. They started yelling 'Aussie Women' and waving to their friends to come down to the wharf."
They managed to spend some time ashore.
"We saw some prisoners & did the wrong thing by looking at them. It appears that the way to treat them is with ignore and they react much better than to anything else. It is maddening tho' to see them being driven to work in trucks when our chaps were so badly treated, and after seeing them so recently in such bad shape I would like to be a little sadistic."
They sailed on 30 November for Tarakan where members of the AIF boarded.
"It is good to get back among your own people again. I didn't realise how much I had missed the Australian outlook until now."
They arrived back in Sydney on 12 December. The night before Jean had written in her diary:
"I suppose I should be terribly excited about seeing Mother & Daddy again, and I will be glad to see them, but if I was asked to go abroad again I would,"
After 11 weeks at sea, it was strange being back home. Jean noticed the strong Australian accents and felt very restless. "Nothing seems quite the same, but I think it is best to go back to work as soon as possible to try & settle down," she wrote. "In 12 months (if I am still in Australia) I suppose I will be as good an Australian as ever."
Jean returned to work at the bank and remained there till she married in 1947. She worked in a voluntary capacity for many community groups and was always willing to give her time to help other people.
She never left Australia again.
The material for this article was supplied by Mrs Margaret Keech of Victoria
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