SF113524 Driver Millicent (Millie) May HENDERSON
Millicent May Henderson was born on 27 November 1922 at Victor Harbor, the eldest of eight children of Frank Stanley Henderson and Eva May Henderson (nee Martin). Her father Frank had served in the 10th Infantry Battalion in France during the First World War.
Millie, as she was known, was educated at the Victor Harbor Primary and High Schools. During her school years she was a member of the Girl Guides. She left school in 1937 and commenced employment with the Post Master General’s Department as a trainee telephoniste and switchboard operator. Her duties with the PMG placed her in a reserved occupation and she was not allowed to join the armed forces until a suitable replacement had been found. Millie was 22 years old when she enlisted in the Australian Women’s Army Service (AWAS) on 21 January 1945. Her younger sister, Thelma, enlisted immediately after her and was given the serial number SF113525, whereas Millie’s was SF113524.
Millie undertook her basic training at the Australian Army Women’s Service Training Depot at Camp Darley, near Bacchus Marsh, Victoria. Millie was then posted to the Drivers’ School at Bonegilla and after qualifying in her driving training course, she was posted to the 3rd Australian Ambulance Car Company based in South Melbourne.
During Millie’s time in Melbourne she was detached to various units around the Melbourne area, principally driving patients between hospitals. On 23 August 1945, Millie was detached to the 20th Convalescent Hospital at Broadmeadows; and it was during this detachment she witnessed a scene she would never forget.
On 30 September 1945, she met the Hospital Ship Oranje at Princess Pier, Port Melbourne to transport repatriated 8th Division former POWs to the 116th Military Hospital at Heidelberg. Millie recalled that some of the soldiers were still terribly emaciated and were taken off the ship by stretchers “It was a scene I would never forget … I didn’t know any of them as I was from South Australia (these were Victorian soldiers) but I was very shocked at their appearance and condition ….”.
Millie had known that a number of soldiers from Victor Harbor had been captured at the Fall of Singapore in February 1942, and many of these she had gone to school with. Colin Milnes was married to Millie’s friend and former PMG co-worker, Laurel Cox. Others locals who were POWs included Tony Henderson, Max McGee, Lewis “Chic” Sheehan, Jack Appelkamp, Vic Honeyman and Ross Birbeck; these men had only just been liberated and were yet to return to Australia. The scene at the wharf brought home the full impact of the inhumane treatment and suffering these survivors had endured.
Millie remained with the 20th Convalescent Hospital until 9 January 1946 when she returned to 3 Company. In early June, she was posted back to Adelaide for discharge processing.
Millie Henderson was demobilised from the AWAS on 5 June 1946. She returned to her job at the PMG and retired after she married. Millie continues to live at Victor Harbor.
Service file of SF113524 Millicent May HENDERSON, purchased from the National Archives of Australia ( www.naa.gov.au ).
Compiled by the Victor Harbor RSL History Research Team, January 2011.