WR/2399 Driver Gwenneth LEWIS
Gwenneth LEWIS was born at Brighton, SA, on 13 July 1909, the youngest of three children of Harris Morgan LEWIS and Evelyn Annie LEWIS (nee RIDDLE). Her parents owned land adjoining Sturt Road at Marion where they grazed sheep and established a vineyard. She was educated at Brighton Primary School and Methodist Ladies College.
The Lewis family moved to Inman Valley in March 1925 and purchased the Illoura property where they conducted mixed farming. On leaving school she worked at a number of jobs including employment by the Hawker pastoral family at Quorn, and the Young Womens’ Christian Association.
Gwen, as she was known, enlisted in the Women’s Royal Australian Naval Service at HMAS Torrens, Port Adelaide, on 10 October 1944, age 35. She undertook her basic training at HMAS Cerberus at Point Lonsdale and HMAS Lonsdale in Melbourne where she did her driver training.
The WRANS was a non-combat branch of the Royal Australian Navy that recruited women, and like many of its sister services created during World War Two, it alleviated manpower shortages resulting from men being assigned to combat roles. The WRANS was established in April 1941 when the Royal Australian Navy enrolled 14 women at HMAS Harman, the wireless telegraphy station near Canberra. Two women were stewards, and 12 trained as telegraphists. At the time, the formation of this civilian unit was not publicised, but this changed when the war in the Pacific was perceived as a growing threat to Australia.
On 1 October 1942, the WRANS were sworn in as enlisted personnel in the Royal Australian Navy. In December 1942, newspaper coverage was used to promote the existence of the WRANS and encourage applications. The first 16 WRANS officers were trained at the Flinders Naval Depot in Melbourne, and by February 1943 their numbers had increased to 1,000. By the end of the war, their numbers had increased to over 2,500. WRANS performed a variety of duties, working as telegraphists, coders and clerks; but also as drivers, education officers, mechanics, harbour messengers, cooks and sick berth attendants. Some WRANS worked for the Allied Intelligence Bureau, the Censorship Office, and the Allied Translation Section of U.S. General Douglas MacArthur’s Order of Battle unit.
After Gwen completed her driver training she remained at Lonsdale and was assigned to drive senior naval officers around Melbourne. In early May 1945, she was posted to HMAS Leeuwin in Fremantle and continued her driving duties. Leeuwin was a busy naval base and she was assigned to drive top-ranking naval officers to and from the port.
She recalled one instance in Melbourne on Christmas Day 1944 just after she delivered a senior officer to naval headquarters. Whilst waiting for the officer, she was asked if she had lunch and on replying “no”, she was blindfolded and whisked away to a dining room where she enjoyed a sumptuous lunch. On finishing, she was again blindfolded and returned to her vehicle.
Gwen’s older brother, Harris Vivian (Viv) LEWIS (born 9 May 1904) served in the army; he enlisted on 24 July 1941 and served with the 2/9th cavalry regiment. He was demobilized on 9 January 1946.
On 26 March 1946, Gwen was posted back to HMAS Torrens and demobilised on 16 April 1946. Returning to civilian life, Gwen looked after her father. She married Phillip Lancelot BASHAM and there was one child of the marriage, Anne. Gwenneth BASHAM died on 5 November 1994 and was buried in the Victor Harbor Cemetery.
Service file of WR/2399 Gwenneth LEWIS from the National Archives of Australia ( www.naa.gov.au ).
Compiled by the Victor Harbor RSL History Research Team, February 2010.