"Time passes on and some memories have faded, but some memories and emotions will always remain."
Those are the words of 98-year-old St Arnaud WWII veteran Doreen Macgowan, who says she struggles to look back on her time in the air force, 76 years removed from the conflict.
On November 11, Mrs Macgowan will be among many veteran who stand alongside her fellow Australians to commemorate Remembrance Day.
In March 1943 Doreen enlisted in the Women's Auxiliary Australian Airforce at the age of 18 and served as a wireless telegraphist operator until she was discharged in 1946.
"It is a day to remember my three years and the people I met and times I had," she said.
"The years of World War II were significant to my life, you can't help but look back on those times."
IN OTHER NEWS:
In the decades following the war, Mrs Macgowan said until recently, many veterans did not talk about their experiences openly.
"I have no one to talk to about these things," she said.
"When we came back from the war women were not accepted into the RSL.
"I think about that time more in my latter years because since the pandemic the RSL is the only place I can go now.
"They are very good to me, they look after me.
"When you were in the air force you didn't talk about your time.
"There are lots of things about my husband I would have liked to have known, but you didn't talk about the war."
In 1943, Mrs Macgowan was working as a student teacher when she decided she wanted to join W.A.A.A.F as a wireless telegraphist.
"The war came close and I knew people who joined up and the war was very much on our minds," she said.
"It was in my mind that I just wanted to do it, to help in any way I could."
The W.A.A.A.F was the largest of the women's service in the second world war.
It was formed in March 1941 after lobbying by women eager to do their part for the war effort.
The chief of the Air Force consented to the idea, wanting to release male personnel serving in Australia for duties overseas.
Mrs Macgowan said she lost her sense of identity upon joining the air force.
"In 1942 the Japanese bombed Darwin and Broome, to me then, the war was close and personal," she said.
"I enlisted in the W.A.A.A.F in March 1943 and on taking the oath I was no longer an individual, I became a number,110453.
"On the first day of service we received our issued clothing and equipment, it was the end of everything feminine."
Mrs Macgowan was posted to the Melbourne Showgrounds to partake in six weeks of training to become a wireless telegraphist operator - sending and receiving of messages in Morse Code.
"Our beds were like an iron gate, the mattress was a bag of straw and there were no sheets," she said.
"We were in the highest pay bracket for people under 21 years, five shillings and four pence a day.
"For our training we lived with headphones over our ears and a hand over a Morse key."
On March 8 1944, upon the completion of an eight hour shift, Mrs Macgowan's time in the W.A.A.A.F would drastically change.
"I returned to the barracks to sleep but there was an order there for me to report back immediately, this meant I was being posted to another unit," she said.
"On March 10 we were transported to the seaside suburb of Williamstown where there was an aircraft waiting for us.
"It was a Martin Mariner Flying Boat and it flew us all the way to Perth Western Australia, we had been flown over as signal reinforcements."
Mrs Macgowan said the chief of the Allied Forces had received a coded message that the Japanese task force had left Singapore and were heading south west.
"We were told the (Japanese) task force was supposedly going to attack Fremantle, where there was a large concentration of Allied warships and American submarines," she said.
"We coped with a large number of coded messages, every letter and figure had to be correct.
"The Japanese Fleet did not arrive, an explanation was that a severe tropical cyclone had dispersed the task force and it had to return to Singapore.
"The event became known as "The Big Flap."
Later that day, Doreen was transferred back to Melbourne by train, where she would remain for the rest of her service.
"Sometimes the food was brought to the train, sometimes we went to camps (to eat), one time we even had a shower," she said.
"The last night we had a meal at the army camp at the Adelaide Showgrounds and breakfast at Ararat.
"For the remainder of my service I lived in hut 35 in the grounds of Melbourne W/T Base where we kept a silent watch on the top secret Qantas Catalina, flying the flight of the double sunrise between Sri Lanka and Perth."
Doreen said she "didn't know what to do" when the war was finally over.
"We couldn't believe it," she said.
"When the war was declared over, I was one of many who danced in the streets.
"We were absolutely beside ourselves, everybody was.
"In August 1945 I took part in the W.A.A.A.F section of the Great Victory March through Melbourne.
"I received my discharge in 1946 and found some difficulty in adjusting to being an individual again, wartime was all we knew."
Mrs Macgowan said she cherished the memories she formed with Ararat local Lorna and her future husband Howard Macgowan, who she met while on duty.
"Lorna and I were the top dogs, we really were good at what we did," she said.
"We were the best of friends, we were always there for each other, we shared highs and we shared our lows.
"My wartime romance with the pilot called Mac (Howard Macgowan) began in early 1944 at Pearce W.A.
"In 1947 he received his discharge and returned to his family farm in Emu, Victoria.
"With his deferred pay he bought little red Vauxhall car and drove the 150 miles on country roads to my family farm at Apsley until in 1948, I became Mrs Mac."
In the years proceeding the war Mrs Macgowan said the couple became engrained into the town of St Arnaud.
"I have done my bit for the town, I heled make the tennis courts, my husband and myself ran the Easter tennis tournament for years," she said.
"We enjoyed every moment, I enjoyed every moment with him."
Mrs Macgowan said she was patiently waiting for the Perth borders to open so she could visit her family.
"I used to go over twice a year to Perth, I haven't been now for two years," she said.
"I haven't seen my family over there through this whole pandemic, there are 12 of them over there."
Until then, Mrs Macgown would reflect on her storied life, and three years service in one of Australia's defining conflicts.
If you are seeing this message you are a loyal digital subscriber to The Ararat Advertiser, as we made this story available only to subscribers. Thank you very much for your support and allowing us to continue telling Ararat's story. We appreciate your support of journalism in our great city.
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.