The women of WW2 were integral to many aspects of Australia’s success abroad and the subsequent recovery at home. They contributed to Australia’s war effort and picked up the pieces of shattered lives afterwards.
My nanna was one of those women. She commenced full time military service at age 18. She worked in Signals, transmitting messages across the globe wherever Australia had personnel. In the “previous experience” section of her enlistment, she included “home duties” and her high school certificate. Her military record is scanned and as I read the faded yellow pages with torn edges, it seems like she had a whole other life.
A life of service, mystery and a little cheekiness. She was 18 and in love with a man fighting on the front lines of Asia. There were secret messages sent to him via her Signals connections. My grandparents stayed in contact throughout their war service and married after they were discharged. They had four babies and stayed together their whole lives.
Katherine Kippen was promoted to Sargent in October of ’43. There are no records of her saving fellow officers lives under fire or any such thing. There are lists of promotions and locations of Signals bases she was stationed.
What her military record can’t ever show is what an incredible woman she was. She was complex, determined, strict, soft, traditional and forward thinking all at the same time. There are a few things she said to me over my life that I will never forget and i will share some of them with you today.
“Don’t give yourself too readily or they’ll never respect you”
I was a teenager crying over some boy at her kitchen table. I was a bit shocked that she said this, but we went on to discuss it for a while. She looked in my eyes and was always gave me her full attention. “You’re worth more than that” were some of the statements in that conversation.
“Katherine doesn’t need to get married. She’ll be right either way”
This comment was delivered with a flap of her hand as she laid in a hospital bed as I was being teased by an aunty for not getting married and going to university to study the environment. She was known for her traditional values, inherited from her predecessors, but with one remark she silenced the room. Gosh I adored her.
“Do what you love”
Pretty self explanatory.
AS she aged and her body refused to participate in her life as readily as she expected, I could see her suffering. My partner and i would visit. They would sit at her kitchen table and talk about sports for ages – tennis, cricket, football. She was a mad sports follower. They got on well. I did a bit of cleaning up during these talks and she always, always thanked me in a way that made everything feel good. She was never over the top but she readily opened her arms an held me close.
Yes, she was number Q142241, and more.