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THE TRIBUNE, JULY 4, 2012
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Army memories: Celebrating 70 years of women in the New Zealand Army were, from left, Amelia Harrison
(Gisborne), Norma Mence (New Plymouth), Kathy Ward (New Plymouth), Leith Rowe (Palmerston North) and Gladys
Whittington (New Plymouth).
Photo: WARWICK SMITH
Women of the army
recall close calls
By JUDITH LACY
As the years tick by, the number
of Kiwis who can remember the
threat of a Japanese invasion dur-
ing World War II declines.
But Norma Mence has clear
memories of those years when she
served with the New Zealand
Women's Army Auxiliary Corps,
which were established in July
Mrs Mence was one of about 80
women who attended the 70th
reunion of New Zealand army
servicewomen in Palmerston
North at the weekend.
After seeing a newspaper adver-
tisement seeking women for the
army, the then 19-year-old Norma
De Clifton applied for a position.
The Wellington shorthand
typist was told she would probably
be called up within the next two or
The next morning she got a tele-
phone call saying due to someone
falling ill, she was needed immedi-
For a year, Mrs Mence was
stationed at Fortress Head-
quarters in Khandallah, which
had responsibility for coastal
We were frantically busy.
It was a very serious time
when the Japanese were
close to New Zealand.''
She would catch the tram from
her parents' Lyall Bay home to the
railway station, then take a unit
to Khandallah where she was met
by an army jig.
It was a fun time, I was so glad
to be there -- you really felt you
were doing some good. We felt as
ifthewarwasturning. . .the
Japanese were on the back foot.''
She was later transferred to the
army's headquarters at the Win-
ter Showgrounds where she did
typing for the court of inquiry.
Mrs Mence meet her future hus-
band, Frank, a returned soldier,
while working for the army, and
she left to marry him in 1944.
She remembers him walking in
the door at the Khandallah office
and commenting on the harbour
She replied, yes, it's lovely''.
Those were the first words she
spoke to her future husband.
Gladys Whittington had her
skite book'' with her -- photos of
her and her army colleagues from
World War II.
Among her jobs in the artillery
unit was cleaning searchlight
Harrison is still
proud that she
was the only woman of nine to
pass the army's driver mechanic
test when she sat it.
She worked in army telecom-
Kathy Ward was based at Fort
Dorset in Wellington and used to
go to Palmer Head to watch for
Japanese submarines; it was
hush hush work''.
One day she thought she had
spotted a submarine periscope but
it turned out to be driftwood.
good crowd,'' she said.
Mrs Ward said most people did
not realise how close the Japanese
were to Wellington.
On March 8, 1942, an aircraft
from a Japanese submarine made
a reconnaissance flight over Wel-
The three day reunion was
based at Palmerston North RSA.
Activities included a tour of
Linton and Massey University,
golf, a dinner and a memorial ser-
Palmerston North woman Leith
Rowe is the president of the New
Zealand Women's Royal Army
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