Stories of Remembrance

Army, Women's Services, Second World War (1939-45)Private Joan Streicher,Australian Women's Army Service

…They built a 12 foot fence [around the AWAS compound] and they couldn’t decide whether to put the barbed wire on the outside to keep the men out or on the inside to keep the girls in!
Joan Byrnes, former AWAS, 2 February 2011

Manpower shortages during the Second World War (1939-45) created the need for a women’s army auxiliary which could release able-bodied men for frontline service. The Australian Women’s Army Service (AWAS) was formed in August 1941 and performed invaluable war-winning work. When hostilities had ended, in August 1945, 24,026 women had volunteered for the service.

A select group of 342 AWAS members, sent to Lae, New Guinea in May 1945, were the only non-medical Australian servicewomen to serve outside Australia during the war. One of these pioneering women soldiers was Joan Byrnes (nee Streicher).

Joan joined the AWAS in November 1944 and served in Lae as a cartographer. She created accurate topographical maps of Borneo—which were put to immediate use by Australian forces invading the island in May 1945. Private Streicher was evacuated to Australia in February 1946 and hospitalised for six months with a severe case of dermatitis, before being discharged.

Despite this unpleasant end to her AWAS career Joan has many fond memories of her time at Lae, particularly of the friends she made and the AWAS drama club of which she was a part. Joan remembers too, the security at the compound were the women lived separately from the men. Every night the women would sing ‘Don’t fence me in’ as a mild protest as the gates were shut.

This Story of Remembrance was compiled through the research of the Exhibitions and Collections team at the Shrine of Remembrance.

  • Name Joan Patricia Striecher
  • Service Number SF113501
  • Date of Birth 01 August 1921
  • Place of Birth Adelaide, South Australia
  • Date of Enlistment 04 November 1944
  • Date of Discharge 07 November 1946

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