Ditty Box Article

the communication branch reunion

The following article was written by Joan Pugh and published in the ‘Ditty Box’ – the newsletter for the ex-WRANS Association.

The Royal Australian Navy Communications Branch Association (RANCBA) Third Reunion was held in Canberra 23-27 April 2002. 860 attended from all parts of Australia. Among those participating were 13 wartime WRANS. The were: Judy Saunders (Alley), Patrice Dow (Byrne), Dorothy Anderson (Young), Shirley Fenton Huie (Huie), Marj O’Brien (Howe), Marie Young (Hogan), Pat Wicker (Dunhill), Olive Hird (Stone), Elinor Swan (Douglas), Alison Armstrong (Francis), Jean Nysen (McKenzie), Florence “Flip” Miller (Priddle), and Joan Pugh.

After registration we received our special “hat”, a very strong white panama style Stetson with turned up sides. Surprisingly, they seemed to suit everyone. We were then taken by bus to renew our acquaintance with HMAS HARMAN. It was like walking on hallowed ground. Everything, of course, had changed, but we were given a very interesting tour and made very welcome. We were told that the majority of the Communicators attending the reunion had, at one stage, passed through HARMAN.

In the evening of the first day a welcoming reception was held at the Legislative Assembly. Those who were invited to attend had a very enjoyable time meeting the Chief Minister for the ACT and mingling with other guests. Those wartime WRANS who attended were Judy Saunders, Elinor Swan, Shirley Fenton Huie, Olive Herd and Dorothy Anderson.

On Wednesday 24 April, 860 of us were entertained at the Southern Cross Yacht Club. The venue was on the banks of Lake Burley Griffin. Hugh marquees had been set up. The Navy Band played while we enjoyed the barbecue lunch and renewed many friendships. After lunch we were given the opportunity of joining a ferry for a cruise around the lake.

ANZAC Day – a very unseasonably hot day; in fact the hottest ever for ANZAC Day in that area. We assembled on ANZAC Parade. A sea of white hats belonging to 600 Communicators getting ready to march could be seen. Some of the wartime WRANS were at the front of the group. The spectators applauded loudly and continuously and it was very impressive marching up ANZAC Parade to the grounds of the War Memorial. When we reached our place, those WRANS at the front were escorted by officers to be seated throughout the program which was a very moving service. We were then taken back to join the group to conclude the march.

We then made our way to the National Convention Centre for a very luscious buffet luncheon.

The next day, Friday 26 April, we were taken by coach around Canberra to visit some of the famous sights and after the morning of sightseeing we were left to our own devices to explore further.

Saturday 27 April. The Finale Dinner was held at the National Convention Centre – the huge room was decorated in blue and white, each table had a centrepiece of balloons and navy signals. One of the Guests of Honour, Shirley Fenton Huie, author of “Ships Belles”, was warmly applauded when she was escorted to the stage. She told the audience about the early days in the Navy and of the many memories stored away by those wartime WRANS. At that time, those at our table, all wartime WRANS, were asked to stand up. We were loudly applauded. Among those at our table was Judy Saunders (Alley), WR12. During the evening several postwar WRANS, later known as Navy personnel, came up to our table to thank us for being the forerunners which enabled them in later years to join the RAN.

The Navy Band made themselves heard and the dance floor rocked. It was announced at the dinner that the 4th Reunion of the RANCBA would be held in Sydney in 2005.

Sunday 28 April. Departure day for most. I feel sure that all who attended and participated in the activities, left with nothing but praise for the wonderful effort made in organising the events of those five days. The Committee and their helpers had done everything possible to make all welcome, especially us, the wartime WRANS; we felt feted and warmed by their acknowledgements.

In all, the Third Reunion of the RANCBA was a huge success.

Joan Pugh