FAY Walkley is a real-life, flesh-and-blood hero.
Although she insists that’s not true.
This 94-year-old is just one of the million Australians, men and women, who served in World War II.
Most of them voluntarily; with the full knowledge it could cost them their lives even if they never admitted it to themselves at the time.
But, as Fay now puts it, with that almost dismissive tone so many veterans use, as if they had done nothing, “that was just what you did”.
Looking back, Fay can still remember when the war started.
A bright-eyed teen, she immediately threw herself into helping her country.
Joining a ‘neighbourhood watch’ group at 16, she learnt Morse code and first aid and patrolled the streets to keep them safe, helping neighbours wherever she could.
She wasn’t the only one in her family putting in for the war effort.
Her brothers had enlisted and were at the front in the islands and the Middle East. Her father was a lieutenant in the signals corps; her sister was working in a uniform factory.
Three years later, at 19, Fay also joined the army.
“The family was away fighting and only the young children were still at home with mum,” she said.
“They were dark days and I thought I should do my bit.”
Fay attended Camp Darley, training with the Australian Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (AEME).
As a craftswoman with the AEME, she was trained extensively in office work for the army, as well as first aid and other essential wartime skills.
After 12 months, Fay graduated and was moved to the Old Site 17 in Seymour, to live at the 2nd Australian Army Junior Leaders School.
“It was a training school for men, but there were also six army barracks of girls from the 2nd Australian Army there,” she said.
“Four of us girls from AEME were put in those barracks.
“Of course, we had a big wooden fence around our barracks to keep the boys out,” she added with a twinkle in her eye.
Up at 4.30am most days, she’d be in the back of an open ute (rain, hail or shine) by 5.30am to travel to Mob Siding, where she and the other AEME girls would run the workshop stocktake.
Throughout the following months, Fay endured all manners of discomfort.
The huts the girls slept in were made of corrugated iron with bare wooden floors and small windows – they cooked in summer and froze in winter.
“When we’d wake up, our face cloths would often be frozen stiff at the end of our stretchers,” she said.
At Christmas time, the camp encountered a new foe — food poisoning.
The delicious bully beef stew Fay had merrily chomped through at mealtime was, in fact, flyblown.
Fay and her three mates suddenly found themselves in army hospital with ptomaine poisoning.
They couldn’t eat and could only drink water. Boiled water.
“It was summertime and so hot in the hospital, the boys would sneak in ice blocks to cool our water down,” she said.
“But of course, the blocks weren’t made with purified water, so once they boys got caught they weren’t allowed to visit us for a while after that.”
After several months in Seymour, it finally looked like Fay would be sent overseas.
Supplied with jungle greens and vaccinations for the tropics, Fay was ready to travel to East Timor.
But at the last minute, she was stopped from going.
“They were in the depths of the fighting in East Timor at the time — very few lads came back,” she said.
“So they didn’t want to send us too.”
Deeply disappointed, Fay was moved to Broadmeadows to wait for another posting.
She was eventually sent to the men’s leave and transit depot where Victorian troops arrived after fighting on the islands.
She worked there as the major’s secretary until the end of the war.
And it was while she was there she typed a charge sheet for a dashing young soldier, Stewart Walkley.
“I didn’t take much notice of him then,” she said.
“But after the war I went to an army reunion with my brother. Stewart saw me come in and said to his friend, ‘I’m gonna marry that girl.’
“I actually ended up sitting at his table that night. I turned to him at one point and said, ‘can you do the hokey pokey?’ He said, ‘oh no.’ But I just grabbed his hand and said, ‘come on!’ and we danced the hokey pokey together.”
From the moment they put their right hands in and shook them all about, it was true love and Stewart and Fay have now been married 70 years.
Looking back on those war years, Fay insisted her story wasn’t much to tell.
And she said she never served overseas in a war zone.
But she still served.
Was one of the brave Australians who answered the call, putting her name down, knowing it could cost her life.
She might not be called a hero but she was ready to go wherever she was sent, was ready to go to the bloody Pacific war.
She was there in uniform, a hero waiting in the wings.
Fortunately for her, for Stewart and for their family she did her service and she came back.
But like so many of those who did serve, their respect and their praise, goes to those who did get sent overseas and didn’t come back.