Eve Scott (nee Hicks) was born in Longreach, Queensland on 31 December 1917. She served in the Women’s Auxiliary Australian Air Force (WAAAF) during World War II (Service number 93984). She married Norm Scott on 24 October 1944 and they had three children, Robyn, Wayne and Janice.
Much of Eve’s service was with the Central Intelligence Bureau in Brisbane working in the highly secret code breaking area that played a major part in the defeat of the Japanese forces. Eve wrote A Woman at War in 1985 about her own wartime experiences and edited a collection of stories told by RAAF and WAAAF veterans entitled Untold & Told Stories of the Air Force. Eve’s career was underpinned by her passionate love for Australia and her patriotism remains a strong feature of her character. Eve Scott’s contribution to the war effort came to light when in March 2002 she and other codebreakers were recognised by the Queensland Department of Innovation and Information Economics at a ceremony at a “Women in Technology” lunch at the Queensland University of Technology. Other women recognised were Jean Robertson, Dorothy Morrow, Nancy Goldsteen, Joyce Morrison, Sybil Brady, Betty Chessell and Margaret Raymond. Here is Eve’s story:
When war was declared Eve lived at Gracemere and worked in the office of a butter factory in Rockhampton. She wanted to join up but her father refused permission because she had been boarding away from home for a few years and he was reluctant to see her leave again. But Eve was determined.
“I got the forms. When I came home with them, he said ‘I’m very proud of you soldier girl. I wasn’t allowed to go to the First World War because I worked on the bridges and the railway. Come back the same way that you left.’ That was a moral code. I did too. When I joined the Air Force in 1941 it was one of the proudest days of my life and it was the best four years of my life.”
“I can remember when I joined the Air Force I couldn’t even march straight, I was too tired. I was 7 stone 3 when I joined the Air Force and a few months later I’d put on about two stone. They were tough days but I think we all went there with – nobody’s gonna take this country, this belongs to us. I’m glad the Americans did come to Australia. My parents and brothers were asked to move from Rockhampton down to Toowoomba because my mother had relatives on the Darling Downs and they were German, great grandparents way back and they had big properties on the Darling Downs and they were asked to move down from the Brisbane Line.”
The Japanese entered the war in December 1941.
“We joined on 1 December and the Japanese came on the 7th. And that’s when we were moved. We were moved to Richmond, these three girls and I – there weren’t a lot of WAAAF then but the three of us and took us from Richmond down to Forest Hill, Wagga Wagga. That’s when we had to have all our clothes in a port under our bed and they said if the Japanese came and got anywhere near to Australia, they said we had to be civilians. At Richmond, I was told one day to go on parade. I was the only WAAAF on end of parade with 500 RAAF. Richmond was called tent city, surrounded by tents.”
Eve remembers the attack by a Japanese mini-sub on Sydney Harbour.
“I was down in Richmond when that mini-sub came through. I was on leave in Sydney. They called all air force back to base and the black blinds were drawn and we got back and then they told us there was a mini-sub. They didn’t get the mother sub but they got the mini one. I remember the scramble to get back on transport back to the RAAF base at Richmond.”
In early 1945 Eve was due to go to Manila but was instead sent to the highly secretive RAAF Command Bureau Intelligence.
“When I got there it was such a closely guarded secret. You didn’t know the people next to you.”
“I was stationed at 7 Stores Depot Toowoomba and waiting to be moved. We were sent to 21 Henry Street, Ascot, Headquarters at Brisbane. We were only there a short time and all of a sudden we were moved from there to Oriel Park, Ascot in the fire station. And when I got there I was so scared of these machines, I didn’t want to learn. An American WAC Sergeant was very persuasive and I was soon sitting there. They were like the statisticians machine they tell me, IBM machines I guess and we put a key in and we had to slot the card in it and I know we had to do 1,000 cards a night. I think why we were chosen, honestly, and people get a little upset by this is because we were shorthand/typists – all static machine normally and the keys on the right hand side, all static. We didn’t take note of what the others were doing. We did the coding and the Yanks did the de-coding. We were told – no talking, head down and bottom up. Do 1,000 cards a night. We didn’t eat Australian food – we ate the Yankee food. We taught them to drink tea and they taught us to drink coffee. It was so closely guarded. We know more now from books and things I’m reading.”
Eve worked the 4.00 pm till midnight shift and earned £2.16.6 per fortnight. She told no one what she did at the coding section and as she learned to shut it out of her mind at the time, she now has difficulty remembering details of her work.
“You never talked about your work. We were always told ‘when you finish, close the shop doors.
“We used to collapse around about midnight when I walked in the door. I lived at RAAF Command, Victoria Park. That was where RAAF Command base was. I understand there were UK, Australian, New Zealanders, Canadians, Americans and I think there were Netherlands. There were 11 American WAACS, five Air Force and two army girls in my section. I think there could have been 50 or more who did different shifts. We never talked about anything. We were told, you go to work and you forget about it. And we did. 60 years ago and you just shelved it and now – it’s only when we’re getting our recognition that some things are coming back but they were there stored but I can’t remember.”
When the war was finally over, Eve felt a sense of disbelief.
“We couldn’t believe the war was over. It was unbelievable because it had been going on for so long. A lot of girls had got out. They didn’t want to stay in. If you were married and didn’t have children, which was me you couldn’t get out. We were enlisted then. We were “enrolled” initially but when it came to ’43 and things were pretty tough, we then had to enlist or get out and I didn’t want to get out. It was just – I thought “I’m here to do this” and I never entertained the thought of getting out. When the Japanese were there. I think you can forgive, but you can’t forget because a lot of people that you knew suffered great privation from those people. I can remember 1937 when I was in Rockhampton seeing Japanese sampans right out on the horizon – 1937! When it hit Darwin, it was a bit of a rude awakening.”
Eve continued working at the Central Bureau for three months after the war ended. Her husband Norm returned to Australia in December 1945. It was the first time they’d seen each other in civilian clothes.
“Him in his pin strip suit, me with my hair flowing out. It was a culture shock too. I’m just so proud of my service life and of my dedication to my country.”
(Eve Scott was interviewed in May 2002).