Women at the front
By MEGAN KINNINMENT
WOMEN will play an increasingly high profile role in the military predicted former RAAF Vietnam War nurse, Vi Hill, at Byron Bay's Anzac Day ceremony.
"There will be more emphasis now that more women are serving in conflict zones," Ms Hill said after delivering the major address at yesterday's ceremony.
Ms Hill outlined the important, and often unrecognised, role women have always played in the military, adding the tradition has continued through to the active role women play in the current Iraq conflict.
Women today are just as likely to be flying fighter jets as working as a nurse in an army hospital.
Official figures show that, as of June 2003, women accounted for 13 per cent of Defence personnel.
While excluded from some key combat areas, women are in active combat roles across the Australian Defence Forces.
Like the men alongside them, women risk their lives to serve.
That, at least, is not new. Of the 3000 Australian women who served as nurses in World War I, 21 paid with their lives.
"Service nursing has a long and established history, and in 1999 we celebrated 100 years of military nursing with the dedication of the Australian Nurses Memorial in Canberra," Ms Hill said.
"Nurses served with distinction in France, Belgium, England, India, Burma, Persian Gulf, Palestine, Egypt, Italy and Greece," she told the Anzac Day crowd.
"Some volunteered to serve on dangerous and exhausting missions to Gallipoli aboard the hospital ship Gascon."
But, it was the friendships formed amid the horror that the former RAAF nurse prefers to remember about the Vietnam War.
Speaking to a crowd of more than 300 at Byron Bay's Memorial Gates, Ms Hill recalled the words of WWI Sister, Patsy Adam Smith: "It's hard to face danger alone, but having a pal beside you makes you feel stronger."
And yesterday Ms Hill was joined by two of her closest pals, Bette Boland and Pat Furbank of Macksville, both nurses who toured Malaysia with Ms Hill during the Vietnam War.
Dealing with the aftermath of the trauma of war was the pal's job, Ms Hill said.
"There was no counselling in those days," Ms Hill said.
"Our counselling was to get together and have a few drinks. The camaraderie in the services is unbelievable.
"Bette and Pat and I have kept in contact ever since.
"Yes, we used to get into some trouble, we used to party," Ms Boland added, laughing.
"Shh, don't tell her our rogue stories," Ms Hill quipped back.