A week ago I received an email about a photo in a family collection: “I have come across a photo of Peggy Champion De Crespigny with my mother, Ruth Smith, circa 1942, both in Army uniform.

They enlisted in the army around the same time and were good friends. I don’t know if this friendship pre-dated the war, but mum used to talk about the Champion De Crespigny’s with great affection. I don’t think they ever met up in future years even though they both eventually lived in Adelaide – mum since the mid-1950s. Mum passed away in 2005. [Peggy died in 1989.]

Mum has written on the back of the photo: Peggy de Crespigny and Ruth coming from the Torrens Parade Ground along King William Road near Govt. House, Adelaide.”

Peggy de Crespigny and Ruth Smith 1942

The Australian Women’s Army Service (AWAS) was formed in August 1941 to release men from less important military duties so that they could serve with fighting units.

Isobel Ruth Smith (Service Number – SF64955), 23 years old, enlisted at Adelaide on 21 May 1942. Her occupation was clerk.

Margaret Champion de Crespigny (Service Number – S65003) enlisted at Adelaide on 26 May 1942. Her occupation was coding and deciphering, she had just started the signals course the day before.

From 25 May 1942 to about August Ruth and Peggy attended a communications course called the Australian Signals Course No. 41.

On 13 August 1942 Ruth was transferred to a special wireless school at Bonegilla near Albury. Ruth was graded as a Group 1 Wireless Telegraph Operator and later promoted to Sergeant. She was discharged in January 1946.

Ruth’s son sent another photo of Ruth “Also a photo of my mum, Sgt. Ruth Smith, who served in signals with the Australian Special Wireless Group a somewhat secretive outfit who were told that they were never mention their role, or mention the Aust Special Wireless Group, and were never to march in ANZAC Day parades (and she didn’t). Interestingly the ASWG became the Defence Signals Directorate.” He also recalled that his parents “would talk fluently in high speed Morse code, especially if they didn’t want [him] to know!”

Sgt. Ruth Smith

On 17 August 1942 Peggy de Crespigny became a Sig [Signaller] Wm Gp 2 with SA L of C [South Australian Line of Communications Area]. In July 1943 she attended the LHQ [Land Headquarters] School of Military Intelligence at Southport, Queensland. In December 1943 she was discharged at her own request on compassionate grounds. Peggy’s mother Beatrix had died 11 November 1943.

I was interested to see that the attesting officer on Peggy’s forms was Captain May Douglas. I met May Douglas many years later. She was a friend of my grandmother Kathleen—both played golf—and she was also much involved in the Girl Guides.