Senate debates

Tuesday, 13 June 2017


Smith, Ms Cecily

7:29 pm

Photo of Linda ReynoldsLinda Reynolds (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise tonight to pay tribute to a remarkable Western Australian woman, Cecily Smith, who passed away in February of this year following a lifetime of military and community service. Today many more servicewomen serve shoulder to shoulder with our servicemen, but in earlier wars our servicewomen were often overlooked. While men often bore the brunt of fighting at the front, thousands of women like Cecily Smith also served with great distinction close to the line of fire.

Cecily was born on 4 June 1920 in Claremont in Western Australia. When World War II broke out, she was among the many men and women who stepped forward to serve Australia. She joined the Claremont Voluntary Aid Detachment, gaining skills as an assistant nurse, before enlisting in an enlisted voluntary aid detachment in November 1941. In 1942 the Australian Women's Army Service and the Australian Medical Women's Service were incorporated into the Australian Army. Like all enlisted voluntary aid detachments and all later female medical enlistees, Cecily served as a member of the Australian Army Medical Women's Service.

Cecily was posted to the 118th Australian General Hospital at Northam in Western Australia and then to various camp hospitals around Australia before she eventually moved to serve in Rabaul in Papua New Guinea. She was discharged in 1946 with the rank of sergeant, and at that time she was employed as an X-ray technician. But after an overseas working holiday she returned to Western Australia to take up general nursing at Royal Perth Hospital in 1953. She went on to midwifery training at St Margaret's Hospital for Women in Sydney.

But, like so many of us, service continued to call her, and Cecily joined the reserves on completion of her general nursing training and was appointed lieutenant in the Royal Australian Army Nursing Corps in 1957. In 1958 she was transferred to the regular Army and was posted to a camp hospital at Puckapunyal for six months before she moved to the British military hospital in Malaysia, where she served during the Malayan Emergency. In 1966 Cecily was posted—as a captain by that stage—to the 1st Battalion Pacific Island Regiment at Port Moresby for two years. This was the first time nursing sisters had been assigned to an Australian infantry battalion.

Further postings occurred within Australia between 1969 and 1971 before she moved to Singapore—and by that stage she had achieved the rank of lieutenant colonel—to take up a position as matron at the Australian, UK and New Zealand military hospital at Changi. Being the senior female ranking officer, her position required her to be presented to royalty and also to engage with diplomats right across the services. She held this position until 1973 before being posted to Yeronga in Queensland. Cecily was then appointed matron-in-chief and director of nursing services in March 1974 and the Queen's honorary nursing sister in August the same year.

She finally retired from the regular Army in 1976, having reached the prescribed age for her corps, but that year she was mentioned also in the Australian Honours List and was awarded the Royal Red Cross. She also received the National Medal in May 1978. Both accolades are awarded to people who have had exceptional military service, and Cecily certainly filled that bill.

Despite her notionally being retired, she maintained a strong interest in military matters related to both her own experiences and Australian military history more generally. Between 1981 and 1986 Cecily was the honorary colonel and representative honorary colonel of the Royal Australian Army Nursing Corps. But Cecily throughout her life—and particularly in her supposed retirement—did not just confine her services to the Australian Army. She believed passionately that Christmas was a time of giving rather than receiving and regularly donated to hundreds of schools across Africa.

Cecily leaves a lifetime of service that her family and the whole nation can be proud of. Lest we forget.