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September 29, 2020

A lifetime of service acknowledged – Shirley McLaren (née Lemon) 

Eighty-eight-year-old Women’s Royal Australian Air Force (WRAAF) veteran Shirley McLaren (née Lemon) and resident of RSL ANZAC Village, Narrabeen, has been awarded an Air Force Gold Commendation for superior achievement.


The event was a well-organised surprise for the ex-drill instructor and took place in the DugOut at Narrabeen on Saturday 12 September.  

Because of COVID-19 restrictions, Air Force representatives had contacted management and asked that a presentation of the award be arranged in secret and that participants outside the Village be able to participate via Zoom.  

Management and staff contacted Shirley’s family who reside in Canberra, Brisbane and Melbourne and all accepted the mission of the secret presentation. They also liaised with Wing Commander Michael GarsideDirectorate of History Services – Air Force, to arrange the details 

Excitement grew as the day approached, and news that Shirley’s son, Noel, and Granddaughter, Brooke, were going to make a fleeting visit to Sydney join the surprise in person. Two of Shirley’s fellow ex-service women and friends from the Village, Shirley and Pamela, were also let in on the surprise.  

Under the pretense of a “coffee catch up” Shirley arrived at the DugOut. Coffee orders were made and Shirley was unsuspectingly ushered toward the Afghanistan Room, where earlier a Zoom call had commenced and family and friends were waiting.  

Shirley entered the room, suddenly stopped, unable to believe her eyes. She had not seen any of her family members, even on Zoom, in almost 6 months. As the shock dissipated the joy of seeing family and friends was apparent. 

RSL LifeCare staff then let Shirley in on a bit more of the surprise, asking her to take a seat in front of the computer, introducing her to Warrant Officer of the Air Force (WOFF-AF) Fiona Grasby and Sergeant Katie Mohapp, and letting her know that many of her family were online.  

Warrant Officer – Air Force Fiona Grasby informed Shirley that she was the recipient of an Air Force Gold Commendation and read the commendation on behalf of Chief of Air Force Air Marshal Mel Hupfeld and thanked Shirley for her dedication which helped pave the way for women in the modern Air Force. 

Not one to be lost for words, Shirley tearfully accepted the award and expressed her love of the Air Force and her continued involvement with the Ex-Service community.  

After the presentation Shirley, with her son Noel and granddaughter Brooke, sat and spoke with the rest of the family for more than 30 minutes. 

Congratulations Shirley! 

Shirley continues to be tirelessly dedicated in her roles with the Women’s Royal Australian Air Force – Sydney, War Widows Guild, War Vets RSL sub-Branch and the ex-service women’s group. Much like she was during her time in the WRAAF often working seven-day weeks, with early mornings and late nights, for long stretches at a time to guide and shape numerous recruits.  


Written by Kerry Morris

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