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January 27, 2021

RSL LifeCare congratulates Shirley McLaren OAM on her Australia Day honour for service to veterans and their families, and to the community

The outbreak of the Korean War in 1950 led to the reformation of the three women’s services, which had been disbanded at the end of World War II.

In 1951 Shirley was one of 50 women accepted into the first intake of the Women’s Royal Australian Air Force (WRAAF) and moved onto RAAF Base Richmond NSW for four weeks training.

As a qualified drill instructor Shirley trained approximately 270 WRAAF recruits.

A very big milestone for me came in 2006 when we were awarded the Australian Defence Medal after a long, hard battle,
Shirley McLaren.

Shirley become the senior NCO in charge of the WRAAF stationed at RAAF Fairbairn in Canberra, but also spent time at Williamtown (NSW), Point Cook (VIC), RAAF Base Amberly (Qld) and Glenbrook (NSW).

Shirley has many happy memories of her time in the women’s services. She loved the comradeship and lifetime friendships she formed. As Patron of the Sydney WRAAF Shirley regularly attends the NSW State ex-WRAAF reunions and has proudly led the e-WRAAF in every Anzac Day March in Sydney for more than 30 years.

Fight for the Australian Defence Medal

Aside from social gatherings, Shirley has kept loyal to her fellow servicewomen by fighting for the Australian Defence Medal recognising their service to the country.

“A very big milestone for me came in 2006 when we were awarded the Australian Defence Medal after a long, hard battle,” Shirley said.

“It was a battle to have the federal government recognise our service to Australia. In March 2004 the government announced they were awarding the ADM to all ex-servicemen and women if they had served for six years.

“I was totally outraged at this. Our service was for four years and WRAAF, WRAAC (Women’s Royal Australian Army Corps) and WRANS (Women’s Royal Australian Naval Service) would have been denied the recognition I felt we deserved.”

Shirley spent a great deal of time writing to ministers, newspapers, defence members, WRAAF husbands, federal and local members of parliament to take up the fight.

In June 2006 all ex-servicewomen who had completed their four-year service were awarded the ADF Medal.”

Shirley now wears her ADF Medal with pride and it will be shining on her chest again this Anzac Day.

Shirley is now happily ensconced at RSL ANZAC Village, Narrabeen on Sydney’s northern beaches. She is the coordinator of the ex-services women at the Village, in addition to patron of the Sydney WRAAF, an RSL Sub-branch ‘Angel’ and Coordinator of the War Widows Guild’s Northern Beaches Social Club.

She is also the recipient of a Chief of Air Force Gold Commendation award, had the honour of presenting a medal at the Invictus Games and appeared on the TV programme ‘Old People’s Home for 4 year- olds. She is pictured here with her son Noel, a Navy veteran who received an Australian Fire Service Medal in the 2021 Australia Day Honours.


With thanks to Shirley McLaren, the Camden Courier, War Widows NSW and Dept of Defence for background content.

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