At a time when commemorations and celebrations of the end of the Second World War are at their height, it seems timely to record the publication of a book dedicated to the many women who made it possible for men to enlist and “do their bit”.
Melbourne writer Jacqueline Dinan has painstakingly tracked down more than three hundred women and recorded for posterity their experiences and memories of those turbulent times.
These are the “ordinary” women who took over when their menfolk went to war, fulfilling roles that until then were regarded simply as things that women didn’t do. They ran farms, kept the factories running, did onerous manual work and – in many cases – signed up for military service.
Between The Dances is not an official record by any means and is all the better for it. These are the women’s own words, either direct oral statements or taken from letters and postcards and, in some cases, the treasured memories held by the children of those no longer with us.
The conversations Dinan had with her subjects are poignant and personal, laced with tragedy and humour, with loss and love. They reveal much about social values and conditions, and demonstrate attitudes that one feels are sorely missed today.
Some of the recorded memories consist of no more than a sentence; others offer detailed reminiscences of life in factories and hospitals or on coast-watch duty and aboard troopships tending the wounded.
There were deeply entrenched gender stereotypes to overcome while coping with arduous living conditions, food shortages and the inevitable raids by the enemy.
The book provides a unique record of a sector of our community that has been largely overlooked. Those who went to war are being rightly honoured and celebrated throughout this year. But the women who stepped into the breech at home – and further afield – deserve equally to be revered and thanked. They also served … and Dinan’s book is a fitting tribute to the role they played.