Ethel Mary (Mitch) MITCHELL

Ethel Mary (Mitch) MITCHELL


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Arthur Murdoch Rees SMALLWOOD

Ethel Mary (Mitch) MITCHELL

  • Born: 6 Jan 1920, Jamestown, South Australia 22
  • Marriage: Arthur Murdoch Rees SMALLWOOD
  • Died: 2006, Foster, Victoria at age 86

bullet  Events

• Ethel Mary Mitchell served in the Royal Australian Air Force, Service Number 104472. Whilst living in Foster, Victoria, she enlisted on 23 September 1942 in Melbourne. On discharge on 19 December 1945, she was an Aircraftwoman, at the Air Defence Headquarters, Townsville.

• Mitch is seen here, standing in front of her husband Arthur.

Arthur's aunties, Beatrice and Frances, are on the left of the photograph, with Frances' daughter Judith peeking through from behind.


- Veteran WAAAF Pair Go Back a Long Way

In civilian life they are known as Ethel Smallwood and Margaret Trebilcock, but during World War II they were better known as radar operators "Mitch and Meg" in the Womens Auxiliary of the Australian Air Force.

Over the years, Ethel, of Foster, and Margaret, of Kyabram, have kept in touch, and came together again recently as guests of the Royal Australian Air Force, at the unveiling of a plaque dedicated to World War II RAAF and WAAAF radar operators.

The plaque was unveiled by Air Vice-Marshal Brent Espeland, deputy chief of the Air Force, on March 22 at the Canberra War Memorial. It is to be imbedded in the fore-court of the Memorial.

During the ceremony, Air Vice-Marshal Espeland explained the role of the air defence radar stations and operators.

"Shrouded in a veil of secrecy during the war, an organisation comprising 124 radar stations, four mobile fighter control units, 11 Air Defrence headequarters, and over six thousand people provided a comprehensive network of detection, reporting and control.

"The extent of this network and the way that it grew from concept to operational status in such a short time is astounding. The radar organisation was innovative, not only in technology terms, but in its employment standards.

"The RAAF radar organistion was one of the first to send women to its operational stations, with some forty percent of radar operators being WAAAF personnel. Not only that, but the RAAF and WAAAF were so proficient with both operations and training that US Army Air Corp personnel were placed on RAAF radar courses as students to learn the 'Australian' way", he explained.

In pointing out the difficulties radar stations and their operators had to deal with during the war, compared with today's complex peace-time continuing development of information management and intelligence infrastructure, Air Vice-Marshall Espeland had this to say:

"(Today) their task is hard, but it can in no way compare to the job that saw RAAF and WAAAF radar personnel serve in some of the most isolated, disease-ridden and remote areas of Australia and the South West Pacific:.

"During the war some 65 radar personnel, including one WAAAF member, died whist serving on radar stations. Thirteen radar personnel were captured by the Japanese and held as prisoners of war, and only nine of those survived to return home.

"Throughout these adversities, the efforts of RAAF and WAAAF radar personnel provided an invaluable blanket of security to Australia, and showed us what selfless dedication and exhausting hard work can achieve".

Anzac Day - Remembering the Fallen
21 April 1999


Ethel Smallwood (Mitchell) was in her early twenties when she joined the WAAAF from Foster in 1942. She was one of a relatively small number selected from a larger number of trainees to join the small band of radar operators who carried out surveillance of Australia's northern coastline.

“Coastal surveillance by radar and the locations of the stations were top secrets”, Ethel said. “Whatever their criteria was in choosing personnel, it was absolutely successful. Obviously integrity would have been high on the list, and it became known later that security checks on the operators had been carried out at their homes”.

'We were a small mustering Australia wide in operational service”, she recalled, “perhaps only 400 in number, manning a number of stations twenty four hours a day”.

“At times we worked eight hours on and twelve hours off around the clock seven days a week. It was exacting work requiring high levels of concentration. Radar was in its infancy then”.

It was while working at a radar station that Ethel met her late husband, Arthur, who was a mechanic at the station.

"Mitch and Meg" Ethel Smallwood, right, and her WAAAF friend Margaret Trebilcock) arrive at their first radar station posting, complete with mosquito nets, gas masks and water canteens.


During her first posting Ethel formed a friendship with colleague Margaret.

They became known as Mitch and Meg, and were to share many adventures.

"As it happened, we were always posted to the same stations", smiled Ethel. "Even although we received individual postings, we always ended up at the same place".

And such was the case once again when the pair received their invitations to the recent unveiling and celebratory dinner in Canberra. And they were even photographed together with the plaque before it was taken away to be prepared for imbedding.

Official recognition of the service given by RAAF and WAAAF radar operators during World War II has been a long time coming, but the plaque will ensure their history endures.

Friends "Mitch and Meg" at Alligator Creek radar station, North Queensland.

• Headed by the emblem of the Royal Australian Airforce, the plaque carries the following wording:


On the 7th November, 1941 the RAAF was given responsibility for all ground based early warning radar operations. This memorial is in commemoration of all the RAAF and WAAAF personnel who served in ground and airborne radar operations in the South West Pacific Area during the Second World War. They operated in the utmost secrecy and their contribution to victory was invaluable. Lest we forget. Dedicated 22 March 1999.

Wartime twosome "Mitch and Meg" pictured at the Canberra War Memorial in April 1999 with the plaque to commemorate wartime radar operators. The 40 or so remaining former WAAAF radar operators had a joyful reunion 56 years after their shared training days.


Just a few days after the unveiling of the plaque a new memorial at Canberra was dedicated to the women who served, suffered and died in the defence of Australia.

Ethel was also in Canberra for this event.

World War II ex-servicewoman Amy Taylor laid the first wreath at a special dedication ceremony on March 27.

The memorial is in the form of a large tiled in-lay, set in the sculpture garden of the Australian War Memorial grounds. It was funded by a Federal government grant for $150,000 and designed by artist Anne Ferguson.

At the dedication Veteran Affairs Minister Bruce Scott said 70,000 women had volunteered during World War II and served with great distinction. Many others took over traditional male jobs, he said, releasing thousands of men for operational service.

As an ex-servicewoman, Ethel Smallwood is one of a number of such women living locally who meet annually in Foster for an ex-servicewomen's re-union luncheon. She is also a member of a similar organisation embracing wider districts of South Gippsland.

Ethel (Mitch) Smallwood pictured at the new ex-servicewomen's memorial, where wreaths were laid to dedicate the memorial.


Ethel married Arthur Murdoch Rees SMALLWOOD, son of Charles Arthur William SMALLWOOD and Gertrude Laurie McLEAN. (Arthur Murdoch Rees SMALLWOOD was born on 14 Jan 1924 in Townsville, Queensland and died on 28 Oct 1995 in South Gippsland Hospital, Foster.)

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