First lady of Grafton RSL

WE REMEMBER: Joan Muir OAM, who was named as the Grafton RSL Sub-Branch first female life member on Anzac Day.
WE REMEMBER: Joan Muir OAM, who was named as the Grafton RSL Sub-Branch first female life member on Anzac Day. Adam Hourigan

THE one time World War Two veteran Joan Muir fired a heavy anti-aircraft gun, her ears were left ringing for days.

"We were deaf for about four days afterwards because you didn't wear earmuffs, nobody did then," she said.

"But we never fired against enemy aircraft."

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Her job setting co-ordinates at Sydney's gun station was just as important however, if not more.

Now at 95 years old, the South Grafton veteran and OAM recipient is one of just a few in the area who are still around to tell their stories.

LIFE MEMBER: Grafton RSL Sub-Branch president Brian Bultitude presents Joan Muir with her life membership badge.
LIFE MEMBER: Grafton RSL Sub-Branch president Brian Bultitude presents Joan Muir with her life membership badge. Adam Hourigan

Born at the start of the First World War, Mrs Muir grew up with international conflict both behind and ahead of her.

When she left school she found work at a bank in Grafton and was later transferred to Kings Cross.

Her brother and sister had already joined the armed forces by the time she quit her job and followed suit in her early 20s, swapping banking cheques for battle-ready attire.

"It was the best thing I did, it was hard work but I loved it," she said.

As a volunteer at Sydney's heavy anti-aircraft gun station, Mrs Muir's job was all about precision and speed.

"The guns' height finder and predictor was run by the women, so we worked out the settings for the shells," she said.

"You had to be really quick and we practiced for hours on end to get things very quick. You had to get the aircraft before it got out of sight."

In three and a half years of service Mrs Muir was lucky to avoid battle, but only just.

"Sydney was attacked a couple of times by Japanese submarines, the shells went over Sydney," she said.

"(Soon after) we were going up to New Guinea and they were sending the whole set-up; men, women, gear. We had final leave at North Head but the Japanese invaded New Guinea so we cancelled out, otherwise we would have been there.

"Some of my friends ended up in Japanese war camps. It was horrible."

Once she left the army, Mrs Muir left Australia to marry an English naval officer, who she had met in Sydney while he was on deployment.

They spent five years overseas before returning to South Grafton.

"We bought a house in Federation St in 1950 and have lived there ever since," she said.

"I haven't gone very far."

She became one of the first to join the Australian Women's Army Service Association, but commitment to her role as the principal of Caringa Special School for 21 years kept her away from many meetings and reunions.

She also had three sons and a daughter to keep her busy, two of whom got called up for service in the Vietnam War.

"When that wretched Vietnam War came up, two sons got called up," she said.

"Number one son volunteered, and number two son finished his training just as the war finished and didn't have to go, thank goodness."

So when it was decided in the 1970s that women could be members of the Returned and Services League, she joined up to that too.

"I was always there because of my husband, but in the 70s we were able to join as our own person," she said.

"A lot of the women were very keen to join then."

She remains the only woman on the committee of the Grafton RSL sub-branch and her service to the community through ex-service, service and aged care organisations earned her an Order of Australia Medal in 2002.

Yesterday, Mrs Muir became the first woman to be awarded a life membership of the Grafton RSL sub-branch.

"It's a bit amazing," she said.

"I certainly didn't expect it. When you're in the services there's something about it that's just a bit different from other ways of life.

"We used to have reunions of ex-servicewomen from all over, and you were with friends immediately although you never saw the ones you were in service with. That comradeship is always there. We're the same sort of people."

Topics:  anzac day grafton world war 2

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