Bolton Clarke Baycrest resident Sheila Smith was 17 when she joined the Women’s Royal Air Force, motivated by a desire to see the world beyond her small Yorkshire village.
It’s a goal she fulfilled, spending two years working in stores in England before applying for and winning a post at Changi, in Singapore.
“I spent two years there being treated like a lady,” she said.
“My role was to issue equipment in the hangars, and when they brought in a new uniform they picked me to model it.”
After completing her air force service and returning to Pudsey, a night at home led to a marriage that would last almost 60 years.
“I used to go dancing with a girlfriend, but on this night she had a date and I stayed home.
“I went to take some magazines around to my friend Bess, George’s sister, and he was on his way out.
“He invited me to come with him and that was the beginning.”
George was also an ex-serviceman, having served in the Scottish Regiment. The pair married and led a busy life, with George working a night shift job and Sheila working during the day.
“I came home one day and he’d left the newspaper on the table opened at a story about emigration.
“We’d talked about it before, so I thought he must want me to fill out the forms. So I filled out the application and posted it off.
“When he got up I said ‘I’ve sent those forms off!’ and he said ‘what forms?’”
Nevertheless, they decided to go ahead with the move and after 12 months moved to Australia, settling first in Bankstown and Fairfield, in Sydney, for 20 years and then moving steadily north, first to Gosford in NSW and then to Hervey Bay, on Queensland’s Fraser Coast.
In the meantime they raised three boys who now live in Sydney, Brisbane and Howard (near Hervey Bay).
Sheila was widowed in 2010 and has lived at Bolton Clarke’s Baycrest residential aged care community for the past two years, where her room is decorated with family photos and an illustrated family tree she created including her grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
She loves jigsaw puzzles and continues to keep in touch with her friends and relatives in the UK.