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Wednesday, 21 March 2012
Page: 3840

Mrs MARKUS (Macquarie) (09:30): I rise this morning to honour a group of courageous, formidable and extraordinary women whose stories have not often been recorded in our history books, but who nonetheless played an important role in Australia's war history. The nurses of the RAAF Medical Air Evacuation Transport Units, known as 'the Flying Sisters' were an incredible group of young women who volunteered their services, and in some cases gave their lives, to ensure our young soldiers injured in combat or held as prisoners of war during World War II were evacuated from the front line and brought home. The 25 courageous young nurses recruited to the special RAAF unit flew into remote areas of the Pacific which were defended by Japanese troops.

The Flying Sisters were responsible for the loading of C-47s from ambulances on the ground amongst the rugged terrain and in a major theatre of war. Exposed to scenes experienced by our men fighting on the front line, the Flying Sisters performed their duties with tenacity, valour and resourcefulness. The mother of Jennifer Ballard, a resident of Winmalee, was one of these extraordinary Australian women. At just 20 years of age, Joan Loutit volunteered as a Flying Sister, serving in the New Guinea campaign. Stationed at Morotai from 1942, Joan and several sisters flew nonstop until after the war was over in 1945 to evacuate 'their boys' from battlefields in New Guinea so that they could access medical attention back in Darwin.

Now 90, Joan recently reflected on her time as a Flying Sister with her daughter. She remembers:

A typical working day for an air evacuation sister began at 3 am. Breakfast at 3.30 am. First flight was at first light over New Guinea before the heat of the day. Two hundred and fifty thousand POWs, servicemen and civilians were evacuated.

It is incredible. And she states:

I was very proud to be a member of the RAAF Nursing Service Flying Unit.

Joan, Australia is extremely proud of you and we are grateful for your service and for the service of all of the Flying Sisters.

In the lead-up to Anzac Day this year and the commemorations of the centenary of Anzac in 2015, it is so important that we share stories like Joan's and the Flying Sisters so that we may honour and recognise the service of outstanding Australians. The young men wounded in action identified the Flying Sisters uniform as a symbol of safety. Today, we recognise the Flying Sisters with unrelenting gratitude. Their service saved the lives of thousands of Australians. Though not formally recognised with wings or a flying badge of their own, I take this opportunity today to formally recognise the service and acknowledge the uniqueness of the Flying Sisters and honour them and their legacy. (Time expired)