Cynthia's "Gunner Leake" AWAS jacket 1942

Contributed by: Rottnest Island Authority

Gunner Cynthia Leake 1942 Cynthia's jacket front view Cynthia's jacket back view tabs and badges Cynthia's rank badge Cynthia's occupation badge insect damage badge attachment from inside sleeve handstitching sleeve lining handstitched darts  and vent Cynthia' jacket label Sugar ration: 1/2 coupon "see a pin"......
  • Australian dress register ID:

  • Owner:

    Rottnest Island Authority
  • Owner registration number:

  • Date range:

  • Place of origin:

    Rottnest Island, Western Australia, Australia
  • Gender:

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Object information

Significance statement

The Australian Women’s Army Service   winter uniform jacket is significant for its social history in a time when young women were encouraged to play a part in the defence of Australia, taking on jobs that freed men for frontline duties.

For many young women World War II gave them the opportunity to leave home and spread their wings, at the same time helping their country’s war effort. When the Australian Women’s Army Service was established in 1941 the total number of recruits called for was 1600, by August of 1942 it was increased to 6000. Work opportunities included office work, typing, cooks and drivers.  

Country girls became independent young, many leaving home to attend boarding school in Perth, and Cynthia was no exception. After school she trained as a nurse in her home town of Kununoppin in the Wheatbelt, then worked at Norseman , Corrigin and Menzies, all  small rural communities. Cynthia was not initially called up as she was already nursing, but when her younger sister went into nursing, Cynthia decided it was time for a change.

In 1942, twenty one year old Cynthia grabbed the opportunity to change career and as a country girl with driving experience she sought to join the AWAS as a driver. She was initially disappointed to be sent to Rottnest, a small island, 11 kms x 4.5 kms and 19kms off the mainland of Western Australia, as a typist, but she was soon transferred to driving a Chevy ute, driving up to a 100 miles a day. She quickly adapted to the variety of work expected of her, from driving Generals to beer barrels.

Rottnest Island had two Artillery Batteries as protection for the submarine fleet based at Fremantle and Garden Island. Quite a community lived there during the war with soldiers based at the Kingstown Barracks, a hospital based at what is now The Lodge, and the airport in use by the Military.

The history of the AWAS is recorded at the Australian War Museum in Canberra, but Cynthia’s personal story of army life on Rottnest Island has the authentic ring of a mature and fun loving young woman with a strong sense of self and a terrific sense of humour.

Author: Gaynor Ashford is a retired teacher who now works as a volunteer textile conservator for the Embroiderers' Guild of WA and the Sisters of Mercy, September 11, 2014.


This army issue woollen khaki jacket has two patch pockets with box pleat and flap with buttons and buttonholes, two welt pockets with flaps. The lining of these pockets is a teal blue cotton. There is a single vent at centre back. It has a fabric belt with point at one end and the other is folded through a metal buckle that can be adjusted easily. The shoulder tabs have buttons and button holes with Australian Women's Army Service army insignia. "Rising sun"  badges are  present on the lapels of the jacket. Ranks badges (Gunner) are stitched onto the sleeves and a driver insignia (metal circle with cross) is attached to the right sleeve. The front has four buttons and four square ended machine buttonholes.

History and Provenance

Births, deaths, marriages, children or family information

Cynthia Mary Leake was born in Perth on May 26 in 1921 to Harry Wyborn Leake and Katherine McJannet Leake. She grew up on her parents farm in Kununoppin, attending the local school and District High School, completing her secondary years at St Mary's School in West Perth. Cynthia then undertook nursing training in Kununoppin , working also at Norseman, Corrigin and Menzies before volunteering for war service.

After the war she  married Vernon Wright and they farmed at Bencubbin for a few years before taking over a family farm in Kellerberrin which had been founded by her grandfather  in 1867. She now lives in City Beach, near Perth and near the ocean.

Where did this information come from?

Oral History ( OH 2007.6) interview with Cynthia Wright conducted on January 10 2008 by Don Baker, a Rottnest island Volunteer Guide.

This garment has been exhibited

The garment has not been exhibited as yet. It is hoped that it will form part of an interpretive site at the Oliver's Hill Artillery Battery on Rottnest island .

  1. Place of origin:

    Rottnest Island, Western Australia, Australia

  2. Owned by:

    The Australian Women's Army Service

  3. Worn by:

    Cynthia Leake

  4. Occasion(s):

    Her war service

  5. Place:

    Rottnest Island

Fibre / Weave

The wool gaberdine in the Army colour Khaki is a fine yet robust fabric that is hardwearing and naturally water repellent. Unlike the Eastern States, Cynthia would probably not have needed a great coat with the army issue skirt, and this jacket, as Rottnest has mild winters.

  1. Natural dye
  2. Synthetic dye


The tailored jacket is mainly machine stitched, but the lining has hand sewn darts and across the top of the vent, as the jacket was turned inside out during manufacture.The striped cotton sleeve linings were then inserted and handstitched at armholes. The interlining is soft, so probably a woven cotton was used as interfacing for the collar, lapels, and  button bands. The belt has a plain buckle made up of a frame and bar, no prong,  so there are no holes. The square end going through the buckle has a button and button hole folding to the reverse, to adjust fitting.  


Label reads: W74, Made in Australia, 1942, SIZE 11



  1. Hand sewn
  2. Machine sewn
  3. Knitted
  4. Other


The tailored jacket has two back pieces, with a central vent. The front pieces are in sections to allow for shaping without darts. The set in sleeves have little shoulder padding roll. The sleeves are slightly flared and shaped at the cuff.

  1. Bias
  2. Straight


The jacket has four metal buttons down the front and one each on the breast pockets and shoulder tabs.The belt has a metal buckle. The buttons were taken from her father's  first world war army jacket because they were a better quality.

  1. Hook and eye
  2. Lacing
  3. Buttons
  4. Zip
  5. Drawstring

Stiffening / Lining / Padding

The jacket has padded shoulders and stiffening in the collar and revers and belt. The lining is a pale khaki cotton twill, except for the sleeves which are lined with white and black striped cotton.


Chest 890 mm
Waist 740 mm
Hip 980 mm
Cuff 300 mm
Hem circumference 1170 mm
Front neck to hem 540 mm
Front waist to hem 270 mm
Back neck to hem 700 mm
Back waist to hem 280 mm
Sleeve length 590 mm
Neck to sleeve head 130 mm
Cross back 330 mm
Underarm to underarm 470 mm
Convert to inches

Belt 100mm x 40

Additional material

Articles, publications, diagrams and receipts descriptions

" See  a pin and pick it up, all that day you'll have good luck"  Cynthia had a pin inside the flap of the right hand breast pocket. The left hand breast pocket had a coupon for half a ration of sugar.

Cynthia used the buttons from her father's army jacket as being of better quality than those issued to her.

While nursing, Cynthia  had the nickname of "Springer". On Rottnest she was recognised by an ex-patient, leading to her being frequently asked if she was "Gunner Springer Leake"  She dealt with this appropriately!


This seventy two year old jacket is in remarkable condition, and has been well looked after. There is a slight whiff of mothballs in one of the pockets which would account for little moth damage.

Insect damage

There are a few small holes that appear to be insect damage, however there is no sign of recent infestation.


  1. Excellent
  2. Good
  3. Fair
  4. Poor


  1. Holes
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