RSL Special Collection


This unique collection of Australian military books, DVDs, magazines and memorabilia has been made available by generous donations from individuals and the continued financial support of the Berri Barmera Council. It is for loan to those doing research or to anyone who has an interest in Australia’s  involvement in military conflict around the world. Many of the items are personal accounts of those who have served in the armed forces both in Australia and overseas.

A brief history…        

The collection was officially opened on the 20th January 2000 by Mr Don Woon OAM who was Vice President of the South Australian Returned Soldier’s League at that time. Life member Tom Guscott was the driving force behind the project to make these unique and valuable items more accessible for the community. Other members of the Berri RSL sub-branch including Trevor Richardson and John Stafford were closely involved. Tom’s vision has been realised and the library is now home to a  popular and continually growing  special collection. 


Collection details …

RSL Australia at War room

The study room within the Berri Library has been dedicated to the RSL Australia at War collection and has many items of interest on display. These include a Burma Railway map and commemorative plaque made from items collected from the original site, a tactical map of Tobruk, an original soldier’s kit and contents from the second world war and numerous photographs and diaries.

There is also a South Australian pictorial honour role and a number of commemorative magazines. Some items in the collection are not available for loan due to their rarity and delicate physical condition. They are able to be accessed in the library, please ask a staff member to assist you.


Personal recollections …

Tom Guscott 

Tom joined the Australian Military Force 48th Battalion in 1940 – this was the first military battalion to be mobilized in the Riverland. He spent several months in the Woodside and Warradale army training camps.

“I transferred to the Royal Australia Navy in mid 1942 after basic training at the Flinders Naval Depot after which I joined the HMAS ‘Rockhampton’ as a seaman gunner. We carried out convoy escort duties along the eastern seaboard of Australia. The Japanese were close to Australia at the time and we were very much on the defensive. I joined the HMAS ‘Warrawa’ after eighteen months with the ‘Rockhampton’. Our missions included mine-sweeping in the Southern Ocean. I joined HMAS ‘Bathurst’, an Australian built Corvette in 1944 and spent considerable time in the Pacific on convoy escort and bombardments.”

The Australian Naval forces joined the British Pacific Fleet at Subic Bay in the Philippines at the end of the Pacific War. The Japanese were disarmed in Hong Kong and the prisoners of war were freed from their camp. Missions after this included minesweeping operations along the Chine coast and then a return to Australia in April 1946.

Tom was discharged from the Royal Australian Navy at Port Adelaide.

Nancy Powell

 At the age of 15, when World War II broke out, I joined the Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) training and doing medical duties at the local hospital, various services establishments and at the local cinema theatres.

When I was old enough to join the Women’s enlisted services, and was released from my employment, I joined the Australian Army Medical Women’s Service (AAMWS). We were distinguished from the Australian Army Women’s Service, by wearing a Red Cross on our right arm.

After initial training at Ingleburn, just out of Sydney, we were posted to various Army Camps and Hospitals. The Australian Army Nursing Service (AANS) were the Sisters in the hospitals and Camp Hospitals and the AAMWS were the nurses.

I was stationed in Sydney at the Medical and Veterinary Stores. We issued all medical and veterinary supplies to the Army and received Japanese captured medical supplies. There were some very interesting items amongst them. When I turned 21, I joined the AIF and was eligible for overseas service. Fortunately the war ended and so I did not serve overseas.

Margaret (Peg) Mortimer  SF83931 

I was in the first group from South Australia to join the Australian Women’s Army Service (AWAS). After a medical and short period of training we were posted to Sandy Creek, near Gawler. I remember being surprised to find large sacks which we had to fill with straw for our mattresses! There were very limited provisions and facilities for women at that time. Our boys were still being sent to Egypt. My job was as an army stenographer. We prepared the embarkation rolls for each soldier which recorded every item they took with them. We were saddened to read many of these same names in the Advertiser newspaper’s casualty lists. I was promoted to Corporal during my time here. This entire training camp was then moved to Woodside in the Adelaide Hills. My memories of Woodside are of frozen buckets outside our huts but happy times dancing the jitterbug when off duty! We had an old 78 record player given to us which was fun and provided some entertainment. After a wait we were finally issued with our uniforms – up until that time we wore our own clothes.

My next move was to Dubbo in NSW where I was working in the office 6 days a week. From here we went to Greta where we were informed that the camp had two sections Silver City and Chocolate City. One row of huts had galvanised iron roofs and the other was painted brown! Our work remained much the same at each location although whilst at Greta I was required to record a number of Courts of Inquiry to do with Army incidents.

Bonegilla in Victoria was my next secondment for six months specifically to work for the Lieutenant Colonel in charge of the camp. Some of this involved sensitive material and intelligence work. The camp also had a homing pigeon unit attached to it.

I was finally moved to Sydney to Strathfield Women’s Army accommodation. I met girls from across Australia and it was the first time I didn’t live in a camp. I travelled to work daily by train to the Docks Services Battalion on the Paramatta River. Myself and the only other female there were directed to have meals in the Sergeant’s mess at Port Maintenance across the river. Here I met my future husband who had returned from active service in Papua New Guinea on the Kokoda Track.

While I was still working in Sydney, peace was declared with Japan. We all descended upon the city and were caught up in the euphoric atmosphere of Martin Place. Celebrations were underway with everyone singing and dancing, people from many nationalities joining together to witness this monumental moment in history. When the war was officially over we were sent back to Adelaide and discharged from the Army. Three and a half years had gone by.

Enid Rofe

scan0024Enid’s story begins with her enlistment in the  Royal Australian Air Force in March 1943 in Adelaide, South Australia. ‘Rookies’ were done in Mt Breckan, an historic 38 room residence in Victor Harbor that had been offered for this purpose during the war, and this initial orientation lasted for six weeks. Training included marching and in Enid’s case, being a ‘marker’ for others to follow, due to her physical height. At the time of enlistment, Enid was offered a technical training course and this was held in Ultimo in Sydney, in an old factory building. The course lasted three months after which time she was posted to Melbourne for a further three month period. At the end of the course she was appointed as a ‘rigger’ and was sent to East Sale in Victoria. Here Enid carried out aircraft repairs that included riveting aluminium panels on Beaufort Bombers.  Enid recalls,  “We sometimes went on a test flight on these planes if we had worked on them, it was something we looked forward to and I did this twice.”  Pilot training was also carried out at this base. Enid and the other ‘riggers’ worked a six and a half day week with a leave pass for ten days every three months.  Her whole war time duty was spent in East Sale.


Enid and other residents of Hut 302 in their work uniforms

“We wore overalls for work and had ‘drabs’ for summer and a navy blue RAAF uniform in winter. The base had different sections set up for specific work such as electrics, parachute making and ours to maintain the planes for the pilot training program.”


Enid and her friend Joan in Sydney wearing their ‘drabs’



“For our entertainment there was a weekly dance and reviews were held regularly. We also went in to Sale to have some different food and to go to the pictures. I remember seeing Frank Sinatra in one of his first films! We had some happy times and I made good friends from all around Australia.

In fact, it was in East Sale where I met my future husband just before the end of the war. Rollo (Rofe) worked in the electrics section where I was sent to do a job once and saw him for the first time! We were married in 1946 and lived at Glossop on a fruit orchard for most of our married life after which time, we retired into Berri.”




Items of particular interest in the collection are

  •  South Australian pictorial honour roll
  • Burma railway commemorative plaque made with relics returned from the site
  • Tactical map of Tobruk
  • Commemorative magazines and journals
  • Original soldier’s kit bag and contents
  • Medals and statuettes
  • Schrapnel and artifacts from battle

Research Links

Australian War Memorial

Australian War Memorial Bookshop

National RSL

South Australian RSL website

Commonwealth War Graves Commission

Department of Veteran’s Affairs

Gallipoli and the ANZACS

Spirit of ANZAC 

Trove (Australian photographic database)

National Archives of Australia – service records

National Archives of Australia


The Berri Library & Information Centre wishes to acknowledge all those who have made a personal contribution to the collection and also The Department of Veteran’s Affairs who have granted money under the Federal Government’s ” Their Service – Our Heritage” program to make promotion of this collection possible.