Thank you for your service

Thank you for your service

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70 years after first beginning her service, Barbara Burns has been awarded an Australian Defence Medal. Photograph – Aaron Van Rongen.

A Byford resident who served in the Women’s Royal Australian Air Force (WRAAF) in the 1950s was finally recognised for her service on Tuesday, after being discharged early for getting married to her sweetheart.
Marriage in all services at this time was prohibited.
At a close-knit ceremony of family and friends on Tuesday, Barbara Burns, 88, was finally honoured for her service with an Australian Defence Medal award by Assistant Minister for Defence Andrew Hastie.
“In 1952 I saw this ad in the paper for applications to join the Women’s Royal Australian Air Force and I sent it away,” Barbara said.
“I thought I would get my uniform and then go home and parade up and down the street.
“It didn’t quite happen like that. I went to Richmond Air Base and I was sworn in in the morning and in the afternoon, we were straight off to Melbourne. I had never been away from home, it was an eye-opener,” she said.
After three months training, Barbara was transferred to Home Command Headquarters in Penrith, where she met her beloved husband, Robert ‘Lou’ Burns.
“All the services would all communicate with each other on the switchboard, and I was speaking to another man and he said, ‘Here comes my mate, want to talk to him?’ and we had a chat.
“I went up that afternoon for a shower and the girl who relieved me called and said, “Get down here at once, I need you here now.
“I ran back and there were two sailors standing there – they had come all the way to meet me in Lou’s red sportscar. That won me over,” Barbara said.
For two years the young couple courted, going out for movies and meals, before Lou shipped off to England.
Before departing he offered to lend Barbara his sportscar while he was away, but she declined, and Lou offered to sell the car and use the money to buy an engagement ring.
“I said, ‘Are you proposing to me Lou?’ and he said, ‘I guess I am,’ and that’s what happened.
“In 1956, when he came back to Sydney he said, ‘What are you doing on the weekend, do you want to get married? I’ve made a booking,’” Barbara said.
Following the ceremony, Barbara returned to headquarters and informed her commanding officer that she had married.
With only five months left of her four-year enrolment, Barbara was discharged, a note on her form reading ‘on ceasing to be eligible’.
Barbara and Lou moved to Byford some 20 years ago, where they lived together until Lou’s passing only three years ago.
In a conversation with her neighbour, Serpentine Jarrahdale shire councillor Tricia Duggan, she mentioned her discharge.
“She took out her paperwork and showed me. I thought ‘this isn’t right’ and I wanted to do something,” Tricia said.
“I got in contact with Andrew Hastie and asked if something can be done about this – Barb said it had been a dark cloud for 66 years.”
The result was a ceremony on Tuesday, where Barbara was finally recognised for her service with an Australian Defence Medal.
“It was my hope that, instead of feeling the sadness and dark cloud that she would remember how much warmth and joy there was on that day,” Tricia said.
“How often we throw around the word ‘thanks’ – but when you put that with ‘for your service’ it takes on a whole new meaning,” she said.
Remembering the ceremony, Barbara fought back tears.
“It was truly beautiful, it’s changed my life, it was the most wonderful day.
“My son Cameron is taking me to the ANZAC parade in Serpentine on Monday, I’ll be wearing my medal and I’ll be carrying a photo of Lou with his medals.”