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2007/188/1 Shorts, womens, khaki, cotton / plastic, made by Berlei Limited, issued by Royal Australian Navy, Australia, c. 1942. Click to enlarge.

Berlei Navy issue shorts

Made c.1942
These navy issue shorts date from World War Two when they were standard issue for women serving in the Royal Australian Navy. Unlike World War One, from 1941 women were allowed to join the armed services. In the same year the navy employed female telegraphists and in 1942 the Women's Royal Australian Naval Service (WRANS) was established. These servicewomen were mainly employed in traditional roles such as nursing and typing. By mid-1943 there were over 46,000 Australian women in the services. The shorts belonged to Emmeline Roach who served in the Navy as a nursing sister. After the war, Emmeline became renowned in the field of Occupational Health Nursing. Nancy Bundle, a friend and colleague of Emmeline, wrote of her: 'She was a determined person who reflected the era and calibre of military nurses or nurses in general at that time. She was highly principled and epitomises this calibre of person, a single woman dedicated to what they were doing.'

These shorts are also of interest as they were made by Berlei who traditionally made corsets and other underwear. During World War Two, the Berlei company produced a number of items for the armed services including shorts and pillow slips. The Powerhouse Museum has an extensive collection of Berlei products and these shorts provide an interesting additional example of their range of manufactures.


John Curtin's Legacy: Women at Work,, accessed 31/05/2007.
Bundle, Nancy, 'Emmeline Roach Obituary', The Lamp, Australia: NSW Nurses' Association, Issue 53 (4), May 1996, p.34.


Object No.


Object Statement

Shorts, womens, khaki, cotton / plastic, made by Berlei Limited, issued by Royal Australian Navy, Australia, c. 1942

Physical Description

Shorts, womens, Royal Australian Navy issue, cotton, made by Berlei, Australia, 1942-1946

A pair of womens shorts made by Berlei. They are khaki in colour and made of thick cotton. Inside the front waist of the shorts 'R.A.N.' (Royal Australian Navy) is stamped. The label on the inside back of the shorts has the following on it: 'MADE IN AUSTRALIA BERLEI LTD. SIZE SOS'. The shorts have a waistband that can be tightened at the back with buckles. At the left and right side of the front of the shorts and below the waistband are three buttons to fasten the shorts. They have a wide leg with four pleats at the front and four darts at the back. There are no pockets.


Stamped with R.A.N.



720 mm


20 mm





Made by Berlei, Australia.



These Berlei navy issue shorts belonged to Emmeline Roach (1909-1995). She served in World War Two with the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) as a Nursing Sister. She enlisted on 23rd September 1942 and was discharged on 26th November 1946. Her service record shows that she served in Sydney, Darwin and at the RAN hospital at Milne Bay, New Guinea.

After the war Emmeline was the first Occupational Health Nursing Advisor in Australia dedicated to the development of the role and education of registered nurses employed in industry. Her first position was a clinic to treat injured miners where she witnessed their often dangerous working conditions. The clinic was set up by the Coal Mines Insurance Co. It was during this time that she recognised the need for nurses to have specialised knowledge to work in industrial settings. In 1950 she successfully applied to the Royal College of Nursing in London to study for the Industrial Nursing Certificate.

In 1959 a new position of Adviser, Industrial Nursing was established in the Division of Industrial Hygiene at the NSW Department of Health. This was as a result of lobbying by Emmeline who became the first person to hold the position. During her career she was also instrumental in forming the Occupational Health Sisters' Association of NSW and ACT. Another success was the development of an Occupational Health Nursing Certificate at the NSW College of Nursing. Emmeline believed it was vital for nurses working in industrial settings to have adequate post-graduate training, '... as this would change the focus of their work from first aid to the prevention of work related injury and illness.'

Emmeline retired in 1969 at age 60 after a successful and influential career in the area of Occupational Health Nursing. In 1977 she was awarded Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II's Silver Jubilee medal in recognition for her life's work. She died in 1995.

In 1919 Frank Burley and Frederick Burley formally set up Berlei Limited. Their corsetry business began before this date however it was under another name, Unique Corsets Limited. In Australia during World War Two the Berlei company produced a number of items for the armed services that were different to their usual products of corsets and other underwear. They made navy and military shorts, anti-flash masks, pillow slips and tape for gas masks. Company records suggest that producing the shorts was not a profitable business at the prices fixed by the Contracts Board.


Bundle, Nancy, 'Emmeline Roach Obituary', The Lamp, Australia: NSW Nurses' Association, Issue 53 (4), May 1996, p.34.


Credit Line

Gift of the late Emmeline Roach, 2007

Acquisition Date

26 November 2007

Cite this Object


Berlei Navy issue shorts 2020, Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, accessed 4 June 2020, <>


{{cite web |url= |title=Berlei Navy issue shorts |author=Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences |access-date=4 June 2020 |publisher=Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, Australia}}

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