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, http://john.curtin.edu.au/legacyex/women.html, accessed 31/05/2007.
Bundle, Nancy, 'Emmeline Roach Obituary', The Lamp, Australia: NSW Nurses' Association, Issue 53 (4), May 1996, p.34.