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Carol Kaiser OAM

Carol Kaiser
Carol Kaiser OAM

Women’s Royal Australian Naval Service (WRANS)


Carol Kaiser OAM
Women’s Royal Australian Naval Service (WRANS)

"I joined the WRAN in 1969, aged 19 as a Sick Berth Attendant (nursing duties). I served 20 years and became the first female Chief Petty Officer Medical, Warrant Officer Medical and female Mess President in the Navy. My career opened the promotion chances for following female medics.

In 1988 I received an Order of Australia [under the married name of Lacey] for my efforts assisting in the development of the Navy’s Drug & Alcohol Program. I was very proud to be part of the Drug & Alcohol Program as it recognises alcoholism as an illness and gives serving members rehabilitation instead of disciplinary action.

I enjoyed my service, making long lasting friends."


Click on images to enlarge.

Photography by Carla Edwards. 

I joined the WRANS (Women’s Royal Australian Naval Service) on 7 April 1969, aged 19, as a Sick Berth Attendant (nursing duties).

I came from a military family; my father served in WWII in the Army and continued after the war for 30 years. One brother survived in Vietnam and continued to serve in the Army for 20 years.

Our medical branch changed in the 70s. We became Medics and the Women’s Royal Australian Naval Service title was dropped and all females assimilated into the RAN (Royal Australian Navy). Now females could marry, have children and serve at sea.

When I reached the rank of Petty Officer, I had no more opportunities for promotion in the medical branch as no females before me had stayed in long enough, probably due to past regulations, preventing marriage and having children.

I wrote to Navy Office Canberra stating my situation, I had decided to stay in the Navy for 20 years and needed an opportunity for promotion. I qualified equally with my male peers. I was eventually promoted to Chief Petty Officer MED. I had to go through the same procedure to be promoted to Warrant Officer MED, years later.

In effect, I had opened up the medical branch for all female medics who followed, giving them the opportunity for promotion past Petty Officer.

In 1987 I was appointed by the Commanding Officer of HMAS Penguin as President of the Senior Sailors Mess. I was the first female in the entire Navy to hold this position.

A Mess was like a club, where personnel went for lunch, entertainment and other organised functions, to be among peers of similar rank. There was the Junior Sailors, the Senior Sailors & Officers Messes.

1988 was a very special year for me, being selected to be a Liaison Officer for our Bicentenary Celebrations. 

Foreign navies from all over the world were invited to visit Sydney on sailing ships of all sizes. Each ship had its own Liaison Officer to advise and assist with their stay in Sydney. I had a Polish ship.

Ships were alongside at Darling Harbour, I had to ensure my ship had services like a water supply, garbage removal, mail delivery, transport to all official functions and back, plus much more.

We had a wonderful welcome party for all the ships company, Liaison Officers and Bicentenary Organisers.

The Dial-a-Sailor programme allowed crew to meet locals for outings to experience life in Australia.

The Bicentenary Celebrations were fantastic events, so well planned and executed. It was fun, interesting and busy. Sydney was really jumping from so many foreign navies and events.

Later in 1988 we had the Warships visit, also part of the Bicentenary Celebrations and I was a Liaison Officer again for an English Supply ship this time. This was a delight and honour to be invited to serve as a Liaison Officer on both occasions. 

When I thought things could not get any better, on Australia Day 1988, I received an OAM (Medal of the Order of Australia) for dedication to my duties as the Hospital Patient’s Divisional Officer and my input into the Drug & Alcohol Programme.

I’ll talk more about the Drug & Alcohol Programme later in my story.

Going back in time, I did my basic training in 1969 at HMAS Cerberus, Victoria and later that year I was posted to HMAS Penguin in Balmoral, Sydney, the largest Naval Hospital in Australia.

My next posting was HMAS Albatross, Nowra, the Naval Air Base. This was a Sick Bay where we cared for the base personnel’s health in general. We treated lots of football injuries and unfortunately many car and bike accident injuries. We had a small operating theatre for minor surgeries, otherwise patients were transferred to HMAS Penguin.

I managed to organise a ride in a helicopter and glider while there, great fun.

After two years, I transferred back to HMAS Penguin where we had a very active operating theatre, visiting Specialist of all fields, as well as surgeries. There was a huge medical & surgical ward, a laboratory, pharmacy and physiotherapy.
I was in charge of the Specialists Department at one time in my career, organising doctors, their patients, surgeries and treatments.

I was posted every two years, back and forth from HMAS Cerberus and HMAS Penguin which I enjoyed. One interesting posting took me to Navy Office Canberra where I coordinated the Medical Branches posting to sea & shore. I had no computer and had every Medic’s detail on a huge blackboard. Every two years they would need to be posted from sea to shore bases or from shore to sea. If only we had computers back then.

The major highlight of my career was at HMAS Penguin when I was asked to assist in a trial programme to rehabilitate drug & alcoholism patients. 

I was very interested as unfortunately at this time these habits were not recognised as an illness. Personnel would be given warnings for a period to control their habits or be discharged from the RAN.

I worked with the programme for several years, with doctors, chaplains, educators, families, supporting instead of blaming.

After many years it was proven that treating these habits as an illness, not a punishment, saved many well-trained personnel from being discharged, returning them to the workforce, hence setting an example to others.

The programme became Tri-Service and each ship and establishment throughout the Army, Navy & Air Force had a Drug & Alcohol Liaison Officer available to advise and educate personnel as required.

Overall, I feel I have had a very successful career in the RAN. I have had experiences I never would have had in a civilian nursing job. Although the Navy was not my first choice as a job, I am so pleased that circumstanced led me to join up.

I was also fortunate to be selected for the first female Interservice Ski Team & we won against Army & Air Force!

Best of all, I have wonderful lifelong friends from my years in the Navy. 

This is the story of Carol Kaiser as told to Carla Edwards.