Molly Hartcher was an enthusiastic and patriotic 18-year-old when she enlisted with the Royal Australian Air Force in November 1942.
“Everybody wanted to join up when they were the right age, it was what we were all aiming for at school. A group from the National Emergency Services came canvassing for members. Six girls from my area enlisted and we chose the RAAF.”
Molly was sent for training at the RAAF Command in Brisbane but afterwards was given a compassionate posting to Station HQ Rathmines, not far from Toronto on Lake Macquarie NSW, so she could be closer to her mother.
Rathmines was established in 1939 and was the major flying boat base for Catalina seaplanes that played a pivotal role in Australia’s defensive operations during in WWII. From 1942, they roamed the Pacific region in covert night operations laying mines in enemy harbours and uncovering Japanese naval vessels by radar.
The Catalina possessed an extensive range enabling Australian and American naval ships to intercept and defeat the Japanese, driving them from Australian waters and thwarting attacks on the mainland.
Catalina’s were also responsible for recovery operations. Allied survivors from ships and aircraft drifting in dinghies and boats were retrieved and brought to safety.
“We were in the thick of it and were heavily involved in the administration of incoming and outgoing signals. We were working underground in an operations room specially built into the side of a hill. There were 50 people on shift plus a Signals Officer, Warrant Officer and Sergeant. There was always a guard outside because it was top secret.”
Molly says she was on duty when peace was declared.
“When they announced the war was over there were no celebrations because we were still working. Three days later we got dressed up to celebrate – we had one night off. It was very rare to have any time off so that was unusual!”
Molly worked until demobilisation in January 1946 and then returned home to her parents before marrying. These days Molly lives on the South Coast of NSW and is a member of the Sussex Inlet RSL Sub-Branch.
Molly Hartcher (nee McMahon) was awarded the War Medal 1939-45 and the Australian Service Medal 1939-45 for her service during WWII.