WWII poster girl joins first Anzac Day March

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Flight Sergeant Peg Cockburn in 1943
Flight Sergeant Peg Cockburn in 1943

She was a recruitment poster girl for the WAAAF in World War II, but until yesterday, Peg Utting had never taken part in an Anzac Day march.

The 94-year-old joined the WAAAF (Women’s Auxiliary Australian Air Force) in 1941, when she was 18.

“We were the original number one corps, there were 26 of us and I’m one of four left, I thought it was about time (to join the Anzac Day march),” she says.

“I did a little march at the Dandenong RSL with my Vietnam veteran son. I’ve never marched in an Anzac Day march.”

During her nearly four years with the WAAAF, Peg was a Flight Sergeant and worked in the signals section.

“We sent the signals and received them and more often than not we didn’t know what they were about,” she says.

Peg’s face could also be seen around Melbourne on recruitment posters during the war, after being snapped by official photographers as she was coming off shift one day.

Peg in a wartime newspaper advertisement for the WAAAF
Peg in a wartime newspaper advertisement for the WAAAF

“They were official government photographs and that was the one they chose.

“It came as a bit of a shock, I came out of the train and saw myself,” she says.

“I saw myself on the screen at one of the one-hour picture theatres, I don’t know how Peters Ice Cream got it, but there’s a photograph of me saluting and it said ‘Peters Ice Cream salutes the nation’.”

Peg says she has always treasured the Anzac Day march, despite not having taken part before. “I’ve always watched it and always looked for people I know, but I don’t see them any more.”

Peg was one of more than 70 veterans transported to the march by RACV volunteers, continuing a century-old tradition.

During World War I, RACV members transported more than 93,000 soldiers and nurses from ships at Port Melbourne’s Station Pier and Princes Pier to hospital or military barracks.

It was an enormous task for a membership of only 1400, and one that earned the club its ‘Royal’ prefix. Since then, RACV has continued to help transport veterans to commemorative services including the Anzac Day march.

Peg with RACV volunteer driver Sue
Peg with RACV volunteer driver Sue

“RACV is proud to continue our century-old tradition of helping our veterans attend the Anzac march so they may be properly honoured for all that they have given to our country,” says Megan Ballantyne, RACV Acting General Manager for Community and Corporate Responsibility.

“Anzac Day is an enormously rewarding day for our team of volunteers, who often build strong friendships with their designated veterans and look forward to catching up with them each year,” she says.

“One of our volunteers has supported this effort for over 17 years and now his son is also a volunteer and has been for the last 10 years. It’s such a rewarding experience for everyone involved.”

If you would like to volunteer or know a veteran in need of this service for next year’s Anzac Day, please contact Lisa Hogan at RACV on (03) 9790 2975.

Written by Georgie Haberfield
April 26, 2017