Biography

Birth date: 18 July 1903
Birth place: Australia: Victoria, Wangaratta
Death date: 22 October 1988
Death place: Australia: New South Wales, Sydney
Final rank: Group Officer
Conflict: Second World War, 1939-1945

Clare Stevenson, born on 18 July 1903 at Wangaratta, Victoria, was the first woman to be appointed head of a women's wartime service in Australia. She attended school in Essendon, Melbourne, and gained entry to Melbourne University's Faculty of Science, where she became active in campus activities, serving as President of the Committee of Melbourne University Women. Having failed chemistry, Stevenson enrolled for a Diploma of Education, graduating in 1925.

She began work with the YWCA and spent several years as General Secretary of Rockhampton Branch before taking up work as a training and research officer at Berlei in 1932. Between 1935 and 1939, Stevenson represented Berlei as a senior executive in London.

In June 1941 Stevenson was selected as Director of the newly formed Women's Auxiliary Australian Air Force (WAAAF) with the rank of squadron officer; she was promoted to wing officer the following September. Having been established in response to lobbying by women keen to serve Australia in wartime and in recognition of the need to free men for service overseas, the WAAAF became the first and largest of Australia's Second World War women's services.

Stevenson received a further promotion in September 1942, to group officer. During her tenure the WAAAF became part of the permanent Air Force. At its peak, in October 1944, the WAAAF numbered 18,667 personnel. In total, more than 27,000 women served under Stevenson's command. She continued to serve after the war ended, retiring in March 1946 and returning to her former employer, Berlei, where she worked as a senior executive until 1960.

In addition to her civilian and military careers, Stevenson was active in community work for more than forty years. She enjoyed a long affiliation with the Services Canteen Trust Fund and, along with a group of friends, helped initiate the Scholarship Trust Find for Civilian Widows' Children. She was also involved in establishing Sydney's King's Cross Community Aid Centre and the Carers' Association of New South Wales.

In recognition of her contribution to community organisations and for her work on behalf of former servicewomen, Stevenson was appointed a Member of the Order of the British Empire; on 26 January 1988 she received the Member of the Order of Australia.

Stevenson never married. She died in Sydney on 22 October 1988.

Rolls and Awards

Collection Items

Film

Peace to war: an RAAF training film

WAAAF training film showing advancement through recruit training to various Air Force trades. The film was made at the Directorate of Training RAAF HQ Albert Park Melbourne produced in collaboration with Squadron Leader Newman Rosenthal MBE head of the Visual Aids Section RAAF. Text was written and...

F03351

Private Record

Photograph

VIC1487

Melbourne, Vic. C. 1946-03. Portrait of Wing Officer (Wing Off) Audrey Herring WAAAF, Staff Officer in the Directorate of Personal Services, Air Force Headquarters (AFHQ), Victoria Barracks. Wing Off Herring had been Deputy Director WAAAF since 1943-11-17 and in this appointment became responsible...

VIC1487

Timeline

Date of birth 1903-07-18 Wangaratta, VIC.
Other 1925 Graduated from the University of Melbourne with a Diploma of Education.
Other 1926 - 1928 Organiser of night classes and clubs for day workers YWCA (Sydney).
Other 1929 - 1931 General Secretary of the YWCA, Rockhampton.
Other 1932 Appointed as a training and research officer at Berlei.
Other 1935 - 1939 Stevenson represented Berlei as a senior executive in London.
Date and unit at appointment (Officers) 1941-06 Stevenson was selected as Director of the newly formed Women's Auxiliary Australian Air Force (WAAAF) and enlisted with the rank of Squadron Officer.
Date promoted 1941-09 Promoted to wing officer.
Date promoted 1942-09 Promoted to group officer.
Other 1946 - 1986 Appointed as one of the nine Trustees of the Services Canteens Trust Fund based in Melbourne.
Other 1946-03-22 Retired from WAAAF and returned to her former employer, Berlei.
Other 1960 Retired from Berlei.
Date of honour or award 1960-06-11 Member of the Order of the British Empire.
Other 1975 - 1987 Established the Kings Cross Community Aid and Information Service and was President of the Service for some years and a member of the Management Committee.
Date of honour or award 1988-01-26 Member of the Order of Australia.
Date of death 1988-10-22