Twelve Questions

Sarah Daniell poses 12 questions to well-known faces

Twelve Questions with Betty Morris

Betty Morris, who served in Italy during World War II in the Women's Army Corps, says she would do it all again. Photo / Natalie Slade
Betty Morris, who served in Italy during World War II in the Women's Army Corps, says she would do it all again. Photo / Natalie Slade

In an Anzac Day Twelve Questions special we talk to Betty Morris, who at 18 volunteered to go to Italy in the 2nd NZ Expeditionary Force. She was a WAC - part of the Women's Army Corps - who worked in the clerical division in San Spirito and Senigallia. She has a daughter and two grandchildren. Yesterday, she celebrated her 91st birthday.

What were your first impressions on arriving in Europe?

There was excitement but it was also mind-boggling. I think we were prepared, but we also knew we had to do the job that was expected of you. There were about half a dozen of us girls. I don't know if any of them are alive any more. It's just me, I think.

None of you knew each other. How did you get along, so far from home, thrown together in strange circumstances?

We were very close. We had volunteered, so we wanted to be there. If there was any bitching or that sort of carry on you might as well just go home.

It's not fun. We even played the odd game of tennis or had a swim. I'd trained in shorthand typing. We typed up lists of men who were casualties - that sort of thing.

Did you fall in love with a handsome Italian boy?

Most certainly not. I met my husband on the dance-floor. He was Stanley Albert Morris, from the South Island. He had come down from the front to Senigallia. The officers invited some of us girls to the mess for a dance. I didn't fall in love immediately.

Did you fear for his safety when he returned to the front?

You were hardened to it. You couldn't be a sissy or you might as well go home. You had to pull yourself together and enjoy life. Enjoy the moment. Stanley died 26 years ago. I look at his photo and ask, why aren't you here? I get a bit sentimental.

How did the war change you?

It just made me grow up. It wasn't a new thing for me. My Mum and Dad had both served in World War I - Dad in Gallipoli and France and Mum in England as a nurse. I had brothers in the Pacific in World War II. They all came home. There were six children. I lost a brother after the war in England.

Did you witness casualties in Europe?

We used to go to the hospital and see the boys there who had been injured. I didn't know them personally.

What gave you comfort at that time, so far from home?

I didn't get lonely. I didn't get homesick really. I very regularly wrote letters home to my parents. It was lovely to get letters from home but my mother had three other brothers to write to as well, so it was a lot for her.

What stories of that time have you told your daughter?

The odd story. I don't think that young folk are that interested in what their parents did. Although my daughter picked me up on Monday morning and we were at Queen St on Poppy Day from 7am till four that afternoon. It's something I've done for many years.

Was the work done by WACs sufficiently recognised when you returned home?

There's no reason really - we were just accepted and that was that.

What, if anything, would you change about that experience?

Nothing. I'd do it again. I haven't travelled overseas at all since then. Just all over the North and South Islands. I lived in Invercargill for a while with Stanley when we were married and my mother was in Auckland. So there was a bit of travelling. But I don't like flying.

How will you celebrate Anzac Day?

I'll be at the Cenotaph to lay a wreath.

Who will you think of on Anzac Day?

My husband, first of all. I'm on my own. Life has to go on. I don't feel old. I'm bouncing around. I don't take any pills. The only thing I have once a day is a drink - a gin and tonic. Life has been kind to me.

- NZ Herald

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