ANZAC Day—lest we forget
In a week's time, Australians and New Zealanders will pause to remember and honour the service of our Anzacs on Anzac Day, 25 April. This significant day recognises all who have taken part in conflicts and peacekeeping efforts since the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) served in the First World War. As Anzac Day draws near, members of Australian Church Women (ACW) will join in reflecting on the service of our Anzac men and women.
In this week’s blogpost, we remember and honour a past member—Jessie Fraser Horton OAM (Medal of the Order of Australia).
Up until the Second World War, there was limited capacity for Australian and New Zealand women to serve with the armed forces except in civilian and voluntary auxiliary roles. This began to change in 1941 and 1942 when women began to be accepted, and even encouraged, for service in the newly formed female branches of the armed forces. Jess, as she was known, was numbered among the women who were determined to enlist during this war.
Let’s step back a bit and look at Jess’s life up to the time of her enlistment. Jessie Fraser Chisholm was born on 13 January 1925 in Stirling, Scotland, the third of four daughters. When she was two years old, she came to Australia with her mother and two of her sisters, as one had passed away, sadly, at only eight days old. Her father was already in Australia, and they joined him here. Initially, her family settled in Sydney and after her father established a business, they moved to Lithgow, north west of Sydney. They later returned from there back to Sydney.
Throughout Jess’s life, her mother, Janet, was an excellent role model for her children. Janet raised her family with strong work ethics and Christian values, as members of the Presbyterian Church.
Looking over the research material I found on Jess, it is obvious that she was an adventuresome and bright youngster with a strong loyalty to her mother. She did very well at school and was selected to attend the premium Sydney Girls High School, leaving there at the age of 14 on attaining her intermediate school certificate. Her mother was unable to afford any further schooling for Jess, as she had become a single mother with little opportunities for employment, other than in domestic work and cottage industries.
To discover much more about Jess, please take a look at this interview with her that I came across on the Internet at
I was astonished to discover this gem, and I hope you enjoy it.
It was recorded on 13 April 2004 by the Defence Force Academy via the Canberra Campus of the University of NSW. Once the interviewer gets into the swing of asking questions, it is very interesting. It’s also very lengthy—eight tapes totalling about five and a half hours, and you will need to increase the sound volume. I hope you can find the time to watch it or listen while you’re working on other tasks. I treated it like a podcast and listened to most of it whilst working or completing chores, with an occasional glance at the rather static film. There is also an audio-only version. Please note that the 4th tape has a few minutes silence before it moves on to the 5th tape.
As you will hear from the tapes, Jess expressed her deep Christian faith in a lifetime of service, both in the Church and local community. Beginning her service in the Sunday School and Youth Group of her local Presbyterian Church, she went on to volunteer with the Red Cross and the Women’s Reserve Emergency Naval Service (WRENS) before three years of war service from 1943 to 1946.
Jess enlisted in the recently formed WRANS (1941) as soon as she turned 18, and she even volunteered for oversea service, which did not eventuate. She was a land-based Coder in The Women's Royal Australian Naval Service (WRANS) where she worked with the less-sensitive secret codes in the Communications Department.
After being demobbed from war service, Jess returned to a civilian working life until her marriage to John Horton in December 1947. Then she worked part time until the birth of the first of their four sons.
Later, Jess’s volunteer work for her Church was with Somerville Homes, formed by the United Church in Northern Australia and the Methodist Overseas Mission, and local President of Evening Fellowship, a position on her Church Council and a representative to the State Mission Fellowship of the Uniting Church in South Australia.
In the community, Jess held executive positions on the National Council of Women in the Northern Territory, Australian Capital Territory and South Australia, as well as the office of International Secretary and Vice-President. She was a member of the State Advisory Committee for Leprosy Mission for fifteen years and was awarded Life Membership for her service to them. Jess continued to correspond with the friends she had made in the WRAN and was a member of the WRANS Sub Section of the Naval Association of Australia.
In 1981, Jess was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) for Community Service.
In 1993, Jess was nominated and elected to the National Australian Church Women position of Trustee for the Winifred Kiek Scholarship Trust (https://www.acw.org.au/the-winifred-kiek-scholarship). She held the position of Treasurer to the Trust for eight years, until 2001. Dorothy Wright (https://www.acw.org.au/post/every-organisation-needs-a-good-treasurer) preceded her as treasurer and, like Dorothy before her, Jess was an excellent treasurer for the WKS Trust Fund.
As you can see, Jess led a very full and busy life before she passed away in Adelaide on 21 Oct 2008 at 83 years of age.
I ‘take my hat off’ to those who conceived and organised the Australians at War Film Archive comprising interviews and films of a wide variety of people talking about their wartime experiences; it was a mammoth project. To quote their website:
‘In over 2000 interviews, this Archive encompasses our wartime history from World War One to Afghanistan. It includes the battlefront, the home front, media and entertainment, children, wives, workers and clerics. From signaller to Spitfire pilot, from SAS trooper to stoker, even to those who fought with us and against us; they are all represented in this collection.’
I was impressed that in the interview and filming of Jess, she was even given opportunity to speak about her church and community involvement, and her Christian upbringing. We also learn that she first began clerical work in accounts during her second job after leaving high school.
Please observe the copyright restrictions when accessing the material on this website http://australiansatwarfilmarchive.unsw.edu.au/
This post was adapted from the tribute to Jess in the Honouring Australian Church Women records in the ACW National Archives. Please contact me firstname.lastname@example.org if there are any errors in Jessie Horton’s service record for the WRAN, and church and community organisations, and they will be corrected and noted in the archives of ACW.