The Fethers: A war bride and a POW

June Beale, later June Fethers, age 17
Courtesy Carol Fallows

Author Carol Fallows estimates that almost 50,000 women came to Australia over the 20th century because they fell in love with an Australian serviceman.

One of these war brides was Carol's own mother, June, who met an Australian airman serving in the United Kingdom during World War II. Her experience inspired Carol to write a book about those women who made new lives in Australia, Love and War: Stories of War Brides from the Great War to Vietnam (2002).

June and Will

In 1942, June Beale was in her fourth year of high school, living with her widowed mother and younger brother in Burton upon Trent in the English Midlands. Life was marked by nightly blackouts, rationing and hours huddled in air raid shelters as German bombers flew overhead.

Willard Fethers – known to his mates as Will – had joined the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) in 1940. After training in Australia, he was posted to the United Kingdom
and served in the Royal Air Force (RAF).

Will Fethers
Courtesy Carol Fethers
While on weekend leave, he and a friend were billeted with June's mother. Soon, Will and June were writing to each other regularly.

By mid-1942, Will was stationed in Cairo. He was promoted to pilot and skipper of a Wellington bomber christened 'Queenie'. On the night of 5 October 1942, 'Queenie' and its crew went down in the desert during a mission to Tobruk. The crew survived but were captured by the Italians. Will spent the next two-and-a-half years as a prisoner of war in camps in Italy and Germany.

Will and June continued to write to each other until Will was liberated from Luckenwald camp in April 1945. They were reunited in England and became engaged.

Will returned to Australia in September 1945 and June later travelled to join him, sailing on one of the many 'bride ships' that carried wives and fiancées to Australian ports. She arrived on the Otranto in December 1946. A month later, Will and June were married in Melbourne.

  • read caption below
    List of brides on the Otranto
  • read caption below
    Will Fethers' oath
  • read caption below
    Account of Will Fethers' crash

The records

June Beale's name appears on a list of brides and fiancées who travelled on the Otranto. After World War II, the Repatriation Commission authorised free passage to Australia for servicemen’s wives, fiancées and children, and kept records of these voyages, which are now in the National Archives collection.

Between 1944 and 1949, 110 ships made 177 journeys. The files record the names of women and children on board, and some also hold information about notable incidents that occurred on the journey, illnesses and conditions on the ship.

These files are listed by the names of the ships – not the war brides themselves. If you are searching for information about a particular war bride, you will need to have gathered some basic details, such as the name of the ship and the approximate date of arrival in Australia. The 'bride ship' records are in a series (A2421) that also includes general administrative and policy files created by the Repatriation Commission.

The National Archives also holds the records of those who served in the Australian Army, Navy or Air Force during World War II, such as Will Fethers.

RAAF records contain personal details such as age, next of kin, marital status, and information about postings, training and promotions. Some also contain photographs of the serviceperson.

Will Fethers' service record includes details of his enlistment and training in Australia, as well as information about his time as a prisoner of war. The file contains a handwritten account of the crash that led to his capture.

Click on the images on this page to see documents about Will and June Fethers held by the National Archives. The files from which they come are digitised and available through our RecordSearch database – see the table below. You can also explore further with the links at the bottom of the page.

Selected records on Will and June Fethers

 Title or description of recordDate rangeSeries number
ItemWill Fethers' RAAF file1939–48A9301, 401279
ItemOtranto – Voyage arriving Fremantle 26 December 19471946–47A2421, G1619 Otranto
Copyright National Archives of Australia 2019