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Caldwell, Amy Gwendoline (Gwen) (1910–1994)

by Elizabeth Stewart

This article was published online in 2018

Gwen Caldwell, c.1945

Gwen Caldwell, c.1945

Australian War Memorial, VIC0819

Amy Gwendoline ‘Starkie’ Caldwell (1910–1994), pilot and air force officer, was born on 3 April 1910 in Sydney, the youngest of six daughters of Scottish-born William Stark, commercial traveller, and his English-born wife Amy Louise, née Clarke. Gwen attended school in Sydney, attaining her Intermediate certificate before undertaking kindergarten teacher training at Waverley. She was involved in the Girl Guides Association and, after seven years training, achieved the rank of warrant captain. Prominent in a number of sports—including tennis, hockey, swimming, and riding—she was also a champion golfer and was awarded a silver medallion for life saving.

In 1930 Stark was one of many young women inspired by the visit to Australia of British aviatrix Amy Johnson. Eight years later she began taking flying lessons at Mascot airport where shegained her ‘A’ pilot’s licence on 10 July 1939. At about the same time she joined the newly formed Australian Women’s Flying Club, becoming assistant State commandant (1940). Among the types of aircraft she flew were four in the de Havilland Moth series. She gained a comprehensive knowledge of aeromechanics and navigation.

On 10 March 1941 Stark became one of five women appointed as assistant section officers in the Women’s Auxiliary Australian Air Force (WAAAF) and the first officer selected in New South Wales. Posted initially to Sydney, she performed the immediate task of selecting recruits. Between 1942 and 1943 she served with headquarters staff at Townsville, Queensland. Following Japanese air raids in July 1942, she expressed her pride in the behaviour of her charges during the attacks. In 1944 and 1945 she was based at Wagga Wagga, New South Wales, where she was responsible for the discipline and welfare of airwomen employed in the North-Eastern Area and with No. 2 Training Group.

Stark’s appointment with the WAAAF ended on 8 August 1946 and she moved to a property at Bowral, New South Wales. Her postwar work included spending a few months of 1948 in West Germany where, with Lady Tedder (wife of Baron Tedder, chief of the air staff), she helped establish Malcolm Clubs that provided welfare for British airmen involved in the Berlin airlift. She also travelled throughout Britain investigating farming and animal-breeding practices that might be useful on her farm and, as the Girl Guides district commissioner for Bowral, gave talks on girl guiding in Australia. She returned home in January 1949 and on 23 July at St Philip’s Anglican Church, Sydney, married William (Bill) Caldwell, a retired bank manager whom she had met in Britain.

Caldwell remained deeply involved with aviation. In 1946 she helped to establish the WAAAF branch of the New South Wales division of the Royal Australian Air Force Association, becoming its first president. She was active in the Australian Women Pilots’ Association for forty years, serving as federal president (1964–65). She was patron for the WAAAF silver anniversary reunion (1965), and in 1968 was appointed OBE for her services to aviation. A popular leader with a ready smile, Caldwell rated her fellow WAAAFs and their wartime service highly, and for many years she led the WAAAF contingent in Sydney’s Anzac Day march. Predeceased by her husband and survived by her daughter, she died at Mona Vale Hospital on 28 November 1994 and was cremated at Northern Suburbs cemetery, North Ryde.

Research edited by Brian Wimborne

Select Bibliography

  • Caldwell, Mrs Gwen. Interview by Joyce Thomson, 9 January 1984. Australian War Memorial
  • National Archives of Australia. A9300, Stark A G
  • Sydney Morning Herald. ‘F/O Gwen Stark’s New Appointment.’ 13 February 1942, 3
  • Sydney Morning Herald.  ‘Pioneer in WAAAF.’ 30 November 1994, 25
  • Thomson, Joyce. The WAAAF in Wartime Australia. Carlton: Melbourne University Press, 1991

Additional Resources

Citation details

Elizabeth Stewart, 'Caldwell, Amy Gwendoline (Gwen) (1910–1994)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/caldwell-amy-gwendoline-gwen-19238/text30755, published online 2018, accessed online 17 October 2019.

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