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Catherine Anne Warnes (1949–1969)

by Michelle Rayner

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Catherine Warnes, about an hour before her death

Catherine Warnes, about an hour before her death

Catherine Anne Warnes (1949-1969), entertainer, was born on 7 December 1949 at Arncliffe, Sydney, second of three children of George Alfred Warnes, an English-born motor mechanic, and his wife Nancy Starnes, née Buck, from Sydney. Cathy attended Athelstane Public and Arncliffe Girls' High schools. She showed an early interest in the performing arts and, while in primary school, began taking singing and dancing lessons.

By the age of 12 Warnes was appearing on stage in local community and school concerts. Spotted by a talent scout, she was offered a permanent spot, dancing on television station TCN-9's programme 'Opportunity Knocks'. At 16 she won second prize for singing in the Starflight talent quest. This competition was conducted by another popular Channel 9 show, 'Bandstand', on which she became a regular performer. She began entertaining in clubs, even though she was under the legal age to enter these premises, and recorded advertising jingles for radio and television. Later she joined the 'pop' singer 'Col Joye' on several concert tours around Australia. Warnes used the stage name 'Cathy Wayne'.

In the first half of 1967 she travelled with other entertainers to the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam) on a wartime concert tour sponsored by the Australian Forces Advisory Committee on Entertainment. Because she was not yet 18, it had been necessary for Bruce Webber, the organizer of the tour, to obtain the approval of her parents for her to take part. He recalled that she had 'leapt at the chance' to go to South Vietnam. Members of F.A.C.E. concert parties were not paid for their services but were given a daily living allowance and a security guarantee.

In mid-1969 Warnes returned to South Vietnam as the lead singer in an Australian pop group, 'Sweethearts on Parade'. The tour was privately arranged by Ingrid Hart, a promoter and performer, and was not under the auspices of the Australian government. On 20 July that year at Da Nang, Warnes was on stage in a club for non-commissioned officers of the United States Marine Corps when a bullet, fired from outside the club, passed through the insect-screen of an open window and hit her in the chest, killing her. Her body was returned to Australia and cremated with Anglican rites.

Sergeant J. W. Killen, U.S. Marines, was convicted of the unpremeditated murder of Warnes, allegedly while attempting to shoot his commanding officer, Major R. E. Simons, who had been in the audience. Two years later, Killen was freed after a re-trial; the murderer has never been found.  Nancy Warnes was reported as saying that she and her husband had not been in favour of their daughter's second trip to Vietnam but that 'she wanted to go—Cathy had a will of her own'. Her father told journalists that she had hoped to '''save a few dollars'' to help her singing career on return to Sydney'. Catherine Warnes was one of three Australian women killed in Vietnam during the war. The other two, Lee Makk and Margaret Moses, were welfare workers who died in an aeroplane crash in 1975.

Select Bibliography

  • S. McHugh, Minefields and Miniskirts (Syd, 1993)
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 23 July 1969
  • Australian, 18 Aug 1988
  • A4531, item 62/2/3/2 (National Archives of Australia)
  • private information.

Citation details

Michelle Rayner, 'Warnes, Catherine Anne (1949–1969)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 21 April 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (Melbourne University Press), 2002

View the front pages for Volume 16

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Catherine Warnes, about an hour before her death

Catherine Warnes, about an hour before her death

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Wayne, Cathy

7 December, 1949
Arncliffe, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia


20 July, 1969 (aged 19)
Da Nang, Vietnam

Cause of Death


Cultural Heritage

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Religious Influence

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