A whole twenty-one years before the Women’s Royal Australian members entered official service when the army ran out of telegraphists during the Second World War, a young Tasmanian girl was enlisted into the Royal Australian Navy.
In what many would call a bizarre and random twist of fate, Nancy Bentley, a six-year-old girl from Tasmania was playing around the bushlands of Port Arthur. When suddenly tragedy struck, she slipped and was bitten badly on the wrist by a snake. With the closest medical center with doctors hundreds of miles away in Sorrell, her desperate father took his boat and rowed out to the HMAS Sydney. The navy military gunship was anchored out in Carnarvon Bay after conducting military exercises off the east coast of Australia.
Here her father pleaded with the captain for the ship’s medics to assist his daughter. Commanding Officer, Captain Henry Cayley, looked at the situation and realized he had a problem. There were strict legal regulations set down by the King and Admiralty that stated woman were not allowed to board any Royal Australian Navy warships.
Luckily he quickly figured out a solution, on 15 November 1920, Nancy was formally enlisted into the Navy as an honorary member. Her service number was 000001 and official service tasks were noted as a mascot, they even wrote that she would be enlisted “until fed up.”
She was quickly transported to Hobart where she received exceptional medical treatment and was even allowed to visit the cinema before being returned to Port Arthur. Nancy served in the Australian Navy for eight days service and received VIP treatment from all crew members. On 23 November 1920, she was formally discharged, the reason stated was “being required by her parents.”
Nancy was even given a life long membership to the HMAS Sydney Association was is an invitation-only given to people who have serviced on one of the four ships with that name.