Voluntary Aid Detachment uniform worn by Nora Flynn

Contributed by: Roto House - NPWS

VAD Uniform Dress, 1940 VAD Uniform Dress, 1940 with VAD Hat Staining on front Staining on back Nora Flynn's VAD Hat, 1940 VAD Hospital Service Card for Nora Flynn, 1944 VAD Marching, Port Macquarie, 1940s VAD Drill, Port Macquarie, 1940s
  • Australian dress register ID:

  • Owner:

    Roto House - NPWS
  • Owner registration number:

  • Date range:

    1940 - 1945
  • Place of origin:

    Port Macquarie, New South Wales, Australia
  • Gender:

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Object information

Significance statement

This Voluntary Aid Detachment Uniform Dress is a rare surviving item of clothing belonging to Nora Flynn [1886-1978]. Nora was born at Port Macquarie and lived at 'Roto', the Flynn family home for most of her life. Nora was the eldest of six children born to John and Jessie (nee McDougall) Flynn and following her education became involved in many local community activities including the Port Macquarie Branch of the Australian Red Cross.

Nora's involvement in the Australian Red Cross started in August 1914 shortly after Australia joined World War 1, when the Port Macquarie Branch was formed and continued right through until the early 1970s when ill health caused Nora to restrict her community work. Nora's service with the Red Cross exceeded 55 years and included two World Wars.

The Port Macquarie Detachment (No 819) of the Australian Red Cross Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) was formed in May 1940. Nora was a foundation member of the detachment and successfully passed her VAD home nursing examination in August of that year.

This VAD uniform evidences Nora Flynn's long commitment to the Australian Red Cross and her work with the Port Macquarie Branch, particularly during World War 2 when Nora was a member of the Port Macquarie Voluntary Aid Detachment. Voluntary Aids were important to the local community providing labour to the Hastings District Hospital which suffered staff shortages due to the war effort.

The uniform is an example of the dress style of the 1940s and wartime. Its cesarine fabric is typical of the limited but durable fabrics available during World War 2. It also evidences Australian women's involvement in the war effort on the local home front. It appears the uniform was significant to Nora also, as she kept it and made sure it was donated to the Port Macquarie Historical Society before moving to a Nursing Home in 1976.

This VAD Uniform Dress is an important object to interpret the life and times of Nora Flynn, her contribution to community and charity work and particularly her contribution to the Port Macquarie Red Cross during World War 2 as a Voluntary Aid. It is also an important object to interpret and reference women's contribution to the war effort during World War 2, women's costume of the 1940s, spinsters and their community contributions and women's life in the early to mid 1900s.

Author: Debbie Sommers, 24th February 2006.


Blue cesarine v- necked, short sleeved VAD uniform dress with detachable white collar, blue collar and lapels. The shirt-style dress is fastened down the front by seven white buttons held in place with brass clips with a concealed hook and eye at the waist. There is also a press stud located near the bottom of the front opening to hold the lower skirt in place. Two of the buttons are held in place by safety pins. A white detachable collar is hand stitched over the upper part of blue collar. Epaulettes in the same fabric are held in place on each shoulder with a white button. Two button holes on each epaulette are visible near the shoulder where VAD badges would have originally been worn. The sleeves feature some tucks near the shoulder and a turned back cuff. A small white patch pocket with an embroidered red cross is sewn to the left breast. The front bodice features tucks from shoulder and waist and the back bodice has a centre inverted pleat for movement. There are belt loops at the side waist, however the belt is missing. The skirt is slightly flared with a large pleat on each side sewn in place from the waist to the hip. The skirt has a small wrap around to the right where it is fastened with a press stud at the waist and two front patch pockets at the hip.

Worn by Nora Flynn [1886-1978] whilst serving as a member of the Port Macquarie Voluntary Aid Detachment 1940-1945.

History and Provenance

Births, deaths, marriages, children or family information

Nora Mary Flynn [1886-1978] was the eldest of six children born to John Edmund Flynn [1854-1933] and Jessie Louisa (nee McDougall) Flynn [1862-1946]. The couple met and married in Grafton in 1885 before making their home at Port Macquarie. The Flynn family home 'Roto' was designed by John Flynn, a surveyor and built by James Condon in 1890. Now known as 'Roto House', the Flynn family home is located within Macquarie Nature Reserve, managed by National Parks and Wildlife Service, NSW and is open to the public daily.

Nora Flynn never married and had no children.

Do you have any stories or community information associated with this?

Pat Preston, Nora's niece remembers Nora dressed in this VAD uniform. She particularly remembers Nora practising bandaging and can also recall her talking about walking to the local hospital to do Voluntary Aid duty. A copy of Nora's VA service card for 1944 is attached. Source: Interview with Pat Preston 23 February, 2006.

Jean Kennedy was a young Port Macquarie girl and fellow VAD member until she enlisted in 1943. Jean can remember Nora taking drill exercises and she found these memories very amusing. It appears that Nora took drill exercises more seriously than her younger charges. There are two photographs of the Port Macquarie VAD marching and at drill. These are attached.

Source: Interview with Jean Kennedy 7 November 2005.

How does this garment relate to the wider historical context?

Nora Flynn had a long association with the Port Macquarie Branch of the Australian Red Cross and was a founding member of the branch when it formed in August 1914, shortly after Australia joined World War 1. Nora was an active member and held the office of Secretary and Treasurer on several occasions. The branch recessed in 1920 and reformed again in 1929. In 1936 Nora resigned as Secretary however at the outbreak of World War 2, Nora resumed her Red Cross involvement. The Port Macquarie Detachment (No 819) of the Australian Red Cross Society's Voluntary Aid Detachment was formed in May 1940 and Nora Flynn was a foundation member. Nora was amongst 37 local VAD members to successfully pass their home nursing examination in July 1940, she was aged 54 years at that time. Voluntary Aids were important to regional communities during the war, providing labour to local hospitals who suffered severe staff shortages due to the war effort. Nora's VAD Hospital Service card for the year ended June 1943 shows she worked 121 hours. In 1964 on the occasion of the Jubilee of the Australian Red Cross, Nora's contributions were acknowledged by a letter. In July 1970, Nora was further acknowledged together with six others including her sister Kathleen, by the Port Macquarie Branch at their Annual General Meeting, presented with a card, camellia dress spray and silver Red Cross teaspoon.

Where did this information come from?

Most of this information has been researched through articles in the Port Macquarie News and Red Cross archives held by the Port Macquarie Historical Society. Further details are in an object file at Roto House.

This garment has been exhibited

The VAD uniform is currently on exhibit at Roto House, Port Macquarie, as part of the 'Her Story' thematic study project installed in April 2005. The exhibition features the community work of Nora Flynn, her sister Kathleen and mother Jessie and particularly Nora's contribution to the Port Macquarie Branch of the Australian Red Cross for more than 55 years including her service in the Port Macquarie Voluntary Aid Detachment, No. 819.

  1. Place of origin:

    Port Macquarie, New South Wales, Australia

  2. Owned by:

    Nora Mary Flynn [1886-1978]. Nora Flynn was born and lived at Port Macquarie. This uniform dress and two VAD hats were donated to the Port Macquarie Historical Society (PMHS) in November 1976 by the owner Nora Flynn, around the time that Nora left her home 'Roto' to reside in Lourdes Nursing Home until her death in June 1978. The dress and hats were subsequently donated to Roto House - National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) around 2001 and catalogued in 2003.

  3. Worn by:

    Nora Mary Flynn

  4. Occasion(s):

    Worn at drill and marching parades and whilst performing VA service at the Hastings District Hospital.

  5. Place:

    Port Macquarie - various locations and Hastings District Hospital

  6. Made by:


Trimmings / Decoration

Fabric epaulettes are attached to each shoulder. The original VAD badges attached to the epaulettes are missing. A small white patch pocket with an embroidered red cross is sewn to the left breast area. Two patch pockets are attached to the front skirt near the hips.


Tucks have been used for shaping in the front and back bodice.


A red cross has been embroidered on to a small patch pocket sewn to the left breast area

Fibre / Weave

The dress is made of blue cesarine cotton throughout. White cesarine cotton has been used for the detachable collar and the small front patch pocket on bodice. Red cotton embroidery thread has been used to embroider a red cross on the white patch pocket.

  1. Natural dye
  2. Synthetic dye


The dress is machine sewn. The white detachable collar is hand sewn to the neckline and the hem is hand sewn in place.


The dress has a sewn in label 'Farmer's Sydney'. There is no size label.


The dress does not appear to have been altered.

  1. Hand sewn
  2. Machine sewn
  3. Knitted
  4. Other


  1. Bias
  2. Straight


A concealed metal hook and eye fastens the front waist. Seven buttons secured with brass clips and safety pins fasten the dress down the centre front. Press studs are used to hold the skirt wrap around in place at the right waist and also the bottom of the skirt front.

  1. Hook and eye
  2. Lacing
  3. Buttons
  4. Zip
  5. Drawstring

Stiffening / Lining / Padding

Linings around the neckline and lapel are in the dress fabric. There is no evidence of any other stiffening.


Neck 410 mm
Chest 1120 mm
Waist 1000 mm
Hip 1180 mm
Cuff 410 mm
Hem circumference 1835 mm
Front neck to hem 1190 mm
Front waist to hem 770 mm
Back neck to hem 1190 mm
Back waist to hem 775 mm
Sleeve length 170 mm
Neck to sleeve head 145 mm
Underarm to underarm 430 mm
Convert to inches

Additional material

Other related objects

VAD Hospital Service Card, 1944

VAD Hat with VAD Badge, 1940


There are small isolated stains and holes in the dress.

Evidence of repairs

One of the front buttons is different and possibly a replacement. The two buttons on the epaulettes also appear to be replacements. The metal press stud near the lower front hem appears to be an addition and not part of the original manufacture.


  1. Excellent
  2. Good
  3. Fair
  4. Poor


  1. Fading
  2. Holes
  3. Stained
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