12 October 2023

Gundagai mourns the passing of 101-year-old World War II veteran

| Michael Murphy
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woman in air force uniform in her youth and in old age

Gundagai’s World War II veteran Betty Molloy has died at 101 years of age. Photo: Supplied.

The town of Gundagai is mourning the passing of a much-loved citizen and World War II veteran, Betty Molloy. She was 101 years of age.

Betty served in the Women’s Auxiliary Australian Air Force (WAAAF) from 1943 to 1946, working with Spitfires and Kittyhawks that would return from the islands to be serviced at the Richmond RAAF base.

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I was fortunate enough to conduct several interviews with Betty over the years, and she described her time in the WAAAF as some of the best years of her life, while adding that it was tough when they received news that pilots whom they had got to know had been killed in action.

Amazingly, Betty’s birth year would coincide with the founding of the RAAF, and she was extremely proud to celebrate her 100th birthday in the year of the RAAF centenary.

WAAAF members during WWII

Betty Molloy (far right) as part of the WAAAF. Photo: Supplied.

A woman known for her incredible energy and sharp wit, Betty loved Gundagai and the people within it.

Born to William and Florence Paine on 29 December, 1921, at a small maternity hospital in Gundagai, Betty grew up as an only child, but she was surrounded by a large extended family.

Her family was involved with the famous Royal Hotel, a silver-service establishment in early 20th-century Gundagai, and Betty would often tell marvellous tales of the characters of that period.

She was educated at St Stanislaus (now St Patrick’s) Gundagai and spent 12 months at St Brigid’s in the Sydney suburb of Randwick. As a child, Betty was known to get into some mischief, and she had said that she had point-blank refused to go back to school in Sydney, continuing her education in Gundagai.

young WAAAF member

Betty Molloy in WAAAF uniform. Photo: Supplied.

After the war, Betty married Harold Molloy in 1957, with the couple living in Harold’s home town, Narrandera.

In 1959, Betty would give birth to a son, named Garth, but tragedy would strike when Harold died in 1967. Betty and her son would eventually return to Gundagai.

Betty suffered a great loss in 1994 when Garth, her only son, died at a young age.

Betty was a keen golfer, winning many trophies and awards, while her community work with the Gundagai Ladies Auxiliary and the Gundagai RSL Sub-Branch is also well known.

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In her later years, it would be a common sight for Gundagai residents to see Betty leaning against the wrought-iron fence of her home ”Surrey”, adjacent to the old Royal in Sheridan Street, deep in conversation with another local.

In 2020, Betty was finally awarded her World War II service medals at a special ceremony at the Gundagai District Services Club.

It was an extremely proud moment for Betty, who was presented with the medals by Mayor Abb McAlister and Gundagai RSL Sub-Branch president Jim Sharman. Surrounded by family, friends and colleagues from the Gundagai Ladies Auxiliary, it was a fitting moment for a person who had served her country and community.

elderly woman with six other people

Jim Sharman, Abb McAlister, Michael Murphy, Betty Molloy, Peter Lott, Kate Howe and Keith Wood at the 2020 presentation of Betty’s WWII medals. Photo: Betty Molloy.

Betty rarely missed an Anzac Day march and she was afforded the honour of leading the 2022 parade along Gundagai’s Sheridan Street in a motor vehicle driven by former RAAF serviceman Tony Tunstall.

At 100 years old, it would be Betty’s last march, but the proud woman would commemorate Anzac Day in 2023 by attending a lunch at the Gundagai District Services Club.

A service will be held for Betty at Gundagai’s St Patrick’s Church on Friday, 13 October, at 11 am.

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