Eighty-eight-year-old Women's Royal Australian Air Force veteran Shirley McLaren (née Lemon) has been awarded an Air Force Gold Commendation for superior achievement.  

The event, held in the Dugout at RSL Life Care, Narrabeen, was a well-organised surprise for the ex-drill instructor.

Because of COVID-19 restrictions, Air Force representatives and family from Victoria participated via Zoom. 

Shirley McLaren said she was honoured to receive the award. 

“It was an extremely proud moment for me,” Ms McLaren said.

“It was hard for me to realise that the wonderful words that were being spoken on behalf of CAF Air Marshal Mel Hupfeld were for me.”

Ms McLaren was recognised for her service in the Women's Royal Australian Air Force and her ongoing support to the ex-service community. 

Warrant Officer Fiona Grasby read the commendation wording on behalf of CAF Air Marshall Mel Hupfeld and thanked Ms McLaren for her dedication which helped pave the way for women in the modern Air Force.

Disappointed by the women’s services being deemed ineligible for the Australian Defence Medal on its announcement, Ms McLaren led a two-year campaign which culminated in former members of the Women’s Royal Australian Navy Service, Women’s Australian Army Corps and Women's Royal Australian Air Force being eligible for this award. 

Ms McLaren shows tireless dedication in her roles as patron of the Women's Royal Australian Air Force -Sydney, President of the ex-Servicemen RSL Life Care and numerous other organisations with veteran welfare at their core.  

“I’ve slowed down a bit, but I still do it,” she said.

“I do it for love and for the love of the Air Force.”

Joining the Women's Royal Australian Air Force on the first intake in 1951, Ms McLaren often worked seven-day weeks, with early mornings and late nights, for long stretches at a time to guide and shape numerous recruits.