ANZAC Day: The Resilience of Cecily Lydia Fearnley, Brisbane Girls’ Grammar Alumna

Cecily Lydia Fearnley Sandercock Family
Photo Credit: State Library of Queensland

Cecily Lydia Fearnley (nee Sandercock), a former Brisbane Girls’ Grammar School student, not only played a significant role during World War II by working in the classified security section of the US Army headquarters in Brisbane but also navigated the era’s fashion constraints with the innovative use of liquid nylon powder as a substitute for unavailable traditional stockings.

Early Years and War Contributions

Born in Brisbane in 1925, Cecily’s education at Brisbane Girls’ Grammar School was interrupted by the outbreak of World War II. At 17, she briefly evacuated to Adelaide when Australia was at war with Japan but her career path unexpectedly prepared her for significant wartime contributions. 

Cecily Lydia Fearnley at 17
Photo Credit: State Library of Queensland

Whilst her family members served in various capacities—her father as a Divisional Engineer and her brother in the RAAF—Cecily found her calling back home, using her skills in a vital yet less visible role.

Cecily and her brother, Kenneth
Photo Credit: State Library of Queensland
The Sandercock Family
Photo Credit: State Library of Queensland

Cecily started working at the US Army headquarters in Brisbane. She was assigned the role of a tracer, which involved creating detailed maps. These maps were crucial for planning and executing military operations, including identifying the exact locations of aircraft crash sites. Cecily’s precise work ensured that recovery teams could quickly locate and retrieve bodies for burial. Her contributions to the Allied efforts during the war were invaluable, especially in carrying out the solemn duty of giving soldiers a proper burial.

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Cecily’s diligence and skill were highly recognized, leading to her promotion to the classified security section at the young age of 19. This promotion was a testament to her exceptional capabilities and the trust placed in her by her superiors. In this highly sensitive role, she dealt with confidential information crucial to the security and success of military operations. Her promotion marked a significant achievement in her career and highlighted the critical roles women played in supporting wartime logistics and intelligence efforts.

Post-War Achievements and Personal Life

Following the war, Cecily continued to foster her passion for art, joining the Queensland Museum as an art assistant in 1947. Her contributions to natural history were recognized in 2001 when she received the Queensland Naturalist Award. Her personal life flourished alongside her career; she married James Phillip Raymond Fearnley in 1953. 

Celily Lydia Fearnley and her husband James Raymond Phillips Fearnley
Photo Credit: State Library of Queensland

Cecily also authored several personal histories, documenting her wartime experiences and those of her family and fellow citizens, including anecdotes of the stockings shortage during the war. These documents are now valuable resources at the John Oxley Library.

The Nylon Stockings Saga

Nylon stockings were first introduced at the 1939 New York World’s Fair, and quickly became a popular choice among women due to their affordability and durability. However, with the outbreak of World War II, the military began requisitioning nylon for their own use, leading to a severe shortage of stockings for civilian women. 

This shortage left many women in a difficult position, as stockings were considered a societal norm. To solve this problem, innovative products like liquid nylon powder were introduced. These products enabled women to maintain their appearance and adhere to societal expectations despite the shortages. One such woman who used this solution was Cecily Lydia Fearnley.

Liquid Nylon
Photo Credit: State Library of Queensland

Cecily’s possession of a package of liquid nylon powder, currently on display at the Anzac Square Memorial Galleries, represents the creative and resourceful solutions women sought during the war. This product enabled Cecily and other women to replicate the look of traditional stockings, which helped them preserve their personal and social identities despite the challenges brought about by the war.

Women’s ability to innovate in the face of restrictions highlighted their resilience and role in sustaining morale and social norms during challenging times. Through her writings and the memories preserved in these artifacts, the legacy of Cecily Lydia Fearnley still inspires and educates, highlighting the resilience of the human spirit and the enduring power of innovation in times of need.

Published 15-April-2024