The story of Fay Howe, the last woman thousands of troops would see before they went to war.


For many men, Fay-Catherine Howe, 15, was the last face they saw on Australian soil before they set sail to fight in World War I. 

Around 30,000 soldiers were to be our first ship load to join the fight, and in the days before they set sail, they waited off the coast of Albany in Western Australia.

Among the first and single-largest convoy of troops were teens and 20-somethings who had travelled from every corner of the country, ready to travel to Egypt and Europe.

War had only been declared three months earlier.

Susan Carland talks about the importance of ANZAC Day in Australia. Post continues after video.

Video by MMC

Fay was the lighthouse keeper’s daughter. They lived on an island off the coast called Breaksea Island.

There was only a small gap between the island and the mainland, and the ships would have been a few hundred metres away from where Fay and her father lived.

As the soldiers waited in anticipation – a mixture of fear and excitement at the unknown that lay ahead – Fay became “a symbol of what the soldiers were out to fight for, of what they were leaving and what they were protecting,” suggests author of Lighthouse Girl Dianne Wolfer.


The troops weren’t allowed off the ships, and many took to putting messages in a bottle that washed up on Albany’s beaches. Their last attempt to send messages home.

But for others, they used Fay. She became their messenger.

From her little rugged island she relayed messages to the eager men via Morse code and semaphore flags. She would send their replies back home via telegraph and undersea cable.

She never met the men in person, but her efforts inspired an untold number of men to write her postcards from the frontline.

Don Watson, Fay’s son, says the men sent her beautiful embossed cards.

“There were bundles of them; dozens and dozens…on them were stories of the soldier’s lives, tales from the battlefield,” he told Australian Geographic.

To many soldiers she was “that little girl on Breaksea Island”, their last reminder of home.

A home many of them wouldn’t return home too.

Today on ANZAC Day, we remember Australians and New Zealanders who served and died at war.

Lest we Forget.