Chief Officer Sheila Mary McClemans

Sheila Mary McClemans was born on 3 May 1909 at Claremont, Perth, the third child of William Joseph McClemans, Anglican clergyman, and Ada Lucy (née Walker). Sheila attended Perth Modern School and the University of Western Australia (LLB, 1931; BA, 1933), where she was vice-president of the University Women's Club. A champion swimmer, she also represented the university in hockey and tennis. McClemans was one of the earliest women law graduates in Western Australia and obtained her articles from Stawell, Hardwick & Forman. In her first year, however, her only source of income was coaching secondary school students at night.

McClemans was admitted to the Bar on 16 May 1933 but was unable to find a law firm that would engage her. Consequently, she and her friend and fellow graduate, Molly Kingston, founded Kingston & McClemans, the first all-female law firm in the State. Particularly interested in helping women with their legal problems, she became the first woman barrister to appear before the Supreme Court of Western Australia. The partnership with Kingston, however, failed and was dissolved in 1938. McClemans then joined Hardwick, Slattery & Gibson.

Despite the opposition of her employer, McClemans enlisted in the Women's Royal Australian Naval Service (WRANS) on 11 January 1943 at HMAS Leeuwin, Western Australia. As a WRAN rating she completed the first WRANS Officer Training Course at HMAS Cerberus, Westernport, Victoria. Promoted to Third Officer on 15 February 1943, McClemans was appointed to the staff of the Director of Naval Reserves and Mobilisation, Navy Office, Melbourne, in May of that year. Her excellent leadership and organisational skills earned her rapid promotion being appointed Second Officer in July and First Officer in November 1943. In January 1944 First Officer McClemans was appointed to administer the WRANS and in August she was appointed as the Director of the Women's Royal Australian Naval Service.

Confronting stringent service limitations that offered WRANS personnel fewer occupations than members of the Australian Women's Army Service and Women's Auxiliary Australian Air Force, McClemans strove to increase recruitment, to expand areas of employment and to improve promotion provisions. Many of her endeavours, however, were frustrated by the conservative hierarchy of the Royal Australian Navy (RAN), unused to women in the service. She traveled extensively, bringing understanding and deep benevolence to bear on the problems of administration. Promoted to Chief Officer (equivalent to a Commander) in January 1945 she continued to serve as the Director WRANS.

First Officer Sheila McClemans at work in Navy Office, Melbourne in 1944 as Director WRANS.

Sheila was selected to represent the WRANS at the 8 June 1946 Victory March in London - traveling with the Australian contingent of 250 personnel, to the United Kingdom in the heavy cruiser HMAS Shropshire, that departed in early April 1946. Although many stood in awe of her, beneath a slightly austere exterior she was a warm and compassionate person. Rear Admiral George Dunbar Moore, formerly second naval member of the Australian Naval Board, was to attribute the success of the WRANS largely to her "untiring interest in the welfare of every WRAN, her kindness, and perhaps above all her sound common sense". Before her appointment in the Navy ceased, on 27 February 1947, she submitted a paper entitled 'Proposals for a Permanent WRANS' in which she maintained her criticism of the lack of support for the WRANS from the RAN.

Following the post-World War II disbandment of the WRANS, Sheila returned to practicing law with Hardwick, Slattery & Gibson; the WRANS was re-established in 1951. On 6 August 1949, McClemans married Frank Morrison Kenworthy, chief engineer of the Metropolitan Water Supply Board, at Christ Church, Claremont and taking on the married surname of Kenworthy as was the normal practice of that era. She was appointed as an Officer of the Order of British Empire (OBE), in the Military List, on the King's Birthday Honours List 1951 "for services as Director of the Women's Royal Australian Naval Service".

In 1953 she set up her own practice, undertaking much pro-bono work. Sheila quickly built up one of Perth's largest divorce practices but sold it in 1960 to become secretary of the Law Society of Western Australia (1961-65) and administrator of its legal aid scheme (1961-70). In 1970 she returned to practice in the matrimonial courts, joining Hammond, Fitzgerald & King. She retired in 1980.

Sheila McClemans (Kenworthy) was National President of the Australian Federation of University Women (1950-52), a member of the Legal Aid Commission of Western Australia (1977-80), and a member of the Parole Board of Western Australia (1964-84). She was awarded the Queen Elizabeth II Silver Jubilee Medal in 1977 and was appointed as a Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George (CMG) in the 1978 New Years Honours List "for services to law and women's affairs".

In 1963 the Ex-WRANS Re-union Committee donated a trophy (a silver salver) to the RAN to be known as the Sheila McClemans Trophy "for competition for efficiency in naval establishments where WRANS personnel were serving". The trophy ceased to be awarded in 1984 (21 years after it was created) and in 1986 the WRANS were fully integrated into the RAN.

Sheila McClemans (Kenworthy) died on 10 June 1988 at Claremont and was cremated, her husband had pre-deceased her and they had no children. Although not an active feminist, throughout her life she had supported the rights of women and those unable to defend themselves. In an obituary Sir Francis Burt, chief justice of the Supreme Court of Western Australia, said of her "She served the law and through the law she served ordinary men and women with an unswerving devotion".