Australian War Memorial Case Study

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Journal of the Australian War Memorial Issue 32 - March 1999 Australian War Memorial | Hank Nelson | 1. In the early afternoon of Saturday 14 February the British ship Vyner Brooke, carrying some of the last civilians to escape from Singapore, was steaming just off south-east Sumatra. Among the passengers and obvious in their uniforms of grey dresses, white cuffs and Red Cross armbands were 65 women of the Australian Army Nursing Service. Having come straight from duty in crowded temporary hospitals in Singapore the nurses wore a variety of headgear-white caps and red capes, tin hats, and felt hats with scarlet, brown and grey bands (brims, as matrons instructed, neither curled nor set at a provocative angle). Although the Vyner Brooke…show more content…
Fear of being compelled to provide sexual services for the Japanese distressed the nurses intensely. "We felt sick; we couldn’t eat", Betty Jeffery wrote [29]. As they waited, Veronica Clancy said, to hear the "steps of the loathsome creatures" on the gravel path, "Nights were just hell" [30]. Pressure was increased on the nurses when the Japanese cut off all food rations to the camp until the nurses complied. The nurses felt the same anger as the other women prisoners at their own lack of power and the same repugnance to be sex servants, and as women in the military they had additional worries. They were conscious of their duty not to assist the enemy, and by appearing to cooperate with the Japanese could have faced degrading enquiries and court charges in the after the war; they knew the Japanese as the soldiers who had inflicted terrible injuries on the Australians they had nursed in the crowded temporary hospitals of Malaya and Singapore and as the murderers of 21 of their fellow nurses on the beach; and they feared that even if they survived the experience and were not formally charged with any offence their personal and professional lives after the war would be destroyed. If things came to the worst, they wondered if an individual nurse could attach herself to a particular Japanese in the hope that he might protect her from the others, and if they could ensure silence among themselves as a group. When the Japanese told Sister Win Davis what she had to do or be killed, she said that she chose death. At the time it was not an unlikely alternative. If the nurses did not know the details of what had happened to the British nurses in St Stephens College Hospital, Hong Kong, they certainly had a general idea. On Singapore the nurses had heard a rumour that an officer had been detailed to shoot them to save them from "a fate worse than death". At the time one of the nurses had said, "I’ll risk it. Death is too permanent" [31]. Now at Palembang, one of the

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