Guide to the papers of Sister Agnes Betty Jeffrey




The papers of Betty Jeffrey comprise diaries, photographs, notebooks and papers relating to her evacuation from Singapore in February 1942 and her imprisonment on Banka Island and Sumatra, 1942-1945. The diaries contain details of the sinking of the Vyner Brooke, recipes, song lyrics and sketches of life in the camps. Other records include reviews, publishers correspondence and newspaper clippings relating to the writing and publication of White Coolies, 1945-1957; prisoner of war accounts of the fall of Singapore and speeches and programs for concerts, reunions and memorial services, 1949-1990. The collection consists of three separate donations. Jeffrey's diaries and some notes written on Australian Red Cross letterhead were donated by Jeffrey in 1952. After Betty Jeffrey's death there were two further donations. A series of drawings were donated by Jeffrey's niece, Joanna Bajenoff in December 2000. A further collection, was donated by Tim Gale, Jeffrey's newphew, in February 2001, comprising drawings, sheet music, poems and a note book.

SERIES 1: Photographs, 1941 - 1995 - Description: Photographs ranging from Jeffrey in uniform in 1941 to Jeffrey and other ex-prisoners of war attending memorial ceremonies and reunions in 1995. SERIES 2: Prisoner of War Records, 11th February 1943 - 23rd October 1945 - Description: Jeffrey's Wartime diaries, notebooks and papers describing her ordeal from her evacuation from Singapore in February 1942 to her convalescence on her return home. The diaries and note books are full of recipes which the prisoners used to inspire their imagination in an attempt to ease their constant thirst and hunger.; SERIES 3: White Coolies, March 1954 - February 1957 - Description: This series contains reviews, newspaper clippings, exerts and correspondence from publisher. White Coolies was published as a serial in the Sun newspaper in 1954; there are several of these clippings in the series. White Coolies was also made into a radio series staring Ruth Cracknell and Gordon Chater. There are many press clippings and advertisements relating to the radio programme in the series. ; SERIES 4: Post War Records, 1st May 1949 - June 1993 - Description: Papers, correspondence and ephemera relating to Jeffrey's activities around Australia and overseas. Jeffrey's volunteer work, attendance at memorial services and prisoner of war reunions and her diary from her return to Sumatra and the making of the filmWomen in Captivity.;SERIES 5: Accounts of War and Memoirs, 1941 - 1993 - Description: Includes accounts and memoirs written by Jeffrey and other nurses after returning home. Accounts include the sinking of the Vyner Brooke, time in the POW camp and coming home. Included are memoirs of return trips made by ex-prisoners to Banka Island in 1993.; SERIES 6: Newspaper Clippings, 24th October 1945 - April 1999 - Description: Clippings related to Jeffrey and stories of the nurses in the POW Camps.

In 1940, at the age of 32, Jeffrey volunteered for the Australian Army Nursing Service, Australian Imperial Force. She embarked for Malaya where she joined the 2/10th Australian General Hospital in Malacca. The 2/10th was moved to Singapore on the 18th February 1941. She was evacuated from Singapore on February 12th 1942 aboard a small coastal steamer, the Vyner Brooke. The steamer was attacked and sunk by Japanese bombers in the Banka Strait on 14th February 1942. Jeffrey and another nurse, Iole Harper spent three days in the water, resting in mangrove swamps and up trees until they found a native village. The nurses were persuaded to give themselves up to the Japanese. They rejoined the other Sisters who had made it to shore. The 32 Sisters who survived the shipwreck in the Banka Straight, spent the next three and a half years as prisoners of war on Banka Island and Sumatra. Of the original 65 nurses evacuated from Singapore on the Vyner Brooke, only 24 returned to Australia. During their internment, eight Sisters died in the last seven months before freedom, due to malnutrition and other easily treated diseases. During her time in the camp Jeffrey stole two exercise books from the Japanese. In these books she wrote a diary of their life in camp. Jeffrey also kept many scraps of paper and another note book full of drawings of life in camp, recipes and music written for her performances as part of the Womens' Choir. Imaginary dinners were held where they would describe the lovely food they imagined having. Jeffrey's drawings depict many of the individuals and scenes that are part of White Coolies. During her imprisonment, Jeffrey became very ill with malaria, beri beri, recurring appendicitis, Banka Fever and tuberculosis. Jeffrey weighed 30 kilograms at the end of the war. On her return to Australia she spent a further two years in hospital. She never fully recovered her health. In 1947, after leaving hospital, Jeffrey and Bullwinkel drove throughout Victoria visiting hospitals, telling of their ordeal and collecting donations to build a ""living memorial"" to the nurses that never came back. The Nurses Memorial Centre still exists in St Kilda Rd Melbourne. Jeffrey was appointed the first administrator of the Memorial Centre.In 1950 Jeffrey and Bullwinkel travelled to the United Kingdom. They were presented to King George VI, Queen Elizabeth and the Queen Mother. Jeffrey's book White Coolies became a best seller and was serialised in The Sunnewspaper in 1954 and on the radio. Movies such as Paradise Road and Women in Captivity have usedWhite Coolies for inspiration. The 19th edition of White Coolies was published in 2000. After burgeoning poor health Jeffrey was forced to retire from the Nurses Memorial Centre. In the 1960's she acted as a golf caddy to her friend, Burrta Cheney, the Victorian champion golfer. Betty spent much of her time doing volunteer work for the Ex-Prisoner of War and Nurses Memorial committees. During the last decades of her life Jeffrey spent much of her time answering correspondence in relation to her book. She was often invited to be a guest speaker relating her prisoner of war memoirs. Jeffrey was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia in 1987 for her services to ex-servicemen and women. Betty died in September 2000 at the age of 92.

Contact Senior Curator, Private Records, Australian War Memorial.

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Australian Army Nursing Service; Banka Island | Sumatra; Prisoners of War; Second World War

Correspondence; Diaries; Personal papers; Photographs

Prisoners of War; World wars

Coverage Temporal



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