Journal of the Australian War Memorial - Issue 28

The life experience of partners of ex-POWs of the Japanese

Author:  Betty Peters

{1}At the end of the Second World War, arrangements were made to repatriate prisoners of war to the welcoming arms of family and friends.[1] The privations and cruelty experienced by male prisoners of the Japanese have been well-documented by numerous authors,[2] yet women have also suffered in war, not only in the active arenas[3] but also in the aftermath when the men in their lives return broken and battered. The impact of war on marital relationships, and particularly the effects on the women, has largely been disregarded and undervalued in the effort to provide care and support for the more obvious victims of war atrocities: their husbands. This paper will explore the experiences of eleven women who were married to men who were POWs of the Japanese during the Second World War. Recognition is given to these women as the 'real unsung heroes' who have supported their husbands for over 50 years.[4] The wounds inflicted on women in war are considered to be '... invisible, scars upon the heart'[5]. This discussion explores these invisible wounds.

{2}In order to undertake this study, wives or widows of POWs of the Japanese were sought through the Returned Services League (RSL), the Prisoners of War Association, and the Fourth Anti-Tanker's Newsletter, TID-APA. Eleven women agreed to be interviewed. In-depth interviews were conducted, audio-taped and transcribed,[6] and then analysed according to van Manen's method.[7] Two of these women were married some time prior to the Second World War: one had no children and her husband died a POW; she never re-married. The other had a toddler and a baby and was recovering from the death of an older child when war broke out. One woman married soon after her husband joined the armed forces and shortly before he went overseas, while another was engaged at the outbreak of war. The remaining seven women met and married their husbands after peace was declared. Of these, two entered second marriages seventeen and twenty years respectively after the war ended. At the time of interviewing, three women had been widowed within the previous three years, while one woman and three of the POWs died within two years after interviews were completed. Two currently have major health problems.

{3}Most of the women's husbands were at some time at Changi, and all had worked on the Burma-Thailand railway and been incarcerated at various base camps. One woman's husband died in a base camp, while another had a lucky escape while working underground in the mines when the atomic bomb exploded over Nagasaki.

{4}Analysis of transcripts revealed that being a wife of a POW of the Japanese required a lifestyle adaptation on the woman's part. For those women who met their husbands before the war, even once their partners joined the armed forces, visits were infrequent. Departures occurred without warning; although the embarkations and departures of the armed forces were supposed to be secret, there was a recollection that:

It was rather laughable, because they went away in the Queen Mary which was berthed in Sydney Harbour and they had the biggest crowd waving them off from the docks you could ever imagine.

{5}Letters from their husbands were few and far between, and 'the waiting was terrible'. Once news was received that a woman's husband was missing in action, a further wait followed, and great relief was felt when it was learnt that he was a POW. All women remained hopeful that their husbands would return.

I don't think we ever lost hope. I didn't. But I remember feeling cross [at pessimism expressed over their fate]. I remember it upset me a lot. You see! I still remember! It's only now, talking about it. It was almost like betraying him by even thinking he could be gone.

{6}For these young women isolated from the war, there was little comprehension of the horrific treatment POWs were experiencing. Hope outweighed any news of ill-treatment that filtered through. There were long intervals of waiting for small printed cards from their husbands which gave sparse details of their location and health status; at times these were outdated by twenty months. Those POWs who returned after being rescued by Allied forces conveyed news of relatives and allayed anxiety to some degree; however, these men chose not to totally reveal the circumstances in which the POWs were existing.

I tried to be positive. You have to be. Otherwise you can break down. I didn't think people could be so cruel.

{7}An 86-year-old widow, who was married for ten years, recollects:

He went away on the tram, and he just waved, like that [waved]. I never saw him again. And you think, why? All for nothing. The world's never been in such a state.

{8}Throughout the war years, women continued their lives as best they could. They worked in regular jobs, joined the Red Cross, and participated in a variety of war efforts. They volunteered to provide amenities for servicemen at canteens such as 'The Hut' where an inexpensive meal and a chat could be had; and to help alleviate homesickness, evenings were arranged in private homes for servicemen. Once peace was declared, there was a great feeling of relief and excitement as personal messages were received over radio broadcasts. Ex-POWs returned in variable condition, and the women did not know what to expect. A few husbands regained weight quickly before they returned, while others were less fortunate.

He came home like a walking skeleton.

He looked all teeth, turned from a strapping young farmhand to someone who was six and a half stone.

He was all swollen from malnutrition and on arriving home, where a welcome was prepared, walked straight into his room.

{9}The women recall feelings of rejection when their husbands wanted to work things out by themselves. Often, husbands needed to be alone when they were moody or troubled, and this was difficult for the newly-married women to understand. Adapting to their husbands' need for the company of fellow POWs was achieved by most of the women, but not all. One newly-married woman who had moved to the country was without any family support and found it most unpleasant when her husband went off to 'be with the boys'. She felt it was unfair when he would go off to Melbourne, leaving her resentful and rejected.

He said he must go. I regret my attitude now. You didn't realise that when you married you were going to be not two people, but a big crowd like that, together.

{10}Due to psychological and physical trauma experienced as a POW, lower tolerance levels were expressed by many husbands, and this required many of the women to make long-term adaptations to their lifestyle and attitudes. Mercurial mood changes meant that some women never knew when something they said or did would be misconstrued.

I walk on eggshells.

He just rants and raves in a violent way and throws things across the room

{11}A few husbands never learnt to mix with people and became loners. For E., that was the saddest thing of all.

 'He goes out and wants to come home again.'

{12}Thirty-one years after the end of the war, one woman entering a second marriage was shocked and horrified at the need to adapt to volatile moods:

I had to get out of the house because of the tension, give him space, and eventually it would be all right.

It took time to adapt to his level of tolerance to such things as loud talking or a child screaming. Nothing was ever wasted because he saw men die of starvation and this was hard on the children who had no realisation as to how important it was to him.

{13}All women adapted to their husbands' intermittent periods of ill-health which resulted from the beatings, starvation, physical abuse, and psychological trauma experienced while a POW. Manifestations of this inhumane treatment include cardiovascular and respiratory problems, skin conditions, gastro-intestinal disturbances, poor vision and nervous complaints. Most of the women felt that they coped as problems arose.

{14}Despite the difficulties, for most of the women family life was an important factor in moving beyond the ever-present background of war experiences. A sense of normality was gradually established as the women embarked on having families, thus involving their husbands with their and their families' lives. All women expressed the pride that their husbands had in their children and grandchildren, and it was one POW's greatest joy to bring the babies to his wife for feeding: 'The children just made his life.'

{15}There were other situations, however, which were not quite so idyllic. One husband found it difficult to cope with his child constantly referring to the fact that 'Mummy said I could,' and was annoyed when the child called him by his first name. His wife informed him that while he was away, every man in uniform was thought to be 'Daddy'.

{16}Husbands who returned in reasonable health were able to cope with the exuberance of young children, but wives of the more psychologically-affected found their husbands to have less tolerance. One woman reflected that a child screaming reminded her husband of being screamed at by Japanese guards, and loud noises or loud talking and large groups of people also bothered him. These factors must have been difficult to control in the general mayhem of family life. The two women in second marriages believed that early family problems stemmed from the husband's impatience with children and lack of understanding and/or communication between the POWs and their wives and families.

{17}The POWs were generally determined to live their lives in spite of their difficulties, and this was perceived as a great strength by the women. Working towards owning a home provided the impetus for long working hours, and home ownership fulfilled an almost impossible dream for one couple. For P., the love demonstrated by children and grandchildren for her husband has been the most gratifying aspect of her marriage.

{18}Family life was affected by the POWs' difficulty in conveying what they were experiencing. About the past they could only talk to each other, and some could not even do that. One couple did discuss this problem and the POW made a conscious decision not to shut his wife out. He did not want to discuss what had happened but felt he needed to in order to recover. His wife did not directly question him but over time, as issues cropped up, he talked about them. She believed the relationship was stronger for this openness, as it increased her understanding of his experiences and released her husband's pent-up tension. He also made a pact with her that he would be honest if he felt unwell. This allowed her to accept the responsibility for any urgent medical treatment required in the full knowledge that she could accurately convey his signs and symptoms to a doctor.

{19}Feelings of rejection and frustration eventually passed for T., who asked her husband: 'Why don't you talk to me about it? Why can't you talk it out?' B. assured her he knew she was there if needed, and his wife learnt to respect the fact that he wanted to get through the difficult times by himself. Most women considered it inappropriate to ask direct questions of their husbands, and consequently found it hard to explain to children the nature of any problems as they arose. All women agreed that not only would their own understanding have increased with better communication from their husbands, but that it would also have eased the torment of the POWs. If there was lack of honesty, not knowing what to do about urgent health concerns meant that anxiety levels were increased for these women. E. found that when she and her husband cried together his pain eased: 'There's no disgrace in tears. He tries to cover up but he can't.'

{20}There was little communication about POWs' past experiences with children of these women's former relationships, which is perhaps understandable, but the families believe they should have been helped to understand. Counselling for both the POWs and their families might have saved broken marriages, and would certainly have eased the emotional pain and upheaval of both partners in the relationship.

{21}Because of the POWs' difficulty in communicating their feelings, the women felt that their ability to comprehend the meaning of their husband's experiences was slow and achieved only over an extended period of time. The POWs rarely spoke of events, making it difficult for the women to grasp ways of offering support when their husband appeared 'nervy' or drank and smoked heavily.

We were expected to know [what it was like] without being told.

{22}Most of the women's knowledge was gained from reading books which appeared in the years after the war. This acquaintance with the facts assisted these women to help the older children understand. In one family there had been a tendency to treat the war experiences as a joke, and reading about the experiences opened the young adults' eyes to the enormity of the pain and suffering that their father had undergone.

{23}Many of the women found that listening to their husbands talk with each other at POW reunions helped them to understand better and helped them to provide support. Once the women understood their husbands' deep and abiding need for the company of POWs, they could support this need rather than feel angry and rejected. As one wife stated:

They all put on a jolly face, but when they're all standing in front of the memorial [at Numurkah] ... then you can see. They hide their real feelings except from each other.

{24}With the passing of time, and as the women's understanding increased with maturity, they were then better equipped to help others comprehend. Many families found it hard to believe such inhumane treatment occurred, and children have said they wished they had been told more. One woman stopped her grandsons from wearing rising sun headbands by explaining how distressing it would be to their grandfather. Hurt was also expressed at hearing young people on public transport refer to 'the silly old b's and their ANZAC Day'. The women strongly perceive that there is a role for them to play in assisting young people to understand this significant part of Australia's history. One woman felt it was important to encourage the attendance of her children and grandchildren at marches and reunions to help correct the view that these were 'just a "booze-up" as they so often thought'.

{25}Most of the women achieved their highest level of comprehension of their husbands' experiences while accompanying them on visits to such historical sites as Changi, Hellfire Pass, and the Burma Railway. Listening to the POWs talk among themselves, the women 'became part of it'; and in one instance, a great sadness was expressed and the women felt privileged and indeed grateful to be there.

I didn't like going on the railway. As it was going chug, chug, you felt that's another body ... for every sleeper laid a man died.

[Hellfire Pass] was the most horrendous place I've ever been in. It was cold. You could smell death. And there wasn't a living thing in it. Not a butterfly, not a bird, not a bee. There was nothing. Just this jungle-ridden track that's about eight feet wide and about eighty feet high that they dug out of the mountain. It was a hot day, but we physically shivered in this place.

{26}The two women in second marriages empathised strongly with those young wives endeavouring to cope with their lack of maturity and life experience. Combined with the lack of clear understanding of how their husbands had been traumatised and how they might be supported, this lack of experience must have been disastrous for many relationships. All women had to find strategies which enabled them to support their suffering husbands. The women clearly recognised that they could not truly know the experiences undergone by POWs, and trying to imagine has been difficult. The support these women gave in response to suffering has been considered within five contexts:

  • nightmares;
  • moods associated with depression;
  • mateship;
  • ill-health; and
  • isolated incidents.


{27}Two women had no experience of nightmares in their husbands' lives. Of the remaining women, half the group found this aspect the hardest part of being the wife of a POW. During nightmares, it is evident that both the mind and body are in turmoil; and the women know this but can do little to help. For some POWs, the nightmares have lessened in both frequency and severity. For others, they are less frequent but sometimes still severe. The women noticed that nightmares could be triggered by films, documentaries, and the anniversary of the fall of Singapore. One woman observed that reunions, ANZAC Day, and Armistice Day made things worse for her husband. In other cases, the nightmares occurred for no apparent reason. Some of the POWs relived horrific events: being in a burial party for a group of Chinese who were tied together with barbed wire then pushed into the sea and machine-gunned; or being forced to watch the execution of friends and seeing their heads placed on posts and left there. For other POWs, events were less specific: being chased by a Japanese guard; or waking in a sweat, and not remembering. Newly married, one woman experienced great fear when she woke to a commotion and her husband running through the house brandishing a poker because he thought a guard was after him.

{28}A variety of strategies have been used in response to nightmares. One woman preferred to let her husband come out of the nightmares himself, while several other women preferred gently waking their husbands (in earlier days, this was combined with the need to avoid kicks, punches and 'clutches on the stomach'). One of the women involved in a second-marriage recalls the early days of her marriage to a POW:

He appeared a happy, outgoing person but the nights were the worst, seeing friends slaughtered. He didn't want me to see him crying, but he needed to get it out. The look on his face, the agony and fear. It is just so horrific that even to think of it now is quite upsetting, even after all these years.

Moods associated with depression

{29}Sensitivity to what incites moods has been important. Women noted that arguments, large groups of people, exuberant children, andnoise could be problematic, and at times there was no known reason for the moods. Common behaviour in one home was 'ranting and raving in a violent way or throwing things across the room'. Many of the women encouraged their husband to say if he needed space to be alone: ensuring the availability of open spaces was one strategy which helped. One woman preferred to talk her husband out of his mood if possible, otherwise she went away and read a book until he got over the episode. For another woman, the volatile moods were the hardest part of being the partner of a POW; her husband told her: 'We're all mad, you know that don't you? We're all mad.' Total acceptance of the moods was apparent in another woman, who remarked: 'He just went away and eventually came back.'

{30}Therapeutic activities observed by the women to assist in overcoming their husbands' 'troubled mind' included hobbies such as gardening, pottering around in a shed (making sure the door was open), craft work (such as pottery), and music. Knowing that music was important to her husband, A. had a piano ready for him when he returned home. When in turmoil, he played loudly, banging on the piano, and after some time the music became softer and more serene. It is this woman's belief that the piano played a major role in restoring her husband's mental health.

{31}Medication was common, and shock therapy was a frequent treatment for depression, particularly in the early, severe stages. The women who were in second marriages perceived the moods as being a major problem for first wives and believed that the moods, along with other factors, contributed to marriage breakdown.


{32}The intense feeling of POW mateship has been recognised by the women as probably the most important factor in their husband's survival. All except one woman supported their husband's need to meet regularly with other POWs. In the exceptional case, the woman resented her partner's need to be with his POW friends; she said that her husband's whole life was spent looking forward to the next reunion, and that the reunions were the only time he looked relaxed and happy.

That was the best part even though it wasn't good as far as the wives go. They're a crowd of men apart from anyone else.

{33}As explained by one husband, the POWs depended on each other for survival in the camps and each had a special task. They shared grim humour as well as horrific events, and it was ensured that 'no man died alone'. Reunions were considered an important outlet for the POWs, enabling them to talk with each other; and the women agree that their husbands came home refreshed. One woman recounted the great sadness expressed by her partner, who always found it hard to cope at reunions. Present when her husband met comrades after 40 years, she recalled:

I felt honoured to be there amongst these men and the love and comradeship amongst them! The sense of loss as they die. He sat there and sobbed [at Sir 'Weary' Dunlop's death].

{34}Another woman's husband stated: 'This is matesmanship ... the true Aussie thing.'


{35}Intermittent periods of illness have been part and parcel of living with a POW. While the Australian Government did ensure that each returned serviceman was provided with a trade, manual work such as bricklaying and painting and decorating was difficult for POWs, some of whom suffered from severe arthritis as a result of beatings, carting bags of rice or heavy sleepers, and working in the mines in Japan. Again, lifestyles had to be changed: one couple moved off the land and came to the city as the farm work proved too heavy. Women took jobs to ease the physical and financial burdens for their husbands. At times, watching her husband crawl around on the floor to keep moving caused one woman distress.

{36}One woman, a new bride who had moved to the country leaving her own family behind, was confronted with a husband literally 'climbing the wall' from a severe attack of malaria: 'It frightened hell out of me'. Her husband was ill and would not see a doctor. In his wife's opinion, he should not have been at work, but no matter what illnesses occurred he never took time off. As a bricklayer, this POW worked six days a week; he also suffered poor vision due to malnutrition, and this caused his wife further concern.

His glasses got thicker and thicker. His truck was so battered around, it's a wonder he didn't kill someone.

{37}This couple were upset and angry as the husband struggled to continue work until he was 60 years of age; and it was implied by officials that he only gave up working because 60 was the age at which POWs could retire. This woman believed her husband always went for medical checks and gave no inkling of the true state of his health. Three years before his death, he was classified as Totally and Permanently Incapacitated (TPI).

{38}Visual disturbances, thought to be the result of malnutrition, manifested many years later for another POW. As the couple were driving, the following stoical conversation took place:

Husband: 'How many cars are there in front of me?'
Wife: 'One, why?'
Husband: 'I can see two.'
Wife: 'Well, you'd better pull over or you might hit one of them.'

{39}This woman, now widowed, recalled her husband having a heart attack during the night while on their travels. She continued to deal with such emergencies and was grateful for the assistance that was always forthcoming from people around her. After her husband's death, this woman sorted through his notes, and with the help of a friend, her husband's diary has been published. She now 'rests easily'.

{40}One of the women in a second marriage experienced distress when her husband was extremely ill. In hospital following surgery, the tubes, procedures, and restrictions frightened him and he felt that he was imprisoned again. He needed constant reassurance that it was a temporary situation and was for his benefit.

{41}All women were eloquent in their praise of POWs for the way in which they supported each other during illness and gathered together for special services after the death of a comrade.

Isolated incidents

{42}The following descriptions are a selection of events which the women perceive as important. They are by no means comprehensive, but provide some insight into the support given by these women by simply being there for their husbands in troubled times.

{43}Soon after the war, when her husband's body and mind had had little time to recover, one woman supported her husband as he gave evidence against a Japanese guard at a war crimes tribunal. The guard had accused two POWs of trying to escape when they ran to a fence to greet friends who were marching by. The POWs were punished by being forced at bayonet point towards a fire built for this punishment; both POWs received severe burns as they were pushed closer and closer to the fire. The younger POW was wearing no shirt and suffered more severe burns, dying a few days later. This woman felt that it was too soon for her husband to undergo the stress of giving evidence, but he was anxious to do the right thing for his mates and ensure justice was done.

{44}The same woman recounts her distress for her husband soon after his return home. To honour a promise made, he visited the fiancee of a man who died in the POW camp. He was to tell her that her fiance constantly thought of her, and had a prayer book and photograph to return. He was kept waiting at the door by the fiancee until the dead POW's brother came and explained that they had married. This woman's husband was angry and upset for a long time, believing that the news of the marriage would have killed his POW friend if he had not already died. She also observed that her husband was driving to work in the wrong direction, and taking a longer route each morning. When she asked her husband why, he explained that a neighbour had painted a large red circle on the garage door. This seemingly minor occurrence so disturbed her husband he could not bring himself to drive past the hated symbol of Nippon.

{45}Every year standing at the Shrine when the Last Post is played, E. senses her husband's distress as his body stiffens. She reaches out and places a hand on his arm and feels his body relax. Another woman puts her arms around her husband as he cries, and holds him close. She tells him that nothing will ever harm him again: 'You hurt for them.'

Support networks

{46}As well as providing support, the women themselves have a strong sense of being supported. This was evident even as their partners joined the armed forces. The widow whose husband died in a POW camp recalled how her husband and brother discussed ensuring they were in different companies; this way there was more likelihood that one of them would return to the family. It was also easier for the husbands who went to war to know that their wives could resume living with parents, if they chose. This was important for A. who boarded with her parents and saved for a home. L., who already had young children when her husband was sent overseas, was assisted with their upbringing by her father, and supported by brothers in the armed forces who were frequently at home.

{47}All the women except two perceived that contact with other wives provided support as they shared problems and experiences. In one instance where the contact was not considered helpful, the woman felt that the support of other wives could not overcome the rejection she felt at the deep need her husband had to be with his friends. Women who entered the circle later through second marriages, and those who lived in or transferred from the country were conscious that some time elapsed before they felt accepted by other women. At times, responsibility for young children caused a temporary break with the group. The POWs themselves have been a great strength to the women during their husbands' illnesses. In this caring network, help was only a phone call away, and regular visits were made to their husbands to ensure everything possible was being done.

{48}When ill, all the women have been struck by the concern and caring received from their husbands. The women believe that the inhumane treatment their husbands endured has made them compassionate in the extreme to the suffering of others, as they know what it is like to be 'bashed and belted and starved'. Once widowed, the support from the other POWs continues.

{49}Official recognition has supported partners of POWs in its own way. After her husband died as a POW, E. now deceased, spent many years doing voluntary work with the War Widows Guild. She spoke proudly of the way in which she was honoured as a recipient of the Australia Medal. At 86 years of age, this medal was one of her proudest possessions; it recognised the contribution made by such women to our society.

{50}Memories are hard to put aside, and the women understand the deep-seated hatred the majority of POWs feel for the Japanese. The women have found that certain incidents trigger deep anger, revealing their own previously unrecognised hatred for the Japanese race. According to T: 'Although you've never seen them hurt, you can imagine it when you know what the Japanese did to them.' T. did not think she was racist until confronted by her own intense emotions which surfaced on two occasions: when a group of Japanese visited the school at which she worked; and again on meeting tourists after the war. She remained angry that Japanese business interests continued to infiltrate Australia.

{51}Other women have felt similar instances of emergent hatred when least expected. P.R. remembers:

I worked for the Australian Government and we were told we had to bow to the Japanese when they came into the office. There was no way I was going to bow to the Japanese. And I never did!

{52}While totally understanding and accepting her husband's hatred of the Japanese, P.C. strongly argued that their children should not be brought up like that. Her child cried when a tea-set made in Japan that she had received as a gift was thrown out by her father. Further tears were shed as the child grew older and became confused at the different views she heard; for example, there was conflict between her father's views and those stated by a loved teacher who attempted to show that not all Japanese were bad. PC. feels that her husband's hatred persists and that this is now impacting on their grandchildren. Which values to instil in children remains a contentious issue for this couple.

{53}Three of the women were not resentful of the Japanese, and this appeared to be related to their husbands' lack of bitterness towards them. Other women agreed that most POW wives feel strongly about the Japanese because their husbands cannot forgive and forget. The women have watched the healing of body and mind to varying degrees over many years, and in some instances the hatred has lessened somewhat. Peace at the end of her husband's life is the dearest wish one woman has for her husband.

{54}Women who have accompanied their husbands' return to such places as Changi and Hellfire Pass note that it has helped their husbands come to terms with their lives. One POW confided to his wife: 'I believe I'm handling it better now.' Others see no point in returning to places which caused them such misery, and they keep away. Reunions have helped the POWs to heal, and the women observed their husbands to be refreshed and relaxed after such important gatherings. As noted above, the only time one woman saw her husband happy and at ease was when he was among his friends. At one concert organised for POWs to re-perform their POW camp acts, great hilarity ensued. This was followed by the choir singing 'Land of Hope and Glory'; and it was a moment of such emotion that one woman left in tears. Another woman reported 50 years after the war: 'He loves music and lately he's been singing again ... a really good thing to hear him singing.'

{55}Grandchildren have assisted the healing process even when physical frailties have limited the POWs' active involvement with them. Facetious remarks from any person about POW experiences can cause deep hurt, as in one case where an insensitive doctor, probably making jovial conversation jested: 'You had it easy during the war.' This husband came home angry and was upset for days.

{56}Physical decline continues even though spiritual healing occurs. At each POW death, during the funeral service his comrades place Flanders poppies on the casket and form a guard of honour as a final salute. For some POWs, complete inner healing may never be witnessed before death, and many experiences will be too painful to be shared outside a close circle.


{57}All the women interviewed expressed their gratification at having been given the opportunity to share their life experiences. They have never before talked in-depth to anyone; articulating their experiences in this study gives value to their contribution to Australia. The community can provide support by maintaining an awareness of the importance of POWs and their partners gathering together at re-unions and marches. Such occasions as ANZAC Day and Armistice Day have a deep significance which goes beyond the everyday 'mateship' experienced by most individuals, and Australians should remain cognisant of this fact.

{58}Many stories remain to be told by POWs and their families. One can postulate that not all women have experienced such a network of support throughout their lives as did this group of women. Children and grandchildren will have their own unique perspectives. The POWs themselves have had very little to say about their post-war years; and other life experiences remain to be fully explored and added to Australia's history. It has been a moving and humbling experience to explore the lives of these women and I thank them for allowing me to do so. Australia owes them a debt of gratitude for their assistance in restoring stability to our nation in the aftermath of war.


[1] This project was made possible by the awarding of a Grant and appreciation is expressed to the Australian War Memorial for the Research Grants Scheme. Also, thanks to the partners of ex -POWs of the Japanese who shared their experiences so willingly.

[2] R. Hardie, The Burma-Siam railway: the secret diary of Dr Robert Hardie 1942-1945, Sydney, 1983; H. Nelson, Prisoners of war: Australians under Nippon, ABC Radio Enterprises, Adelaide, 1984; H.V. Clarke, A life for every sleeper, Sydney, 1986; E. E. Dunlop, The war diaries of Weary Dunlop: Java and the Burma-Thailand railway 1942-1945, Melbourne, 1986; J. Boyle, Railroad to Burma, Sydney, 1989; R. Richardson & M. McEwen, The survival factor, Kenthurst NSW, 1989; F.W.G. Power, Kurrah! An Australian POW in Changi, Thailand and Japan 1942-1945, McCrae, Victoria, 1991; C. Finkmeyer, It happened to us, Melbourne, 1994; D. Wall, Sandakan: the last march, 4th edn, Smithfield NSW, 1995.

[3] B. Jeffrey, White coolies, Melbourne, 1954; B. Jeffrey, Matron A.M. Sage: 'Sammie', Melbourne, 1954; B. McBryde, Quiet heroines: nurses of the Second World War, London, 1985; R. Goodman, Hospital ships, Brisbane, 1992.

[4] G. Lancaster, TID-APA: journal of the 4th Anti-Tank Association, June, 1990; C. Finkmeyer, TID-APA, March, 1992, p.2.

[5] D. Green, Scars of war on our hearts: Anthology Review, Reprint in Selected Articles from The Age, April 1981-April 1984, Education Unit, Reprint Booklet no.42, p.14.

[6] V. Minichiello, R. Aroni, E. Rimewell and L. Alexander, In-depth interviewing, Melbourne, 1990.

[7] M. van Manen, Researching lived experience, New York, 1990.

About the Author

Betty Peters has many years of nursing experience as a clinician and educator. Teaching experience has been at undergraduate and postgraduate levels and includes Critical Care Nursing and co-development of a Renal Nursing Course. After the award of a Kellogg Fellowship she completed a Masters Degree (Nursing) in the USA. For seven years until 1993 she was a delegate on the Australian Resuscitation Council. Her current position is Nursing Research Coordinator at Austin & Repatriation Medical Centre, Repatriation Campus, Heidelberg, Victoria.

©: Betty Peters

Nursing Research Coordinator
Austin & Repatriation Medical Centre, Repatriation Campus
Heidelberg, Victoria, Australia