Grey tropical ward dress : Sister J K Greer, 2/10 Australian General Hospital

Accession Number REL/11816.001
Collection type Heraldry
Object type Uniform
Physical description Cesarine
Maker Unknown
Place made Singapore
Date made c 1940
Conflict Second World War, 1939-1945

Grey cesarine tropical pattern ward dress, custom made by a Singapore tailor. Front opening dress has open neck collar, short sleeves, front and back yoke, and five vertical rows of tucks on either side of the centre front and back. Six gore skirt has two inset pockets with angled openings. Dress is complete with silver AMF buttons (made by Stokes & Sons, Melbourne) and brown fabric epaulettes with oxidised 'AUSTRALIA' titles. The epaulettes are fastened to the dress with oxidised AMF buttons. Inside dress bears a white cotton name tape printed in black 'J.K.GREER'. Dress is missing its original self fabric belt.

History / Summary

Tropical uniform dress worn by NX70937 Sister Jean (Jenny) Keers Greer, of 2/10 Australian General Hospital, when the SS Vyner Brooke was sunk by the Japanese in February 1942. Sister Greer was subsequently taken prisoner of war. She initially wore the dress in captivity but later it was only worn for special occasions such as on birthdays, Anzac Day, and the King's Birthday. She also wore it on her release from captivity, when she was evacuated to Singapore.

Jean 'Jenny' Keers Greer was born 21 October 1912 in Petersham, New South Wales. She enlisted in the Citizens Military Force as a trained nurse on 12 December 1940 and was posted to the Australian Army Nursing Service. She was then seconded to the AIF with the service number NX70937 and the rank of lieutenant on 25 April 1941. On 19 May Greer embarked on HMAT Zealandia arriving in Singapore on 29 June and was attached to 10 Australian General Hospital. On 12 February 1942 Greer embarked with 64 other nurses on the SS Vyner Brooke as the Japanese closed in on Singapore. She gave a rousing impersonation of Gracie Fields singing 'Wish me luck as you wave me goodbye' as the ship left Singapore's docks.

When the SS Vyner Brooke was sunk by Japanese planes on 14 February, Greer managed to swim to a piece of wreckage which was big enough to accommodate several survivors. She was joined by other nurses and several other survivors in the aftermath of the sinking. The makeshift raft was caught in a current soon after and Greer sang 'We're off to see the Wizard' to boost morale. The raft floated past Banka Island where the occupants could see other survivors making a fire but Greer and the other nurses could not push the raft out of the current to the island, an act of nature which saved their lives. Later that evening, Greer and the others on the raft were caught in the middle of the Japanese invasion of Sumatra. Japanese landing craft passed either side of the raft and all aboard had a spectator's view of the invasion. Greer and her companions were captured when a Japanese boat stopped the next day. After taking Greer and the women onto the boat, the Japanese towed the raft with two men on board to Sumatra's shore and into captivity. Greer spent the next three and a half years as a prisoner of war and during her captivity in October 1943 was promoted to captain.

Greer was well known for her sense of humour and devotion to duty during her captivity, but was close to death when the Belalau camp in Sumatra was liberated in August 1945. Greer weighed only 32 kilograms and had to be stretchered out to the plane that evacuated her to a Dutch hospital in Singapore. Greer returned to Australia in October 1945 aboard the hospital ship Manunda and after a period of time in hospital to recover from the rigours of her captivity was discharged on 23 September 1946.

Greer’s brother NX70441 Lieutenant Bruce John Kirkwood Greer was also a prisoner of war of the Japanese having been captured at the fall of Singapore. The Greers are believed to be the only Australian brother/sister prisoner of war siblings.