Mahjong set : Sister C M Delforce, 2/10 Australian General Hospital

Place Asia: Netherlands East Indies, Sumatra, Palembang
Accession Number REL/11882
Collection type Heraldry
Object type Heraldry
Physical description Wood
Location Main Bld: World War 2 Gallery: Gallery 2: Japan POW
Maker Various
Place made Netherlands East Indies: Sumatra, Palembang
Date made 1942
Conflict Second World War, 1939-1945

Hand made mahjong set comprising a set of tiles with traditional markings executed in watercolours and ink, a collection of wooden betting sticks, and a pair of dice.

History / Summary

Cecilia May Delforce was born at Augathella, Queensland in September 1912. A trained nursing sister, she joined the Australian Military Forces as a staff nurse in the Australian Army Nursing Service in October 1940 (service number Q70209). She resigned from the AMF in January 1941 in order to enlist in the Second AIF. Appointed to 2/10th Australian General Hospital, a 400 bed hospital set up at Malacca, she sailed for service in Malaya three weeks later, as part of the 8th Australian Division. When Japan entered the war in December the hospital staff were required to wear armbands bearing a red cross. The hospital was evacuated from Malacca on 10 January and its staff dispursed to other units until it reopened in Singapore on 26 Janaury 1942.

Three days before the fall of Singapore, on 15 February, the remaining 65 Australian nurses in Singapore were evacuated on the SS Vyner Brooke, a ship designed to carry 12 passengers, now crowded with 181 nurses, civilian women and children. Two days later the ship was attacked by Japanese aircraft in Banka Strait and sank. Some passengers drowned, others came managed to float and swim ashore on Banka Island over the next five days. Of the 65 nurses, 12 drowned, 21 were massacred on Radji Beach by the Japanese, and 32 became prisoners of war, among them Sister Delforce.

During 1942 the nurses were held in an internment camp at Palembang together with Dutch and British civilian internees. Although accommodation was crowded and food in short supply the women were able alleviate their conditions by using creativeness and ingenuity to produce games, and for the children, toys, with which to pass the time. Sister Delforce and a number of her friends and fellow internees, combined to produce a number of mahjong sets, then a popular and widely played game. The set seen here is the first one they produced. She later recalled:

'This set was the first of several made in camp in Palembang during 1942, early in our captivity. The set began life as the slat of a cot, which hat to be cut to size with a borrowed hand saw, 2 feet 3 inches long. Each smaller piece was split into four chips the size you now see them, using and old and very blunt knife and a rather heavy stone as a hammer. I used the leaves from a sandpaper tree [streblus asper] to smooth each chip, making it ready for painting. Sister Betty Jeffrey helped to paint the flowers, and a very nice Chinese lass named Kong sketched the characters and the Four Winds. The dice do work extremely well. Packs of cards were made from photos found in a album thrown in the corner of a small three roomed house (accommodating 28 prisoners).

During the first two years of captivity I recall spending many hours playing Patience, Bridge and of course Mah Jong. Thus, for a short time, several of us were able to eliminate from our minds the sordidness, depression, and all-consuming hunger which all who lived those years will remember always.'

Cecilia Delforce survived captivity, although eight of her fellow nurses did not. She was evacuated from Sumatra to Singapore at the end of the war, and after a month of rest and medical treatment there returned to Australia on the hospital ship Manunda. She was discharged from the army in January 1946.