Title: Papers of Agnes Betty Jeffrey.
Date range of collection: 1941 - 1995.
Reference number: PR01780.
Extent: 2 boxes.
Location: Private Records collection, Research Centre, Australian War Memorial.
Abstract: The collection includes diaries (that were the inspiration for the book White Coolies, notebooks and sketches covering Jeffrey's time in the POW camp, 1941-45. Correspondence, photographs, news cuttings, letters and ephemera relating to her post-war activities which included dedicaitons, memorial openings and her work at the Nurses Memorial Centre.
Provenance: 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.
Restrictions on use: Copyright of materials described in this guide is governed by copyright law in Australia. For further information contact the Curator of Private Records, Research Centre.
Preferred citation: Papers of Agnes Betty Jeffrey, Australian War Memorial PRO1780.
The Australian War Memorial holds related material in the following Private Records collections:
Papers of Captain C. H. Ashton, AWM PR87/080.
Papers of Matron Irene M. Drummond, AWMPR87/187.
Papers of Sister D. G. Elmes, AWM PR88/180.
Papers of Nursing Sister Pat J. Gunther, AWM PR90/019.
Papers of Sister Ellen M. Hannah, AWM 3DRL/7474.
Papers of Staff Nurse EL Keats, AWM PR88/002.
Papers of Captain Wilma Elizabeth Forster Oram, AWM PR84/345.
Papers of Staff Nurse Mena P Raymont, AWM PR88/003.
Papers of Lieutenant Mona Margaret Wilton, AWM PR89/092.
Papers of Sister Veronica Turner (nee Clancy), AWM MSS1086.
Subjects: Prisoners of war; Second World War; Australian Army Nursing Service.
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.
|1937||Jeffrey began her nursing training at the Alfred Hospital in Melbourne|
|1940||Aged 32, Jeffrey joined the Australian Army Nursing Service after completeing her nursing studies. She was posted to Darley Military Camp in Victoria.|
|1941||Arrived in Singapore 18th February, then went to Malacca in Malaya where she joined the 2/10th Australian General Hospital.|
|1942||Evacuated to Singapore with the 2/10th AGH. 12th February, Jeffrey was one of 65 nursing sisters that were evacuated on the Vyner Brooke, from Singapore. 14th February, the ship was attacked and sunk by Japanese.|
|1942-1945||Prisoner of War , Banka Island and Sumatra|
|1945-1947||Jeffrey was the most ill of all the returned nurses, suffering from beri beri, tuberculosis and amoebic dysentry spending 2 years in the Heidelberg Repatriation Hospital.|
|1947-48||Jeffrey and Bullwinkel drove throughout Victoria giving talks about their ordeal and fundraising for a 'living memorial for nurses that died in the war.|
|1949||Jeffrey appointed administrator of the Nurses Memorial Centre in Melbourne.|
|1950||Jeffrey and Bullwinkel went to Britain where they were presented to King George VI, Queen Mary and Princess Elizabeth.|
|1954||Spent most of the year as a patient in Heidelberg Repatriation Hospital and was advised to retire from work. Her novel White Coolies was published.|
|1960's||Acted as a caddy for champion Victorian golfer Burtta Cheney. Also did volunteer work for ex-Prisoner of War Association, the Nurses Memoroial Centre and the RSL Nurses Club.|
|1967||Went to Japan for a holiday and was able to revoke much of her hatred against the Japanese.|
|1970's - 80's||Spent her time corresponding and writing articles about her her time as a POW. She was also a sought after guest speaker at this time.|
|1987||Awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia for her contribution to ex-service men and women.|
|1996||Acted as advisor to Bruce Beresford on the film Paradise Road which was inspired by her novel.|
|2000||Betty moved into the Cresthaven Nursing Home . She died on 13th September.|
Scope and content note
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.