Sister Betty Jeffrey OAM

14 May 1908 – 13 September 2000  

  • Patron of Ex-POW & RA (Vic) 1994 - 2000
  • Joint Patron (with Mr Jack Flanagan) of the Ex-POW and RA (Vic) 1989- 1994.

Agnes Betty Jeffrey, known as Betty, was born in Hobart, Tasmania, but moved to Melbourne as a child and grew up and lived most of her life in East Malvern.

Betty trained to be a nurse at The Alfred Hospital and graduated in 1939.  Betty enlisted as an Australian Army Nursing Sister during the Second World War, and, as a member of the 2/10th Australian General Hospital she was posted to Malacca, Malaya.  In February 1942, Betty survived the sinking of the ship the Vyner Brooke and became a prisoner of the Japanese. She spent most of her time in captivity in Palembang on Sumatra, Indonesia.  

At great personal risk, Betty maintained a detailed diary of her experience and treatment in the prisoner-of-war camps. The diary informed her subsequent book titled White Coolies, which was first published in 1954 and which has remained in print for more than six decades. Betty was a consultant to the feature movie ,Paradise Road, a movie which tells something of story of the women in captivity on Sumatra. The film focuses on a period when the women secretly rehearsed as a voice orchestra, and who gave musical concerts when their health permitted.

Betty Jeffrey bequeathed her war diary, her nursing uniform, a doll made in the prison camp and her watch to the Australian War Memorial, as well as drawings and paintings from her time as a prisoner. For further details refer to http://www.awm.gov.au/encyclopedia/nurse_survivors/jeffrey.asp 

On her return to Australia late in 1945 weighing just 32kg, Betty was ill with tuberculosis for about two years. On the day of her discharge from Heidelberg Repatriation Hospital in 1947, Betty, together with fellow survivor, Sister Vivian Bullwinkel, the only nurse to survive a massacre in 1942, ventured on a joint speaking tour throughout Victoria to raise funds for a War Memorial Nurses Centre. They spoke at every hospital with twenty beds or more, communicating the story of their captivity and the loss of seventy-five colleagues. They raised funds for the Memorial Centre, which was built in St Kilda Road, Melbourne. The nurses memorial was opened in February 1950. 

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   L. – R.  Vivian Bullwinkel and Betty Jeffrey. 1950.

L. – R.  Vivian Bullwinkel and Betty Jeffrey. 1950.

Our records show that Betty joined the Victorian Branch of the Ex-Prisoner of War and Relatives Association in September 1947, and worked for her fellow ex-prisoners of war until her death in September 2000. Despite health problems, she was at various times a Member of the Committee, a Joint Patron and the sole Patron of the Association.

In 1987, Betty was acknowledged for her services to ex-servicemen and women by the award of the Order of Australia Medal. 

Betty Jeffrey's Membership Card

Betty Jeffrey's Membership Card