Violet Joan Chalmers

DON’T SQUEAL is based on a story written by Sally-Ann Dillon from the Deniliquin Creative Writers Group. It was narrated by Airlie Circuitt and produced by The Shack Studios, Deniliquin.

The story was inspired by the experiences of Lieutenant Joan Chalmers from Morago during WW2.

The Passing Out Parade was supported by the Australian Government’s Anzac Centenary Arts and Culture Fund and was coordinated by South West Arts in partnership with South West Music Regional Conservatorium and Outback Theatre for Young People.

By Sally-Ann Dillon

When I was twenty-one, two incidences occurred that changed the direction of my life. Japanese soldiers forced twenty-two nurses from the 8th Division Australian Imperial Force to march to their deaths at Radji Beach. All but one perished, among the dead was my young first cousin Clarice Halligan.

Sister Bullwinkle was the only survivor of the twenty-two Australian Nurses brutally massacred. The family were told graphically that the last words these brave dedicated creatures heard was Sister Bullwinkle advising the nurses in her charge, as they were marched into the sea, "Girls take it don't squeal". Clarice perished and Sister Bullwinkle feigning death survived this massacre that ranks amongst the bloodiest and most infamous war crime carried out by the Japanese at Radji Beach (an island east of Sumatra).

The second February 1942 horror occurred when my Uncle Gordon Campbell was one of the 1,000 soldiers attacked by 20,000 Japanese at the massacre on Banka Island. Fifty solders perished and he was taken prisoner. In June that year his death was confirmed but his mother received not a single memento of her son's personal effects and there is no grave. It was believed Uncle Gordon was beheaded.

I remembered my two young relatives well from their visits to our home at "Devon" near Morago and it seemed natural that I enlist in honour of their memories.

I was born at Deniliquin on 15th September 1921 to ARCHIBALD CHESTERMAN CHALMERS and VIOLET HALLIGAN CHALMERS who christened me "Violet Joan Chalmers". I showed my independent streak at an early age, when I insisted on being called "Joan".

I enlisted as Lt. Joan Chalmers (not Violet Joan) serving with the Australian Nursing Service, after gaining my General Nursing Certificate from the Alfred Hospital in 1943. I studied Japanese and served at the Japanese Prisoner of War Camp in Cowra and then saw service in New Guinea.

During my military years, I was offered the rank of Captain but declined. People who knew me well understood it was on the grounds that the promotion would make me a higher rank than my dear father, who was also a Lieutant at the time. My two brothers, Chester and Max could never understand that decision.

At the end of the war, end, with vivid memories of my first cousin Clarice and Uncle Gordon, I twice visited the infamous Changi P.O.W. Camp, which was liberated by troops on 5th September 1945. Along with Sister Bullwinkle, I helped carry the surviving allied prisoners out of that horrific and inhumane place. I am still haunted by the suffering of those Australian prisoners and what I experienced but never share those emotions with anyone.

I remain an intensely private person and consistently refuse to discuss the Cowra P.O.W. experiences or the horrors of Changi and the condition of those prisoners. The death toll was beyond the belief of most Australian living at home. I felt a duty to accept being a witness at the trials of Japanese war

criminals and my knowledge of Japanese held me in good stead to see that justice was served.

After the War, I continued to be driven to contribute to others less fortunate than myself and was drawn to foreign remote countries. I travelled widely working as a nursing sister in West Africa, in Biafra, in Bangladesh during the famine and in the leper colonies in the Middle East etc. I became fluent in French and Flemish and study became a passion. I went on to Melbourne University and later gained a Certificate of Australian Commercial Law by correspondence. I set off for Antwerp in Belgium to study at the world-renowned Prince Leopold Institute of Tropical Medicine. Within six months I was awarded a Tropical Certificate of Excellence in seven subjects.

The memories of Changi never faded and even serving for two years with the Australian Island Mission in the remote Northern Territory and W.A., the horror remains. I received a Radiography Certificate in 1975, these skills being invaluable when I served for many years with the Flying Doctor Service.

Life at home though on my own little farm near "Devon" was my salvation, as I continued my studies. Being interested in nature and conversation as a Field Naturalist, I planted thousands of natives from seed to encourage bird life.

I know many locals see me as eccentric, a loner or even an odd reclusive hermit. Many know little about me or my past life. I am at peace on my small block of land in my old caravan, surrounded by my many sheep I call by name. Yes, I have achieved a lot into my life and received numerous Degrees in a distinguished nursing career, but I owe that to Clarice and Gordon, who were robbed of the opportunities to enjoy such activities. I constantly remember with gratitude for my life decisions those youthful soldiers who perished and are so often forgotten by many. I will never forget the atrocities, the most fiendish and most inhumane ever committed.

The finest tribute I could pay them was to "do my bit".