Ellen Louisa (Nell) KEATS

KEATS, Ellen Louisa

Service Numbers: SFX11647, SX11647
Enlisted: 3 February 1941, Adelaide, SA
Last Rank: Nursing Sister
Last Unit: 2nd/10th Australian General Hospital
Born: 'Gunyah', North Unley, South Australia, 1 July 1915
Home Town: Dulwich, Burnside, South Australia
Schooling: St Peter's Collegiate Girls School, South Australia
Occupation: Nurse
Died: Murdered as a POW of Japan in the Bangka Island massacre, Radji Beach, Bangka Island, Netherlands East Indies, 16 February 1942, aged 26 years
Cemetery: No known grave - "Known Unto God"
Column 141, Singapore Memorial (within Kranji War Cemetery).
Memorials: Adelaide Royal Adelaide Hospital Chapel Roll of Honour, Adelaide WW2 Wall of Remembrance, Augusta Australian Army Nursing Sisters Monument, Australian Military Nurses Memorial, Australian War Memorial Roll of Honour, Ballarat Australian Ex-Prisoners of War Memorial, Bicton Vyner Brooke Tragedy Memorial, W.A., Daw Park Repatriation Hospital WW2 Women of the Armed Forces Who Died HR, Kapunda Dutton Park Memorial Gardens Nurses Plaques, Launceston Banka Island Massacre, Singapore Memorial Kranji War Cemetery
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World War 2 Service

3 Feb 1941: Enlisted Australian Army Nursing Service (WW1), Nursing Sister, SFX11647, 2nd/10th Australian General Hospital, Adelaide, SA
3 Feb 1941: Enlisted SX11647, General Hospitals - WW2
7 Dec 1941: Involvement Australian Army Nursing Service (WW1), Nursing Sister, SFX11647, 2nd/10th Australian General Hospital, Malaya/Singapore
12 Feb 1942: Embarked Australian Army Nursing Service (WW1), Nursing Sister, SFX11647, 2nd/10th Australian General Hospital, Embarked Ship - Date and Place of Departure: SS Vyner Brooke, 12/02/1942, Singapore, (with 65 other nurses, and civilians); to Japanese Aircraft Attack - sinking disaster - SS Vyner Brooke - Date and Place: 14/02/1942, Bangka Strait (by Bangka Island); (AWM) The Sinking of the SS Vyner Brooke.
15 Feb 1942: Imprisoned Malaya/Singapore
16 Feb 1942: Involvement Australian Army Nursing Service (WW1), Nursing Sister, SFX11647, 2nd/10th Australian General Hospital, Prisoners of War, Murdered at Banka Island


Emotional Welcome As Gallant Women Return

Fremantle, Western Australia; The Australian Women's Weekly

Saturday; 3 November 1945, Page 19.


BY: Josephine O'Neill

No legendary figures, but ordinary women, you, who died

Facing the water, last glance each to each

Along the beach, leaving your bodies to the accustomed surf

Your hearts to home

No legendary figures, but ordinary women, you, who lived

Holding the spirit, through the camps slow slime

Unsoiled by time ...

Bringing your laughter out of degraded toil

As a gift to home

As ordinary women, by your dying you fortify the mind

As ordinary women, by your living you honor all mankind.

TROVE: http://nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/55465571

Showing 1 of 1 story

Biography contributed by Daniel Bishop

Daughter of Clarence Carrington KEATS, & Ann Grace (nee DONALD) KEATS, of Dulwich, City of Burnside, South Australia.

Sister Ellen Louisa ‘Nell’ Keats, SX 11647 was member of the 2/10th Australian General Hospital. Nell was born on 1 July 1915 at ‘Gunyah’, a private nursing home at North Unley a suburb of Adelaide. She was the daughter of Mr and Mrs C. C. Keats of Dulwich, South Australia (‘The Express & Telegraph’, Adelaide, 6.7.15). She had twin younger brothers and one was later listed as ‘Missing’ during the War.

Nell attended St Peters Collegiate Girls School, Adelaide (‘The Advertiser’, Adelaide, 12.12.41). In 1927 she is listed as passing her pianoforte exam for the School Exams and in 1932 she passed the ‘Invalid Cookery Examination’ conducted by the School of Mines; by then she would have been about 16-17 years of age.

Nell commenced her training at Parkwynd Private Hospital in 1933, transferring to Adelaide Hospital to complete the course, and it is reported that Nell was an excellent nurse. In 1937 she passed her final exam for the Nurses Board of South Australia and was employed at the Adelaide Hospital as a staff sister (Health Museum of South Australia).

Nell enlisted with the Australian Army Nursing Service on 18 December 1940 and was called up for service on 3 February 1941. A studio portrait of Nell in her nursing military uniform taken in 1941 prior to her departure with the AANS shows a serious, pleasant faced young woman of 5 foot 3 inches in height (Health Museum of South Australia). A similar impression is given in her paybook photo at the Australian War Memorial.

On 19 May 1941 Nell embarked on HMAT Zealandia arriving in Singapore on 9 June 1941. She immediately travelled to Malacca in Malaya where the 2/10th AGH was located. From time to time Nell and other nurses from the 2/10th AGH were seconded for duty with the 2/13th AGH. Nell was with this unit when due to the swift progress of the Japanese invasion force in Malaya, most of the hospital staff was evacuated back to Singapore in late January 1942. On 25 January she rejoined her fellow nurses of the 2/10th AGH who were also back on Singapore Island.

According to the documents in the Australian War Memorial lodged by Mavis Hannah, Nell’s letters home from Malaya to her mother “… were positively upbeat …” (On Radji Beach p.80). ‘Writing to her mother in Adelaide on 20 December 1941, she said “Each night we have community singing in the Mess, which I enjoy very much, and tonight I am going to the pictures to see Waterloo Bridge…….We are still not very busy as we haven’t started receivin casulaties”.

On the back of the studio mounted portrait (shown below) of Nell in her nurse’s uniform is a nice and succinct but sad synopsis of Nell’s life . After outlining her nursing career it says:

“ ………..In February, 1942, she was amongst the group of sixty-five nurses evacuated from Singapore on the “Vyner Brooke”. The ship foundered off the coast of Sumatra as the result of enemy action. Sister Nell Keats was one of the number posted as “missing”. It is now known that she lost her life, after being taken prisoner”.

It is not known how Nell came to be on Radji Beach after the sinking of the SS Vyner Brooke on that fateful day in 1942. Perhaps she was in one of the lifeboats or just floated in her life jacket with the currents. We know for certain that Nell Keats was one of the group of fine, brave and noble women murdered by Japanese soldiers on Radji Beach on 16 February 1942 after the sinking of the SS Vyner Brooke.

One of the final notations on Nell’s Record of Service says

“Deceased while POW. Executed by Japanese”

Along with seven other nurses from the ‘Vyner Brooke’ who lost their lives at sea and on Radji beach, Nell Keats is memorialised on a brass plaque in the Royal Adelaide Hospital Chapel and on other Memorials around Australia and overseas.

Principal sources


(1) letter to her Mother quoted in On Radji Beach p101
Michael Pether Historian and researcher Auckland New Zealand
Public records
Newspaper reports
On Radji Beach by Ian Shaw