Janet KERR

Poppy

KERR, Janet

Service Number: NFX76279
Enlisted: 19 August 1941, Sydney, New South Wales
Last Rank: Sister
Last Unit: 2nd/13th Australian General Hospital
Born: Monteagle, New South Wales, 18 August 1910
Home Town: Woodstock, Cowra, New South Wales
Schooling: Not yet discovered
Occupation: Nurse
Died: Killed in Action (Murdered - POW of Japan), Banka Island, 16 February 1942, aged 31 years
Cemetery: No known grave - "Known Unto God"
(CWGC) Official Commemoration - Memorial Location: Column 142, Singapore Memorial (within Kranji War Cemetery).
Tree Plaque: Not yet discovered
Memorials: Augusta Australian Army Nursing Sisters Monument, Australian Military Nurses Memorial, Australian War Memorial, Roll of Honour, Banka Island Massacre, Singapore Memorial Kranji War Cemetery, Vyner Brooke Tragedy Memorial, W.A.
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World War 2 Service

19 Aug 1941: Enlisted Australian Army Nursing Service, Sister, SN NFX76279, Australian Army Nursing Service, Sydney, New South Wales
7 Dec 1941: Involvement Australian Army Nursing Service, Sister, SN NFX76279, 2nd/13th Australian General Hospital, Malaya/Singapore
12 Feb 1942: Embarked Australian Army Nursing Service, Sister, SN NFX76279, 2nd/13th Australian General Hospital, Evacuated - 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, Banka Strait (by Banka Island); (AWM) The Sinking of the SS Vyner Brooke.
16 Feb 1942: Involvement Australian Army Nursing Service, Sister, SN NFX76279, 2nd/13th Australian General Hospital, Prisoners of War

OUR SINGAPORE NURSES

Emotional Welcome As Gallant Women Return

Fremantle, Western Australia; The Australian Women's Weekly

Saturday; 3 November 1945, Page 19.



OUR SINGAPORE NURSES

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

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Biography contributed by John Edwards

"...NX76279 Sister Janet Kerr, 2/13th Australian General Hospital, Australian Army Nursing Service (AANS). She was one of sixty five Australian nurses and over 250 civilian men, women and children evacuated on the Vyner Brooke from Singapore, three days before the fall of Malaya. The Vyner Brooke was bombed by Japanese aircraft and sunk in Banka Strait on 14 February 1942. Of the sixty five nurses on board, twelve were lost as sea and thirty two survived the sinking and were captured as Prisoners of War (POWs) of which eight later died during captivity. Sister Kerr, aged 31, was one of the remaining twenty two nurses who also survived the sinking and were washed ashore on Radji Beach, Banka Island, where they surrendered to the Japanese, along with twenty five British soldiers. On 16 February 1942 the group was massacred, the soldiers were bayoneted and the nurses were ordered to march into the sea where they were shot. Only Sister Vivian Bullwinkel and a British soldier survived the massacre. Both were taken POW, but only Sister Bullwinkel survived the war. Sister Kerr was the daughter of Ida Maud Kerr of Woodstock, NSW." - SOURCE (www.awm.gov.au)

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Biography contributed by Faithe Jones

“Bully, they have murdered them all” (1)

Sister Janet ‘Jenny’ Kerr, NX 76279 was a member of the 2/13th Australian General Hospital. Jenny was born in 1911, the daughter of John James Kerr and Ida Maud Kerr (nee Ellwood) of Woodstock near Cowra in Country NSW. Most records show either one or the other of Mr. & Mrs. Kerr as Jenny’s parents and the reason for this is that they were divorced in 1930.

Jenny followed her mother’s footsteps into the nursing profession and graduated as a nurse from St George’s Hospital at Kogarah Sydney. Her mother was the Matron of Woodstock Hospital in Central Western NSW. As reported in the Queensland Times on 11 May 1946 Jenny was a theatre sister at St George Hospital for many years and in 1946 a plaque to the memory of ‘Sister Janet Kerr’ was unveiled at the Hospital.

Sister Janet Kerr enlisted in the Australian Army Nursing Service on 21 August 1941 and her paybook photo shows a serious looking woman with brown hair and brown eyes. As with other nurses in her Unit she left Australia in August 1941 and sailed for Malaya and Singapore on the Hospital Ship Wanganella, arriving on 15 September 1941.

She was part of the 2/13th Australian General Hospital that was initially located at St Patrick's School on Singapore Island. Between 21-23 November 1941 the entire hospital was moved across the Straits to Tampoi Hill on the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula. Due however, to the swift progress of the Japanese invasion force, most of the hospital staff was evacuated back to Singapore in late January 1942

There is little on public record of Jenny’s life but it is well known that she was on the SS Vyner Brooke and made it to Radji Beach, presumably on one of the two lifeboats which arrived there and further along the coast. Jenny, aged 31 years, was amongst the group of nurses murdered by Japanese troops on Radji beach on 16 February 1942.

‘Jenny Kerr, a no-nonsense girl from near Young in NSW was sitting alongside Vivian, and turned to her and said “Bully, they have murdered them all…….” (On Radji Beach p214). Shortly after, the nurses and one civilian lady Mrs Betteridge walked into the sea and were callously slaughtered by the Japanese.

The newspaper record of the time, Cootamundra Herald 5 October 1945) states “STOCKINBINGAL [this is in the same area as Woodstock] Janet Kerr … was well known and highly esteemed by everyone here. She is a sister of Mrs Ken Kerr and a niece to Mrs T. Ellwood and Mr and Mrs J. Ellwood senior. She trained at St. George’s Hospital. Kogarah, and enlisted at the beginning of the War. She spent many holiday periods here at the hotel with her brother. Her mother, Mrs Kerr, lives at Woodstock…”.

Jenny is also commemorated on the Roll Of Honour at Woodstock, near Young in NSW where there is a beautiful memorial to her in the town’s main street (see photos). The memorial was unveiled by Sir John Northcote, the Governor of NSW on 19 November 1954.

Plans for this Memorial were first announced in The Lyndhurst The Shire Chronicle (NSW) on 2 April 1952 that reported

‘A memorial park is to be established at Woodstock in honour of the late Sister Jenny Kerr who was killed by the Japanese during the last war. Already an amount of 136 pounds has been donated towards the project. A public meeting was held at Woodstock recently to initiate the appeal. The meeting was largely attended. A committee was elected to raise funds for the memorial. Mr. Reg Hailstone was voted President of this committee. The Memorial will take the form of a children's park and playground and will be called the Jenny Kerr Memorial Park. It is to be built on a vacant land adjacent to the Post Office’.

Also in Woodstock is a Memorial Park and playground; the Jenny Kerr Memorial Park with a permanent ‘sign’ which was installed and unveiled on ANZAC Day 2015 (see photo). There is a photo of Jenny Kerr, what is said to be the wreck of the ‘Vyner Brooke’, and the story of her war service and the massacre on Radji Beach.

Interestingly, during the late 1950s and early 1960s there was a photo of Jenny Kerr above the door to the Matron’s office at St George’s Hospital because she was held in great respect and affection by the nurses of that era (ex nurse Mrs. Jan Hodgson nee McDonald). Sadly this photo appears to have been lost over the years.

Undoubtedly, the memory of a wonderful Australian nurse, Sister Jenny Kerr, and the massacre of the nurses will live on through these lovely memorials.

It was wonderful that attending the 75th Anniversary events at Radji Beach in 2017 was a lady who was delivered at birth by Jenny Kerr.

Jenny will also be remembered at the Commemorative Service at Radji Beach on 16 February; in only 14 days.

Principal sources

https://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=2114198798640396&id=983774011682886&__tn__=K-R

(1) On Radji Beach p214
- Michael Pether Historian Auckland New Zealand
- Public records
- Newspaper reports
- On Radji Beach by Ian Shaw

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