Esther Sarah Jean STEWART

STEWART, Esther Sarah Jean

Service Numbers: NX70936 (N104880, NX70501), NX70501, N104880, NX70936
Enlisted: 16 December 1940, Victoria Barracks - Sydney, NSW, Australia
Last Rank: Sister
Last Unit: 2nd/10th Australian General Hospital
Born: Spring Hill, Queensland, Australia, 15 October 1904
Home Town: Darlinghurst, City of Sydney, New South Wales
Schooling: Not yet discovered
Occupation: Nurse
Died: Murdered whilst a POW at Radgi Beach Bangka Island Sumatra by the Japanese , Radji Beach, Bangka Island, Netherlands East Indies, 16 February 1942, aged 37 years
Cemetery: No known grave - "Known Unto God"
Memorial Location: Column 142, Singapore Memorial (within Kranji War Cemetery).
Memorials: 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., Coolangatta War Memorial, Kapunda Dutton Park Memorial Gardens Nurses Plaques, Launceston Banka Island Massacre, Singapore Memorial Kranji War Cemetery, Sydney St. Stephen's Uniting Church WW2 & Korean War Roll of Honour Book, Toowoomba Roll of Honour WW2, Toowoomba WW2 Roll of Honour Book, Toowoomba War Memorial (Mothers' Memorial)
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Non Warlike Service

16 Dec 1940: Involvement Australian Army Nursing Service (WW1), Nursing Sister, NX70936 (N104880, NX70501), Australian Army Nursing Service (WW1), Pre-WW2-Home Service (A.A.N.S.) Australian Army Nursing Service-Emergency Unit.
16 Dec 1940: Enlisted Australian Army Nursing Service (WW1), Nursing Sister, NX70936 (N104880, NX70501), Australian Army Nursing Service (WW1), Victoria Barracks - Sydney, NSW, Australia

World War 2 Service

16 Dec 1940: Enlisted Australian Military Forces (Army WW2), Lieutenant, NX70501
21 Feb 1941: Involvement Australian Army Nursing Service (WW1), Nursing Sister, NX70936 (N104880, NX70501), Australian Army Nursing Service (WW1), Pre-WW2-Home Service (A.A.N.S.) Australian Army Nursing Service.
21 Feb 1941: Enlisted Australian Military Forces (Army WW2), Lieutenant, N104880, Australian Army Nursing Service WW2 (<1943)
25 Apr 1941: Involvement Australian Army Nursing Service (WW1), Nursing Sister, NX70936 (N104880, NX70501), 2nd/10th Australian General Hospital, Malaya/Singapore, (NAA, Pg-16)
25 Apr 1941: Enlisted Australian Military Forces (Army WW2), Lieutenant, NX70936, General Hospitals - WW2
25 Apr 1941: Enlisted Australian Army Nursing Service (WW1), Nursing Sister, NX70936 (N104880, NX70501), 2nd/10th Australian General Hospital, Sydney, NSW, Australia
25 Apr 1941: Promoted Australian Army Nursing Service (WW1), Sister, 2nd/10th Australian General Hospital, (NAA, Pg's-11, 16)
12 Feb 1942: Embarked Australian Army Nursing Service (WW1), Sister, NX70936 (N104880, NX70501), 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); 16 February 1942, Imperial Soldiers of the Japanese Forces massacred 22 Australian Nurses, and -60 in total- Australian, English Soldiers, and crew members who had survived the sinking of the SS Vyner Brooke (AWM) The Sinking of the SS Vyner Brooke.
14 Feb 1942: Imprisoned Malaya/Singapore, POW of Japan, "Bangka Island Massacre".
14 Feb 1942: Involvement Australian Army Nursing Service (WW1), Sister, NX70936 (N104880, NX70501), 2nd/10th Australian General Hospital, Malaya/Singapore, POW-Prisoner of War, "Bangka Island Massacre".


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.


Submitted 6 November 2018 by Daniel Bishop

Showing 1 of 1 story

Biography contributed by Faithe Jones

With the present publicity about the possible, if not probable, abuse and rape of the Australian Army Nurses before they were so cruelty executed on Radji Beach, the final few words of some of the Nurses are quite chilling, particularly those below of Sister Esther Stewart.

What did she mean when she said “Girls, take it, don’t squeal!” (1)

Sister Esther Sarah Jean Stewart (more commonly Jean or Stewie), NX 70936 was a member of the 2/10th Australian General Hospital. Jean was born in Terrace Street Spring Hill Brisbane on 15 October 1904 to Charles Lloyd Stewart and Sarah May Jean Stewart (nee Mann).

Some sources say Jean came from Coolangatta and her mother certainly lived there in later years. Jean moved to Sydney when she was older and worked as a nurse. Jean had a very strong Christain faith and was a devout Presbyterian

At the time of her enlistment in the Australian Army Nursing Service Jean was living at “Greenholme” 209 Victoria St Darlinghurst Sydney More is revealed about Jean’s nursing career in a newspaper article referred to later.

One summary of Jean’s life, which seems to be a little at odds with other research, is that “…Unfortunately, she did not have any close relatives as her next of kin was a solicitor whom she had no relationship with named Andrew Muir. My assumption is that Jean had nothing holding her back from going on an adventure like travelling to Asia to work. She had no partner, no immediate family, she seemed like a very independent woman who was determined to make a change in her life and use her skills as a trained nurse to help injured soldiers. However, the adventure was tragically short-lived……”
(“Soldiers Story/Eulogy prepared by Alex White).

This interpretation of Jean’s life seems to have been partially influenced by information in her Record of Service, the digitised copy of which is now available. But as can be seen from the newspaper reports below Jean was in fact greatly loved by her mother Sarah.

Her father had died in 1938 and with Jean the only child now working as a nurse in Sydney, her mother seemed to be all alone at Coolangatta in Queensland. Perhaps Jean may have been estranged, for whatever reason, from her mother and that could be why she noted on her Attestation Form when she enlisted that her next-of-kin was Andrew Purdie Muir a Solicitor in Brisbane.

Jean enlisted in the Australian Army Nursing Service at Victoria Barracks, Sydney 25 April 1941 and was posted to the 2/10 Australian General Hospital which had earlier arrived in Singapore on the Queen Mary in February 1941. Jean’s pay book photo shows a cheery, smiling, open faced woman with light brown hair and hazel eyes. There is also a photo from of Jean as a younger woman, perhaps about 20 years of age, showing a sweet faced young woman.

On 19 May 1941 Jean 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. Jean must have quite ‘run down’ and working very hard as on 30 July she was admitted to hospital suffering from Herpes Simplex. She was back with her unit in a week.

How Jean came to be on Radji Beach after the sinking of the SS Vyner Brooke on that fateful day in 1942 is not known. Perhaps she was in one of the lifeboats or just floated in her life jacket with the currents. We know for certain that Jean Stewart was one of the group of fine, 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 Jean’s Record of Service says

“Deceased while POW. Executed by Japanese”.

Soon after the surviving nurses were repatriated to Australia in late 1945 there appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald on 6 October 1945 this insertion in their “Roll of Honour” column

“… STEWART – A tribute of love to NX 70936 Sister Jean Stewart, dear friend of Mrs. Cathro (Urana) , Mrs Cheek, and Mrs Edwards (Newcastle)……..”

This suggests that if Jean was short on family she certainly had good friends. Also interestingly, in contrast to the earlier summary of her life indicating that Jean was some sort of orphan, there appeared in several newspapers after the War evidence of clear actions by Jean’s mother to ensure her daughter was remembered and which give us a much clearer picture of the progression of Jean’s life.

The Courier Mail newspaper in Brisbane on 29 January 1946 says “… Mother perpetuates memory of Heroic Army nurse Shot by Japs … Coolangatta and Tweed heads are perpetuating the memory of Matron Esther Stewart, of Brisbane whose last words when she and 20 other Army Nursing sisters were being slaughtered by Japanese machine guns on the beach at Banka Island, off Sumatra, four years ago were: “Girls take it, don’t squeal!”…

“Her mother, Mrs Jean Stewart of Dixon Street, Coolangatta, has presented a memorial electric clock to the local sub-branch of the Returned Soldier’s league. At the unveiling service the President (Mr. A. Thomas) said that the only survivor of the massacre (Sister Vivien Bullwinkel) of Adelaide had told Mrs Stewart of her daughter’s last words as she and other nurses were being shot down…..

"The late Matron Stewart was born at New Farm , Brisbane and was educated at the New Farm and Roma Schools. She entered the nursing profession at Toowoomba, and subsequently trained at the Diamantina Hospital Brisbane and the Royal Prince Alfred and Crown Street Women’s Hospital, Sydney…..”

As outlined in another post, in the Tweed Daily newspaper on 20 February 1946 in the “Roll Of Honour” classified listings the following was written

“STEWART – In loving memory of NX 70956 Sister Esther Sarah Jean Stewart, only child of Mrs Jean Stewart (nee Mann), who was murdered by the Japanese at Banka Island, February 1942.”Lest We Forget“

If I could have my dearest wish,
And all earth’s treasures too;
And pick from Heaven what I may,
Dear Jean, I would ask for you
Many a lonely heartache, many a silent tear,
But always a beautiful memory,
Of a daughter I loved so dear.
I keep forever in my heart. Mother”

There is a further report in the Tweed Daily newspaper of the Coolangatta War Memorial being built in front of the Council Chambers – the memorial to stand 11 feet high in the form of a cross and containing two drinking fountains and to be lit by electricity. Jean ‘Stewie’ Stewart is also memorialised on the memorial to AANS nurses who gave their lives in the Second World War at Kapunda memorial Gardens, Dutton park, South Australia; the ‘Memorial garden for Nurses’ at Augusta Western Australia and, as with all the nurse at the Kranji War Memorial in Singapore .

Jean was most certainly never forgotten by her mother who died in 1959. Attached to her Record of Service is a letter dated 12 July 1951 from the Manager of the Commercial Bank of Australia Limited, Coolangatta branch to the Records Officer at Army Headquarters. The letter says

“We have been requested to contact you at the request of the abovemention’s Mother Mrs S. M. J. Stewart, Coolangatta, as she is anxious to obtain as a Keep-sake The King’s Letter which she understands is forwarded to all Next-of-Kin..

“The Late Sister Stewart’s War Medals have been received by our customer, but it would be appreciated if you could obtain and forward for delivery to Mrs Stewart the Letter referred to.”

Perhaps the original of The King’s Letter had been already sent to Andrew Muir her nominated next-of-kin. The Army did, howver, on 24 July 1951 very promptly reply to the Bank Manager attaching a “copy of the Royal message of condolence, which was forwarded to the next-of-kin of members of the Australian Military Forces who gave their lives for their country”.

The Australian War Memorial in Canberra holds a Bible owned by Sister Jean Stewart. The Bible was presented to her on 1 May 1916 on the occasion of departing Kent Street Congregational Sabbath School in Brisbane. In the Bible are personal inscriptions by Jean, a newspaper cutting from the Sydney “Daily Telegraph” dated 17 September 1945, giving details including Jean’s name in the casualty list, of the Banka Island massacre in February 1942.

Principal sources

(1) Courier Mail in Brisbane on 29/1/46
- Michael Pether, Historian and Researcher Auckland New Zealand
- Public records