"JESSIE" ELIZABETH SIMONS
(Now Mrs. J.E. Hookway)
Posted to the "Far East" in 1941 as a member of the 13th A.G.H.,
a survivor of the sinking of the Vyner Brooke and
interned by the Japanese for three and a half years in Sumatra.
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JESimons
J.E. Simons-Hookway 1999
YOU SHOULD READ THIS UNIQUE BOOK!
Elizabeth ("Jessie" to her fellow POW nurses)  Simons is the author of the book "While History Passed" (William Heinemann Limited, 1954) later re-published under the title "In Japanese Hands". The book fully documents her experiences immediately before, during and immediately after her internment in the prison camps of Sumatra. It is currently out of print but can be obtained through the Australian National Library.

YOU SHOULD READ ITS CONTROVERSIAL PREFACE!
We thought that, rather than take Mrs Hookway over "old" ground, we would analyze the controversial preface that she wrote to the 1954 edition and ask her questions relating to her attitudes now, after the passing of more than 55 years since the date of her release from Japanese internment. The interviews took place during October, 2000.

Extract from the Preface (1954) to "While History Passed"Simons
"I think I have managed to bridge the gap of those years and catch up with what was happening in Australia and the rest of the world during those years when so much history was being made - history which passed us by in our Sumatran backwater. I cannot, of course, recapture the outlook of the Australian people during those years, and I am still amazed that so much interest was taken in us. My friends tell me they scanned the papers for word of us through the years, and I know from the nature of our welcome home that Australians as a whole, not only our own friends, rejoiced in our releases, though horrified at the fate of those who did not come back. 
 
 
 

"Jessie" Simons
Photo: Van Diemen's Studios, Launceston


 
Question 1 (18/10/2000)
During the intervening years have your reactions to internment and its consequences changed at all?

A:     During the 50 or so intervening years I have mellowed. When we came out of camp we had no knowledge of what had been going on. We had been living in limbo, a backwater. As I came to hear about the atrocities committed during the war (WW2), for example the mass executions by the Germans of Jews and others, the appalling suffering of our men who had been interned by the Japanese, the blitz of London, the heroic sacrifices by the RAF and the RAAF "the few" - I was shocked and horrified. I came to regard our experience as not as bad as theirs. Also there were those left at home in Australia. We knew we were all right but they had no idea whether we were dead or alive. The families suffered terribly. 

For myself, apart from the waste of time and our nursing skills, I feel I personally benefited by my association with people of different walks of life, mainly British; but there were Dutch and at least one German lady (not the doctor) with whom I became friendly. They gave me an understanding of their ways of life, acceptance of the war and their situations. Both had lived in the Far East for some years.


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"Looking back over those years I find that in many ways I do not regret the experience. I learned the meaning of comradeship. There is an indefinable bond among those who have lived and suffered together. When I wrote recently to some of the girls for help in refreshing my memory on several points, I had letters back from all over Australia within a week. When I was a youngster, I used to think soldiers of World War I were talking rubbish when they spoke of the comradeship among those who have been through it together. Even now, though surrounded by friends and relatives, I still long for my old pals.
 
Question 2 (18/10/2000)
Apart from your positive reaction of learning "the value of comradeship" is there any comment you would make to the youth of today about how they should regard war and imprisonment?

A:   War has never been a solution. There are no winners. It is normally the Man-in-the-Street who pays the price, often with his life or health, physical or mental. Often both.

We should encourage our youth to take greater interest in politics. Our politicians are our country's representatives and we mirror our leaders in the eyes of the world.

As time went by I came to value the courage and fortitude of my companions. It was late in 1945 - about July or August - when I began to feel I had not much longer to live. I remember saying, "After all, the girls on the beach were lucky - their death was swift."  I don't blame the Japs. They were only obeying orders.  Of course my war was a very short one. I landed in Singapore in September (1941) and was captured in February 1942, but I know we must learn to forgive. Bitterness only affects the person who is feeling it. Bitterness makes people ill, makes them behave irrationally. 

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"It is terrible to think of the girls who lost their lives. Normally they would have had many years of useful community service ahead of them. But we did volunteer for service overseas, and a nurse's life is never an easy one. We were all prepared to share the fate of our men to the best of our ability.
 
Question 3 (18/10/2000)
What has the companionship and mutual support meant to you through the passing years?

A:    I am attached to the women with whom I spent 3 and a half years in very close contact. We know each other so well, but they are not my only friends.

After I got home separation did not mean much at first - I was so glad to be home - but then it began to pall. People kept trying to put words into our mouths, to jump to conclusions, to make up things that just didn't happen or to twist what did happen. That is when we began to seek each other's support. Now I am glad that I had the experience, I met and mixed with people from all walks of life in the prison camp, people whom I would never have known otherwise. Not all of them survived, of course.

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"Apart from our own group, there were the old ladies, often used to very comfortable conditions, who died in pain and abject poverty. Little children, wizened and shrivelled and wholly mercenary, died too. Will the world never learn!

"The Japanese - how they hated that name! When a tiny baby lisped the word "Jap", the mother was lectured angrily by one of the guards. He demanded that she teach the child to say "Nipponese". They always insisted that we call them by that name, a sure way of guaranteeing that we did not, except to their faces. Whatever they may say, we will never be deceived by their wide smiles and low bows; they are not individually to blame for being born Japs, nor for their lack of education and civilization, but it is hard to find any excuse for their neglect and brutality. The best you can say is that their inheritance is largely pagan, and if you remove the Christian influence from any nation you get much the same result, whether in East or West.
 

Question 4 (18/10/2000)
Has your attitude towards the Japanese changed?

A:    Apart from the war years I have not had any contact with the Japanese. Were I to meet a Japanese man I would treat him the same as any other person. If I see a Japanese in uniform, however (in a film or on television) that distresses me. I get flash-backs even now.
 

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"There was a Dutch doctor in Palembang during the early days of our captivity who used to boast, I'm Dutch and proud of it. Well after a while the Japs got tired of that and chopped his head off. He had not learned the wisdom of silence. There are many things about which I have kept silence in this book. For one thing, I cannot recall everything in its right setting; there are other things I have left out intentionally..."

J.E. SIMONS Tasmania 1954
 

Conclusion:
(J.E. Simons 18th October, 2000)
My three and a half years were not wasted, they caused me to mature perhaps earlier than I would otherwise have done and I value the friendships that I made and the knowledge I acquired

 
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"The doctor" refers to the German Dr Goldberg who was interned with the women. They allege that she was not a medical doctor and that she held both German and British passports. Some of them have expressed an opinion that she may have been collaborating with or spying for the Japanese, but this is a matter for academic research - a mystery yet to be solved - and Angell Productions accepts no responsibility for quoting other people's opinions. This is done not to cause mischief but  in the interests of filling in details and perhaps stimulating further investigation. In fairness it should be noted that it is equally possible that, if she was spying at all, she could have been spying for the British. However some intersting facts have emerged during research for the biography of Wilma Oram Young. Watch out for the Book!  Return

Pagan: J.E. Simons added a footnote in 2000 as follows: "...and they were governed by their Emperor whom they regarded as a god." Return

"Recently" - i.e. prior to writing the 1954 Preface. Return

"While History Passed" or "In Japanese Hands" (J.E. Simons - William Heinemann Ltd, 1954)
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