Sisters Under the Rising Sun

By Heather Morris

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On February 14, 1942, the Vyner Brooke, a merchant ship carrying a desperate group of expats fleeing Singapore as it became clear that it would soon fall to the Japanese, was sunk by Japanese dive bombers. Nesta James was one of 65 Australian nurses on board; Norah and John Chambers among 150 civilians and military personnel.

Though many of the passengers drowned straight away, Nesta and Norah miraculously survive and reach the beaches of Bangka Island, then controlled by the Japanese. They are immediately taken as prisoners of war, and separated from the men, Norah is uncertain of John's fate.

For nearly four years, Norah and Nesta fought for survival as their fellow prisoners, friends and comrades, died. Moved from one camp to another, they finally settled in the notorious Camp Palembang, deep in the jungle of Sumatra. There, women and children battled disease, starvation, and unthinkable brutality meted out by the Japanese soldiers: less than half of the inmates in their camp lived to see the Japanese defeated. Yet these women found, in themselves and in each other, an extraordinary courage and resourcefulness.

This is a story of sisterhood: the unbreakable bonds women forge in the face of adversity. At the heart of Sisters of the Rising Sun is the story of how the second world war was fought and won by women the world over, in different ways, as much as it was by men.