WWII Nurse recognised

IAN Kirkland met Jessie Eaton-Lee in 1994.

The Alstonville Plateau Historical Society member was a teacher at Alstonville Public School, and Jessie spoke to the students at the Anzac Day service.

He felt this was a woman who hadn't been properly recognised for her service during World War II - something he has now corrected by writing a book on "Blanchie".

Jessie Blanch was born at Bangalow in 1910, but went to school at Rous after her family moved there.

She went on to study nursing in Brisbane, which is where, in 1941, she enlisted in the army.

Jessie and her unit were sent to Malaysia, then on to Singapore.

When it was clear Singapore would fall to the Japanese, Jessie and 64 other nurses crammed on board an 80m by 13m private yacht to sail to safety. There were 300 people on that yacht.

It was sunk on February 14, 1942, and Jessie spent 16 hours in the water before landing on Bangka Island, Indonesia. Twelve nurses were lost at sea.

Another nurse, Vivian Bullwinkel, was on board the yacht with Jessie, but landed at a different beach where she was lined up with 19 others and shot. Bullwinkel was the sole survivor.

Jessie was taken as a Prisoner of War, but maintained a defiance of the enemy. She was one of six women chosen by guards to act as prostitutes, but refused, and was then starved for several days.

Jessie weighed just six stone at war's end in 1945.

She never nursed again because of health problems, and passed away in 1999, aged 89, after moving from Sydney back to Alstonville with her husband.

Jessie was awarded the Associate of the Royal Red Cross award, given to military nurses who showed exceptional service.

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