Olga Mary Neubronner (31.10.1906 - 2.3.1945)
Based on documents donated by the Estate of Patricia Gunner nee Goulter via Sue Goulter.
As testified by her brother EN Gunner, Olga Mary Gunner was born in Enfield, Middlesex, London on 31st October 1905. She was educated at a private school and on graduation became a governess until 1931 when she decided on a nursing profession. She was trained at the University College Hospital and graduated in 1935. She also became a certified Midwife. In 1936, she joined the Colonial Service as a Nursing Sister and was posted to Malaya where she rose to be Sister-in-Charge of the Changi Colonial Hospital in Singapore. There she met and married a lawyer, Guy Vyvian Neubronner in 1939 and subsequently left the service. The couple returned to Olgas home in England for their honeymoon but were soon to return to Singapore when war was declared. Guy was an officer in the Straits Settlement Volunteer Force and promptly rejoined his unit while Olga joined St. Johns Ambulance Brigade as Senior Superintendent.
A Tragic Ending
On 12th of February 1942, four days before Singapores capitulation, Olga was evacuated on the "Vyner Brooke". She was in the late stages of pregnancy with her first child. History relates that on the 14th of February 1942, the Vyner Brooke was bombed and sunk by a Japanese combat air patrol of the coast of Banka Island, Sumatra. Many survivors were washed up on the beaches of Banka where they were massacred by a Japanese troops. However some did survive and were taken as POWs. Of the 32 mostly Australian nurses captured, 8 including Olga died in captivity. Back in Singapore, Guy was also taken prisoner and was sent to the infamous Thai/Burma railway. He however survived the ordeal.
The Search for Olga
Olgas brother (EN) recalls that from the time she left Singapore, they did not hear from her and did not know that she had died until after the war. EN was determined to find her. Being in the Merchant Navy during the war, he landed at Singapore with the Allied forces relieving the city in September 1945. It was here that he met some of the surviving nurses from the Japanese prison camps. Later he gained more information through correspondence with Jessie Elizabeth Simons the author of "While History Passed" and herself a prisoner in the same camp as Olga. From these exchanges he was able to piece together what had happened to Olga in particular.
The Loss of a Son and the Loss of Freedom
Apparently, when the Vyner Brooke sank, Olga and others drifted on a raft for some 40 hours. They missed the beach where the massacre occurred as did several other rafts. It was on the raft that Olga gave birth to her only child, a son. Sadly, the baby survived for only a few hours. Having eventually landed on another part of Banka, Olga and another English nurse were found wandering in the jungle by some locals. They were taken to a convent or a mission where they spent some time and were apparently well looked after. They were working there as nurses when the Japanese discovered them. They were taken to a POW camp in Muntok in the NE of Banka just across from the main island of Sumatra. There Olga was reunited with the surviving nurses from the Vyner Brooke. Thus began her internment. Over the next three years she was to suffer dismal conditions and treatment. Later in 1942, the internees were moved to Palembang and back again to Muntok in late 1944.
Peace in Poetry
During her ordeal, Olga found time to composed over 20 poems which give a moving insight to her feelings and experiences. In fact Jessie Simons, in her book, mentioned the well respected missionary Margaret Dryburgh who also wrote poems and put some of Olgas poems to music which were sung at camp concerts. Sadly, neither Olga nor Margaret were to survive their imprisonment. Olga died of dysentery and malnutrition on the 2nd of March 1945 while Margaret died a little later on another terrible journey to another camp at Lubuk Linggau. The rescued nurses who returned to Singapore told EN that Olga and Margaret gave their lives so that the children might live. They gave much of their meager rations to the little ones.
Through her poems, Olga has managed to give us touching insight to her experiences during the dark days of the war. Here are some examples.
FLIGHT This is a poem about her preparations and anguished thoughts just before she left Singapore on the ill-fated Vyner Brooke:
I dare not weep, it dims my sight,
And hours are flying fast;
Ill pack this chest of camphorwood ---
Ive left it to the last.
My wedding dress, in frothing folds ---
Once more that scene I see,
When almost as I reached his side
He turned and looked at me.
But put them back, these haunting things.
They tear my heart again;
And what use now, their loveliness?
I tread lifes way of pain.
And hark! he calls.
The little court, ablaze with bloom,
All golden like the sun;
The house around stands cool and dim,
Ah! Has its spirit gone?
The paintings rush of happy dogs
Each day the car to meet;
The quiet step of old Ah Wong,
And Amahs padding feet;
That soft swish from the watering can
Upon the thirsty flowers;
The chink of cups when set for tea,
Most blessd of all our hours.
And see! He comes.
My darling! In your uniform,
With face so stern and grim;
Only your eyes reveal to me
Those tortured depths within.
Here in this room now dimmed with dust,
Are memries flooding you?
That night when you would hold my hand
Beneath this table new.
This nursery --- twill never now
Its little owner know.
The very house yearns over us
And begs me not to go.
But hark! The guns!
The casuarinas gently sway,
Just as they used to do,
Whispering secrets to the lake
To make it dance anew.
A dove still coos within that palm,
And peace broods oer the day,
Yet bloody war is raging now,
A few short miles away.
Eer day is done I must be gone,
And you my love remain alone.
Oh God! Our stricken hearts behold,
And make war cease oer all the world.
A DAY IN THE PRISON Olga describes the experienced of being punished in close confinement obviously from one of the cells in Muntok or Pelambang.
The first grey streaks of early dawn
Have scarcely lit the sky,
When from the surrounding cells is borne
The Moslem prisoners cry,
The warders step upon the stone,
Those gangling keys we know,
And with his voice, the day begun,
"Hey! Nonya mandi mau?"
From seven long weeks of close confine
We now may walk awhile,
Beneath the walls wheneer tis fine
We trail in single file,
The Nippon bade with stern command
We neer one word must speak;
Yet when the warders distant stand,
Tis strange how news will leak!
Old Arab comes with whitened hair,
And shorts of stripes so gay;
He rubs our locks with greatest care,
And whispers news each day.
Then bending oer his polish tin
So none can see the play,
He throws a little parcel in,
And smiling, goes his way.
One spot within our cell we call
"The Observation Post";
From there we view the doings all,
For it a seat can boast.
The little wooden box below
Hold many a package fat
Tis safe from Nippon gaze we know
For twas not meant for that.
We always greet each smiling face
With not "How do you do?"
But, "What brought you within this place?"
And, "How long must you do?"
Strange justice rules, for seemingly,
Neath this new way of life,
Tis worse to steal from Military,
Than kill your neighbours wife!
Strange friends we have, but worth their while
What eer their crime may be.
The man who first dared at us smile,
A murderer was he.
Theres Hassim with his willing feet,
And Pong Kows kindly heart,
Theres Goh Hars gifts of dainties sweet ---
Each one has played his part.
When evening comes, the lonely ones
Pour out their hearts in song;
While others laugh and talk awhile,
And gamble midst the throng.
The long hours pass, the noise abates,
We seek our beds of stone;
The policemans boots tramp pass the gates;
The prisoners day is done.
At the end of the war, Olgas few belongings including her poems were sent to her mother in England at her request before she died. It was clear that she had no knowledge of Guys fate. He in fact had survived his ordeal on the "Death Railway" and after months in hospital in India was shipped as an invalid to England.