Towards the end—as the Japs got closer—some British officers held a meeting—to discuss the merits of shooting us. They promised we'd be buried with full military honours.
They’d heard that the Japs had been raping army nurses and they thought they’d be doing us a favour. They’re very considerate like that—the British. But since bullets were scarce, they decided to evacuate us.
SHEILA: I’ll always remember that voice of hers. [Mimics] ‘They can starve me till my bones poke out—’
BRIDIE: [joining in] ‘But I’ll die without a fag, love.’ Now that’s a good story for Rick. Ivy and her smokes—those dried banana leaves she puffed on—God they had a terrible stink.
SHEILA: She pulled pages of her Bible out for cigarette papers. When it was over I heard her telling a minister that she’d survived the war because of the Good Book.
BRIDIE: She was sure you’d consider it—‘unrefined’—going on television—airing your feelings.
SHEILA: [starting to unpack] Well you’ve got to admit it’s not very ‘dignified’.
BRIDIE: So why did you come [Casually, trying to make light of it] And don’t say you did it for the chance of seeing me. Not after fifty years of hiding—
SHEILA looks at BRIDIE with surprising intensity—but not with affection. BRIDIE looks back at SHEILA, desperately wanting her to say that she did come to see BRIDIE. A few seconds of silence. It is clear that something is still going on between these two women—even after fifty years’ separation. SHEILA quickly turns to lift her suitcase onto the bed.
BRIDIE: [tersely] You’ll wreck your spine.
SHEILA: [annoyed] I know how to lift a suitcase thank you.
BRIDIE: [taking charge—as usual] We’ll do it like we used to […]
BRIDIE: [not meaning to be rude] The British were a bit thick sometimes.
SHEILA: [slightly annoyed] We were patriotic. We didn’t want to leave. I remember mother saying, ‘Sheila, you and I are English women. We do not run away from a few Orientals...’
Before I left mother said to me, ‘You’ll be living with Colonials now, so set a good example. Always wear gloves—wherever you go. Don’t socialize with Catholics—unless they’re French or titled. And never kiss an Australian on the lips.’
SHEILA instinctively reaches out to take BRIDIE’s hand. They hold hands. And once again they both look very vulnerable. We hear Japanese voices on the soundtrack.
SHEILA: I wanted to cry. [With resolution] But I reminded myself I was a Woman of the Empire. And it just wasn't done to show fear to the natives. [Wistful smile] I could almost hear my mother saying: ‘Chin up, gel! And where are your gloves?’
SHEILA: You can snicker all you like— [Struggling to explain] but at the very worst times in the camp—I’d remind myself I was part of an Empire— and if others could endure it, so could I.
SHEILA: [defensively] It got me through the war.
BRIDIE: I got you through the war. Your Empire didn't give a damn. They left you to the Japs.
SHEILA: [very upset] If you say that tomorrow, I’ll go. I mean it.
SHEILA: They got the idea from a prisoner—an Australian—he set it up.
BRIDIE: [annoyed] We don’t know for sure he did.
SHEILA: [to camera] People blame the British for Singapore. There were Aussies too who were hardly saints.
BRIDIE: [annoyed with SHEILA] Have you forgotten how many of the British collaborated? [To the camera] The Japs wanted us because they knew they couldn’t have us. But they could pick and choose from amongst the Poms. Those women who’d lorded it over everyone at Raffles were selling themselves for a hard-boiled egg.
SHEILA: They had no choice. They had children to feed. We didn’t judge. We accepted it.
BRIDIE: [disgusted] I didn’t! To go with a Jap—to give him pleasure—how could you ever live with yourself?
SHEILA: They were people I grew up with. A lot of them were friends of mine.
BRIDIE: And the Japs were the enemy. Every woman who gave in made it harder for the rest.
SHEILA: It was the only way they could feed their kids.
BRIDIE: [with disgust] Sleeping with a Jap? I’d never have done that—not for anyone. How could you go on living with yourself—or look your family in the eye?
This is a shattering remark for SHEILA, but she does her best to conceal any reaction.
BRIDIE: Don’t laugh. It was important. Caramel was our only luxury. Sheila sold her brooch to buy some—from a native who used to smuggle it. Every week—on Sunday night—we’d pop that caramel into our mouths—for one minute each—one minute of bliss—then we’d store it away till the next week.
M. VOICE: You were never tempted to eat it all?
BRIDIE: No. We were very strict about that. It had to last till the end of the war.
BRIDIE: […] In 1945—when I was still in a Singapore hospital bed. I got a note from you saying you were going off to England—and you’d send me your new address. I’m still waiting, Sheila. [Hurt] Why did you leave me?
SHEILA: [not telling the truth] All we had in common was the camp. I didn’t want to keep talking about it—I couldn’t, Bridie—it hurt too much. And when something hurts you run away... or you dig a hole and bury it.
BRIDIE: You didn’t. Tell me you didn’t.
SHEILA: [angrily] You were the one who wanted to know. I told you to leave it alone.
BRIDIE: [shocked] You didn’t sleep with a Jap. Not you.
SHEILA: You were screaming. And he went and got quinine. For you. And he showed the tablets to me—and he pointed to the barracks—where his mates were waiting.
BRIDIE: Don’t! I don’t want to hear this!
SHEILA: […] Just after Bridie got back on her feet, Captain Siki called a line up. He said: ‘I have good news for Australian womens. Your Emperor, Mr Curtin, sends his greetings. And orders you all to keep smiling.’ At first there was... absolute silence. And then the nurses—[Slightly puzzled]—well I thought they must be crying—because they started to wipe their eyes. But it was from laughter. They were laughing.
M. VOICE: Why? What was so funny?
SHEILA: They were skin and bone and covered in boils—and they’d just been told to ‘keep smiling’! Well they smiled all right. Then they laughed so much they couldn’t control it.
Siki slapped a few faces and they managed to stop. But all that day you could hear these giggles as the joke went right round the camp. There was even laughter after bed time—instead of the usual sobbing and quarrels. The guards would bark and shine their torches—and all would be quiet till some wit muttered ‘Keep smiling, girls!’—and we’d all crack up. We paid dearly for our fun though. The next day Siki lined us up. He made us stand in the sun for hours—and ordered us never to smile again...
BRIDIE: [upset] Why did you have to go with that Jap?
BRIDIE: You were only a girl—a child!
SHEILA: I had to do it. I couldn’t let you die.
BRIDIE: If only I’d known—I would never have let you... Sheila—please—let me try and help.
SHEILA: [haunted] Every night when I fall asleep, Lipstick Larry’s waiting. He calls to me and I go to him— and no one can change that. Not even you.
I almost confided in mother once. [Sadly] Isn’t that amusing? It was just before I sailed from Singapore. I took her hand and whispered that... there was something I needed to tell her—about the Japanese. Mother poured herself a drink and said: ‘You know what the Bible says, my dear. “No cross, no crown.” We must pull up our socks and get on with it.’ Took more than a war to change Mother.
SHEILA: A lot of times we barely got through it—we were so weak from hunger. But we sang our sonata whenever we could—so the camp would know there was still music left.
BRIDIE: It probably sounded bloody awful. But not to us. To us we still had harmony... and the Japs could never ever take that away.
I’m not just anyone, Bridie. [Thinking of them both] Keeping a secret wears you down. Believe me—I know. In the end you’ll do anything just to escape it.
SHEILA: I don’t see why it... should have to be a secret. Not now.
BRIDIE: [unnerved] You mustn’t discuss it beyond this room. You know how cruel other people can be. It’s the only thing that hasn’t changed in the last fifty years. What on earth has possessed you to—
SHEILA: [haunted] When I went back to Belalau—searching for the graves— I kept on thinking, why did they die? Was it all for nothing? All our friends? And that’s when I realised I had to talk about it. There are probably thousands of survivors like us—still trapped in the war—too ashamed to tell anyone. Lots of people will be watching when Rick’s programme goes to air. It mightn’t be too late to—
BRIDIE: [upset and threatened] To what? You think the armies of this planet will stop murdering each other because some old English woman disapproves of all the killing?
SHEILA shakes her head sadly.
Then what possible difference will it make?
SHEILA: [haunted but gently] Probably none. I know that, Bridie. But the war hasn’t ended. Not for me. For me it goes on. And now I want peace. And if the only way to get it is to tell the truth then—
BRIDIE: You were always impulsive and you haven’t changed since camp. [Bitterly] This is what Rick’s been after all along, I’ll bet. This is why the free booze and the room with ocean views. He’s been softening us up. Can’t you see that, Sheila?
SHEILA: And what if he has? It's still my decision.
BRIDIE: You know what they’ll call you. They’ll call you a whore.
SHEILA: [nervously] My knees were shaking— I was— terribly frightened. I said ‘What if the Japs come after us, Bridie?’ [Smiling sadly] I remember her words so clearly. ‘And what if they do?’ she said. ‘Since when have we ever been scared of the Japs?’
BRIDIE reaches out and takes SHEILA’s hand.
BRIDIE: So Sheila and I walked out of that camp. [Gently, fondly, perhaps smiling sadly] And on four wobbly legs we went down to the village. Sometimes I dragged Sheila. Sometimes Sheila dragged me. The main thing is we got there. And we could never have done that alone.
She went to... the Japs... to a Japanese guard—and... she sold herself to him for tablets. She was a beautiful, kind and brave young woman. [Looking at SHEILA.] She wasn’t just my friend— she was— she is—the other half of my life. And she gave herself to him... so that I... could have quinine... And she never told me till two nights ago. For fifty years she never told anyone... They don’t give medals for things like that. But they should.