Sisters of War (2010 TV) The True Story of the Australian POW Nurses and Nuns

Sisters of War is an Australian TV movie based on the true story of Lorna Whyte and Berenice Twohill, a nurse and a nun who were held captive for several years by the Japanese during WWII. The film looks a bit “made for TV” but other than that I liked it. There are so many of these forgotten stories and it’s great when a director decides to bring them to our attention.

1942, Vunapope, Papua New Guinea, an Australian hospital camp and mission. Nurses and nuns help the wounded alongside the army doctors. When the troops withdraw, the doctors follow them to help them and, to everyone’s dismay, decide to abandon the nurses, nuns and the wounded. Some of the troops remain hidden in the surrounding forest.

The remaining sisters scan the horizon daily, hoping for the Americans to come to their rescue. When they see boats land they are at first extremely happy until they realize their mistake. The landing troops are Japanese and their mission is soon turned into a prison camp. In this mess and confusion two women, the nurse Lorna whose fiancé is among the troops hidden in the forest and the devoted sister Berenice become close friends and are a moral support for each other.

The months that follow are hard. The American bombard the mission thinking it is Japanese, while the Japanese rule with a fierce hand, punishing everyone who doesn’t comply and torturing and executing all the soldiers they capture. It’s particularly harrowing for Lorna when they capture her fiancé.

The food is scarce and the few buildings they have are constantly bombed. The mission has to be abandoned in the end. Bishop Scharmach decides to send the nurses away. They suspect that they have been sold as “comfort women” to the Japanese. This isn’t true but the plans the Bishop had, to have them exchanged against Japanese prisoners of war, doesn’t work and the nurses are sent to a labour camp in Japan.

I thought the movie was quite well done, not too sentimental and managed to show a forgotten story and is also a testimony to the great strength and courage of those nurses and sisters. As we are told in the closing credits, those nurses, as they were mostly not military nurses, didn’t get any recognition until quite recently.

It’s a nice touch that we see the real Lorna Whyte and Berenice Twohill, now elderly, sit together on a bench and chat at the end of the movie.

I really wonder how this could have happened, that the whole military, especially the doctors, just left those women on their own. They knew so well how the Japanese treated prisoners. At first I thought that the depiction of the Japanese soldiers was overly negative but towards the end, the portrayal is balanced.

The only instances in which you can see that it must have been a low-budget production is the make-up. They all look pretty odd but if you can forgive that, it’s a highly watchable movie, quite tragic but suspenseful and fascinating too.

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6 thoughts on “Sisters of War (2010 TV) The True Story of the Australian POW Nurses and Nuns

  1. warmoviebuff says:

    I really appreciate you recommending obscure movies like this, but unfortunately I see little possibility that I will be able to get hold of it. I like the idea of shining a light on forgotten heroes (and heroines). Too often Hollywood retreads stories that have already been told (like “Red Tails”).

    • You wouldn’t be able to see this on Netflix? Because it’s a TV movie maybe? I liked this type of movie a lot. there is no need to invent stories when it comes to war, there are too many true stories around that are worth telling.

  2. Guy Savage says:

    haven’t heard of this one. Where the women left behind for logistics reasons?

    • To a certain extent it was logistics, yes. The doctors had to assist the troops who were moving out but all in all it wasn’t a great choice. There must have been rapes and beatings. Some of it is hinted at but we still get it. I had a bit of a hard time with the accent btw.

  3. Tammie says:

    Can some one please tell me the name of the Nun???? I had a Great Aunty from Sacred Heart Convent Rose Bay Sydney….She was A P.O.W in Japan for over 3 years after the bombing of Kobe…

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