Marjorie Lyon

Marjorie Lyon, MB BS FRCS OBE 1946. Studied Sydney University & Edinburgh University. To Malaya 8.1937. Australian Lady Medical Officer, Women’s Hospital, Kuala Kangsar Infant Welfare Centre, Taiping. Aged 37 in 1942. Evacuated on Kuala [sunk] 14.2.42 – survived. Imprisoned at Padang, Died 27.3.75 [70] Nedlands WA.

The following is extracted from THE INTERNMENT OF WESTERN CIVILIANS UNDER THE JAPANESE 1941–1945

Dr Marjorie Lyon, a courageous, determined, clear-headed and responsible woman, held a strong position in the camps in Sumatra. Dr Lyon describes her experience on the eve of Singapore’s surrender as ‘a sort of Ring Master in a Circus, directing the traffic to x-ray, major and minor theatres, resuscitation beds etc’. While escaping from Singapore her boat was bombed and sunk. She describes her escape thus:

Elsie was not a strong swimmer, the island looked to be near and I assured her I could get her there whatever happened . . . While still a good way from land the Japs bombed us again. Something seemed to strike me on the belly, and I thought I was struck in two, but Elsie disappeared into a kind of whirlpool. I was so busy trying to get her up that I forgot all about it . . . I finally got her by the hair . . . She gamely began to swim with her legs, supporting her arms on my shoulders . . .

Caught and interned in Sumatra, Dr Lyon moved from camp to camp with a group of British nurses and about 2,000 Dutch women and children. Though never on the administrative committee, she ran the camp hospitals and dealt directly with the Japanese on behalf of the women. Although her forthright and uncompromising contacts with the Japanese guards and camp commandants were very effective, they were often at enormous personal risk. Among the six female doctors in Changi

Marjorie Lyon and her group of nurses were determined to keep a record of their internment. ….. they  used a large silk panel on which they embroidered their names, the dates, places and buildings in which they were interned. The delicacy of the material and the ‘feminine’ embroidery drew attention away from the ‘hard evidence’ of the narrative, and meant the panel could be disguised as a decorative piece of handiwork. Being silk, the panel could, if necessary, be easily hidden and transported. Moreover, in those tropical conditions it was probably more durable than paper. The panel survived the war and remains intact long after the women who created it have died. Today this silk panel could be perceived as a delicate piece of embroidered artwork, but to the interested researcher it is also an unconventional but detailed record of where, when and with whom each of its creators was interned during the Second World War.

This panel is with Dr Lyon’s family in Australia.

Dr Lyon was also  severely criticised by the women in her camps [as were many other doctors]. She wrote that the women complained: I don’t spend enough time talking to them . . . They also objected to my rule that visitors were not allowed – I said that it was not possible to have visitors because it took our staff all the time to treat the sick and we had no time to chaperone visitors.