Before the Fall of Singapore Colonel’s wife Marion Jefferson was bored of the endless round of dinner parties and society soirees and felt that her life held no purpose. After being captured and interned Marion suddenly had the opportunity to become useful as the leader of the British prisoners, charged with the difficult task of liasing with Captain Yamauchi. She has an initially uneasy relationship with her Dutch equivalent, Sister Ulrica.
Marion’s husband Clifford, a Colonel in the British Army cannot understand Marion’s dissatisfaction with her life in Singapore and is frustrated by her determination to return to England to see their son Ben. When the Japanese invasion becomes inevitable the pair declare their love for each other before Marion flees the island.
Vicky enjoys her life in Singapore and jollies her best friend Marion out of her musings about the pointlessness of their existence. Free-spirited and fun, Vicky is somewhat in denial about the impending invasion. When the Japanese reach Singapore she and Marion board a boat bound for Australia together.
The nun who as leader of the Dutch in the first camp comes across as brusque and unapproachable, especially to her British opposite, Marion Jefferson, but mellows during her time in the camps and comes to learn about herself as a women. She forges particular bonds with Dorothy and Beatrice, despite their prostitution and atheism respectively.
A rather formidable doctor obsessed with order and discipline, Beatrice is deeply concerned about the lack of medical equipment and supplies in the camp and fears for the long-term health of the internees who have now come under her care. She finds a kindred spirit in the equally stern Sister Ulrica, but like the nun, her experiences in the camp will alter her priorities and outlook.
Rich socialite Rose Millar is used to getting her own way and finds it difficult to adjust to life in camp as before this experience she considered a laddered stocking to be a tragedy. She misses her lover Bernard Webster a great deal and considers herself a man’s woman having always seen other women as competition. Rose asserts to Marion that is only the selfish who will survive their internment.
After her husband was murdered by the Japanese and her baby daughter died of dysentery, former housewife Dorothy becomes increasingly disaffected and nihilistic. She soon elects to give herself to the guards for extra supplies and shows no loyalty to her fellow prisoners. It is not that Dorothy is necessarily out for herself, but rather that she is disinterested in whether she will survive.
A forthright cockney who loves to shock everyone around her with her coarse jokes and blunt statements. Blanche worked as a ‘hostess’ in Singapore before the invasion and over time returns to her profession in the camps for extra food and medicine. More sensitive than her brash exterior suggests, Blanche enjoys an unlikely friendship with upper class Rose and becomes something of a mother figure to young Debbie.
General’s wife Sylvia wastes no time in showing the Japanese that she does not accept or respect their authority. She is punished for refusing to bow and becomes the first of the women to spend time in the punishment hut when she seeks to make contact with the outside world via Marion’s crystal set. She is delighted that Marion, another ‘women of standing and class’ is in the camp with her but Marion is, initially at least, less thrilled.
Kate is a loud, sporty Australian nurse who remains cheery and optimistic despite the privations of life in camp. As well as missing her fiancée Tom Redburn, Kate misses her freedom in almost equal measure, finding the camp unbearably claustrophobic. She does not enjoy nursing under Beatrice who seems to have it in for her, thankfully she has friend and fellow nurse Nellie with whom she can complain about her.
Nellie is a capable nurse who finds herself working for Dr Beatrice Mason in the camp as she had done back in Singapore. Although Nellie is more highly regarded by Beatrice than her friend and fellow nurse Kate, the doctor still refers to her by her surname. Having had a string of failed relationships with men before her imprisonment, the camp presents her with a new alternative in Sally Markham.
A Home Counties girl who had not long been married before she found herself a prisoner of the Japanese. Sally is rather naïve and gauche, but always willing to lend a hand for the good of the group. Soon after her arrival in the camp it is confirmed that she is pregnant and she becomes understandingly concerned about giving birth under such unhygienic conditions.
A shy Eurasian girl who loses her Chinese mother shortly before the Japanese invasion. She escaped Singapore thanks to the intercession of a British officer Simon Treves who arranges to meet her once the war is over. Christina is terrified of the Japanese due to what they did to her family in China. Sylvia treats her badly due to the colour of her skin but many of her fellow prisoners can see beyond that.
A rich Dutch woman who arrives in camp with many of her worldly possessions in tow including a songbird in a cage called Simone. Mrs Van Meyer is selfish and outspoken and considers herself a cut above the majority of her fellow internees. She is contemptuous of the British prisoners especially when their actions lead to reprisals that affect the Dutch as well.
An older woman who had her daughter Debbie later in her life and, as a result, fusses over her constantly. She and Debbie are closely guarding a secret about their past. Life in camp quickly takes its toll on the already frail Judith and she soon succumbs to a first bout of malaria.
Judith’s daughter, Debbie loves her mother and is very protective of her given her fragile state. Debbie is drawn to outspoken Blanche, partly because she has never met anyone like her but also because the Londoner shows her affection and support.
Reluctant commandant of this camp of women internees, Yamauchi would far rather be fighting at the front but his ill health has prevented this. He believes it is glorious to die for your country and sees the women under his charge as fourth class beings who he is keen to see learning to live as coolies did before the invasion.
Yamauchi’s sadistic second-in-command who has even less contempt for the women under their charge than his superior. He feels shamed by the role he is taking in the war and as a result is consistently fierce-tempered and cruel.
A gentle Japanese soldier who shows tenderness towards the children of the camp and does not mistreat his female captors. Sato is often angered by Shinya’s sensitivity and strikes him out of frustration.
Joss does not initially reveal her aristrocatic roots – she is in fact Lady Jocelyn Holbrook – a former suffragette who was working in KL as a teacher before the Japanese invasion. She meets the other women while they are en route to their second camp and quickly becomes a key member of their group. Joss does not respect authority of any kind and despite her advanced years does her best to upset the Japs at every turn.
The self-serving leader of the prisoners in the second camp who has carved out a position of relative luxury and privilege for herself through her scheming and manipulation. Verna will do anything to retain her position and thinks nothing of making money off her fellow prisoners, stealing supplies and feeding her cat Pudding rather than the malnourished.
A determined Malay woman who has risen from being an interpreter to become the effective commandant of the women’s second camp due to the inadequacies and disinterest of Lt Nakamura. Miss Hasan revels in the hardships that the European women are suffering in the camp and imposes a strict regime of obedience that the new arrivals from the first camp immediately upset.
A friend of Marion’s from her schooldays, Lillian is reunited with her when she arrives at the second camp where she has been interned with her son Bobby. Lillian is desperately concerned about her son’s health and is relying on the remote possibility of their repatriation. Lillian is typical of the women the new arrivals meet at the second camp in that they appear to be either complicit to, or naively unaware of, Verna’s activities.
A rather rigid and humourless French doctor whose approach is in direct contrast to a mellowed Beatrice. Beatrice becomes her second in the camp’s hospital and the pair regularly cross swords over medical practice and procedures.
An orphan originally from London who was in service to a Florence Evesham when the Japanese invaded. When Florence died, Daisy was taken on as a maid by Verna instead. A jumpy and rather simple girl, Daisy considers herself a devout Christian and does not question her station in life or the orders of those she considers to be her betters.
A brutal Japanese soldier who has no compassion for the internees and thinks nothing of punishing them physically.
A Japanese officer who has not attempted to learn English and is only nominally in charge of the second camp having as good as surrendered control to Miss Hasan.
Lillian’s mollycoddled son who is a lot more healthy than the other children. He is embarrassed by is mother’s attentions especially as they prompt his bullying by the other children.
A direct fun-loving young girl who has lost her mother in the camps. Beatrice forms a bond with her.
A British woman with a wicked sense of humour and a sharp tongue who the women met in their third and final camp. Maggie quickly took to Blanche and Dorothy and, like them, went with the guards for extra rations. On her release, Maggie announces that she will never kow-tow to anyone ever again and takes full advantage of her freedom. She enjoys men and quickly sets her sights on wheeler-dealer Jake Haulter.
A 17-year-old girl whose mother, Sarah, died in the third camp where along with Maggie she has been incarcerated for two years before Marion and the others arrived. She is kind-natured but naïve to the ways of the world. She is somewhat numb to her emotions due to her time in the camps.
Phyllis works for RAPWI (Repatriation of Allied Prisoners of War and Internees) and is responsible for making the liberated women of the camps as comfortable as possible, while they are billeted in Singapore, before they can be returned home. Phyllis has a no-nonsense approach and immediately gets the backs up of many of the internees who are heartily sick of being ordered around after years of this in the camps.
A Swiss-born smooth-talking wheeler-dealer who finds himself perfectly placed to make some money in post-war Singapore. He befriends Marion and her group on their return from the camps and becomes entangled in their lives, particuarly those of Dorothy and Maggie.
An elderly man who was interned in Changi during the war whom Joss befriends on her return to Singapore. Stephen is keen to make a difference to the lives of Singapore’s native population who urgently require medical assistance and education and has set up a Centre at a local temple where he tends to those in need. He likes a drink and arguments with bossy women.