The wife of a prominent colonel stationed in Singapore, Marion was once the picture-perfect society lady, her life an endless whirl of glitzy diplomatic receptions, shopping trips and dinner parties. But all of that is now over. The invading Japanese forces have taken her to a prison camp where Marion is the natural choice to be the "leader" of the British inmates. Strong, passionate and determined to do the right thing, Marion's integrity will be sorely tested by the daily hardships of camp life.
She may be a nun, but Sister Ulrica has an iron will to rival any soldier's. Originally coming to Singapore to demand funds for her religious mission, Sister Ulrica was swept up in the Japanese invasion and has now become the outspoken leader of the Dutch women prisoners. A formidable presence, Ulrica isn't about to let anything as trivial as a war get in the way of her faith, and even complains to the head of the Japanese guards when they mock her Sunday services.
Unlike many of the other, previously-pampered women in the camp, Beatrice Mason is no stranger to anguish and pain. As a doctor, she worked in a Singapore hospital in the lead up to the invasion, and has become battle-hardened by years in the medical trenches. Dr Mason's expertise has never been more crucial, even if her stern manner might be more than a little intimidating. She maintains that steely façade at a price, and keeping her emotions repressed will surely have a huge psychological toll...
Being a wealthy socialite, Rose may come across as a spoilt little rich girl with little more on her mind than clothes, jewels and cocktails at Raffles. But don't be fooled. She has a cynicism that's come from failed relationships, and confides in a fellow prisoner that "if anyone does the using now, it's me". Mercenary, yes, but it's that kind of stubborn sense of self-preservation that can make the difference between life and death in the camp.
Brash and mouthy, Kate is an Australian nurse who used to work with Dr Beatrice Mason at the hospital before the Japanese juggernaut smashed into all their lives. The timing of the invasion was especially cruel for Kate, as it happened just after her fiancé Tom popped the question. Yearning to be reunited with her beloved, Kate struggles with the claustrophobia of the camp, and doesn't especially like Dr Mason either. She also takes exception to "leader" Marion, calling her an "upper-class pommie lady who's never roughed it before in her life."
Half-Scottish and half-Chinese, Christina is caught perilously between two clashing cultures. Difficult at the best of times, and even more so during a titanic global conflict. She has dealt with casual racism all her life, and that follows her into the camp, when another woman refuses to associate with her because of the colour of her skin. Things may change as time goes on, and the women realise that the old class and racial divisions don't matter when they're all under the thumb of the invading army.
Dorothy's plight is especially tragic. A working class housewife whose husband was killed by the Japanese, Dorothy is shoved into the camp with a baby in her arms. Emotionally crushed by her ordeal, Dorothy seems too listless to even care for her infant at first, and is then forced to break camp rules to procure milk for the starving child. Things get even worse from there, and it's no wonder Dorothy becomes increasingly despondent, declaring that she no longer believes in God.
Some of the prisoners are savvy and cynical, others find strength in their own sense of morality. But Sally Markham is just a sweet, naïve girl from the Home Counties whose is in no way prepared her for living in such close, cramped quarters with strangers. The etiquette, politics and gossip all take her by surprise, and she's especially mortified when rumours begin to spread about her "unnatural" closeness with another of the camp's women.
Sassy and vivacious, Blanche is a proud Cockney girl who refuses to have her will broken by her captors. Utterly free of airs and graces, Blanche actually liberates something in the other women. To give just one example, the other women are a bit awkward and prudish about using the communal washhouse, until Blanche struts in and strips naked, saying they're all girls togethers. With her cheeky sense of humour, Blanche is a breath of fresh air in the camp, but her irreverent antics may also get her into trouble if she's not careful.