History detective, historian, investigative writer & specialist tour guide

Lynette Ramsay Silver

Lynette Silver’s main interest lies in investigating various aspects of Australian history. Her work in this field was recognised in 1989 when, following the publication of her books A Fool’s Gold? and The Battle of Vinegar Hill, she was made a Fellow of the Australian Institute of History and the Arts.

More publications followed: a centennial history on St Peter’s Church, Hornsby; a number of  children’s non-fiction books on ballet, craft and games; craft books for adults and and ten more non-fiction historical works. The latter  includes the official bicentennial work Unsung Heroes and Heroines of Australia, to which a number of writers contributed; two World War II books, Heroes of Rimau and Krait: The Fishing Boat that went to War, and Fabulous Furphies – Ten Great Myths from Australia’s Past.

In 1995, following lengthy research into the fall of Singapore, she was appointed official Historian to the Australian 8th Division Association, a post she held for seven years. Her highly successful book, Sandakan – A Conspiracy of Silence, released in 1998, concerns the loss of almost 2,500 Allied POWs in British North Borneo. It is  now into its fourth edition in Australia, with a Malaysian edition launched in 2007.  The research undertaken for this book, recognised world-wide as the definitive history, led to her appointment as adviser and consultant to novelist Bryce Courtenay in his blockbuster, Four Fires, which reached Number 1 on the bestseller list.

The Battle of Vinegar Hill, extensively updated and revised for that bi-centenary in 2004, was re-released in 2003. Although originally published in 1989, it remains the only full-length account of the battle and is cited as the leading authority in The Oxford Guide to Australian History.

The Bridge at Parit Sulong, released in 2004, was described by Major General Duncan Lewis, Australia’s Special Forces Commander as ‘one of the finest pieces of investigative history you will read’. The book, which took six years to research and write, deals with one of the least known, and most gallant fighting retreats of World War II and its terrible aftermath.

In 2003 Lynette received a Defence Forces Commendation and Medal from Special Operations Command Australia, for her work during the 60th Anniversary of Operation Jaywick, the first civilian ever to receive this prestigious award. In January 2004 she was awarded an OAM in the Australia Day Honours for her services to veterans and their families for her work on Sandakan. The Sabah Government recognised her research work and her contribution to Sabah’s war history with a  Minister’s Special Award, an honour rarely conferred  on a foreigner, which was presented to her in November 2009 by Datuk Masidi Manjun, Minister for Tourism, Culture and the Environment.

In the Australia Day Honours 2019, in recognition of her on-going historical research since 2003, her efforts to keep alive the memory of thousands of POWs and her philanthropic projects to make life better for the people of Sabah, the Australian government upgraded Lynette’s OAM to a Member of the Order of Australia or AM, which takes precedence over both the Order of the British Empire (OBE) and Member of the British Empire (MBE), under the previous Imperial system. The years of honorary work by her husband Neil, who takes care of all administrative and logistical matters connected with the various projects initiated by the Silvers, was also recognised with the receipt of a Medal of the Order of Australia or OAM, which takes precedence over the British Empire Medal or BEM, under the Imperial honours system.

Lynette and Minister’s Special Award

In her book Marcel Caux: A Life Unravelled, published in 2005,  Lynette unmasked the true identity of Australia’s last WW I combat soldier who, for 85 years, passed himself off as someone else. In 2006, she teamed up with Di Elliott, an experienced researcher, to revise and re-compile the unit history of 2/18 Infantry Battalion, entitled A History of the 2/18th Infantry Battalion, AIF. This book is available through the 2/18th Battalion Association’s website at www.218battalion.org.au

During the next two years she researched and wrote Deadly Secrets: The Singapore Raids 1942-45.  The catalyst for this book, which sheds a great deal of new light on Operations Jaywick and Rimau, and ventures into the murky world of the secret service, was a momentous meeting on Central Railway Station, Sydney,  with a former MI6 agent who  was heavily involved in both missions.

Governor General of Australia launches Lynette Silver’s book, ‘Blood Brothers’, 2010.

The year 2010  saw the release of  Blood Brothers, which tells the Sandakan story from the local point of view.   Launched  at Sandakan by the Governor General  of Australia, Quentin Bryce,  this book, a companion volume to Sandakan  A Conspiracy of Silence, follows the development of Sabah from the 1870s, to the post-war period,  with special focus on Sabah’s unsung war heroes.

In 2014, Lynette departed from her non-fiction genre to co author In the Mouth of the Tiger, a ‘factionalised’ account of the adventures of Denis Emerson-Elliott, a real life MI6 spy, whom she met on Central Railway Station in Sydney in 1996. This surreal event is documented her book, Deadly Secrets.  However, after the publication of this book Lynette discovered that Denis, whose secret service number was 007, was also a close friend of the James Bond novelist, Ian Fleming, and that there was compelling evidence to identify Denis as the spy on which Bond is based. She joined forces with Emerson-Elliott’s son, Derek, a Canberra barrister, to write a fascinating tale of his father’s secret life, told through the eyes of the love of Denis’s life, his beautiful wife Nona.

In 2016 she returned to POWs in the Far East with the publication of Billy – My life as a Teenage POW. Using an interesting combination of a first person account, interwoven with additional narrative provided by Lynette, she brought to life the incredible story of Billy Young, an orphan who enlisted at the age of 15 years, and is now the last POW left alive who experienced the notorious Sandakan POW camp, and the even more notorious Outram Road Gaol in Singapore.

Her next book Angels of Mercy – Far West, Far East, released in April 2019, tells the story of two Australian nursing sisters. One, the outback’s first flying sister, single handedly battled the dust, heat and isolation of the Far West of NSW to bring medical treatment to her far flung patients, before the advent of the Flying Doctor. The other sister took up nursing with an eye to overseas travel, unaware that she would find herself in a battle zone and spend more than three years as a prisoner-of-war in Sumatra, as a ‘guest’ of the Emperor of Japan.

WAR GRAVES WORK

Lynette is a recognised expert in isolating and identifying previously unidentified graves of servicemen killed in action or who died as prisoners of war. Since 1995, she has been a consultant to the Office of Australian War Graves (OAWG) and Commonwealth War Graves Commission, and has, since 1998, identified the graves of 38 military personnel who died during WW2 and were buried as ‘unknown’.  She also works closely with the Defence Department’s Unrecovered War Casualties Unit, which investigates possible burial sites of  personnel still ‘missing in action’. For more details go to Possible War Graves.

ANZAC DAY TOURS

From 1999-2006,  Lynette travelled, in an honorary capacity, to Borneo each year with a group of POW relatives, to organise and conduct commemorative services on Anzac Day at the site of the infamous Sandakan Camp. In December 2006, one of  her long term goals was realised when she learned that  her ultimate aim, to have Sandakan officially recognised, had been fulfilled. In 2007, for the first time, Anzac Day was officially commemorated at Sandakan with a Dawn Service organised by the office of Australian War Graves.  ‘I can’t tell you’ she said, ‘ how satisfying it is to see the commemoration grow from a small group of relatives to a gathering large enough to be officially recognised.’ See Tours – Sandakan Anzac Day

For those who cannot make the journey to Sabah or Singapore, Lynette places floral tributes on individual graves  or memorial sites,  which are then photographed and sent to the families. For further details, see Special Family Tributes page.

OTHER RESEARCH WORK

However, Lynette’s research work has resulted in more than the publication of her various books. During the past decade she has investigated bogus claims made by people regarding military service and has exposed a number of frauds (Fraudulent Military Service).  In September 2007, following a campaign she initiated in 1997, which had the support of OAWG,  the Parit Sulong Memorial was unveiled. Situated  at the village Parit Sulong, Johor, West Malaysia, it honours all those who fought and died at Muar, Bakri and Parit Sulong in January 1942. With the memorial established, Lynette continued pressing for an official search for the remains  of a large number of badly wounded Australians and Indians, massacred by the Japanese near the bridge (see Lynette’s book,  The Bridge at Parit Sulong). Finally,  in March 2011, a joint Malaysian-Australian team undertook an exhaustive search of the area. For a report of the search and the findings, see Parit Sulong, West Malaysia.

Since then, she has been the driving force behind the establishment of  memorials in Sabah at Quailey’s Hill and the Last Camp, near Ranau, and with her husband Neil has set up two  financial  support groups, Friends of Kundasang War Memorial, to assist with the maintenance of that memorial, and  Friends of Miruru Village,  which provides funds to improve the quality of life in  a village  whose people sheltered a prisoner of war, rescued from the death march track. After a 19-year campaign, Lynette was also instrumental in the installation of the Rimau Historical Marker on Dover Road, Singapore, where  ten of the Operation Rimau men were  executed in 1945. This plaque also  honours the local people, who suffered hideously as a result of both the Jaywick and Rimau raids.  (see Lynette’s book,  Deadly Secrets)

In June 2015, following a disastrous earthquake centred beneath Mt Kinabalu, Lynette and Neil formed a group known as Friends of Kiau Village and raised sufficient funds to rebuild ten houses belonging to Dusun trekking and mountain guides. The Friends continue to help the people in this village in a number of ways (see Friends of Kiau Village).

That same year the Silver’s also initiated Buy-A-Smile, a program to fund plastic surgery for underprivileged children in Sabah disfigured by hare-lips and cleft palates. In recognition of the Silvers’ dedication to the local community and fundraising which, by 2018 had ‘bought’ smiles for more than 30 children, they were honoured by Rotary International with a Vocational Services Award. For more information on the Hare-lip Project, go to The Hare-lip Project “BUY-A-SMILE”

Apart from being reported in various radio and TV news items, Lynette’s research work has been featured in scores of  newspaper articles and journals, and she has  been interviewed for the electronic media many times. She has also played a pivotal role as consultant on history programs and appeared on  numerous current affairs’ programs and in TV documentaries. Among those dealing with  prisoners of war are the ABC Four Corners program, “No Prisoners”; ABC  Compass program “Windows to Sandakan“, which was awarded best overseas documentary by the Sabah Tourism Board in 2009;  “If Only”, an SBS documentary; a 7.30 Report special on Sandakan; Channel 9’s Sunday program,  “A Slow Walk through Hell” and Channel 9’s 60 Minutes program, “Secret Heroes”. She was also featured in an episode in the series   “Tony Robinson Discovers Australia”, entitled  “The People are Revolting”; ABC TV’s ‘Rewind’ (both on the Vinegar Hill  rebellion) and the BBC production “Fall of a Fortress”, on the fall of Singapore.

“People are Revolting”

HONORARY POSITIONS

Lynette Silver is an Honorary Member of the 2/18th Battalion and 2/19th Battalion AIF; the NSW Commando Association; and Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), QLD. She is a Life Member of RUSI, NSW; Patron of The Sea Heritage Foundation and also the M V Cape Don Society (www.mvcapedonsociety.org.au), groups dedicated to the restoration of this historic vessel for use as a floating lighthouse service museum; Patron of The Sandakan Family, NSW; and co-Honorary Trustee, with her husband, of theSandakan Memorial Window Project, Sandakan Memorial Scholarship Trust, The Last Camp MemorialQuailey’s Hill MemorialFriends of Miruru Village and Friends of Kundasang War Memorial. Each Anzac Day since 1999 she has organised a tour for POW relatives to Sabah, to coincide with Anzac Day and also accompanies groups along the Sandakan-Ranau death march track, ‘lost’ for 60 years, and which she located and re-established with trekking expert Mr. Tham Yau Kong in 2006. (see Tours, this website, and www.sandakandeathmarch.com )

Winning Tourism Malaysia Award 2005/2006 on 22 July 2007for the “Most Innovative Tour Operator” – Sandakan Death March tour innovation.
Sabah’s Tourism Minister, Datuk Masidi Manjun, with Tham Yau Kong and Lynette Silver,
following the presentation of the Award
Read more at thamyaukong.com

Lynette has two children and is the grandmother of three. She lives in Sydney with her husband Neil, whose help and support is integral to her memorial projects. When not researching and writing Lynette’s time is fully occupied in consultative work with various organisations, raising money for her projects, public speaking, and accompanying tour groups to Singapore and Sabah.