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Daley, Beryl (1916–2007)

by Frances Wheelhouse

Beryl Daley was always ahead of her time, from taking her Intermediate Certificate at age 12 when students normally sat the examinations about age 15. She earned her Leaving Certificate at 14.

Beryl Spiers, as she was then, was born in Tumut and went to school in Griffith and Hay. She later studied at Wagga Commercial College – and became the proprietor and principal in 1931 even though she was too young to sign cheques legally.

Early in 1939 she left Wagga for further secretarial studies in London. When war broke out, she took a job at Lloyd's of London, and began first aid, ambulance driving and trainee nursing courses before becoming secretary to the chairman of the British Council.

In August 1940 she joined an Australia House scheme to escort British children to Australia and on the ship Batory she met her future husband, Lieutenant John Stevenson, of the Manchester Regiment, which was stationed in Singapore.

While Stevenson was away on duty, Beryl returned to her Wagga college and established a boarding hostel for its students. Then she was able to join him in Poona, India, where he was on an officer training course. By May 1941 they were in Singapore, where Beryl became secretary to Sir Robert Brooke-Popham, the commander-in-chief of the British Far East Command.

In January 1942 she escaped the invading Japanese with staff officers of several nations, under the command of the British general Sir Archibald Wavell, and reached Indonesia. Singapore fell on February 15 and her husband was taken prisoner of war. In early March, Beryl escaped from Lembang, Indonesia, the day before the Japanese arrived.

She flew to Broome, then travelled to Melbourne, where she became secretary to the American general George Brett, who was to be commander of Allied Air Forces South-west Pacific Area when General Douglas MacArthur arrived from the Philippines that month. In July she joined General George Kenney, who became senior Allied air officer, directly under MacArthur.

Commissioned into the American Women's Army Corps, where she rose to the rank of major, Beryl worked with Kenney in New Guinea, Leyte, Manila, Okinawa and Japan. At the end of the war, she was aboard the USS Missouri for the Japanese surrender. She was decorated for "outstanding service" with the American Legion of Merit Medal – the only other Australian so honoured was General Sir Thomas Blamey.

Beryl returned to Wagga with her newly released husband. They had a son, but they later divorced.

She married Jim Daley, a stock and station agent, had four more children and established a women's program on ABC radio. In 1967 she moved to Sydney, where she graduated with a bachelor of arts (honours) at Sydney University and lectured in English literature at the University of NSW.

She established the Alternative Publishing Co-operative Ltd (APCOL), convened in Mosman a citizen's group concerned with the environment, and became the director of an alternative living community near Port Macquarie.

She is survived by Jim and children, John, Rouna, Megan, Rosemary and Bill.

Original publication

  • Sydney Morning Herald, 21 March 2007

Additional Resources

Citation details

Frances Wheelhouse, 'Daley, Beryl (1916–2007)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/daley-beryl-27575/text34971, accessed 21 September 2017.

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