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Boye-Jones, Ruby Olive (1891–1990)

by Alan Powell

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

Ruby Olive Boye-Jones (1891-1990), coastwatcher, was born on 29 July 1891 at St Peters, Sydney, fifth of eight children of English-born parents Alfred Jones, storeman, and his wife Emily, née Wild. Little is known of her childhood, except that she learned to play the piano. On 25 October 1919 she married Sydney Skov Boye at St Stephen’s Church of England, Newtown. Her occupation was then listed as saleswoman, her husband’s as laundry proprietor. They were to have two sons.

From 1928 to 1936 the Boye family lived at Tulagi, British Solomon Islands Protectorate, moving in the latter year to Vanikoro Island, in the Santa Cruz group, where Skov managed the Vanikoro Kauri Timber Co. At the outbreak of World War II, the operator of the company’s teleradio left for Australia. Before his departure, he showed Ruby how to operate the radio and transmit weather reports in voice code. She taught herself Morse code, took over complete responsibility for the radio and became a member of Eric Feldt’s coastwatching service.

In May 1942 the Japanese occupied Tulagi and Guadalcanal. Invasion of the Santa Cruz Islands seemed imminent. Most European residents left for Australia, but Ruby and Skov elected to stay. Mrs Boye continued to operate the coastwatcher radio, sending her daily weather reports and acting as a relay station between coastwatchers further north and the naval intelligence office at Vila, New Hebrides. Five ft 10 ins (177 cm) tall, she was a dignified and imposing woman, with dark, wavy hair and a warm smile.

Being civilians, the coastwatchers risked execution as spies if captured by the enemy. To provide a measure of protection, the Royal Australian Navy had begun to grant them naval rank from March 1942. However, it was not until 27 July 1943 that Boye was appointed a third officer, Women’s Royal Australian Naval Service. Her rank was honorary and carried no pay, setting her apart from her male contemporaries. The Japanese knew of her presence, having sent her a threatening radio message in 1942. She was unshaken. Feldt commended her courage and Admiral William F. Halsey, United States Navy, made a special flight to Vanikoro to meet her. When she fell ill late in 1943, he sent a US Navy aircraft to evacuate her for treatment. She returned to Vanikoro and in 1944 was awarded the British Empire Medal. Her WRANS appointment terminated on 30 September 1946.

Boye left Vanikoro only when her husband became seriously ill in 1947. He died shortly after they arrived in Sydney. On 19 June 1950 at St John’s Church of England, Penshurst, she married Frank Bengough Jones (d.1961), a departmental manager and widower. Mrs Boye-Jones, as she became known, remained alone in her Penshurst home after Frank’s death until she reached her late nineties. Survived by the two sons of her first marriage, she died on 14 September 1990 at Narwee and was cremated. An accommodation block at the Australian Defence Force Academy, Canberra, is named after her. The Ex-WRANS Association dedicated a page to her in the Garden Island Chapel Remembrance Book.

Select Bibliography

  • E. Feldt, The Coast Watchers (1975)
  • Naval History Review, Aug/Sept 1984, p 7
  • Australian Women’s Weekly, Feb 1988, p 229
  • series A6769, item Boye R O, series B3476, item 40A and series B6161, item Boye/RO (National Archives of Australia)
  • AWM88, item O/C 3 Civil (Australian War Memorial)
  • private information.

Citation details

Alan Powell, 'Boye-Jones, Ruby Olive (1891–1990)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/boye-jones-ruby-olive-12242/text21963, published first in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 16 November 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

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