The Australian College of Nursing (ACN) today pays their respects to the nurses who lost their lives during the sinking of the Vyner Brooke on 14 February 1942 and Bangka Island Massacre on 16 February 1942.
65 Australian Army Nursing Service nurses were evacuated from Singapore on the SS Vyner Brooke due to the pending Japanese invasion. 12 died when the ship was bombed in the Bangka Strait shortly after leaving port.
22 of the group made their way to the nearby Bangka Island where they became victims of one of the worst atrocities of the war. The nurses were ordered to walk into the sea and were machine-gunned from behind in what is now known as the Bangka Island Massacre. 21 died, with only Lieutenant Colonel Vivian Bullwinkel AO, MBE, ARRC, ED, FNM, FRCNA surviving after receiving non-fatal gunshot wounds.
To mark the 80th anniversary of the sinking and massacre, ACN CEO Adjunct Professor Kylie Ward FACN reflected on the incredible courage the nurses displayed in the most horrific of situations and highlighted their legacy still has a lasting impact on the nursing profession today.
“80 years ago, a group of Australian nurses paid the ultimate sacrifice for their dedication to serve their country and use their expertise to care for those who needed it most,” she said.
“All the nurses onboard the Vyner Brooke were highly skilled professionals at the cutting edge of health care innovation for their time. They had a variety of clinical and personal backgrounds and came from all over Australia from Perth to Broken Hill, Sydney to Ballarat and everywhere in-between.
“When the bombs were falling on the ship, it was the nurses who stood tall to lead the ship’s evacuation and treat the injured. On Bangka Island, they endured exceptionally trying conditions in the face of death. Even in their final moments, they stayed true in their commitment to care for others, with several supporting their injured nursing colleagues walk into the water before their tragic deaths.
“The group’s courage, leadership and professional skill continue to have a legacy on nurses in Australia today. These traits are what make us proud to be nurses and our profession never forgets the immense sacrifice of those who came before us.
“To ensure their legacy lives on, The Australian College of Nursing Foundation is establishing a scholarship in the name of each of the 21 nurses who died in the Bangka Island Massacre, in addition to leading the fundraising to erect a sculpture of Vivian Bullwinkel in the grounds of the Australian War Memorial.