Featured image source: Australian War Memorial
On 16 February 1942, twenty-two Australian nurses washed ashore on Bangka Island among a large group of survivors after the bombing of the SS Vyner Brooke – a civilian ship – after it left Singapore. Out of the sixty-five nurses that left Singapore, twelve nurses had already died in the bombing of the ship, either by injuries or drowning. By the end of the day, only one nurse on the twenty-two who washed ashore was still alive.
The group was met by surviving Allied Forces who gathered on the beach after washing ashore from other lifeboats from the sunken SS Vyner Brooke. While civilian women and children were sent away to a nearby town to surrender, the nurses – primarily from the 2/10th and 2/13th Australian General Hospitals – stayed behind to care for the injured.
After surrendering to enemy forces, the men were marched to the next beach and killed. The Japanese forces then marched the twenty-two Australian Army Nursing Sisters into the water, where they were massacred.
Lieutenant Colonel Vivian Bullwinkel AO MBE, ARRC, ED, FNM, FRCNA was the only survivor.
While Lieutenant Colonel Bullwinkel is well-known for her bravery and resilience in surviving the massacre and prison camps of WWII, she was not the only nurse present that day. Twenty-one nurses died at Bangka Island as part of the massacre, all with different backgrounds, lives and families they left behind.
As part of our ongoing commitment to recognising nursing leadership and sacrifice, the Australian College of Nursing (ACN) Foundation commemorates the nurses who died in the Bangka Island massacre.
Healthcare workers are a protected class in war and are crucial in healing the sick and injured. It is not just healing soldiers wounded in battle; nurses are critical in maintaining day to day health of army personnel, including vaccinations, training injuries and ailments such as the flu.
The ACN Foundation will release nursing scholarships in the names of all the victims of the Bangka Island massacre to ensure their names live on forever.
You can learn more about each nurse and their life. Expand the states below to see the nurses from that area.
Sister Elaine Balfour-Ogilvy
Lieutenant Florence 'Flo' Rebecca Casson
Matron Irene Melville Drummond
Sister Ellen 'Nell' Louisa Keats
Sister Mary Eleanor 'Ellie’ McGlade
Lieutenant Lorna Florence Fairweather
Sister Alma May Beard
Sister Minnie Ivy Hodgson
Sister Bessie Wilmott
Sister Peggy Everett Farmaner
Sister Kathleen ‘Kath’ Margaret Neuss
Sister Dorothy Gwendoline ‘Buddy’ Elmes
Sister Florence Aubin Salmon
Esther Sara Jean ‘Stewie’ Stewart
Sister Nancy Harris
Sister Joyce Ada Bridge
Sister Mona Margaret Anderson Tait
Sister Janet ‘Jenny’ Kerr
Sister Rosetta Joan Wight
Sister Clarice Isobel Halligan
Sister Mary Elizabeth ‘Beth’ Cuthbertson
The Australian College of Nursing (ACN) Foundation, through the Bullwinkel Project, is raising funds to create new scholarships in the names of the twenty-one nurses who died in the Bangka Island Massacre. The scholarships will help all nurses remember their courage and stories as we support today’s nurses with access to education.
The nurses here have touched countless lives across Australia and internationally, influencing how we perceive, understand and commemorate the nursing profession. As part of our work commemorating the nurses who died serving Australia, we want to hear from our nursing community about how these nurses have impacted their lives. If you are interested in contributing, you can submit on our website.