On 12 February 1942, the merchant ship Vyner Brooke left Singapore just before the city fell to the Imperial Japanese Army. The ship contained many injured service personnel and 64 Australian nurses of the 2/13th Australian General Hospital. The ship was shelled and sunk by the Japanese. Two nurses were killed in the bombing, nine were last seen drifting away from the ship on a raft and were never heard from again, and the rest reached shore at Bangka Island, in the Dutch East Indies (Indonesia).
These nurses joined up with a group of men and injured personnel from the ship. Once it was discovered that the Island was held by the Japanese, an officer went to surrender the group to the authorities in Muntok. A small group of women and children headed off after him. The Australian nurses stayed to care for the wounded. They set up a shelter with a large Red Cross sign on it.
Shortly afterwards, ten Japanese soldiers led by an officer appeared. They ordered all the wounded capable of walking to travel around a headland, where they were shot and bayonetted. The soldiers returned and ordered the remaining twenty two nurses to walk into the surf. A machine gun was set up on the beach and when the women were waist deep, they were machine-gunned. All but Sister Lt Vivian Bullwinkel were killed.
Shot in the diaphragm, Bullwinkel was unconscious when she washed up on the beach and was left for dead. She evaded capture for ten days, but was eventually caught and imprisoned. She survived the war and gave evidence of the massacre at a war crimes trial in Tokyo in 1947.
Vivian Statham, nee Bullwinkel--Eulogy at State Funeral, St Georges Cathedral, Perth, Monday 10 July 2000.(Brief Article)
Sep 01, 2000; As we are gathered here to dwell upon the passing of Vivian Statham, we must surely feel ourselves diminished. A unique...