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Indonesia

Nurses Memorial (Vyner Brooke Memorial), Bangka Island, Indonesia

The Nurses Memorial is situated near the spot where survivors of the sinking of SS Vyner Brooke came ashore and where 21 Australian Army nurses were massacred on 16 February 1942. It was dedicated on 2 March 1993 in the presence of seven of the surviving nurses, including Matron Vivian Statham, AO, MBE, ARRC, ED (Sister V Bullwinkel), the sole survivor of the massacre at Radji Beach.

The memorial incorporates stone from the: 'Women's Camp' which the Australian Army nurses occupied for a time as Prisoners of War. A bronze plaque records the names of all 65 nurses who were aboard the SS Vyner Brooke. Of those 65, only 24 survived and returned to Australia after being in POW camps for nearly four years.

The Nurses of Bangka Island

On 12 February 1942 during the closing stages of the defence of Singapore, 65 nurses of the 2/4th Casualty Clearing Station, 2/10th and 2/13th Australian General Hospitals, 8th Australian Division, were evacuated aboard SS Vyner Brooke. On 14 February the ship was bombed and sunk as she passed southward through Bangka Strait.

Although all of the nurses survived the bombing, 12 were either drowned before they could reach lifeboats or rafts or were swept out to sea and lost. Others spent up to 3 days endeavouring to reach the shores of Bangka Island, having to contend with tides and currents and to negotiate coastal mangrove swamps. Some were assisted ashore by the friendly Bangka people.

One group of 22 came ashore by lifeboat and after 2 days, on 16 February 1942, they surrendered to the local Japanese command. They were ordered to walk out into the sea where they were machine-gunned by Japanese soldiers. Only one nurse, Sister Vivian Bullwinkel, survived that massacre. Although wounded she feigned death and was later given food by local village women. When she had regained her strength, Sister Bullwinkel surrendered to the Japanese at Mentol and was reunited with her colleagues to spend the following three and a half years as a POW.

The 32 Australian nurses were held in POW camps on Sumatra and on Bangka. Eight of their number were to die as a result of the deprivations they suffered as prisoners of the Japanese and, tragically, all 8 deaths occurred during the final 7 months of the war. Of the original 65 nurses, only 24, including Sister Bullwinkel, returned to Australia after the war had ended.

The 12 nurses who were lost at sea following the sinking of the Vyner Brooke and the 21 who were massacred on Radji Beach are officially commemorated by name on the Singapore Memorial at Kranji War Cemetery, Singapore. The 8 who died as POWs now lie in the CWGC cemetery in Jakarta, Indonesia. The names of all 41 appear on the Roll of Honour at the Australian War Memorial.

The Nurses Memorial at Bangka Island:

Honours the heroism and sacrifice of members of the Australian Army Nursing Service who served in the Bangka area in the Second World War during the years 1942-1945.

All 65 nurses are named on the memorial.

 

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