Sunday History Photo / Person

Submitted: Sunday, Jul 05, 2009 at 00:42
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The Extraordinary Nursing Career of Vivian Bullwinkel , What a brave Australian Woman.

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Vivian Bullwinkel was born in Kapunda, South Australia, and trained as a nurse in Broken Hill, New South Wales. In 1941, aged 25, she enlisted in the Australian Army Nursing Service. She was posted to the 13th Australian General Hospital and sailed for Malaya. Faced with the Japanese invasion of the Malay Peninsula, the hospital shifted to Singapore Island in January 1942.
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On 12 February 1942, with the fall of Singapore to the Japanese imminent, sixty-five Australian Army nurses, including Sister Vivian Bullwinkel, were evacuated from the besieged city on the small coastal steamer Vyner Brooke. In addition to the Australian nurses, the ship was crammed with over two hundred civilian evacuees and English military personnel. As the Vyner Brooke was passing between Sumatra and Borneo, Japanese aircraft bombed and strafed the overloaded ship and it sank quickly. The survivors in lifeboats were strafed by Japanese aircraft but some reached Bangka Island off the coast of Sumatra. Twelve Australian nurses were either killed in the attack on the ship or drowned in the sea. The remaining fifty-three nurses reached Bangka Island in lifeboats, on rafts, or by drifting with the tide.
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Wearing their Red Cross armbands, and having protected status as non-combatants by convention of civilised nations, the nurses expected to be treated in a civilised manner by the Japanese when they reached shore. Their expectations were short lived. The lucky survivors were rounded up at gunpoint by the Japanese and herded into a building that was filthy and overcrowded. All of the survivors were tired, thirsty, and hungry. Some were suffering from exposure to the sun after many hours immersed in the sea, and some had been wounded in the attacks on the ship and the lifeboats. The Japanese were unsympathetic to their plight and only offered the survivors a bucket of water and a bucket of rice.
The unlucky survivors, including twenty-two Australian nurses, landed in lifeboats on the northern coast of Bangka Island and lit a bonfire to guide other survivors to them. Sister Vivian Bullwinkel was in this group of nurses. When the number of survivors at the bonfire reached about one hundred, it was decided that they should surrender to the Japanese. A party of male survivors went off to find Japanese. They were accompanied by civilian women and their children. The twenty-two Australian nurses stayed to look after the injured, and they made and erected a red cross to indicate to the Japanese that they were non-combatants.
A patrol of about fifteen Japanese soldiers arrived from the coastal township of Muntok. While some guarded the Australian nurses, the rest herded the male survivors, about fifty in number, down the beach and around a headland. The nurses heard gunfire from this direction, and shortly afterwards, the Japanese soldiers returned alone. Some were wiping blood from their bayonets.
The twenty-two Australian nurses were then ordered by the Japanese to form a line and walk into the sea. The women knew what was going to happen to them, but none panicked or pleaded for mercy. When the water had reached the nurses' waists, the Japanese opened fire on them. Sister Bullwinkel was hit in the back by a bullet and knocked off her feet. Upon discovering that she was only wounded, she pretended to be dead. After some time had passed, she risked a glance at the beach and saw that the Japanese soldiers had gone. She looked around for the other twenty-one nurses and saw none. She was the only nurse who had survived the massacre.
When she reached the beach, she was joined by an English soldier who had survived the massacre behind the headland. Private Kingsley had been bayoneted by the Japanese and left for dead. They were given food by the local village women, but after two weeks, they realised that their position was hopeless, and they decided to walk to Muntok and give themselves up. Shortly afterwards, Private Kingsley died from the bayonet wound.
Realising that the lives of all survivors of the Vyner Brooke would be at risk if the Japanese discovered what she had seen, Sister Bullwinkel concealed her wound from the Japanese and treated it herself. She survived harsh imprisonment to give evidence of the massacre at a war crimes trial in Tokyo in 1947.
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The Nurses Memorial is situated at Tanjung Kelian Muntok Bangka,near the spot where survivors of the sinking of S.S.Vyner Brooke came ashore and where 21 Australian Army nurses were massacred on 16 February 1942. 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 s.s.Vyner Brooke. Of those 65 only 24 survived and returned to Australia after being in prisoner of war camps for nearly 4 years, the most famous of which was Sister Vivian Bullwinkel.
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Reply By: Member - KC (TAS) - Sunday, Jul 05, 2009 at 00:59

Sunday, Jul 05, 2009 at 00:59
What a brave and gutsy woman. I hope she was well decorated for her part in all that. What traumas she would have had to endure.
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Follow Up By: Member - Doug T (NT) - Sunday, Jul 05, 2009 at 11:45

Sunday, Jul 05, 2009 at 11:45
In the decades following the war, Sister Bullwinkel received many honours and awards, including the Florence Nightingale Medal, an MBE and the AM. She married in 1977 and returned to Banka Island in 1992 to unveil a shrine to the nurses who had not survived the war. Vivian Bullwinkel died on 3 July 2000.

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Reply By: Nickywoop - Sunday, Jul 05, 2009 at 04:46

Sunday, Jul 05, 2009 at 04:46
Another excellent history item Doug. I can also add a bit more to that story:

The Australian Army named one of there 6 wheel drive amphibious GMC Dukw's after Vivian Bullwinkel. When the Army disposed of it in the 1960's it was purchased by a cray fishing family at Carpenter Rocks in SE-SA. They used the "Bully" as it was known as a tender vessel to cart fuel, bait and gear out to their cray boats moored in Bucks Bay.

Rust eventually took it's toll on the "Bullwinkel" and it was parked just off the Cape Banks lighthouse road and left to" rust in peace".

In approx. 1992 or 1993 a scrap merchant brought and removed heap of scrap metal from the area including the old Army Dukw.

Being an exserviceman myself, I purchased the 3 blade "clover leaf" bronze propeller blade off the "scrappy ", and it now is proudly on display in my games room.

I often wonder how much history is lost to scap metal dealers.

Regards Nick
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Follow Up By: Member - Doug T (NT) - Sunday, Jul 05, 2009 at 07:48

Sunday, Jul 05, 2009 at 07:48
Nick
I know exactly what you mean, go to this PLACES link, 1st row , center photo under the map and read the sign ,

PLACES LINK

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Follow Up By: Member - Fred G NSW - Sunday, Jul 05, 2009 at 10:04

Sunday, Jul 05, 2009 at 10:04
Your right about our lost history Nick. In the latter years after ww2 most of our de-commissioned war ships were towed to Japan and broken up for scrap, and sent back to us as razor blades.
Now we see them sunk as dive locations around the Aus. coastline, the next being the former HMAS Adelaide which is to be laid to rest off Terrigal NSW north of Sydney.
A few of our proud old warships refused to go, and sank enroute.

Good story there Doug. Thanks for the read.

Fred.
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