Massacred nurses to be remembered

41 nurses perished in the attack and aftermath of the sinking of the SS Vyner Brooke.

THIS year marks the 80th anniversary of one of the most shocking atrocities committed against Australians during WWII, with organisers of an annual commemoration in Melville hoping the occasion will attract a bumper crowd.

Back in February 1942, a group of 65 Australian nurses stationed in Singapore were forced, under threat of a court martial, to leave their patients and board the SS Vyner Brooke to escape the advancing Japanese forces.

The decision to move them to safety had already been delayed, which was to have devastating consequences when the Vyner Brooke was strafed, bombed and sunk off the shores of Radji Beach in the Dutch East Indies, now known as Indonesia, by several Japanese aircraft around 2pm on February 14.

A dozen nurses and many of the civilian passengers, mostly women and children, died in the attack while the survivors swam to shore.

The nurses who made it to Radji Beach set up a bonfire to attract those still in the water, and while matron Irene Drummond oversaw the care of the injured, a group of civilian survivors left to try and organise a surrender.

Bayonets

Before they could return, the nurses and about 60 Commonwealth servicemen and merchant sailors who had also survived the sinking were discovered by a Japanese patrol. 

The Japanese marched the men a short distance away before shooting and bayoneting them, then returned and forced the nurses to walk into the water where they were shot from behind.

Sister Vivian Bullwinkel was the sole survivor amongst the nurses; she had been at the end of the line and despite having been shot through the hip, feigned death until the Japanese departed.

Sr Bullwinkel discovered a British soldier Cecil Kinsley had also survived and after hiding in the swamps for 12 days, they eventually they gave themselves up to the occupying Japanese forces. Kinsley died shortly after, but Sr Bullwinkel was one of 24 nurses who made it through three and a half years through the internment and were able to return to Australia.

Her eyewitness account is the only reason the massacre has been known about.

Following the war Sr Bullwinkel married and moved to Perth, and she unveiled a memorial plaque at Pt Walter in 1992 to the 41 colleagues who perished.

This Sunday at the memorial plaque the Applecross RSL Sub-branch will be commemorating the massacre anniversary at 10.15am.

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