Australian War Memorial

In February 1942 the cruise ship Vyner Brooke, carrying many injured servicemen and 64 Australian nurses was sunk by Japanese aircraft. Eleven nurses were lost in the attack, but the rest reached shore at Japanese-occupied Bangka Island, in the Dutch East Indies.

The ship’s officer and a small group of women and children went to the Japanese authorities to surrender while the nurses set up a shelter to care for the wounded. A contingent of Japanese soldiers returned, herded all ambulatory wounded away and shot them. A Japanese officer then ordered the remaining 22 nurses and one civilian woman to walk into the surf where they were machine-gunned. All but one nurse were killed. Wounded soldiers left on stretchers were then bayoneted and killed.

The wounded nurse Vivian Bullwinkel washed up on the beach and was left for dead. She evaded capture for 10 days, but was eventually caught and imprisoned. Surviving the war, she testified at a war crimes trial in Tokyo in 1947.