Home News POW Vivian Bullwinkel Honoured

POW Vivian Bullwinkel Honoured

President of Soroptimists International Ballarat, Ilona Takacs and Mayor Cr Des Hudson reflect on Vivian Bullwinkel while trying out the bench erected in her honour near the POW memorial.

LIEUTENANT Colonel Vivian Bullwinkel was born in 1915 and died in 2000. On Monday, Anzac Day, Soroptimists International Ballarat, honoured the former nurse with a memorial plaque at the Prisoner of War Memorial.

President Ilona Takacs said Vivian Bullwinkel AO, MBE, ARRC, ED, FNM was a Soroptimist International Victoria Inc member and embodied the values of a Soroptimist heroism, courage and humanitarian achievements. “Today we gather to acknowledge one of our most endeared women, with a seat in her honour,” Mz Takacs said.

“Vivian Bullwinkel was a heroine in the fall of Singapore and a dedicated member of Soroptomists International.” Born in Kapunda, South Australia, Vivian Bullwinkel was the sole survivor of the 1942 Banka Island massacre A trained nurse and midwife at Broken Hill, New South Wales she began her nursing career in Hamilton, Victoria, before moving to the Jessie McPherson Hospital in Melbourne in 1940. In 1941, wanting to enlist, Vivian volunteered as a nurse with the RAAF but was rejected for having flat feet. She was, however, able to join the Australian Army Nursing Service; assigned to the 2/13th Australian General Hospital (2/13th AGH) and sailed for Singapore in 1941. After a few weeks with the 2/10th AGH, she rejoined the 13th AGH in Johor Baharu. Japanese troops invaded Malaya in December 1941 and began to advance southwards, winning a series of victories and, in late January 1942, forcing the 13th AGH to evacuate to Singapore. But the short-lived defence of the island ended in defeat, and, on 12 February, Vivian and 65 other nurses boarded the SS Vyner Brooke to escape the island.

Two days later, the ship was sunk by Japanese aircraft. Bullwinkel, 21 other nurses and a large group of men, women, and children made it ashore at Radji Beach on Banka Island; they were joined the next day by about 100 British soldiers. The group elected to surrender to the Japanese, and while the civilian women and children left in search of someone to whom they might surrender, the nurses, soldiers, and wounded waited. Some Japanese soldiers came and killed the men, then motioned the nurses to wade into the sea. They then machine-gunned the nurses from behind. Bullwinkel was struck by a bullet and pretended to be dead until the Japanese left. She hid with a wounded British private for 12 days before deciding once again to surrender. They were taken into captivity, but the private died soon after. Bullwinkel was reunited with survivors of the Vyner Brooke. Vivian spent three and half years in captivity; she was one of just 24 of the 65 nurses who had been on the Vyner Brooke to survive the war. She retired from the army in 1947 and became Director of Nursing at Melbourne’s Fairfield Hospital. She devoted herself to the nursing profession and to honouring those killed on Banka Island, raising funds for a nurses’ memorial and serving on numerous committees, including a period as a member of the Council of the Australian War Memorial, and later president of the Australian College of Nursing. In the decades following the war, Vivian 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.