Today is the 75th anniversary of one of the darkest chapters of WWII when 21 Australian Army nurses and up to 100 British soldiers were massacred by Japanese soldiers on Banka Island in Indonesia.
A 75th anniversary commemorative service will be held at the Vyner Brooke Nurses Memorial on Banka Island today, supported by the Australian Embassy in Jakarta.
CAPTION: A glass-panel depiction of Australian Army nurses in WWII – part of a magnificent national memorial to Service Nurses on Anzac Parade, Canberra, dedicated in 1999. Photo by Brian Hartigan.
The massacre took place following the mass evacuation of service personnel and civilians from Singapore shortly before it fell to the Japanese on 15 February 1942.
The merchant ship SS Vyner Brooke, carrying civilians, wounded Australian and British service personnel and 65 nurses from the Australian Army Nursing Service, was bombed and sunk on 14 February, resulting in the deaths of 12 nurses and numerous evacuees.
The survivors reached Banka Island.
Those who came ashore at Radji Beach agreed that the only course open to them was to find Japanese troops to surrender to.
But, when the Japanese came to the beach, the British troops were rounded up and executed.
The Australian nurses were then ordered into the sea where they were machine gunned.
There was only one survivor – Sister Vivian Bullwinkel.
Minister for Veterans’ Affairs Dan Tehan said Sister Bullwinkel’s evidence at a war crimes trial in 1947 was crucial to uncovering the truth about what had happened on Radji Beach.
“What happened on Banka Island was horrific, and on today’s anniversary we reflect on the lives lost and the service and sacrifice of Australian nurses who put their lives at risk to tend our sick and wounded,” Mr Tehan said.
“The Nurses Memorial located at Radji Beach, the site of the massacre, honours the heroism and sacrifice of members of the Australian Army Nursing Service who served in the Banka area in the Second World War and those who died following the sinking of the SS Vyner Brooke.”