Vivian Bullwinkel statue design unveiled

To mark the 81st anniversary of the sinking of the SS Vyner Brooke and the massacre of 21 nurses at Bangka Island, the Australian College of Nursing (ACN) has today unveiled the design of the statue of Lieutenant Colonel Vivian Bullwinkel AO, MBE, ARRC, ED, FNM, FRCNA that is set to be installed at the Australian War Memorial later this year. 

FILE PHOTO: Model of the statue of Lieutenant Colonel Vivian Bullwinkel that is set to be installed at the Australian War Memorial later this year. Supplied by Australian War Memorial.

The sculpture will be the first of an individual woman or nurse on the grounds of the Australian War Memorial. 

ACN CEO Kylie Ward paid respects to the nurses who lost their lives during the sinking of the SS Vyner Brooke on 14 February 1942 and the Bangka Island Massacre two days later.

Eighty-one years ago, sixty-five Australian Army Nursing Service nurses were evacuated from Singapore on the SS Vyner Brooke because of the pending Japanese invasion.

Twelve died at sea when the ship was bombed in the Bangka Strait shortly after leaving port. 

Twenty-two of the group made their way to the nearby shores at Bangka Island, where they became victims of one of the worst atrocities of the war.

The nurses were ordered to walk into the sea and were machine-gunned from behind in what is now known as the Bangka Island Massacre.  

Lieutenant Colonel Bullwinkel was struck by a bullet and pretended to be dead before realising she was the sole survivor.

After hiding with a wounded soldier, whom she also cared for, for 12 days, she surrendered and spent three and half years in captivity as a Prisoner of War. 

Adjunct Professor Ward reflected on the incredible courage the nurses displayed in the most horrific situations and highlighted that their legacy still had a lasting impact on the nursing profession today. 

“Eighty-one years ago, a group of Australian nurses paid the ultimate sacrifice for their dedication to serve their country and use their expertise to care for those who needed it most,” she said.

“They endured exceptionally trying conditions in the face of death.

“Even in their final moments, they stayed true in their commitment to care for others, with several supporting their injured nursing colleagues as they walked into the water before their tragic deaths.

“For those nurses who spent the following years as Prisoners of War watching their colleagues suffer, starve and sacrifice, with only a few returning home, I am committed to ensuring they are never forgotten. 

“Erecting a sculpture of Bullwinkel at the Australian War Memorial will link the past, present and future for us to remember and be inspired by the sacrifice, service and leadership of Australian nurses.” 

Brisbane-based artist Charles Robb was appointed to create the sculpture following a limited-invitation design competition in 2020.

“Whether on the Radji Beach or in her decades of service and advocacy to the nursing profession, Lieutenant Colonel Bullwinkel was dedicated to the act of caring for others,” Mr Robb said.

“I have aimed to reflect her incredible altruism in the design of my sculpture – Bullwinkel is placed to one side of her bronze pedestal, revealing a rippling surface in which twenty-one inlaid silver discs reflect the victims of the Banka Island massacre and the main constellations of the night sky as it would have appeared on 16 February 1942.” 

To ensure their legacy lives on, and in addition to leading the fundraising to erect a sculpture of Vivian Bullwinkel on the grounds of the Australian War Memorial, The Australian College of Nursing Foundation is establishing a scholarship in the name of each of the 21 nurses who died in the Bangka Island Massacre, thanks to donors such as Aspen Medical. 

Please donate to the Vivian Bullwinkel project to inspire generations, commemorate all nurses and midwives, and remind us of their selfless service to Australia – in war and peace.



The Bullwinkel Project from Australian College of Nursing on Vimeo.






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Posted by Brian Hartigan

Managing Editor Contact Publishing Pty Ltd PO Box 3091 Minnamurra NSW 2533 AUSTRALIA

3 thoughts on “Vivian Bullwinkel statue design unveiled

  • 25/04/2023 at 5:51 pm

    Resting Peacefully:

    With respect :

    “Lieutenant Colonel Vivian Bullwinkel / Mrs Statham

    Colonel Francis West Statham

    Re: Mrs Statham

    I also met Colonel Francis West Statham he was a lovely gentleman and both were really lovely people :
    I had the honour of putting Mrs Stathams Medals on her for some time for Anzac Day & when she travelled interstate, from recall to do the movie , packing and all the excitement, the smiles, joy , I was lucky to be a witness too .

    These days were very very very proud days of both Mr & Mrs Statham the pride and happiness they exuded / shared together and with others and all the buzz they made * you feel special .
    So both still giving and caring individuals .

    Personally I think for * The History – Bullwinkle is Fitting for Vivienne’s Statue:

    another time in my life of meeting such lovely people I always recall fondly:

    Sad I wasn’t in Australia when Mrs Statham passed away to reflect at the time :

    That’s my recall :

    Respect :

  • 28/03/2023 at 3:51 pm

    I knew the lady from 1972 to her death, she used to get extremely annoyed when she called Bullwinkel. In 1977 she married Colonel Francis West Statham, they had known each other many years. He died in December 1999, she in the July 2000. Her surname for the last 23 years of her life, was Statham, and she was proud of it. She would have been extremely annoyed to have the statue in her maiden name.

  • 17/02/2023 at 4:02 pm

    My mother was a nurse in private Sydney hospitals. She always spoke of Sister Bullwinkel with great respect.

    As Lt-Colonel Bullwinkel so properly and richly deserved.


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