Working dress

Staff Nurse Vivian Bullwinkel

On 14 February 1942, the cargo ship SS Vyner Brooke was sunk by Japanese aircraft off the coast of Banka Island. Among the refugees on board the ship were the last 65 Australian nurses to be evacuated from Singapore. Twelve nurses were killed when the ship was sunk, 32 managed to get to shore and were taken captive, eight of whom later died in captivity, while the remainder washed ashore on Radji Beach with wounded men and civilians. After surrendering to the Japanese, those men who could walk were taken away and the Japanese returned minutes later, cleaning their bayonets. The 22 nurses and one civilian woman were then ordered to walk into the sea. As the water reached their waist, a Japanese machine-gun opened fire. The wounded men remaining on the beach were bayoneted.

Feigning death, Sister Vivian Bullwinkel was washed back ashore and lay on the beach until the Japanese left. She spent the next 12 days treating her wound, and the wounds of Private Cecil Kingsley, a British soldier who had survived the bayoneting. The two later surrendered to the Japanese. Private Kingsley died soon afterwards, but Sister Bullwinkel survived over three years of captivity, and was able to speak for the 21 murdered nurses at the Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal in 1946.

This tropical working dress was worn by Sister Bullwinkel when she was shot on Banka Island and for the remainder of her time in captivity. It still bears the bullet holes from that day on Radji Beach.