Studio portrait of Staff Nurse Vivian Bullwinkel, Australian Army Nursing Service (AANS), in ...

Place Asia: Netherlands East Indies, Banka Island
Accession Number P03960.001
Collection type Photograph
Object type Negative
Maker Mendelssohn, F B & Company
Place made Australia: Victoria, Melbourne
Date made May 1941
Conflict Second World War, 1939-1945

Item copyright: Copyright expired - public domain

Public Domain Mark This item is in the Public Domain


Studio portrait of Staff Nurse Vivian Bullwinkel, Australian Army Nursing Service (AANS), in service dress uniform. Bullwinkel is well known as the sole survivor of the infamous Banka Island massacre in which 21 of her AANS colleagues were killed by Japanese troops. Bullwinkel was born on 18 December 1915 at Kapunda, SA, and enlisted in the AANS in 1941. In September 1941 she embarked for Singapore as a staff nurse with the 2/13th Australian General Hospital (2/13th AGH). On 12 February 1942, three days before the fall of Singapore, Bullwinkel, along with 65 other Australian Army nursing sisters, was evacuated from Singapore on board the SS Vyner Brooke. On the 14 February, while on route to Sumatra via Banka Strait, the ship was sunk by Japanese aircraft. Twenty-two nurses, including Bullwinkel, and a large group of British soldiers, men, women, and children made it ashore at Radji Beach on Banka Island. The group decided to surrender and a group comprising of the civilian women and children, accompanied by some of the men, went to find Japanese troops while the rest of the group waited. When Japanese soldiers arrived, the men were executed and the 22 sisters were ordered to walk into the sea and were machine gunned from behind. Bullwinkel, struck by a bullet, pretended to be dead. She and the only other survivor of the massacre, a wounded British soldier, 7654688 Private (Pte) Cecil Gordon Kinsley, hid for 12 days before surrendering. Both were taken into captivity, but Pte Kinsley died soon after. Bullwinkel spent three and half years in captivity and was one of just 24 of the 65 nurses who had been on the SS Vyner Brooke to survive the war. Her courage while a prisoner of the Japanese exemplified the bravery of Australian women in war, and her distinguished post-war career was marked by many humanitarian and career achievements. Vivian Statham (nee Bullwinkel) died on 3 July 2000.