The Last Post Ceremony commemorating the service of (VFX38746) Sister Mary Elizabeth Cuthbertson, 10th Australian General Hospital, Royal Australian Army Nursing Service, Second World War.

Places
Accession Number AWM2020.1.1.169
Collection type Film
Object type Last Post film
Physical description 16:9
Maker Australian War Memorial
Place made Australia: Australian Capital Territory, Canberra, Campbell
Date made 17 June 2020
Access Open
Conflict Second World War, 1939-1945
Copyright Item copyright: © Australian War Memorial
Creative Commons License This item is licensed under CC BY-NC
Copying Provisions Copy provided for personal non-commercial use
Description

The Last Post Ceremony is presented in the Commemorative area of the Australian War Memorial each day. The ceremony commemorates more than 102,000 Australians who have given their lives in war and other operations and whose names are recorded on the Roll of Honour. At each ceremony the story behind one of the names on the Roll of Honour is told. Hosted by Thomas Rogers, the story for this day was on (VFX38746) Sister Mary Elizabeth Cuthbertson, 10th Australian General Hospital, Royal Australian Army Nursing Service, Second World War.

Speech transcript

VFX38746 Sister Mary Elizabeth Cuthbertson, 10th Australian General Hospital, Royal Australian Army Nursing Service
Executed 16 February 1942
Photograph: P04131.001

Story delivered 14 March 2017

Today we remember and pay tribute to Sister Mary Cuthbertson, who was killed during the Second World War.

Popularly known as “Beth”, Mary Cuthbertson was born on 5 March 1910 in Stirling, South Australia, to William and Lillian Cuthbertson. She had two younger brothers, James and Gordon, and a younger sister, Joan.

Cuthbertson later lived in Ballarat, where her father was sub-manager of the Myer Woollen Mills. She attended Ballarat High School and trained as a nurse at Ballarat Base Hospital, and went on to study at the Queen Victoria Hospital in Melbourne. In August 1937 her engagement to Dr John Scholes was announced, but he died suddenly the following March. A memorial notice Cuthbertson placed in the Adelaide and Victorian newspapers ended with the words “Some day we’ll understand.”

Cuthbertson was living in Ballarat when she enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force on the 20th of August 1940. Taken on strength with the 7th Australian General Hospital under the Australian Army Nursing Service, she served in various camps before embarking for Singapore in July 1941. There Cuthbertson was attached to the 10th Australian General Hospital, and was in Malaya when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor.

Once the fall of Singapore became inevitable most Australian personnel were evacuated from the island. Cuthbertson was one of 65 Australian nurses who left Singapore aboard the Vyner Brooke on 14 February. Two
days later the ship was bombed by the Japanese and many lives were lost. Cuthbertson was among those responsible for ensuring passengers were evacuated. Some were put into lifeboats, and those who could swim made for the nearby Banka Island.

Some of the survivors travelled to the nearest port to formally surrender to the Japanese, but Cuthbertson was among the 22 Australian nurses who remained on the beach to tend the wounded.

On the morning of the 16th of February a group of Japanese soldiers arrived on the beach. The men were ordered around a headland, where they were killed.

The nurses were ordered to walk into the sea. When the water reached their waists the Japanese opened fire with machine-guns and all but one were killed. Beth Cuthbertson was 31 years old.

In 2004 Ballarat opened its Australian Ex-Prisoners of War Memorial, where Cuthbertson’s name is listed among the more than 36,000 former prisoners of war. Her sister, Joan, was at the opening, and recalled the pain of not knowing what had happened:
It was a terrible thing for my parents to wait for the news. We only knew that Beth was missing. It really was a terrible time for our family.
In the early 1990s Joan returned to the beach where her sister was killed, taking her daughter, Beth, who she named in her sister’s honour.

Sister Mary Elizabeth Cuthbertson is commemorated on the Singapore Memorial, and her name is listed on the Roll of Honour on my left, among some 40,000 others from the Second World War. Her photograph is displayed beside the Pool of Reflection.

This is but one of the many stories of service and sacrifice told here at the Australian War Memorial. We now remember Sister Mary Elizabeth Cuthbertson, who gave her life for us, for our freedoms, and in the hope of a better world.

Christina Zissis
Editor, Military History Section

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