Grey tropical working dress : Staff Nurse V Bullwinkel, 2/13 Australian General Hospital

Accession Number REL/06376.001
Collection type Heraldry
Object type Uniform
Physical description Cotton; Metal
Location Main Bld: World War 2 Gallery: Gallery 2: Fall Sing
Maker Pioneer Uniform Service
Place made Australia
Date made c 1941
Conflict Second World War, 1939-1945

Grey cotton, open-necked, short sleeved tropical pattern dress with plain dark brown shoulder straps for a staff nurse. The colour is faded, but the original dark grey can be seen on the inside seams and pockets. The dress buttons from neck to hem and is secured by seven silver Australian Military Forces buttons, the bottom two of which are missing. All the buttonholes are bound with self-fabric. The bodice has a front and back yoke. Four vertical tucks run from yoke to waist on either side of the centre front and centre back bodice. There are two darts at the front waist between the tucks and the side seams. The sleeve head is shaped by five darts. The A-line shirt is cut in six panels and has a slanted inset welt pocket on either side of the front opening. There is a self fabric belt originally secured by press studs which are now missing. A bullet entry hole can be seen in the left side of the back bodice, 10mm above the waist seam and 55mm from the left side seam. The exit hole is located 35mm above the waist seam at the left centre front. There is a red embroidered name tape, 'V.Bullwinkel', inside the neck.

History / Summary

This uniform was worn by Vivian Bullwinkel when she survived being shot by Japanese soldiers at Banka Island after the sinking of the Vyner Brooke in 1942.

Bullwinkel was born South Australia in 1918, and trained as a nurse at Broken Hill. She enlisted as a staff nurse in the Australian Army Nursing Service (AANS) on 8 August 1941 and was posted to Malaya with 13 Australian General Hospital. As the Japanese advanced down the Malay Peninsula to Singapore a decision was made to evacuate the AANS to Australia and they left in two groups. The first group of 59 nurses left on 11 February 1942 and reached Australia safely. The second group of 65 nurses sailed on 12 February aboard the Vyner Brooke together with 300 civilian passengers.

The ship was bombed by the Japanese and had to be abandoned in Banka Strait, where it sank. A number of passengers, including some nurses, were drowned, but others made it to shore. A group of 22 of the AANS, as well as other survivors, landed on Radji Beach on Banka Island and awaited the arrival of the Japanese the following morning. The Japanese separated the survivors into three groups. The men were taken away and shot, the officers bayonetted, and the women, together with men too sick to move, were ordered into the sea. When they were knee deep in water the Japanese machine gunned them. Sister Bullwinkel was the sole survivor. Wounded by a single shot through the back, which did not hit any vital organ, she recovered consciousness to find herself washed ashore on her back.

The Japanese were still on the beach and after a further period of unconsciousness she found herself alone surrounded by the dead. She moved into the jungle on the edge of the beach where she met a badly wounded Englishman, the sole survivor of the bayoneting. They stayed in the jungle for ten days supplied with food by women from a local village, before surrendering to a Japanese naval patrol. Bullwinkel disguised her injuries by adjusting the belt of her dress to cover the entry and exit holes from the bullet. She joined the other surviving nurses in captivity as a prisoner of war.