Shoulder cape : Sister V Bullwinkel, Australian Army Nursing Service

Place Oceania: Australia
Accession Number REL25570
Collection type Heraldry
Object type Uniform
Physical description Oxidised brass, Silk, Wool
Maker V373
Place made Australia, Australia: Victoria
Date made c1946-1947
Conflict Period 1940-1949

Nurses red woollen shoulder cape with captain's rank insignia and ribbon bar for Royal Red Cross, 1939-45 Star, Pacific Star, British War Medal 1939-45, and Australia Service Medal. Maker's details are sewn on the inside.

History / Summary

Cape issued to Vivian Bullwinkel after her release from captivity as a prisoner of war of the Japanese. 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 for the following three and a half years. Bullwinkel retired from the army in 1947 and became Director of Nursing at Melbourne's Fairfield Hospital. She devoted herself to the nursing profession and to honouring those killed on Banka Island, raising funds for a nurses' memorial and serving on numerous committees, including a period as a member of the Council of the Australian War Memorial, and later president of the Australian College of Nursing. In the decades following the war, Bullwinkel received many honours and awards, including the Florence Nightingale Medal, an MBE and the AM. She married in 1977 and returned to Banka Island in 1992 to unveil a shrine to the nurses who had not survived the war. Vivian Bullwinkel died on 3 July 2000.

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