Lieutenant Colonel Vivian Bullwinkel

Service number F31029, VFX61330
Ranks Held Captain, Lieutenant, Lieutenant Colonel
Birth Date 1915-12-18
Birth Place Australia: South Australia, Kapunda
Death Date 2000-07-03
Death Place Australia: Western Australia, Perth
Final Rank Lieutenant Colonel
Service Australian Army
Unit 2/13 Australian General Hospital
  • Army organisation period 1961-
  • Second World War, 1939-1945
Gazettes Published in Commonwealth Gazette in 1947-03-06
Published in London Gazette in 1947-03-06

Vivian Bullwinkel, sole survivor of the 1942 Banka Island massacre, was born on 18 December 1915 at Kapunda, South Australia. She trained as a nurse and midwife at Broken Hill, New South Wales, and began her nursing career in Hamilton, Victoria, before moving to the Jessie McPherson Hospital in Melbourne in 1940.

In 1941, wanting to enlist, Bullwinkel volunteered as a nurse with the RAAF but was rejected for having flat feet. She was, however, able to join the Australian Army Nursing Service; assigned to the 2/13th Australian General Hospital (2/13th AGH), in September 1941 she sailed for Singapore. After a few weeks with the 2/10th AGH, Bullwinkel rejoined the 13th AGH in Johor Baharu.

Japanese troops invaded Malaya in December 1941 and began to advance southwards, winning a series of victories and, in late January 1942, forcing the 13th AGH to evacuate to Singapore. But the short-lived defence of the island ended in defeat, and, on 12 February, Bullwinkel and 65 other nurses boarded the SS Vyner Brooke to escape the island.

Two days later, the ship was sunk by Japanese aircraft. Bullwinkel, 21 other nurses and a large group of men, women, and children made it ashore at Radji Beach on Banka Island; they were joined the next day by about 100 British soldiers. The group elected to surrender to the Japanese, and while the civilian women and children left in search of someone to whom they might surrender, the nurses, soldiers, and wounded waited.

Some Japanese soldiers came and killed the men, then motioned the nurses to wade into the sea. They then machine-gunned the nurses from behind. Bullwinkel was struck by a bullet and pretended to be dead until the Japanese left. She hid with a wounded British private for 12 days before deciding once again to surrender. They were taken into captivity, but the private died soon after. Bullwinkel was reunited with survivors of the Vyner Brooke. She told them of the massacre, but none spoke of it again until after the war lest it put Bullwinkel, as witness to the massacre, in danger. Bullwinkel spent three and half years in captivity; she was one of just 24 of the 65 nurses who had been on the Vyner Brooke to survive the war.

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 AO. 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.



Date of birth 18 December 1915 Kapunda, SA.
Date and unit at enlistment (ORs) 08 August 1941 Enlisted in the Australian Army Nursing Service, Australian Imperial Force. Bullwinkel was assigned to the 2/13th Australian General Hospital.
Other 1941-09 Sailed for Singapore and soon joined the 2/13th Australian General Hospital in Johor Baharu, Malayasia.
Other 12 February 1942 Bullwinkel and 65 other nurses boarded the SS Vyner Brooke to escape the Japanese invasion of Singapore.
Date captured 16 February 1942 The SS Vyner Brooke was sunk by Japanese aircraft. Bullwinkel and many others made it to shore. Bullwinkel was the only female survivor of the massacre at Banka Island where 21 members of the Australian Army Nursing Service and other survivors of the sinking of the SS Vyner Brooke were murdered by the Japanese. She was later interned in Pelambang prisoner of war camp.
Date released 1945-09 Released from captivity at Pelambang prisoner of war camp.
Date of honour or award 06 March 1947 Royal Red Cross (2nd Class).
Date of discharge 30 September 1947 Bullwinkel retired from the army and became Director of Nursing at Melbourne's Fairfield Hospital.
Date of honour or award 01 January 1973 Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE).
Date of honour or award 26 January 1993 Officer of the Order of Australia (AO).
Date of death 03 July 2000 Perth, WA.