AWM012468 Smoke from fires at the Singapore Naval Base, February 1942.
With the addition of the Downer manuscript the Memorial now holds three books from Changi’s prisoner-of-war library, bound and repaired at the camp’s book bindery, and two from the Civilian Internment Camp library.
Related Second World War anniversaries
The unveiling of the manuscript falls on the 75th anniversary of the fall of Singapore. Other 75th anniversaries this week include:
Sinking of the SS Vyner Brooke, 14 February 1942
The SS Vyner Brooke was a British-registered cargo vessel. At the outbreak of the war she was requisitioned by Britain’s Royal Navy as an armed trader.
On the evening of 12 February 1942 the Vyner Brooke was one the last evacuee ships to depart Singapore. In addition to its 47 crew, it sailed south with 181 passengers, mostly women and children. Among the passengers were the last members of the Australian Army Nursing Service in Singapore. Vyner Brooke was attacked late the next afternoon by a Japanese aircraft, but suffered no serious casualties. At sunset it made a run for the Banka Strait. Prowling Japanese warships impeded its progress, and by daylight the next day it was dangerously exposed on a flat sea.
Not long after 2 pm on 14 February the Vyner Brooke was attacked by several Japanese aircraft. Despite evasive action, the ship was crippled by several bombs. Within half an hour it had rolled over and sunk bow first. Approximately 150 of her passengers survived.
Banka Island Massacre, 16 February 1942
The survivors of the SS Vyner Brooke eventually made it ashore at Banka Island, after periods of between eight and 65 hours in the water. The island had already been occupied by the Japanese and those survivors who could walk headed off into the jungle to surrender.
As the nurses tended the wounded on the beach they were joined by another party of civilians and up to 60 Commonwealth servicemen and merchant sailors who had made it ashore after their own vessels were sunk. Hours later a party of Japanese troops arrived. Marching the men around the headland, they executed them with bayonet. The 22 Australian nurses and one British civilian woman were ordered to wade into the sea, at which point they were shot from behind. Only two survived the massacre – Sister Vivian Bullwinkel, who lay as if dead in the water, and British Private Cecil Kinsley. After hiding in the jungle for several days the pair eventually gave themselves up. Kinsley died a few days later from his wounds, and Bullwinkel spent the rest of the war as a prisoner of the Japanese.
Of the 65 Australian who nurses embarked upon the Vyner Brooke, 12 were killed during the air attack or drowned following the sinking, 21 were murdered on Radji Beach, and 32 became internees, eight of whom subsequently died before the end of the war.