Birth date: 18 December 1915
Birth place: Australia: South Australia, Kapunda
Death date: 3 July 2000
Death place: Australia: Western Australia, Perth
Final rank: Lieutenant Colonel
Service number: F31029 - Army organisation period 1961-
VFX61330 - Second World War, 1939-1945
  • 13 Australian General Hospital
  • 2/13 Australian General Hospital

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 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.

Rolls and Awards

Second World War POWs and Missing Persons

  • Rank: Lieutenant
  • Unit: 13 Australian General Hospital
  • Theatre of war: Malaya

Honours and Awards : Royal Red Cross (2nd Class)

  • Unit: 2/13 Australian General Hospital
  • Conflict: Second World War, 1939-1945



Sister (Sr) Vivian Bullwinkel and her mother at a reception held at the 115th Australian General Hospital in honour of a party of returned Australian Army Nursing sisters who had been prisoners of war (POWs). Sr Bullwinkel was the sole survivor of the Banka Island massacre in which 21 Australian...



Sister (Sr) Vivian Bullwinkel and former prisoners of war (POWs) of Changi POW camp at the opening of Remembrance Avenue in Gunnedah. Sr Bullwinkel was the only survivor of the massacre on Radji Beach, Banka Island, where 21 nurses were killed on 16 February 1942 after the sinking of the SS Vyner...



Studio portrait of Staff Nurse Vivian Bullwinkel, Australian Army Nursing Service (AANS), in service dress uniform. Bullwinkel is well known as the sole survivor of the infamous Banka Island massacre in which 21 of her AANS colleagues were killed by Japanese troops. Bullwinkel was born on 18...



Group portrait of Australian Army Nursing Service (AANS) nurses, who were former prisoners of war (POWs), on board the hospital ship Manunda on its arrival in Australia. Most of the group were staff members of the 2/10th and 2/13th Australian General Hospital (2/10AGH and 2/13AGH) and the 2/4th...



Group portrait of the nursing staff of 2/13th Australian General Hospital. Identified, left to right, back row: VFX61331 Sister (Sr) Gladys Laura Hughes (taken prisoner of war (POW) following the sinking of the Vyner Brooke and died of illness on 31 May 1945); SFX13419 Sr Annie Merle Trenerry...



Four sisters of the 2/13th Australian General Hospital enjoy a cup of tea on the verandah of ward C1. Identified (left to right): Sister (Sr) Vivian Bullwinkel; Matron Irene Drummond; Sr M Anderson; Sr M Selwood. The hospital was located in an unfinished mental hospital about seven miles north of...



Informal group portrait of members of the Australian Army Nursing Service (AANS) at a homecoming celebration. Sister (Sr) Vivian Bullwinkel, 2/13th Australian General Hospital (2/13 AGH), second from left, and Sr Wilma Oram, 2/13 AGH, second from right, were both held as prisoners of war (POWs) for...



Malayan moments

Troops marching 2/20 Battalion Mersing, late 1941. Leaders following NX35012 Captain (Capt) R J D Richardson D Coy Serebam area. Battalion on route march. Lieutenant Stanistreet. Sgt Cullen. Sgt Berthold with towel around his neck followed by NX50447 Wally Lewis (died POW 21 January 1944 Japan);...


We were ANZACs

Opens with the title " The Shell Company is proud to present this film record of a national TV Programme produced at the studios of ATN Channel 7 Sydney. Produced by Brett Porter. Written and presented by Frank Legg. An ATN Channel Production made with the co-operation of The Shell Film Unit...


American President Johnson visits Australian War Memorial

On Friday 21 October 1966, Lyndon B Johnson, President of the United States of America, visited the forecourt of the Australian War Memorial. In a short ceremony he laid a wreath on the Stone of Remembrance. After the ceremony he spoke to the catafalque party and was then presented to the members...


Singapore POWs

Pakanbaru POW Camp Sumatra, POWs waiting their turn to be evacuated watch other RAAF aircraft leaving for Singapore. RAAF aircrews loading stretcher cases onto C-47 Dakota transport aircraft. 2/14 Australian General Hospital Singapore, AIF nurses rescued from their prison camp in Sumatra, resting...



Shoulder cape : Sister V Bullwinkel, Australian Army Nursing Service

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.


Shoulder slides : Matron V Bullwinkel, Australian Army Nursing Service

Pair of nurse's grey cotton cesarine, summer shoulder strap slides with embroidered Lieutenant Colonel's rank insignia edged with cherry red. The back of each is stamped in black ink 'D^D'.


Identity discs : Sister V Bullwinkel, AANS

Pair of compressed fibre identity discs, one round and one octagonal, mounted on a fine silver chain. Both are impressed on the obverse 'BULLWINKEL V CE VX61330' and on the reverse 'A2'.


Red Cross brassard : Staff Nurse V Bullwinkel, 2/13 Australian General Hospital

White cotton drill brassard with an appliqued red wool felt cross in the centre. The brassard fastens with a white metal two chape buckle. Worn on the left sleeve of grey tropical summer dress REL/06376.001.


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

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...



Vivian Statham (Bullwinkel) MBE as a nursing sister 2/13th Australian General Hospital and a prisoner of the Japanese, 1939-1945, interviewed by Tim Bowden

Vivian Statham (Bullwinkel) MBE as a nursing sister 2/13th Australian General Hospital and a prisoner of the Japanese, 1939-1945, interviewed by Tim Bowden A transcript of this recording may be available. For further information please contact the Sound section.


Janet Patteson (Pat) Darling (nee Gunther) interviewed by Barbara Orchard about her experiences as a nurse and prisoner of war (POW) of the Japanese 1942-1945

TAPE 1: nursing training; volunteer for Australian Army Nursing Service (AANS); enlistment; travel on SS Queen Mary; arrival in Singapore; with 10th Australian General Hospital (AGH) at Malacca; 2/4 Casualty Clearing Station (CCS) established at Port Dickson; prewar Malaya; uniforms; Japanese...


Three 'Turn of the Century' ABC Radio Programs featuring Dr Peter Stanley discussing aspects of Australia's military involvement in war and peacekeeping throughout the 1900s

PROGRAM 1: Dr Stanley discuses attitudes to war and Australia's committment to war; Australian's went to the Boer War (South Africa) with idea that war was romantic and adventurous but during the century there was a changing view of war; men went to the Great War initially with enthusiasm but the...


Private Record


Matron Vivian Bullwinkel

Matron Vivian Bullwinkel a nursing sister who served with 8th Division, 2/13th Australian General Hospital. Bullwinkel was a survivor of the Banka Island massacre. Matron Bullwinkel is depicted wearing a her grey nurses uniform, red cape and sisters veil. She is also wearing the Florence...



Date of birth 1915-12-18 Kapunda, SA.
Date and unit at enlistment (ORs) 1941-08-08 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 1942-02-12 Bullwinkel and 65 other nurses boarded the SS Vyner Brooke to escape the Japanese invasion of Singapore.
Date captured 1942-02-16 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 1947-03-06 Royal Red Cross (2nd Class).
Date of discharge 1947-09-30 Bullwinkel retired from the army and became Director of Nursing at Melbourne's Fairfield Hospital.
Date of honour or award 1973-01-01 Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE).
Date of honour or award 1993-01-26 Officer of the Order of Australia (AO).
Date of death 2000-07-03 Perth, WA.