Australian prisoners of war: Second World War - Prisoners of the Japanese, Sumatra

The main prisoner-of-war camp on Sumatra was at Palembang. In 1942 about 60 Australians were imprisoned there, but by the end of the war there were 243.

On 12 February 1942 just before the capitulation at Singapore 65 Australian nurses embarked on the Vyner Brooke. On 14 February the Vyner Brooke was sunk just off Banka Island; 22 nurses made it to land but were shot by Japanese soldiers. The only nurse to survive was Sister Vivian Bullwinkel; after ten days of freedom she was captured and imprisoned at Muntok. The nurses were moved from Muntok to Palembang , then to Muntok again and finally Lubuk Linggau. At the end of the war, only 24 nurses returned to Australia, the rest having died in captivity.

Official Resources

Official records held by the Memorial include:

  • Statements by Sister Vivian Bullwinkel and Sister Nesta James. AWM54 553/6/2
  • Account of railway construction in Sumatra by allied POWs 1944-1945. AWM54 815/2/9
  • War Crimes and Trials. Affidavits and sworn statements by Sister Vivian Bullwinkel. AWM54 1010/4/24 A & B
  • CARO Compendium of statistical information. Includes data on AIF prisoners of war working parties and their movements and names of Australian POW nurses shot by Japanese or drowned after the bombing of the Vyner Brooke in Sumatra. AWM127 2
  • Nominal roll of women and children in Palembang including Australian civilians and Australian Army Nursing Service. AWM127 72
  • Records of Australian Military Forces prisoners of war and missing, Far East and South West Pacific Islands. Contains nominal rolls and paybook photographs arranged by theatre of war. AWM232. The nominal rolls are available online.

Private Records

  • C.J. Ashton (Captain, 13th AGH AIF, POW). Recollection of events leading up to her capture on Banka Island, transport of Palembang Women's camp and of life as a POW in camps at Muntok and Loebock Linguar, Sumatra, 1942-1945. PR87/080
  • John A. Frederick Fisher (Warrant Officer 2, 8th Div RAAOC AIF). Report written by WO2 Fisher outlining the escape from Singapore 15 February 1942 of members of the Unit, their passage to Sumatra and eventual departure for Ceylon and return to Australia. PR88/138
  • Betty (Agnes) Jeffrey (Lieutenant, 2/10 Australian General Hospital , AIF). Captivity at Palembang POW Camp, Sumatra. The account records her experiences from the time of the sinking of the Vyner Brooke, her capture and incarceration until release in 1945. 3DRL/1857
  • Veronica Turner (nee Clancy) (Lieutenant). Her account of life in the 2/13 th Australian General Hospital, the sinking of the Vyner Brooke and three and a half years as a prisoner of war on Banka Island. MSS1086


Books held in the Research Centre include:

  • Helen Colijn, Song of survival (London: Headline, 1997)
  • Betty Jeffrey, White coolies : an account of the true story which inspired the film Paradise Road (Pymble, N.S.W. : Angus & Robertson, 1997)
  • David Nelson, The story of Changi, Singapore (West Perth, W.A.: Changi Publication, 1974) Story of the UK Bureau of Record and Enquiry set up in Changi. The appendices contain a detailed record of the movement of POW parties, commanders of POW parties ex Changi, and Java parties to or via Singapore and Sumatra.
  • Frank Robinson, Through hell and bomb blast (Waverley, Tas. : F. Robinson, 1982)
  • Allan S. Walker, Middle East and Far East, Australia in the War of 1939-1945, Series 5 (Medical), vol. II (Canberra: Australian War Memorial, 1953)
  • Lionel Wigmore, The Japanese thrust, Australia in the War of 1939-1945, Series 1 (Army), vol. IV (Canberra: Australian War Memorial, 1957) : Chapter 24 and 25 : maps of railway on pages 542 and 563