Inauguration of Largest Women’s Memorial in the Southern Hemisphere


7 February 2022

On Sunday, 13 February, the SA Women’s Memorial Playing Fields Trust (SAWMPFT) will commemorate the 80th Anniversary of the Bangka Island Massacre by officially unveiling the largest memorial dedicated to women in the Southern Hemisphere.

Located at the playing fields at St Marys, the new memorial will be dedicated to the 22 Australian army nurses machine-gunned on Bangka Island’s Radji Beach, and to all Australian women who served their country in the armed forces. 

President of the SAWMPFT, Helen Fischer, said the memorial service is an important opportunity to reflect and pay respect to the courageous women who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country.

“On 13 February, we will pay a special tribute to the army nurses who were machine-gunned by soldiers of the Imperial Japanese Army on Bangka Island’s Radji Beach and recognise the service of all Australian women in the armed forces,” Ms Fischer said.

The event will include an official service, a presentation by special guest speaker His Excellency, General the Honourable David Hurley AC DSC (Retd), music by the Australian Army band and a catafalque party. Guests will also have the opportunity to lay a wreath or tribute as part of the service. 

The Trust has been holding the annual memorial service since the 1950s, and this year’s event marks a significant milestone for the state.

“This year is particularly special as not only does it commemorate the 80th year since the massacre, but it is also the inauguration of a new memorial,” Ms Fischer said. 

The memorial has been an 18-month project in conjunction with the Office for Sport and Recreation. When complete, the memorial plaza will include a commemorative post for each nurse that was on beach, including the sole survivor, South Australian nurse Vivian Bullwinkel. 

“We are very proud to be able to have a memorial that remembers these women in such a beautiful way,” Ms Fischer said.

“Members of the community will be able to walk through the memorial plaza and reflect on the circumstances these women found themselves in, and the incredible qualities they showed through extreme adversity.”

In addition to the memorial plaza, one of the new ovals being redeveloped will be named in honour of the aforementioned survivor, the Vivian Bullwinkel Oval.

Event Details
When: Sunday 13th February, 9:45am for 10am.
Location: South Australian Women’s Memorial Playing Fields, Shepherds Hill Road, St Marys.

Special guests will include: 
The Governor General, His Excellency, General the Honourable David Hurley AC DSC (Retd)  
Her Excellency Mrs Linda Hurley 
Her Excellency the Governor of South Australia, Frances Adamson AC
Senior Military representing all arms of the Defence Force
Respected nursing and medical leaders
Descendants of the nurses who were massacred

About Bangka Island Massacre and Vivian Bullwinkel

In World War II, the decision to evacuate all the women and children from Singapore was made when it became clear Singapore would be invaded by the Japanese.

Sixty-five Australian nurses, along with mainly mothers and small children, left Singapore onboard a small coastal steamer, Vyner Brooke.

On 14 February 1942, as the Vyner was passing between Sumatra and Borneo, Japanese aircraft bombed the overloaded vessel and it sank quickly. Preventing complete chaos, the nurses attended to the passengers, seeing that they got life jackets on, and ushering them into lifeboats.

Twelve Australian nurses were killed in the attack. Of the remaining fifty-three nurses, twenty-two reached Bangka Island, whilst the remainder were lost at sea.

When the sixty survivors, including the twenty-two Australian nurses, landed in lifeboats on the northern coast of Bangka Island, they voted to surrender to the Japanese rather than slowly starve to death. However, the Japanese patrol did not accept their surrender.

On February 16, 1942, the nurses were ordered by the Japanese to form a line and walk into the sea. The women did not panic or plead for mercy. 

When the water reached waist height, they were machine gunned down from behind. Miraculously, there was one survivor, South Australian nurse Vivian Bullwinkel, who upon discovering that she was only wounded, pretended to be dead.

With incredible level-headedness and endurance, she evaded the Japanese. Ten days after the massacre, Vivian left her hiding place and walked to Muntok to surrender.

Realising the lives of all the survivors of the Vyner Brooke would be at risk if the Japanese discovered what she had seen, she concealed her wound and treated herself. A slung water bottle concealed the bullet hole in her frock. For three and half years of imprisonment, an organised and enforced silence among the party prevented the Japanese from learning that she was the sole survivor of the shocking massacre.

In 1947, the same year she retired from the army, Vivian gave evidence of the massacre at the war crimes trial in Tokyo.

She devoted herself to the nursing profession and to honouring those killed on Bangka Island, raising funds for a nurses’ memorial and serving on numerous committees, including as a member of the Council of the Australian War Memorial.

Vivian Bullwinkel, the recipient of the Florence Nightingale Medal, an MBE and the Australia Medal, returned to Bangka Island in 1992 to unveil a shrine to those who never returned.