Bangka Island massacre

The Bangka Island massacre was committed on 16 February 1942, when Imperial Japanese soldiers machine-gunned 22 Australian Army nurses and 60 Australian and British soldiers and crew members from two sunken ships. Vivian Bullwinkel was the sole survivor of the nurses; two soldiers survived. Recent evidence collected by historian Lynette Silver, broadcaster Tess Lawrence and biographer Barbara Angell, indicates that most of the nurses were sexually assaulted before they were murdered. However, Bullwinkel was not permitted to speak about the rapes after the war. According to the Australian government, the perpetrators of the massacre remain unknown and "escaped any punishment for their crime".[1]


On 12 February 1942 the Sarawak royal yacht Vyner Brooke left Singapore just before the city fell to the Imperial Japanese Army. The ship carried many injured service personnel and 65 nurses of the Australian Army Nursing Service from the 2/13th Australian General Hospital, as well as civilian men, women and children.[2] The ship was bombed by Japanese aircraft and sank.[2] Two nurses were killed in the bombing; the rest were scattered among the rescue boats to wash up on different parts of Bangka Island. About 100 survivors reunited near Radji Beach at Bangka Island, in the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia), including 22 of the original 65 nurses. Once it was discovered that the island was held by the Japanese, an officer of the Vyner Brooke went to surrender the group to the authorities in Muntok.[2] While he was away army matron Irene Melville Drummond, the most senior of the nurses, suggested that the civilian women and children should leave for Muntok, which they did.[3] The nurses stayed to care for the wounded. They set up a shelter with a large Red Cross sign on it.

At mid-morning the ship’s officer returned with about 20 Japanese soldiers. They ordered all the wounded men capable of walking to travel around a headland. The nurses heard a quick succession of shots before the Japanese soldiers came back, sat down in front of the women and cleaned their bayonets and rifles.[2] A Japanese officer ordered the remaining 22 nurses and one civilian woman to walk into the surf.[2] A machine gun was set up on the beach and when the women were waist deep, they were machine-gunned. All but Sister Lt Vivian Bullwinkel were killed.[2] Wounded soldiers left on stretchers were then bayoneted and killed.

Shot in the diaphragm, Bullwinkel lay motionless in the water until the sound of troops had disappeared. She crawled into the bush and lay unconscious for several days. When she awoke, she encountered Private Patrick Kingsley, a British soldier who had been one of the wounded from the ship, and had been bayoneted by the Japanese soldiers but survived. She dressed his wounds and her own, and then 12 days later they surrendered to the Japanese. Kingsley died before reaching a POW camp, but Bullwinkel spent 3 years in one. She survived the war and gave evidence of the massacre at the Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal in 1947.[4] However, Bullwinkel was "gagged" by the Australian government from speaking about the rapes.[1]


In South Australia an annual commemoration, known as the Bangka Day Memorial Service is held at the Women's Memorial Playing Fields, St Mary's on the Sunday closest to 16 February.[5]


  1. Gary Nunn (18 April 2019), Bangka Island: The WW2 massacre and a 'truth too awful to speak', BBC News
  2. Klemen, L (1999–2000). "The Bangka Island Massacre, February 1942". Forgotten Campaign: The Dutch East Indies Campaign 1941–1942.
  3. "Biography - Irene Melville Drummond - Australian Dictionary of Biography".
  4. "Sister Vivian Bullwinkel's Story". Banka Island Massacre (1942). Archived from the original on March 25, 2009.
  5. McEwen, Anne (28 February 2012). "World War II speech". Senate Hansard. Canberra, A.C.T.: Parliament of Australia. Retrieved 15 February 2015.


Further reading

  • Jeffrey, Betty (1954). White Coolies. Sydney, NSW: Eden Books. ISBN 0-207-16107-0.
  • Shaw, Ian W (2010). On Radji Beach. Sydney, NSW: Pan Macmillan Australia. ISBN 978-1-4050-4024-2. OCLC 610570783.
  • Wigmore, Lionel (1957). The Japanese Thrust - Australia in the War of 1939 – 1945. Canberra: Australian War Memorial.
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