Be part of the Vivian Bullwinkel commemorative book

Australians are being invited this ANZAC Day to share any stories or reflections of Bangka Island World War II nurses for a commemorative book detailing Vivian Bullwinkel’s life and legacy.

The commemorative book will be launched at the unveiling of the Lieutenant Colonel Vivian Bullwinkel sculpture at the Australian War Memorial later this year.

In collaboration with the Australian College of Nursing (ACN), the ACN Foundation is calling for family, friends and colleagues to share stories and reflections of Lieutenant Colonel Bullwinkel and the 21 nurses who lost their lives at the Bangka Island massacre.

“We want to know who these women were as nurses, in their everyday lives, and what they left behind to serve as part of the Australian Army Nursing Service.”

On 14 February 1942, 22 Australian nurses, survivors of the sinking of the SS Vyner Brooke by the Japanese, washed ashore on Bangka Island in Indonesia. On 16 February, after surrendering, they were ordered to walk into the sea, where they were machine-gunned from behind. Only one survived – Lieutenant Colonel Vivian Bullwinkel AO.

Bullwinkel was struck by a bullet and pretended to be dead, before realising she was the sole survivor. After hiding with a wounded soldier for 12 days, she surrendered and spent three and half years in captivity.

Charles Robb, Lieutenant Colonel Vivian Bullwinkel (maquette), 2021. Photo courtesy Australian War Memorial

The commemorative book will help to remember and honour the leadership, courage and personal sacrifice of the nurses in the Bangka Island Massacre. You can submit a story, an anecdote, or an image to help link the past, present and future and to remember their service and sacrifice.

The sculpture of Lieutenant Colonel Vivian Bullwinkel will be the first commemorative sculpture of a woman and nurse in the Australian War Memorial grounds. It is being created to recognise all Australian nurses who have lost their lives or survived atrocities while serving their country.

Bullwinkel devoted herself to nursing and honouring those killed on Banka Island, raising funds for a nurses’ memorial, and serving as a member of the Council of the Australian War Memorial, and later President of the Royal College of Nursing, Australia.

The ACN Foundation are seeking reflections and stories about:

  • The 22 nurses who died at the Bangka Island Massacre.
  • Your involvement in the process of raising the statue.
  • What this statue represents to you personally.
  • What this statue represents to the nursing profession of Australia and/or the military community.
  • What you believe the legacy of Vivian Bullwinkel is for Australia.
  • Anything else you’d like to contribute ie. A note of thanks, how excited you are to be seeing it, what girls and women will experience in the future when they visit the Australian War Memorial etc.

The deadline for submissions is midnight Sunday 30 April 2023.

For more information or to submit a reflection or story, visit The Bullwinkel Project.

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