Australian Embassy

Heroism and Sacrifice Honoured on Bangka Island

Media Release

17 February 2017

Indonesian and Australian dignitaries have gathered to pay their respects to the Australian nurses who were killed in East Sumatra during World War II and the local people who helped those who survived the incident.

In February 1942 a ship carrying wounded British soldiers and Australian nurses fled Singapore only to be sunk by Japanese bombers off Bangka Island. Those who survived gathered at Radji Beach. The Japanese refused to accept the group’s surrender and executed up to 50 British soldiers and sailors, before shooting 22 Australian nurses who were forced to walk into the sea to their deaths.  Only one of the nurses survived.

Nurse Vivian Bullwinkel was badly hurt but she was kept alive by the generosity of women from a nearby village for 13 days. She spent the next three years in prisoner of war camps on Bangka Island and in Sumatra.

Australian Ambassador to Indonesia Paul Grigson, Drs H Parhan Ali MM, Bupati of West Bangka and 30 relatives of the nurses have travelled to Muntok for a memorial service to honour their memories and to pay tribute to the Indonesians who helped Vivian Bullwinkel survive.

“In the weeks that followed this terrible incident, we know that those in nearby villages  risked their own lives to give Vivian food and ensure she recovered from her injury,” Ambassador Grigson said.

“Such bravery helped Vivian Bullwinkel survive and after the war hold those involved to account after the war through her evidence as the only witness,” he said.

“The families of the nurses who have travelled from Australia today have been overwhelmed by the sympathy and support we have received from the people of Bangka-Belitung Province 75 years after this tragic event,” Ambassador Grigson said.

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