Darwin ceremony to honour 80th anniversary of Australian nurses killed in WWII

Australian College of Nursing

Nursing leaders will come together in Darwin next week for a special service commemorating their fallen colleagues who lost their lives in war and mark the 80th anniversary of the sinking of the Vyner Brooke, Bangka Island Massacre and Bombing of Darwin in February 1942.

ACN CEO Adjunct Professor Kylie Ward FACN outlined the event as an important time to honour those who paid the ultimate price for their nursing service.

“Eighty years ago, Australia lost a remarkable cohort of highly-skilled nurses during three tragic events in February 1942,” ACN CEO Adjunct Professor Kylie Ward FACN said.

“The bravery, compassion and expertise these nurses displayed continues to leave a lasting legacy on the profession today. I am proud to join my nursing colleagues in Darwin on Tuesday to pay my respects to their service and sacrifice.

“I believe every Australian should know the stories of the nurses who perished and survived the sinking of the Vyner Brooke, Bangka Island Massacre and Bombing of Darwin.

“Individually, they had unique clinical backgrounds and hailed from across the country. However, together they were a formidable force dedicated to keeping Australians face during an unprecedented time in our history.

“This was demonstrated in the story of Irene Drummond – a matron who was one of the 21 nurses murdered in the Bangka Island Massacre. Forever a leader, she uttered, ‘chin up girls, I’m proud of you all, and I love you all’ as the group walked arm in arm into the sea where they were machined gunned to death.

“Irene’s story is just one of many examples of the nurses’ selflessness and courage in the face of extreme danger.

“Their legacy must be at the forefront of not just nursing history, but that of our nation.

Federal Minister for Veterans’ Affairs Matt Keogh said only 24 of the 65 nurses who boarded the Vyner Brooke in Singapore survived the war.

“Just 32 nurses survived the Vyner Brooke’s sinking, including Sister Vivian Bullwinkel, the sole survivor of the massacre on Bangka Island, becoming prisoners of war (POWs). Eight of those nurses lost their lives as a result of the deprivations they suffered, ” Minister Keogh said.

“These brave women were nurses of the 2/4th Casualty Clearing Station, 2/10th and 2/13th General Hospitals, 8th Division, Second Australian Imperial Force.”

“These women demonstrated the bravery, courage and compassion that our nurses are known for, from their sisters who forged the path of service in the First World War, through to the nurses of today’s Australian Defence Force who continue these proud traditions.”

“May their sacrifice always be remembered.”

The ceremony will raise funds for two Australian College of Nursing Foundation initiatives aimed at ensuring the legacy of the Bangka Island Massacre continues to live on strong in Australia today. These include leading fundraising efforts to create a sculpture of survivor Lieutenant Colonel Vivian Bullwinkel, AO, MBE, ARRC, ED, FNM, FRCNA on the grounds of the Australian War Memorial and new nursing scholarships in the names of the 21 Australian nurses who died at Bangka island.

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