Bangka Island massacre
Coordinates: The Bangka Island massacre was committed on 16 February 1942, when Imperial Japanese soldiers machine gunned 22 Australian Army nurses (only one survived) and some 60 Australian and British soldiers and crew members from two sunken ships (only two survived).
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 64 nurses of the 2/13th Australian General Hospital. The ship was bombed by Japanese aircraft and sank. Two nurses were killed in the bombing; nine were last seen drifting away from the ship on a raft and never heard from again; and the rest reached shore at Bangka Island, in the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia).
These nurses joined a group of men and injured personnel from the ship. 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. A small group of women and children followed him. 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. A Japanese officer ordered the remaining 22 nurses and one civilian woman to walk into the surf. 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. Wounded soldiers left on stretchers were then bayoneted and killed.
Shot in the diaphragm, Bullwinkel was unconscious when she washed up on the beach and was left for dead. She evaded capture for 10 days, but was eventually caught and imprisoned. She survived the war and gave evidence of the massacre at a war crimes trial in Tokyo in 1947.
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