On 12 February 1942, Singapore was just days away from its fall to the Japanese. As the city burned, hundreds of desperate people scrambled to the docks to flee. Amongst them were 65 Australian Army nurses, who boarded a coastal freighter, the Vyner Brooke.
But theirs was a doomed voyage. Japanese bombers attacked and sank the vessel off Sumatra. Those who survived drifted for up to three days before making landfall on one of the many beaches on Banka Island.
A group of survivors, including 22 nurses, gathered at Radji Beach. They voted to surrender, but the Japanese patrol that found them divided them into three groups and the executions began. In the last group were the Australian nurses, who died in a hail of bullets as they walked, abreast, into the sea.
Miraculously, there was one survivor, Vivian Bullwinkel, who in spite of a bullet wound endured 13 days in the jungle before surrendering to another Japanese patrol. She was reunited with the other surviving Vyner Brooke nurses in a makeshift camp on the island. Three-and-a-half years later, only 24 made it home.
Meticulously researched from the diaries and papers of some of the nurses who survived, this is a moving account of the fate of every nurse who boarded the Vyner Brooke that day.
About The Author
Ian Shaw is passionate about social history, and stories that resonate well beyond the time and place in which they occurred, and which speak of broader characteristics we associate with being "Australian". On Radji Beach is his second book. His third, Glenrowan, is due to be published mid-2012.