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Bangka Island Massacre, 16th February 1942

By James F February 15, 2017

Today marks the 75th anniversary of the Bangka Island massacre, Radji Beach, Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia). On the 16 February 1942, Japanese soldiers machine-gunned 22 Australian World War II Army nurses and killed 60 soldiers and crew members both Australian and British from 2 sunken ships. From the 22 Nurses killed on that day, there was only one sole survivor, Sister Vivian Bullwinkel.

Australian Sister Kath Neuss was gunned down in the Bangka Island Massacre. Photo: Jewel Topsfield

Several days earlier the 22 nurses boarded the SS Vynor Brooke in Singapore and were evacuated due to the fall of Singapore at the hands of the Japanese Imperial Forces. The ship was bombed off the coast of the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia) and sunk resulting in the survivors washing up across various locations on Bangka Island.

With a mixture of service men and woman, ship crew members, civilian men, woman and children amongst the survivors, they explored the location and soon realized that the island was occupied by the Japanese Imperial Forces.

The survivors decided that it was best that the civilian men, women, and children leave for Muntok and separate themselves from the service men and woman. An officer from the Vynor Brooke also traveled to Muntok to alert the Japanese authorities of the service men and women's presence and offer their surrender.

Japanese shoulders returned to the sunken ship survivors and ordered all men capable of walking to a secluded headland location and were promptly executed by rifle shot and bayonet.

Australian  headland Sister Kath Neuss Vivian-Bullwinkel-Bangka-Island-Massacre-Radjik-Beach-close-upThe headland where the soldiers were executed on Radji Beach. Source: Muntok nurses and internees


The remaining nurses and badly injured that remained behind could hear the quick crack of gunfire and then shortly the soldiers returned, cleaning their bayonets as they reemerged.

The nurses were then ordered into the surf, as a machine gun was set up by the Japanese on the shore and then they were machine-gunned to death.


Vivian-Bullwinkel-Bangka-Island-Massacre-Radjik-Beach 75th anniversary
Serving Humanity by Brian Wood Commemorates 100 years of Australian military nursing - 1899 to 1999 and dramatically portrays the tragic events that took place on Bangka Island (bottom right corner). For the full story behind this painting, see here

After bayonetting to death all remain injured men on the shore the soldiers then left. From the 22 nurses shot only 1 survived, St Vivian Bullwinkel. Vivian was shot through the stomach and immediately went into shock and lay motionless in the surf and waited for the soldiers to leave. For 3 days she lay unconscious and when she eventually woke encountered Private Patrick Kingsley, a British soldier that had also survived this merciless attack.

Australian Sister Kath Neuss Vivian-Bullwinkel-Bangka-Island-Massacre-Radji-Beach-close-up profile pic.jpgSt Vivian Bullwinkel was the lone survivor of the 22 nurses

 Vivian while seriously wounded still managed to care for the wounded officer but unfortunately Patrick died en-route to the closest POW camp. Vivian would then spend more than 3 years as a Japanese POW with other Australian nurses where they were starved, tortured and refused medicine.

In what can only be described as pure heroism, Vivian survived the war and later gave evidence of the massacre at a war crimes trial in Tokyo in 1947.

75 years later the victims of this massacre are survived by loved ones that have petitioned for the Australian Government and the Australian War Memorial to hold an official ceremony and service on Bangka Island to officially commemorate the anniversary. About 80 people will attend the event including friends and relatives of the nurses and civilian internees and existing members of the Australian Army Nursing Corps. 

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