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'ordered to leave'
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Fall of Singapore
'ordered to leave'
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Sisters Ellen Keats (left) and Elizabeth Pyman,
10th Australian General Hospital, before the
beginning of the campaign. Pyman reached
safety in Australia on the Empire Star and Keats
who was evacuated on the Vyner Brooke the next
day was killed in the Banka Island massacre.

Fearing for the safety of the nurses, General Bennett ordered their evacuation from the island. Although reluctant to leave when there was so much work to be done, 59 Australian Army Nursing Service (AANS) nurses and physiotherapists left Singapore on the Empire Star on 11 February. The ship carried more than 2000 evacuees, including civilians. Japanese bombers attacked the ship the next day. Two of the nursing sisters who dragged wounded men to safety were decorated for their courage. Sister Margaret Anderson was awarded the George Medal for her actions and Sister Vera Torney was made a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE). Sister Anderson's portrait and medals are on display in the Australian War Memorial in Canberra. Unlike their colleagues on the Vyner Brooke, the nursing sisters on the Empire Star reached safety in Australia despite the Japanese attack.

Photo
Three nurses of the 2/4th Casualty Clearing Station evacuated on the Vyner Brooke. Only Sister Mavis Hannah (centre) survived the war as a prisoner of war in Sumatra. Matron Irene Drummond (right) was killed in the massacre on Banka Island and Sister Dora Gardam (left) died on 4 April 1945 as a prisoner of war.
[AWM 120519]

The remaining 65 AANS nurses sailed from Singapore on the Vyner Brooke on 12 February 1942. Two days later, and within half an hour of Sumatra, their ship was bombed and sunk. Twelve of the nurses were drowned or killed in the water and the rest struggled ashore on Banka Island - some having spent over 60 hours in the water.

On Radji Beach, Japanese soldiers ordered 22 of the nurses and one civilian woman into the sea where they were machine-gunned. Only one of the women, Sister Vivienne Bullwinkel, survived and she lay in the water until the troops had left. Unable to survive in the jungle, she later surrendered and was interned with her colleagues on Banka Island and later on Sumatra for the remainder of the war. They experienced shocking living conditions and eight of these army nurses died during captivity. Only 24 were rescued on 16 September 1945.

 

 

Australia at war 3 September 1939
Libya and the Siege of Tobruk 1941
Greece and Crete April-May 1941
Syria and Lebanon June 1941
Malaya December 1941 to Moresby May 1942
Australia under attack 1940-1945
Coral Sea, Kokoda, Milne Bay May-September 1942
El Alamein October-November 1942
The Home Front 1939-1945
The Coastwatchers 1941-1945
Australian prisoners of war 1940-1945
Little-known operations 1939-1945
Papua 1942-1943
The Japanese retreat March 1943-January 1944
War at sea 1939-1945
Air war Europe 1939-1945
Bougainville, Borneo, New Britain, New Guinea 1944-1945
8 May 1945/15 August 1945
Australia at war 3 September 1939
Libya and the Siege of Tobruk 1941
Greece and Crete April-May 1941
Syria and Lebanon June 1941
Malaya December 1941 to Moresby May 1942
Australia under attack 1940-1945
Coral Sea, Kokoda, Milne Bay May-September 1942
El Alamein October-November 1942
The Home Front 1939-1945
The Coastwatchers 1941-1945
Australian prisoners of war 1940-1945
Little-known operations 1939-1945
Papua 1942-1943
The Japanese retreat March 1943-January 1944
War at sea 1939-1945
Air war Europe 1939-1945
Bougainville, Borneo, New Britain, New Guinea 1944-1945
8 May 1945/15 August 1945