Every ANZAC Day we hold a service at NHW, and as part of this service, we honour and remember the two brave Australian Army nurses from our hospital that were killed in WWII.
Caroline Ennis and Dorothy Elmes volunteered for the Australian Army Nursing Service (AANS) and joined other Australian nurses in Singapore.
On 12th February 1942 during the closing stages of the defence of Singapore and only three days before the fall of Malaya, 65 nurses of 2/4th Causality Clearing Station, 2/10th and 2/13th General Hospitals and the 8th Australian Division and over 250 civilian men, women and children were evacuated on the ‘SS Vyner Brooke”.
On 14th February the ship was bombed by Japanese aircraft and sunk as it passed southward through Banka Strait.
Although all of the nurses survived the bombing, 12 were either drowned before that could reach lifeboats or were swept out to sea and lost. Others spent three days endeavouring to reach land on Banka Island, having to contend with tides and currents and to navigate through mangrove swamps. Some were helped ashore by friendly natives.
One group of 22 came ashore by lifeboat on the 16th February they surrendered to Japanese troops who ordered them to walk back into the sea where they were machine-gunned by the Japanese soldiers. Only one nurse, Sister Vivien Bullwinkle, survived that massacre.
Of the 65 nurses who left Singapore on ‘SS Vyner Brooke’, 12 drowned, 21 were murdered on Radji Beach, and 32 were taken Prisoner of War (POW). 8 of these subsequently died in captivity. The remaining 24 were later rescued and returned to Australia.