• Entry type: Person
  • Entry ID: AWE0362

Bullwinkel, Vivian

(1915 – 2000)
  • Born 18 December, 1915, Kapunda South Australia Australia
  • Died 3 July, 2000, Perth Western Australia Australia
  • Occupation Health administrator, Nurse, Servicewoman


Vivian Bullwinkel was the sole survivor of the 1942 Banka Island massacre. Post-war, she was Matron of Melbourne’s Fairfield Hospital.


Vivian Bullwinkel grew up in Broken Hill, New South Wales, and Adelaide, South Australia. Her father had migrated to Australia from Essex in 1912 and worked as a jackaroo on a station near Broken Hill before he married and took on a clerical post with Broken Hill South Pty Ltd. Vivian’s grandfather was William John Shegog, a member of the South Australian Police Force. At the age of nine, she moved to Adelaide to live with her grandparents but returned to attend Broken Hill High School when she was thirteen. In 1934 she began nursing and midwife training at the Broken Hill and District Hospital. From February 1939 she was working at the Kia-Ora Hospital in Hamilton, Victoria, but moved to Melbourne to enlist at the outbreak of war and worked for a time at the Jessie MacPherson Hospital.

In May 1941, Bullwinkel volunteered for the Australian Army Nursing Service (AANS) and sailed for Singapore, assigned to the 2/13th Australian General Hospital. In February 1942, she boarded the SS Vyner Brooke with 65 other nurses to flee Singapore following an invasion by Japanese troops, but the ship was sunk by Japanese aircraft two days later. A large number of passengers, including 22 nurses, made it ashore to Radji Beach on Banka Island and decided to surrender to the Japanese. They were joined the following day by about 100 British soldiers. Upon being discovered by Japanese soldiers, however, the men were killed and the nurses ordered to wade into the sea where they were machine-gunned from behind. Bullwinkel was struck by a bullet but feigned death until her persecutors had left. The sole survivor of the massacre, she hid for twelve days before surrendering and spent a further three and a half years in captivity.

Bullwinkel served in Japan in 1946 and 1947 before resigning from the Army as Captain, but she rejoined the Citizen Military Forces in 1955 and served until 1970, when she retired as Lieutenant Colonel. Post-war, Bullwinkel spent 16 years as Matron of Melbourne’s Fairfield Hospital and continued as Director of Nursing there until 1977. In that year, she married Colonel F.W. Statham and moved to Perth. She was a member of the Council of the Australian War Memorial, and president of the Australian College of Nursing. In 1992, she returned to Banka Island to unveil a shrine to the nurses who died there.

Vivian Bullwinkel was appointed to the Order of Australia (AO) on 26 January 1993, appointed a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) on 1 January 1973 and awarded the Royal Red Cross Medal on 6 March 1947 for service to the veteran and ex-prisoner of war communities, to nursing, to the Red Cross Society and to the community. She was also the winner of the Florence Nightingale Medal.

Photographs, newspaper articles and memorabilia relating to Vivian Bullwinkel were exhibited at the RSL in Argent Street, Broken Hill, in 2000 and the foyer of the Broken Hill Health Service has been named in her honour.



  • 1993 - 1993

    Order of Australia (AO)

  • 1973 - 1973

    Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE)

  • 2047 - 2047

    Royal Red Cross Medal

  • 1961 - 1977

    Matron of the Fairfield Hospital, Victoria

  • 1956 - 1960

    Assistant Matron of the Repatration General Hospital, Victoria

  • 1940 - 1941

    Staff member of the Jessie McPherson Hospital, Melbourne

  • 1939 - 1940

    Staff member of the Hamilton Private Hospital, Victoria

  • 1941 - 1941

    Staff member of the 13th Australian General Hospital, Australian Infantry Forces

  • 2042 - 2042

    Sole survivor of Banka Island, where 21 Australian army nurses were massacred by Japanese soldiers

  • 1988 - 1989

    Warden of Western Australian State War Memorial (first woman to be appointed)

  • 1973 - 1978

    Member of the Council of Directors of the Royal Humane Society

  • 1973 - 1977

    Member of the Council College of Nursing Australia

  • 1973 - 1974

    President of the College of Nursing Australia

  • 1972 - 1974

    President of the Soroptimist Clubs, Victoria

  • 1964 - 1973

    Deputy Principal of the Commandant Australia Red Cross Society

  • 1992 - 1992

    Honourary Life Member of the Australia Red Cross Society

  • 1963 - 1977

    Trustee of the National War Memorial, Canberra

  • 1977 - 1977

    Married Col. F W Statham OBE, ED

  • 2001 - 2001

    Inducted into the Victorian Honour Roll of Women

Published resources

  • Resource Section
  • Book
    • Uncommon Australians: Towards an Australian Portrait Gallery, Faigan, Julian, 1992
    • Twentieth-Century Women of Courage, Escott, Beryl E, 1999
    • Australian nurses since Nightingale 1860-1990, Burchill, Elizabeth, 1992
    • Just wanted to be there : Australian Service Nurses 1899-1999, Reid, Richard, 1999
    • A Woman's war : the exceptional life of Wilma Oram Young, AM, Angell, Barbara, 2003
    • Portraits in Australian Health, Best, John, 1988
    • Our War Nurses: The History of the Royal Australian Army Nursing Corps 1902-1988, Goodman, R.D., 1988
    • Some Outstanding Women of Broken Hill and District, Camilleri, Jenny, 2002
    • Broken Hill, Kearns, Richard Hugh Bell, 1974
  • Edited Book
    • Who's Who in Australia 1998, Neto, Maryanne (researcher), 1997
  • Resource
  • Newspaper Article
    • Nurses revisit war hell (Bangka Island, Singapore), Warnock, Steve and Chapman, Barry (Photographer), 1993
    • Tributes pour in for the hero of Paradise Road, 2000
    • WWII nursing heroine dies, 2000
    • Heroic wartime nurse Vivian Bullwinkel dies in hospital, aged 84, 2000
    • Butchery on Bangka, 1977
    • Lasting testimony to local war hero, Murray-Wilson, Brad, 2002
    • Bullwinkel honored as World War Two hero, 2001
    • Exhibition highlights wartime survivor, 2000
    • Nurse's bravery example to others, 2000
    • State funeral farewell for Sister Bullwinkel, Mayes, Andrea, 2000
    • Third Anzac arrives home, 1997
    • She looked for a warm place to die, 1972
    • Nurses Four Years' Ordeal, 1962
  • Article
    • Service nurses honoured with long awaited memorial, 1999
  • Journal Article
    • Vivian Statham, nee Bullwinkel: Eulogy for State Funeral, St Georges Cathedral, Perth, Monday 10 July 2000, Scott, Bruce, 2000
  • Lecture
    • Speech on the occasion of the dedication of the site of the Australian Service Nurses' National Memorial Canberra, Scott, the Hon. Bruce MP, Minister for Veterans' Affairs, 1997, http://www.dva.gov.au/media/speeches
  • Site Exhibition

Archival resources

  • Australian War Memorial, Research Centre
    • [War Crimes and Trials - Affidavits and Sworn Statements:]
    • List of Awards for Services rendered whilst Prisoners-of-War
    • [War Crimes and Trials - Affidavits and Sworn Statements:]
    • [Campaign in Malaya and Singapore - Escape before and after capitulation and evacuation of civilians:]
    • Official Historian 1939-1945 War, biographical files
    • Group portrait of Australian Army Nursing Service (AANS) nurses, who were former prisoners of war (POWs), ob board the hospital ship Manunda on its arrival in Australia
  • National Archives of Australia, Melbourne Office
    • Bullwinkel, V Sister - International Military Tribunal
    • Bullwinkel, Vivian
  • National Archives of Australia, Sydney Office
    • [Radio talk presented by ABC war correspondent Haydon Lennard] Release of nurses & civilian internees Sumatra (Including Sister Vivian Bullwinkel) [18 pages; box 7]
  • Outback Archives, Broken Hill City Library
    • Bullwinkel, Vivian

Related entries

  • Related Organisations
    • Australian Army Nursing Service (AANS) (1902 - 1948)
    • Australian Red Cross Victoria (1914 - )
  • Related Cultural Artefacts
    • Australian Ex-Prisoners of War Memorial
  • Related Women
    • Jeffrey, Agnes (Betty) (1908 - 2000)
    • Drummond, Irene Melville (1905 - 1942)
  • Related Concepts
    • Community Services, Australian Red Cross
  • Membership
    • Soroptimist International of the South West Pacific (SISWP)