Nurses’ families to visit spot of massacre
16/2/17 – Lauren Farrow – AAP
Michael Noyce never met his aunt Kath Neuss but her story, and that of the 21 other Australian nurses shot on an Indonesian beach 75 years ago, loomed large throughout his life.
“She was my mother’s best friend and my father’s older sister. She was the person who introduced my parents,” Mr Noyce told AAP. “She was always included in all the stories when I was growing it. It always felt like she was in the room.” It’s an experience Mr Noyce shares with many of the descendants of the Australian nurses.
On the morning of February 16, 1942, the women found themselves marching out to sea on Bangka Island while Japanese guns were levelled at their backs. Twenty-one were killed on Radji Beach, on what is now Indonesia, but one survived – Sister Vivian Bullwinkel – also known as ‘Bully’.
She went on to tell of the horror of what became known as the Bangka Island Massacre, writing to the women’s families after the war ended. She would also go on to give evidence at the International War Crimes Tribunal in Tokyo.
The nurses had been evacuated from Singapore aboard the SS Vyner on February 12.
Two days later, while heading through the Bangka Strait, the Vyner Brooke was attacked and sunk by Japanese bombers. Up to 100 people, including 22 Australian nurses, as well as British sailors and soldiers, are believed to have found themselves washed up on Radji Beach.
They surrendered to the Japanese, but on the morning of August 16 – the shipwrecked men were separated into two groups and shot and bayoneted. The Australian nurses were then killed, followed by those who lay injured on stretchers on the beach.
To commemorate the 75th anniversary of the massacre, around 80 people including the descendants of the nurses, as well as family and friends of the civilian internees, existing members of the Australian Army Nursing Corps, and locals, will attend a service at Muntok on Thursday.
Many are expected to continue to the remote Radji beach – where a service will be held. Mr Noyce said family and friends will lay a plaque at the beach, describing what happened.
They hope the story of the Australian nurses and the others killed in the massacre will not be forgotten and that stronger ties can be forged with the local community. “Out of this horrendous tragedy potentially a lot of good can come,” he said.
WWII, Australia, Nurses