On 14th February 1942, 65 Australian Army Nursing Service nurses were evacuated from Singapore on the SS Vyner Brooke due to the pending Japanese invasion. Twelve died when the ship was bombed in the Bangka Strait shortly after leaving port.
Twenty-two of the group made their way to the nearby Bangka Island where they cared for the wounded for two days, including women and children, civilians, and soldiers.
Two days later, on the 16 of February, the Japanese army found the group on the beach, and the surviving soldiers were killed. The nurses were ordered to walk into the sea. Twenty-one were shot and killed, with the only survivor of the massacre Lieutenant Colonel Vivian Bullwinkel AO, MBE, ARRC, ED, FNM, FRCNA. Lt Col Bullwinkel survived after receiving non-fatal gunshot wounds.
After the war, Lt Col Vivian Bullwinkel became Matron of the Fairfield Infectious Diseases Hospital in Melbourne. Lt Col Bullwinkel established the Australian Nurses Memorial Centre (ANMC) with fellow prisoners of war, Betty Jeffrey and Beryl Woodbridge. She continued to advocate for better education and conditions for nurses and was instrumental in transitioning nursing education into the university sector.
Lt Col Bullwinkel was the first female member of the Council of the Australian War Memorial.