Pacific News Minute: Female Historians Uncover Unsanitized Facts Of The Bangka Massacre In 1942

Apr 24, 2019

Vivian Bullwinkel
Credit Wikimedia Commons

A new book out in Australia reports that 22 Australian nurses were raped by Japanese troops before they were machine gunned in February, 1942. The book also says that Australian officials gagged the sole survivor of the massacre.

War crimes committed 75 years ago continue to haunt Japan’s relations, not just with China and South Korea, but across much of the Asia-Pacific. 

This much was already known.

In February, 1942, a crowded coastal steamer escaped the besieged city of Singapore, only to be sunk by Japanese aircraft off the coast of Bangka Island – just east of Sumatra. About a hundred survivors gathered on Radji Beach. The able bodied walked to a Japanese army post to surrender; 22 nurses stayed behind to tend the wounded.

When Japanese soldiers arrived they forced all men able to walk around a point, maybe fifty all together. Only Japanese troops returned. The Australian nurses were ordered to walk into the surf, and then machine gunned from behind. The remaining wounded were bayonetted.

With the help of broadcaster Tess Lawrence and biographer Barbara Angell, Lynette Silver found the testimony of the sole survivor, a nurse named Vivian Bullwinkel, who played dead in the water and later endured three years as a Japanese prisoner. She said the nurses had been raped before they were shot.

While she testified to the massacre at the Tokyo War Crimes tribunal, she was ordered not to discuss the rapes. Partly, Ms. Silver told the BBC, to protect the families of the nurses from shame. Ms. Lawrence said that before she died in 2000, Vivian Bullwinkle told her what had happened, and that keeping the secret had tortured her for the rest of her life.

The perpetrators of the atrocity have never been identified.