To ensure their legacy lives on, The Australian College of Nursing Foundation is establishing a scholarship in the name of each of the 21 nurses who died in the Bangka Island Massacre.
The nurses lost their lives following the sinking of the Vyner Brooke on 14 February 1942 in the Bangka Island Massacre on 16 February 1942.
The SS Vyner Brooke carried 65 Australian Army Nursing Service nurses were evacuated from Singapore due to the pending Japanese invasion. When the ship was bombed in the Bangka Strait shortly after leaving port 12 nurses died.
Australian War Memorial records state Inverell nurse, Marjorie Schuman, was one of those who were evacuated on the SS Vyner Brooke. While it has never been confirmed, official records presume 31-year-old Sister Schuman drowned following the sinking.
Another 22 nurses made their way to the nearby Bangka Island where they became victims of one of the worst atrocities of the war. The nurses were ordered to walk into the sea and were machine-gunned from behind in what is now known as the Bangka Island Massacre. Only Lieutenant Colonel Vivian Bullwinkel AO, MBE, ARRC, ED, FNM, FRCNA survived after receiving non-fatal gunshot wounds and pretending to be dead - the other 21 nurses perished.
Kathleen Nuess, a former Inverell High School student and nurse at the Inverell Hospital, was serving with the Australian Army Nursing Service as part of the 8th Division Australian Imperial Force. She was also one of the nurses to be shot dead in the back on the beach.
Sister Mary Eleanor [Ellie] McGlade was an orphan raised by nuns in St Ursula's Convent in Armidale. And at only 39-years-old, she was among the nurses shot on Radji beach after their ship, SS Vyner Brooke, was sunk in Bangka Strait by Japanese aircraft off the coast of what is now Indonesia.
The scholarships aim to inspire younger generations of nurses to lead their own contemporary journeys in providing exceptional skilled health care for all Australians.
To mark the 80th anniversary of the sinking and massacre, Australian College of Nursing CEO Adjunct Professor Kylie Ward FACN reflected on the incredible courage the nurses displayed in the most horrific of situations and highlighted their legacy still has a lasting impact on the nursing profession today.
Even in their final moments, they stayed true in their commitment to care for others, with several supporting their injured nursing colleagues walk into the water before their tragic deaths.
"Eighty years ago, a group of Australian nurses paid the ultimate sacrifice for their dedication to serve their country and use their expertise to care for those who needed it most," she said.
"All the nurses onboard the Vyner Brooke were highly skilled professionals at the cutting edge of health care innovation for their time. They had a variety of clinical and personal backgrounds and came from all over Australia from Perth to Broken Hill, Sydney to Ballarat and everywhere in-between.
"When the bombs were falling on the ship, it was the nurses who stood tall to lead the ship's evacuation and treat the injured. On Bangka Island, they endured exceptionally trying conditions in the face of death. Even in their final moments, they stayed true in their commitment to care for others, with several supporting their injured nursing colleagues walk into the water before their tragic deaths.
"The group's courage, leadership and professional skill continue to have a legacy on nurses in Australia today. These traits are what make us proud to be nurses and our profession never forgets the immense sacrifice of those who came before us."
The scholarships will be in addition to leading the fundraising to erect a sculpture of Vivian Bullwinkel in the grounds of the Australian War Memorial.
Australia needs many more nursing scholarships to support nurses as they invest in their education to ensure they have the skills to deliver the standard of health care Australia is known for.
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