Guide to the Papers of Vivian Bullwinkel




The collection comprises Bullwinkel's diaries and notebooks covering 1941-1942; postcards, albums of correspondence relating to her experience as an Australian Army Sister; original transcripts based on her testimony at the Tokyo war trials in 1942; photographs, news cuttings, letters and ephemera relating to her postwar career which included work with the Red Cross and ex-service, nursing and other voluntary organisations. Donated by Vivian Bullwinkel in October 1999 and April 2000. Records were transferred to the Australian War Memorial in two consignments: diaries and notebooks from the war years in 1999, correspondence and albums in 2000. Processing and collection guide completed in 2001.

SERIES 1: Wartime diaries and papers,1941-1946 - Bullwinkel's wartime diaries contain daily entries dated from 29 August 1941 to 14 February 1942. The diaries describe her experience in Malaya up to the fall of Singapore. Notebooks and other papers kept while Bullwinkel was a prisoner of war include recipes, poems, songs and sketches. Other papers relate to the war crimes trials in Tokyo held in 1946.; SERIES 2: Correspondence,1941-1945 - Early correspondence in this series is principally between Bullwinkel and her mother, Eva Bullwinkel. It covers the period from Bullwinkel's enlistment in 13 AGH to the fall of Singapore and the evacuation of Bullwinkel and her colleagues aboard the Vyner Brooke. There is a folder of letters written by Eva Bullwinkel seeking information as to Bullwinkel's fate and letters written by Eva to Bullwinkel that were returned to sender. Items 3, 4, and 5 comprise letters, cards and telegrams sent during 1945 when Bullwinkel was found alive in a prison camp in Sumatra and repatriated to Australia. Items 6 and 7 comprise letters written from 1946 to 1950. For preservation reasons, copies only will be issued to researchers.; SERIES 3: Albums, 1916-1998 - Albums of official papers, photographs, newspaper cuttings, correspondence and ephemera relating to activities around Australia, work for voluntary organisations, attendance at Memorial services and prisoner of war reunions.; SERIES 4: Honours and awards and postwar service in Royal Australian Nursing Corps, 1947-1992 - Correspondence, newspaper cuttings and photographs relating to awards bestowed upon Bullwinkel after the Second World War. Associate of the Royal Red Cross (March 1947) The Florence Nightingale Medal (May 1947) Efficiency Decoration (1969) Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (1 January 1973) Order of Australia (1993) Honorary Life Membership of the Australian Red Cross Society (March 1992); SERIES 5: Soroptomist Club,1963-1982 - Album of papers relating to Bullwinkel's membership in the Soroptomist Club. Includes correspondence, booklets and speeches.; SERIES 6: Newspaper cuttings,1945-1949; SERIES 7: Photographs, 1922-1950; SERIES 8: Prisoner of war accounts - These two albums include various accounts of the experience of Australian prisoners of war.

In 1941, at the age of 26, Bullwinkel enlisted in the Australian Army Nursing Service, Australian Imperial Force. She reported for duty in May and in September embarked for Singapore as a Staff Nurse with the newly raised 2/13th AGH. She served in Singapore from September 1941 until she was evacuated with 64 other Australian Army Nursing Sisters aboard a small coastal steamer, the Vyner Brooke on 12 February 1942. On 14 February, heading for Sumatra via Banka Strait, the ship was sunk by Japanese bombers.Bullwinkel's diaries and notebooks, with entries dated from August 1941 to February 1942, give first hand account of the evacuation from Singapore, and the sinking of the Vyner Brooke by Japanese bombers on 14 February 1942: 'Beautiful sunny morning, calm sea, and anchored very pretty island. Peacefulness disturbed as planes flew over and machine-gunned boat, all took to lower deck as pre-arranged, but raid all over and much discussion on planes sinking us and enemy aircraft. Took up anchor and steamed along. 2 pm air raid siren. All down to lower deck and flatten down. Six planes attacking once more, bombs hit, second, third time, third bomb below the water line. Whistle for all on deck to take to life boats. Wight, Nourse, Cuthbertson, several civilians injured...' Bullwinkel was with a group of survivors on Banka Island when a Japanese patrol arrived and ordered the 22 women in the group to walk into the sea. They were machine-gunned from behind. All except Bullwinkel were killed. After two weeks in the jungle on Banka Island caring for a wounded British soldier, Bullwinkel gave herself up and rejoined other Sisters who had made it to shore. The surviving 32 Sisters spent the next three and a half years as prisoners of war on Banka Island and Sumatra. Of the original 65 nurses evacuated from Singapore on the Vyner Brooke, only 24, including Bullwinkel, returned to Australia. During their internment, eight Sisters died in the last seven months of their captivity as a result of malnutrition and other easily treated diseases. Among Bullwinkel's papers is the only postcard she was allowed to send home, in March 1943. Exemplifying the courage of the Sisters, she made light of her situation. Bullwinkel wrote to her mother, 'My roving spirit has been somewhat checked'. Bullwinkel gave evidence before the Tokyo war crimes trials in December 1946 and was described a model witness. Included in the collection is her original transcript at the war crimes trials and her notes listing war crimes committed by the Japanese while she was a prisoner of war. The albums of correspondence provide a rich source of testimony concerning Bullwinkel's experience as an Australian Army Sister and the impact her story had on Australians at the end of the war. There is a delightful postwar illustrated series sent in by school children, 'Dear friend, I hope you will soon be home again. Home is the best place. Thank you for helping to win the war'. Particularly poignant are the many letters sent to Bullwinkel by relatives of her colleagues, seeking information about the fate of their loved ones. Bullwinkel's career can be traced through the albums, comprising photographs, newspaper cuttings, letters and ephemera. After the war, Bullwinkel retained her position at Heidelberg Military Hospital when it was taken over by the Department of Repatriation, and as Assistant Matron continued to care for Australian servicemen. From 1955 to 1970, she served as Lieutenant Colonel in 3 Royal Australian Nursing Corps Training Unit (CMF). On retirement in 1977, she was Director of Nursing, Fairfield Infectious Diseases Hospital, Victoria. While at Fairfield, she organised a rescue mission to evacuate Vietnamese war orphans from Saigon and supervised their convalescence before adoption to Australian families. She worked tirelessly for the Red Cross, ex-service, nursing and other voluntary organizations. An achievement close to her heart was the instigation of nursing scholarships so that Malaysian nurses could finish training in Australia. Bullwinkel received many honours and awards, and the albums contain the commendations for several of these. She was selected by the National Heritage 2000 Committee for inclusion in the Bicentennial publication of The people who made Australia. The photographs include one autographed by Queen Mary, presented to Bullwinkel after an audience in 1951, and another from the set of 'Paradise Road', autographed with thanks by the film's director, Bruce Beresford, in 1997. Bullwinkel married Col Francis West Statham OBE, ED in September 1977. She returned to Banka Island in 1992 to select a site for a memorial. The series of photographs contain images of this journey. In 1993, with the dedication of the memorial on Banka, she fulfilled a long-held ambition to make a fitting tribute to her colleagues. Wartime diaries and papers are arranged in Series 1. The remaining papers are arranged in folders in chronological order. Correspondence 1941-1945 is arranged in Series 2. The albums (Series 3) contain a variety of material, including photographs, letters and news cuttings arranged by year and dating from before the war to 1998. Other material is arranged thematically: Honours and awards (Series 4), Soroptimist Club (Series 5), newspaper cuttings (Series 6), photographs (Series 7) and POW accounts (Series 8). Bullwinkel's postwar nursing career, particularly at Fairfield Hospital, is not well represented in the collection.

Contact Senior Curator, Private Records, Australian War Memorial.

Open - Contact Senior Curator, Private Records, Australian War Memorial.

Selected additional and related material available at using the search terms described under 'subject _local'. Copies of many items from the Memorial's collections may also be purchased @


Australian Army Nursing Service; Prisoners of War; Second World War; World war Two

Correspondence; Diaries; Personal papers

Prisoners of War; World wars

Vivian Bullwinkel

Coverage Temporal



Related Collections


2012-05-30 23:43

2011-06-08 12:32