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These are the stories of the Radji Beach nurses

Thursday 7 February, 2019

On the 16th of February 1942, 21 nurses of the Australian Army Nursing Service (AANS) were brutally murdered on Radji Beach by Japanese forces. It was said that the Japanese “took no prisoners”, which proved to be true as even these nurses, who all wore Red Cross arm bands, were not spared.

Only one nurse survived the massacre on Radji Beach. Vivian Bullwinkel’s story is incredible; you can read more about Vivian here

These are the faces and stories of the 21 nurses who tragically lost their lives in the cruellest of circumstances on Radji Beach that day.



BY: Josephine O’Neill

No legendary figures, but ordinary women, you, who died

Facing the water, last glance each to each

Along the beach, leaving your bodies to the accustomed surf

Your hearts to home

No legendary figures, but ordinary women, you, who lived

Holding the spirit, through the camps slow slime

Unsoiled by time …

Bringing your laughter out of degraded toil

As a gift to home

As ordinary women, by your dying you fortify the mind

As ordinary women, by your living you honor all mankind.





Sr. Elaine Balfour-Ogilvy

Elaine, or Lainie as she was affectionately called by her family and friends, was the youngest daughter of a prominent pioneer family in Renmark.

She attended Woodlands Grammar School in Adelaide, where she excelled in many subjects and co-curricular activities including debate, drama and a number of sporting activities. Outside of school, she loved spending time in the outdoors fishing and camping with family and friends. But it was her musical ability that amazed anyone who had the privilege of hearing her sing and whilst away at the war, she would often sing to soldiers and friends of better days to come.

It has been said that her brutal and pointless death was in sharp contrast to the vibrancy she showed in life.

Sister Balfour-Ogilvy was 30 years of age when killed at Radji Beach.

Sr. Alma Beard

Alma was born at “Tellmell”, the family farm in Toodyay, Western Australia.

Alma was an excellent horse-rider and as a child, she would compete in dressage events at the local show.

After boarding at Mercedes College in Perth for a year, she returned home at the age of 17 and commenced nursing training at Perth Hospital.

On the 19th of June 1941, at the age of 28, Alma enlisted in Perth and joined the AANS.

Minutes before Alma was brutally murdered alongside her peers, Vivian Bullwinkel recalls that she leaned towards her and said ‘Bully, there are two things I have always hated in my life, the Japanese and the sea, and today I’ve ended up with both.’

Sister Beard was 29 years of age when killed at Radji Beach.

Sr. Ada Bridge

Ada, who was known as ‘Joyce’ to her colleagues, spent a joyful childhood in her home town of Scone in New South Wales.  She was described as a happy girl, who enjoyed her life to the full. She would enjoy many outdoor activities with her brother, including riding their horses the 5km to the Public School in Belltrees each day and participating in sporting activities. 


As she grew up, her friends would describe her as a very pleasant companion; very bright with a great sense of humour. She was a genuine friend, a typical country girl who took pride in her work and was an excellent nurse.  She had a ready smile which often turned into an infectious chuckle.  She was not very tall, but her figure was slim.  Her arms were strong but her hands were gentle.  Joyce was socially very popular, and being an excellent dancer, she enjoyed the local dances.


Sister Bridge was 34 years of age when killed at Radji Beach.

Sr. Florence Casson

Florence, more affectionately known as ‘Flo’, was born in Warracknabeal in Victoria. When she was just a child, the family moved to Pinnaroo in South Australia, where she completed her schooling before completing her nursing training in Adelaide.

Before enlisting at Wayville on the 7th of February 1941, Florence was Matron at the Pinnaroo Hospital, where a plaque is now displayed in her honour.

Florence had been badly injured during the bombing of the Vyner Brooke. The blasts had caused severe damage to both of her legs, one of which was thought to be fractured.

Florence remained a brave and strong woman, but was unable to walk, and when ordered to line up on the shoreline she was supported by her friends on either side. “ … Flo and Rosetta and Clare and the sisters supporting them fell under the gun, grouped together in death as in life …”

Sister Casson was 38 years of age when killed at Radji Beach.

Sr. Mary Cuthbertson

Better known as ‘Beth’, Mary was born in Stirling, South Australia to William and Lillian Cuthbertson. She had two younger brothers, James and Gordon, and a younger sister, Joan. The family would later move to Ballarat, where Mary would attend High School and undertake nursing training at Ballarat Base Hospital. Mary also trained at the Queen Victoria Hospital in Melbourne.

In August 1937, it was announced that Mary was betrothed to a Dr John Scholes. Tragically, Dr Scholes passed away suddenly just 7 months later. A heartbroken Mary posted a memorial in the Adelaide and Melbourne newspapers ending with the words, “some-day we will understand.”

Sister Cuthbertson was 31 years of age when killed at Radji Beach.

Matron Irene Drummond

Irene was born on the 26th of July 1905 to Cedric Drummond, a marine engineer, and his wife Katherine. She was educated at Catholic schools in Adelaide and Broken Hill before returning to Adelaide to complete her nursing training. Irene trained at Miss Laurence’s Private Hospital and then went on to gain qualifications in obstetrics at the Queen’s Home. Following her training, she worked at hospitals in Angaston and Broken Hill where she proved to be a compassionate and extremely competent nurse, who was well liked and respected by her superiors and colleagues.

Sister Drummond was one of two matrons that were put in charge of the 2/10th and 2/13th Australian General Hospital in Malaya. She was described as a ‘quiet achiever’, always wearing her trademark round glasses. She cared deeply for the nurses under her management, she was like a mother hen fussing over her chicks and greeting all with a cheery smile and a friendly squeeze of the shoulder.

When Irene and her colleagues were ordered to line up on the shore of Radji Beach, she called out, “Chin up, girls. I’m proud of you all and I love you all.” She was still a couple of metres from the water’s edge when the bullet struck her and knocked her to the ground, she reached to find her glasses before a second bullet struck her, killing her instantly.

Matron Drummond was 36 years of age when killed at Radji Beach.

Sr. Dorothy Elmes

Born in Armadale, Victoria, Dorothy was the personality of the family. She was confident and outgoing with a quirky sense of humour. Dorothy would never be called anything but “Buddy”, because that was ‘who she was and what she was’.

After qualifying as a nurse, Dorothy mentored a group of nurses to whom she would regularly write whilst away at the war. She was said to be a superb letter writer and would ensure that she set aside a couple of hours, several times a week to write home to family and friends.

Her colleagues would describe her as ‘a most exceptional person….hair worn in a bun….hazel eyes, an infectious laugh and a long striding walk.’

Sister Elmes was 27 years of age when killed at Radji Beach.

Sr. Lorna Fairweather

Lorna Fairweather was born to Percival and Florence Fairweather in January 1913 at Stirling West, South Australia. Percival and Florence were devout Methodists and instilled a love of family and community in their children.

It was during her senior education at Adelaide Girls’ High School that Lorna decided that nursing was her vocation and she trained at Mareeba Babies Hospital where she was known for her compassion and caring nature. She completed her training at the Royal Adelaide Hospital, gaining the coveted Credit in her final examination.

She specialised in paediatrics during her training and was relieving matron at the Crippled Childrens’ Home in Somerton, South Australia at the time of enlistment.

Sister Fairweather was 29 years of age when killed at Radji Beach.

Sr. Peggy Farmaner

Peggy was born in January 1913 and was the youngest of four children. She grew up in Western Australia, attending Methodist Ladies College and St Mary’s Church of England Grammar School in Perth before completing her nursing training at Perth Hospital.

In her portrait, Peggy is seen as a refined looking young woman proudly sitting for the photo in her nurse’s uniform. Dr Tom Hamilton, who was head of the station she was posted to, described her as ‘a pretty little Western Australian, who was full of fun.’

In her last letter home to her mother, Peggy wrote: ‘God knows the position is desperate but I am strangely unperturbed. Don’t worry about me, mother.’

Sister Farmaner was 28 years of age when killed at Radji Beach.

Sr. Clarice Halligan

Born in Ballarat in September 1904, Clarice (Clare) was the third daughter in a family of 8 children. The family later moved to Melbourne and lived in a lovely Victorian house in Abbotsford, then moved on again to Kew when Clarice was a little older.

The Halligan children had a carefree childhood and regularly played at the Yarra River in Kew where they swam and bought ice cream from a punt on the River.

Clare had very strong faith, demonstrated by a life committed to helping others as a nurse alongside her work as missionary in New Guinea.

Sister Halligan was 37 years of age when killed at Radji Beach.

Sr. Nancy Harris

Nancy was born on the 15th of January 1913 to Dr John Solomon Harris and Florence Cecily Harris of North Sydney, NSW.

Nancy was educated Presbyterian Ladies College (now Pymble Ladies College), followed by nursing training at Prince Henry Hospital of Wales.

Sadly, little is known about her childhood and life before enlisting, however it is believed that she had grown up in the peaceful and serene environment of Byron Bay and possibly worked at the local Post Office before completing nursing training.

Sister Harris was 29 years of age when killed at Radji Beach.

Sr. Minnie Hodgson

Minnie Hodgson was born in Yealering, in the Western Australia’s wheatbelt, in August 1908. She attended the local school before attending Presbyterian Ladies College in 1923.

Described by her family as ‘a good country girl, used to standing up for herself’, Minnie’s time at PLC was short-lived, possibly due to her direct demeanour, which was not appreciated by the school principal of the time.

Minnie spent a few years as a Guides Patrol Leader before commencing nursing training in 1928. After qualifying, she returned to the wheatbelt and worked in various hospitals in the area before enlisting in 1941.

Sister Hodgson was 33 years of age when killed at Radji Beach.

Sr. Ellen (Nell) Keats

Ellen (Nell) Keats was born in Adelaide and was one of two daughters and twin boys born to Clarence and Ann Keats.

Nell attended St Peters Collegiate Girls School (located at North Adelaide at the time) and proved her capabilities in music and home economics in her highly- scored school examinations.

Her nursing training was completed at Parkwynd Private Hospital in 1933, transferring later to the Adelaide Hospital to complete the course with high commendations.

Whilst away at the war, Nell ensured that her letters home to her parents remained positively upbeat, recalling joyful music nights in the Mess and attending movies at the local cinema. In a letter home to her mother, Nell wrote, despite the ongoing dangers around them: ‘… don’t worry because there is no need to and don’t listen to rumours because most of them are false.’

Sister Keats was 26 years of age when killed at Radji Beach.

Sr. Janet (Jenny) Kerr

Janet Kerr was born to John and Ida Kerr of Woodstock, New South Wales in August 1910. Ida Kerr was matron of Woodstock Hospital and Jenny chose to follow in her mother’s footsteps and dedicate her own life to the care of others.

Sadly, little is known about Jenny’s life before enlistment, but a newspaper article in the Cootamundra Herald, advising her local community of Jenny’s fate, stated that she was ‘was well known and highly esteemed by everyone here’. During the late 1950s and early 1960s there was a photo of Jenny Kerr above the door to the Matron’s office at St George’s Hospital because she was held in great respect and affection by the nurses of that era.

Sister Kerr was 31 years of age when killed at Radji Beach.

Sr. Mary (Ellie) McGlade

Born in July 1903 in Armidale, New South Wales, Ellie McGlade endured a tragic start to her life. Her mother, Agnes, passed away soon after giving birth and then Ellie was orphaned when her father, Francis, sadly passed away when she was 3 years old.

Ellie’s aunt sent her to be raised by the nuns at St Ursula’s Convent in Armidale where she was remembered as a ’winsome toddler, playing about with Rex, the collie, or her family of dolls’ and later, ‘as a girl of amiable disposition, still loved by those who surround her, untiring and unselfish in her care of the sick.’

It was no surprise that Ellie would later choose nursing as her profession. She chose to specialise in obstetrics and it was believed that she made this decision because it would allow her to help young mothers in a way that her mother had not been helped. She would later become a Mothercraft nurse in the Hunter Valley.

Sister McGlade was 38 years of age when killed at Radji Beach.

Sr. Kathleen (Kath) Neuss

Kathleen (Kath) Neuss was born to John and Mary Neuss. She was the second daughter born to the couple.

Following her schooling, Kath had initially wanted to become a school teacher but she didn’t pass the entrance exam. This was of course extremely upsetting for the young woman, but she then turned her mind to nursing and trained as a private nurse in Inverell, New South Wales and then the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital before graduating in 1939.

Kath was affectionately referred to by her peers as “charismatic Kath”, a fun-loving outgoing woman with a wicked sense of humour who was always full of life.

Sister Neuss was 30 years of age when killed at Radji Beach.

Sr. Florence Salmon

Sister Salmon was born in Sydney on the 20th of October 1915 to John and Florence Salmon. Her parents had a strong connection to the Methodist Church.

Little public information is available about Florence’s childhood and life before enlistment, however we do know that she had a brother, Leonard, who also served in World War Two in the 2/12th Field Ambulance.

Tragedy was to strike the Salmon family twice during the war, as Leonard was killed in another Japanese war crime, the sinking of the Australian Hospital Ship “Centaur”. The ship was sunk by a Japanese torpedo off the coast of Queensland on 14 May 1943, killing 268 people including a great number of medical staff.

Sister Salmon was killed on Radji Beach 15 months earlier, aged 26 years.

Sr. Esther Stewart

Esther, or “Stewie” as she was more commonly known, was born to Charles and Sarah Stewart in October 1904. Her father sadly passed away when she was very young, and she seemed to have a somewhat estranged relationship with her mother later in life.

Esther was keen for an adventure, and there didn’t appear to be anything holding her back with no immediate family that she was close to and no partner. She was an independent woman, determined to make a change in her life and use her skills as a nurse to care for injured soldiers.

Esther’s pay book photo shows a cheery, open-faced woman, which no doubt would have brought much joy to the soldiers she treated.

Sister Stewart was 37 years of age when killed at Radji Beach.

Sr. Mona Tait

Mona Tait was born in February 1915 in Ipswich, Queensland.

There is little public record about Mona’s early life, however we do know that she completed her nursing training at Cessnock District Hospital, close to Newcastle in New South Wales.

Following her training, Sister Tait was in charge of the x-ray department of Canberra Hospital. After three years in this position, she enlisted in the Australian Army Nursing Service. Mona’s photo on enlistment shows a happy, fresh-faced woman with a smile that would have brought comfort to many soldiers during her time serving.

Sister Tait was 27 years of age when killed at Radji Beach.

Sr. Rosetta Wight

Rosetta Wight was born to Leslie and Rosetta Wight in Fish Creek, a small rural town south-east of Melbourne in Victoria. Rosetta was the second of four children who enjoyed a care-free and quiet life in the country.

In March 1935, “The Argus” (a Melbourne newspaper of the time) reported that Rosetta J. Wight had passed her Nurses Board exams in Bendigo Hospital in central Victoria. Sister Wight enlisted on the 8th of August 1941.

After being severely injured in the blasts from the bombing of the Vyner Brooke. She was unable to walk and had to be carried and fed by her fellow nurses. She continued to be a strong and brave woman though, right until her brutal murder.

Sister Wight was 33 years of age when killed at Radji Beach.

Sr. Bessie Wilmott

Sister Wilmott was born in Perth, Western Australia in 1913. She and her two siblings experienced a sad childhood after their mother sadly passed away when she was only six years old; the youngest of her siblings was only two years old. Her father later re-married and it appears that Bessie developed a close relationship with her step-mother.

As a child, she enjoyed the performing arts and played one of Cinderella’s step-sisters in a play at the Anglican Hall, Como (Western Australia). It was at this beachside suburb of Perth that Bessie and her siblings learned to swim at the local beach, which was close to their home.

How tragic it is that although she would spend joyful times of her childhood at a white, sandy beach, only to have her life taken at another beach some years later.

Sister Wilmott was 28 years of age when killed at Radji Beach.



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