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Vivian Bullwinkel’s War Crimes Trial Testimony

Wednesday 16 January, 2019

As the anniversary of the Radji Beach Massacre approaches, below is an excerpt of the testimony given by South Australian Nurse, Sister Vivian Bullwinkel, the sole survivor of the massacre, at the Japanese War Tribunal in Tokyo. Vivian’s testimony relives the horror of that day on the beach and the inconceivable hardships of being a prisoner of war for three years. It shows resilience, clarity of mind, memory, strength and the sheer survival instinct of the woman who lived through an atrocity too horrific to imagine.

AUSTRALIAN WAR CRIMES BOARD OF INQUIRY – TESTIMONY OF SISTER VIVIAN BULLWINKEL

WHAT IS YOUR NAME, SISTER? Vivian Bullwinkel

WHAT IS YOUR RANK? Lieutenant

AND I UNDERSTAND YOUR NUMBER IS VFX61330? Yes

AND YOUR UNIT 2/13 A.G.H? Yes

WHEN DID YOU LEAVE AUSTRALIA? 2nd September 1941

WHERE DID YOU GO FROM HERE? To Singapore

HOW LONG WERE YOU IN SINGAPORE? I was at Singapore about a month

WHERE DID YOU GO FROM THERE? I then went up to Jahore Bahru and was there from November until about 25th January 1942, then back to Singapore Island.

HOW LONG WERE YOU THERE? From 25th January till 12th February

AND WHAT HAPPENED? On 12th February we were sent down to the wharf to embark on the Viner Brook.

HAVE YOU ANY KNOWLEDGE OF WAR CRIMES OR ATROCITIES COMMITTED DURING YOUR STAY IN SINGAPORE? No

WHAT HAPPENED ON THE 12TH FEBRUARY? On 12th February we boarded the Viner Brook at about 5 o’clock and sailed down the harbour.

YOU KNEW WHERE YOU WERE GOING? No, we were told that we might be going to Batavia.

WERE YOU LONG AT SEA? We sailed all day Friday and on Saturday morning at about a quarter past two pm three planes appeared over us.

ON THE 14TH FEBRUARY WAS THAT? Yes, and they machine gunned and bombed the boat and she commenced to sink.

WHERE WERE YOU THEN? In the Banka Straits about 10 miles from land. We had been told that all civilians were to go over first and we were to await orders. The civilians were to go first and Matron Drummond told us to go over. There were about 12 Sisters on this part of the boat at the time. We went over and there was a submerged lifeboat beside the ship. We got into it.

WERE THERE ANY INJURED SISTERS THERE AT THE TIME? Yes, there were three injured Sisters, Sister Neuss, Sister Wight and Sister Salmon.

ABOUT HOW MANY WOULD THERE HAVE BEEN IN THE BOAT? There would be about 12 sisters, and these other three, and a ships officer.

WHO WERE THE OTHER THREE? There were two civilian women and the husband of one of them, one was Miss Beaston of the Education Department, Singapore.

YOU HAD 12 SISTERS, TWO CIVILIAN WOMEN AND ONE MAN, PLUS THE OFFICER? Yes.

WHAT FOLLOWED? We reached land about half past ten and about two miles further down the coast and there was a fire that had been lit by a previous boat that had come in. We went down there to get help and to bring the Sisters down to the fire, and we all eventually got to the fire about midnight. Whilst there a third boat from the Viner Brook arrived bringing civilian women and about four or five Sisters.

DO YOU KNOW THE NAMES OF THOSE SISTERS? Yes, Farmaner, Fairweather, Halligan, Stewart and Keats.

WHAT DID YOU DO THEN? We spent the night by the fire and it was decided next morning to try and get to the lighthouse; and, a third party consisting of about four civilian women and six Sisters and a ships officer went inland to a village to try and get information and help.

WERE YOU WITH THE PARTY THAT WENT INLAND? Yes, I went inland.

CAN YOU TELL US THE NAMES OF THE MEMBERS OF THAT PARTY? I can tell you most of them. There was Mr Sedgeman, the ships officer, Nurse Halligan, Nurse Bridge, Nurse Kerr; Nurse Tate, Nurse Harris, myself, Miss Rossi, Mrs Hutchins, Mrs Langdon Williams. The native women gave us drink whilst there but the men would not let them give us anything to bring away in the way of food or clothing. We returned to the beach and one part from the lighthouse returned but the other part we learned later had been taken prisoner.

DO YOU KNOW THE NAME OF THE VILLAGE TO WHICH YOU WENT? No, but it was about four miles inland from the beach. The position was put to the entire party on the beach.

WHO PUT THE POSITION TO THE PARTY? The ships officer, Mr Sedgeman; he explained the position that the Japanese were on the island and that there was no way of getting away, that there was no food on the island and that the only thing to do was to give ourselves up. Everybody was agreeable to that. That night there was shelling out to sea and two hours later a lifeboat arrived with about 20 Englishmen from the English Ordnance Corps.

DID YOU MAKE CONTACT WITH THE PARTY? Yes

DO YOU KNOW ANY OF THE PARTYS NAME? I know the name of one of them – Kingsley. They were told the position and what had happened on the island and they agreed that is was best to give ourselves up the next morning.

HOW MANY WERE IN THAT BOATLOAD? About 20 to 25

ABOUT HOW MANY PEOPLE ALTOGETHER WERE ON THE BEACH? By this time there would be about 100 men, women and children.

WHAT HAPPENED THE NEXT MORNING? The next morning Mr Sedgeman went over to Buntok to get the Japanese to come and collect the party and take us over. While he was away Matron Drummond who had taken charge of the women suggested that the civilian women and children should commence on the way so that there would not be so many walking off to the jungle path. They had a Chinese doctor named Tey but the Japs were on his track and he committed suicide later on.
About 10 o’clock in the morning Mr Sedgeman arrived back with a Japanese party consisting of about 20. They separated the men from the women in two bunches and the ships officer tried to tell them we were giving ourselves up as prisoners of war. They just ignored him.

HOW WERE THOSE JAPANESE DRESSED? They all had khaki shirts and trousers after the style of Jodhpurs and little caps with a star in the front of them and they all carried rifles with bayonets on them. I did not see any small arms on them. The one in charge was only a small fellow and was dressed very nattily and much tidier than the others. The suit he had on seemed to have been tailored.

DID HE HAVE ANY INSIGNIA? He carried a sword. Afterwards we found out that those who carried swords were supposed to be officers.

YOU DID NOT KNOW THE NAMES OF ANY OF THEM? No

YOU HAVE NO IDEA WHAT JAPANESE UNIT IT WAS? No, only that they belonged to the first lot that ever arrived at Banka. They arrived only the morning before, because the remainder of our girls who came in on rafts actually arrived before the Japanese landed.

THE JAPANESE, YOU SAY, IGNORED SEDGEMAN? Yes

IN WHAT WAY? They just brushed him aside.

THEN WHAT HAPPENED? They took half the men down the beach about 100 yards behind the headland. There would be about 25 of them. Then they came back and took the remainder of the men down the same direction. I suppose they were away five or ten minutes. Then they came back and sat down in front of us and cleaned their rifles and bayonets. Two men escaped, Mr Eric German an American and a naval rating Lloyd (Eng).

DID YOU HEAR ANY FIRING WHILE THEY WERE AWAY? We heard some shots from that direction.

DID YOU NOTICE THE CONDITION OF THEIR BAYONETS WHEN THEY RETURNED? No, they were wiping them on a piece of rag or a handkerchief.

HOW FAR AWAY WERE THE MEN TAKEN? 100 yards.

DID YOU HEAR ANY SCREAMING? No.

HOW MANY SHOTS WERE THERE? Just a quick succession of them; we did not count them. Then they came back and sat in front of us and when they had finished cleaning their rifles and bayonets they stood up and the one in charge suggested that we should go towards the sea and he sent a couple of Japs to push us along. We went towards the sea and kept walking in and when we got up to our waists they started firing up and down the line with a machine gun.

DID THE FIRING COME FROM THOSE TWO JAPANESE OR FROM OTHERS? From others, who were up underneath the trees a matter of 20 or 30 yards away.

HOW MANY OF THEM? There was only the one machine gun. They just swept up and down the line and the girls fell one after the other. I was towards the end of the line and a bullet got me in the left loin and went straight through and came out towards the front. The force of it knocked me over into the water and there I lay. I did not lose consciousness.

 

 

To read the full transcript of Vivian Bullwinkel’s statement click here.

To learn more about the Massacre on Radji Beach click here.


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