2020 March Newsletter

March 2020

Welcome to our March 2020 newsletter, which we hope will brighten your day.

On February 19th 2020 the Australian Nurses Memorial Centre turned 70 years old. We plan to celebrate that event throughout our 70th year and culminate the birthday year with a dinner to celebrate the end of the Second World War and the liberation of the Prisoner Of War nurses. The best laid plans...

The Commemorative Service that was to be held on the 19th of April has been cancelled as we embark upon a period of lock down in Victoria due to the Corona Virus outbreak. At this stage we are unsure how long the lock down will be. As a result the Australian Nurses Memorial Centre will close its doors to the public. Our Office Manager, Liz Allwood will be working from home and can be contacted by email or by phone on 0429602144 (Tuesday-Friday). I can be contacted on 0419527273. Please also check our Facebook for updates.

On a brighter note we are still hoping to have our celebration dinner in September on the 19th which was just 3 days after the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Prisoner of War nurses from the camps. It is to be held at the Royce Hotel at 379 St Kilda Road. Let’s hope that we can all be together by then.

At times like this it is good to keep some perspective. We are so much better off than the nurses were in the camps. If you get frustrated spare a thought for the nurses and remember how lucky we really are. In the meantime keep washing your hands diligently, try to maintain the physical distancing parameters and please remain safe.

Arlene Bennett
President ANMC

Arlene Bennett shares her trip to Montuk

In February Judy Balcombe and I travelled to Muntok, Banka Island, Indonesia to attend the commemorative service for the nurses killed on the island in 1942. We spent a couple of days tidying up the Peace Museum before all of the other people arrived.

Mr Fakhrizal, from the Tinwinning Museum escorted us around the town of Muntok. We visited the mangroves that were most likely to have been where Betty Jeffrey and Iole Harper washed up on Banka Island in 1942.  That evening, I reflected on Betty’s words from White Coolies “In the late afternoon the tide went out, leaving exposed sharp mangrove roots and long hard spikes, which cut our hand and legs still more and our tummies until we were just about at screaming point. But there was one humorous interlude. Iole was about fifteen yards ahead of me when suddenly she turned round and called out, ‘Oh, by the way, what’s your name?’ We had been swimming together for twenty-eight hours! ”

Michael & Val Noyce (Kathleen Neuss’ nephew), John Bullwinkel (nephew of Vivian Bullwinkel) Margaret Turner and Don Clancy (children of Veronica Clancy) Julie Telfer (relative of Flo Casson) arrived on the 14th of February. The following afternoon saw the arrival of the Australian Ambassador to Jakarta, Mr Gary Quinlan and his entourage, Group Captain Michael Longstaff British Defence Attache’, Group Captain Peter and Mrs Salina Griffin Defence Attache’ New Zealand Embassy,  Mr Takonai Susumu the Director of the Political Section of The Embassy of Japan, Jakarta as well as Jenny and Michael Tinmouth. Jenny Tinmouth was a British nurse who had been in the Royal Marines and had read “White Coolies” by Betty Jeffrey many years before and had always wanted to see the beach on which the nurses had been killed during World War II.


"In the late afternoon the tide went out, leaving exposed sharp mangrove roots and long hard spikes, which cut our hands and legs still more and our tummies until we were just about at screaming point."

excerpt White Coolies
by Betty Jeffrey.

On the 16th of February we met in the hotel for a long day of Commemorative services at the various locations.

We traveled by 4 - wheel drives to the memorial at the beach where we held the first service. Each of us took turns to speak about the incident that had happened in 1942 at a nearby beach. It was a very moving ceremony that was followed by a walk down to the beach and the ‘Walk For Humanity’ took place. On the beach we lined up and began to walk towards the sea. The Japanese representative was to my right and as we walked he extended his hand to me. This was a moment I shall never forget and one that I am privileged to have experienced. Seventy-five years have passed since the end of the war and maybe now, might be the time that we can move forward, whilst still remembering the dreadful times of the past.

The next commemoration was held at the monument to the nurses in Muntok. Once again, we took in turns to speak about the nurses and about the loss of so many, both here and in Sumatra throughout the period 1942-1945. The Australian Ambassador Mr Quinlan as well as Group Captain Michael Longstaff, Group Captain Griffin and Mr Takonai Susumu laid wreaths on behalf of the people of Australia, Great Britain, New Zealand and Japan respectively as well as Mr John Bullwinkel, Mr Don Clancy and Mrs Margaret Turner, Mr Michael Noyce and Mrs Julie Telfer on behalf of their family members. I placed a wreath on behalf of the Australian Nurses Memorial Centre.

Four Wheel Drive trip to the beach at Muntok


Arlene delivering her speech at the memorial - the transcript is below:

Arlene's Speech

In less than a week the Australian Nurses Memorial Centre is 70 years old.

It was the vision of Vivian Bullwinkel and Betty Jeffrey to ensure that the nurses of WWII were never forgotten.  This year we also commemorate the 75th Anniversary for the end of WWII in the Indo-Pacific region and the liberation of the POW nurses held in Belalau Sumatra.  It is very fitting that 2020 has been designated by the World Health Organisation as the International Year of the Nurse and Midwife.

This allows us the opportunity to look to great nurses of the past and celebrate their achievements whilst being able to look forward celebrating current nurses. It is a time to honour nurses past present and future.

So we look to the nurses who left Singapore in the days before the fall. The chaos that was in Singapore was palpable. The nurses didn’t want to leave their patients but they were ordered to go.

They would travel to Keppel Harbour which was a somewhat frightening and chaotic journey and then they were taken aboard ships bound for home.  Some would go on the Empire Star. A little later some would leave on the SS Vyner Brooke.

Their travels could not have been more different. Despite being hit the Empire Star made it home to Australia. Those on the SS Vyner Brooke were to suffer a different fate. The ship was one of many carrying evacuees, men, women, and children, which was hit and sunk in the Banka Straits. Many would lose their lives in the water.

Walk for Humanity

Of the 65 nurses on the ship 12 would die around the time of the bombing and evacuation of the ship. Many would eventually land on Radji Beach. Others took days to come to shore and they we scattered along the coastline.

A group of 22 nurses led by Matron Drummond formed on Radji Beach where they set themselves to work to care for the sick and many injured with what little they had.

But never underestimate the power of the human capacity to care. These women were resilient and determined to do what they could. After discussions with officers it was decided that the group should give themselves up as they had no food or supplies and there were many injured. To that end some of the men left to seek help. Matron Drummond suggested that the civilian woman and children should begin to walk into Muntok and the nurses would wait with the sick and injured. This action would save many lives. Later on, the first group of men returned with their captors. The men would be marched away never to return. Then it was the turn of the nurses to suffer their fate. Ordered to march into the sea they were then shot. Matron Drummond said, “Chin up girls. I am proud of you…… I love you all.”

Vivian Bullwinkel would be the only nurse to survive the tragedy on the beach. Vivian would suffer a further three and a half years of life in prisoner of war camp with the other Australian nurses who had washed ashore at different times and places.


Life in the camps was unimaginable with disease and malnutrition affecting them all over a period of time. She along with many other Australian nurses would sit outside their huts and ponder what they would do to commemorate their fallen colleagues. They didn’t want a stone edifice but they had a more practical idea. So, in the camps the idea for a nurse’s memorial centre was developed.

It would be a place where nurses could come to meet, relax, stay, dine and further their nursing knowledge. It demonstrated that they never gave up the idea of going home.

 A total of 8 more nurses would die in the camps both here in Muntok and in Belalau in Sumatra before they were liberated. 24 of the 65 nurses who had left Singapore would survive and return home.

They were resilient and would remain that way throughout the war and in peacetime. Resilience was one of the outstanding qualities that these nurses had in abundance.
So 70 years after the end of World War II I stand here very proud to be a nurse telling this remarkable story of remarkable women.

We continue to honour them to this day and beyond by annually awarding prestigious nursing scholarships to further nursing knowledge at the ANMC. May we never forget their story of sacrifice.

Lest we forget


Above: Ceremony at the beach with Group Captain Griffin, Mr Takonai Susumu and Mr Quinlan

The final commemoration was held at the Peace Museum, where Judy Balcombe spoke about the civilian internees and Margaret Turner spoke very movingly about her mother, Veronica Clancy’s experiences as a Prisoner of War. It is a story of great courage and resilience. A story that we will never forget.

Below: Don Clancy and Margaret Turner on the beach in Muntok.



This year’s Scholarship and Awards presentation was held on Thursday the 5th of March. It was a very exciting evening for all of the Recipients and their families who attended.

Drinks and canapés were served in the Atrium of 431 St Kilda Road prior to the formal presentations held in our venue.

Doctor Beverley Wood opened up the evening and welcomed everyone to the event. Arlene Bennett welcomed the recipients and guests. She said that all the nurses carried the Australian Nurses Memorial Centre heritage with them now that they had been successful recipients. Mr Robin Scott, Minister for Veterans spoke about the importance of nurses particularly in conflict situations. Mr Roger Clifton who is the Veterans Council Chair spoke about the relationship between the ANMC and the Legion of Ex- servicemen and Woman.


Each recipient was given a framed certificate and book on the history of the ANMC.

Award Recipients

Miss Laura Brooks, recipient of the 2019 Vivian Bullwinkel Award gave a presentation on , ‘Culturally sensitive communication at the end of life in the intensive care unit.’
Dr Wood ended the evening by thanking all of the recipients and guests. Arlene Bennett thanked Dr Wood and the scholarship committee for all of their work throughout the year. as well as all the people who presented the scholarships and awards. She wished all of the recipients well and looked forward to having them be a part of the Alumni program which will be commenced later this year.


presented by
Mr Roger Clifton, Chair Victorian Veterans Council


Anne Craigie,
Cindy Joseph,
Alison Lemoh,
Kylie Moon,
Rebecca Jedwab,
Nathan Havlin
 2019 recipient with the ALS scholarships.


presented by
Dolores Makris


Elizabeth Evans


presented by
Marion Kilvert


Casey Johnson


presented by
Arlene Bennett


Kaely Kennedy


presented by
Mr John Bullwinkel


Priscilla Gates


presented by
Ms Sara Renshaw


Alison Hansen