Some Heroes Do Wear Capes: The Real Story of Paradise Road

Today we honour the memory of sixteen brave nurses.

One of the last ships to evacuate Singapore, after it fell to the Japanese in February 1942, was the SS Vyner Brooke. On board were civilians (mainly women and children), the crew, and sixty-five Australian nurses. Sixteen of these nurses trained, worked, or were born in South Australia, some from our very own Royal Adelaide Hospital. As the ship steamed towards Sumatra, they were spotted by Japanese aircraft which commenced bombing and strafing them. Badly damaged, it took only twenty minutes for the SS Vyner Brooke to slip below the waves.

Of the sixteen, one drowned and one disappeared on a life raft that never made land. Fourteen made their way to Bangka Island, Sumatra, but not to safety. At Radji Beach, the Japanese ordered nine back into the water, and shot them in the back with machine guns. Sister Vivian Bullwinkel survived the massacre, floating in and out of consciousness in the water, believed dead by the Japanese. The remaining five, who landed at other beaches, were taken as Prisoners of War— two of these later died due to the deprivations of life in the POW camps located in the Sumatran jungle.

Their story formed the basis for the 1997 movie Paradise Road starring Glenn Close.

The Japanese came and stood in front of us and indicated that we should go into the sea. And we walked into the sea with our backs to them. We knew what was going to happen to us, but all I can remember thinking was, I am sorry Mother will never know what has happened to me but it will be nice to see Dad again.

Survivor – Sister Vivien Bullwinkel

Written by Jacquelyne Ladner

CALHN Health Museum

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Sister Vivian Bullwinkel (left) and Betty Jeffrey (right) after the War

Nurse Ellen Hannah. Australian War Memorial.

Sister Betty Jeffrey, author of White Coolies (right) seen with Sister Jean Greer (NSW), in hospital after their rescue from captivity, 1945. Australian War Memorial.

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Sister Carrie Ashton on her Enlistment Form

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Nurse Veronica Clancy on her Enlistment Form