Vivian Bullwinkel, Fairfield’s matron of honour

Vivian Bullwinkel

Matron Vivian Bullwinkel. Image: Angell Productions (

PRO HUMANITATE, ‘in the service of humanity’, is the motto of the Royal Australian Army Nursing Corps. Lieut. Col. Vivian Bullwinkel (pictured left) exemplified this principle to become one of the best-loved and respected nurses of her time.

Rejected by the RAAF because of her flat feet, she enlisted as an army staff nurse in 1941, aged 26, and served in Singapore until February 1942 when nurses were evacuated as Singapore fell to the Japanese. Vivian’s ship was bombed, but 22 nurses reached Banka Island – only to be ordered back into the sea and gunned down by a Japanese patrol.

Vivian, a non-swimmer, was wounded but played dead, floating among the nurses’ bodies until dark. After two weeks in the jungle nursing a lone British soldier, Vivian gave herself up. Her indomitable spirit shines from the one postcard she could send during three years as a POW: “My roving spirit has been somewhat checked.”

As an army matron after the war, Vivian Bullwinkel built a warm rapport with the young nurses she trained. Librarian Phyllis Wilson recalls Vivian’s encouragement and ‘wonderful sense of humour, vivid blue eyes and most beautiful smile’. Later, as Director of Nursing at Fairfield Hospital, Vivian led the famous rescue of Vietnamese war orphans from Saigon and supervised their adoptions.Wilson quote

Vivian was the first female trustee of the Australian War Memorial which now holds her personal papers and wartime diaries, and displays her white nurse’s uniform with a bullet hole above the hip.

In the 1970s, as president of the now Royal College of Nursing Australia, she helped to establish the system that moved nursing tuition from hospital to university, using her influence on the Nurses’ Wage Board to improve their conditions. She worked tirelessly with the Red Cross and other humanitarian groups, and instigated a scholarship fund for Malaysian nurses to study in Australia. In 1977, she retired from Fairfield Hospital to marry. Vivian was one of 200 featured in a National Heritage publication, The People Who Made Australia, for Australia’s bicentenary in 1988.

Vivian Bullwinkpoppyel dedicated her every award or honour to the memory of the nurses massacred on Banka island. ‘…the lives, opportunities, sports and freedom for our young were bought at a price,’ she said, shortly before her death on 3 July 2000, aged 84.


About quillpoweronline

I'm an editor at Quillpower PR Publishing. Specialising in 'things that are lovely and of good report'. I work with writers to gently brush away irrelevancies to reveal the buried treasure, or chisel meaning from a block of text. As an accredited editor (Inst. Prof. Editors Ltd) with experience in advertising, public relations, news and feature writing and editing for all media I help communicators put a professional shine on their message. But here on the blog, it's after hours, and I may do an elongated tweet every now and then, point up an absurdity, or simply post one of my ancient scribbles before it and I crumble into dust. BTW, WordPress chooses the ads (if any) on my blog. Quid pro quo.
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