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On Radji Beach
by Ian W. Shaw
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When Singapore fell dramatically to the Japanese on 15 February 1942, hundreds of people scrambled to the docks to flee. Amongst the evacuees were 65 Australian nurses who boarded a coastal freighter named the Vyner Brooke. They only made it as far as the waters off Muntok Island near Sumatra. There, Japanese bombers sank the small ship. Those who survived the sinking drifted for up to three days before making landfall on one of the many beaches on Muntok. A group of about 60 shipwreck survivors, including 22 nurses, gathered at Radji Beach. They voted to surrender to the Japanese rather than slowly starve to death, but the Japanese patrol that found them did not accept their surrender. Instead, it divided the Europeans into three groups and killed them all in turn. The Australian nurses were in the third group, and 21 of them died in a hail of bullets as they walked, abreast, into the sea. Miraculously, there was one survivor, Vivian Bullwinkel, who brought the truth about this appalling atrocity to light, and who went on to experience the internment camps, starvation and disease that took away many of her friends.
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