In 1942, a group of Australian nurses was murdered by Japanese soldiers in what came to be known as the Bangka Island massacre. Now, a historian has collated evidence indicating they were sexually assaulted beforehand – and that Australian authorities allegedly hushed it up.
“It took a group of women to uncover this truth – and to finally speak it.”
Military historian Lynette Silver is discussing what happened to 22 Australian nurses who were marched into the sea at Bangka Island, Indonesia, and shot with machine guns in February 1942. All except one were killed.
“That was a jolt to the senses enough. But to have been raped beforehand was just too awful a truth to speak,” Ms Silver says, speaking of claims she details in a new book.
“Senior Australian army officers wanted to protect grieving families from the stigma of rape. It was seen as shameful. Rape was known as a fate worse than death, and was still a hangable offence [for perpetrators] in New South Wales until 1955.”
The sole survivor
Nurse Vivian Bullwinkel was shot in the massacre but survived by playing dead. She hid in the jungle and was taken as a prisoner of war, before eventually returning to Australia.