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Our Founders

Lieutenant-Colonel Vivian BullwinkelVivian1 - Copy

1915 – 2000


Vivian Bullwinkel, trained as a nurse and midwife at Broken Hill, New South Wales, and began her nursing career in Hamilton, Victoria, before moving to the Jessie McPherson Hospital in Melbourne.

In 1941, wanting to enlist, Bullwinkel volunteered as a nurse with the Royal Australian Air Force but was rejected for having flat feet. She was however, able to join the Australian Army Nursing Service; assigned to the 2/13th Australian General Hospital (2/13th A.G.H), in September 1941 she sailed for Singapore. After a few weeks with the 2/10th A.G.H, Bullwinkel rejoined the 13th A.G.H in Johor Bahru.

Japanese troops invaded Malaya in December 1941 and began to advance southward toward Singapore. On 12 February 1942, Bullwinkel and 64 other nurses were ordered to leave Singapore and were evacuated on the SS Vyner Brooke.

On the 14th of February the SS Vyner Brook and several other ships fleeing Singaporse were bombed and sunk by Japanese aircrafts. Bullwinkel, other nurses and a large group of men, women and children made it ashore at Radji Beach on Banka Island (Indonesia).

In an action that became known as the Banka Island Massacre, Japanese soldiers came and killed the men, then ordered the 22 nurses to wade into the sea. They then machine-gunned the nurses from behind. Bullwinkel was struck by a bullet that passed through her body, missing her vital organs, and she feigned death until the Japanese soldiers left.

She managed to go into the jungle where she slept for 3 days. She came upon another survivor of the massacre, British Army Private Cecil George Kingsley. She nursed Private Kingsley for 12 days in the jungle prior to surrendering to the Japanese.

In Muntok she was reunited with other survivors of the Vyner Brooke. She told her nursing colleagues of the massacre, but none spoke of it again until after the war lest it put Bullwinkel, as witness to the massacre, in danger. Bullwinkel spent three and half years in captivity; she was one of just 24 of the 65 nurses who had been on the Vyner Brooke to survive the war. She was in captivity with Betty Jeffrey and Wilma Oram-Young.

Following the war Vivian, along with Betty worked tirelessly to raise funds to honor the nurses killed at the time of the sinking of the Vyner Brooke, those nurses massacred on Radji beach, and those who died of disease in captivity by raising funds for a memorial centre.

Vivian had a long and distinguished nursing career and was Director Of Nursing at Melbourne’s Fairfield Infectious Diseases Hospital until her retirement.

Betty Jeffrey

Agnes Betty Jeffrey

1908 – 2000


At the age of 29 Betty began nursing training at the Alfred Hospital in Melbourne, graduating in 1939. Shortly afterwards she joined the Australian Army Nursing Service. In 1941 she was posted to the 2/10th Australian General Hospital, then in Malacca, Malaya. The hospital was evacuated to Singapore in January 1942 as the Japanese swept southwards, but less than a month later, on 12 February, she boarded the Vyner Brooke hoping to reach Java. The ship was sunk by Japanese aircraft two days later.Vivian & Betty

The survivors made for nearby Banka Island, already under Japanese occupation. Jeffrey’s group were taken prisoner and began life as captives. Betty managed to keep a diary of her time in captivity. She kept this hidden from her captors. The little pencil that she wrote with is still held in the Australian War Memorial in Canberra.She wrote about the deprivation, disease, despair and the death of so many in the camp. Their conditions were cramped and unsanitary and were appalling.When the internees were moved to Palembang  the boredom and monotony of camp life in addition to all of the other problems was a serious problem. The women made playing cards, wrote camp newspapers and magazines, performed in plays, gave lectures on various subjects and performed in a vocal orchestra led by Margaret Dryburgh and Norah Chambers. She later wrote about her experience in the book White Coolies, which was serialised on Australian Radio and would later form the basis of Bruce Beresford’s movie, Paradise Road.
After three and a half years of this life, the 24 Australian nurses who had survived the ordeal were taken to Singapore to regain their health when the war ended. Jeffrey arrived home in Melbourne in October 1945, but was hospitalised with tuberculosis after her first night at home. She was in hospital for much of the next two years, after which she and Vivian Bullwinkel began raising funds to establish a nurses’ memorial centre in Melbourne. Jeffrey became the Centre’s first administrator when it opened in 1949. Betty also established the Betty Jeffrey Auxiliary to raise additional funds for the Nurses Memorial Centre to enable the purchase of equipment for the NMC.

She retired from this position after an illness in the mid-1950s but continued to represent former prisoners of war and nurses and remained involved with the NMC. She received the Order of Australia for services to ex-servicemen and women in 1987. Regarded with great fondness by her friends, Jeffrey’s dignified bearing and sense of humour has been recalled by many who knew her during the war. She died on 13 September 2000 at the age of 92.

20140724_150546Edith Hughes-Jones

1905 – 1976

O.B.E., F.R.C.N.A

Edith trained as a nurse at the Alfred Hospital. She became the proprietor of Windermere which became one of Melbourne’s most well known private hospitals.

Following the sinking of the AHS Centaur she initiated the Centaur War Nurses’ Memorial trust. Her Deputy Matron, Eileen (Nell ) Rutherford was one of the 11 nurses to perish when the Centaur was sunk. This event deeply affected Edith.

Edith had gathered a group of influential men and women together. They were doctors, nurses and servicemen and women and prominent citizens. Her plan was to establish a nurses club that would provide a venue for social activity and be able to provide inexpensive accommodation and meals. It should become a hub of nursing activity with nursing organisations being located on the one site. There would be a focus on continuing nursing education.

Her view was that as women had undertaken other roles during the war and had new employment opportunities so nursing would no longer be a popular career choice.

The poor pay and conditions would not entice women to the profession. A trained nurses club would benefit both service and civilian nurses. Her role in the establishment of the War Nurses Memorial Centre (Nurses Memorial Centre) was pivotal.

Edith Hughes-Jones was a remarkable woman who, amongst other things, initiated the establishment of the Windermere Trust, Annie Sage Memorial Nurses’ Scholarship, was a Foundation member Of the College Of Nursing Australia, and a member of The Florence Nightingale Committee. She was awarded an OBE in 1952 for services to Nursing.

000711Annie SageAnnie Moriah Sage

1895 – 1969

O.B.E., R.R.C., F.N.M, F.R.C.N.A (Hon)

Annie Sage had trained as a nurse at the Royal Melbourne Hospital and had enlisted in the Australian Army Nursing Service on the 1st of January 1940. She was appointed as matron th the 2/2 Australian General Hospital. She served in the Middle East at Gaza Ridge, Palestine and at Kantara, Egypt. She was appointed matron-in-chief, A.I.F.(Middle East) in 1941. She returned to Australia and in 1942 she was appointed Matron-In Chief of the Commonwealth Military Forces and organized the Australian Army Nursing Service for the entire South-West Pacific region.

She was not only a highly decorated nurse, Florence Nightingale Medal, Royal Red Cross, International Swiss Red Cross and OBE, she was a highly respected and much loved nurse.

She had gone to rescue the nurses who had been in held in captivity.” I am the mother of you all.” When Annie sage arrived she brought lipsticks for each of the 65 nurses because she knew that they would want to look the best that they could. She was shocked to discover only 24 nurses would be rescued and exclaimed, “Where are you all?”

Annie Sage was not only a founding member of the Nurses Memorial Centre but was an active member of the Royal Victorian College of Nursing, the Florence Nightingale Memorial Committee of Australia and was Founding President of the College of Nursing Australia.

20140724_150956Lieutenant Colonel (Sir) Albert Coates

1895 – 1977

O.B.E., M.D., M.S., Hon LL.D., F.R.C.S., F.R.A.C.S

Sir Albert Coates was one of the first men to join the committee of The War Nurses Memorial Centre. He had long been a supporter of the Nursing profession.

Albert Coates had enlisted as a medical orderly in the 7th Battalion and served on Gallipoli and the Western Front during the First World War. Following his return to Australia he studied medicine. And became a leading surgeon and academic. In 1941 he was appointed Lieutenant Colonel and again returned to active service. With the 2/10th Australian General Hospital he moved to Singapore and was ordered to Java just prior to the fall of Singapore. He became a prisoner of war in 1942 and was then sent to the infamous Thai-Burma railway where he provided medical care for many of the prisoners of war. His skill as a surgeon and compassion as a man alleviated the suffering of many of his fellow prisoners of war.

He served as President of the War Nurses Memorial from 1955-1961. His daughter,Winfred Gherardin, also served as president of the Nurses Memorial Centre in the 1980’s.

Colonel (Sir) Alfred Kemsley

1869 – 1987

K.B.E., C.M.G., E.D.

Sir Alfred had served in Egypt and France during the World War 1 and was appointed Director of Operations of the Australian Army shortly after the outbreak of the Second World War. He became a member of Legacy to assist the families of his fallen comrades after World War 1.

He held many senior postings within the Army. He was a political powerbroker and was often sought for advice by councilors, as well as State and Federal politicians.

He provided powerful and influential assistance to the War Nurses Memorial Centre.



Jennifer Williams 1991 :Victoria’s Living Memorial History of The Nurses memorial Centre 1948-1990

Janice McCarthy Australian Dictionary of Biography