Excerpt from “Ordinary Heroes” by Barry Dickins ~~Vivian Bullwinkel~~

picture-OrdinaryHeroes-DickinsThey came across the island to us. They came walking, then at marching pace. I was sitting on the sand with m’ mates. It was hot. They took all the men who could walk round out of sight, then a little later they came back wiping their guns, and – what do you have on the end of your guns? – a bayonet. Bayonets. Wiping the blood off. Then they told all the nurses to march into the sea, and they shot them from behind with rifles. There was no interval. One after the other. About six Japanese, I think.

All this came as a surprise. We just got up. We’d all been sitting there in the sand. This was the morning, probably mid – about twenty-four hours since we got washed up. That twenty-four hours seemed like a lifetime … We thought we were safe for just a short time. We thought: we’re all right for a while. Then we realised it was different.

The Japanese men were silent. Gestured, they just gestured. Made us all walk toward the sea. We were a long line across the bay.

They gradually shot with their rifles. I was next to a civilian who was taller than me, but nevertheless she died. I got the bullet then in the left side – the force of it knocked me down. The water was only up to our knees … I was too frightened to get up. To get up. So I stayed bobbing around in the water until the time when I absolutely had to get up.

There was nothing to see.

In a hushed voice.

Everybody had been shot. Everybody had been shot. The whole twenty-one of them.


Before I was shot I saw … saw those who’d already been shot on the sea. I saw nothing afterwards. They’d all gone. I went ashore and had a drink of water. I was sore and aching all over. I’d slept that first night in the open amongst the … greenery.

Laughs at her own description of the terrain.

All the civilian women and the children were gathered together earlier and sent on their way to what we thought was a camp. They met the Japanese and the men … so we could not get in touch with those people again.

I was in shock. I stayed there for I don’t know how long. I thought: I’ve got to go down where that water was.

Remembering the stream where she drank.

I was about to drink (cupping he hand again) when I heard someone moving. The chappie was an Englishman. He’d received a bayonet thrust, but crawled to a hut and slept there. When he came out for the water, he didn’t know what had gone on with other people. So I saw him. I spoke to him. He looked with … with first of all concern, and then relief, that’s right – relief. We exchanged stories.

A big breath, sits up straight again.

We had a drink, and I said I wasn’t going to go into any accommodation with him. We had our first row!

Big laugh.

Then, in the end, he came to where I was sleeping, which was outside in the greenery. That went on for about a fortnight. What I did do in those thirteen or fourteen days was go into the village and ask for help. The men wouldn’t give it, but two women would. They’d come outside of the village with things that had green leaves – jungle food or something. They’d last us two or three days, then I’d go in for more. Cooked or raw, you ate it.

I got bored with doing nothing, so I decided to give ourselves up at the village. It was a hard decision, but the only one.

That resolute look.

We walked, he leaning on me … we walked to the village where the men saw we were giving ourselves up. The men took us in and gave us some morning tea. That was nice. And they sent us on the way to another village – it was by the sea …

We were overtaken by a car with an officer in the Jap navy. A Japanese soldier did the talking. They wanted to see our passports. Neither of us had them to offer, so after further conversation between them … they told us to get in the car. It was a command. We drove to the centre of Bangka along the main road and into the navy headquarters, and then … about six Japanese came out to see us in dressing-gowns (Laughs). They wanted to know what had happened and what we’d been doing.

Then they took my brooch and had a look at it, and I, not thinking, put my hand out to have it back. And they just laughed and one put it in his pocket. Then the man in charge said a few words and the brooch came out and was given back to me. I put the brooch back on. (Touches her throat.)

They put the Englishman in a motor car and he went off. We had shaken hands and wished each other the best. They brought me a cup of tea and biscuit and disappeared. All of ‘em.

Then from somewhere came a female voice. She said, ‘Don’t be frightened. They’re very nice people.’ I swung around and it was the grandmother of a little boy we’d seen earlier. She was an internee waiting for a ship to take her somewhere.

The car came back – it was my turn to leave the Japanese navy. I didn’t give an account of the massacre to those navy people. Where the bullet …

Looks down at her left side.

I was disguising the fact I was shot. Rough, the uniform felt. I thought living is more important. Doing what the Japanese wanted. I thought if they knew what I’d seen they might take me away.

Holding her side where she was shot.

It was from the naval car that I got out at the POW camp. Somebody from the English POWs came to interview us. I didn’t tell him what had happened at that stage – I saw some of the girls I knew and told them, then I came back and gave him all the information I had. We got to talking, camp greetings, ‘Glad to see you!’ – that’s all. I was so mixed up, you didn’t know what you were doing. I was only twenty-six or twenty-seven or so – still very young for the experience. It was like a bad dream.



1 Comment

Filed under Literature, Non-Fiction

One response to “Excerpt from “Ordinary Heroes” by Barry Dickins ~~Vivian Bullwinkel~~

  1. Vivian Bullwinkel was born in Kapunda, South Australia on 18 December 1915, and died on 3 July 2000, aged 84 years. When she was shot, on 16 February 1942, at Banka Island, she was 26 years old.

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