Australian coin commemorates sinking of “SS Vyner Brooke”

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February 16, 2017 – As we witnessed the 75th anniversary of the sinking of the “SS Vyner Brooke” on Tuesday 14 February 2017, a special collectible commemorative 20 cent coin has been released by the Royal Australian Mint (the Mint) to recognise the story of this devastating but also inspiring struggle for survival.

Australia / 20c / CuNi / 11.30 g / 28.52 mm / Mintage: 20,000.

During the Second World War “SS Vyner Brooke” was sunk by Japanese forces during the evacuation of medical staff and the wounded from Singapore. Despite a number of survivors making it to Radji Beach, the servicemen were bayoneted and nurses were shot, with nurse Vivian Bullwinkel the only Australian to survive. 

Mint Chief Executive Officer Mr Ross MacDiarmid said the coin design depicts the “SS Vyner Brooke’s” torturous journey while the packaging features several images including a group photo of the Australian war nurses and Australia’s most distinguished war nurse, the late Lieutenant-Colonel Vivian Statham, also known by her maiden name Vivian Bullwinkel.

Studio portrait of Staff Nurse Vivian Bullwinkel, Australian Army Nursing Service (AANS), in service dress uniform.

“This coin recognises a significant part of Australia’s war history which demonstrates the horrific experience many endured for our country, unimaginable to many of us today,” said Mr MacDiarmid.

“The Lieutenant-Colonel’s story of survival reminds us of the compassion and bravery of all Australian war nurses and this coin is being released to honour and remember all of them.”
Lt-Col Bullwinkel’s nephew Mr John Bullwinkel said he was proud of his aunt’s achievements both during her struggle for survival including caring for the sick and dying while being a prisoner of war and the legacy created afterwards dedicating her life to improving recognition, training and conditions for nurses.

“Vivian’s story is horrendous and courageous and in sharing this story with the Australian public through this commemorative coin, it reflects the true test of the character of all Australian service nurses, especially under difficult circumstances and deprivations,” said Mr Bullwinkel.

Director of the Australian War Memorial Dr Brendan Nelson addressed the 75th anniversary of Radji Beach Massacre Bangka Day Memorial Service hosted by the South Australian Women’s Memorial Playing Fields Trust Inc. on Sunday 12 February 2017.
With several coins being presented in honour of the anniversary, Dr Nelson said it was important to take this time to remember and honour those who sacrificed their lives so selflessly.

“From a generation that produced so many remarkable Australians, Vivian Bullwinkel was a giant among them. The Australian War Memorial is proud to partner with the Royal Australian Mint to develop a commemorative coin in her honour,” Dr Nelson said.
“This memento is a small yet powerful honour for a person of remarkable bravery and fortitude, who led from both position and principle.”

The Mint partnered with the Australian War Memorial in developing this commemorative coin as part of the Official Anzac Centenary Coin Program.

To learn more about this and other releases, please visit the Royal Australian Mint website.

More information about the life of Vivian Bullwinkel is available at the Australian War Memorial website.