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Ellenor Calnan – Bangka Island Massacre

April 24, 2016

Each year the Central Auckland Research Centre issue the challenge to genealogists to do a post on ANZAC Day to honour the day and the people who served in battle and also to honour their families.

My ANZAC Day post this year is a re-post that I wrote in June 2015.  In the lead up to ANZAC Day I have been thinking of this particular serving relative, so I think it’s appropriate to record this dreadful incident as my ANZAC Day post for 2016.


ELLENOR (NELL) CALNAN
  was born in Culcairn NSW, Australia,  in 1912 to parents, WILLIAM CALNAN and MARY O’BRIEN.

Eleanor  enlisted into the Australian Army  as a military nurse, in 1941 aged 28 years.   On 16 February, she was killed in the Bangka Island Massacre. Eleanor was a nursing sister in the 2/10 Australian Nursing hospital ship, Vyner Brooke, which had on board, injured military personnel and 64 niurses caring for them, when the ship was bombed and sank.

Two nurses died in the bombing, nine were lost at sea, and the remainder safely reached the shore, off Indonesia.

On land, under the sign of The Red Cross, the nurses began to tend to the injured passengers from the ship.  On discovering that the island was occupied by the Japanese, one of the oficers from the ship surrendered the survivors.

A group of 20 Japanese soldiers then arrived at the makeshift hospital and ordered all injured men who could walk, to walk a short distance away out of sight of the hopsital. Immediately the nurses heard gunfire. The Japanese soldiers then returned and ordered the nurses to walk into the sea where they were shot in the back by a barrage of machine gun fire.

Amazingly one nurse, Vivian Bullwinkell survived the gunfire and and was washed up unconscious onto the shore. She was eventually captured and became a POW of the Japanese for two years. She survived this and told her story of the massacre at War Crimes Trials.

Bangka Island NursesIt’s very difficult to see the faces in the photo but Eleanor is in the 2nd row from front, 8th from the left. This photo was taken in the hospital grounds of the Australian Army Nursing Service, in January 1941 before sailing from Australia to staff the Vyner Brooke.

None of this information was on Eleanor’s military record. I discovered her fate when at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra. Her name is on the Roll of Honour in Wagga Wagga, NSW

Ellenor Calnan was a 2nd  cousin of my father.

*Eleanor’s name is also occasionally spelt as Ellenor. She was also known as Nell

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From → Family stories

2 Comments
  1. Katrina Vincent permalink

    thank you so much for sharing this story. I can’t imagine what those nurses would have felt.

  2. A sad and shocking story…. Lest we forget.

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