Florence Rebecca CASSON


CASSON, Florence Rebecca

Service Numbers: SFX13418, SX13418
Enlisted: 7 February 1941, Keswick South Australia Australia
Last Rank: Lieutenant
Last Unit: 2nd/13th Australian General Hospital
Born: Warracknabeal Victoria Australia, 6 March 1903
Home Town: Pinnaroo, South Australia
Schooling: Not yet discovered
Occupation: Nursing Matron
Died: Murdered by Japanese troops at Bangka Island, Bangka Island, Banka Island, Netherlands East Indies, 16 February 1942, aged 38 years
Cemetery: No known grave - "Known Unto God"
(CWGC) Official Commemoration - Memorial Location: Column 140, Singapore Memorial (within Kranji War Cemetery)., Singapore Memorial, Singapore
Memorials: Adelaide Royal Adelaide Hospital Chapel Roll of Honour, Adelaide WW2 Wall of Remembrance, Augusta Australian Army Nursing Sisters Monument, Australian Military Nurses Memorial, Australian War Memorial Roll of Honour, Ballarat Australian Ex-Prisoners of War Memorial, Bicton Vyner Brooke Tragedy Memorial, W.A., Daw Park Repatriation Hospital WW2 Women of the Armed Forces Who Died HR, Gawler Council WW2 Honour Roll, Kapunda Dutton Park Memorial Gardens Nurses Plaques, Launceston Banka Island Massacre, Pinnaroo War Memorial, Singapore Memorial Kranji War Cemetery
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World War 2 Service

7 Feb 1941: Involvement Australian Army Nursing Service (WW1), Nursing Sister, SN SFX13418, Enlistment/Embarkation WW2
7 Feb 1941: Enlisted Australian Army Nursing Service (WW1), Keswick South Australia Australia
10 Mar 1941: Enlisted Australian Military Forces (Army WW2), Lieutenant, SN SX13418, General Hospitals - WW2
7 Dec 1941: Involvement Australian Army Nursing Service (WW1), Lieutenant, SN SFX13418, 10th Australian General Hospital , Malaya/Singapore
12 Feb 1942: Embarked Australian Army Nursing Service (WW1), Lieutenant, SN SFX13418, 2nd/13th Australian General Hospital, Embarked Ship - Date and Place of Departure: SS Vyner Brooke, 12/02/1942, Singapore, (with 65 other nurses, and civilians); to Japanese Aircraft Attack - sinking disaster - SS Vyner Brooke - Date and Place: 14/02/1942, Bangka Strait (by Bangka Island); (AWM) The Sinking of the SS Vyner Brooke.
15 Feb 1942: Imprisoned Malaya/Singapore
Date unknown: Discharged Australian Military Forces (Army WW2), Lieutenant, SN SX13418, General Hospitals - WW2


Emotional Welcome As Gallant Women Return

Fremantle, Western Australia; The Australian Women's Weekly

Saturday; 3 November 1945, Page 19.


BY: Josephine O'Neill

No legendary figures, but ordinary women, you, who died

Facing the water, last glance each to each

Along the beach, leaving your bodies to the accustomed surf

Your hearts to home

No legendary figures, but ordinary women, you, who lived

Holding the spirit, through the camps slow slime

Unsoiled by time ...

Bringing your laughter out of degraded toil

As a gift to home

As ordinary women, by your dying you fortify the mind

As ordinary women, by your living you honor all mankind.

TROVE: http://nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/55465571

Showing 1 of 1 story

Biography contributed by Faithe Jones

Sister Florence ‘Flo’ Rebecca Casson, SFX 13418 was the daughter of Henry and Mary Casson of Willaston South Australia. She was born in Warracknabeal, Victoria on 6 March 1903. Flo trained as a nurse and the first record of her nursing career is at the Royal Adelaide Hospital in 1935 in a group photo of “Matron Draw with Night Nurses”.

Soon after she must have moved up in her career as she became the Matron at a number of small country hospitals including at Jamestown, Port Pirie and the Pinaroo (the Pinaroo Soldiers Memorial Hospital) a small South Australian country town near the South Austrlian/Victorian border.

On 7 February 1941 Flo Casson enlisted at Keswick, South Australia with the Australian Army Nursing Service and travelled to Malaya with the 2/13th Australian General Hospital.

After service in Malaya and Singapore she boarded the “SS. Vyner Brooke” and at the time of the bombing attack on the ship she was located in the saloon with other nurses where she was hit with a bomb blast; along with Rosetta Wright and Clare Halligan (On Radji Beach p.153). The blast caused severe damage to her legs, one of which was possibly fractured and she had to be assisted up to the main deck. Somehow her friends managed to get her into the second lifeboat that was launched with severely wounded nurses on board.

This lifeboat drifted ashore at Radji Beach later that night. Sister Vivian Bullwinkel and Sub-Lt Jimmy Miller Royal Naval Reserve (Engineer Officer on “SSVyner Brooke”) walked along the beach to where a large bonfire had already been lit by survivors to obtain assistance with carrying the wounded nurses to the main camp;

Flo Casson and Rosetta Wright were the most seriously wounded as described in On Radji Beach p 200 “ … they were both strong and brave women. Again shell splinters had caused the damage, with both women suffering deep wounds to the buttocks and upper thighs. They were unable to walk, and had to be fed and helped with their toilet functions.

The wounds appear to have caused nerve damage, perhaps fractures, and they needed more specialised treatment than any that could be provided on the beach … Miller eventually put together a rescue party and set off. The journey to the second lifeboat and back with its survivors took over two hours, and the wounded nurses were in agony on the return journey, having to be half-dragged, half carried for most of the distance. Their pain was obvious and it, in turn, increased the distress of the other survivors…”.

When dawn broke on Sunday 15 February 1942, Flo was probably lying on a makeshift stretcher in the shade of the jungle on Radji Beach with other wounded. They were being cared for by Matron Drummond and her nurses and a Chinese doctor who had also survived the sinking (possibly a Dr Chan) plus a group of survivors numbering about 70.

It seems that Flo and a few other more seriously wounded were later that day transferred to a fisherman’s uninhabited hut further down the beach towards the headland. Flo spent another night on the beach being cared for by her companions with what little they had in the way of medical supplies.

At dawn on Monday 16th February the survivors were joined by another lifeboat and rafts with many wounded people from ships that sunk in the Banka Straits during the night. The sheer volume of wounded seems to have tipped those in authority to sending the women and children, and a few walking wounded men on a trek towards the nearest town and the nurses were also invited to join that group but declined.

The nurses knew that it was their duty to stay with and look after the wounded, regardless of their difficulties.

So Flo was amongst the group of nurses destined to be executed by the Japanese. Once the Japanese had executed firstly the Officers and then the second group of Other ranks and civilian men they turned their attention to the nurses. Forming the nurses into a line facing the sea, with Flo and her wounded friends being supported at the right hand end of the line by other sisters (ORB, p. 216) the Japanese carried out one of their most abhorrent war crimes against Allied women on record.

The book On Radji Beach records “ … Flo and Rosetta and Clare and the sisters supporting them fell under the gun, grouped together in death as in life …”( p.217).

So, life was taken from Flo at the age of 39 years after several decades of unselfishly caring for others in need.

Flo Casson is memorialised by a plaque at Pinaroo Soldiers Memorial Hospital where the Health Promotion Room is also named after her. There is also a plaque at the Royal Adelaide Hospital and at Moonta cemetery in South Australia. At the grave of her parents, Flo is remembered by a plaque inscribed with the names of she and her brother, himself a former POW.

Principal Sources:


• On Radji Beach by Ian Shaw
• Historical records
• Michael Pether Historian of Auckland New Zealand




Born 6th March 1903 at Warracknabeal, Victoria, Florence Casson’s family were living in Adelaide at the time of the outbreak of WW2. She was Matron at the Pinnaroo Hospital, a small South Australian country town near the South Australian/Victorian border.

On 7th February 1941 Florence Rebecca Casson volunteered at Wayville. Lieutenant Casson’s Army Number was SFX 13418,

The 2nd/13th Australian General Hospital of the Australian Army was sent to Singapore (September 1941) but was re-located to Malaya in November 1941.

With allied defeat imminent on the island of Singapore in early February, 1942, Australian Army Command ordered the evacuation of the nursing sisters from the three Australian hospital units there. The 2nd/13th AGH, the 2nd/10th AGH and the 2nd/4th Casualty Clearing Station.  All the sisters left Singapore on 12th February 1942 on board the British Merchant Ship “SS Vyner Brooke”. The ship was carrying the 65 sisters of the three Australian hospital units and some 250 other evacuees. These included many wounded British soldiers, British civilian government staff and their families and some Dutch nationals. The Vyner Brook was attacked and sunk by Japanese bombers on the 14th February 1942 very close to the southern coast of Sumatra.

Three Australian nurses were killed in the bombing attack. Some reports state that Sister Casson was severely wounded during the attack, but still reached the shore.

This disaster is still remembered in Australia today.

Stranded on a beach of Bangka Island located off the Sumatran coast (Present day Indonesia), with no food or medical supplies the group was forced to surrender to the Japanese forces. On the 16th of February 1942 fifteen Japanese soldiers divided the survivors by gender into two groups. The men were marched to an area out of view. The nurses heard a quick succession of shots before the Japanese soldiers came back, sat down in front of the women and cleaned their bayonets and rifles.

Twenty two captured Australian army nursing sisters and one British civilian lady were forced at bayonet point by Japanese soldiers to wade into the sea, leaving ten or twelve stretcher cases on the beach. Fully aware of their fate, the nurses put on a brave face. Their Matron, Irene Drummond, called out: "Chin up, girls. I'm proud of you and I love you all." They were then ruthlessly machine gunned by these troops. Only one woman, (Captain) Sister Vivian Bullwinkle (born Kapunda, South Australia, Army Number VFX 61330) survived, after feigning death and with a bullet through her spleen, she was later held as a POW for the rest of the war.

One of the 21 Australian nursing sisters’ cold bloodedly murdered on that beach was Lt. Florence Rebecca Casson. Her body like the other 21 women shot dead (including the British civilian), was never found. She is commemorated on the Singapore Memorial located in the Kranji Commonwealth War Graves Commission Cemetery.

Sister Casson is remembered by memorial plaques in the Pinnaroo Hospital, Royal Adelaide Hospital, and the Obelisk at Pinnaroo. There is a display in her honour located in the Pinnaroo Museum.


(C) Steve Larkins May 2016