Irene Melville DRUMMOND MID

DRUMMOND, Irene Melville

Service Numbers: SX10594, SFX10594
Enlisted: 29 November 1940, Keswick, SA
Last Rank: Matron
Last Unit: 2nd/13th Australian General Hospital
Born: Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, 26 July 1905
Home Town: Broken Hill, Broken Hill Municipality, New South Wales
Schooling: Catholic Schools at Adelaide & Broken Hill, NSW. Later returned back to Adelaide and trained as a Nurse at Miss Laurences' Private Hospital. Qualified in Obstetrics at the Queens' Home.
Occupation: Nurse
Died: Murdered - POW of Japan in the Bangka Island massacre, Radji Beach, Bangka Island, Netherlands East Indies, 16 February 1942, aged 36 years
Cemetery: No known grave - "Known Unto God"
Memorial Location: Column 139, Singapore Memorial (within Kranji War Cemetery).
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., Broken Hill Sister Drummond Memorial Park and Gates, Daw Park Repatriation Hospital WW2 Women of the Armed Forces Who Died HR, Kapunda Dutton Park Memorial Gardens Nurses Plaques, Singapore Memorial Kranji War Cemetery
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World War 2 Service

29 Nov 1940: Enlisted Australian Army Nursing Service (WW1), Nursing Sister, SFX10594, Keswick, South Australia
29 Nov 1940: Enlisted Keswick, SA
29 Nov 1940: Involvement Major, SX10594
5 Aug 1941: Promoted Australian Army Nursing Service (WW1), Matron
12 Feb 1942: Embarked Australian Army Nursing Service (WW1), Matron, SFX10594, 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
12 Sep 1946: Honoured Mention in Dispatches, Malaya/Singapore


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.


Showing 1 of 1 story

Biography contributed by Faithe Jones

Matron Irene Drummond was the senior Australian on the beach on that fateful day and her extraordinary courage will always be remembered.

''Chin up, girls. I'm proud of you all and I love you all.'' Matron Irene Drummond called out as she walked into the water to her death on Radji Beach. (1)

Matron Irene Melville Drummond SFX10594 was born on 26 July 1905 at Ashfield, Sydney, daughter of Cedric Drummond, marine engineer, and his wife Katherine, née Melville, both Queensland born. Educated at Catholic schools in Adelaide and at Broken Hill, New South Wales, Irene returned to Adelaide, trained as a nurse at Miss Laurence's Private Hospital, qualified in obstetrics at the Queen's Home and worked at Angaston Hospital.

In 1933 she moved to the Broken Hill and District Hospital where she proved to be a compassionate and extremely competent nurse, well liked and respected by her superiors and colleagues. She served as a surgical sister, assistant-matron and acting-matron. In the book On Radji Beach (p14) Irene is described as being “like a mother hen fussing over her chicks and greeting all with a cheery smile and a friendly squeeze of the shoulder”.

Irene Drummond joined the Australian Army Nursing Service at Keswick South Australian on 23 July 1940 although her Oath of Enlistment in the Australian Imperial Force is dated 8 November 1940. She was called up for full-time duty with the 2/4th Casualty Clearing Station in January 1941. Next month she sailed for Singapore to join the 2/9th Field Ambulance. Briefly back with the 2/4th C.C.S., she was promoted Matron on 5 August and posted to the 2/13th Australian General Hospital in September.

When the Japanese invaded Malaya on 8 December, the hospital was situated near Johore Bahru. In January 1942 it was hurriedly moved to St Patrick's School, Singapore. Despite chaotic condition, brought on by the hasty retreat, enemy air-raids and increasing admissions of battle casualties, Drummond's quiet efficiency helped to ensure that the wards were operational within 48 hours.

By early February 1942 surrender to the Japanese appeared likely. Throughout January, Major General Gordon Bennett had repeatedly refused to allow the evacuation of A.A.N.S. personnel. It was not until 10 February that they began leaving, five days before the capitulation. On the 12th only Drummond, Matron Olive Paschke of the 2/10 A.G.H. and sixty-three members of their staffs remained in Singapore. Although the nurses had begged to be allowed to stay with their patients, they were put on board the small ship “SS Vyner Brooke” for the perilous voyage to Australia.

It is now well known history that on the 14th February in Bangka Strait off Sumatra the ship was hit by bombs. The nurses helped other passengers to abandon ship. Scooping up a small Chinese boy as the “SS Vyner Brooke” sank, Drummond escaped in a lifeboat.

A group of survivors, including Drummond and twenty-one fellow nurses, came ashore at Radji Beach, Bangka Island. They were joined by civilians and servicemen from other sunken ships. Having discovered that the island was already in the hands of the Japanese and that no help could be expected from the local population, on 16th February the party resolved to surrender. One of the SS Vyner Brooke’s officers was sent to Muntok to negotiate with the Japanese.

While he was away Drummond suggested that the civilian women and children should leave for Muntok. Her suggestion undoubtedly saved many lives. Shortly after the civilians departed, a Japanese officer and about twenty soldiers arrived at the beach.

Ignoring pleas that the remaining group was surrendering, the Japanese separated the men from the women. The men were marched in 2 groups around a small rocky headland to another area where they were shot and bayoneted. The Japanese returned to the nurses who had been left sitting on the beach and ordered them to walk into the sea.

All knew their fate as they entered the water in silence. The Japanese soldiers opened fire with a machine-gun. Irene Drummond was one of the first to die.

Matron Drummond was posthumously promoted to the rank of Major on 23 March 1943 and later to Lt Colonel and was Mentioned in Dispatches in 1946. The Citation read “The King approves the Mention in recognition of gallant and distinguished service in Malaya in 1942.” (London Gazette No 37671 dated 1 August 1946)

At the Australian War Memorial in Canberra are two original letters written by Matron Drummond to her sister in Australia. The letters are handwritten and dated 17 December 1941 and 5 February 1942. They describe the war conditions in Malaya following the outbreak of war with the Japanese.

A children’s playground, the Sister Drummond Memorial Park, opened at Broken Hill Hospital in 1949, commemorates her. The present memorial park was redesigned as part of the redevelopment of the new health facility and reopened with a blessing on 9th October 1999 - the 50th anniversary of the original consecration.

A plaque at the park says

“This park celebrates the memory of Sister Irene Melville Drummond, a nursing sister who worked at the Broken Hill and District Hospital before joining the Australian Regular Army in October 1940…………..Due to her past dedication to the nursing professions and the care of the Broken Hill people, especially children, the loss of Irene drummond was felt deeply by the local community”.

Principal Sources:
- Australian Dictionary of Biography by Julie Gorrell), 
- On Radji Beach by Ian Shaw
(1) ORB P216



"...SFX10594 Major Irene Melville Drummond, 2/13th Australian General Hospital, Australian Army Nursing Service (AANS). She was one of sixty five Australian nurses and over 250 civilian men, women and children evacuated on the Vyner Brooke from Singapore, three days before the fall of Malaya. The Vyner Brooke was bombed by Japanese aircraft and sunk in Banka Strait on 14 February 1942. Of the sixty five nurses on board, twelve were lost as sea and thirty two survived the sinking and were captured as Prisoners of War (POWs) of which eight later died during captivity. Matron Drummond, aged 37, was one of the remaining twenty two nurses who also survived the sinking and were washed ashore on Radji Beach, Banka Island, where they surrendered to the Japanese, along with twenty five British soldiers. On 16 February 1942 the group was massacred, the soldiers were bayoneted and the nurses were ordered to march into the sea where they were shot. Only Sister Vivian Bullwinkel and a British soldier survived the massacre. Both were taken POW, but only Sister Bullwinkel survived the war. Matron Drummond was the daughter of Cedric Drummond of Cheshunt, SA..." - SOURCE (