Dorothy Gwendoline Howard (Buddy) ELMES

ELMES, Dorothy Gwendoline Howard

Service Numbers: NX70526, NFX70526
Enlisted: 1 January 1940, Victoria Barracks - Sydney, NSW, Australia
Last Rank: Sister
Last Unit: 10th Australian General Hospital
Born: Armadale, Victoria, Australia, 27 April 1914
Home Town: Armadale, Stonnington, Victoria
Schooling: Not yet discovered
Occupation: Nurse
Died: Murdered as a POW of Japan in the Bangka Island massacre, Radji Beach, Bangka Island, Netherlands East Indies, 16 February 1942, aged 27 years
Cemetery: No known grave - "Known Unto God"
Memorial Location: Column 141, Singapore Memorial (within Kranji War Cemetery)
Memorials: 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., Cheshunt Nurses Memorial Plaque and Trees, Corowa War Memorial, Kapunda Dutton Park Memorial Gardens Nurses Plaques, Launceston Banka Island Massacre, Oxley War Memorial, Singapore Memorial Kranji War Cemetery, Wangaratta Hospital Memorial Plaque
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World War 2 Service

3 Sep 1939: Involvement Australian Army Nursing Service (WW1), Staff Nurse, NX70526, Australian Army Nursing Service (WW1)
1 Jan 1940: Enlisted Australian Army Nursing Service (WW1), Nursing Sister, NX70526, Australian Army Nursing Service (WW1), Victoria Barracks - Sydney, NSW, Australia
1 Jan 1940: Enlisted NX70526, General Hospitals - WW2
17 Dec 1940: Involvement Australian Army Nursing Service (WW1), Nursing Sister, NX70526, Australian Army Nursing Service (WW1), (NAA, Pg-4)
2 Feb 1941: Embarked Australian Army Nursing Service (WW1), Staff Nurse, NX70526, 10th Australian General Hospital , Embarked Ship: 02/02/1941, "Queen Mary", 10 AGH; as per stated (NAA, Pg-4).
1 Mar 1941: Involvement Australian Army Nursing Service (WW1), Staff Nurse, NFX70526, 10th Australian General Hospital , Malaya/Singapore, Involved - as per stated: 01/03/1941, [AIF] 2nd AIF, [10 AGH] 10 Australian General Hospital; (NAA, Pg-4).
17 Dec 1941: Promoted Australian Army Nursing Service (WW1), Sister, 10th Australian General Hospital , (NAA, Pg-3)
12 Feb 1942: Embarked Australian Army Nursing Service (WW1), Sister, NFX70526, 10th 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, Banka Strait (by Banka Island); (AWM) The Sinking of the SS Vyner Brooke.
15 Feb 1942: Imprisoned Malaya/Singapore
16 Dec 1942: Involvement Australian Army Nursing Service (WW1), Sister, NFX70526, 10th Australian General Hospital , Prisoners of War, SS Vyner Brooke, murdered by the Japanese at Radgi Beach Banka Island

Help us honour Dorothy Gwendoline Howard Elmes's service by contributing information, stories, and images so that they can be preserved for future generations.

Biography contributed by Faithe Jones

"My Darling little Bud, Oh dear, I wish I knew where you are in the world......”

wrote Dorothy’s mother on 2 March 1942. (1) But Dorothy had already died on Radji Beach.

Sister Dorothy Gwendoline Howard Elmes, NFX 70526, 2/10th Australian Hospital Group, was born in Armadale Melbourne on 27 April 1914 to Robert Maynard and Dorothy Jean Elmes (nee Howard). She had one elder sister Beatrice Jean Howard Banks and was known as Benda or Bud to her family and Buddy to her friends.

She spent most of her life in Melbourne and Cheshunt in Victoria’s King Valley. She was the personality of the family, an outgoing, attractive confident young woman with a quirky sense of humour. Her friend Jean Smithenbaker (Smithy??) noted

“Buddy was a most exceptional person….hair worn in a bun….hazel eyes, an infectious laugh and a long striding walk……on the rare occasions she wore high heels she was decidedly awkward. Buddy was tolerant and kind to both humans and animals. She was tune deaf and an avid reader…her expression of endearment was to address one as “old hound’ or “old tripe hound”.”

She trained as a nurse at Corowa Community Hospital on the banks of the Murray River for 4 years, graduating in May 1939. In 1940 she was described by her matron as “one of our best trainees”. The local vicar opined she was a “young woman of excellent character and lady like training with a cheery disposition”.

Dorothy was appointed to the Australian Army Nursing Service in November unaware of her destination. She disembarked at Singapore on 18th February 1941. She says in a letter to her aunt in March 1941 “our quarters here are very comfortable…the climate is not frightfully hot but rather sticky. The country is very pretty here, rice seems to be the main thing that is grown. The English people living about here are awfully good to us, inviting us out to tennis and swimming and afternoon tea etc. It must be a bit of a strain to them to have large numbers of plain, unattached females parked on them”.

Her last letter to her parents was on 8 February 1942 from “Abroad”. “We have been fairly busy, not so much busy but on duty over 12 hours a day….all we have for a light is a lantern with blue paper wrapped around. Sorry this is so short but there is nothing to write about these days”.

Bud was evacuated from Singapore on 12 February 1942 on the ‘SS Vyner Brooke’ and following the sinking of the ship, somehow made her way to land. Two days later on 16th February 1942 she was marched into the water at Radji Beach and executed by the Japanese soldiers with the other nurses, civilians and military personnel.

The one survivor of the massacre, Sister (then Captain) Vivien Strachan Bullwinkel advised Bud’s niece that Buddy “was wonderfully brave like her colleagues when they were ordered into the sea. None cried out or called for mercy.”

A letter sent to Bud by her mother on 2 March 1942 showed her anguish, “My Darling little Bud, Oh dear, I wish I knew where you are in the world.”

This letter was written after Bud had died and was marked ‘Returned to Sender’.

Her parents searched frantically for information, but it was not until June 1944 that the Red Cross advised that “S/Nurse G Elmes is now officially listed as missing believed to have been killed on or after 11/2/42”. Her mother never gave up hope and for many years, even though she had by then been advised of the details of her daughter’s death, thought Bud would turn up at their cottage in Cheshunt. (Sara Alsop (nee Banks) niece, by email dated 29 November 2016 to Michael Pether).

Little is known about Bud’s last voyage on the “SS. Vyner ​Brooke” apart from the fact that, after somehow attaching herself to either a raft or lifeboat she made it to land and then two days later, this lovely caring young woman in her late 20’s was brutally murdered by the Japanese Army on Radji Beach with twenty other Australian Army nurses on 16 February 1942, 75 years ago next month.

Bud will be one of the many Nurses and others who will be remembered next February at the Annual Commemorative Service on Radji Beach.

Principal sources

(1) letter written on 2/3/42 by Dorothy's mother

(2) Michael Pether Auckland New Zealand

(3) Public records


Biography contributed by Daniel Bishop

Daughter of Robert Maynard ELMES & Dorothy Jean (nee HOWARD) ELMES.


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 honour all mankind.