Service Numbers: NFX76285, NX76285 (N108167), N108167, NX76285
Enlisted: 5 April 1941, Victoria Barracks - Sydney, NSW, Australia
Last Rank: Staff Nurse
Last Unit: 2nd/13th Australian General Hospital
Born: Guyra, Armidale Regional Council. NSW, 15 January 1913
Home Town: North Sydney, North Sydney, New South Wales
Schooling: Not yet discovered
Occupation: Nurse
Died: Murdered as a POW of Japan in the Bangka Island massacre, Bangka Island, 16 February 1942, aged 29 years
Cemetery: No known grave - "Known Unto God"
Officially Commemorated on Column 141, Singapore Memorial (within Kranji War cemetery). Roll of Honour: North Sydney, New South Wales.
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., Kapunda Dutton Park Memorial Gardens Nurses Plaques, Launceston Banka Island Massacre, Singapore Memorial Kranji War Cemetery
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World War 2 Service

3 Sep 1939: Involvement Australian Army Nursing Service (WW1), Staff Nurse, NFX76285, NX76285 (N108167), Australian Army Nursing Service (WW1)
5 Apr 1941: Involvement Australian Army Nursing Service (WW1), Staff Nurse, NFX76285, NX76285 (N108167), Australian Army Nursing Service (WW1), (NAA, Pg-4)
5 Apr 1941: Enlisted NX76285, General Hospitals - WW2
5 Apr 1941: Enlisted Australian Army Nursing Service (WW1), Staff Nurse, NFX76285, NX76285 (N108167), Australian Army Nursing Service (WW1), Victoria Barracks - Sydney, NSW, Australia
5 Apr 1941: Enlisted Australian Military Forces (Army WW2), Lieutenant, N108167
8 Sep 1941: Involvement Australian Army Nursing Service (WW1), Staff Nurse, NFX76285, NX76285 (N108167), 2nd/13th Australian General Hospital, Malaya/Singapore, (NAA, Pg-4)
12 Feb 1942: Embarked Australian Army Nursing Service (WW1), Staff Nurse, NFX76285, NX76285 (N108167), 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); 16 February 1942, Imperial Soldiers of the Japanese Forces massacred 22 Australian Nurses, and -60 in total- Australian, English Soldiers, and crew members who had survived the sinking of the SS Vyner Brooke (AWM) The Sinking of the SS Vyner Brooke.
14 Feb 1942: Involvement Australian Army Nursing Service (WW1), Staff Nurse, NFX76285, NX76285 (N108167), 2nd/13th Australian General Hospital, Malaya/Singapore
14 Feb 1942: Imprisoned Malaya/Singapore, POW-Prisoner of War: 14/02/1942, POW of Japan, "Bangka Island Massacre".


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.


Submitted 6 November 2018 by Daniel Bishop

Showing 1 of 1 story

Biography contributed by Faithe Jones

Sister Nancy Harris, NX 76285, was a member of the 2/13th Australian General Hospital. Described variously as aged 28 or 29 years at the time of the sinking of the SS Vyner Brooke Nancy was presumably born around 1912/13. Research has failed to find out much about her family and early life; although the book On Radji Beach says she was from a medical family.

The Australian War Memorial website states that Sister Harris was the daughter of Dr John Solomon Harris of North Sydney NSW, although this maybe in conflict with a newspaper in 1937 – see later). In the book ‘Sister Kenny: The Women Who Challenged the Doctors’, a Doctor John Solomon Harris is described (in about 1911) as ‘short, Jewish, rather stiff but always willing to do a kindness or a favour’. So, Nancy may well have been Jewish.

She first appears in regional newspapers attending balls as a teenager in the Byron Bay area of NSW. In 1934 when she would have been around 21 years of age it was reported in the ‘Northern Star’ newspaper at Lismore in country NSW (21.12.34) that “… Miss Nancy Harris of Byron Bay has left to join the nursing staff of Prince Henry Hospital of Wales.

Before leaving she was presented with a fountain pen by the staff of the Byron Bay Post Office…” suggesting that Nancy may have been employed in the Post Office between her schooling and nursing career. The Prince Henry Hospital of Wales was a hospital also known as Coast Hospital and was merged some 40 years later with two other hospitals to form the current Prince of Wales Hospital in Sydney.

In 1936 there is another report in the same newspaper that “… Nancy Harris has spent three weeks holiday with her parents at Byron Bay before returning to Sydney to resume duties at the Coast Hospital…”. Again in 1937 another paper (“Tweed Daily” Murwillumbah, 13.1.37) reported that “… Miss Nancy Harris after spending the holiday with her parents Mr. & Mrs. G. Harris at Byron Bay has returned to Prince Henry Hospital to continue training …”. It is assumed that in 1938 she would have passed her Nurses exam in NSW. One record states of her life around this time that she “ … trained at Royal North Shore Hospital and joined the staff of the dental hospital on completing her training. Just before the war she travelled in Fiji, China and Japan …”.

Nancy enlisted in the Australian Army Nursing Service on 21 August 1941. From her paybook photo taken on enlistment she is shown as a slim young woman with wavy brown hair, hazel eyes and with a confident direct look at the camera.

Nancy left South Australia in August 1941 and sailed for Malaya on the Hospital Ship Wanganella, arriving on 15 September 1941. She was posted to the 2/13th Australian General Hospital that was initially located at St Patrick's School on Singapore Island. Between 21-23 November 1941 the entire hospital was moved across the Strait to Tampoi Hill on the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula. Due however, to the swift progress of the Japanese invasion force, most of the hospital staff was evacuated back to Singapore in late January 1942.

In an ironic twist of history and several months prior to the wartime boarding of the SS Vyner Brooke in February 1942, Nancy and Vivian Bullwinkel, had already experienced the layout of the ship. In September 1941 they had actually attended a dinner party hosted by Reserve Officers of the Royal Navy on the SS Vyner Brooke. (On Radji Beach p.117). A number of these Officers were later also killed at Radji Beach.

After the ship left Singapore on its last voyage and whilst under attack, Nancy apparently shared a ‘battle station’ with Vivian Bullwinkel (On Radji Beach p. 141). Nancy presumably was either in the first lifeboat to reach Radji Beach (although this would only have been if she was ordered on board that boat to care for the wounded) or more likely, was one of the large group of nurses holding onto the upturned submerged second lifeboat and accompanying life rafts which landed further along the coast with several badly wounded nurses. Nancy would have then walked with the wounded along the coast to the beacon bonfire lit by the first lifeboat survivors.

On the day of the mass murder of the sailors, soldiers, civilians and nurses on Radji beach and as the nurses watched the Japs return from murdering the second group of men along the Breach, Nancy is reported (obviously via Vivian Bullwinkel’s memory) to have observed to no one in particular “ … Its true then , they don’t take prisoners …” (On Radji Beach, p.214).

So Nancy Harris a dedicated young woman in her late twenties, who had grown up in the peaceful and serene environment of Byron Bay, was killed for no sane reason with her close colleagues and friends on Radji Beach.

Principal Sources

(1) On Radji Beach page 214
Michael Pether, Historian and Researcher Auckland New Zealand
On Radji Beach by Ian Shaw
Public records