Rosetta Joan WIGHT

WIGHT, Rosetta Joan

Service Numbers: VFX61329, VX61329
Enlisted: 8 August 1941
Last Rank: Nursing Sister
Last Unit: 2nd/13th Australian General Hospital
Born: Fish Creek, South Gippsland - Victoria, Australia, 3 December 1908
Home Town: Fish Creek, South Gippsland, Victoria
Schooling: Not yet discovered
Occupation: Nurse
Died: Murdered whilst a POW of the Japanese in the Bangka Island massacre, Radji Beach, Bangka Island, Netherlands East Indies, 16 February 1942, aged 33 years
Cemetery: No known grave - "Known Unto God"
Memorial Location: Column 142, 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, Bendigo Base Hospital Roll of Honour, Bicton Vyner Brooke Tragedy Memorial, W.A., Fish Creek & District Honour Roll WW2, Kapunda Dutton Park Memorial Gardens Nurses Plaques, Launceston Banka Island Massacre, Singapore Memorial Kranji War Cemetery
Show Relationships

World War 2 Service

8 Aug 1941: Enlisted Australian Army Nursing Service (WW1), Nursing Sister, VFX61329, 2nd/13th Australian General Hospital
8 Aug 1941: Enlisted VX61329, General Hospitals - WW2
7 Dec 1941: Involvement Australian Army Nursing Service (WW1), Nursing Sister, VFX61329, 2nd/13th Australian General Hospital, Malaya/Singapore
12 Feb 1942: Embarked Australian Army Nursing Service (WW1), Staff Nurse, VFX61329, 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
16 Feb 1942: Involvement Australian Army Nursing Service (WW1), Nursing Sister, VFX61329, 2nd/13th Australian General Hospital, Prisoners of War


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

“Unable to move they were half carried to the upper deck by fellow nurses.......”

Another very sad story of a brave Australian Army Nurse who was executed on Radji Beach. Their stories must never be forgotten.

Sister Rosetta Joan Wight, VX 61329, was a member of the 2/13th Australian General Hospital. She was born on 3 December 1908 the second eldest of 4 children to Leslie Rivers Wight and Rosetta Frances Wight (nee Brown) of Fish Creek, a small rural town south east of Melbourne in Victoria,.

Rosetta’s father Les was born at Kensington London and immigrated with his family to Australia as a child. His own father died in Melbourne when Les was only 14 but it was not until Les was 39 that he married Rosetta’s mother, also named Rosetta.

Four children followed in the next 5 years, so it was a pretty busy Wight household in which Rosetta lived. The growing family moved from suburban Melbourne to Fish Creek in early 1908 and Leslie worked as a farmer. So it would have been a pretty carefree life enjoyed by Rosetta and her siblings.

Tragedy through war service was to cruely strike Rosetta’s family a generation before the Radji Beach atrocities in February 1942. William Brown was her mother’s younger brother and Rosetta’s Uncle. In 1916 he enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force and after training his unit went to France. He was killed in Belgium on the 20 September 1917. Being nearly nine, the tragedy would certainly have hit young Rosetta hard, as it would her whole family. But no-one could foresee the immense sadness that would confront the family a generation later.

Little is known of her schooling. There is however a record in “The Argus” Melbourne newspaper of 30 March 1935 that Rosetta J. Wight passed her Nurses Board exams whilst at Bendigo Hospital in Central Victoria. From the Electoral Roll it is also known that in 1931 when Rosetta was about 23, she was living in Toorak in Melbourne and her occupation was stated as ‘nurse’.

On the 8 August 1941 Rosetta enlisted in the Australian Army Nursing Service and her paybook photo shows a cheery faced country girl. It is believed that in late August 1941 Rosetta sailed for Malaya on the hospital ship Wanganella, arriving on 15 September 1941. She was posted to the 2/13th Australian General Hospital which 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.

There is little else of her life recorded until the attack on the SS Vyner Brooke on 14 February 1942, following its departure from Singapore on 12th. Rosetta was one of the 65 Australian Army Nursing Service nurses on the ship. She was severely wounded during the attack on the ship and in the book On Radji Beach there is a long account of her suffering during the last two days of her life. This is quoted below because it is appropriate to understand what was inflicted on this dedicated nurse whose sole purpose in life was to care for others.

In On Radji Beach on page 153, immediately after the bombs hit the ship it states

“… the worst of the injuries appear to those suffered by Sister Rosetta Wight, who was one of the older nurses, and Clare Halligan. The two nurses had been in the rear of the saloon near the passageway to the cabins when the bomb landed behind them. Both had been facing towards the front of the boat and suffered deep shrapnel wounds to the back of their thighs and buttocks, wounds that penetrated to the bone …..”

Unable to move they were half carried to the upper deck by fellow nurses and were loaded into the second lifeboat with the frail elderly and mothers with children.

Tragically, this lifeboat overturned as it landed in the sea and all aboard had to hold onto the upturned craft until around 10pm on that Saturday night until it was washed ashore. They were at least a couple of kilometres from where the first lifeboat had much earlier rowed ashore at Radji Beach and where its occupants had lit a beacon bonfire.

Vivian Bullwinkel and Jimmy Miller walked from the second lifeboat to the bonfire to obtain help for the injured. Only Eric German, an American civilian who was destined to survive the killings, and a young English teenager offered their help. So, in agony Rosetta was half carried and half dragged by the small rescue party led by Jimmy Miller. It took over two hours to cover the couple of kilometres to reach the bonfire location, whereas it had taken Vivian and Jimmy about half an hour a little earlier.

Rosetta appears to have been placed on the high side of the beach in the shade of the coconut trees on the edge of the jungle. She and the other wounded were being cared for by Matron Drummond and her Australian Army Nurses and a Chinese doctor who had also survived the sinking.

When dawn broke on Monday 16th February the survivors were joined by another lifeboat and rafts with many wounded people from ships that were sunk by the Japanese in the Banka Straits during the night. The sheer volume of over 80 survivors and wounded seems to have tipped those in authority to seek help from the Japanese.

While Sub-Lieut William Sedgman, Royal Naval Reserve and First Officer of the SS Vyner Brooke, was away to surrender the group to the Japanese, Matron Drummond decided to send the women and children and a few walking wounded men on a trek towards Muntok the nearest town. This group in fact passed the Japanese soldiers coming to Radji Beach with Bill Sedgeman.

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

So, Rosetta was amongst the group of nurses destined to be killed 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 Rosetta and her wounded friends being supported at the right hand end of the line by other sisters (On Radji Beach page 216) the Japanese carried out one of their most abhorrent war crimes against Allied women on record.

This group of noble caring women fell together under the impact of the Japanese machine gun bullets and the life of this open faced country girl from Country Victoria was most cruely taken at Radji Beach.

Rosetta Wight is commemorated with 28 other ‘Royal Australian Army Nursing Service’ personnel on the Bendigo Base Hospital Honour Roll at Pall Mall, near the soldiers Memorial Institute at Bendigo Victoria.

Perhaps the real memory of Rosetta Joan Wight can be appreciated by the many family trees on that includes her name and details.

On one tree there is even a photo of a page describing the killings from the biography of the only nurse who survived the massacre, Vivian Bullwinkel and this photo is below.

Principal Sources

On Radji Beach by Ian Shaw
Michael Pether Researcher and Historian Auckland New Zealand
Public records