Service Numbers: WX3439, W233412, WFX3439
Enlisted: 14 August 1940
Last Rank: Sister
Last Unit: 2nd/4th Casualty Clearing Station
Born: Claremont, Western Australia, 24 May 1913
Home Town: Perth, Western Australia
Schooling: Not yet discovered
Occupation: Nursing Sister
Died: Murdered as a POW of Japan in the Banka Island massacre, Banka Island, Netherlands East Indies, 16 February 1942, aged 28 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, 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

14 Aug 1940: Enlisted Australian Army Nursing Service (WW1), Sister, WX3439, Australian Army Nursing Service (WW1), Claremont, Western Australia
14 Aug 1940: Enlisted Australian Military Forces (WW2) , Lieutenant, W233412
14 Aug 1940: Enlisted WX3439
7 Dec 1941: Involvement Australian Army Nursing Service (WW1), Nursing Sister, WFX3439, 2nd/4th Casualty Clearing Station, Malaya/Singapore
12 Feb 1942: Embarked Australian Army Nursing Service (WW1), Sister, WFX3439, 2nd/4th Casualty Clearing Station, 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.
16 Feb 1942: Imprisoned 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 John Edwards

"...WX3439 Sister Bessie Wilmott, 2/4th Casualty Clearing Station, 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 dyas 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, twelve were lost at sea, thirty two survived the sinking and were captured as Prisoner of War (POWs), of which eight later died in captivity. Sister Wilmott 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..." - SOURCE (


Biography contributed by Faithe Jones

‘A short life filled with sadness and tragedy’.

The story of Sister Bessie Wilmott’s short life is one of immense loss at a very tender age, more sadness as a young women, and then being herself the victim of one of the great atrocities involving Australians in World War 2.

WX 3439 Sister Bessie Wilmott was a member of the 2/4th Casualty Clearing Station. In the book On Radji Beach Bessie is incorrectly called ‘Peggy Wilmot’ and the Bicton Memorial in Western Australia also appears to have the surname spelt incorrectly as ‘Wilmot’.

Bessie was born on 24 May 1913 at Claremont, Western Australia and was raised at 6 Gardner Street, Como. Records indicate that she was the daughter of John Henry Wilmott and his wife Clarice Thompson who were married in 1912 in Perth.

She experienced a sad childhood. Her mother Clarice died in September 1919 when Bessie was only 6 years old. So at 39 her father was a widower with 3 young children, the youngest being just 2 years old. But then sadly, in 1939, Bessie’s younger brother Richard Wilmott aged 22 years was drowned at Albany in Western Australia.

Records indicate that Bessie’s father John remaried in 1923 and his new wife was Lilian Millard who was the same age as John, 43 years old. Bessie now had a mother to whom she seems to have developed a close bond. The Death Notice of her brother Richard in the The West Australian newspaper in Perth on 5 December 1939 notes the name of her mother as ‘Lilian Wilmott of Gardner Street, Como’.

Futhermore, Lilian is shown as her mother and next-of-kin on her enlistment form in 1940. There is no mention of her father John Wilmott who died some years later in 1957.

Bessie was a member of the Church of England. According to the Sunday Times newspaper in Perth on 2 October 1927 she played ‘one of Cinderella’s sisters’ in a play at the Anglican Hall, Como.

She trained as a nurse at Royal Perth Hospital. On records at the Australian War Memorial Bessie’s occuption is noted as ‘Sister in charge of “A” Ward in Perth Public Hospital”. There is also a group photo of her as a trainee nurse at the Metropolitan Infectious Diseases Hospital in 1939/40.

Bessie enlisted in the Australian Army Nursing Service at Como in Western Australia on 14 August 1940 and her enlistment photo shows a pretty women of 5 feet 5 inches in height. In 1941 she appears also as one of a large group of men and women from the 2/4th Casualty Clearing Station in Hobart Tasmania(AWM Archives).

Soon after enlistment she was appointed to the 2/4th Casualty Clearing Station of the Australian Army Nursing Service. In February 1941 Bessie embarked on the SS Queen Mary bound for Singapore and Malaya. She worked in various places on the Malay Peninsula, often with the 9th Field Ambulance, before being based with the 2/4th Casualty Clearing Station in Lampai, South Johore.

After the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor the 2/4th Casualty Clearing Station was withdrawn to a makeshift theatre at the Kluang airfield. Once the fall of Singapore became inevitable the nurses began to be evacuated from the island, but Bessie’s station remained until 12 February, when it too was evacuated. Bessie was one of the 65 Australian Army nurses on the S S Vyner Brooke.

After the SS Vyner Brooke was bombed and sunk by Japanese bombers, the lives of the survivors were in the hands of fate. It seems that Bessie grabbed a rope that was trailing from Matron Irene Drummond’s lifeboat and it is presumed this is how Bessie came to be on Radji Beach. All on board or attached to the life boat, as was Bessie, were slaughtered 2 days later. Others who were not strong enough to grab a trailing rope from the lifeboat somehow made it to shore and survived.

So far as is known Bessie was not injured when she made it to Radji Beach and apparent safety. As with the other nurses she was very wet and tired, but nevertheless, attended to the increasing numbers of survivors as they made it to the beach.

Bessie saw the Japanese soldiers arrive, separate the men and then in 2 groups, marched them behind the headland were they were killed, with only 2 survivors. As the soldiers came back the second time and wiped their bayonets in front of the nurses, she would have known her fate.

Bessie Wilmott, a caring and career helper of others, was one of the 21 Australian Army Nurses marched into the sea at Radji Beach and brutally murdered by Japanese troops on that terrible morning of 16 February 1942.

Bessie is memorialised on plaque Number M270 in Honour, Bicton, Western Australia and in various other Memorials to the Nurses around Australia including at Ballarat Victoria.

Bessie’s younger brother John Wilmott also served in the Second World War, enlisting in the Royal Australian Air Force. He was Mentioned in Dispatches for distinguished service in New Guinea, but unlike Bessie, returned home to Perth when the war concluded.

The City of South Perth Library has handwritten wartime letters from Bessie together with more photos of her school and nursing days.

Apparently Bessie learned to swim on a' white sandy beach' at Como then very close to her home at 6 Gardner Street ( now a motorway seems to have taken over most of the beach). Such pathos in that her life was brutally taken on another 'white sandy beach' so far from home. Anyone interested can see the file at the Library by contacting the 'Local History Librarian' named Farah.

Principal Sources:
On Radji Beach by Ian Shaw
Michael Pether Auckland New Zealand
Public records