Sister Rosetta Joan Wight, one of 21 nurses murdered by Japanese soldiers in a World War II atrocity known as the Bangka Island massacre, was honoured at the Australian War Memorial on Wednesday, February 16.
“Sister Wight was one of 5000 Australian nurses who volunteered to brave the bullets and the bayonets to tend our wounded on the many international battle fronts of that grim war,” said Monash MP Russell Broadbent who was on hand to represent the South Gippsland area at the event.
Sister Wight, born and bred in Fish Creek, was nursing the wounded at the Australian General Hospitals in Singapore and Malaya when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbour in late 1941.
As the troops descended on Malaya en route to Singapore, Australian nurses were ordered to evacuate.
He provided an account of the circumstances:
“Despite their wishes to remain in land hospitals with their patients, they obeyed orders and on February, 12, 1942 set sail from Singapore aboard the Vyner Brooke, with many of the wounded men aboard.
“Two days later the ship was attacked by Japanese bombers, killing and wounding dozens and sending survivors scattering in rafts into the sea. Sister Wight suffered deep wounds to the back of her thighs in the bombing, rendering her unable to walk. Despite this, she and 22 fellow nurses along with 80 other survivors made it by life raft to Banka Island, in the Indonesian archipelago.
“Once on land, some went in search of the Japanese to surrender. The nurses, however, chose to remain and tend the wounded on the beach. On 16th February, Japanese soldiers arrived at their camp. Instead of taking the survivors prisoner, they ordered the wounded men who could walk to trek around the headland. There, they machine-gunned them to death.
“The Japanese troops returned to the beach, sat in front of the nurses and cleaned their equipment. They then ordered the nurses into the sea. Unable to walk, Sister Wight was supported on either side by devoted colleagues. When they were waist-high in the waters, the soldiers gunned them down. Only one nurse survived. Just 33 years of age, Sister Wight was one of the 21 slaughtered.
“Of the 65 Australian nurses who embarked on the Vyner Brooke, 12 were killed in the air attack or drowned following the sinking, 21 were murdered on Radji Beach, and 32 became internees.
“Sister Rosetta Joan Wight, along with many of her brave, dedicated nursing sisters are rightly remembered on the Australian War Memorial’s Roll of Honour.”