The tragic World War II sinking of an Australian warship
carrying many noncombatants is the subject of the Royal Australian
Mint’s newest commemorative coin.
According to the Australian War Memorial, “Up until the outbreak
of war with the Japanese, Vyner Brooke plied the waters between
Singapore and Kuching, under the flag of the Sarawak Steamship
Company. She was then requisitioned by Britain’s Royal Navy as an
The SS Vyner Brooke was sunk on Feb. 14, 1942, with 181 souls
aboard, most of them women and children. The number of passengers was
unusually high (the ship usually only carried 12 passengers and 47
crewmembers), but it was among the last ships to leave Singapore with
evacuees, including the last 65 Australian nurses in Singapore.
Japanese aircraft bombed the ship, sending many of the occupants to
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Although a number of survivors made it to Radji Beach, the
servicemen were bayoneted and nurses were shot, with nurse Vivian
Bullwinkel the only Australian to survive.
The 2017 20-cent coin depicts the SS Vyner Brooke’s torturous
journey while the packaging features related images including a group
photo of the Australian war nurses and Australia’s most distinguished
war nurse, the late Lt. Col. Vivian Statham, also known by her maiden
name Vivian Bullwinkel.
The coin recognizes a significant event in Australia’s war history
that demonstrates the horrific experience many endured for Australia,
according to Royal Australian Mint Chief Executive Officer Ross MacDiarmid.
“The Lieutenant-Colonel’s story of survival reminds us of the
compassion and bravery of all Australian war nurses and this coin is
being released to honor and remember all of them.”
Lt. Col. Bullwinkel’s nephew John Bullwinkel said he was proud of
his aunt’s achievements both during her struggle for survival,
including caring for the sick and dying while being a prisoner of war,
and the legacy created afterwards dedicating her life to improving
recognition, training and conditions for nurses.
“Vivian’s story is horrendous and courageous and in sharing this
story with the Australian public through this commemorative coin, it
reflects the true test of the character of all Australian service
nurses, especially under difficult circumstances and deprivations,”
The mint partnered with the Australian War Memorial in developing
this commemorative coin as part of the official Anzac centenary coin program.
On the reverse of the 20-cent coin, latitude and longitude are
marked to the left of an image of the ship sinking in a mapped Timor
Sea, with China, Sumatra, Australia and New Guinea also identified,
the scene framed within a compass-like border.
The denomination numeral 20 also appears on the reverse, with the
date of the sinking and an inscription identifying the theme, THE
SINKING OF THE S.S. VYNER BROOKE, on the rim.
The Ian Rank-Broadley effigy of Queen Elizabeth II appears on the obverse.
The copper-nickel coin weighs 11.3 grams, measures 28.52 millimeters
in diameter and has a mintage limit of 20,000 pieces.
The coin retails for $10 Australian and may be purchased from the
RAM online shop.