guest post by Evelyn Heard
On my walk yesterday I came upon the same elderly lady that I had traded smiles with on previous days. She was stooped over tending her small but exquisite garden, encouraging Spring to show its face. She then slowly straightened up and kicked in for a lengthy chat. The conversation inevitably led to COVID-19 and its impact on us personally and our community, which prompted her to relate the story of Vivian Bullwinkle.
Vivian was a nurse with the Australian Army and in September 1941 she sailed for Singapore. On February 12th 1942, Vivian and 65 other nurses boarded the SS Vyner Brooke to escape as Singapore had surrendered in defeat. They saw the huge fires burning along the coastline as they sailed for freedom under the cover of darkness. Two days later their ship was sunk by Japanese aircraft but Vivian and twenty-one other nurses, together with a large group of men, women and children somehow made it to shore to Radji Beach on Bangka Island. The survivors split up on the island with the nurses staying on the beach to look after the wounded. On the sixteenth of February, Japanese soldiers discovered the survivors and motioned for the nurses to wade into the sea where they were machine-gunned from behind. Vivian was struck by a bullet in her hip and lay motionless in the water pretending to be dead surrounded by her deceased colleagues until the Japanese soldiers left and the tide took her pain-riddled body back to shore. She managed to hide in the jungle for a while before being captured and enduring three and a half years as a prisoner of war. Her survival was nothing short of inspirational. She returned home to live a full and productive life devoted to nursing, becoming the Matron of the Queen’s Memorial Infectious Diseases Hospital in Melbourne. She devoted decades honouring and raising funds for a memorial for her fallen colleagues, eventually dying in July 2000 in Perth, Western Australia.
I looked at the lined worn face telling me Vivian’s story as she related personal stories of other hardships she had been through. When things get tough this elderly lady puts on her “Vivian” and soldiers through. In these past eighteen months it is the stories from the over 80’s that have inspired me and given me renewed hope and purpose. Each generation in history faces hardships of one type or another. Our present circumstances truly reflect war times except that the enemy is not visible. Stories of hope and inspiration are very much needed to encourage one another in these times of separation from family and friends. Many now are struggling to find hope and purpose in what seems to be a never-ending journey of hardship. Perhaps the older folk around us are a resource for us in ways that we never imagined. Listening to their stories might also be a gift to them!
The Apostle Paul’s reminder of the value of these stories written years ago has a new relevance for us today. “For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope”. Romans 15:4
Evelyn Heard is a Melbourne Writer; Photo by Eduardo Barrios on Unsplash
Now available for registration! Join Christine Sine and Lilly Lewin as they explore what it means to find beauty in the ashes and prepare for a meaningful Lenten journey. Live via Zoom on Saturday, February 26th from 9:30 am PT to 12:30 pm PT (check my timezone). This retreat will include opportunities for creativity and contemplation, interaction and informative refreshment – but is also designed to be recorded as a course. If you aren’t able to make it live, you will still enjoy all the fun, and have the recording as yours forever to enjoy at your own pace. Click here to register as a live-or-later participant!