May 09, 2024

Aged care worker Brittany celebrates International Nurses Day with special connection

Resthaven Paradise IND
Brittany Carver (R) is a PCA with family ties to an iconic WWII nurse, Lt Col Vivian Bullwinkel (L, standing to the right). [Supplied]

For Brittany Carver, International Nurses Day holds special significance, and not just because she is a Personal Care Assistant herself. 

The Resthaven Paradise worker is also a relative of Lieutenant Colonel Vivian Bullwinkel, the Australian nurse who was the sole survivor of the Bangka Island massacre, which took place on 16 February 1942, shortly after the outbreak of war in the Pacific. Vivian was Brittany’s great-grandfather’s cousin.

Twenty-two unarmed Australian nurses were killed in the massacre when they were met by Japanese troops after the sinking of their ship, the SS Vyner Brooke. Vivian was hit by a bullet but ‘played dead’ and after a time she dragged herself into the jungle where she hid for 12 days, nursing a wounded British soldier.

She eventually surrendered to the Japanese and spent three and a half years in a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp until the war ended. 

“She went into nursing for the same reason that I come to work – to take care of people,” Brittany says. “And yet, she came up against this horrific event. It’s just such a different experience as a result of the times.”

After the war, Vivian testified at both the Australian War Crimes Board of Inquiry and also the International Military Tribunal for the Far East, seeking justice for those shot in the Bangka Island massacre.

Lieutenant Colonel Vivian Bullwinkel
Vivian testified at the Australian War Crimes Board of Inquiry and International Military Tribunal for the Far East. [Supplied]

She also went on to become the Matron of (the then) Fairfield Infectious Diseases Hospital in Melbourne, as well as establishing the Australian Nurses Memorial Centre (ANMC) with Betty Jeffrey and Beryl Woodbridge. She advocated for better education and conditions for nurses everywhere. She was also President of the Royal College of Nursing, Australia, and was the first female member of the Council of the Australian War Memorial. Sadly, Vivian died in 2000.

‘Vivian has an amazing legacy,’ Brittany says. ‘Certainly, within my family, we have nurses and midwives whose work is improved because of the changes that Vivian oversaw. I know that my job as a Personal Care Assistant is also impacted by what she did.’ 

Brittany says she felt drawn to working in aged care as a result of her family upbringing. 

“My grandmother lived with us as I was growing up,” Brittany says. “I helped take care of her, and when I was ready for a career pivot, I decided to look into aged care. That was six years ago. I really like the flexibility, and the shift work allows me to spend more time with my kids.”

Brittany is also a keen genealogist, tracing her ancestry back 500 years on her mum’s side (where Vivian sits) and 700 years on her dad’s side. 

“You find out a lot of things about your family when you start looking back,” Brittany says.

“My family has been very colourful – some of the stories are just amazing. I also found out the other day that, along with Vivian, there is a distant connection on my mum’s side to Mary Todd, Abraham Lincoln’s wife, so now I’m curious about finding out more about them.”

Resthaven celebrates nurses and healthcare workers for the good and important work they do, both for International Nurses Day, as well as every other day of the year. Thank you!

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