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St George’s News - Waterlooville’s Parish Magazine

The Website for St George’s Church, Waterlooville and its Parish Magazine St George’s News

Autumn 2016 issue

Banka Island Memorial

Two Brave Nurses -
Part 1   Marjorie Mustill

I have in my possession an old photograph showing my father standing on the village Green of Over, Cambridgeshire alongside two smiling teenage girls. It must date from about 1925. One of the girls is named as Marjorie Mustill. Born in 1907 she was the daughter of Horace Mustill a farmer and also landlord of the Golden Lion pub in the village. A year or two later Marjorie left the village to train as a nurse at the Radcliffe Infirmary in Oxford. After qualifying she joined the Colonial Nursing Service and was sent to Hong Kong. Whilst there she travelled widely in China and also visited Japan. Just before war broke out she was transferred to Singapore and was nursing there when the Japanese invaded Malaya in December 1941.

The city came under siege in February 1942. The Naval base was abandoned, the oil tanks set alight and there were daily air raids. The Governor Sir Shenton Thomas ordered the evacuation of all women, children and non-essential personnel. Hundreds of small ships attempted to sail to Sumatra, Java, Australia or India. On 12 February Marjorie boarded the 1670 ton Vyner Brooke a small steamer once the pride of the North Borneo Shipping Company. It sailed at dusk that evening grossly overcrowded carrying 200 passengers and a crew of 47.

The following day whilst passing down the narrow Banka Straits between Sumatra and Banka Island the ship was spotted by 6 Japanese dive bombers. The ship zigzagged desperately but to no avail. One bomb hit the bridge and another fell directly down the funnel before exploding in the engine room. After 10 minutes the ship turned on its side and sank 20 minutes later. The bombers returned and machine-gunned those still on deck or in the lifeboats. Marjorie was seen swimming in the water with a friend called Betty but was never seen again. She either drowned or was eaten by sharks.

She has no known grave but is commemorated on her parents’ gravestone in Over churchyard. Her name also appears on the Nurses Roll of Honour in Westminster Abbey and also on the Roll of Honour in the chapel of Radcliffe Hospital as well as the village War Memorial.

A final twist to this sad story is that my father, just before the photo was taken, had served as a Radio Officer in the Merchant Navy from 1918-20. His ship, the S.S. Anamba, was based at Singapore and he made several voyages to Batavia in Java and on to Australia. The sea route to Indonesia passes through the Banka Straits close to Banka island where Marjorie lost her life. Marjorie also had an older brother Ralph whom I knew quite well. Just after the war I played in the same cricket team with him for a couple of seasons.

John Symonds