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What's in a name... who was Millie Dorsch?
Dorsch Street in Hove is just like any other suburban street you might find across the city. Houses on one side and on the other, our residential and aged care service provider Alwyndor.
But the name Dorsch is connected to an important person in Holdfast Bay’s history.
Her legacy has now been brought back to life thanks to a war veterans’ support group, known as the Millie Dorsch Sisterhood Group.
Born in Brighton on 25 February 1912, Hulda Millicent Maria Dorsch, otherwise known as Millie, was a Sister with the Australian Army Nursing Service at the time of her death in February 1942 – little more than a week before her 30th birthday.
Millie, along with 64 other nurses and civilians, were on board the SS Vyner Brooke which had evacuated more than 180 people from Singapore for their safety. This was just days prior to what is known as the Fall of Singapore on 15 February 1942.
The Vyner Brooke was bombed by Japanese aircraft on 14 February 1942, and Millie was last seen floating on a piece of wood with a small child. Presumed drowned at sea, in some ways she may be considered lucky to escape the horror of what happened in the days to come.
The surviving nurses, who were among the passengers who made it to shore on Bangka Island, were gunned down by Japanese soldiers in what became known as the Bangka Island Massacre. It claimed the lives of more than 20 Australian nurses.
The only survivor was fellow South Australian-born nurse, Lieutenant Colonel Vivian Bullwinkel. (Read more below)
More than 80 years after those tragic events, the name Millie Dorsch is once again being spoken about – and commemorated - thanks to a group of like-minded women.
The Millie Dorsch Sisterhood Group was established in January this year, as a subgroup of the William Kibby VC Veterans Shed at Glenelg North.
The group caters for female veterans but also partners, carers and associates of veterans who are involved in the Vets Shed.
The group’s chairperson Patricia Schlein said the aim was to create a safe space and positive environment for women to share stories, seek support and build friendships.
“We wanted to make it available for women to have their own time - there are carers who need a break and while their men work in the shed, we can have our time together,” Patricia said.
One of the more recent members to join is Jacqui Walsh, a veteran herself who joined the Women’s Royal Australian Air Force in 1968. Jacqui’s daughter-in-law is a group member while her son is involved in the Vets Shed.
“Everyone comes from all walks of life and we value what they contribute,” Jacqui said. “Before it started though, because some of the fellas here at the Vets Shed can’t drive, their carers or wives would bring them here, and were sitting in the car, waiting for them while they had a nice time with the fellas,” adding that now those women have a place to gather and connect with others.
How Millie’s name was chosen for the group came about thanks to Vets Shed volunteer Joan, who has tended to the Michael Herbert Memorial Garden for the past several years. In the garden is a memorial bench with Millie’s name on it – and that’s where the sisterhood group members gathered for their photo with Millie.
“We did some research on Millie and it seemed very appropriate to name the group after her given she was a South Australian from the district who served in the Second World War,” said Patricia.
The group meets weekly at the Glenelg North Community Centre for coffee, conversation, arts and crafts. The members’ craft creations will be on sale as part of the Glenelg North Community Garden Open Day on 28 October 2023, with all funds raised going back into supporting both the Vets Shed and Sisterhood Group’s activities.
To find out more about the group, click on the email link below or email MillieDorschSG@outlook.com
The group’s members would also love to make contact with any relatives of Millie Dorsch to share the story of the sisterhood group with them.
Roll of Honour name projection
Hulda Millicent Maria Dorsch’s name will be projected onto the exterior of the Hall of Memory at the Australian War Memorial on the following dates:
- Saturday 9 December 2023 at 9.30pm
- Tuesday 12 March 2024 at 9.22pm
Sculpture honours massacre survivor and all Australian war nurses
A sculpture of the sole survivor of the Bangka Island Massacre has been unveiled at Canberra’s Australian War Memorial (AWM).
Nurse Lieutenant Colonel Vivian Bullwinkel, who was a peer of Millie Dorsch, is the first woman to have a sculpture in her likeness displayed at the war memorial.
Head of Art at the AWM Laura Webster said the sculpture was created “to recognise all Australian nurses who have lost their lives or survived atrocities while serving their country”.
Along with the life-size figure of Sister Bullwinkel, who was born in Kapunda, South Australia in 1915, the sculpture includes 22 stainless steel discs, representing the 22 women killed in the massacre on 16 February 1942.
Sister Bullwinkel returned to Bangka Island in 1992 to unveil a shrine to the nurses who did not survive the war, among them Millie Dorsch.