Vivian Bullwinkel was the sole survivor of a horrific World War II massacre, in which 21 of her fellow Australian army nurses were forced into the ocean and machine-gunned by Japanese troops on Indonesia's Bangka Island. Now, "history detective" Lynette Silver has added another terrible piece to the puzzle of that February 1942 slaughter: The nurses, including Bullwinkel, were raped before they were killed, the Sydney Morning Herald reports. Silver says there's a reason why this fact never came to light, other than in unconfirmed whispers: She contends Bullwinkel had been told by the Aussie government to never speak of these war crimes. "She was ordered when she was still in the army not to include these details in her depositions to the Tokyo war crimes tribunal," Silver notes.
Silver unearthed a 10-page report at Canberra's national library penned by Jean Williams, the wife of an army major who had conducted war crimes investigations; Silver noticed that Williams' narrative about the nurses' murder abruptly got cut off. "It was evident that whatever else Mrs. Williams had written about the nurses had been removed by someone determined that no one else should see it," Silver writes in her new book, Angels of Mercy. Silver was able to finally confirm the rapes because Bullwinkel did tell at least one person what had happened before her death in 2000: broadcaster Tess Lawrence, who says Bullwinkel was tortured by the secret. "It more than irked her," Lawrence says. "She wanted to put this in her statement before the war crimes tribunal but was ordered not to by the Australian government." (Read more war crimes stories.)