A Fine Daughter of Australia
Alma May Beard was born on 13th January 1913 to Edward and Katherine Beard at Pell Mell, the family farm in Bejoording, north of Toodyay, Western Australia. She had three siblings, two sisters and a brother. After attending the Toodyay State School Alma decided on a career in nursing. She trained at the Royal Perth Hospital and then moved to one of the larger Sydney hospitals to gain experience.
Australia was at war in Europe and North Africa when Alma Beard returned to WA, where she enlisted in the Australian Army Nursing Service in June 1941. Allocated to the 2/13th Australian General Hospital, in September Sister Beard was sent with her peers to Singapore, where they were initially located at St Patrick's Boys’ School on Singapore Island. Two months later the hospital relocated to a newly-built, but not quite finished, mental hospital at Tampoi on the Malayan mainland.
When the Japanese launched their invasion of Malaya on 8th December their rapid advance forced the withdrawal of medical units to Singapore, leaving the 2/13th as the only Australian hospital in Malaya. The hospital treated most of the casualties that resulted from the AIF's battles in Johore and was essentially a large-scale casualty clearing station. Eventually, the 2/13th was also withdrawn to Singapore, and re-established at St. Patrick's.
When defeat seemed imminent the hospital staff were evacuated. Sister Beard was one of the 2/13th’s nurses among 65 Australian Army nurses who boarded the SS Vyner Brooke to attempt a return to Australia. When the ship was sunk two days later Alma survived the sinking and somehow made it to Radji Beach. Apparently uninjured, and with the other Australian nurses, she proceeded to care for the wounded and injured until the Japanese troops arrived.
When they were lined up facing the sea Alma was on the far left of the line of Australian nurses, next to Vivian Bullwinkel. She leaned across and said to Vivian “Bully, there are two things I’ve always hated in my life, the Japanese and the sea, and today I’ve ended up with both”. As the women walked into the water, the Japanese soldiers opened fire on them, and Alma Beard’s life tragically was cut short.
On the 16th of June 1944 the ‘Toodyay Herald’ newspaper in Alma’s hometown advised that she’d been reported “Missing, believed killed” in February 1942 “together with other unfortunate sisters of the Service”. The newspaper offered sincere expressions of sympathy to the bereaved parents of this fine "Daughter of Australia"
In its Tuesday 30th October 1945 edition, the ‘West Australian’ newspaper reported that one of Alma’s colleagues, Sister Vivian Bullwinkel, had written to Alma’s mother:
“Her brave conduct in an hour of crisis has added lustre to the service which she so nobly carried on”.
Today Sister Alma May Beard is commemorated by the community she served so well by the Alma Beard Community Health Centre at Toodyay, WA. Her name is also on the AANS panel of the AWM Roll of Honour, Canberra.