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Attitudes to the war
Treatment of Japanese prisoners of war
Given the impact of Japanese atrocities upon the attitudes of Australian servicemen it comes as no surprise that these attitudes in turn played a major role in determining the treatment of Japanese prisoners of war by Australians. In examining Australian attitudes towards Japanese prisoners of war (POW) a distinction must be made between the taking of Japanese prisoners in the field and their treatment once their surrender had been accepted. Japanese POWs were treated humanely by the Australian military authorities in accordance with the Geneva Conventions and, apart from the Cowra Outbreak, their incarceration passed without incident. However the attitude of frontline Australian soldiers towards the actual taking of Japanese prisoners was another matter:

Captain Donald Simonson, 39th Battalion AMF (Kokoda, 1942):

With the aftermath of that first action had there been an opportunity to satisfy whatever curiosity you may have had about the nature of the Japanese. Were you able to get close enough to see bodies of Japanese and get a sense of what they were like?

Oh yes, yes, but I don't think we took sufficient notice to appreciate the, whether they were big, bad, or indifferent. No I don't think I really took much notice of them at all. I was more interested in other things as to what they were really looking like.

Were there any wounded Japanese or prisoners?

No, no, not in our area, they were all killed.

Corporal Jack Boland, 39th Battalion AMF (Kokoda 1942):

[W]e had to move forward and that's when I saw the first enemy soldier. He was laying on the ground beside the track, he had been hit across the buttocks with a burst of Thompson sub-machine gun bullets and the're about half inch round, you know they are all lead, and all his feet were up laying beside his head and he was nearly dead. His eyes were rolling and ... It turns your stomach too.

Was he left to die or was there a feeling that he should be finished off?

Well one officer there said finish him off, put him out of his misery or something, but nobody wanted to do it. Then one fella did. (pause) I think it upset him quit a bit.

Had you..? Previously had any particular instructions as to how you were to treat Japanese if er ...?



No, no, no no. All taken, you are supposed to know what to do I suppose.

Was there also a feeling because of what you had heard about the way the Japanese had treated Australians, that whatever the Japanese got back they deserved?

Oh I felt so. After Bunny [Jack's friend, killed at Kokoda]... it was different it didn't worry me any more.

At the time did the events occur in such a way that it was just the thing to do, or was there a moment where you thought this is another human being I'm about to...

No, no, never, I thought about those things when I'd seen the first Jap killed, I thought "Oh my God this is terrible", you know. But when Bunny had got killed it didn't - it was just like shooting a rabbit.

Sergeant Jack Flanagan, 39th Battalion AMF (Kokoda 1942):

Had you seen any Japanese prisoners or wounded come down?

Yes. Yes, I had seen a couple. In fact, once we were going along the track and they were bringing in a prisoner - I think they had him on a stick sitting down - and he looked at me, the little devil, and he bowed and I thought 'That is rubbing it in'. [laughs]

What do you mean by that?

He bowed his head.

But why was that rubbing it in?

Well he was the enemy, he had no reason to kowtow to me. But it was rather strange, he just bowed his head. You know how the Japanese do.

With the atrocities that were then known to have happened and many men would have good reason to feel that they wanted to revenge themselves against the Japanese. Did you see Japanese who were knocked about in that situation?

Oh yes, yes. That is what I say. We hear a lot about what they did to us but we were in the same boat. Perhaps not as bad but it was there that, this is the enemy, let's destroy him. It was there all of the time.

How far did it go? What would people do?

They would mutilate them, they would burn them. I remember one occasion there was a Jap under a little hut and he wouldn't come out so they burnt the hut and I saw him next morning. It puts a nasty taste in your mouth to think ... and I have got into quite some arguments by telling those things to others and they say it is not a patch on what was done to us but the same thing - it is there - and that is the horror of war but you can't expect anything else.

Is your feeling that in the moment of that individual act it is at that level where the comparison is made rather on the order of scale and numbers?

Yes. It is that hatred sort of takes over that does these things.

What sort of briefing had there ever been to men about how they should either handle wounded Japanese our prisoners; was there any?

Oh yes there was and, of course, then comes the order at times that there will be no prisoners taken because we have got to look after them and we have got to feed them.

Where would that come from?

That would come from higher up.

Where? What was your sense as from what point that order came?

I think if you are getting well and truly trounced, now the situation on the Kokoda Trail, to look at it, say, from a hatred point of view it would be pointless to take prisoners because you would have to look after them and feed them, you see, and looking at it that way they are better off dead.

But despite the logic of it, what level would you assume that such an order would be made? Who would initiate the process?

I think the CO probably. He would understand the situation fully.

You were saying the order not to take prisoners would come from a commanding officer.

Yes, because he would know the situation, the extent of our own supply line and then there would be the number of men that would be needed to look after these people and I would think then he would sum it up and just quietly say, 'Well, no prisoners'.

How did you feel about such an order?

I didn't like it at all and I am glad I didn't have to carry it out.

Would you have?

I doubt it, I really do. Because after all they are men just doing their job.

And yet you indicated that you had gone to war because you felt that if you didn't others would have to do the dirty work as it were ...


... and other men have told me of being ordered to shoot a wounded Japanese because the officer concerned didn't want to do it himself and in that sense I suppose you would have been passing on that. If you had the choice and known if you didn't grasp the nettle - not perhaps a very appropriate metaphor for such a terrible situation - to turn around and then know that another man would have to do it?

No. I don't think I would have passed the buck like that.

So what could have possibly done? What do you think may have happened if you were in a situation; there was the Japanese, he had surrendered, he was to go down the line - what could you have done? What would you have felt that you might reasonably do? You could hardly escort him back through the lines.

No. Well, as a sergeant, of course, you couldn't leave your position. That would be a very awkward one and I don't know what I would have done but I don't think I would have ever shot him because that ... and yet I was there to kill - there is no doubt about it - which is an awkward situation. I don't think there is any answer. You could say now you would have shot him and perhaps feel you are making yourself big in the hearing of others or you could say you wouldn't and you are thought of as a weakling and what were you doing there?

Were you dismayed that such an order should be given and knowing that these things were happening? Did it shock you?

Yes. Yes. Even though I considered war was war and all atrocities belonged to it that I think to deliberately to take a man's life in that circumstance was wrong.

Was there a sense that the evil that was abroad in the world was in a sense symbolised by the very nature of war was also taking a hold of us as well?

Oh yes. You see, if we did that we are making ourselves just as bad as the ones we thought were bad. There must be another answer, but what it is I do not know.

Sergeant Alex Lochhead, 39th Battalion AMF (Kokoda & Gona 1942-43):

There were some men who described the experience of having encountered wounded Japanese and being told that they were to finish them off. Had you had that experience of finding wounded Japanese or taking prisoners?

Not at that stage of the game, no.

Did you have a sense as to how you should or would respond?

I think I would have shot them without any doubt at all because I do not think I would have had any compunction about it.

Had you been briefed as to what you should do as opposed to that?

No; there was no briefing. I don't think there ever was or ever will be. It is just on the individual himself.

The knowledge of the massacre at the Tol plantation, did that sort of loom as something in people's minds that the Japanese had to be punished or hit back at and deserved what they got?

Well I think deserve what they got would be correct. I don't think it was retribution or anything like that. I think everyone realised that if they were caught that would happen to them so, therefore, you don't get caught. But as for paying back or anything like that, no, I don't think that occurred to anyone. It was just part of the drill that you ... if there was a Japanese who came in because you were ordered to keep him because they wanted to interrogate him back further at ... all right, you protected him. There weren't too many wounded that I saw initially of Japanese who were still alive.

After the Kokoda battles Lochhead found himself attached to Brigade Headquarters during the battle for Gona where one of his duties was to guard a small Japanese POW compound:

One might suppose there would be a natural intense curiosity about the Japanese prisoners or was there a sense that you had had enough of them; the less you saw of them the better?

We took an interest and had a look at them first up then once you had seen them, that was it.

Was there any sense of communication?

No, no. Not between us at all. In fact it was barred. You weren't supposed to talk to them but, there again, they couldn't talk English, we couldn't talk Japanese.

What was the nature of their confinement? What were the conditions under which they were held?

The same as us. They just sat down until ... if they were captured they were brought in, sometimes their hands were tied, but mainly they just sat there and, as I see it, most of them, if they were captured like that, accepted the fact, once it happened to them and then we didn't hold them for very long. We had to move them back to the Headquarters where they had some interrogation, I presume.

Corporal Geoffrey Holmes, 2/12th Battalion AIF (Milne Bay 1942 and Buna/Sanananda 1942-43)):

I moved along a bit further, and the next thing, one popped his head up out of the kunai grass. A chap was near me, he took a pot shot at him, and he disappeared and that's the only one I saw there. But then we were given the orders to make sure that we weren't to pass any Jap on the ground without making sure he was dead. That's when the order came through to us by word of mouth. Bill Bowman was in charge of the platoon I was with, and Bill had been in the transport - I knew him because of way back, he'd been a transport officer at one stage - but he put me as one of the ... oh, I suppose, on the ... I'm not sure how you pronounce it ... the job was to fan out on the side of the track. I was doing this side, and somebody else on the other, as a scout, to just keep that side of the track clear, make sure there was no one there - you know, as far as I could get out without going right through into the grass out of sight. And that's how we advanced down the track. We went past a lot of Japs - I shot at quite a few, whether they were dead or alive I didn't worry, I just fired a shot into them as I went past to make sure.

And no prisoners?

No prisoners.

Were you ever there when prisoners were taken?

The only one I ever had anything to do with as a prisoner was a big tall marine at Milne Bay after the action was over, several days after we'd finished. Paul said he saw one old bloke, or something, one of them had come to them, and that they caught. But they were very few, we never took any at Milne Bay ... er, at Buna.

Mmm. After having seen the Japanese atrocities, was there any reciprocation to Japanese prisoners or wounded?

I don't know about ... I never shot anybody knowing he was wounded, but if he was it was just too bloody bad. But we just didn't go past it. He might be already dead, but it didn't make any difference, you still ... you made sure that if he was in your road and you were going through there, you never went past that person, whether he was a corpse or whether he was alive.

How about the Japanese? How did you feel towards the Japanese?

Hated them. And haven't changed.

[At Buna] there was a Nip out in front of us was singing out for water and carrying on; and I had a few milkies with me as well in the section - so they weren't our blokes, they were blokes who'd sort of been brought in because we picked up reinforcements just before we went into Buna - and they wanted to start shooting. I said `No, don't do that.' Anyway, this Nip was still out in front calling out, carrying on. So I said to one of us `All right, pull a hand grenade out and throw that over', which he did. And sure enough it stopped all the noise, for that night.

Then the next day we sort of boxed them into a corner. And the next day we really ... we pumped that much into them, they tried to get them to surrender in the end, but they wouldn't. Saw a few of them stand up and, you know, ... most of those who stood up I think were some of their officers, or they appeared to be. And they wouldn't ... I remember how the OC - or CO rather, Arnold, told us ... We held our fire, and he gave them two or three minutes to surrender, and they wouldn't surrender, nothing happened, so we just kept ploughing away. And I know my Bren got that hot that I couldn't use it. And one of the blokes who was supposed to carry the spare had flaming well lost it! (laughing) But that was actually the final bit of the taking of Buna. So we just kept going till there was nothing left. That was it.

Sergeant Victor Austin, 39th Battalion AMF (Kokoda 1942) and 2/2nd Battalion AIF (Aitape-Wewak 1944-45):

[W]hat happened when you saw your first Japanese [prisoner]? I mean it must have been ...

Oh I'll tell you. It was in this advance along the coast. A Japanese position where they'd been dug in had been heavily bombarded and after that bombardment our A Company had moved up and we - a group of us from the platoon - 8 Platoon of A Company, the 2/2nd Battalion - went to a stream to do our washing - to wash our clothes - and ... I was the last to finish washing. I had a four gallon can of water in one hand, I had my - I was naked - my boots, my laces tied together and I put them around my neck. I was walking out of this stream and all of a sudden a very big Jap appeared on the track in front of me. All he had on was a pair of trousers and he was carrying a stick rather like a quarter staff - the quarter staff that Robin Hood and his men used to have, like a short pole - and he was jog-trotting towards me and I thought my God what am I going to do, I've got ...

Had he seen you?

Yeah, he was coming straight at me and he was a big powerful bloke and what am I going to do, I've got a bucket of water in one hand, I've got my boots hanging around my neck, and my clothes in the other hand. So I thought I'll drop the clothes and take the bucket of water and throw it over him. Anyway before I had time to do that I said "Go back boy, go back boy," and he turned around and he jog-trotted back and he trotted right up into the company lines and there when he got there, he was out of my sight then, I heard shots ring out and he'd been, of course he'd been shot. As he ran past the cook - chap named Sandy Plater, the cook had a piece of firewood in his hand, he belted him across the backside with this piece of firewood as the Jap went past - and after that the shots rang out and of course he was killed. But in fact he had in his pocket - he had a piece of white rag and he was obviously attempting to surrender. That was it.

So and then as far as that first action you were involved ...

Yes well I suppose the next Jap that I had a chance to observe very closely was, again on a patrol with Lieutenant Bert Chown - we were sent to check on what was happening in a particular village. I remember we referred to the Japs in that village as - we referred to them as the "155th pea pickers" because the Japs were living off the land there in the native gardens and so on and we got there and when we got there, there were only a couple of Japs there - these were little blokes this time - and they were taken prisoner. Well I remember one of them there he had his pack full of leaves of various kinds and he was very skinny, emaciated and we gave him a tin of bully beef.

Did you feel sorry for him?

Yes and he went down on his hands and knees and he sort of started saying a few prayers - not particularly to us - but to I suppose to the Shinto Gods, I don't know what, but I was rather moved by that and then on other occasions too Japs dead or dying - you would see them in a little shelter where they'd more or less lain down and just died from starvation or lack of will to live any longer I suppose.

[W]ere there official instructions as to how you were to treat prisoners if they fell into your hands?

Um yes, in the Aitape/Wewak campaign we'd taken prisoners for interrogation but apart from that no.

And before that when people were going up on the Kokoda Track, were they instructed as to ...

Not to the best of my knowledge, no it was just kill or be killed.

Were you involved in any particular captures as such?

Only that little chap that I was telling you about who fell down on his knees and said his prayers when we gave him something to eat. You would see prisoners being taken back sometimes, yes.

Well where you saw prisoners being taken back was there a sense of anger towards them? Did you ever see people who got so angry that they just wanted to shoot them on the spot?

No I didn't.

Or knock them about at all.

I didn't see any cases of that.

What about souveniring personal effects if a Japanese was seen to have some things that - well now they were going off - did that sort of thing happen?

Oh no doubt it did. They were in such a powerless state there in the Aitape/Wewak area that you wouldn't have much to souvenir from them.

After Japanese had been interrogated, do you have any idea as to the circumstances in which they were kept and imprisoned?

Oh we knew they were sent back to the mainland, to the camp at Cowra - but no I had no idea apart from that.

Gunner Bob Bloomfield, 2nd/4th Field Regiment AIF:

Did you see the Japanese at all in the course of those first couple of campaigns or actions?

Uh, no, no. They only - the odd one captive that surrendered and was brought down. He got caught and was brought back. He was brought back through the lines.

It must have been strange to see a real live Japanese for the first time, wasn't it?

Well it was strange I suppose, but it was what I expected. You know I'd seen photos of them and this sort of thing and I knew what to expect with their little caps and their uniforms. One frightened hell out of me one day. He walked out of the swamp alongside the gun.

What to surrender?

Yeah. He come out of the swamp right alongside me more or less. He was only about oh ten yards away. I heard this noise and I looked round and he pulled off his cap and he threw it down and he said "I give up swamp squash - I give up squash." he said and he threw his cap down and he came out with his hands up.

His English can't have been too good.

Oh apparently not but he was enough for him to say "I give up squash". Whatever he meant by `squash' I don't know. Whether he just come through the swamp sort of thing ...

And what did you do then when he - did you take charge or what?

No there was other blokes there with - I was cleaning the gun and most of our gun crew were down and gone for a swim. This was about ten o'clock in the morning I suppose and the sergeant was there and he got hold of him and took him up to headquarters and well they took him back for interrogation, I dare say.

Any evidence of Australians taking Japanese prisoners and taking them up the back and shooting them?

No I never heard of that. I heard of - there was one prisoner, he was taken captive and he was injured some way or other and he was being sent back with native carriers and they went to cross the river with him and they tipped him off the stretcher and the native sergeant or whatever he was, that had the rifle, he up and shot him. He said he was escaping. Well of course whether this was done purposely or accidentally or what - of course once the Jap fell off the stretcher he was floating away downstream and the natives just up and shot him.

And you could understand that and wouldn't have ...

Said he was escaping. Well they gave the natives a pretty poor game - a pretty raw turn up there and they did not like the `Yapan man' as they called him.

There was another fellow he was half caste Chinese I think. I can't think of his name but I remember he got his leg blown off and he was a good soldier but he wasn't in the artillery, he was an [Australian] infantryman. We had - They had a bit of problem with the native carriers getting him back. He stepped on a land mine and blew his leg off and they made a stretcher and were sending him back with the natives - the carriers - back to hospital and they wanted to object because they reckoned he was Japan man. (laughter) He had asiatic look about him and they didn't want to carry him so they had to send a bloke back with them to ensure that he got back.

They might have done him in on the way?

Yeah they thought they couldn't trust him, they thought they might - well, they were sending it - we sent a Japanese soldier back for interrogation - he was wounded - and they were sending him back via the carriers and they were crossing the river with him and wading across it and of course they had - the carriers had the police boys with them too - the native police boys, armed, they were armed - and they tipped this bloke off the stretcher and the police boy up and shot him. They reckon he was escaping. Well I don't know whether this was, you know whether the bloke was trying to escape - I would think not. But they didn't want to carry him and then the police boy reckoned he was trying to escape. The native police boys were - you know they were the pick of the personnel up there and they were the brainy ones sort of thing and well-built and they had to be sort of thing to get into the police force I suppose and they had the pick of the land there. This fellow, well, he shot this Jap and nobody was to know whether the bloke - whether the Jap jumped off the stretcher - because the streams were fairly fast running ...

Yeah. He didn't have much choice about whether he escaped or not. Once he hit the water I suppose ...

That's right. Once he hit the water he had no choice. He was drifting away downstream (laughter)...

One time when we were on this "Long Tom" [American M1155mm field gun] , one of the natives come to me "Master, master," he said "Yapan man is (da?)." And I said "Where." He said ("Long stop along valu"?) (pidgin). It was an old plane down in the Donga down below us when we were on this bit of a plateau and I said to him "You talking true," and he said "Yes master he was (da?)". So another bloke and I went down and here was this Jap, the Jap was in there alright, he was in the plane - it was just a shell sort of thing. He was lying in there at - he was asleep. But he'd been wounded in the elbow and he was fly-blown - his elbow was fly-blown sort of thing - and he was sick. So I got him out and took him back up and they sent him off - back for interrogation I suppose. How long he'd been there I don't know, how he got there but this native, New Guinea boy, he nearly went white when he saw him. "Oh master, master, Yapan man him stop."

Sergeant Bill Elliot, 53rd/54th Battalion AMF (Buna 1942 & Bougainville 1944-45):

Elliot was wounded towards the end of the fighting around Buna and was evacuated to an Australian General Hospital near Port Moresby:

I got a job one day, the sister come along and said to me, 'How you feeling?', I said, 'All right'. 'Well', she said, 'Here's a razor', she said, 'It's your job to go around and shave the boys that can't shave themselves'. I said, 'How many blades have I got?', she said, 'One'. I said, 'Gees', I said, 'I'll have mine first'. I shaved meself first then I was going around the ward there and low and behold about four beds down from where I was, here's a blooming nip, all bandaged up. I said to someone, 'I'm not shaving this bugger. I'll cut his bloody throat first', you know. 'Oh' she said, 'Don't touch him. Don't touch him' she said, 'He's a prisoner-of-war'. Apparently they found him in the scrub and he had some shrapnel in his shoulder and he'd been laying in it, all maggot eaten and everything, fair dinkum, you could have put a bucket in the hole he had.

On Bougainville 1944-45:

What did you do up there?

Patrol work mainly. A bit of target practice. Because from Pearl Ridge you could see the Japs on the other ridge, like you know. In fact, the New Zealand air force boys used to fly the dive-bombers up there, these Vultee Vengeance, they used to drop these forty-four gallon drums of TNT - block busters we used to call 'em - and they used to scatter the jungle there for a hundred yards around. And they'd help in their days off, get a rifle off somebody there and a few shots at these Japs and that. They thought it was a holiday. But we used to patrol out from there, go out there and just more or less had a defensive position but it was ... patrol all the time, picking up what we could and all the information we could and prisoners. Although there wasn't many prisoners taken. The New Guinea boys used to see to that or the Bougainville boys they were. They were a vicious mob, they had to carry machetes - they could just chop them to pieces.

One day there this joker, he come down the track to get some water and I heard the water bottles jangling and we were walking up the creek. So we turned round and put an ambush there. Anyhow, they ambushed him - I stood back at the bottom of the creek there watching the rear - and next thing they come back down and they've got army insignias and God knows what and they get in the creek and they're washing the blood off it ... off their trophies, these New Guinea boys.

What did they have?

They had a machete.

Right. But what had they done with the machete?

Well, they killed a Jap but they used to get his insignias, army ... you know, unit patches and things like there, cut 'em off and half the time there'd be blood all over them like, you know, after getting belted up with a machete. And they'd get in the creek and wash 'em off there. 'Good trophy, boss. Good trophy', you know. Not ... they didn't call it trophy but you knew what they was talking about like, you know.


Yeah. (laughs)

On patrol in Bougainville:

And one day, one of the boys said, 'Hey, get a load of this' he said, 'There's a bloody Jap down there'. And I said, 'Well, drop him', so he dropped him but he didn't kill him and all bloody night he laid there moaning and groaning and Normie King, the other platoon sergeant, he come over and he said, 'Bill, for Christ sake' he said, 'shut him up'. I said, 'Shut him up yourself if you want to'. So Norm said, 'Okay' he said, 'I'll go out and shut him up' he said. Anyhow Norm ... I set the boys word that Norm was out the front and then after a while ... Urr, Urrr. Norm came back, he said, 'The bugger won't whinge tonight' he said. He belted him with his rifle butt and put him out of his misery because he was pretty badly shot up he said. There's nothing you could do for him.

Colonel Stan Sly, 55th/53rd Battalion AMF (Bougainville 1944-45):

We appealed to them, there was a method we were appealing to the 'Jap' to surrender in hopelessness, with loud-speakers, we had very heavy loud-hailers...big megaphones that would reach across the valleys and feed into the 'Jap'. Advising the 'Jap' to surrender, and of course we only got one result, one did surrender.

Can you describe that?

Yes, I can. This great big speaker would boom out across the valley and across to the next hill which would be three quarters of a mile away perhaps. And in Japanese, advising the 'Jap' to surrender, "how hopeless it was and you will be well treated, it will be an honourable surrender and why face death out there, uselessly". So one particular morning, our toilets were holes in the ground with a drum put on top of it, cut out. One of our fellows was sitting on this drum about eight o'clock one morning and the next thing he woke up and there was a 'Jap' wanting to surrender in front of him...the drum got very effective treatment...But that's the only one that did actually surrender.

Traditionally it's a very dangerous moment when you're actually trying to surrender, the first sixty seconds or's a bit tricky...

It was the only success we had with the surrender basis.

And it was said, that the Australians would shoot troops..Japanese that were surrendering, that's what they thought.

Yes, well that's what they were told. I can't quote any incident, where that could've happened, it certainly didn't happen in our area, otherwise I would've known of it. But this one did surrender.

Flight Lieutenant Arthur Tucker, No. 75 (Fighter) Squadron RAAF (returning to Australia from Papua late 1942):

Just finally then, you leave Port Moresby by sea. Are there any recollections of that voyage back to Australia?

I remember there was a Zero pilot who was a prisoner of war, and we were a bit curious about him; but he wouldn't look at anyone, and I remember him sitting on the deck. And I remember that we had some rather good nosh. And I think we slept on deck, because somebody was talking about submarines possibly. And Alan got sick - he tells me, I don't remember.

The Japanese prisoner of war, the Zero pilot - what was the feeling towards Japanese? How was he treated?

Oh, we were a bit curious about him. But no one intruded on him, a bit sorry for the poor bugger and no one intruded on him or made him uncomfortable. He was obviously unhappy, and I can just remember that he was there and he sat on the deck, that they had some people guarding him there. But I just remember ... I think we would have liked to have communicated with him perhaps, but it was obviously impossible and he ... so that was it. I just remember him being there. And that's about my one recollection of the trip, apart from the fact that I think we had some rather good meals occasionally.

Colonel Stan Sly, 55th/53rd Battalion AMF:

I think within ten days or eight or nine days we were moved across to take the surrender at Rabaul and we went over there in the Kanimbla if I remember correctly, and got into Simpson Harbour.

Could you describe the sight?

Yes, Simpson Harbour was...a considerable amount of wrecks there, in that area and we had a lot of difficulty getting our gear off the ship because there were no cranes or anything like that to help us off, no wharf or anything like that we had to scramble down the nets but we set up a temporary camp across from Tunnel Hill and built ourselves a camp on the other side and almost immediately, in Rabaul we had the assistance of Japanese work parties, which would arrive with their billies each morning at seven o'clock and work throughout the day in building a camp-site for us and I remember, I had an interpreter that moved with me all day...

The interpreter was Japanese?

Japanese yes...Japanese interpreter would stay with me all day and relay the details of what I wanted. And I had ten gangs of twenty men working for me and we built a beautiful camp area on different levels, on a side of a hill leading down to the water. We built it in levels, platoon area there and then up six feet another level and then up another six feet another level, then a company parade ground and then a kitchen area was all coconut logs and we actually stripped the former defensive positions of our boys that they had at the outbreak of war, there in Bougainville, used some of their coconut logs that they had and found some writings...some data from their arcs of fire etc. etc. Anyhow, the 'Japs' built us...

What was it like dealing with Japanese...?

Ohh! Very difficult, they'd get under your skin very quickly and they're very humble in defeat immediately, very humble. And I remember, the interpreter said to me one day, "he wanted picks" so I sent a message to the storeman "Get me six picks" and he brought back six picks and the interpreter said, "No, no, not picks you dig, Pix you read!"...Dear! Oh, Dear! But, an example of their discipline would be brought out that, after each day's work they would assemble on a flat area and they, each working party of twenty would have a senior private or an NCO if available, to lead them, to give them their orders, to move left or right and assemble on a flat area as a company parade ground where they would salute off for the day and then march back to camp. And standing aside watching them one evening I just watched a senior private fall his nineteen men in and give them an order to turn right and one fellow not concentrating as always happens in any squad, turned left instead, and this senior private carrying his shovel, just walked up to him and hit him on the head, Bang! a straight stroke on the head, and this fellow collapsed down at his feet and went down not a soldier moved, not a 'Jap' know it's the accepted thing and this fellow that had received the stroke on the head, wriggled to the ground shook himself and within thirty seconds stood up and stood to attention and this senior private gave them an order "Right turn!" and they all turned to the right and marched off, not a word said, that proved to me what shocking discipline they could take from a senior private.

And the discipline still existed even after defeat?

Oh yes, this was after defeat, yes. And then they would march onto the parade ground and dismiss. They'd all carry their billies and in that area of course, the snails...we had colossal snails, bigger than your hand and one man's duty was to collect the snails, he had a bucket and he would run around and fill that bucket with these snails and pour them in a heap, finished up with a heap of snails about three to...oh, three foot six high and every time he passed the heap he would kick them back into the centre, so at the end of the day every 'Jap' soldier would fill his billy with snails to take home, that was the change in their diet, they'd eat them...Dear! Oh, Dear! But no, they were very...Oh very humble in defeat...

How did you feel towards them?

Very severe for a while but they never stepped out of line, never stepped out of line. I did a silly thing one day, I had a sword, a 'Jap' sword and I got the interpreter to strip it. Now the identification of a 'Jap' sword is underneath the handle and they take the handle off and it's engraved, the owner's name is engraved on the steel of the handle underneath and he did that for me and I realized what a stupid jolly thing to do, he could of slashed at me with that sword without any trouble even though I had my pistol there...not the slightest trouble with them. There was one fellow that was very arrogant, one particular fellow, was arrogant and showed it...

Officer or not?

No, no. No there was no identification of officers.

Did they deliberately get rid of all identification?

Yes, yes you didn't know who was "officers" or otherwise at that stage, I did and exercise one day, one of my boys.. and this may be confidential, One of my boys wanted Rabaul, he wanted an outboard motor, he was going to build a boat and he said, "Come with me skipper, take your badges of rank off and we'll, go down into the 'Jap' area compound" - the 'Japs' had to build their own prison compounds. So we did a very stupid thing, I realized how stupid it was later. I took my badges of rank off and went with this particular fellow, a very good friend of mine a private soldier and we hailed a 'Jap' car back behind the compound area and it turned out to be a 'Jap' doctor, a colonel in charge of a hospital, and we put the 'Jap' colonel out of his car and took the driver and the car and he wanted gas, he reckoned he didn't have enough petrol to go from there and we explained what he wanted a...'Shorty' did all the talking...he did all the talking, I wasn't allowed to talk, he wanted an outboard motor. So we went to that many 'Jap' camps that day, looking for an outboard motor and there wasn't the slightest bit of trouble, but we didn't get an outboard motor and we went from one side of the island across to the other, we spent all day driving with him, getting a little bit of gas here...petrol here at this camp, finished up, got back into camp that evening and avoided the military patrol car, because if I'd have been caught there would've been was a wonderful experience just the same.

Just sort of, letting off steam? You mentioned Koreans?

Yes, at Rabaul we had quite an experience there with the Koreans. Lieutenant General Savige was our corps commander and one company had to remain armed and ready for trouble at any part of the day and as a company commander it was my particular days on fully armed and ready to move, and I received an order the night before from corps headquarters, to "Be ready on the road at 0600 tomorrow morning company complete, to move with General Savige down south to negotiate with Lieutenant General Imamura, the Japanese commander of the south-west Pacific area", he was the senior.

Had he surrendered at this stage?

Yes, this is after the surrender. And what was I was standing up on the road with my company at 0600 and as the Lieutenant General Savige's party came past, I joined them and received my orders that I was to put on a display of force and stand by and protect him during the day etc etc. So we went down about...Oh, twenty-five to thirty miles down the island. And what it was all about was that the Koreans had refused to work, they wouldn't work to build their own compounds, because they had...having been annexed by Japan in 1900 with Japan now defeated, they claimed their independence and they refused to take orders from the Japanese. So this is what the discussion that went on between Imamura and General Savige and I, in my humble role I stood three yards away and listened to everything, and through the interpreters, now the Japanese interpreter was a fellow that was six foot four tall and had been educated at the Californian university and spoke beautiful English, he was the interpreter that took the surrender on the Glory and interpreted this surrender and I heard every word spoken, and the theme of it was, when we got there was that "Yes, the Koreans wouldn't work for me", Imamura said. "Alright! How many Koreans have you got?"..."Roughly 4,000"..."Oh!"..."Right! On this area here (which was a big field, a flat field) I'll give you till 1400 hours this afternoon, and you will assemble all Koreans on the island, I don't give a damn how you get them there, you get them there, (4,000) I want every Koreans on the island, at this spot at 1400 hours this afternoon, equipped with loud-speakers and everything else and a platform to speak from". And at 1400 hours yes, during the day, we had nothing to do then except we carried a lunch with us, we had nothing else to do but sit by and watch the Korean assemble and they assembled alright, there was 4,000 of them there. And the theme of the talk that Savige lectured them through, through the interpreters was that..."Now having surrendered, you won't stand by and claim your independence, that repatriation homewards for all Japanese people here will commence shortly and it will last for two years, it will take two years to get you all home and you Koreans will take three years unless you hop in and work, unless you're on work tomorrow morning at 0700 hours, with your picks and shovels, and whatever work it might be, you will be last to leave this island"...and By Jove! They were back on work the next was quite an interesting day.

Captain Donald Simonson, 25th Battalion AMF (Bougainville, after the Surrender, 1945):

Um, about a week after that I got involved with the brigadier - and who was it, I think our battalion commander and we so happened to become the escort to bring General Kanda up to Savige for the signing of the Treaty on Bougainville. That was quite an interesting morning to ...

Tell us about that? What your feeling were when you found the job that you had and so on and where you first saw the man and ...

Well he had been bought up by ship, RAN, from his headquarters down at Buin and bought round to Torokina. He landed in a small boat together with a naval representative I think, and a couple of aides and we took him by staff car ...

What did he look like?

He was a pretty short fellow with a khaki uniform and white shirt and his badges of rank and had his best ceremonial tunic on, I think. He was carrying a sword if I remember rightly, carrying a sword and he didn't look a very strong, robust fellow at all.

Did he speak any English at all?

I didn't hear him speak any English. I probably was from here to the books away from him there and I don't remember him saying - oh he probably grunted something or other to his interpreter.

How did you regard him? Did you regard him as some kind of monster almost who'd been responsible for ordering Japanese troops to do the most outrageous things or did you see him as a soldier with perhaps something in common?

Yes I felt sorry for him. He looked such an unfit sort of fellow - although I subsequently had been told that he hadn't taken a great deal of the initiative in the Japanese operation, that he had a chief of staff who was a much younger fellow and fitter fellow than he, and he seemed to be the one that was directing the Japanese campaign, but this fellow looked a pretty tired, sick and miserable looking chap I thought. Um, the surrender ceremony - it was Savige's headquarters - was quite different to what appeared to have been the surrender ceremonies at most other places, but there were no troops there, there was only probably twenty or thirty in this room altogether I suppose, when you take Savige's staff and a few others into account and it was a pretty low keyed sort of transaction. Savige was not one ever for being flamboyant in his description of things and his operations techniques, he took all low key.

Well was there any concern for the safety of the commander, a fear that there might be reprisals or people might even do things such as want to souvenir parts of uniform or equipment or whatever?

No, I don't think so - there weren't a great number of troops around really and he was pretty well guarded. I was in charge of the naval fellow - I think he was a rear admiral - and I was in charge of him and we had a driver and one other MP in the front and - was it no, the CO, the CO and I had this admiral, that's right and we had one MP in the front and a driver. But no one approached our staff car at all with a view to trying to do anything or hijack anything. It was a pretty low key operation really.

On guarding the Japanese POWs before their repatriation to Japan:

...we were one of two battalions in Rabaul with the responsibility of caring for the Japanese as they were concentrated there from all the islands around the area before being transported back to Japan in liberty ships. We had, I would have thought at about 120,000 of these Japanese brought in from Bougainville, from various other islands, from Rabaul itself where there was quite a large garrison and they were organised into camps of 20,000 each and told to look after themselves and were guarded by us until the necessary liberty ships came down to collect them and put them back into Japan. But that was the last of my exercises, that of being in Rabaul for, what was it, five months I think it was.

Were there any troubles?

Um, not - yeah, yeah, they did start to get troubles when the - because we gave these Japanese sectors of land outside their camp area in which they were responsible for growing vegetables to maintain their own food requirements. We were not giving them any food at all. They had to bring their rations or the rations were procured from their own supplies in Rabaul itself and anything more they want they had to grow in their own gardens.

Well in retrospect was that unduly harsh or were there ...

No, no, I'm not thinking that's unduly harsh at all but I was getting round to the story that once the natives knew that the war had finished, they immediately thought, well they're entitled to go back to their own villages and start their gardens. So we sometimes had the problem of having given the land to Japanese to start the gardens and the natives come back to the same spot of ground to start a garden too, that there was a deal of problem and there were the occasions where this did occur but ...

Conflict and blows, fines ...

Oh yeah, shovels, shovels. I don't think - Oh yeah it was pretty serious - but luckily the liberty ships to move them back to Japan came in much quicker than was really expected and where this operation, at one time they thought was going to take a year really only took about four months. So they were got back to Japan pretty quickly and all I can say really for the Japanese, as much as I hated them, they did prove themselves in that exercise as being a very well organised, well disciplined and administratively perfect operation as far as the camp that I was given the responsibility of looking after.

Did you get to know any Japanese who spoke English that gave you insights into their manner and behaviours?

Oh yes, yeah, there were interpreters down at this camp where I was and they would say how much they appreciated the kindness and consideration shown by Australians since they'd been in the area.

Gunner Bob Bloomfield, 2nd/4th Field Regiment AIF:

[T]hey were waiting to be repatriated but they had to be looked after I suppose or controlled or however you'd like to put that I don't know, but well that as our job - that we took on the job to do that and ...

Yeah. Was there any feeling of mateship with the Japanese now that the war was over or did they ...?

With me - with me there was. A lot of people know - I found them - they were very apologetic the ones that I was in contact with. Predominantly mechanics. I was in an area on New Ireland and we had mechanics - we were in charge of the mechnics there - and they were working - we had them working sort of thing fixing up machinery and trucks and cars and this, that come in from the bush. I suppose it was something to keep them occupied rather than just sitting around and well they - their peculiar manners sort of thing, their bowing manner to you sort of thing, they were always very polite and well I couldn't see anything wrong with them. They carried out the atrocities I suppose but I suppose our fellows did too and well I always wanted to forgive.

Did any of them speak English?

Uh with one - there was one fellow there - we had one fellow there they called him Takado... I don't know whether that was his name or not but he was an officer - a Japanese officer - he could speak English and anything he wanted to relay to the mechanics he would interpret for us. He'd pass it on. He was - to his own men - he was very harsh with his treatment of them I thought and they were very - but to us - no, he was always polite.

The Japanese said it was supposed to be a very shameful thing to surrender rather than kill ... whatever?

Oh yeah, oh yes.

Did that come across to you as prisoners?

No. No. It never appeared to me but we know that they - that they didn't like it - or we were told that they didn't like it. It was a disgrace apparently among the Japanese soldiers to surrender and this is why they'd come out - when you pushed them into a corner that - finish up they'd take a grenade in their hand, hold it against their stomach and pull the pin out and lean over it, just blow themselves to pieces because of the fact that it was a disgrace to surrender. They were taught that way I suppose. It's just like the other fellows in the dive bombers that used to dive into a ship.

That's right, yes, yes. I suppose it would have been a bit of a tricky legal situation. You couldn't very well shoot them for escaping legally because of course technically they weren't prisoners of war any more if hospital is where they belong, I wonder?

Well they - I don't know I never heard of any escapes or anything like that as far as from where I was because they were being looked after and they were quite happy. I think the mere fact of having to go back home as prisoners that had surrendered, they didn't look forward to this I don't think. They didn't like it but then the thought of going back home was a pretty - a point that they wanted, they wanted to go home, yes. But they didn't relish the thought of surrender but - that would grow on them I dare say when they learned that there were so many other people - so many other soldiers - that had surrendered so then they wouldn't feel it individually.

Sergeant Bill Elliot, 53rd/54th Battalion AMF (Bougainville 1945-46):

How did you feel when you heard the war had ended?

Very relieved. Sorry for the boys we had to leave behind. I suppose somebody had to stop behind. That's where I struck my first atrocity there in Rabaul with me own eyes ... I seen with me own eyes.

Well, we had a work detail and I was marching up the road and I heard this screaming coming from the woods. Anyhow, I stopped the bloody boys and all the Japs and I said, 'Hold the men' and a couple of us took off down to where the screaming was and it was three Jap prisoners-of-war had this young native girl in a hut and they raped her, they used cordite on her - you've cordite haven't yah, like spaghetti. They just stuck it in her vagina and set fire to it. So, they didn't last long. We just shot them on the spot. 'Cause we had a few answers for saying why we shot prisoners-of-war like, like everything else red tape, when we explained what happened there, things were dropped.

Most of the people who have talked about the prisoners-of-war after the war described them as very, very docile, but that's different.

They were docile. They ... everyone bowed to you and so forth and, of course, the boys used to have a great habit of getting the top off a beer bottle, taking the cork out of it, put on the epaulette like, press the cork back into it and the Japanese would think they were officers. They come along and they'd salute 'em or the officer-in-charge would give 'em a salute and eyes right business - had a great joke with the boys, saluting beer tops. (laughs)

But, I mean, those three weren't acting like prisoners-of-war, were they?

Well, they'd got out of the compound. Well, I suppose they were acting the call of nature like, you know. Probably hadn't seen a woman for so long and that was it. Thought they got away with it. They didn't know we was around so close and they might have got away if they hadn't been so close. Well, actually, that's what happened. The other fellas will tell you a lot of things about things which they've seen which I can't talk about. It's no use talking about hearsay, you only talk about what you know.

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Click images to enlarge. An Australian soldier guards a Japanese prisoner captured in the Ramu Valley, New Guinea, December 1943.  Up to this date it was exceedingly rare for Australian troops to capture a Japanese soldier as fit and healthy as this man.  Usually only those Japanese too sick or wounded to put up a fight allowed themselves to be taken. Only when the Australian advance brought them into contact with increasing numbers of Japanese support, as opposed to frontline, troops, did this pattern change significantly.
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A dead Japanese soldier found by advancing troops of the Australian 2/22nd Battalion, Beaufort, Borneo, June 1945.  The Japanese reputation for being fanatics who could not be trusted meant that most Australian soldiers adopted a “shoot first, ask questions later” policy when confronted with Japanese attempting to surrender.  A similar practice saw the bodies of dead and wounded Japanese routinely shot at by Australian soldiers who had overrun them in the course of an action.
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A column of surrendered Japanese naval troops marching towards Torokina where POW compounds await them, Bougainville, 23 September 1945.  In the aftermath of Japan’s defeat Australian military authorities found themselves suddenly responsible for more than 140,000 Japanese POWs where they had previously dealt only with hundreds.  Most were eventually concentrated at Rabaul, on the island of New Britain, and repatriated to Japan between January and June 1946.
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