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Attitudes to the war
Impact of Japanese atrocities
While most Australian servicemen held some respect for Japanese fighting ability it was almost universally qualified by their horror and outrage at Japanese atrocities. Some of the early Japanese atrocities, such as the Tol Plantation massacre, were widely reported amongst Australian troops early on in the war, thanks to the testimonies of survivors who had been evacuated to Australia. Such stories were reinforced by the experiences of those fighting in New Guinea and elsewhere who often encountered small-scale instances of Australian wounded or prisoners being tortured and, or, killed by the Japanese. For many though their anger reached its peak only when the war ended and the full extent of Japan's appalling treatment of Allied POWs was revealed through war crimes trials held throughout the immediate post-war period.

Corporal Jack Holmfield, 2/22nd Battalion AIF:

[W]hen did you learn about the killings at Tol Plantation, Jack?

The morning it happened.

Where were you then?

We were at Wide Bay, Tol, Tol Plantation, a river coming down there, and went like that into the sea, and we were on that little island there, and the Japs - two Japanese marines, they told us, big fellows they were - they walked around there and we reckoned we were done. This is where Mick Mollard wanted to put his pips up and wave the white flag and surrender us. And I was one of the ones that said 'Oh, wait a minute, it's every man for himself', and Bill Owen said, 'I don't agree with that' and that was the end of any private's conversation. And Major Mollard was Mick Mollard and Captain Owen was Bill Owen at that stage - you know. When Mick wanted to give us up, well, we didn't want to be in that. I was sent forward with Carter and we hid behind little bushes and we watched these two marines. They sat down and smoked a cigarette and then they went away. Then later on we saw the boat going away, and we carried on. It was night-time when we were on this little island and it was morning when they went ashore and started firing.

You could hear the firing?


You guessed what was happening?

Yeah, we knew it had to be happening - that they were shooting at our blokes - coming in the boat. And we saw a little bit of - on parade on the beach. We didn't see any of them being shot on the beach.

When did you learn that they'd actually been shot after they'd surrendered?

Virtually the next day, or perhaps two days - the next day, I'd say.

Did you talk to any of those blokes? Did you talk to Collins or ...?

Billy Cook?


Yeah, met him on the track, and he'd had eleven bayonet wounds in him. That was past Kiep Plantation, where we saw Billy Cook - that's around here.

Yeah. So from then on you must have known that ...

We knew all about it, yeah. Cliff was one of the ones that was .... Oh God, I can see his face.

Corporal Jack Boland, 39th Battalion AMF:

What was the impact on, on men when they heard about the way survivors who were picked up by the Japanese were treated, from Rabaul?

Oh well, pretty wry. You know the Tol Plantation massacre was one that they heard about and I believe it was true that they er.. These fellas got away from Rabaul itself, but then they er, down along the peninsula of er, New Britain I think it is called up there and then they had to give up because they run out of food and everything else. So they just surrendered, but the Japs just shackled them with short.... on their legs so they could just move around. Tied their hands behind their back and used them as bayonet practice. Pretty barbaric really.

What were your own feelings at the time? Was it one of anger, maybe mixed with anxiety about what would happen to you?

Oh yeah. You get pretty savage about it. I think you change in all these things...

Sergeant Alex Lochhead, 39th Battalion AMF & 2/2nd Battalion AIF:

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.

Sergeant Jack Flanagan, 39th Battalion AMF:

[During the retreat down the Kokoda Track] were the [Australian] wounded able to get back?

No, we had to leave one there but before we could get him out again they got to him. You see after we left that place they sort of kept coming.

What would you have supposed happened to him?

I would think he would be bayonetted because he did make a noise. You know, he yelled, and I think that is what would have happened to him rather than ... because I didn't hear a shot.

You heard him?

Oh yes. I heard him.

[W]hen you heard about the Tol Plantation massacre, how did you feel about that?

That was pretty nasty as were any times when you lost some of your own friends and cobbers.

Did it make you feel differently though towards the Japanese? Did it develop of sense of potential hatred within you?

No, I don't think ever I sort of hated them. I hated what they were doing but, no, I don't think I ever had a hatred for them because they were doing the job the same as we were.

Inevitably... with the knowledge of what the Japanese did to prisoners, there must have been some discussion about what we would do to those bastards if we got our hands on them, if you will pardon the vernacular. Did that sort of discussion take place?

Oh yes, yes. Quite often. They would treat it lightly but at the same time some of the things they threatened at that time were pretty scary.

Did you feel that you had to somehow or other suggest that this wasn't the right thing?

Yes, but there again, I wouldn't make a show of it because I didn't think it would fit in and it certainly wouldn't do any good just standing up as a bible basher and saying this is wrong.

Sergeant Victor Austin, 39th Battalion AMF and 2/2nd Battalion AIF:

[W]hen did you first hear about Japanese atrocities?

Uh, it probably filtered through after a massacre of about one hundred odd members of the Rabaul garrison in Tol Plantation. It probably filtered through about that time. I don't ...

What was the feeling when the story of that got through? Was there fear, anger, both?

Oh fear yes. Fear and anger no doubt, yes, yes. The feeling that you know, these blokes, they're animals sort of thing. I can't exactly pinpoint the moment when - that may not have become general knowledge for quite a while.

I think one of the most - things that most moved me during that time in Heidelberg [after the Japanese surrender] was when a lot of the prisoners of war who'd come back - prisoners of war of the Japanese - were brought back from wherever they were embarked from - probably from Singapore and they were brought in in ambulance loads and we were put out on the balcony - we were on the third floor of what they called the Glass House at Heidelberg - that was the brick building, it was the only brick building. The other wards were timber buildings. We were brought out and the sisters - the nursing sisters - said to give a cheer to these boys coming in. And of course we knew of the dreadful treatment that they'd received from the Japanese - inhumane treatment - and of course we ... and then we got to know some of them because they came up into our wards and some of them say had legs amputated, perhaps even both legs amputated and we realised that they had suffered far more than we had. They were kind of putting our own situation into perspective compared with them.

Was there at all a feeling that you should have been tougher on them when you'd had the opportunity?

On the Japanese?


(Long pause)

Did you feel angry? Do you recall how you felt?

Shocked I suppose more than anything else. Yes angry no doubt but fundamentally you know that the others are human beings too. That there's - it's like the Germans when their persecution of the Jews, you can't assume that all of the Germans were brutes or animals, that sort of thing. Well I suppose it was the same for the Japanese. I'd seen this chap who'd come running - jogging out of the scrub with his stick and his piece of white rag in his pocket wanting to surrender and this other little Japanese who'd we given food to ... You can't dehumanise them entirely

Colonel Stan Sly, 55th/53rd Battalion AMF (Sanananda 1942-43 and Bougainville 1944-45):

[C]an you remember in 1942, hearing of atrocities?, not them to us or we did have...

The Tol plantation for example, that's where they executed a hundred Australians whom they'd captured retreating from Rabaul?

Yes well, I can't prove that, I wasn't there. I'd heard of that but I can't verify that in any shape or form.

I mean, it did happen, there's no doubt about that.

Yeah, yeah

I'm just wondering whether soldiers were hearing about it and whether it was influencing the way they thought of the Japanese?

Well we knew that the 'Japs' was eating human flesh, we had proof of that. He was cannibalizing.

In Bougainville?

No, no in Sanananda. We often found tins of human flesh.

Tins of human flesh?

Yeah, that had been cooked. Yes...yes that was so there. But no, not in Bougainville.

Why were you confident that it was human flesh?

Ohh Well! We were certain there was no other fresh meat around. I couldn't give you a detailed description of how we'd know, but it was just straight out human flesh. I couldn't say that the rest of the body was there, but...

Can you describe an incident where you saw this?

Well at Sanananda we saw them, we saw the tins of...the little billy tins...little tins of flesh. We went up after the...Yes, now after we were relieved from Gona on our way back to...through Jumbora, through Soputa, we went into Sanananda to have a look at the defences, after the 'Jap' had vacated and there was of course a lot of flesh about still. And we had a look at his defences and that's where we saw the human flesh.

This was a few days after...

That was some days afterwards. yeah...yeah...No, there was no doubt there, I couldn't actually produce a photo of it or anything like that...

I'm not doubting you, I know it was true, I'm just trying to find whether you've got specific incidents of mind and get you to put them on tape if you had, that was all.

No...I can't verify it but we were quite satisfied that they were using their own or ours whatever it might've been. They had to live and that's the way they survived.

Corporal Geoffery Holmes, 2/12th Battalion AIF:

[T]he first time I ever saw Japanese atrocities as I say, I'd only been there ... the first ... that was the second day, when we went up there. And there was a coconut tree near K.B ... just on the edge of K.B.Mission ground, which was a bit of a clearing as well there, and it had ... I think there was ... I'm not sure now whether it was five or seven, [Australian] militia troops - they weren't ours because they had their leggings, - tied to the tree and spread around the base of the tree, all tied up with sig[naling] wire, hands behind them, and they were all bayonetted. They were all dead, of course. And so that was the first time I ever ... my experience with them.

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

When did you first hear about the - like the atrocities by Japanese against Australian soldiers. Were you aware of them at the time?

I can't tell you, I just can't remember just when I was aware of it but I was well aware of it sort of thing.

While you were actually fighting you would have been aware of it?

Oh yes, oh yes, oh yes.

Do you know of any cases where the Australian troops seemed to be driven by vengeance against this sort of thing?

I don't know that they were driven by vengeance but I remember one fellow his mate had his leg blown off and this fellow rushed in with a - he was a rifle bomber - he had a grenade discharger on the end of his rifle and when his mate got his leg blown off he rushed up with this thing and he was firing these grenades like we fire the ordinary .303. He just went mad and, but he got away with it, he didn't get shot, but his mate got his leg blown off.

Captain Donald Simonson, 39th Battalion and 25th Battalion AMF:

What about your attitude towards the Japanese? The war has now gone on for some while, there'd been the early reports of massacres and atrocities and so on, but had you come to see them in any different sort of light or you still just saw them pretty much in the terms that you first thought of them?

Yes I certainly I hadn't changed my opinion of them and still haven't changed my opinion of them. They were not to be trusted of course. They were just - would just have easily got up to their tricks in `45, the same ones as they would have in `41.

What sort of tricks? What do you mean by that?

Well they were there to kill and they'd kill by any means they could possibly do. Some pretty terrible things they did and it wouldn't have mattered whether it was 1941, 42, or 45, they were still the same Japanese. So you couldn't take any risks with them.

What do you mean by terrible things? What are the sort of things that you're talking of?

Um, well they would do anything to try and gain your confidence to the extent of putting over such comments as "Come over here Charlie, you get over there Bert" or so on or call you by your own name and try and mislead you. They wouldn't take prisoners themselves. They were definitely cannibals and they weren't to be trusted from that point view.

In what sort of instances did you find that?

Well certainly I didn't come across it but members of the battalion have seen what they considered and reported as human - the remains of human beings in Japanese campsites - in the Gona/Buna area. I mean here we were - and I'm not saying that they were Australian in this case - this particular exercise, although I have heard of cannibalism being used on Australians - but here at Buna/Gona where they had no rations and they had their back to the sea and they were slowly being strangled, rations were nil, they had no gardens to pull any reserve from, yes, they ate their own people.

Sergeant Bill Elliot, 53rd/54th Battalion AMF (Bougainville & New Britain 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 seen cordite haven't ya, 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.

[T]hey'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.

Major Stan Morton, Salvation Army Philanthropic Welfare Worker, 9th Division AIF:

Were there particular events or atrocities that ... that you can recall, that you'd care to talk about, that you think shaped your opinion toward the Japanese?

There were two occasions that ... . One, there was a mass grave that was opened up ... that was being opened up by one of our pioneer battalions. And they were sorting out bones, and the ... the only way in which they could do it was to take the main bones of a body, piece them together and then they'd have a body. And I'm afraid that affected me tremendously, as I saw not just one or two, but these masses that were taken out of this ... this mass grave. I can't recall the exact spot now where it was. When ... when a thing happened forty years ago, it's a long while, and we travelled such a lot over the ... the vast areas there. But it ... it was in New ... New Guinea. I'm sorry I can't actually recall the actual name of it today. It wasn't an area that I was working in, I was just sort of passing over that particular area, and the colonel told me what he was doing, and I ... I went across to have a look.

The other one was in ... an occasion when we were heading for Sattelberg. And you have your stops on the way until you consolidate and you move forward a bit more, and on this particular occasion we got pushed back, just overnight. And we had to leave. We had to leave behind a number of wounded men. We had no chance of doing anything that night, but in the morning we regrouped and moved forward again, and all we found was the bodies of these men that had been badly bayonetted and slashed around.

We felt it was so unnecessary, and it did affect our chaps quite a lot, and it did affect me at that particular time.

How would you help them make sense of ... of that, your fellow troops?

It was extremely difficult to make them .... Men became very bitter. Extremely bitter, and one just had to try to talk to them. But when you're feeling a little bitter yourself, well it's very difficult to try and rationalise. And I found that was the greatest problem of that particular time. We just had to carry on, hope for the best. Which you do in war. It's an amazing thing, you ... a man can be shot and fall right beside you, and you just keep going. You've got no option, but to ... to keep going, and that's what happens even in circumstances like that, you ... you just keep going. And eventually you do get to the stage when you can sit back, think about it, and try and rationalise the whole situation.

Canon Charles Sherlock, RAAF Chaplin:

[W]hen one learnt of the atrocities that had been done to some of our own persons, one, you know, found a sense of hate coming in your own mind. I found that a very ... a very ambivalent thing. A girl called Mavis Parkinson, who I'd known during university days, and she'd gone as a teacher to a little place called Arara in New Guinea, and her particular place had been overrun by the Japanese. It was purely a civilian [inaudible], there were no military installations there at all, and she and Mavis Hayman had both been bayonetted by the Japs and killed. One couldn't help feeling a sense of revulsion, and I suppose hatred, because you'd known those two people and that more made it a personal kind of thing. And one wouldn't be human I suppose if one didn't have that kind of reaction.

Sub-Lieutenant Bill Wreford, RAN:

[D]espite the awfulness and waste and so on of the Second World War, was it something that in our part of the world just had to be fought?

Unfortunately, yes. When you just look at the behaviour of the Japanese as captors, the completely bestial treatment of our prisoners-of-war, they have to be treated as animals. I mean, I saw the aftermath. I was in Singapore for the surrender, I went out to Changi camp the day of the surrender, when Louis Mountbatten accepted the Japanese surrender. And I saw friends of mine I hadn't seen for the preceding three, four, five years, and it was enough to make you weep. And I don't forget those things. Infants being thrown in the air and caught on Japanese bayonets. I mean, it is just sickening. But this happened, and it happened time and time again.

Able Seaman Ross Scribner, RAN:

What was your feeling about the Japanese? I mean I've talked to soldiers on the Owen Stanleys but generally how did you feel about the Japanese. Well first of all when you came into the navy to start with?

Well I think that we'd read such a number of things about the atrocities that had happened even in those times which, you know, you - the things that had happened in Singapore and of course we didn't know a lot about it - as much that happened until after the war we did sort of know the extent of the atrocities, but we didn't know there was a lot so I think that we were very keen to knock as many off as we possibly could. There was no doubt about that but I don't think that we were really as much anti as we were just afterwards and also when we saw some of them in Japan - some of our own prisoners that were, you know, just sort of skin and bone they were. They hadn't been looked after at all and I think that was when probably we sort of, you know - animosity really got in - but I think probably it didn't really sink in so much until that time, but you still didn't like them of course - you hated them.

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Australian Attitudes
Pre-war perceptions
Fighting Ability
Japanese POWs
Atomic Bomb

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Australian Attitudes
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Click images to enlarge. The Tol military cemetery, New Britain, containing the graves of 160 Australian soldiers of the 2/22nd Battalion who were massacred by their Japanese captors in January 1942.  The Tol plantation massacre was widely reported amongst Australian troops in early 1942 and did much to fuel their hatred and distrust of the Japanese enemy.
AWM 094652
An emaciated Australian POW from a camp in Thailand or Burma, 1945.  A combination of malnutrition, disease, overwork and Japanese brutality caused the deaths of nearly 2,650 Australian POWs during the construction of the Burma-Thai railway.  A total of approximately 22,000 Australians were captured by the Japanese in the first months of the Pacific War and 8,031 of them died in captivity.  Australian public opinion was outraged at the barbaric treatment of POWs by the Japanese.
AWM P01433.019
An Australian soldier examines personal belongings found at the site of the Sandakan POW camp, north east Borneo, 24 October 1945.  Beginning in January 1945 the Japanese had sent 1,500 Australian and 1,000 British POWs from Sandakan on a series of death marches to Ranau, 256 kilometres away.  Those who survived the march to Ranau were then executed in the last weeks of the war and only six men (all Australians) escaped to tell the tale. A further 292 POWs who were too sick to leave Sandakan were also massacred by the Japanese.
AWM 120438

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