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The Cowra Prisoner of War Camp The Cowra Prisoner of War Camp was established in May 1941 to hold Italian Prisoners of War (POWs) captured by Allied forces in North Africa. The camp, located on the northern outskirts of the town, initially also held some Italian civilian internees and internees from other ‘enemy’ nations.

POWs and internees were held in four 17-acre ‘camps’ (now referred to as compounds) A, B, C and D. The camp was controlled by approximately 800 men of the 22nd Garrison Battalion under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Monty Brown. War with Japan commenced in December 1941. As fighting approached Australia, it was inevitable that Japanese POWs would be captured. A decision was made to hold these men, who came under United States jurisdiction, in camps at Cowra and Hay. These camps were selected as they were in southern Australia, were far from the coast and were located in relatively isolated areas. From 1942 to 1943 Cowra POW Camp also held a number of Indonesians (or Javanese as they were then known). These comprised two groups, merchant seamen who went on strike following non-payment of wages and family groups (comprising academics, political activists and their families) who were seeking Indonesian independence. These internees were held at the request of the colonial Dutch East Indies government but had been released by mid-1943. By the end of 1943 the camp had been divided as follows; • Italian POWs in compounds A and C, • Japanese Privates and NCOs in compound B, and • a mixture of other nationalities, including Japanese officers in compound D.

Friday 2nd August to Monday 5th August

12  THE LAST POST – 2019 ANZAC DAY EDITION

THE COWRA BREAKOUT

The Cowra Breakout, the mass escape of Japanese Prisoners of War from the Cowra POW camp on August 5th, 1944 is the single most significant event in Cowra history. At approximately 1.50am, 1104 Japanese, unable to bear the shame of capture, charged the perimeter fences of B compound at the Cowra camp. The POWs were determined to regain their honour in the only way they thought possible, by dying in battle against their Australian captors. In the ensuing clash, the only land battle fought on Australian soil during World War II; • 334 Japanese POWs escaped into the surrounding countryside and were recaptured over a period of nine days, • 107 Japanese POWs were wounded, and • 231 were killed (with a further three dying of their wounds up to three months later). Eight Australian guards were wounded during the Breakout and three were killed. Privates Ben Hardy and Ralph Jones were posthumously awarded the George Cross for their action in manning a Vickers machine gun until it was overrun by Japanese POWs at the north-eastern perimeter of B compound, while Private Charles Shepherd was stabbed and killed by a lone POW near the B compound guard room. Lieutenant Harry Doncaster, an instructor at the nearby military training camp, was killed late on the afternoon of August 5th while attempting to recapture a group of 12 Japanese POWs found approximately seven miles (12 kilometres) north of the camp. A fifth Australian, Sergeant Thomas R. Hancock, a member of Blayney’s Volunteer Defence Corp (VDC) suffered a fatal gunshot wound on August 8th when a .303 rifle carried by another VDC member discharged. The bullet struck Hancock in the buttocks, then passed through his body. He died one week later from septicaemia. The four Australian servicemen who died locally as a result of the Breakout were buried in the Australian military cemetery already established adjacent to the Cowra general cemetery.

Profile for The Last Post Magazine

The Last Post Magazine Anzac Day 2019  

In 2019 TLP editor Greg T Ross visited Japan under the Japan-Australia Grassroots Exchange Programme. To commemorate the visit and the prog...

The Last Post Magazine Anzac Day 2019  

In 2019 TLP editor Greg T Ross visited Japan under the Japan-Australia Grassroots Exchange Programme. To commemorate the visit and the prog...

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