Breakout Short Stories: Featherston lessons ignored

War work at Featherston
War work at Featherston

Each week until August this year, the Cowra Guardian will feature a short story from the Cowra Prisoner of War camp in the lead up to the 75th anniversary of the breakout on August 3 to August 5.‚Äč

On February 25, 1943, New Zealand experienced a Japanese mutiny.

The lessons from across the Tasman were not fully understood in that country and were not heeded in Australia.

Why did a mutiny occur in New Zealand?

In most cases the Japanese who found themselves in POW Camps in New Zealand and Australia were captured in circumstances where they could not have taken their lives because the individuals were severely affected by tropical disease or wounds.

Whilst recuperating they bided their time and only co-operated when absolutely necessary.

It was not too long after a major incident at Featherston in New Zealand, that word got through to the Australian authorities and to the Allies around the world, that Japanese Prisoners of War were a potential threat.

The incident at Featherston developed when work parties firstly refused to work and refused to move.

In a bid to break the deadlock after prolonged attempts to negotiate the situation, the Camp Adjutant fired a warning shot over the POW Leader's head.

A shower of stones rained down on the Adjutant.

The armed NZ guards responded to protect their officer and fired on the Japanese.

The ensuing melee resulted in 48 deaths including one NZ guard who died from a ricochet.

There were a number of lessons which were not learnt by the Australian authorities; the chief one being that Japanese soldiers felt total shame at being a prisoner and were dedicated to looking for an honourable way to join their dead comrades.

This death wish led to many discipline problems not the least of which was at Cowra some eighteen months later.

Similar problems with Japanese POW occurred in New Caledonia and India.

Next week: Why were bravery awards for Jones and Hardy delayed?