Japanese PoWs scaled wires fences around Cowra prison camp in daring night plan

WREATH LAYING CEREMONY: Reiichiro Takahashi, Colonel Yuki Kimura, Cowra councillors and members of the Cowra RSL sub-Branch attended a number of events marking the 76th anniversary of the Cowra breakout.
WREATH LAYING CEREMONY: Reiichiro Takahashi, Colonel Yuki Kimura, Cowra councillors and members of the Cowra RSL sub-Branch attended a number of events marking the 76th anniversary of the Cowra breakout.

The largest and most deadly prison escape during World War II happened in Cowra 76 years ago.

Now known as the Cowra Breakout, 231 Japanese soldiers and four Australians were killed when 1104 Japanese PoWs attempted the escape on August 5, 1944.

The daring incident happened about 2am, when a Japanese soldier stormed the camp gates, quickly followed by the sound of a Japanese bugle.

A sentry fired a warning shot but to little effect, as mobs of armed Japanese prisoners of war threw themselves at the wire fences, shielding themselves with blankets.

On that night, 359 PoWs escaped, while others attempted or committed suicide, or were killed by their countrymen.

Organisers of the breakout ordered the escapees not to attack Australian civilians, and none were killed or injured.

This year, the 76th anniversary of the Cowra Breakout, a number of residents and special guests took part in ceremonies marking the occasion.

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Commemorations also featured a visit from Blayney's Paul Hancock, the grandson of Sergeant Thomas Roy Hancock, who died as a result of injuries sustained while assisting with patrol efforts following the breakout.

Mr Hancock said it was wonderful his grandfather was given recognition for his service.

"I think it is great and a testament to the [breakout] committee here to get that recognition," he said. "He was genuinely coming to meet the call out to come across and help do his bit for Australia.

"I'd like to thank the committee for the work they've done and the tireless work in getting recognition both here in Cowra, as well as down in Canberra at the War Memorial."

Mr Hancock said his grandfather had a love for the land, owning a property called "Kings Plains" near Blayney, where generations of his family, including Paul have resided to this day.

He said Thomas was a successful stud poultry breeder, but also loved animals and his garden and, as a result, created a wreath made of gum tree leaves and wattles from the farm in honour of his grandfather.

Wreath laying ceremonies were also held at the Italian monument, Australian War Cemetery and Japanese War Cemetery, with dignitaries such as His Excellency, Mr Reiichiro Takahashi, Colonel Yuki Kimura, Cowra councillors and members of the Cowra RSL sub-Branch also in attendance.