Cowra POW Camp

cowra pow camp

How many people have heard of Cowra POW camp?

Cowra is in New South Wales, near Bathurst during the second world war it was the site of a prisoner of war camp. It housed mostly Japanese and Italian prisoners, with some Korean and Indonesian civilians detained at the request of the Dutch East Indies government. It began operating in June, 1941, specially built to house POWs brought to Australia from overseas.

cowra breakout

It was divided into four areas, each surrounded by barbed wire fences, the prisoners first lived in huts, but eventually included its own store, kitchen, mess huts, showers and vegetable gardens.

There were other POW camps in Australia in fact most states had prisoner of war camps as well as interment camps.

cowra pows

On 5 August 1944, Japanese prisoners of war housed in the detention camp in Cowra, New South Wales staged a breakout. Armed with improvised weapons including baseball bats and sharpened mess knives, they stormed the perimeter fences and overcame the machine gun posts. Never likely to be successful, the breakout resulted in the death of 231 Japanese prisoners with a further 108 wounded. All survivors were recaptured in the surrounding countryside in the days that followed. It is widely believed the goal of the breakout was for the Australian’s to kill the Japanese, as they felt it brought shame to themselves and their families to be POWs.

Four Australians were killed in the breakout – Privates Benjamin Gower Hardy, Ralph Jones and Charles Henry Shepherd. Lieutenant Harry Doncaster was killed when ambushed during the recapture of the prisoners. Hardy and Jones were posthumously awarded the George Cross.

cowra breakout bodies

A Military Court of Inquiry investigated the incident, and a summary of its findings was read to the House of Representatives by Prime Minister John Curtin on 8 September 1944.

The summary indicated the following:

  • that conditions at the camp were fully in accordance with the International Convention;

  • that no complaints regarding treatment had been made by or on behalf of the Japanese prior to the incident, which appeared to have been a premeditated and concerted plan of the prisoners;

  • that the actions of the Australian garrison in resisting the attack averted greater loss of life, and that firing ceased as soon as control was assured; and

  • that many of the dead had died by suicide or by the hand of other prisoners, and that many of the wounded had suffered self-inflicted wounds.

  • cowra prisioners
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