Wednesday, April 10, 2024

The first Japanese PoW

Hajime Toyoshima at his graduation
When visiting the the Patakijiyali Museum at Wurrumiyanga on Bathurst Island you will learn the fascinating story of Hajime Toyoshima, the pilot of a Zero fighter that crashed on neighbouring Melville Island., 80 kms north of Darwin.

On the 20th February 1942, a group of Tiwi men were waiting to receive their rations at the Bathurst island Mission Station Father McGrath advised them to take to the bush with their families for the time being as a Japanese invasion appeared to be imminent

Eight Tiwi men left the mission station at sundown and headed east for their camp only to find it deserted The leader Matthias Ulungura was scouting around in the bush when he came upon the Japanese pilot

Matthias stalked the Japanese pilot who was armed with a revolver and a knife. Matthias recalls i take revolver from his right side near his knee. Then I walk backwards pointing my gun I say 'Stick em up right up two hands no more holding hands on head and at the same time made signs to indicate what he meant by 'stick 'em up".

The Japanese plot was so surprised and frightened that he did not attempt to resist as Matthias searched him and took everything including his automatic pistol and a map with marked objectives to be bombed Matthias with commendable judgement, instinctively sensed that the map was valuable and kept if safe until it could be handed over to Allied authorities.

Early the next morning a start was made on the 23 mile journey, to march the prisoner into Bathurst Island where a small number of Australian Army and RAAF personnel were stationed in the vicinity of of the mission After some hours, they reached the shore of the Apsley Strait at a point opposite the Bathurst Island Mission Station The plot seemed to be very frightened of being handed over as they padded across the Strait Matthias sang out in his own Tiwi language to those opposite to hide the Army and RAAF personnel to avoid the prisoner jumping overboard Matthias then led the pilot to Army Sergeant, Lesley Powell who took charge of the prisoner,

He was diminutive but sturdy and well-built, intelligent but reticent and evasive when questioned by the RAAF guards. He clamed that he had been a gunner in a bomber which had come down in the sea and that he had swum ashore. However, ore of the Aborigines had noticed that the soles of the prisoner's boots were worn on a bar which would not be worn by walking on them. He deduced that the wearing away of the socks had been caused by the position of the feet on the rudder controls of the plane

Aboriginal trackers found Hajime Toyoshima's Zero after retracing the pilot's footsteps. It was the first Zero captured intact on Australian soil.

As to why our first captured Darwin raider was forced down remains in no doubt. Allan Beatty, the Squadron Leader of the first party to reach the Zero, clearly remembers finding the empty oil tank of the fighter with a single hole and some metal inside about the size of a 303 bullet. It had apparently been a one in a million unlucky shot for Hajime Toyoshima

In late October 1977 the remaining aluminium sections of Toyoshima's aircraft were loaned to Aviation Historical Society of the Northern Territory, after a formalised signed agreement, by the Milikapiti Council

Leader of the Cowra Breakout

Hajime Toyoshima was 22 when he was captured and became the first Japanese POW on Australian soil. Toyoshima came from Kagawa prefecture, south of Tokyo and was one of 19 naval fighter plots who graduated in July 1941 He joined the carrier Hiryu as a replacement after Pearl Harbour in late December of the same year. Darwin was to be his first combat.

Toyoshima was captured on Melville Island after he was hit during the initial raid on Darwin and forced to land returning to an aircraft carrier. His first interrogation in Darwin Toyoshima assumed a new identity, with a new hometown and a fictitious records to mislead authorities. He posed as Tadao Minami claiming to be a sergeant pilot flying from Ambon to Darwin and under this name was allocated the first number (POWJ 9101).

After his capture and interrogation, Toyoshima was taken to Cowra Camp in New South Wales. He went on to learn English well become a leader among many Japanese captives, and played a key role in the incident, known in Australian history as, the Cowra Breakout.

During the chilly morning hours of 5 August 1944, Cowra Camp erupted At that time the camp contained about 4000 prisoners who were held in four separate compounds of 17 acres each Compound B. hopelessly overcrowded held 104. Japanese POWs. Huts burst into flames as yelling groups of Japanese prisoners raced to the perimeter wire and broke out into the countryside. Some 100 prisoners participated against a small contingent of bewildered guards. Altogether 231 prisoners died either from the Australian guns or their own hand. Temporary freedom was gained by over 300 before they surrendered or were recaptured in the turmoil. Four Australian soldiers also lost their lives.

Heralding the breakout was Toyoshima sounding one long blast from a British trumpet. The instrument had been given to the prisoners as a source of entertainment. It still exists and is retained as an exhibit at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra

Hajime Toyoshima was mortally wounded in the first frantic charges near the officers' quarters. Crawling into a drain he attempted to ensure his death by inflicting a further wound by weakly across his throat with a knife. He was found the following morning by Australian searchers with a partially-smoked cigarette extinguished beside his body.

The text from this post was obtained from the Patakijiyali Museum at Wurrumiyanga on Bathurst Island

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