TRANSCRIPT: Bob Iskov – Japanese prisoners of war
I was waiting at a point where I was to meet Lieutenant Schwind and his group and I spotted three Japanese coming down the track towards me from the inland direction. They were thin and miserable, unarmed and obviously in a pretty bad way. And we took the three Japanese prisoners and moved back towards Gona, stopped overnight under a small native grass hut at the side of the track. The Japanese were very glad to get a tin of bully beef and bowed, to try and thank me I guess, and behaved themselves pretty well.
We decided the next morning not to worry about having any breakfast, it was only two hours walk down to Haddy’s Village on the coast and we’d go there and they’d have the billy boiling at least. So we got down there probably about 8 o’clock in the morning and there was no one there. So immediately we thought maybe they’ve been withdrawn, and then I spotted a body lying on the beach, 60 or 70 yards up to the west. So I got Lieutenant Schwind to give me some cover and I jogged up and it was Lieutenant Alan Haddy. Then we discovered there was a large number of Japanese footprints in the sand heading back towards Gona, cutting off our escape route. So one of the boys said that these three prisoners might be a bit of a nuisance. One bloke put his hands up in supplication: “No shoot please.” We had no idea that he understood any English at the time. So I said: “No, we’re not going to shoot you.”
So we moved into, oh, they found another fella dead under one of the, there was only three huts there, and they found Private Stevens’ body under one of the huts. So we went inland and we picked up, after an hour or two, we picked up the remains of Haddy’s dozen men in two small groups. They had a couple of wounded with them, so we escorted them back towards Gona by this inland route. And we had to stay overnight in the jungle. Jack Schwind and his batman and the Police Sergeant headed off back to take word back and get some medical help out for the 2/16th [battalion] wounded.
It was rather funny, I was to take sentry duty about 10 o’clock and the three prisoners were put down to rest just quite near us. And we were at the base of a big banyan tree, it was a 20 foot circumference with large segments of roots coming up so you could get and inch in between each one of them, it was quite a cosy position to lie back, to put your head back against the tree and the roots either side. And I asked the other chap how the prisoners were and he said: “All correct.” I was a Sergeant by this time by the way. So the moon was behind the clouds and a bit misty rain, and the moon come out fitfully, and I had a look and there are only two prisoners there. So I alerted the rest of the troops and what the hell’s this bloke up to, is he going to cause any mayhem, ‘cause he could have gone and tried to get a weapon off some of the sleeping troops. Anyway I found him around the other side of the banyan tree, sheltering from the rain. We got him by the ear and told him to get back where he belonged. He was throwing his arms up and saying he didn’t like the rain on his head and so on. I said: “I don’t like it either, mate. You bastards caused this bloody war.” I had to put him back in his place.
And next morning the stretcher bearers came out for the two wounded and patched them up and we went back and I had to hand these prisoners over at Brigade Headquarters. And a big Provo [Provost Marshal], a Police Sergeant, came and took them and he tied their hands behind their backs with signal wire and put a Tommy gun in the back of the last bloke and marched them off down the road – I thought “you big hero.” But I never saw or heard of them again.