Ed Jones - Japanese prisoner's painting

Running time
4 min 21 sec
Department of Veterans' Affairs


When the war ended, we were in New Britain, and the Japanese were there. There were, I don't know, 80 thousand, 100 thousand Japs there. It doesn't matter how many were there but there were stacks of Japanese there.

Of course, when they surrendered there wasn't much we could do with them. They were just left there until the time to go home. But some were sent in as working parties, and I used to go out with them every day cutting. They'd be cutting bamboo poles for buildings and so on. We'd have lunch together and what-not and come home. [They were] quite friendly, but they were just like me, they were waiting to go home too.

But, in addition to that, I don't know how many, but not a great number who were alleged to have committed war crimes like murder and rape and things that they did in those days, torture. That did happen. But they were put in a compound, just a simple compound, and they were to be tried in '46 and '47 when they set up the tribunals to try the war criminals. We had the job, we being native battalion, had the job of looking after them during the day just to see that they didn't get into any fights during the day. They weren't trying to escape or anything.

So I was down there one week with my platoon. We'd camped outside the compound, and we had a guard on the gate. I'll show you a photo of it afterwards.

I'd walk about in the compound. One day, I came across a fellow who was painting. I stood there watching him, and he was painting. Anyway, when he had finished the painting. I just walked away, nodded and walked away. He called me back, and he offered it to me. Luckily, he signed it before he gave it to me. I put it in my pocket. I carried it home, and eventually, you get on with your life after the war but, eventually, get around to these things, and I had it framed.

Then I was married and the kids were growing up, and they would say, "Oh, daddy, what happened to him?" When my wife was sick with dementia, a Japanese lady, a mature lady, she had two sons in their early 20s. She came here, and she was caring ... She was doing post-graduate studies at the university at Canberra, but she was earning a bit of money as a carer. She got some particulars from me, and she wrote to, because the chap had signed the painting, she knew which area of Japan he came from, which units he came from, and she found his record.

She wrote to the newspaper. They gave her letter to a feature writer, a Japanese journalist who'd come out to Cowra to write a book, a Japanese [account] on the Cowra outbreak. He was keen to follow it up.

It was a long time, and the people, as I found out, didn't like to talk about the Second World War, the generation. But anyway he put an article in the, he got some information from me, photographs, and photograph of the painting and put this in a Japanese newspaper.

In a few months, he was able to trace the family, and he contacted the family. Yes, it was their dad. He had died. The gentleman who did the painting died just a couple years before. He died at age 90. He was able to visit the family and find out the whole story of this chap when he was a boy, and why he was interested in painting. Being an artist, he tried to get into the art school at Tokyo University. But he missed out, but he was interested in painting all his life.


Was this page helpful?
We can't respond to comments or queries via this form. Please contact us with your query instead.