Remembering the Cowra
POW Breakout tragedy
THE anniversary of the Prisoner of War Breakout will be remembered in Cowra this weekend with commemorative events scheduled for sites that feature in the story of one of Australia’s most tragic military confrontations.
On August 5, 1944, more then 1100 Japanese prisoners staged a mass escape attempt from the Cowra POW Camp.
In the ensuing clash – the only land battle fought on Australian soil during World War II – 231 Japanese died and 107 were wounded.
A total of 334 prisoners escaped into the surrounding countryside and were recaptured over the ensuing nine days.
Three Australian camp guards were killed during the breakout and seven were wounded, while an officer from the nearby Military Training Camp was killed late on August 5 while attempting to re-capture a group of POWs.
Right: Ron Ferguson, bugler on the night of the breakout, will attend this year’s commemoration.
“The Cowra Breakout is one of the most tragic events in Australian military history and it is appropriate that we reflect on what occurred on that cold and frosty night 68 years ago,” says Cowra Breakout Association president Lawrance Ryan.
The Breakout Association has planned a two-day commemoration of the event and has extended an invitation for all Central Western residents to attend.
Ceremonies begin at 4:15pm on Saturday with a brief ceremony in Squire Park, in Cowra’s Kendal St, where a bronze sculpture honours the four Australians who died during the breakout.
The ceremony will be followed at 6pm by an ecumenical service at St Raphael’s Catholic Church.
Sunday marks the actual anniversary of the breakout and a series of commemorative events will be held at sites with a direct link to the various aspects of the breakout story.
Activities begin at 9am with a wreath-laying ceremony at the POW Camp site. Further wreath-layings will be held at the Doncaster Memorial on Canowindra Rd at 9:45am and at the Garrison Gates on Binni Creek Rd at 11:30am.
This year the ceremonies in the Australian and Japanese War Cemeteries have been re-scheduled for 2pm so that a group of visiting school students, who are travelling from Sydney on the day, can take part of the event.
The wreath-laying ceremony in the Japanese War cemetery will be followed by a traditional Buddhist memorial ceremony.
A morning tea at the Cowra Japanese Garden and the annual Breakout Association luncheon at the Cowra Services Club are also public functions, but tickets must be pre-booked for catering purposes.
“The Cowra POW Breakout is a tragic event,” says Mr Ryan.
“It is only right that we remember those men, both Australian and Japanese, who died at Cowra in the service of their countries.
“However, equally important is our recognition of the friendship, reconciliation and respect that exists between the people of Cowra and the people of Japan today, largely because of the actions of members of the local RSL Sub-branch who began the task of maintaining the Japanese graves immediately after the end of World War II.”
Cowra Breakout Association members look forward to welcoming townspeople and visitors to this year’s commemoration services, Mr Ryan says.