BY BRUCE M PETTY
I HAVE BEEN in telephone contact with John M Jones [right], the last surviving member of the Tarawa [Kiribati] Coastwatchers, and will drive north from Taranaki [New Zealand] to interview him in detail.
John Jones was kind enough to send me copies of some rare photos from the Solomons and the Zentsuji [Japan] prison camp in World War II: not the best, but all I have.
The photo at left was taken in August 1941 by Jones, and shows six of the seventeen Coastwatchers who were decapitated by the Japanese in October 1942, shortly after an American bombing raid on Tarawa.
Jones and his group of seven in the northern Gilberts (Kiribati), were captured within 48 hours of the attack on Pearl Harbor, and were among the first Allied POWs sent to Japan, to be interned in the Zentsuji POW camp along with other early internees from Guam, Wake and New Guinea.
Jones said they were relatively well-treated, compared to POWs in other camps, but that, in the summer of 1945, they were told that if the Allies invaded Japan they would all be executed.
Of course, the war against Japan did not end with invasion. It ended with the two devastating atomic bomb explosions in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Keith Jackson writes: Most of the Australian officers captured by the Japanese in the New Guinea Islands ended up at Zentsuji, taken there on board the Narita Maru.
They included AIF Chaplain John May and Lt Jack Lusby Burns, of 1 Independent Company, both of whom died earlier this year, and both members of the Rabaul and Montevideo Maru Society.
Society members Lt Stan Cooper of the Coastal Artillery and Capt Lex Fraser of 1 Independent Company were also interned in Zentsuji.
The captured New Guinea Islands service personnel who were not officers, together with the interned civilians, were on their way to Hainan on board the Montevideo Maru bound for Hainan when it was torpedoed off the Philippines, and none survived.
Bruce M Petty and his wife, Dr Daniele Lonchamp-Petty, have lived and worked in the United States, France, Saipan, Saudi Arabia and, now, New Zealand. Daniele is a paediatrician, and Bruce, a former navy petty officer and a nuclear medicine technologist, is now a writer and self-proclaimed house-husband.