IN THE aftermath of World War II, an Aussie and Japanese soldier became friends.
Cairns man Fred Schipke had been stationed in Bougainville with the 16th Field Company Royal Australian Engineers when peace was declared.
Mr Schipke was sent to New Britain. “Peace had just been declared in August and we went over in September,” he said.
He said his first job was to fix the main runway of the Vunakanau air base so supplies could be brought in. Mr Schipke and two others ran the bulldozer 24 hours a day.
After a midnight to 8am shift, Mr Schipke noticed a Japanese soldier nearby. He couldn’t speak English and Mr Schipke nicknamed him ‘Tojo’.
Through gestures, Mr Schipke figured out he was a mechanic and wanted to service the bulldozer, so he gave Tojo a job.
The next day Tojo was back with a Japanese officer, who thanked Mr Schipke for giving Tojo a job and requested he go with them to speak to the Japanese commander.
In the last few weeks of the war, they had been cut off from communication and wanted Mr Schipke to provide information on what had happened.
Mr Schipke returned the next day with a number of photos of the atom bomb devastation. The images were spread over five or six tables and Mr Schipke said he watched seasoned officers break down as they looked at the terrible destruction.
Mr Schipke said he and Tojo, who could also sketch, became good friends. When the job at the runway was over, Mr Schipke said goodbye to Tojo. The Japanese soldier handed him a photograph of his girlfriend to remember him.
“I often wonder what happened to him after returning to his home in Japan,” he said.