Return from Cancon 2013

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After a fantastic three days of WGS gaming over the Australia Day long weekend Tuesday morning 29 January 2013 saw me back on the road early. I was intending to drive the 1260km from Canberra to my home in Brisbane in one day - and I almost made it too!

On the way however I stopped to visit the scene of a terrible wartime tragedy which occurred on 5 August 1944 at the little NSW country town of Cowra.

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Located 170 kilometres north of Canberra, Cowra today has a population of 12,000. The town has a well developed network of sister communities across the world to promote peace and understanding, a direct consequence of the town's wartime experience.

During WW2 Cowra was the site of No. 12 Prisoner of War Compound a major POW camp. By August 1944, 4,000 Axis military personnel and civilians were detained at Cowra. These prisonersincluded 2,000 Italians, Koreans who had served in the Japanese military, Indonesian civilians detained at the request of the Dutch East Indies government, and 1,104 Japanese officers and other ranks - about half the Japanese PWs then in Australian captivity. On 5 August 1944 after being informed the day before that the Japanese other ranks would be moved from the over-crowded camp, the Japanese officers voted to attempt a mass breakout to redeem their honour. That night more than 500 Japanese prisoners armed with makeshift weapons breached the wire, attacking guards and making for the open country around the camp. 245 Japanese prisoners were killed during the breakout, many gunned down as they charged the MG posts on the camp's perimeter. Four Australian soldiers were killed, two manning a Vickers MG position Ptes Hardy and Jones were later awarded the George Cross for their heroic actions. They had manned their gun until, overrun by the Japanese then even as the prisoners were about to strike them down disabled the Vickers so if could not be used against the other guard posts. Many of the Japanese who escaped killed themselves in the following days, and by ten days after the event all the survivors had been recaptured.

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The town has a small museum at the information centre with several relics from the No. 12 camp.

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A scale model of No.12 compound. Only one of the four compounds - the Japanese other ranks - succeeded in breaking out. The Italians, Koreans and Indonesians were not interested in escape. A dozen of so Japanese who refused to join were executed just before the escape attempt.

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A Vickers machine gun of the type used to engage the Japanese prisoners as they tried to escape. Two Vickers guns opened fire and one was overrun.

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In the background you can see one of the original compound gates - not exactly formidable defenses!

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A small mock up of a prisoners hut. Inside there are more displays and you experience an audio visual presentation about the Cowra Breakout.

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About 5 minutes out of town you can still visit the site of the old PW camp. A replica of a guard tower has been constructed at the memorial site, and there are several plaques and other information panels (see below)

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All that is left now of the original camp are a few concrete foundations. It makes for a very peaceful pastoral scene now, very different from that mad night almost 70 years ago.

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Nearby there is the Cowra Australian War Cemetary and adjacent the Japanese War Cemetery. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission accepted the maintenance responsibility in 1964 and the Office of Australian War Graves recovers maintenance costs from the Japanese Government. The 523 graves including those of Prisoners of War who died in the attempted break out from Cowra in 1944, as well as aircrew shot down in Northern Australia and Japanese civilian internees who died in Australia during WW2.

After a bit of contemplation at Cowra I headed north back along the Newell Highway, passing through the Piliga State Forest. Parts of the reserve had been burned out by bushfires the week before I came down to Canberra. As you can see in the photos however new growth was already trying to push through.

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Australia like the US is a big country of contrasts. The photo below shows blue skies over the plains just outside Narrabri.

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Just a few hundred kilometres north of the burned out Piliga Reserve however, a cyclone that had turned into a slow moving depression was dumping torrential rain on southern Queensland and northern New South Wales. I found myself having to negotiate flooded roads and passing over swollen creeks and rivers.

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The last photo is the sunset north of Moree. I got to the border town of Goondiwindi about 8pm hoping to get through and be home by 11pm, but all highways were blocked by swollen rivers. I tried another route through to the town of Texas, but this too was flooded. In the end I stayed the night at Goondiwindi with about 500 stranded truck drivers and other travellers.

The next day I had to backtrack to Moree and make my way east through Glen Innes and Tenterfield, finally getting home about 8pm that evening after a 600km detour. That was the end of my Cancon adventure, and despite the conditions on the return trip I had a great time from start to finish.

I'm looking forward to Cancon 2014!



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Tags: Cancon, Cowra, POW, WGS


  1. Marechallannes's Avatar
    Nearly 1300 kilometers in a day and then a 600 km detour.

    Interesting story & nice pictures, Carl.