Australians killed Japanese POWs, ex-general claims


Australian soldiers bayoneted to death unarmed Japanese prisoners of war during the second World War, according to a documentary to be screened on ABC TV tomorrow.

Maj Gen Paul Cullen, who won a Distinguished Service Order for his part in a number of Allied campaigns in the war, will tell the programme that the killings, which would be classed as war crimes under the rules of combat governing POWs, took place when he commanded the Australian 21st Infantry Battalion during the New Guinea campaign.

"I did not see the killings but they were reported to me later and I believe the report," he tells the programme.

"I thought it was bad but we were already moving on to another battle. It was a transgression but I tend to play it down."

The revelations are likely to stir controversy in Australia, coming as they do on Anzac Day, when Australians enjoy a public holiday to commemorate the nation's war effort.

The Japanese government has yet to react to the revelations but the matter is unlikely to go unchallenged.

Maj Gen Cullen said the killings happened just after the Australians overcame the Japanese at Milne Bay, New Guinea. It was Japan's first defeat in the Pacific war.

"On one occasion, the leading platoon captured five or seven Japanese and moved on to the next battle. The next platoon came along and bayoneted these Japanese.

"The soldiers may not have known that the Japanese had surrendered and it was all in the heat of the battle. But I do believe it was a transgression."

He has refused to give evidence on the incident to war crimes trials because of the inhumane manner in which Australian POWs were treated by the Japanese during the war. At the height of the New Guinea campaign rumours were rife among the Australians of their captured colleagues falling victim to cannibalism within enemy ranks. Thousands of Australian POWs also died during the construction of the Burma-Thailand railway.

Maj Gen Cullen is now 92. He fought in Tobruk, Greece and Crete before New Guinea and now farms cattle. He is the founding president of the highly respected Australian refugee charity Austcare and has been awarded a Nansen Medal by the United Nations for his work with refugees.

Tomorrow more than 4,000 commemorative services will be held for surviving "diggers" around Australia. The biggest will be a parade through Sydney's central business district, where thousands of ex-soldiers will march.

While there has never been war on Australian soil, apart from clashes between early settlers and Aborigines, around 105,000 Australians died fighting in the last century in the Boer War, the first World War, the second World War, the Korean War and in Vietnam.