Remembering war miles travelled, leading up to Japan's surrender

Oliver Killalea reflects on World War II service, ahead of 75th anniversary

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REFLECTING: This year has been significant for Oliver Killalea of Wantagong, in remembering the end of World War II, 75 years on. He enlisted in 1942 and helped to establish the Jungle Warfare Training Centre. Pictures: JAMES WILTSHIRE

REFLECTING: This year has been significant for Oliver Killalea of Wantagong, in remembering the end of World War II, 75 years on. He enlisted in 1942 and helped to establish the Jungle Warfare Training Centre. Pictures: JAMES WILTSHIRE

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Oliver Killalea reflects on World War II service, ahead of 75th anniversary

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Oliver Killalea lves in the NSW Riverina. He measures distance by "cross-country" miles.

Mr Killalea's Wantagong property is "30 or 40" cross-country miles from where he grew up in Mangoplah, and he trekked about half that distance while at the Jungle Warfare Training Centre near Brisbane in 1942.

But there is no doubt how close Mr Killalea came to tragedy in Bougainville, towards the end of World War II.

The 22-year-old corporal - who was sent to Papua New Guinea in 1943 in the Second Australian Imperial Force 29th Battalion - was searching for Japanese soldiers.

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"The Lieutenant with us said 'You'll hear them coming through the swamp, so you two cover that point'," Mr Killalea said. "We dug a hole, we were quite comfortable for the night, and the next thing, something sizzled beside me.

"I looked down and it was a 25-pounder [shell] - it had gone in and not exploded.

"That mud was boiling - it went on for about three or four minutes - so by that time, I said 'It's not going off, so go to sleep'. There was nowhere else to go.

"That was one of the lucky things by that time; the ammunition was starting to deteriorate, mould had got into it.

"We weren't achieving much because the Americans were thousands of miles in front of us. A few days later the Japs surrendered."

Mr Killalea can't quite believe that it is 75 years ago today that Japan first announced its surrender.

Reading news articles last week about the anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima brought back memories of supporting the occupation forces.

YOUNG FACES: Mr Killalea was photographed as a 23-year-old corporal of the 67th battalion, as part of the occupation force in Japan.

YOUNG FACES: Mr Killalea was photographed as a 23-year-old corporal of the 67th battalion, as part of the occupation force in Japan.

"Everyone was on the same wavelength then [when the surrender happened]," Mr Killalea said. "The big question was who is going home, and when?

"Initially, nobody was going home because every boat that was available had been claimed for prisoners of war.

"Next would be anybody that was sick, elderly or had family at home - young blokes, no problems at home or unattached, forget it, you were there for six months.

"So then they called for volunteers to go to Japan, and I thought 'Well, I'm not sitting here'."

The 67th Australian Infantry Battalion, tasked with repatriation of Japanese soldiers, had a long journey from Papua New Guinea, being stopped by American General Douglas MacArthur in Morotai and the Phillippines.

What they were eventually met with at the port of Kure in Japan, near Hiroshima, was shocking.

"It was Japan's biggest naval base ... wherever you looked there was half a submarine, boats nose-up everywhere," Mr Killalea said.

"We eventually got off the boat, and there was no water, no heat.

"There were orphan kids everywhere. Everybody would give them something to eat, they were starving."

ALL OVER: He keeps a photocopy of the letters that were dropped in Bougainville, signalling to the Japanese soldiers that their country had surrendered.

ALL OVER: He keeps a photocopy of the letters that were dropped in Bougainville, signalling to the Japanese soldiers that their country had surrendered.

The atrocities committed by all sides during World War II are well-documented.

Of his time in New Guinea, Mr Killalea said: "It wasn't good, put it that way".

The now-96-year-old, who returned to Australia in 1947 and went on to marry and raise a family on a soldier settlement at Lankeys Creek, has shared memories that made him smile with family.

He is proud of having helped establish the Jungle Warfare Training Centre at Canungra in 1942, "which gained a strong reputation".

"I was made sports officer [in Japan] ... that was a few weeks of good fun," Mr Killalea said.

"Basketball was one of the favourite sports. I didn't know much about it, but we also had a battalion of New Zealanders, Indians and Malayans.

"Don't play New Zealanders in rugby league - they just run through you."

Mr Killalea also recalled a surprise find he and a fellow corporal made while recovering ammunition from an inland area called Shobara.

"We were going through every one of the the huts," he said.

"One was full of Japan's Olympic rowing gear.

"We had the best camp in Japan, all day out rowing. The other poor buggers, what their job consisted of, was spraying every Jap' soldier for lice and ticks ... it wouldn't have been fun."

Among his war memorabilia, which include photocopies of the notices Japanese bombers dropped to signal the cease-fire, are photographs of the Ueno Pond in Shobara where he rowed.

"They hadn't seen the war," Mr Killalea said. "It was absolutely beautiful."

The Japanese formally signed the instrument of surrender on September 2, 1945, marking the war's end.

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