Two Australian soldiers, whose bodies were found in a dump, were likely victims of war crimes.
When officials found human remains in an old Japanese medical dump in Papua New Guinea this year, they may have done more than locate two missing World War II commandos.
Instead, they may have unlocked a Pandora’s box involving continuing censorship and the failure to punish those involved in some of the worst war crimes perpetrated on Australian soldiers in the Pacific War.
In April, the Australian Defence Force confirmed it had discovered bones suspected of being those of missing commandos Spencer Walklate and Ron Eagleton on Kairiru Island, about 20 kilometres from Wewak on Papua New Guinea’s northern coast.
Walklate, 27, a one-time St George rugby league player, and Eagleton, 20, had gone missing during a raid to reconnoitre Japanese gun emplacements on Mushu Island, just to the south of Kairiru on April 11, 1945.
The raid failed when their boats capsized in the surf and they were attacked before completing their objective. Hunted across the island, the eight Australians fought on before most were killed or wounded.
Eagleton and Walklate were thought to have tried to avoid capture by floating out into the ocean on palm logs, where they drowned or were killed by the Japanese.
But when the bones were found on Kairiru this year, and information was obtained from the island’s elders, it suggested the men had suffered a different fate – one that had been covered up for decades.
Previously secret documents from Government archives reveal the two were subjected to a ghastly death at the hands of Japanese who were never brought to justice – facts kept from the dead men’s families.
The two young soldiers were thought to have been horrifically dissected while still alive and their organs served up in a ritual dinner to Japanese soldiers or souvenired.
Details of the atrocities were suppressed and some continue to be to this day. They are also misrepresented in military files raising questions about other such crimes being covered up.
The revelations this week prompted Scott Walklate, grandson of Spencer, and some of those involved in the efforts to find the men to call for information about such cases to be made public.
”It’s as bad as the German war crimes,” says the NSW resident, who had almost no clue about how his grandfather died until informed by Fairfax.
Walklate and Eagleton’s case was quietly mothballed in the 1950s after a decision by the Australian government to release dozens of suspected war criminals after a change in foreign policy towards Japan and pressure from the US government to wrap up the war crimes trials.
According to documents obtained by Fairfax, the file was downgraded to an alphabetically rated ”G” status ”involving Australians or allied nationals and in which the accused, if convicted, would be unlikely to be awarded the death sentence”.
The controversial ranking system allowed those criminals nominated in the G cases – including dozens of murderers, rapists and torturers – to walk free and their files to gather dust in the archives despite their explosive contents.
In some cases, the details or issues about the horrific treatment by the Japanese troops remains censored as the Archives Act exempts public access to records if it would involve the unreasonable disclosure of personal information.
Fairfax has been told that some of the allegations of the cannibalism and other specific references to atrocities by Japanese on Walklate and Eagleton appear to have been censored or removed from the files.
However, in copies of the ”G” files obtained by Fairfax, there is a graphic reference to the murder of the Australians captured on Kairiru about April 1945. The men are not named but there is little doubt they are the victims given the timing and circumstances of their treatment.
”After capture, they [the POWs] were beaten with sticks, slapped in the face and kicked by some of the accused,” the copies say. ”It was then decided to execute the PW [prisoner of war].
”One prisoner whilst awaiting his execution was beaten about the feet and legs to such an extent that he could not stand. He was thereupon executed where he was then sitting by being struck a heavy blow (by a sword) on the back of the neck.
”Shortly afterwards, an incision was made in the chest and abdomen and the walls of the flesh were drawn apart to expose organs underneath.
”The heart and the lungs were seen to be still pulsating. The skull was then sawn with a surgical saw and the brain was removed and several lumps of flesh removed.
”The second PW was then executed by shooting and liver and portions of the flesh were removed.”
The document notes 17 individuals are accused of involvement in the crime.
Another file unearthed from the archives by Vietnam veteran Don Dennis, who wrote a book about the raid and whose uncle Mick was one of the few survivors, confirms the censorship relating to the hideous treatment of the two commandos.
Dennis found a memo detailing an interview with Japanese soldier – Oagawa Waichi, who is suspected of beheading the men – but all details relating to the dissection and cannibalism appear to be censored from the document.
Waichi was reported to have committed suicide in 1947 while in custody, according to media reports at the time, but the other suspects did not face trial for the crime.
The case is just one of a truckload of files that include cover-ups and sensitive information that has been suppressed about war crimes, says Jim Burke, who runs an organisation that finds missing soldiers and did much of the legwork on the Walklate and Eagleton matter.
He saw documents confirming body parts from the two missing men had been served up as a food to the Japanese soldiers in a ritual.
But, he says, while censorship of such information can make it hard to track down missing soldiers, it still should be respected.
”It could be information that is distressing to the relatives and that makes it difficult,” he says.
A National Archives of Australia spokesman said permission to access the information can be sought.