Recent reports regarding the discovery of Captain Sam Templeton’s body by a trek operator, Wayne Wetherall of Kokoda Spirit, were widely reported throughout Australia and Papua New Guinea. According to Wetherall a 90 year old Japanese war veteran, Kokichi Nishimura, claimed to have buried Captain Templeton after he was killed by an enraged Japanese officer in July 1942.

The reports raise a number of questions, in particular:

. Why has Nishimura waited until now to suddenly ‘remember’ the incident?

. How was Nishimura’s claim tested?

. Why wasn’t the ‘discovery’ reported to the appropriate authorities i.e. the Australian High Commission, the Army Unrecovered War Casualties Unit or the Office of Australian War Graves so that a specialist forensic team could be formed to excavate the site?

According to Australian army records, Captain Templeton was killed on 26 July 1942.

Corporal Kokichi Nishimura, according to Japanese army records and his own biography, did not arrive in the area where  Templeton was reported killed until 3 August 1942.  He made no mention of the incident in his recent biography, Bone Man of Kokoda.  He later makes conflicting claims – firstly that he buried Templeton’s body and later that he actually killed Templeton.  He does not explain the gap in time between Templeton’s reported death on 26 July 1942 and his arrival in the area eight days later.

On Wetherall’s Kokoda Spirit blog on 24 January 2010 he wrote :

‘’One Japanese soldier, Kokichi Nishimura (The Bone Man of Kokoda now aged 90) told me recently that Captain Templeton was executed.  He had been one of the officers ordered to bury his body and he drew me a map of the burial site’

‘My quest to unravel the mystery of what happened to Captain Templeton has involved a great deal of research, luck, fate and assistance from numerous sources in Australia, Japan and Papua New Guinea.  I have been aided with entries from the 39th Battalion War Diaries for this period, translated diaries of some of the Japanese veterans that were there, and interviews with veterans from Australia, Japan and PNG’.

Whilst he did not provide any documented references to support his claim the announcement led to nationwide publicity in Australia and a feature story in the Weekend National newspaper in Papua New Guinea.

The proper process for reporting any new information regarding veterans listed as killed or missing in action is to inform the Australian High Commission, the Army Unrecovered War Casualties Unit and  Department of Veterans Affairs (Office of Australian War Graves) in Canberra.  If the report is considered to be genuine they would establish a specialist team comprising a forensic anthropologist, an archaeologist, and forensic odontologists to excavate the grave to recover and identify any remains found as they have recently done in Papua New Guinea.

Such a profound announcement in reference to the discovery of Captain Templeton’s body should have been supported by documented research rather than a glib statement advising that the search  ‘involved a great deal of research, luck, fate and assistance from numerous sources in Australia, Japan and Papua New Guinea.’  In view of the national newsworthiness of the story, the fact that Camptain Templeton’s loss had already been the subject of two official army investigations, and the likely distress such an announcment would have on surviving members of  Templeton’s family, Wetherall should be called upon to provide any additional research he has to support his claim.

The recovery of human remains from a general area designated on a sketch map drawn 67 years after the incident is a highly specialised forensic operation.  Wetherall should have been aware of this if he has conducted the amount of research he claims to have done.  The fact that he released pictures to AAP  of his family and associates at the alleged gravesite in t-shirts with his company name emblazoned on them would indicate that it was more of a promotional exercise than a proper search for Captain Templeton’s remains.  The AAP pictures were posted at: http://www.aapimage.com.au/Search.aspx?Search=%22SAM+TEMPLETON+REMAINS+PNG%22&Field=ObjectName&gallery=SAM+TEMPLETON+REMAINS+PNG

Following are factors which are publicly available and which should have been thoroughly investigated by Wetherall prior to any public announcement:

. The Japanese 17th Army was established for operations in the South Pacific Area on 18 May 1942. Included in its Order of Battle was the South Seas Force (Rabaul) which included the 144th Infantry Regiment comprising the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Battalions .

. The Commander of the South Seas Force received orders on 1 July to land in the Buna area and quickly advance to the saddle of the Owen Stanley Range to the south of Kokoda and evaluate the roads for an offensive against Port Moresby. The Yokoyama Advance Force was established under Colonel Yokoyama Yosuke to evaluate the condition of roads which included the ‘Buna to Kokoda Road’ and the ‘Road from Kokoda through to Port Moresby ’.

. According to Charles Happell, author of Bone Man of Kokoda, Corporal Kokichi Nishimura was a grenade launcher with the 4th Squad of the 3rd Platoon of the 5th Company of the 2nd Battalion of the 144th Infantry Regiment .

. The 1st Battalion of the 144th Infantry Regiment was detached to the Yokoyama Advance Force . The force landed at Gona with little enemy resistance on 22 July and began constructing a base. The forward sections of the Yokoyama Advance Party (one Infantry Company with motor vehicles) moved quickly towards Kokoda as soon as it landed. The main strength of the party proceeded to Buna during the morning of 22 July. It became clear after the landing that there had been a platoon of Australian observer troops at Buna and a smaller party at Gona, but they had withdrawn prior to the landing .

. The forward party proceeded quickly from Giriwa, Soputa, and Sonbo along the Kokoda road. At Awala on 23 July, the unit defeated approximately thirty native troops and then one hundred Australian troops. The unit then advanced to the high ground at Oivi approximately 16 kilometres to the east of Kokoda, where they were joined by the main strength of the advance party on 26 July .

. According to Australian reports on the Japanese action on 26 July 1942: (Lieutenant) McClean, eager for action, hurried forward to Oivi with those of his men who arrived in the first lift. He was with Templeton’s two platoons and the Papuans when the Japanese attacked at 3 p.m. The attackers were halted at first by the fire of the forward section, then outflanked it and forced it back to the main positions on the plateau on which Oivi stood. The defenders then went into a tight perimeter defence of diameter about 50 yards. The two opposing groups maintained a desultory fire during the afternoon, the Japanese sometimes pressing to within a few yards of the perimeter before they were killed. About 5 o’clock Templeton went to examine the rear defences and to warn the second half of McClean’s platoon, under Corporal Morrison, whom he thought to be about to arrive. There was a burst of fire from the gloomy forest. Templeton did not return .

. Dr Geoffrey Vernon recorded in his diary: ‘‘Once they (the Japanese) knew we were there, they started to send troops around onto our right flank and there was a machine-gunner there so I went back to company headquarters to report and said, ‘Where’s Captain Templeton’? They said ‘He’s gone for help’ and I said, ‘It’s not like Captain Templeton – where’s he gone?’ Within those few minutes I was talking, there was a shot, Captain Templeton? So I got two men, Harry Evans and Bill Luxmoore and my guide, Sanopa to come and see if we could help Captain Templeton, and a little over 200 yards from our position. Anyway, I put Harry and Bill on one side of the track and said don’t fire until I tell you and then the Japs had just come round the corner. I didn’t know how many there were. They were 200 or 300 yards from our position so I said, ‘Right fellas, back!’ By the time we’d come back, Nips had come down a spur overlooking our position. They were quick, and so many of them and so few of us that we didn’t know what to do. ’

. Raymond Paull (Retreat from Kokoda) reports: ‘Before the full weight of the attack developed, Templeton decided to go back along the track towards Kokoda with the object of bringing up the reinforcements. Ten minutes after his departure, Collyer heard the single, sharp crack of a rifle. Templeton did not return, not did a small patrol sent out to find him. A burst of machine-gun fire, falling suddenly around Collyer and Stent on the Kokoda side of the clearing, warned the Australians that the enemy had penetrated along the flank. The Japanese launched their attack in the late afternoon, but when it failed to dislodge the Australians, it subsided at dusk. Every man at Oivi felt Templeton’s loss keenly, for he was a courageous and efficient officer. They cursed their easy acquiescence in allowing him to go unescorted. The sole evidence of his fate discovered much later in the campaign suggests that the Japanese ambushed and captured Templeton, badly wounded him, and killed him to rid themselves of an unwanted encumbrance. ’

. By all reports Sam Templeton was a reserved and very introspective man. Like a number of other Australian commanders of the time, he went outside the defensive perimeter on his own which concerned his troops. We can only speculate as to why he did this but it could have been his way of ‘leading from the front’ to inspire his troops in the face of the imminent dangers of war, just as Lieutenant-Colonel Owen did in a different context a few days later when they fought the Japanese during the first battle for Kokoda.

. The Yokoyama Advance Force continued their advance and attacked a company of Australian defenders at Kokoda during the night of 28 July, and by the following morning had occupied Kokoda and the adjacent airstrip. The battle took the lives of a company commander, and twenty other troops. Australian prisoners of war captured at Kokoda set out the situation of the Australian forces at the time .

. Three days after the action that saw Captain Templeton killed or captured and the day after the Japanese occupied the Kokoda plateau: ‘Corporal Nishimura and his mates from the 5th Company were aboard the Kotoku-maru and came ashore at Basabua Beach on 29 July’.

. This is verified in the Japanese Army Operations in the South Pacific Area – New Britain and Papua Campaigns, 1942-43: ‘Kotoku Maru left Rabaul on 27 July under the protection of Tatsuta, Yuzuki and No 32 Submarine Chaser. Disembarkation began at Basabua on the evening of 29 July under intense bombardment from Allied planes .

The native tradition about the fate of Templeton is also worthy of mention. The land holders at Templeton’s Crossing firmly believe that Templeton, although wounded, fought a rearguard and independent action against the Japanese back to Templeton’s Crossing where he was killed. According to them he was then buried at the cemetery at Templeton’s Crossing and his body (as an unidentified soldier) was later exhumed by War Graves and taken to Bomana. Even though there is little to support the veracity of these claims, it does show the diversity of opinion about Templeton’s fate.

Corporal Kokichi Nishimura

It is clear that Captain Sam Templeton was killed or captured on 26 July 1942 by the Japanese troops belonging to the Yokoyama Advance Force. If Captain Templeton had been captured it is highly probable he would have been interrogated by his captors and then passed back along the line to higher headquarters for further interrogation. It is clear from Japanese reports that they had little information of the route from Buna – Kokoda – Port Moresby. The chief of staff of 17th Army instructed the Yokoyama Advance Force to gather intelligence of the road to Kokoda and ‘the road from Kokoda through to Port Moresby ’.

If Captain Templeton had not been killed as reported on 26 July he would have been seen as a valuable source for both the conditions of the roads and tracks and the disposition and strengths of Australian forces in the area.

Corporal Nishimura’s statement that it was ‘he who buried Captain Templeton in a shallow grave in the jungle following his brutal summary execution soon after he was captured near the Kokoda Track’ is difficult to accept for the following reasons:

. Captain Templeton was killed or captured on 26 July.

. Corporal Nishimura did not land at Basabua with his 2nd Battalion until 29 July.

. According to Japanese war records Nishimura would not arrived in the area Templeton was reportedly killed unit 3 August 1942.

. According to Nishimua’sa own account immediately after landing  ‘they began marching west towards Kokoda village, at the head of the Track, encountering few obstacles and arriving there five days later. Here they waited for almost three weeks for the main force of the Nankai Shitai to arrive, while living off rations at camp headquarters’. Given that Oivi is only a few hours march from Kokoda it is reasonable to assume that Nishimura would have arrived in the area on 3 August – eight days after Captain Templeton was shot or captured. His battalion would have therefore joined the Yokoyama Advance Force troops around Kokoda on 3 August.

• According to a Port Moresby National Weekender cover story ‘Mr Nishimura told reporters in Port Moresby he buried Captain Templeton after an enraged Japanese officer killed the captured Australian. ‘It seems Captain Templeton got lost, being pushed back by Japanese soldiers’ he said through an interpreter. Mr Nishimura said Captain Templeton was taken for interrogation and the Japanese commander became enraged when the Australian said there were ’80,000 Australian troops waiting for the Japanese in Port Moresby’. ‘How many of you will see out the day?’ Captain Templeton asked mockingly. Mr Nishimura said that remark infuriated the Japanese even more. ‘The commander got angry at Templeton’s answers and he stabbed him’ he said.

• On 1 August, Commander Horii visited his Chief of Staff and stated that ‘previous prisoner-of-war interrogations had revealed that there were approximately twenty thousand Allied troops stationed at Port Moresby’ . It is possible that this information would have been obtained from Captain Templeton in the event that he had been captured as he was the only officer the Japanese had captured at this stage of their campaign.

• As a Corporal Grenade Launcher on a 90 km march between Buna and Kokoda amongst hundreds of Japanese troops, Corporal Nishimura would have been very low down the pecking order of importance. He would also have been exhausted as he ‘carried a ten-kilogram grenade launcher and ammunition instead of a rifle’ along a road that has no protection from the direct sun and tropical humidity. Nishimura does not explain how he was singled out to bury Captain Templeton after he had been executed.

• Lieutenant-Colonel Yanagisawa Hiroshi, a medical officer from the 15th Independent Engineer Regiment found Captain Sam Templeton ‘wounded and left on the ground’.

• In an interview for the television documentary, Beyond Kokoda, the late Colonel Hiroshi’s wife stated: ‘He (Templeton) was wounded in the jungle and was lying down on the ground. Seeing him, my husband thought “I am a soldier but also a doctor”. So he took him to his position and provided him with 1st Aid. My husband took care of his wounds and said “You will be OK now”. For the first time the Captain opened his mouth and said “My name is Templeton”.• Sergeant Nishimura Kokichi of the 144th Regiment, in and interview on the same documentary: “The Japanese questioned him about the number of Australian troops and locations of their positions. But the Captain didn’t answer. Instead he laughed at the Japanese saying ‘behind are 8,000 allied troops have gathered in our support. I wonder how many of you will actually get there alive. I will be counting’. The battalion commander got angry and stabbed him in the belly with a sabre.’• It is worthy of note that Sergeant Nishimura Kokichi does not make any mention of this incident in his biography, The Bone Man of Kokoda.

• In a recent newspaper article titled the 90 year old Nishimura now ‘believed that he was the one who killed the captain almost 70 years ago, and buried him in a shallow grave making Captain Templeton possibly the first casualty in the battle of Oivi, which was one of the first skirmishes fought in the battle for Kokoda’.• In a recent book on the Japanese on the Kokoda Track the authors, Craig Collie and Hajime Marutani (a translator-interpreter and a researcher for the Australian War Memorial’s Australia-Japan Research Project), wrote:

‘Nishimura grew increasingly eccentric and fractious over the years. In his periodic returns to Japan he would stay with his daughter in Tokyo, but otherwise he slept in the back of his car when travelling around the country. While many of the relics he collected ended up with the (Kochi-New Guinea) association, Nishimura was suspended for breaking its rules, most flagrantly building a memorial at Efogi with association permission. He was still allowed to attend the annual Shinto ceremony as a private individual, which was all the unsociable Nishimura was interested in doing anyway. In later years he became friendly with Imanishi, who viewed him with a bemused tolerance he had been unable to muster for Moriki’.

The circumstances of Captain Templeton’s death have been a mystery since he was last seen on 26 July 1942. Because it was virtually the first action of the Kokoda campaign it has been mentioned in most accounts that have been published since the war. Corporal Nishimura made no mention of his involvement in the burial of Captain Templeton in his biography, The Bone Man of Kokoda by Charles Happell. It is a fair question to ask why he has waited until now to reveal the information.

So what did happen to Captain Sam Templeton?
(The following authentic research was conducted by Carl Johnson and revealed in his book, Mud Over Blood, published by History House in 2006)

‘Without doubt, one of the 39th Battalion’s most revered senior officers was Captain Samuel Victor Templeton. On joining the battalion at Darley as a lieutenant, Templeton was posted to B Company and later, after further promotion, became the Commanding Officer. He was, as were many of the original officers of the battalion, a veteran of the First War. He had served with the Royal Naval Reserve as a junior gunnery officer with the Adriatic Squadron during 1918-19. He had also been involved in the Irish Rebellion of 1917 and after the First war experienced action during the Spanish Civil War as a member of the International Brigade, a band of volunteers from all nationalities who had made their own passage to Spain to fight the Communists.

‘He gave his age when joining the Australian Army in 1940 as thirty-nine. This was common practice by those who were over-age for active service during the Second War. The age requirement for enlistment stipulated one had to be thirty-nine or under to gain entry – hence the term of the day, ‘thirty-nine liars’, as many veterans lied about their age to fulfil enlistment requirements. Sam was born on the 12th April 1900 in Belfast, Northern Ireland but immigrated to Australia in the 1920’s. He gained employment with the Victorian Railways, later leaving to become manager of Corns Pastrycooks. In 1931 he joined the 5th Battalion, the Victorian Scottish Regiment with whom he gained his commission on the 25th October 1939. On his enlistment he was a married man, with one son residing in East Brighton, a bayside suburb of Melbourne.

‘After training at Darley, Lieutenant Templeton sailed with the battalion on the ‘Aquitania’ where he volunteered to assist in instructing personnel in gunnery training. Here he drew from his experiences with the Royal Navy during the previous war to train crew to operate the ship’s defences. After arrival in Moresby he, along with his comrades suffered the daily grind of life in the tropics. Over the next months the battalion gradually lost many of their senior members as the realities of service in tropical conditions took its toll. Many were either sent to non-combatant units or sent back to Australia and designated B Class. Templeton was one of the few that remained. He gained his captaincy and was made Commanding Officer of B Company. Those interviewed that served under him speak highly of his professionalism and soldiering qualities. He was a strict disciplinarian, but fatherly to those under his command. By the time B Company had been chosen to be the first of the battalion to face the Japanese, he had gained total respect and loyalty from those under his command.

‘During the seven-day hike across the Owen Stanley’s, Captain Templeton was an inspiration to his men, who were mostly half his age. Some recalled how he would go up and down the line of men as they toiled under their equipment. He would encourage them as they went and helped those who were finding the going tough by carrying their rifles. Jack Wilkinson, who was amongst the first company to cross the mountains, noted the following in his diary: ‘7/7/42, Made Ioribaiwa. Had carriers for our packs and just as well. Felt the trip more than the first day. Two long hills to climb. Missed out on tea as I was with last of the troops. Had a job to get some of them to make it.. ‘Uncle Sam’ came back and helped me about half way up the last hill. Was carrying four rifles and three packs and had doubts about making in myself. ‘Uncle Sam’ insisted on carrying all my gear as well as that of others’. Another member of B Company recalled seeing Sam at one time during the trek with at least four rifles over his shoulders. It was thought by some under his command, that given the fact he was continually going from front to rear of the column to keep the men going, that he actually travelled double the distance as the rest of the company.

‘After arrival at Kokoda, Captain Templeton set off for Buna to make sure that the company’s stores and heavy equipment had arrived safely. Prior to their departure for Kokoda, and advance party had boarded the schooner ‘Gili Gili’ under the supervision of B Company’s quartermaster, Sergeant Allan Collyer. After his return to Kokoda, the sounds of battle could be heard coming from the north. The Japanese had started their invasion of New Guinea by accomplishing landings at Buna and further around the coast at Gona and Sanananda. Templeton sent forward 12 Platoon under Lieutenant Mortimer, 11 Platoon under Lieutenant Seekamp was to follow and 10 Platoon under Lieutenant Garland was ordered to remain at Kokoda to defend the small airstrip in order that reinforcements could be landed. Lieutenant Seekamp’s 11 Platoon had been posted to hold the village of Awala, whilst 12 Platoon was ordered to protect the track between Awala and Kokoda near the village of Goirari. The battalion’s Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Colonel Bill Owen arrived by plane at Kokoda where Captain Templeton was waiting to meet him. After the CO’s arrival, both officers then headed off to join the two advanced platoons of B Company. Meanwhile these platoons had been engaged in rearguard actions, including a successful ambush, which Seekamp’s men had laid on the unsuspecting Japanese at Awala. By the time Templeton and Owen turned up, 11 Platoon had fallen back on the village of Goirari. The reinforcements had been requested and these were expected at any moment. Owen before leaving to return to Kokoda to meet these, ordered the advanced platoons of B Company to make a stand 800 yards east of Goirari. After dispersing his men, Owen left to meet the reinforcements.

‘After his departure, the ambush of advancing Japanese at Goirari was effected. However given the overwhelming force of the Japanese who were about to overwhelm the 39th’s positions, these two platoons had to be withdrawn to a new defensive position. The two platoons broke contact and fell back on the little village of Oivi, to await what was hoped to be at least one fresh company of the 39th to reinforce the depleted ranks of B Company. Instead of a company, the plane which arrived at Kokoda carried only half of one platoon of D Company – this was 16 Platoon under Lieutenant McClean. Owen quickly ordered these to go forward to join 11 and 12 Platoon, who were now holding onto their positions at Oivi. The Japanese made the first of their assaults on the 39’s men at Oivi in mid afternoon, just after Lieutenant McClean’s men had arrived and been dispersed. It was believed that the other half of 16 Platoon had already landed at Kokoda and it was with the aim of meeting up with these, that Captain Templeton left the defensive position at Oivi to guide in the rest of 16 Platoon under Sergeant Morrison. He left his second in command, Captain Stevenson, and Major Watson (the Commanding Officer of the P.I.B) to take control of the three platoons in his absence and set out alone to meet the rest of 16 Platoon which he believed as about to arrive.

‘It has been mentioned in several books that within moments of Captain Templeton leaving, ‘a burst of fire’ was heard from the direction he had gone and that was the last that was ever seen of him. However some believe that this burst of fire was instead a single shot probably fired by Templeton himself. Sergeant Martorana of 12 Platoon recalled that at the time it was heard, he had just approached Major Watson to ask where Templeton had gone. On being told that he had gone to bring in the rest of 16 Platoon he remarked, ‘that doesn’t sound like Sam’. At least two other members of B Company heard the single pistol shot and felt certain that Captain Templeton had walked straight into a group of Japanese along the track and that he must have fired on them. They did not hear any return rifle fire, and assumed he had been captured. A member of B Company who went out after Captain Templeton and followed him a short distance, was ordered by Templeton to return to the position, as he wanted no escort. Within moments of this man doing as ordered, he heard the single shot and then heard the Japanese calling out, ‘Corporal White’. Sergeant Martorana as soon as he heard the shot believed his captain was in trouble and asked their guide Sanopa, along with Private Evans and Luxmoore to come with him to see if they could find Captain Templeton. After getting near to the spot where the single shot had come from, Sanopa halted them saying that ‘he could smell them’. Within moments of the four dispersing to the side of the track they could see large groups of Japanese advancing towards them. Without hope of outgunning these, Sergeant Martorana ordered all to return to Oivi, This they did and made it safely back unmolested. Captain Templeton’s body was never located. The Japanese advanced en masse, and the defensive perimeter of the 39th which was threatened with being outflanked, was hastily withdrawn to fall back on the Kokoda Plantation where it engaged the Japanese in the first real battle of Kokoda.

‘Headquarters Southern Command received news of the disappearance and probable death of Captain Templeton and an official telegram was sent to his wife, Doris at East Brighton. His personal effects, which had been left at Kokoda prior to his last actions at Goirari and Oivi, followed later. For a time his army file was closed. The search for his body was officially abandoned and his official fate was amended to read, ‘Missing in Action 27th July 1942’ and for official purposes ‘Presumed Killed in Action’. During the later campaigns in the north of Papua some Japanese intelligence reports were captured which included references to the Yokoyama Advanced Force’s operations during the Yokoyama Advanced Force’s operations during August at Kokoda. One of these caused the fate of Captain Templeton to be re-examined and a new investigation to be started. When one of these captured reports was translated it read in part: ‘Yokoyama advanced groups entered battle with 39 Australian Battalion led by Captain Templeton. 2 Prisoners. One of them was Captain Templeton. 5 more Prisoners.’ Queensland L of C Area Records Office received this report in February 1943. As well, another Japanese Intelligence Report was entitled, ‘Enemy Terrain Situation’, and included details which had been taken during the interrogation of a captured Australian captain taking prisoner in the Kokoda area. This information included the number of Australians that confronted the Japanese advance, and in part read, ‘That a battalion of about 1000 men, commanded by a colonel had arrived in that area some 10 days before. In addition there were believed to be 500 to 600 Papua New Guinea troops with European officers along the Mambare River.

‘There is no doubt that the captured officer was Templeton and it is assume that after his capture, he endeavoured to bluff his captors into believing that the strength of the Australian force in the Kokoda area was vastly larger than it was. It was his last effort to delay the Japanese from totally overwhelming the 39th’s positions at Kokoda. He had give them a totally false estimate, which was some ten times the amount that there really was. By doing so, if forced the Japanese to re evaluate their position and gave his comrades some time to regroup and be reinforced. This was a brave move on his behalf. It had been assumed that after his capture, the Japanese dispensed with him, after gathering all the useful information his captors felt they would obtain. There are certainly several instances when the Japanese executed their prisoners soon after interrogation. However there was possibly one more sighting his shortly after this period. When some members of the 39th Battalion Association returned to New Guinea in 1967 for one of their first pilgrimages to the former battleground, a local villager who had lived in the area during the campaign of 1942 approached one of its members. The villager spoke of an Australian captain who was a prisoner and was in a cage on his own at Oro Bay on the coast. It was presumed that the captive was waiting to be transported to Rabaul, as other captured officers from the New Guinea area had been taken there in 1942.

‘There are no captured Japanese documents to prove or disprove this, but it must be remembered that captured officers were of great interest to Japanese Intelligence. It is unlikely that an officer would be so quickly done away with, if there were any chance of securing more information that would assist the Japanese later. It would be more likely that the first interrogation which he was submitted to, was to gather information about the immediate area and the Australians that confronted them, and that he was possible taken back for transportation to Rabaul for more thorough interrogation after this.

‘However, he definitely did not survive captivity and his official date of death is still unknown. Army Records kept his file open and marked it, ‘Missing in Action and Believed Prisoner of War’ until July 1945, when it was amended to read, ‘Believed Deceased on or after the 27th July 1942’. Captain Templeton faced his captivity as he commanded his company – with great resilience and by placing the welfare of his men and fellow officers before his own. He assisted the rest of his comrades by slowing down the Japanese, by making them more cautious of what lay ahead of them at Kokoda and may have saved many lives. Had the Japanese advanced swiftly and with the knowledge that only a mere hundred or more Australians were before them, then the two thousand or more Japanese would have had a swift victory.

‘What of the other prisoners whom the Japanese had claimed to have captured? The soldier reported captured at the time Captain Templeton was taken prisoner, was more than likely Private Sydney Moffatt, who disappeared the previous night. He had been sent out as a runner from the advanced platoons, to report back to Kokoda during the action at Goirari and no trace was ever found of him. For the other five, of whom all are undoubtedly B Company men, there are two explanations. After Templeton went missing it is said a small patrol was sent out to locate him. These as well were never seen again, although this group may be confused with Sergeant Martorana’s small group who went out after him and were forced back. The second theory is that when the beleaguered platoons at Oivi extracted themselves to regroup at Kokoda, it could be that some did not get the message to break contact. This was a belief that Sergeant Martorana held, interviewed some sixty years after the battle. The order to withdraw had been passed around from man to man, but he believed that a few may not have received the message and so were left behind in the confusion.

‘Examination of the battalion’s nominal roll reveals that eight of B Company were missing, believed dead, and have no known graves. At least two of these, (Privates Holness and Priestly) can be discounted as one was last seen badly wounded, and the other is believed to have been blown clear over the escarpment at Kokoda when his weapon pit received a direct hit. What is known is that the Japanese made no mention of them by name, and having already captured a senior officer, would have had little use for private soldiers who fell into their hands. An advancing army, fighting in such a terrain, has little resources for prisoners. It must be presumed therefore that these members of B Company were put to death soon after capture, maybe in sight of Captain Templeton in an attempt to extract information from him. We cannot tell exactly how these men died, but we do know that they all lived to the high ideals of their country, and died in its defence with staunch courage.’

Conclusion

Corporal Nishimura’s claims in regard to Captain Sam Templeton’s fate are spurious in view of the facts contained in official Australian and Japanese war documents. The investigations conducted by the Australian Army soon after the Kokoda campaign remains valid and will continue to be so until evidence to the contrary is presented to the Army Unrecovered War Casualties Unit for further investigation.

If Wayne Wetherall of Kokoda Spirit has additional information to that contained in the two official army investigations he should provide it to the appropriate authorities without delay.

We will obviously publish any new information that has been validated by the relevant authorities in regard to the circumstances surrounding the capture/execution of  Captain Sam Templeton – but until that time the official investigations conducted by the army should stand and the matter should be left to rest.

References:

. Japanese Army Operations in the South Pacific Area, New Britain and Papua Campaigns, 1942-43. Steven Bullard. Australian War Memorial 2007.

. The Bone Man of Kokoda. Charles Happell.MacMillan.

. Japanese Army Operations in the South Pacific Area, New Britain and Papua Campaigns, 1942-43. Steven Bullard. Australian War Memorial 2007

. Australia in the War of 1939-1945, South-West Pacific Area First Year, Kokoda to Wau, Dudley McCarthy. Australian War Memorial

. From the diary of Dr Geoffrey Vernon, Medical Officer attached to Bn HQ. Mud over Blood. Carl Johnson

. Retreat from Kokoda – The Australian Campaign in New Guinea 1942. Raymond Paull. William Heinemann Australia

. Japanese Army Operations in the South Pacific Area, New Britain and Papua Campaigns, 1942-43. Steven Bullard. Australian War Memorial 2007.

. The National Weekender, Port Moresby, 5 February 2010.  Ilya Gridneff, AAP Papua New Guinea Correspondent. Cover Story

. The Bone Man of Kokoda. Charles Happell.MacMillan

. The National Weekender, Port Moresby, 5 February 2010.  Ilya Gridneff, AAP Papua New Guinea Correspondent. Cover Story

. Japanese Army Operations in the South Pacific Area, New Britain and Papua Campaigns, 1942-43. Steven Bullard. Australian War Memorial 2007

. The Path of Infinite Sorrow – The Japanese on the Kokoda Track. Craig Collie and Hajime Marutani. Allen and Unwin.2009

. Beyond Kokoda, History Channel

. Sunshine Coast Daily article, ‘News Makers’ 21 February 2010