LOOKING BACK: Cootamundra’s Noel Golledge looks at a photo from his days serving in the Army alongside his cousin Percy Golledge. TUESDAY’S date, August 5 marked the anniversary of the famous – or infamous – ‘Cowra Breakout’.
In 1944, at least 1104 Japanese prisoners of war attempted to escape from a camp near Cowra.
It was the largest prison escape ofWorld War II, as well as one of thebloodiest.
In the thick of the action was Cootamundra’s Noel Golledge, likely to be one of the last surviving soldiers involved in the Cowra Breakout tale.
Noel enlisted in the Army at 16-years-old and was only 17 when he and his 18th Battalion mates were called to Cowra to help with the mass breakout.
“We were rushed by train and buses to Cowra (from Sydney) to quell the tide,” Noel recalled.
Up to 200 men just from his Battalion were part of the operation to capture the escapees.
“We rounded them up from Hay to Cowra,” Noel said.
The escaped prisoners were herded into groups before being loaded into caged trucks and transported to Murchison prisoner of war camp in Victoria.
There were three stopovers along the way where a ‘weapon pit’ would be established with a machine gun mounted and the Australian troops in charge of the transport would spend the night watching the prisoners in the camp.
It would be freezing cold but the Japanese prisoners would never stop and settle down, they would pacethe barbed wire fence all night, Noel said.
Once the group of prisoners were installed in Murchison, Noel’s 18th Battalion stayed with them for a further two weeks.
He recalls there were between 150 and 200 soldiers from his battalion involved in the transport task.
The 18th Battalion was known colloquially as the ‘Young Persons’ Battalion’ with almost all of the soldiers under 18 years.
Over the course of his five years with the Army, Noel rose through the ranks and fought on the frontline.
He will be 89 this year, making him amongst the dwindling number of World War II veterans still alive today.
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