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    Watom Island East New Britain Province Papua New Guinea (PNG)

Location
Lat 4° 7' 0S Long 152° 4' 0E  Watom Island is a circular island off the coast of East New Britain to the west of of Rabaul and to the north of Talili Bay.

Wartime History
During early 1942, Watom Island was occupied by the Japanese for the duration of the war. A contingent of 300 British Prisoners Of War (POW) from the Royal Artillery that surrendered at Singapore were transported to Watom Island and interned for the duration of war. On the island, they were used to dig tunnels and as labor. The prisoners were neglected, starved and killed by their Japanese captors. None of the officers or NCOs survived. Only seventeen enlisted men survived and were liberated on September 7, 1945.

Surviving British Prisoners of War (POW) Watom Island, September 7, 1945
Rank, Name (nickname), British service number, Unit, hometown

  1. L/bdr Ahern, 851969, Company 7th C, Flrmoy, Ireland
  2. Gnr Alf Baker, 1799596, 3rd AA, Plymouth, Devonshire
  3. Sgt Joe Blythe, 1700369, 35th LAA, Nottinghamshire
  4. Bdr Burglass, 843976, 20th HKS, Yorkshire
  5. L/Bdr Frank Docketty, 2048251, 5th SL Surrey, London
  6. Bdr W. Dunne, 3850959, 9th C, Lancashire
  7. Gnr Fowler (Nobby), 850014, 7th C, Derbyshire
  8. Gnr Gabbert, 1635296, 6th AA Lancashire
  9. Gnr Jones, 1604796, 3rd AA, Shropshire
  10. L/Sgt Matts, 1063742, 7th C, Portsmouth
  11. Gnr Moore, 1492839, 7th C, South Wales
  12. L/Bdr Murphy (Spud), 857219, 3rd AA, Scotland
  13. L/Bdr Nolan (Patrick), 1058699, 7th C, London
  14. L/Sgt ?, 845353, 9th C, Northern Ireland
  15. Gnr Slater, 1686309, 5th SL, Nottingham
  16. Gnr Smelt (Len), ?, 3rd AA, Nottingham
  17. Gnr Walker (Ken), ?, 7th C, North Wales
  18. Gnr White, 868015, 3rd AA, Scotland

Today
Watom Island has no electricity and gets only a handful of outside visitors.

POW Tunnel and Naval Gun
Peter Leggett reports: "The large tunnel the British POWs dug, is still there, housing a large naval type gun on high ground at the north of the island. There are other small tunnels cut into rock on the island. Watom itself is volcanic and was formed before the Gazelle Peninsula. Nothing much else on the island, I've walked over it many times. At present time there is a ban on scuba diving and people visiting the island from a problem caused with Star Dancer over a year ago. I have been talking with a number of the people who have asked us to go back there once things are sorted out with their community leader."

Japanese Tunnels
The island is volcanic and formed before the Gazelle Peninsula, so work labor done by POWs was very hard. Some tunnels can be seen from the sea, cut in the cliff face above the high tide mark. These tunnels do not go in far and would have been used more as a pill box for Japanese soldiers defending shore approaches.

References
Investigation and confirmation of POW sites on Watom Island by Samuel Niba Billy
Long Way - Watom Island by Colin Docketty
What Price Bushido? by Alf Baker
Thanks to Samuel Niba Billy, Peter Leggett, Steve Saunders and Collin Docketty for information and photographs.

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Last Updated
February 4, 2018

 

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