Australian Harold Moss is looking for a few Japanese painters — and not just anyone with a brush and a can of paint will do.
The 86-year-old former Royal Australian Navy sailor has written to The Japan Times asking for help in identifying four young Japanese soldiers who, in 1946 in New Guinea, he was ordered to supervise — and who he set to work painting the side of his ship, the HMAS Lithgow.
“After the war we were in Rabaul on a minesweeping operation,” Moss, who was then a Petty Officer, recalled.
“The captain told me that a working party of Japanese prisoners of war was going to be sent to us and I had to find a job for them.”
Moss determined that the Japanese, who were in Rabaul awaiting repatriation, could be set to work painting the ship, a Bathurst-class corvette. He soon came to regret his decision.
“What a calamity,” he said. “They had paint all over them — I think more on them than on the ship’s side!”
Still, he continued: “They were treated kindly and they ate with us down in the mess deck. And they were willing workers.”
Moss explained that his wife came across a photograph of him standing with the four Japanese on the deck of the ship all those years ago. “She insisted that I try and find out if they are still alive and well,” he said.
Moss, who joined the Royal Australian Navy in 1939 at age 16, crops up occasionally in Australian Navy lore. He was one of just 24 sailors who survived the sinking of the HMAS Parramatta, a Grimsby-class sloop that was torpedoed by a German submarine off the North African peninsula of Tobruk in northeastern Libya during the famous siege there in 1941.
When the torpedo hit, “there was a ladder near me up to the topside and I went up there like a rabbit,” Moss recalled, adding that he was eventually picked up by a British destroyer. However, 138 of his shipmates were not so lucky and were lost with the ship.
The Australian’s connection with Japan didn’t end with his POW encounter in Rabaul.
In 1980 he came here for a holiday with his wife. “We did a tour all over,” he recalled, adding that “the people we met were most friendly and we had a good time.”
However, he was saddened to realize that many of the younger Japanese did not know what had happened during the war.
“Our tour guide, a very nice young guy who had a relative in the war, had no idea what had gone on,” Moss explained. “When I got home, I posted him a book on the war trials.”
There would obviously be no such naivety among the four former POWs in the photo above, who, Moss guesses, would now be in their 80s. He believes they would no doubt agree with him that the war must never be forgotten, and they might even appreciate the chance to reminisce a little about what was probably one of its quieter postscripts: the painting of the HMAS Lithgow in Rabaul Harbour, 1946.
Anyone with information about any of the four Japanese in the photo is asked to e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call (03) 3452-3599.