SYDNEY – An Australian World War II veteran has resorted to high technology in a bid to locate the family of a Japanese soldier whose body he discovered in the mountains of Papua New Guinea more than 50 years ago.
Jeff Burgess, 77, of Melbourne, was in Lae, on the eastern coast of Papua New Guinea in late 1944 when he discovered the bodies of five Japanese soldiers while digging into the mountainside to place antiaircraft guns.
He believes the five committed suicide during the Japanese retreat from the area.
One of the bodies he found had a diary containing a photograph of popular wartime actress Kinuyo Tanaka and letters to the soldier from his elder sister in the city of Gifu.
After sending the letters, diary and a samurai sword he found near the bodies to Australia during the war, Burgess has safeguarded them and shown them only to family and friends.
Now they are on display to the world through a Web site set up by his eldest son, Chris, 49.
Chris Burgess said the family hopes that through the Internet, they can locate the soldier’s sister — the author of the letters — to let her know what happened to her brother.
“Our aim is to let them know what happened. They have no idea where he was and what happened to him,” he said.
“There’s a lot of Australians who don’t know what happened to their relatives in the war, so I’d say it would be the same over there, they’d want to get some closure.”
He said his father does not “feel a grudge about any of the Japanese and he’d like to see the healing process take over.”
Chris has posted images of the letters and photos, and told the story of his father’s service in Papua New Guinea, on his Internet Web site www.australiansoldier.com. The letters, dated May 4 and 14, 1944, were addressed to Masaichi Kawashima in a military barracks in Yokosuka, Kanagawa Prefecture, before his departure to Papua New Guinea.
Signed “from your elder sister, Shizue Muto,” the letters talk about the difficulties in wartime Japan but urge the soldier not to worry about everyone at home, “just take care of yourself and do your duty.”
Jeff Burgess said he’d be happy if the dead soldier’s family contacted him and he could talk to them and answer any questions they had.
He said, however, a meeting could bring up difficult memories for both sides.
“They’ve got a fair idea of what’s happened. Most (missing soldiers) were killed or died later on, and it’s only bringing up bad memories,” he said.
Chris Burgess said he hopes other war veterans, both Japanese and Australian, will use his Internet site to tell their stories from the war.