Just before 2 am on Saturday, 5 August 1944, Japanese fighter pilot Hajime Toyoshima sounded the bugle that signalled the beginning of the Cowra breakout.
Today, the bugle is part of the national collection at the Australian War Memorial, a poignant reminder of the largest escape attempt from a prisoner-of-war camp in Australia – and a reminder of the lives that were lost.
“We don’t actually know a lot about the provenance of the bugle itself,” said Dr Kerry Neale, a curator at the Australian War Memorial.
“It was made by Boosey and Hawkes Ltd of London in the 1930s, but the actual origins of the bugle, and how it came to be in Toyoshima’s possession, are a bit of a mystery.
“What we do know is that Toyoshima used it to signal the start of the breakout, so it has a really significant place in Australia’s military history.
“The camp commander Major Edward Timms, who served on Gallipoli and had seen the devastation of the First World War, he recovered the bugle after the breakout, took it back to his home in Sydney and hung it in his sitting room. There it remained for many years, until his widow donated it to the Memorial after his passing in 1978.
“The breakout was the one and only time that an escape attempt of this scale occurred on Australian soil, and it’s a very big part of Cowra’s history and the town’s ongoing relationship with the Japanese community, and the very beautiful reconciliation and friendship that exist between them today.”