Friday 24 September 2010 by LEUT Debra Holland. No comments

We are seeking your help to identify a former Australian prisoner of war who will appear in the next edition of our quarterly journal Wartime.

Dubbed ‘The Accordion Man’ by Memorial historians, the Digger is pictured smiling to the camera and holding a small battered accordion.

The photograph was taken 65 years ago on 24 September 1945.

We would like to find out more about this soldier; how he kept his accordion hidden from his captors; what music he played to entertain his fellow prisoners; what happened to him after he returned home; whether he had a family, and what happened to the accordion?

So what do we know already?

The photograph was taken by Lieutenant R Buchanan at the recently liberated Bicycle Camp (so called because of number of bicycles found on site when the Australians first arrived) in Batavia (Jakarta) Java, Indonesia.

The Australian Army photographers pictured in the background are documenting the state of the prison camp and the condition of the prisoners.

It is likely that ’Accordion Man’ was an infantryman from 2/40th Battalion or a supporting unit – and was among those captured by the Japanese in early 1942 while defending the Penfui airfield at Koepang in Dutch West Timor.

The 2/40th Infantry Battalion was the only battalion in the AIF recruited almost entirely from Tasmania.  The Battalion formed the bulk of “Sparrow Force” and were rushed to Dutch West Timor at the end of 1941 to help defend against invading Japanese forces.

However, like most of the ‘bird’ forces deployed across the islands to Australia’s north, the men of “Sparrow Force” were ill equipped and undersupplied and were overwhelmed by the large numbers of invading Japanese forces.

Most men of the 2/40th became prisoners of war and were eventually interned at the Java camp, although some members managed to escape to join  2/2nd Independent Company, an Australian guerrilla force that had eluded captivity by hiding in the rough Timor jungle.  

The prisoners were liberated in late August and early September 1945 and repatriated home to Australia almost immediately.

Anyone with information about ‘The Accordion Man’ is invited to comment on this blog or write to us at ‘The Accordion Man’ c/- Communications and Marketing, Australian War Memorial, GPO Box 345 Canberra ACT 2601 or email to

The next edition of Wartime Issue 52 will be on the news stands from 27 October.