Guide to the papers of Athol Randolph Moffitt


Title: Papers of Athol Randolph Moffitt

Date range of collection: 1943-2000

Collection number: PR01378

Extent: 1 metre (6 boxes, 1 oversize item)

Location: Private Records collection, Research Centre, Australian War Memorial.

Abstract: Collection of papers relating to War Crimes Trials, British North Borneo 1945-1946, and to the Sandakan POW camps. Captain Athol Randolph Moffitt was an Army legal officer assisting with the investigations of war crimes against prisoners of war (mainly Australian) by the Japanese forces and their collaborators during the Second World War. As a member of the British Borneo Civic Affairs Unit, and later attached to the HQ 9th Division AIF (Labuan), Capt Moffitt gathered the evidence for, and conducted the prosecution of Captain Hoshijima, the commander of Sandakan POW camp from mid-1942 to May 1945. The trial of Hoshijima was conducted in January 1946. The records include an indexed typed transcript of Moffitt's diary, September 1945-February 1946; Japanese War Crimes Trial typescripts; original charts compiled by Japanese officers concerning the first Sandakan 'death march'; maps relating to Sandakan POW camp and the 'death marches'; research documents collected by Moffitt for the book Project Kingfisher (1989); a copy of Project Kingfisherautographed by survivors of the Sandakan 'death marches'; and contemporary papers.


Administrative information

Provenance: Donated by Athol Moffitt in April, 2000. A paper titled 'General Sir Thomas Blamey and the abandonment of the project (Project Kingfisher) for a paratroop rescue of the Sandakan POWs in 1945', was donated in June 1999 and incorporated into the collection.

Access: Open

Restrictions on use: Copyright of materials described in this guide is governed by copyright law in Australia. For further information contact the Curator of Private Records, Research Centre.

Preferred citation: Papers of Athol Randolph Moffitt, Australian War Memorial, PR01378


Additional information

Related collections:

  • Nominal Roll of 'B' Force, AIF, Sandakan, British North Borneo. Australian War Memorial, EXDOC 83
  • Prayer Book belonging to Ronald Sullivan. Australian War Memorial, PR01595. Corporal Sullivan was a POW of the Japanese at Sandakan who died on 31st March 1945, aged 30. This Prayer Book was used by a Catholic chaplain for evening prayer groups. He took it out of Sandakan when he was transferred to Kuching in 1943. 

Subjects: Prisoners of war; Second World War; Borneo; Sandakan


Biographical note

Moffitt, Hon. Athol Randolph, CMG 1979

b. Lismore NSW 25 June 1914

Called to Bar 1938

QC 1958

Justice Supreme Court of New South Wales 1962-1984

Royal Comissioner on Alleged Organised Crime in Registered Clubs NSW 1972

President New South Wales Court of Appeal 1974-1984

Captain Royal Australian Artillery AIF

British Borneo Civil Affairs Unit (BBCAU) 1945

Prosecutor, Japanese war crimes trials (Sandakan), Labuan, Borneo 1946


Scope and content note

The papers of Athol Moffitt held at the Australian War Memorial document Borneo in the Second World War and the experience of POWs at Sandakan in particular, as well as the conduct of the Japanese and of civilians in areas under Japanese occupation.

The papers are arranged in nine series based on nine packets donated by Moffitt. Researchers are referred to Moffitt's comments on the arrangement and contents of the collection (Series 10). Central to the material donated are the two volumes which Moffitt included in Packet 1. They are an indexed typescript copy of Moffitt's diary (Series 1) and a copy of Moffitt's book Project Kingfisher (Series 2) signed by Australian survivors of the Sandakan 'death march'. The diary was written in Borneo in September 1945-February 1946, and records the investigations and prosecutions carried out by Moffitt. Papers related to the bookProject Kingfisher include production material (Series 2), source material (Series 3-8), and the early plans, title and draft (Series 9).

Sandakan was the site of a Japanese POW camp established in July 1942, occupied initally by 'B' Force composed of 1496 Australian POWs from Changi Prison in Singapore. In time, the prison population in Sandakan increased to 2750, composed of about 2000 Australian and 750 British POWs. In 1945 the Japanese began to move prisoners from Sandakan to Ranau, about 160 miles away. Of the 470 prisoners who left Sandakan on the first march in January, only about half survived to reach Ranau. Of the remaining POWs, about 1400 died at Sandakan in 1945. Of these, 1100 died before a second march to Ranau that began on 27 May 1945, following the Australian landings at Tarakan earlier in May. Captain Takakuwa took command of the POWs, including on the march and at Ranau. The Sandakan camp facilities were destroyed; 536 prisoners left on the second march. Only 183 reached Ranau. Three hundred prisoners were left behind at Sandakan because they were too sick to travel; they died or were shot. The survivors of both marches died or were shot at Ranau; the last fifty were shot shortly after the Japanese surrender in mid August 1945.

Eight Australian Sandakan POWs escaped in 1943 (including Rex Blow); these men joined US and Filipino guerillas, and two were killed in action. Of the about 1000 prisoners marched off to Ranau, six Australian POWs survived; there were no British survivors. Two Australians survived the second 'death march' by escaping en route (Owen Campbell and Dick Braithwaite); four survived by escaping from Ranau (Bill Moxham, Nelson Short, Keith Botterill, and Bill Sticpewich, the last to escape in July 1945). 

Moffitt prosecuted Captain Hoshijima in January 1946. Bill Sticpewich gave oral evidence at the trial; his evidence was supplemented by statements from Japanese soldiers obtained by Moffitt. Hoshijima was found guilty of murder and executed at Rabaul on 6 April 1946. (General Masuo Baba, commander of Japanese forces in Borneo, was also tried in May-June 1947, was found guilty, and was executed on 7 August 1947.)

In 1947, a Parliamentary debate was held on the failure to rescue the Sandakan POWs which ordered an inquiry into the matter. However, Moffitt found that the records of the inquiry did not properly deal with a planned paratroop rescue of the Sandakan POWs. Further research, including archives related to the operation code-named 'Project Kingfisher', and an interview with Sir John Overall, then Commander of the 1st Australian Paratroop Battalion, revealed details of the planned rescue. Much of the material in this collection is derived from Moffitt's research. Also included are various papers written by Moffitt after 1995 (Series 9).

SERIES 1: Diary, 1944-1946

The diary primarily covers Moffitt's service from the time of his transfer to Borneo at the end of August 1945 as a Captain with BBCAU, and then attached to HQ 9th Division Labuan from late December 1945.

Series/Wallet Title, date and description Box
1/1 Diary 1945. Subjects covered include the war crimes trials in Borneo, principally Brunei and Sarawak (1945); war crimes trials in Labuan (1946), notably of Capt Hoshijima, Commandant of the Sandakan POW camp; the first Sandakan 'death march'; testimony concerning the conduct of the Japanese and civilians during the Japanese occupation of Borneo 1942-1945. 1

SERIES 2: Production material and a copy of Moffitt's book Project Kingfisher,1989-1993

A signed commemorative copy of the book Project Kingfisherby Athol Moffitt (Angus & Robertson, Sydney, 1989) and documents related to production of the book.

Series/Wallet Title, date and description Box
Folio 1 (2/1) A paperback edition of the book Project Kingfisher, written by Athol Moffitt (Angus & Robertson, Sydney, 1989). The book is signed by Keith Botterill, Nelson Clift, Ken Clift (1st Australian Paratroop Bn), Lofty Hodges (Z Special Unit), and Moffitt, dated 28 October 1993 and annotated by the author. Death notices for Botterill, Short, and John Funk are attached to the book. (This item was contained in 'Packet 1'). Oversize
2/2 Edited typescript, Project Kingfisher 1-2
2/3 Original typescript foreword to Project Kingfisher, written and signed by Sir Roden Cutler. 2
2/4 Photographic negatives of illustrations used in Project Kingfisher, includes negatives of maps, drawings, and aerial surveys. Photographs Section

SERIES 3: Records pertaining to Project Kingfisher, 1944 - 1945

Records pertaining to the background and development of the operation code-named 'Project Kingfisher' collected by Moffitt and used as source material for his book Project Kingfisher.

Series/Wallet Title, date and description Box
3/1 Photocopy of typescript official records related to the planning of Project Kingfisher 1944-1945. (National Archives of Australia CRS A3269/1 item A22 Pt 2) 2
3/2 Photocopies of typescript official records of Services Reconnaissance Department (SRD) operations including the Borneo operations code named AGAS I, II, III, IV, V, SQUIRREL, STALLION, PLATYPUS, and SEMUT I, II, III (National Archives of Australia CRS A3269 items A1 and A3, and CRS A3270 volume II). 2-3
3/3 Photocopies of typescript official records related to AGAS III, dealing with SRD operations in the Ranau area 8 August- 5 September 1945 (National Archives of Australia CRS A3269 item A3 and CRS A3270, volume II). Includes the rescues of Sticpewich, Short, Moxham and Botterill; intelligence report of 10 August 1945 with names of POWs still at Ranau POW camp; information on murder of last POW at Ranau; a map of Ranau. 3

SERIES 4: Borneo war crimes trial transcripts and related material, 1945-1946

Original Prosecutor's carbon copy typescripts and copies of typescripts of several war crimes trials at Labuan and Rabaul 1946, related to the Sandakan POW camp, the 'death marches', and treatment of POWs at Rabaul. The series includes original documents by Japanese officers in charge of POWs on the first 'death march'.

Series/Wallet Title, date and description Box
4/1 Prosecutor's carbon copy typescript and exhibits of the Labuan war crimes trial of Captain Hoshijima, Commandant of the Sandakan POW camp, January 1946. 3
4/2 Prosecutor's carbon copy typescript and exhibits of the Labuan war crimes trial of 9 Japanese officers and a sergeant in charge of the first 'death march', Sandakan to Ranau, January and February 1945. 3
4/3 Copy of typescript and exhibits of the Labuan war crimes trial of Japanese officers Captain Takakuwa and Captain Watanabe, who commanded the second 'death march', Sandakan to Ranau, and held command at Ranau, May- June 1945 (National Archives of Australia CRS A471 item 80771). 3
4/4 Copy of typescript and exhibits of the 1st Labuan war crimes trial and the 2nd Rabaul war crimes trial of Japanese officers, including Capt Yamamoto, related to the first 'death march' Sandakan to Ranau, January and February 1945. Includes statement and evidence given by Keith Botterill. (National Archives of Australia CRS A471 items 81663 and 81029). 4
4/5 Original documents by the nine Japanese officers in charge of POWs on the first 'death march'. These documents show the daily progress of each group and the purported number, place, and causes of deaths. 4
4/6 Original document listing the nicknames of Japanese prison guards. 4
4/7 Copies of warrants of execution for Captains Takakuwa, Watanabe and Hoshijima (National Archives of Australia CRS A471 item 80771). 4

SERIES 5: Rabaul war crimes trial of Lt Gen Baba ,1947

Copy of typescript and exhibits of Rabaul war crimes trial of Lt Gen Baba, 37 Imperial Japanese Army, Borneo 1947.

Series/Wallet Title, date and description Box
5/1 Copy of typescript and exhibits of Rabaul war crimes trial of Lt Gen Baba, 37 Imperial Japanese Army , Borneo 1947 (National Archives of Australia CRS A471 item 81631). 4

SERIES 6: Borneo and Sandakan research material,1945-1947

Research material used by Moffitt, including original maps, copies of maps and official papers, newspaper cuttings, original letters and records of interview.

Series/Wallet Title, date and description Box
Folio 2 (6/1) Maps
Original sketch map of Sandakan POW compound, drawn by W O Sticpewich, 1945. Reverse shows copy of proclamation of martial law in Borneo, 10 June 1945.
Folio 2 (6/2) Maps
Original map made in 1945 (postwar) by the Sandakan-Ranau 'death march' investigating team. Includes stopping places and location of and reports of bodies and other details.
6/3 Maps, Sandakan-Ranau 'death march' route, and route of AGAS III to Ranau area, 1945 . 4
6/4 Copies of numerous documents relating to Blamey's speech and comments in 1947 in relation to the proposed air rescue of the Sandakan POWs. Includes records of debate in Australian Parliament in 1947, and Blamey's response, as well as newspaper reports on Blamey's statements, before and after the parliamentary debate. 4
6/5 Photocopies of official documents, HQ 1st Australia Corps, 4 August 1945, related to a proposed appeal by General Morshead to General Baba for release of POWs and civilian internees in Borneo (original at Australian War Memorial 3DRL 2632/5). 4
6/6 Documents including letters records of interview and newspaper cuttings, related to war crimes trials and the execution of Captain Hoshijima. 4
6/7 Papers given to Moffitt by Maj Pickford, a POW at Sandakan andnewspaper cuttings Kuching. 4
6/8 Papers related to the North Borneo oil fields. 4

SERIES 7: General research material: published sources,1945 -1981

Research material used by Moffitt and derived from published sources relating to the conduct and characteristics of the Japanese in the Second Woeld War, and the content, basis and justification for war crimes trials and what can be learnt from them.

Series/Wallet Title, date and description Box
7/1 Bibliographies and photo references. 5
7/2 Documents related to war crimes trials, includes account of Ambon war crimes trials by Shinji (a Japanese defence lawyer); war crimes trials discussed by Lord Wright (British and Australian adviser); 'Victor's justice' by Minear; US Supreme Court Ex Parte Quirin decision on war crimes. 5
7/3 Photocopies of extracts from articles by: Agnes Keith (US author and internee in Kuching), 'Three came back' (1948); Walter Wallace, 'Escape from hell: the Sandakan story' (1958); David Bergamini, 'Japan's imperial conspiracy' (1971); Edward Russell, 'The knights of bushido: a short history of Japanese war crimes' (1958); Courtney Browne, 'Tojo: the last Banzai' (1967); Samual Morison, 'The rising sun in the Pacific' (1950); Hal Richardson 'One man war: the Jock McLaren story' (1957). 5
7/4 Photocopies of extracts from articles by: Joyce Lebra, 'Japan's Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere in WWII' (1975); Clifford Jones, 'Japan's New Order in East Asia and its fall 1937-45' (1954); Dr Takeo Doi (Tokyo University), 'An anatomy of dependence' (1981); William Slim, 'From defeat into victory' (1956); statistics from Australian Encyclopedia; 'The DC-3: the gooney bird goes to war' [nd]. 5

SERIES 8: Other papers related to Sandakan and Borneo ,1943-1945

Other papers, some acquired since Project Kingfisher was published in 1989, related to Sandakan, Borneo, the Japanese, and war crimes trials. Includes photographs, letters, accounts and newspaper cuttings.

Series/Wallet Title, date and description Box
8/1 Photographs of Nelson Short, Keith Botterill, Owen Campbell, Capt Mathew's grave; newspaper cuttings; brochureHeroes' Grave (Kuching) 5
8/2 Correspondence, including with Rex Blow and Brig Grenville; original account by Lt D M Carment of his experience as a POW at Sandakan (to mid 1943) and Kuching (mid 1943-45); Moffitt's speech to United Service Institute of NSW. 5
8/3 Newspaper cuttings. 5

SERIES 9: Papers written since 1995,1995-2000

Moffitt raises questions that remain unanswered about Sandakan and Borneo. Includes the early plans, title and draft for his book.

Series/Wallet Title, date and description Box
9/1 Material generated in 1995 for the 50th anniversary of the end of the Second World War. Includes a letter from the Australian Broadcasting Commission (ABC) relating to the 2nd edition of Project Kingfisher; a VHS copy of the ABC documentary about Sandakan POWs, screened 12 November 1995; Moffitt's address to the Australasian Pioneer's Club, 'Fifty years on - is the Japanese nation capable of saying and meaning 'sorry'?'(15 August 1995). 6
9/2 Paper 'General Sir Thomas Blamey and the abandonment of the project (Project Kingfisher) for a paratroop rescue of the Sandakan POWs in 1945: an examination of the unsupported and false statements alledging infamous conduct of Sir Thomas Blamey (deceased) in the book Sandakan-a conspiracy of silence' (1998, by L R Silver). 6
9/3 Early plans, title and draft for Moffitt's book, published as Project Kingfisher. 6
9/4 Paper titled 'The year 2000: delayed revelations and questions which remain'. 6

SERIES 10: Moffitt's comments on the arrangement and contents of the collection, 1999

Moffitt's comments on the arrangement and content of the collection and an index to the nine packets of material that forms this colleciton.

Series/Wallet Title, date and description Box
10/1 Typescript, The Athol Moffitt Collection - Borneo and Sandakan in WWII: general comments on the collection of nine packets of documents indexed for the consideration of the curator. 6
10/2 Information sheets tfrom the original parcels donated by Moffitt. 6