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.
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.
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
- 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
Moffitt, Hon. Athol Randolph, CMG 1979
b. Lismore NSW 25 June 1914
Called to Bar 1938
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).