Biography

Birth date: 14 January 1916
Birth place: Australia: New South Wales, Gunnedah
Death date: 24 October 1943
Death place: New Guinea: Aitape
Final rank: Sergeant
Service number: NX143314 - Second World War, 1939-1945
Unit: M Special Unit

Len Siffleet, a special operations soldier who became well-known for the manner of his death, was born at Gunnedah, New South Wales, on 14 January 1916. A keen sportsman, he became a good swimmer but also enjoyed less physical pursuits; he once outfitted the Gunnedah pipe band with highland hose that he had knitted.

In the late 1930s Siffleet moved to Sydney in search of work and was rejected by the police because of poor eyesight. Whatever defect marred his vision it was not sufficiently serious to prevent his being called up for the militia in August 1940. He served with a searchlight unit at Richmond Air Force Base but was released after three months and returned to civilian life.

After his mother's death in 1941, he and his sister, Pearl, took responsibility for bringing up their two youngest brothers, a task made necessary by the itinerant nature of their father's work. In September 1941, Siffleet joined the AIF and was posted to the 1st Division Signals Company at Ingleburn. He twice went absent without leave, possibly to see the woman to whom he had become engaged, Clarice Lane.

Siffleet went on to complete a specialist signals course at the Melbourne Technical College before volunteering in September 1942 for special duties, joining Z Special Unit. In October he went to the Z Experimental Station in Cairns where Special Operations Australia trained its operatives. While Siffleet was training, the Dutch section of the Inter-Allied Services Department was planning a mission to establish a coast-watching station in the hills above Hollandia in Dutch New Guinea, recently occupied by the Japanese. Siffleet became the operation's radio operator.

Siffleet was promoted to sergeant and transferred to M Special Unit in May 1943, but by then he and his party were trekking along New Guinea's mountainous spine en-route to the north coast. In mid-September the mission, along with members of another special operations team travelling with them to Aitape, were discovered by New Guinean natives. Surrounded by a group of more than 100 locals, Siffleet fired on the attackers, wounding one, and managed to break free. He was quickly caught and, along with his companions, was handed over to the Japanese. He was taken to Malol near Aitape where he was beaten, interrogated - apparently revealing little of importance - and then imprisoned for two weeks before being moved to Aitape.

Just after 3.00pm on 24 October 1943, after languishing in prison for several weeks, Siffleet and two fellow prisoners were marched to Aitape Beach. Kneeling before a crowd of Japanese and New Guinean onlookers and wearing blindfolds, the three prisoners were beheaded and buried. A photo of a Japanese civilian holding a sword over a haggard looking prisoner captured the last seconds of Siffleet's life. It was found by American troops in 1944. The photo continues to be misrepresented as other victims of Japanese executions but its subject was positively identified as Siffleet in 1945.

Rolls and Awards

Roll of Honour

  • Rank: Sergeant
  • Date of Death: 24 October 1943
  • Unit: M Special Unit

Second World War POWs and Missing Persons

  • Rank: Acting Sergeant
  • Theatre of war: South West Pacific Islands

Second World War POWs and Missing Persons

  • Rank: Sergeant
  • Theatre of war: New Guinea

Collection Items

Photograph

101097

Aitape, New Guinea. 24 October 1943. A photograph found on the body of a dead Japanese soldier showing, from left to right, NX143314 Sergeant (Sgt) Leonard G. Siffleet of "M" Special Unit with Private (Pte) Pattiwahl and Pte Reharin, Ambonese members of the Netherlands East Indies Forces. The three...

101097

101098

Aitape, New Guinea. 24 October 1943. A photograph found on the body of a dead Japanese soldier showing NX143314 Sergeant (Sgt) Leonard G. Siffleet of "M" Special Unit, wearing a blindfold and with his arms tied, prior to being beheaded with a sword. The Japanese soldier to Siffleet's left is Chief...

101098

101099

Aitape, New Guinea. 24 October 1943. A photograph found on the body of a dead Japanese soldier showing NX143314 Sergeant (Sgt) Leonard G. Siffleet of "M" Special Unit, wearing a blindfold and with his arms tied, about to be beheaded with a sword by Yasuno Chikao. The execution was ordered by Vice...

101099

101100

A photograph found on the body of a dead Japanese soldier showing Private (Pte) Reharin, member of the Netherlands East Indies (NEI) Forces wearing a blindfold about to be beheaded with a sword by Yunome Kunio. A group of local people and Japanese stand watching in the background and the soldier to...

101100

P01708.004

LUMI, NEW GUINEA, 1943-07-09. GROUP PORTRAIT OF MEMBERS OF M SPECIAL UNIT, SERVICES RECONNAISSANCE DEPARTMENT, ALLIED INTELLIGENCE BUREAU, WITH NATIVE GUERRILLA TROOPS AT LUMI, ABOUT 50 KILOMETRES SOUTH OF AITAPE. SHORTLY AFTERWARDS, THE GROUP SPLIT UP INTO TWO PARTIES CODENAMED "WHITING" AND...

P01708.004

P02547.001

Studio portrait of Len Siffleet in civilian clothes. On 24 October 1943, NX143314 Sergeant Leonard G (Len) Siffleet, along with his two Ambonese companions, was executed by order of Japanese Vice Admiral Kamada, in command of the Japanese fleet at Aitape, for his role as a wireless operator in a...

P02547.001

P02547.002

Len Siffleet and his fiance Clarice Lane at Circular Quay en route for a day at Manly. On 24 October 1943, NX143314 Sergeant (Sgt) L. G (Len) Siffleet, along with his two Ambonese companions, was executed by order of Japanese Vice Admiral Kamada, who was in command of the Japanese fleet at Aitape,...

P02547.002

P02547.003

Len Siffleet and his fiance Clarice Lane. On 24 October 1943, NX143314 Sergeant (Sgt) L. G (Len) Siffleet, along with his two Ambonese companions, was executed by order of Japanese Vice Admiral Kamada, in command of the Japanese fleet at Aitape, for his role as a wireless operator in a commando...

P02547.003

P02547.004

Melbourne, Vic. c. 1942 Group portrait of members of a Services Reconnaissance Department (SRD) signals training group. The group is comprised of a number of people, including Sgt Siffleet, and perhaps the Ambonese who were with him when captured. The training involved knowing each other's...

P02547.004

Film

The Last Post Ceremony commemorating the service of (NX143314) Sergeant Leonard George “Len” Siffleet, M Special Unit, Second World War

The Last Post Ceremony is presented in the Commemorative area of the Australian War Memorial each day. The ceremony commemorates more than 102,000 Australians who have given their lives in war and other operations and whose names are recorded on the Roll of Honour. At each ceremony the story behind...

PAFU2014/331.01

Private Record

Timeline

Date of birth 1916-01-14 Gunnedah, NSW.
Date and unit at enlistment (ORs) 1940-08 Called up for the militia, serving with a searchlight unit at Richmond Air Force Base. He was released from service after three months.
Date and unit at enlistment (ORs) 1941-07 Joined the AIF and was posted to 1st Division signals section at Ingleburn.
Other 1942-10-12 Volunteered for special duties and joined Z Special Force after completing a specialist signals course.
Date promoted 1943-05-05 Promoted to sergeant.
Date captured 1943-09 Siffleet and two others were captured by locals and handed over to the Japanese. They were tortured and questioned for three days.
Date of death 1943-10-24 Siffleet and his two fellow captives were executed, by beheading, on Aitaoe Beach, New Guinea. Siffleet's executioner, Yasuno Chikao, was killed in April 1944 by American forces in Hollandia.