Rabaul 1975 - Holdout Sighting?
Report by Lian Tanner

I was involved in a search for a Japanese soldier near Rabaul in 1975. I was teaching at a school called Ulagunan Correspondence School, a few km into the bush from Kokopo, which is about 30 km from Rabaul. Some of the kids at the school reported that they had seen a man with long straight black hair washing himself down by the stream. The school principal, Oscar Tammur, who was also a politician and knew the value of publicity, contacted the Japanese embassy and a team of men was sent over from Japan. There were also 90 PNG policeman in the search party. The focus of the search was a deep gully which held the tunnels which were the Japanese headquarters in Rabaul during the war. The fact that the tunnels go down for so many levels, and the bush was so thick around them, made it seem quite possible that there was someone there.

The police set up their headquarters on the top of the cliff. Near the edge of the cliff were 3 chairs, for the three most important members of the Japanese contingent. One of them had a loud hailer which he took up every few minutes and in echoing, resonant, very slow Japanese, called for the man to come out, as the war was over and he would be safe. Above it all flew a huge Japanese flag. It was extraordinarily eerie. Everyone was silent, looking down into the valley and waiting.

No one came out, so after a while the police were sent to search the caves and the cliffs, while the Japanese team set off downstream with the loudhailer, the flag and a taperecording of Japanese marching music. Three of us teachers went with them. We left little notes on sticks at the entrance to all the caves, and again the leader shouted out in Japanese. We found old telephone cables, a Japanese fencing mask, rotten boots, plates, as well as a previously unknown cave with beds and shoes in it. But no soldier. The tunnel was not on the tourist trail - at least it wasn't when i was there - and noone knew about it much except the villagers and the kids at the school. Though I guess it was in official documents as it was the headquarters of military command in the area

Was there ever anyone there? Probably not. I think it was a mixture of fantasy on the part of the kids and publicity on the part of Oscar. But it was an extraordinary thing to be part of, and made it clear that the Japanese government were still taking the possibility of stragglers very seriously at this stage.


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Ulagunan Correspondence School, near Ulagunan village, a little way from Kokopo.

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Japanese search team calling out "The war is over, come out, we have come to take you home..."

The jungle we were searching and why it was so easy to believe that someone might have held out there for so long.

Austrian volunteer, Franz, outside the entrance to the tunnel that we were told had been the Japanese military commander's headquarters. the tunnel is near Ulagunan village, in a deep gully.