At 1.50 am on the clear moonlit night of August 5, 1944, the largest Prisoner of War breakout in modern military history occurred at Cowra. More than 1000 Japanese prisoners launched a mass ‘suicide attack’ on their guards, Australian soldiers of the 22nd Garrison. To the Japanese, the disgrace of capture could finally be overcome by dying in armed battle.
Armed with crude weapons, four groups each of approximately 300 Japanese threw themselves on to barbed wire fences and into the firing line of Vickers machine guns. Protected only by baseball mitts, blankets, and coats and using their comrades as a human bridge to cross the tangled barbed wire, more than 350 Japanese clawed their way to freedom.
All escapees were captured during the following week. A total of 107 POWs were wounded, 234 prisoners died along with 5 Australian soldiers.
From the tragedy of war and the Cowra Breakout came a long-lasting friendship between the people of Cowra and the nation of Japan. There is much in Cowra today which serves as a reminder to these events.
Today, the Cowra POW Campsite is full of interpretive signage to help you visualise what once stood in this picturesque part of Cowra. Stand under the replica guard tower and an audio presentation will bring the scene to life.
The POW Hologram Theatre, located within the Cowra Visitor Information Centre, tells the story of the Cowra Breakout and its aftermath. The story of Claire, the local girl, is an inspiration and the display simply amazing. A must-see for any visitor. Read what travel writer Bill Bryson had to say.
Cowra is also the home of Australia’s World Peace Bell. Located in Civic Square, the Australian World Peace Bell is a replica of the one that stands in the forecourt of the United Nations Headquarters in New York as a reminder of the continual need for all nations to work for peace. The Australian World Peace Bell was awarded to Cowra in 1992 for its long-standing contribution to world peace and international understanding. It is the only World Peace Bell in the world that is not located in a city.
Cowra Japanese Garden is a simply stunning-5 hectare strolling garden, the largest of its type in the Southern Hemisphere. The Garden was officially opened in 1979 and remains a place of peace and a symbol of reconciliation between Australia and Japan. The Garden is connected to the site of the Breakout and former Prisoner of War Camp by Sakura Avenue. Translating to Cherry Tree Avenue in English, this commemorative drive connects the Cowra Japanese Garden with the site of the POW Camp and continues to the Australian and Japanese War Cemetery. Additional monuments attributed to the Cowra Breakout include the Garrison Gates and Cowra Italy Friendship Monument.
Address: Sakura Avenue, Cowra NSW 2794
Phone: 02 6342 4333
Fax: 02 6342 4563
The Cowra Prisoner of War Camp site is listed as one of the top Heritage sites in NSW. In 1944 over 1000 Japanese POW staged a mass breakout that was the biggest in British and Australian War History. 231 Japanese POW lost their lives and 4 Australians also died during the breakout.