I've read a lot of history over the years, but I'd never heard of the Tol plantation massacre until Wednesday night. It's something that I should have known about as an Australian, particularly as there is a connection to my own family.
The story was told in a new and well produced documentary on the Foxtel history channel. In January 1942 the Japanese attacked Rabaul in Papua New Guinea. The 1400 Australian defenders were hopelessly outnumbered and withdrew inland. Suffering from disease and hunger, they were invited to surrender by the Japanese with the promise of good treatment as prisoners of war.
A contingent of Australian soldiers who did surrender were taken to the Tol plantation. They were given a meal and then had their hands tied behind their back. They were then taken out in groups and either shot or bayoneted.
At least 130 were massacred, but six survived to reveal what had happened. (There is a list of names of those who were killed here.)
The massacre was not conducted in the heat of battle; nor had the Japanese suffered heavy casualties in the campaign. The Japanese were mostly able to walk ashore unopposed into Rabaul and the Australians surrendered some time after the battle had ended. The massacre was a deliberate, cold-blooded killing of Australian troops who had been promised fair treatment as prisoners of war.
Worse was to follow. Many of those captured in and around Rabaul were put in the hold of a ship, the Montevideo Maru. The Japanese did not identify this ship as a prisoner of war transport. It was sunk by a US submarine with the loss of over 1000 Australian POWs and civilians. One of those who perished was my great uncle.
There have been times in history when Australians have suffered at the hands of other races and other nations. We haven't always been in a position of strength, as much as those who follow the "white oppressor" template would have us believe so. The Tol plantation massacre is one of the more shocking examples of this fact, but it's not unique - some Australian readers would be aware, for instance, of the infamous Bangka Island massacre of Australian nurses.