[NAA B6121, 1815]
[Painting, 61.3 x 76.6 cm AWM ART 26675]
[FELO JK31 AWM]
[Painting, oil with pen and ink on
canvas on board 45.6 x 40.6 cm.
AWM ART 25662]
In late August 1945, Royal Australian Navy warships waited around the Pacific near Japanese surrender points in Borneo, Hong Kong, Timor, New Guinea and Nauru. On 19 August 1945, Supreme Commander General Douglas MacArthur had ordered that there were to be no landings or surrender documents signed in the field until after the main Japanese surrender ceremony on board USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay on 2 September 1945. This enforced delay meant that the newly liberated Prisoners of War (POWs) had to remain in their camps, some for up to a month after 15 August, the day that hostilities officially ceased.
Able Seaman Bob Skinner who was serving on HMAS Napier was more fortunate. He was able to get on board the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay for the ceremony. Skinner had landed in Japan 15 days after the country's surrender, with the British Landing Party sent to occupy the Yokusuka Dockyard. Assigned to Australian photo-journalist Jim Fitzpatrick, his task was to provide the journalist with protection and assistance. On the morning of 2 September, Fitzpatrick went on board the Missouri to record the official Japanese surrender to the Allies. This was the last great act of World War II, and the world’s press clambered for places on the battleship’s quarterdeck and forward gun turrets to view the proceedings. Fitzpatrick managed to get an extra pass in his own name for Skinner, and the able seaman staggered up the gangplank with a ‘swag of cameras’, managing to sneak past security in the crush to get aboard.
On the Missouri, Skinner got a new pass in the name of ‘Sub. Lt Jones, RAN’ and his lowly rating’s cap was hidden away. The two Australians worked themselves into a position on B Turret, just metres away from the table where the Allied and Japanese dignitaries would come for the ceremony. In his diary, Skinner recalled the period leading up to the ceremony:
At 0800 the American Marine band on the quarter-deck played the National Anthem and the Stars and Stripes, as the colours were hoisted to the mast-head, and straight after a prayer was given over the loud-speaker system, giving thanks for this great day and for the deliverance of the Allies. To see all those thousands of men from generals down to ordinary seamen, standing bare-headed while this prayer was being broadcast, is something one could never forget and it just seemed to be a really fitting start for such a great and historical day as this one was destined to be.
After General Douglas MacArthur and the other Allied commanders, including General Sir Thomas Blamey for Australia, had signed the surrender document, Skinner found himself a minor focus of attention:
… someone found out I was the only Australian naval rating on board to witness this ceremony … and I was in great demand with the photographers of all nations. That day I got into British, American, Australian, Russian, Chinese and French newsreels.
After Tokyo Bay came the other surrenders. Japanese field commanders surrendered at Kuching, Balikpapan, Jesselton (now Kota Kinabalu), and Sandakan in Borneo; in Hong Kong, in Timor, at Wewak, Rabaul and Bougainville in New Guinea and on the tiny island of Nauru. Finally the POWs could be repatriated.