[PH0151/0001, Steenholdt Collection, Northern Territory Library]
In 1946 the International Military Tribunal for the Far East began to prosecute Japanese military and civilian leaders for alleged war crimes. More than 2000 trials were held all over south-east Asia, the Pacific and in Japan. More than 5,700 men – mostly Japanese servicemen and Korean guards – were charged with murder and brutal treatment of prisoners and civilians. Many were released due to insufficient evidence but 920 were executed and about 3000 sentenced to imprisonment.
One of these Allied war crimes trials opened on 21 May 1948 at Kowloon, Hong Kong. Three Japanese prisoners (two members of the Imperial Japanese Navy and one civilian) had been charged with the murder of the Australian missionary, the Reverend Leonard Neil Kentish, on 5 February 1943.
On 29 August 1946, the Adjutant of 3 Australian Prisoner of War Contact and Enquiry Unit reported on the circumstances of the Reverend Leonard Kentish’s death at Dobo in the Aru Islands (now part of Indonesia):
1. The Rev KENTISH was taken on board a Jap float plane on Jan 22 43 after it had sunk the patrol vessel HMAS “PATRICIA CAM” off WESSEL IS.
2. Unfortunately no info can be obtained of the whereabouts of the Rev KENTISH until 13 Apr 43, when he arrived at DOBO.
3. The Rev KENTISH was held at DOBO as a prisoner till the 4 May 43. Throughout this period he was subjected to ill treatment by severe bashings, the most common being punches in the nose and eyes to such an extent that his nose was broken, and he had great difficulty in seeing. His diet, as such, was just sufficient to keep him alive.
4. On the morning of 4 May he was taken in to the scrub, (a distance of under 200 yds from the township of DOBO) where a grave had been prepared, and executed.
5. The execution was carried out by the order of 1st Lieut SAKIDJIMA.
6. The remains of the Rev KENTISH have been recovered, and handed over to Capt STOCKWELL, of the War Graves Unit. They will be transported to AMBON, and buried in the Internees cemetery there.
7. This case is now considered closed. All dates must be treated as approx.
[Item 336/1/1273 (1 of 4), MP742/1, National Archives of Australia (NAA)]
Leonard Kentish, a Methodist missionary and civilian coastwatcher, had been one of the passengers on the stores carrier, HMAS Patricia Cam as it travelled from Millingimbi towards Cape Wessel in the Northern Territory. On 22 January 1943, there was a tremendous explosion on board and the ship began to sink. Two men were killed in the explosion and the survivors leapt quickly into the water, some without even their life jackets. The Japanese floatplane, which had bombed the ship, flew over the men in the water. It strafed them and dropped another bomb into their midst killing more of the men. The aircraft landed in the water and one of the Japanese air crew ordered Kentish, who was nearest them, to swim over. He was hauled onto the aircraft and they flew away. The survivors from the Patricia Cam were rescued a week later but the fate of Kentish was not discovered until long after the Japanese had surrendered.
In 1946, it was discovered that Leonard Kentish’s Japanese captors had beheaded him on 5 February 1943. At 9.45 am on 21 May 1948, a Military Court was convened in Hong Kong and the three men accused of his murder appeared before the court.