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Japanese POW handkerchief

Date: 1946
220 x 195 mm
Medium: Silk, cotton
Credit Line: ANMM Collection Gift from Peter Horne
Object Name: Handkerchief
Object No: 00040896

User Terms

    This hand embroidered silk handkerchief was made by an unknown Japanese prisoner of war at Rabaul, Papua New Guinea. It features a cotton embroidered volcano and island scene with a patterned edged trim. The prisoner exchanged it with a member of HMAS COWRA's crew for cigarettes when he was part of a working party cleaning the ship's boilers.

    SignificanceThis unique handkerchief depicts the volcanic surroundings of Kabul and is an example of the type of handcrafts produced by prisoners of war to pass time or exchange as goods. This particular item is a specific representation of a prisoner or wars time in Kabul.
    HistoryThis silk handkerchief (possibly made from remnant parachute silk) was executed by an unknown Japanese prisoner-of-war at Rabaul in 1946.

    On 23 January 1942, the advancing Japanese army invaded Rabaul on the island of New Britain, defeating the small Australian garrison and capturing the city as a base for its early operations in the area. Rabaul remained intact until it was surrounded and eventually captured by the Allies in April 1944. The Japanese army was captured and interned as prisoners-of-war.

    This silk artwork was acquired by the donor in 1946 from a party of Japanese prisoners at Rabaul. They were part of a working party cleaning HMAS COWRA's boilers and would sell their various artworks for cigarettes and other luxuries. COWRA was in the region as part of the 20th Minesweeping Flotilla, clearing mines from ports, harbours and shipping lanes.

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