Australian High Commission
New Zealand

High Commissioner: 80th Anniversary of the Featherston Incident


25 February 2023

Tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou katoa.

Ngā mihi o te ata.

Australia, New Zealand and Japan continue to enjoy a longstanding relationship based up on mutual respect, trust and close partnership. 

The Featherston Incident of 1943 and the Cowra Breakout of 1944 are two events in our joined history that are arguably not well known by the wider public.

Days like today provide us an opportunity to reflect on those events of WWII and to remember those who spent time in Prisoner of War camps – not only in Australia and New Zealand, but around the world.  

The Featherston incident led to security being tightened within the Cowra camp, with authorities installing Vickers and Lewis machine guns to augment armed guards.

On 5 August 1944, when 1,104 Japanese prisoners of war attempted to escape it was the largest prison escape of World War II, as well as one of the bloodiest. During the escape and ensuing manhunt, four Australian soldiers and 231 Japanese soldiers were killed or committed suicide. The remaining escapees were re-captured and imprisoned.


Even though the people at the time could not understand the mind-set of the escaping prisoners of war, they could recognise universal human sorrow and suffering. After this horrific Cowra event, the townspeople found it imperative to make good again and strived to make Cowra a symbol of international peace.

From the relic foundations of the prisoner of war campsite, the avenue of cherry blossom trees, links the Cowra War Cemetery and Japanese Gardens to the site.

It is a tribute to the depth of cross-cultural goodwill that the flower of international friendship has bloomed from such tragic origins.

Australia, New Zealand and Japan along with many of our allies strive for freedom, peace and democracy within our region. Underpinned by a shared commitment to democracy, human rights and the rule of law, as well as common approaches to international security and resilience.

Our shared experiences in times of conflict and through prosperity and peace are linked in our histories. We should remember and honour our past histories and embrace our forged alliances in our commitment to an open, inclusive and resilient Indo-Pacific region.