WHAT HAPPENED TO UNCLE SAM?
Captain Sam Templeton V50190
You may have heard the name Sam Templeton in the media of late. Sam Templeton of the 39th Battalion went missing on the 26 July 1942. He is an important figure in the Kokoda story. Recently the Japanese veteran Kokichi Nishimura (AKA The Bone Man of Kokoda) returned to PNG where he has been reported to have stated that he personally buried the body of Captain Sam Templeton near the village of Oivi located north of Kokoda. Latest reports from our sources here in Australia and in PNG indicate that Templeton's remains have in fact not been located.
Kokoda Historical believes there are several inaccuracies in the Channel Seven story, in particular claims that official army records relating to Captain Templeton where declassified especially for the Sunday Night program and that the mystery of the last resting place of Templeton has in fact been discovered. Other than the hearsay of Nishimura, no new evidence has come to light. The alleged declassified material used in the program had previously been published in the book Mud Over Blood (Stories from the 39th Battalion 1941-43) by Mr Carl Johnson in 2006.
Further to this no mention was made to the other members of the 39th that went missing around the same time as Templeton, they may have also been executed by the Japanese and buried at Oivi. Mr Ted Stuart the 39th B Company runner and good friend of David Howell from Kokoda Historical, gave permission for Kokoda Historical to name him as the second B Company runner (the first having being Sydney Moffat) which had previously never been published.
Channel Seven spoke to Kokoda Historical and on our advice interviewed Ted. It is interesting that they did not take in to consideration other information that is in our possession, information that certainly contradicts what has been presented in their program. Including a letter written in 1979 by Yanagisawa Hiroshi and sent to Captain Bert Kienzle. Yanagisawa Hiroshi had served as a Japanese medical officer during the Kokoda Campaign, in his letter he stated he had treated Templeton at Deniki. Deniki is north of Oivi and Kokoda and is one of the first villages along the Kokoda Track.
Nishimura claims that at the time he buried Templeton, the Japanese senior officer's sword was still in Templeton's stomach. As an historian one would have to wonder as to why a sword would be left in the body of a slain enemy. Most Japanese officers carried the blade of their family with a military issued handle, not something that an officer would have left behind. The Templeton family in particular Reg (Uncle Sam's son) is reported to be very upset over the claim that the final resting place of his father had been found. This is clearly a program that was made in order to sell tours and to get TV ratings, hardly done in the true sense of the Kokoda spirit.
At present David and the Kokoda Historical team are continuing their research into the fates of the missing B Coy soldiers that were either killed in action in the early contacts with the Japanese or are missing and may of been executed by the Japanese after being captured, this includes Captain Templeton.
The 39th Battalion's most respected and revered officer was Captain Samuel Victor Templeton. He joined the Battalion in Darley as a Lieutenant and was posted to B Company, later through promotion to the rank of Captain he became B Company's commander. Like many of the officers in the 39th and the militia as a whole he was a veteran of The First World War, having served in the Royal Naval Reserve as a junior gunnery officer in the Adriatic Squadron (1918-1919). He was also involved in the Irish Rebellion of 1917 and during the Spanish Civil War as member of the international brigade, a group of people from all different countries who volunteered to Spain in order to fight against fascism.
The maximum age limit to volunteer for active service in 1940 was 39. Like many an old soldier Uncle Sam put his age down on enlistment. Sam Templeton was born on the 12th January 1900 in Belfast, Northern Ireland. The term coined to people like Uncle Sam was '39 liars'; such was the spirit of the Australian Digger a little thing like being too old for active service would pose no barrier. This is one reason why the WWII nominal roll show Sam's date of birth as the 28 January 1901.
Uncle Sam immigrated to Australia during the 1920's and found work with the Victorian Railways and later became manager of the Corns Pastry Cooks. He joined the 5th Battalion Victorian Scottish Regiment in 1931 and at one stage he held the position of Company Sergeant Major. Sam gained his commission on the 25th of October 1939 at this time he was married with one son and lived in East Brighton, Melbourne.
An original Victorian Scottish Regiment Glengarry, Kokoda Historical Collection
After he trained in Darley with the 39th, the Battalion sailed to Port Moresby aboard the Aquitania. On the way to Moresby he trained some of the men on how to use the ships defences, drawing on his previous service in the Royal Navy. Upon arriving in PNG he like all the other troops, he settled in to the monotonous routine of army life in the tropics.
As the Battalion's senior officers succumbed to the tropical conditions they were sent either back to Australia or to other non-combatant units with their medial classification reduced to B-Class. Uncle Sam was one of the few officers to remain and soon made Captain and commander of B Company. 39th Battalion veteran Alan 'Kanga' Moore who once shared a tent with Templeton in Port Morseby, recalls how Sam was a hard man to get to know only talking about himself late at night after the hurrican lantern had been blow out.
Original Officers of the 39th Battalion, Sam Templeton is second from left in the front row.
According to men who served alongside Sam Templeton, he was a true soldier who consistently displayed high levels of professionalism and was a strict disciplinarian whilst also fulfilling somewhat of a fatherly role to the young men in his command.
On the seven day trek across the Kokoda Track, Uncle Sam became an inspiration to his men, most of which were half his age. He would walk up and down the line helping soldiers by carrying some of their equipment and offering words of encouragement. Jack Wilkinson who was one of the first in the Company to cross the Owen Stanley's wrote in his diary.
"7/7/42, Made Ioribaiwa. Had Carriers for our packs and just as well. Felt the trip more than the first day. Missed out on tea as I was with the last of the troops. Had a job to get some of them to make it. ‘Uncle Sam' came back and helped me about half way up the last hill. Was carrying four rifles and three packs and had doubts about making it myself. ‘Uncle Sam' insisted on carrying all my gear as well as that of others."
Other members of B Company recall seeing Uncle Sam carrying four rifles and was thought by many that he actually walked double the distance than any one else.
After his arrival at Kokoda, Uncle Sam went to Buna to make sure the heavy equipment arrived safely. Prior to B Company's departure for their overland trek to Kokoda, an advance party left in the schooner "Glli Gilli" in charge was the Quartermaster, Sargent Allan Collyer who accompanied the supplies.
After his return to Kokoda the sounds of gunfire could be heard coming from the north as the Japanese had started their landings at Buna. Captain Templeton responded by sending Lieutenant Mortimore and 12 Platoon which would be later followed up by Lt Seekamp with 11 Platoon. The other platoon (10 Platoon) under Lt Garland was to remain defending the airstrip at Kokoda where the rest of the company would soon arrive by air.
Lt Seekamp and his platoon were sent to hold the village of Awala. 12 Platoon was ordered to hold the track between Awala and Kokoda near the village of Gorari.
The Commanding Officer of the 39th, Lieutenant Colonel William Owen arrived by plane at Kokoda and was met by Templeton. The two men then went off to join the advance platoons. Meanwhile these two platoons where involved in rear guard actions including a successful ambush by Lt Seekamp's men at Awala. By the time Colonel Owen and Captain Templeton caught up to the forward platoons, 11 Platoon had fallen back to Gorari. Reinforcements had been requested and before Owen left to meet these men at Kokoda it was decided that both the forward platoons would make a stand just east of Gorari.
The two platoons met an overwhelming Japanese force and were again forced to withdraw. After breaking contact they managed to fall back to the village of Oivi where they hoped they would be joined by a fresh company of the 39th. Instead of a full company of 90 or so men only half a platoon arrived, little more than 15 men arrived. This was part of D Company 16 Platoon commanded by Lt McClean. They were quickly sent forward to meet 11 and 12 Platoon's. It was mid afternoon when they arrived, just in time as the Japanese launched the first of their assaults against the 39th waiting at Oivi.
It was believed the other half of 16 Platoon had arrived back at Kokoda and Captain Templeton left to meet their Sergeant (Sgt Morrison) in order to guide them in to the position. Templeton left his second in command, Captain Stevenson and the Papuan Infantry Company Commander, Major Watson in charge as he headed for Kokoda.
Some accounts state that the men heard a burst of fire and Captain Templeton was never seen again. However it is believed that the burst of fire was in fact a single pistol shot fired by Templeton himself. Sgt Martorana of 12 Platoon recalled Major Watson of the P.I.B where Templeton had gone, when Sgt Martorana told him Major Watson replied "That doesn't sound like Sam". At least a couple of other soldiers of B Company heard the single pistol shot and felt certain Uncle Sam had run straight into a group of Japanese soldiers on the track and must of fired his pistol at them.
Another member of B Company who tried to follow Captain Templeton only to be told by Uncle Sam to return back, recalled that just as he turned back he heard the single shot and the voice of a Japanese call out "Corporal White"
Sgt Martorana upon hearing this story set out with the P.I.B guide L/Cpl Sanopa and two 39th soldiers, Privates Evans and Luxmoore to find Captain Templeton. After making their way to the spot where they believed the shot had come from. Sanopa stopped and said "I can smell them". Within moments the Japanese where moving towards them. The small party who were heavily outnumbered returned back to Oivi.
Uncle Sam's body was never found and the advanced platoons of the 39th were forced to once again withdraw to defensive positions at the Kokoda Plateau, were later the main battle for Kokoda was to begin.
Original Colour Patch of the 39th Battalion, Kokoda Historical collection.
In a recent documentary on the History Channel "Beyond Kokoda" the widow of Yanagisawa Hiroshi of the Japanese 15th Engineer Company recalls her husband told her that he came across a man lying wounded on the ground. As Hiroshi was a doctor she recalls that he gave him first aid, after which the man told him that his name was Templeton.
The documentary also includes an interview with Nishimura Kokichi who stated that Templeton had been questioned by the Japanese and had been asked about the Australian strength and positions. It is reported that Templeton laughed at the Japanese and said "You are facing a force of 80 000 who on there way, how many of you do you think will reach Moresby alive?" According to Nishimura this angered the Japanese commander who took out his Samurai sword and stabbed Templeton in his stomach killing him. It should be noted that Nishimura did not state that he had buried Templeton during this interview.
Headquarters Southern Command received news that Captain Templeton was missing and was probably dead. They sent a telegram to his wife, Doris in East Brighton and later forwarded his personal effects which had been left back at Kokoda Station to her. For the time being the file on Captain Templeton was closed with the official report stating that he was missing in action on the 27th of July 1942, presumed dead.
Official Telegram regarding the fate of Captain Sam Templeton
Later on in other New Guinea campaign's captured Japanese intelligence reports including references to the Japanese actions in August at Kokoda, made the army look back into the fate of Uncle Sam. One of the translated reports stated that the Japanese had taken two prisoners in and around the Kokoda area then captured another five. One of these soldiers had been identified as Captain Templeton.
Later on the Australian Army received another Japanese Intelligence Report, it was entitled ‘Enemy Terrain Situation' which included details of integrations carried out on captured Australian Captain taken prisoner near Kokoda.
There is no doubt this was indeed Uncle Sam, the captured reports would also reveal that Captain Templeton gave the Japanese false information pertaining to the numbers of Australians the Japanese were up against. This made the Japanese second guess the situation for a time which in turn bought the Australians some more time in order to re-group and reinforce. It is not entirely clear what happened to Uncle Sam, it is possible that the Japanese executed him after interrogation, the Japanese certainly have a reputation for carrying out executions remembering these are the same troops that executed the two Anglican missionaries (Mavis Parkinson and May Hayman near Popondetta on the 22nd August 1942.
There was one more possible sighting of Captain Templeton. In 1967 some members of the 39th Battalion Association returned to New Guinea and they were approached by a local villager who had lived near Oivi during 1942. He told them he had seen an Australian Captain who was taken prisoner by the Japanese and kept in a cage at Oro Bay on the coast, waiting to be transported to the Japanese base at Rabaul.
This should be taken seriously as a lot of Australian Officers that were captured in New Guinea were sent back to Rabaul for further interrogation especially if the Japanese believed they could further extract information. The official Australian Army file was changed to read ‘Missing in Action, believed to be Prisoner of War', the file stayed this way until July of 1945 were it was then amened to read ‘Deceased on or near the 27th of July 1942'.
What is clear, Captain Sam Templeton helped his fellow soldiers by misleading the Japanese with regards to the amount of troops waiting at Kokoda. If the Japanese had of known there was only 100 or so men defending Kokoda, they would have certainly overran the Australians sooner, resulting in a swift defeat thus the Kokoda Campaign would have turned out quite differently and probably would have resulted in a higher number of casualties on the Australian side.
So what of the other prisoners that the Japanese claimed to have captured around Kokoda? The other soldier to have been captured around the same time as Uncle Sam was most likely Sydney Moffatt, Moffatt had disappeared the night before as he had been sent out as a runner from the forward platoons to report back to Kokoda while the skirmishes at Gorari were going on. He did not make it back to Kokoda and no trace has ever been seen of him. After Sam Templeton had gone missing a group of five from B Company were sent out to look for him again these men were never seen or heard of again. Although this group of men may have been confused with the attempt made by Sgt Martorana, if this is the case it is most likely troops who did not get the message to break contact when the men fell back to Kokoda. As the order was passed man to man it is quite possible that not everyone got the message.
When Sgt Martorana was interviewed sixty years after the battle, he believes that some men may have been left behind in the confusion. If you read the 39th Battalion's Nominal Roll you will see that eight members of B Company have no known graves and are believed to be missing in action. Of these eight two soldiers (Privates Holness and Priestly) can be discounted as one was blown clean out of his pit as an enemy shell scored a direct hit at Kokoda, the other was seen staggering off very badly wounded. As for the others they would have been of not much use to the advancing Japanese army. Their names are not mentioned in the Japanese Intelligence Report, it is thought that these men were probably executed perhaps in front of Uncle Sam in an effort to extract information out of him.
Lest We Forget
For further reading please see the book Mud Over Blood by Carl Johnson Published by
History House trading as
Jenkin Australia Pty Ltd
26 Halley St Blackburn 3130
Phone: 0425 770 230
pp 20, 79, 80, 81, 82, 83. "Mud Over Blood" Compiled by Carl Johnson Published by History House 2006
"A Field Guide to the Kokoda Track" by Bill James p 411 Published by Kokoda Press 2006
"Beyond Kokoda" produced by Shaun Gibbons and Stig Schnell for the History Channel 2008