THE STORY OF KABUNARE
The following is a summary of the remarkable escape of Kabunare from the Japanese on Banaba. I have included a full transcript of Kabunare's story that was used as evidence in the subsequent war crime trials of Lieutenant Commander Suzuki held in Rabaul, Papua New Guinea. It is this testimony of Kabunare below that was largely responsible for Suzuki receiving a death sentence and being subsequently hanged.
My name is Kabunare and I come from Nikunau Island. Before the Japanese occupation of Banaba I was recruited to work there by the BPC and was employed on the Cableway.
After the Japanese came I was told to work as a fisherman and lived at Tabwewa Village. About 5 months before the end of the war I was transferred to Uma Village to join the fishing section there.
One morning Osakiso, who was in charge of the fishermen, told us to gather outside the BPC Billiard Room: there were over 100 of us. We were told that the war was over but that we must still work for a while, and then the Japs would be going away and leaving us on Banaba.
The next day we were divided into new sections of varying sizes. I was in the fifth section comprising eight men, and we were marched to the Police Lines at Etani Banaba.
The above is a summary only of Kabunare's story; but the text below is a full transcript of the exact words as dictated by him.
When we arrived at the Police Lines we saw a lot of Japs soldiers in their quarters. They were all inside their houses. The Japs soldier in charge of us told us to sit down in a line and then told us to face towards the East. Then he took out a little notebook from his pocket and asked us in turn how old we were. As these men told him how old he was the soldier wrote in his book. That was all we were asked.
When the soldier had almost finished writing down the ages, a (SHOTAISO) came up with another soldier from behind us and walked out in front of us. The (SHOTAISO) drew his sword and revolver and the soldier drew a revolver and both pointed them at us. They did not speak to us but called out for some more soldiers to come out. Eight soldiers came out with guns and bayonets on them, and came round in front of us. Each soldier stood in front of one man with the bayonet pointing at his stomach about 6 inches away.
Without anything being said, the soldier who had led us up, tied each man's hands in order with some string he had in his pocket. It was twine that is used for rope making. My hands were tied very tight. There was a length of rope left over loose, after each man's hands had been tied. The (SHOTAISO) spoke to the soldier who had tied our hands and the soldier told us to stand up. Then the soldier gathered up all the long ends of rope so we could not run away.
Then the (SHOTAISO) walked beside our group as we started walking down towards Tabiang Village. The soldier holding the rope behind us and then the other 8 soldiers behind him. The one who had the pistol with the (SHOTAISO) stayed in the Police Lines. All still had their bayonets ready as they filed down the track behind us. We stopped by the engine room for about three minutes while the (SHOTAISO) spoke to the men in the Power House. I do not know what they were talking about. Then we walked down the track across the road and on down to the cliffs below Tabiang Village.
When we got to the cliff the soldier released the strings and told us to line up on the edge of the cliff and squat down close together. Then our eyes were tied up with cloth. The same man who had tied our hands tied the blindfold on us. Then I could hear movements behind and felt as though the soldiers were behind us. I was the second man to have my eyes tied up.
The cliff where the atrocities took place on Banaba
Falailiva* (see end of story) was the first man to be tied up and was on my left. He said to me: "Are you ready?" and I replied "Yes, I am ready to die". Then Falailiva asked "You remember God?" and I replied "Yes, I remember".
Then everything was quiet for a moment. Then I fell over the cliff. I did not try to but just fell. Almost at the same time I heard a scream and someone fell on top of me. I think it was Falailiva. I heard others fall but no more screams. Then I heard a lot of shots fired. Falailiva was still on top of me and some of the bullets I could hear were close to me.
This was about 3 or 4 o'clock in the afternoon. The water kept breaking over us but I could breathe as the water receded each time. I could see a little out of my left eye past the blindfold, but I did not look up. Then I bit Falailiva's shoulder to see if he was still alive. He was still lying partly on top of me. Falailiva did not cry out so I knew he was dead.
I stayed about an hour in the water until I thought the Japs would be gone. Then I got up and went over to a sharp piece of cliff where I cut the binding from my wrists. Then I removed my blindfold. Then I went round all the other bodies to see if any were alive. They were all dead and I looked at each man's face. There was a lot of blood about. I cannot say how all were killed but I remember Falailiva had a wound in his left side and blood was coming from it. Ueanteiti had a bullet hole in his head. After I found they were all dead, I looked for a place to hide and found a cave where I hid myself. I stayed in this cave all night.
The next morning I saw some of the bodies floating outside the cave. They were swelled up bodies then. Two of the bodies washed into the entrance of the cave. I did not touch them and stayed inside the cave and only peeped outside.
About the middle of the day I heard the roar of a plane flying low. I could hear the plane flying round for about half an hour or an hour. I did not see the plane and stayed in the cave.
After the plane left I could hear footsteps over the top of the cave and I could hear voices through one of the holes leading in behind the cave. Then I saw some Jap soldiers walking along the reef. The tide was right out just starting to come in. Some of the soldiers came by my cave. Two of them dragged one body out to the reef then came back and dragged another body out to where there was a deep water.
I could not see them all the time from my cave and think they made other trips for the other bodies. I did see these soldiers make two trips. I saw two canoes each with two Japs in them come in to pick up the bodies from the soldiers who dragged them out to the reef. There was a launch too. Both the canoes and the launch came from the direction of Tabwewa. The canoes being paddled close inshore and the launch moving slowly further out. The canoes towed the bodies out to the launch. Then the canoes paddled back towards Tabwewa and the launch went further out to sea.
I do not remember anything else that day. I stayed in the cave this night. Next day I do not remember anything except hearing the flat car moving along the rails.
That evening about 7 or 8 o'clock I left the cave to search for young coconuts and to find a new hiding place inland. While I was up the tree two Japanese came along pulling a flat car towards Tabwewa and I stayed hidden up in the tree until they had gone. Then I went to look for a hiding place and found a bangabanga (cave) above the Police Lines and I hid there. By then it would be early next morning.
I stayed in hiding in this bangabanga until the day I met two Gilbertese, 2nd December. I used to go out at night and gather food, young coconuts and old coconuts and water.
Sometimes I came out and climbed a tall tetai tree to look around and see if any ships were about. I did not see the warship come but I saw some other ships. I thought they were Jap ships.
I saw the Union Jack flying from the staff in the Police Lines but thought it was another Jap trick so did not go near. I heard the bugles every day too, but I thought it was the Japs too because the Japs had a lot of bugles.
One day while I was up the tetai tree I saw a motor car different from the Japanese kind and the people in it did not look like Japs so I came down from the tree and hid by the road to wait for the motor car to come back.
I waited two or three hours but the motor car did not come back. Then I heard the tinkle of bottles and saw two men, one I thought was a native Gilbertese but the other I thought a Jap because he was wearing Jap clothing and shoes. The one wearing the sulu and carrying the toddy bottles I knew was Gilbertese and I thought he spoke in Gilbertese.
After they had passed by I made up my mind for sure they were Gilbertese so I followed them silently. When I got up close behind them I was sure they were Gilbertese so I greeted them. 'Kam na mauri' (Greetings). They seemed frightened of me for a minute and asked where I had come from. I told them I had been here all the time and was the remaining man of the killing. I asked 'where are the Japanese'. They told me the Japs had all gone and that they had come on the second labour recruit, they asked where I had hidden all the time and I showed them. Then I changed from my napkins into my sulu which I had hidden in the hole. I thanked the hole for saving my life and then came down to the Police Lines and Teauoki took me to the District Commissioner.
*Falailiva (Fly River) Resture was the elder brother of Robert Resture, Jane Resture's father.