By ILYA GRIDNEFF of AAP
AN Australian tour operator and a 90-year-old Japanese veteran of World War II believe they have solved the mystery of a renowned digger’s disappearance on the Kokoda Track.
Captain Sam Templeton, a company commander in the 39th battalion, disappeared near Oivi village in the heat of battle on the track on July 26, 1942.
Templeton’s Crossing on the track at Eora Creek is named in his memory and is traversed by thousands of Australian trekkers each year.
Veteran Kokichi Nishimura, known as the Bone Man of Kokoda for his work in recovering the remains of fallen comrades, was a member of the 2nd battalion, 144th Regiment of Japan’s Imperial Army battling Australian troops in the same area.
Nearly 70 years after the fighting, Mr Nishimura teamed up with Kokoda Spirit trekking company operator Wayne Weatherall to solve the mystery of Capt Templeton’s disappearance and find his grave.
The veteran told reporters in Port Moresby on Saturday that he buried the captain in 1942 and believes the site has been found.
“It seems Captain Templeton got lost while retreating, being pushed back by Japanese soldiers,” he said through an interpreter.
Mr Nishimura said the Japanese commander was enraged when the captured captain said there were 80,000 Australian troops waiting for them in Port Moresby.
“That made a big question whether Japan could advance to Port Moresby.
“The commander got angry at Templeton’s answers and he killed him,” Mr Nishimura said.
“I passed by the area where Templeton was killed on about Aug 2, 1942.
“I was about to set up a tent but smelt a very bad odour and I found the dead Australian officer lying there.
“I decided to dig a hole next to him and I buried him in the hole,” he said.
Mr Nishimura, whose story is told in Charles Happell’s book The Bone Man of Kokoda, has spent more than 25 years visiting PNG to recover the remains of his fallen comrades.
This month a frail but determined Mr Nishimura returned to his adopted home in Oro province for one last time to help find Capt Templeton’s grave.
“They (Australians) were all very brave soldiers with high spirits, therefore I don’t want to leave this mystery open,” he said.
Mr Weatherall said they had isolated a site no larger than 10 square metres and found personal effects thought to be Capt Templeton’s.
“I believe we have located the place,” he said.
“We’re one step away from resolving the mystery of Captain Templeton’s disappearance,” he said.
“It’s very exciting for all of us, for the family and everyone involved to be this close, people have been wondering for 68 years.”
Mr Weatherall said that after cross-checking aspects of the find they would alert Australia’s defence department so an official recovery could proceed.
Capt Templeton fought in World War I before emigrating to Australia.