PoW who never returned from war

Private Jasper Schwerdt was born in Fords, between Freeling and Kapunda. PHOTO: Supplied

Brendan Simpkins

IN Sydney’s War Cemetery, in the Rookwood Cemetery, lie the remains of Private Jasper Nelson Schwerdt.

Private Schwerdt was born on February 5, 1907, in the small locality of Fords, between Freeling and Kapunda, on the Thiele Highway.

Enlisting in the Australian Army in January 1940 and deployed to Malaya with the 2/2 Reserve Motor Transport Company, Schwerdt was reported missing and presumed dead in February 1942 after the surrender of Singapore. His last correspondence was written on January 30, 1942.

Private Schwerdt was taken to the Sendai prisoner of war camp in Sakata, Yamagata Japan.

A message from Schwerdt was broadcast over Japanese propaganda radio station, confirming he was alive two years after he was reported missing. “A cheerio call to mother, father and sisters from Jasper,” it read.

“I am in good health, hoping you are all the same. Best of love to all.”

He would die from acute cardiac beriberi while still interned in the camp almost exactly a year later at the age of 38.

Private Schwerdt posted his final telegram to Australia on May 27, 1945. In it, he said his health was “fair” and that he was hoping to see his family again soon.

He was cremated and his remains brought back to Australia on a hospital ship on October 16, 1945.

His ashes were interred in the Sydney War Cemetery two days later.

Of the 736 soldiers whose remains are at the cemetery, Private Schwerdt is believed to be the only Australian soldier who died as a PoW in Japan to have a headstone at the cemetery.

The information came to be discovered after a series of letters from Private Schwerdt addressed to his sister Edna were handed over to the Gawler RSL sub-branch.

Nineteen letters from Private Schwerdt spanning from his training in Alice Springs in 1940 to his final telegram from Japan in 1945, and a handful of telegrams addressed to his parents after his announcement was discovered on the radio, were discovered on the side of the road between Port Wakefield and Virginia.

The documents were first handed in to the police before being turned over to the RSL because of it containing military matters.

Gawler RSL public officer Wayne Clarke said that it was a “unique situation”.

“There just isn’t any other like that…a Prisoner of War that died in Japan and having a memorial in Australia, that just doesn’t happen,” he said.

“We have checked with the Commonwealth War Graves and they don’t know of any other.”

Mr Clarke said he was hoping to reconnect the documents with the descendants of Private Schwerdt.