Leonard Siffleet was an Australian Special Forces radio operator, sent to Papua New Guinea to establish a coast watching site monitoring the movements of Japanese forces. He and two Ambonese comrades, H. Pattiwal and M. Reharing, were discovered and detained by local tribesmen loyal to the Japanese. After the Japanese had interrogated them for two weeks, all three were beheaded on Aitape Beach on 24th October. If Yasuno Chikao, the Japanese officer responsible, had not asked a comrade to take a photograph of him wielding the execution sword, it is very unlikely that their exact fate would have been discovered.
The photograph was originally associated with the beheading of Bill Newton.
The execution of prisoners by beheading was not an uncommon practice by the Japanese. Although we do not have a contemporary account of the deaths of either Bill Newton or Leonard Siffleet, other accounts have survived. The following account was found in the diary of Japanese soldier, found on his body after his death in action. The identity of the man killed in this episode is not known:
In a little over twenty minutes, we arrive at our destination and all get off.
Major Komai stands up and says to the prisoner, ‘We are going to kill you.’
When he tells the prisoner that in accordance with Japanese Bushido he would be killed with a Japanese sword and that he would have two or three minutes’ grace, he listens with bowed head. He says a few words in a low voice. He is an officer, probably a flight-lieutenant.
Apparently, he wants to be killed with one stroke of the sword. I hear him say the word ‘one’; the Major’s face becomes tense as he replies, ‘Yes.’
Now the time has come and the prisoner is made to kneel on the bank of a bomb crater, filled with water. He is apparently resigned. The precaution is taken of surrounding him with guards with fixed bayonets, but he remains calm. He even stretches his neck out. He is a very brave man indeed.
When I put myself in the prisoner’s place and think that in one more minute it will be good-bye to this world, although the daily bombings have filled me with hate, ordinary human feelings make me pity him.
The Major has drawn his favourite sword. It is the famous masamune sword which he had shown us at the observation station. It glitters in the light and sends a cold shiver down my spine. He taps the prisoner’s neck lightly with the back of the blade, then raises it above his head with both arms and brings it clown with a powerful sweep. I had been standing with muscles tensed, but in that moment I closed my eyes.
A hissing sound——it must be the sound of spurting blood, spurting from the arteries; the body falls forward. It is amazing – he has killed him with one stroke. The onlookers crowd forward. The head, detached from the trunk, rolls forward in front of it. The dark blood gushes out. It is all over. The head is dead white, like a doll. The savageness which I felt only a little while ago is gone, and now I feel nothing but the true compassion of Japanese Bushido.
A corporal laughs: ‘Well – he will be entering Nirvana now.’ A seaman of the medical unit takes the surgeon’s sword and, intent on paying off old scores, turns the headless body over on its back and cuts the abdomen open with one clean stroke. They are thick-skinned, these keto [hairy foreigner - a term of opprobrium for a white man]; even the skin of their bellies is thick. Not a drop of blood comes out of the body.
It is pushed into the crater at once and buried.
This account was found and translated by U.S. Intelligence and appears in Charles Andrew Willoughby(ed): MacArthur: 1941-1951. Victory in the Pacific. .