Return to Cowra

billinudgel hotel bar

Billinudgel Hotel, Billinudgel, NSW, Australia, © Cube Online Services Google Maps

Hands trembling slightly, the middle-aged Japanese man walked into the bar at the Billinudgel Hotel.

“What’ll it be, Sir?”

“A beer. Whatever you have on tap.”

She selected a glass and filled it with liquid amber topped with a healthy froth. “There you go. Name’s Marge. You’re not the usual guest we get around here.”

He shook her hand, suppressing the urge to bow, this being Australia. “Haruto Nakajima. Pleased to meet you.” He took a sip of his beverage.

“What brings you here?”

“I’m trying to put some demons to rest.”

“How’s that?”

“Ever heard of the breakout at the Cowra prisoner of war camp?”

“Toward the end of the war wasn’t it?”

“Twenty years ago tomorrow. I’m a survivor. Chose not to commit suicide. I need to go back to learn how to live with myself.”

Nearly 950 km to Cowra.”

“Well, I’m still working up my nerve.”

I wrote this for the What Pegman Saw challenge. The idea is to use a Google maps image and location as the inspiration for creating a piece of flash fiction no more than 150 words long. My word count is 149.

Today, the Pegman takes us to The Billinudgel Hotel, New South Wales (NSW), Australia. Naturally, I looked the place up. Not much about Billnudgel on Wikipedia, but the hotel has a Facebook page as well as a detailed history at posted at

However, none of that seemed terribly dramatic, so I looked up the history of New South Wales itself, and discovered the Cowra Breakout. During World War Two, the town of Cowra was the site of a prisoner of war camp interning over 1,100 Japanese prisoners. On 4 August 1944, the prisoners led a mass escape which ultimately cost the lives of four Australian soldiers and 231 Japanese POWs. Some were killed during the escape attempt, but many committed suicide rather than be recaptured. All living prisoners were recaptured within ten days of the escape.

I was dismayed to find that Cowra is approximately 947 km (almost 590 miles) from Billinudgel, but made the best of it. My story is set in the summer of 1964, twenty years after the escape.

In 1929, Margaret Alice Ring (Ma Ring) of New Zealand took over running the Billinudgel Hotel, and in 1946, her niece Marge came to Australia to work the bar. Marge remained at the hotel until her retirement in 1984, so I had her present to greet Haruto.

I wondered how the survivors of the escape, the last of whom were repatriated in 1947, dealt with the aftermath, so I decided to use this story to explore it a bit.

To read other stories based on the prompt, go to

29 thoughts on “Return to Cowra

  1. Japan was fast running out of men by 1945. Out of the 22,000 Japanese defenders on Iwo Jima, fewer than 500 surrendered (and many of these were wounded). Less than six months later, more than 11,000 Japanese surrendered on Okinawa (some 7% of the total force). Almost all were “issen goren,” the Japanese word for conscript soldier. The word came from the amount of postage required to mail the notice. Powerful story that is seldom told. Well done.


      • 🙂
        well have you ever seen the fun “shit bow” scene with Larry David?
        I use this when working with students and talking about culture differences.
        Eye contact is not always respectful and a thumb up might mean “F-u” in Greece.
        anyhow, Larry David’s shit bow snippet is super fun.


      • well the snippet is just a humorous take on the bow.
        The MC is annoying the business owner because his take out spilled (something like that) and the business owner tries to please the customer (larry) and sends him on his way saying sorry – with a little bow.
        later, larry is wlaking in the park and sees a group of asian travelers. someone bumps into someone and he drops an ice cream- the guy apologizes with a deep bow.
        larry observes this deep bow.
        asks about it
        then noted the light bow he received and the man said something like, “Oh he not really sorry. that dismissive. he give you shit bow”
        Not that I am into swear words like shit- but it fit so well and the theme was a fun take on the bow….
        and the video snippets are super short.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Excellent story, James. Even without the long explanation, it stands alone.
    I know you like to explain where you got your inspiration and it’s interesting.


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