VX52878 Lieutenant Harry Doncaster was the fourth Australian to die as a result of the breakout of Japanese prisoners of war from Prisoner of War and Internees Camp Number 12 at Cowra, NSW. The breakout occurred in the early hours of the morning of the 5th of August 1944. Three of the camp guards were killed during the breakout. Lieutenant Doncaster was killed later that day.
Lieutenant Harry Doncaster was an AIF officer from Victoria, who had served with the 2/8th Battalion of the 2nd Australian Imperial Force. At the time of his death he was posted to 19 Infantry Training Battalion at Cowra. He was leading a group of trainee soldiers attempting to round up escapees when, in the poor light of dusk, the search team came upon a group of escapees, one of whom was standing on a large rock, brandishing a knife.
The search party was unarmed because some of the men had only been in the Army a matter of weeks. For want of a better weapon, Lieutenant Doncaster picked up a rock. The Japanese prisoner with the knife jumped down onto Doncaster while the other escapees rushed the remaining soldiers. The inexperienced trainees, by their own admission at the Court of Inquiry, lost their nerve and fled the scene. None of them saw Doncaster alive again. When armed soldiers finally arrived they found Lieutenant Doncaster’s body. Around him were the bodies of ten Japanese soldiers who had died by their own hands.
Lieutenant Harry Doncaster left behind a widow and a seven year old son, John.