Keith Nelson and Errol Grimmond deliver a tribute to Keith’s brother Arthur for Remembrance Day.
Keith Nelson and Errol Grimmond deliver a tribute to Keith’s brother Arthur for Remembrance Day. Mireille Merlet-Shaw

Brother's murder still rankles

KEITH Nelson, now 88 and retired on the Gold Coast, still chokes up talking of his beloved brother Arthur, who was executed by the notorious Japanese Kempeitai in the Pacific in 1944.

The aging former Lismore lad and war veteran, now retired on the Gold Coast, travelled to Lismore earlier this month, ahead of Remembrance Day with Errol R Grimmond, RAAF Association (RAAFA) Gold Coast deputy president, and editor of the RAAF Wings magazine.

He came to tell Arthur's story and donate memorabilia associated with his brother and family to the Richmond River Historical Society.

The boys' father, Thomas George Nelson, ran a general store in Keen St after moving to Lismore in 1930.

Keith joined up as an 18-year-old in 1942 and served as a radar operator in the Pacific, following the brother he worshiped - by then Flight Lieutenant Arthur Nelson - who had joined up in 1941.

The two were never to see each other again.

The Kempeitai was similar to the German Gestapo, a dreaded military police feared by Japanese soldiers almost as much as by the Allied forces.

Two Kempeitai officers responsible for the Kittyhawk fighter pilot's death were later found guilty of his murder.

The verdict at the War Crime Trials in Hong Kong in 1948 led to them being hanged.

But it was only just before those trials that the Nelson family back in Lismore found out the fate of their eldest son and brother.

"Mum was more worried than me in 1944 because Arthur had done his time and was due back," Keith said.

"For years she hoped he might have been hiding with the natives in the hills or something - that sort of thing did happen a bit.

"Actually it was another fellow from Lismore who was stationed with Arthur who told us what happened.

"He remembered Arthur saying he'd be careful as went out to get into his plane on his last flight - and as fate would have it, right then a signal came through that he was posted back to Australia and this fellow ran out to get him, but it was too late, he'd already taken off.

"His last flight was a sortie with 80 Squadron on October 13, 1944 with two other aircraft attacking a Japanese-held airstrip off New Guinea.

"His aircraft took a direct hit but he made it out and used his dinghy to get ashore where the natives took him in to look after him."

Mr Grimmond explained the operational procedures of the Pacific-based squadrons.

"The Kittyhawk only had one seat and the pilot was also trained as a navigator," he said.

"Usually three aircraft would go out at a time, you'd have your lead aircraft and wingmen to protect each side.

"They required three ground crew (see picture), they would have one man to load the bombs and ammunition, a mechanic and an airframe fitter who would patch up the aircraft in case it took any hits."

Mr Nelson picks up his brother's story again.

"After Arthur was shot down, the Japanese knew the natives had him and started killing them to get them to give him up, so Arthur said, 'You've got to give me up because they're killing your people'."

Flt Lt Nelson then fell into the hands of the Kempeitai and was held for just over a month with a Dutch airman.

Mr Nelson was visibly distressed retelling the story and Mr Grimmond picks up the thread, reading from official military transcripts.

"The Royal Australian Air Force search party which is operating in the Kai group of islands (in the former Dutch East Indies), has reported that according to natives, your son was taken prisoner by the Japanese.

"Natives that were imprisoned by the Japanese in 1944 have informed the search party that your son and a Dutch airman were then executed on November 8, 1944..."

As it transpired, Flt Lt Nelson was murdered by the Kempeitai officers experimenting with a new gas grenade.

"They tried to cover up the murders by burying them near the hospital to make out they'd died in the hospital from wounds from the crash," Mr Grimmond explained.

The bodies were exhumed in 1948 and laid to rest in Galala Tantui War Cemetery on the isle of Ambon in Indonesia where Mr Nelson was eventually able to visit in 1990.

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