An engineer officer who was executed by the Japanese in World War II was posthumously presented the Resistance Memorial Cross by the Netherlands Defence Attaché on July 5 in Canberra.

It was awarded to Australian Lieutenant John Leslie Appleby, an escaped prisoner of war and member of the Dutch Resistance on Java where he was betrayed, recaptured and then executed by Japanese Forces in 1943.

Lieutenant Appleby was born in Sydney in 1916 and joined the Citizen Military Forces as an engineer officer at the outbreak of war.

He served in the Middle East with 2/6th Field Company, Royal Australian Engineers.

After the Allied victory in Syria, Lieutenant Appleby was returning home when a number of units, including the 2/6th, went ashore at Batavia (now Jakarta) to help the Netherlands East Indies forces defend aerodromes and oil supplies from the advancing Imperial Japanese Army.

The Japanese forces were too strong and within three weeks, the Australians were ordered to surrender in March 1942.

A number of soldiers “took to the bush” and most were recaptured, however, Lieutenant Appleby was never seen again and his fate only became known when his former commanding officer, Major Leslie Robertson, investigated in the 1980s.

The Netherlands Resistance Memorial Cross was posthumously awarded to Lieutenant Appleby by the Netherlands in the 1980s, but never claimed. 

Head of Corps, Royal Australian Engineers, Brigadier John Carey accepted the award on behalf of Lieutenant Appleby from Lieutenant Colonel Elmar Hermans, Kingdom of the Netherlands’ Defence Attaché to Australia and New Zealand.

The Netherlands Resistance Memorial Cross will be placed in the Prisoner of War display at the Australian Army Museum of Military Engineering at Holsworthy Barracks, Sydney.

Lieutenant Appleby was also awarded the Australian Commendation for Gallantry in 2018.