|Written in March 1996
These are a few of my own personal experiences during the 3½ years of my captivity in the Far East, and
in my 50 years of freedom since. I was captured by the Japanese army in Singapore on February 15th 1942 when began
my years of treatment as a prisoner of war.
In the November of 1942 I was taken by train, in a closed metal wagon shared with 30 fellow POWs through the mainland
of Malaya to Thailand. On the 7th of December my work on the building of the Thai-Burma railway began. I shared
in all the horrors of that place and time, the starvation, disease, tropical monsoon and humidity of the dense
jungle. All of these, and the humiliation and beatings by the Japanese and Korean guards all of these were responsible
for my anger and bitterness for many years.
Despite all of this I vividly remember one act of kindness towards myself and a fellow prisoner. We had both by
accident scalded our legs with boiling water, and without medical treatment being available they soon became blistered
and painful. By a lucky chance, a Japanese medical team was passing through our camp on its way to the war zone
in Burma. On seeing our plight the Japanese commanding officer told his men to tend to our wounds. I have never
forgotten the care that was taken, and the gentleness with which treatment and dressings were applied. After a
few days our legs were healed leaving no scars.
For many years I have thought they were the only Japanese to whom I would ever wish to say thank you. This had
taken place where the railways between Thailand and Burma met and were finally joined and completed.
My part in the building of the infamous "Death Railway" was finished and in early June 1944. I began
my long and dangerous voyage by way of Singapore and the Philippines to Japan. With a sense of great relief I arrived
at the port of Moji, and after a long train journey via Osaka I reached Iruka on 28 June 1944. My first impressions
of the POW camp were, compared with our experience in Thailand things appeared to be much better. We all agreed
that nowhere could ever be as bad as in Thailand.
Copper mining was a new experience and although the work was hard much else was a great improvement on conditions
we had suffered so far. At first the food was much more varied and plentiful than what we had become used to. However
as the weeks went by shortages affected the local people, as well as us POW's many of us shared our own midday
rice with our fellow Japanese workers.
In Iruka we had more rest periods. Yasumi was a favourite Japanese word, and it was during these times in which
I wrote my poems. I am sure that my interest in and writing poetry helped me survive those dreadful years. Also
in Iruka we had concert parties which gave us some great entertainment keeping our spirits high, and our sense
of humour alive.
Working with the civilian miners and seeing the local people, especially the children about the village most of
the time helped to make our stay of 15 months in Iruka POW camp so much more bearable. An added bonus was the weather
and the climate which was very similar to what we were used to in England. Sadly, out of the original 300 prisoners
in Iruka 16 died, of whom 5 were my personal friends having served with me in the Cambridgeshire regiment.
At long last freedom came but we stayed in Iruka for three more weeks before we were finally released. During that
period we mixed freely with the people in the village, visiting the school where we played football and other games
with the children. Many of the people came in to the camp where they were well entertained by members of the concert
party. We had many jolly "sing songs". We were all relieved that the war was over and peace had come
Then the great day arrived and I began the long never to be forgotten journey home. As we left the camp in open
lorries passing through the village, a sight I will never forget. It seemed that all of the local population was
lining both sides of the road to bid us ' farewell ' and ' goodbye '. At that time l felt that a precious bond
of friendship had been made between us. I now know that to be true, a bond which has never been broken during all
of the 50 years since.
So began my freedom years, with my arrival home on November 2nd 1945 which always be to me my special day. Then
my settling down to civilian life began with an earnest desire to forget all the trials and troubles of my captive
years. But soon it was my desire to contact old comrades and so l joined the Far East POW association. As a result
of this I soon met some old friends.
In 1976 I went on the first of my three trips back to Thailand and Singapore. As I stood among the war graves,
besides the "railway" I saw on the tablets the names of many of my comrades. I was saddened to see how
very young some of them had been when they had died in captivity. For the first time since I had been free a great
wave of anger, and hatred of the Japanese overwhelmed me. It was then that I thought I could never forgive or forget.
The years passed by, and in 1990 I received a letter from one of my friends of the Iruka camp days. He wrote telling
me about a Japanese lady, Mrs Keiko Holmes who was trying to find ex Far East POW's who had been in Iruka during
their captivity. Remembering those war graves, my first reaction was that I really was not interested, or to use
a common term ' I just did not want to know '.
Another year passed by then in the October of 1991 I attended a reunion of Far East POW's in London. It was there
that I met the late Reverend Richard White, who had been a lay preacher in Iruka POW camp. During the evening he
introduced Mrs. Keiko Holmes to me, now lovingly known as Keiko to some FEPOWs and to all her friends.
She asked me about my life as a POW especially in Iruka, wanting to know only the truth. As I was still not interested
and I did not want to get involved I was reluctant to talk. However I did say that of all the POW camps I was in
and it was many, Iruka was the best of them all. When Keiko asked me "what was the reason for this? "
My reply was "Simply because it was the last prison camp I was in, and from there I was finally set free."I
will never forget her smile agreeing with me saying, "Of course!"as she understood exactly what I meant.
I felt sure that it was at that moment when the ice of my bitterness and anger began to melt away. Keiko gave me
a copy of the first " Little Britain " book, and we began our exchange of many letters.
From these I learned much about the memorial to my comrades who had died in Iruka and about the devotion of the
senior citizens and others in Kiwa Cho towards the 16 soldiers who did not return to share freedom with me. I read
about those dear, kind people who with their prayers and flowers had been tending the memorial for so many years,
and we never knew!
In 1992, with Keiko and a party of " Iruka Boys ", as she has named us, I returned to Japan and back
to Iruka after 47 years. Seeing for the first time the memorial in the place which is now called "A Little
Britain", was for me the proof that all that I had heard and read about was really true. During the most moving
Service of Remembrance, as l laid my single white chrysanthemum upon the mass of flowers already there I was alone
in my thoughts which were a mixture of hate and love together.
It was at that moment and all through the days of our pilgrimage when my bitterness finally melted away. It was
during that trip that I met Mr. Taoka, a former guard in Iruka and from our first handshake he was to become the
first of my now many pen-friends in Japan.
When I returned to Japan again in 1994 it was good to see all those friends I had met two years before. However,
it was the experience of the first pilgrimage of the ' Iruka Boys ' which I have only been able to describe as
' indescribable ' which changed the feelings in my heart and mind which now continue.
I have visited Keiko at her home which she has named " Keiko's Paradise " and rightly so! I have enjoyed
many reunions there, with visitors from Japan and with Keiko's ever increasing " family of FEPOWs and friends.
In early August 1995 the 50th anniversary of V.J. Day was held, and bitter memories of all those years ago returned,
which I feel was quite natural. I thought about old comrades, still alive, and all those war graves in far away
places. But soon my mood was to change. During the past week of August 1995, a party of visitors led by Mr. Toji
arrived from Japan to stay for only six days. The events during that time were known as " The Kinan Kokusai
Konyu Kai / Iruka Boys Reunion. "
One event in which I and several Iruka Boys and friends joined was a picnic, which took place in a peaceful spot
in Kent ' The Garden of England - Hever Castle ". We all had a happy time together being much blessed with
fine weather. It was here that I met Mr. Kumagai a pen friend again for the first time, which was a special pleasure
for me. He had worked in the Iruka copper mine as a superintendent.
On a return to London we went to the Embassy of Japan where we had been invited for a reception organised by Keiko
that evening. It was a great surprise when amongst the other guests I met for the first time in over 50 years a
fellow POW who had occupied the next bed-space to me in Iruka POW camp. Keiko had asked me to make a speech on
behalf of the " Iruka Boys ". With the kind assistance of Mrs. Noriko Matsuoka, who I have known since
my 1992 trip to Japan, as my interpreter, I began.
We have all enjoyed a wonderful time today in the company of our good friends from Japan. On behalf of the Iruka
Boys I would like to say a very special thank you to the two elderly ladies who with so much caring and kindness
and with other senior citizens in Kiwa-cho devoted to the tending of the memorial at Little Britain in Iruka.
I know that the bitterness of the past still lingers and while sad memories last, it will take long to pass away.
It is such gatherings of friends as this, which will spread the ripples of friendship wider and wider, and one
day it will happen. It is the younger generation on whom we rely to make sure that our wishes come true. It is
a great pleasure for us to see that younger generations represented by the students of Kinan High School with us
Finally on behalf of the Iruka Boys and company I would like to say a special thank you to Keiko, and to all her
many helpers for making this lovely day possible. (A glance at my watch and I said), they only gave me three minutes
(someone in the audience called out- " times up! " - it was Keiko!) I agree but before I finish I would
like to leave you with this thought of mine, which I hope you will all agree and share with me. It is this. Keiko
turned our many nightmares into beautiful dreams. Thank you for listening to me, thank you, arigato.
A fitting end to our time spent with our friends from Japan came on the next day a Saturday. We all attended a
service of Remembrance and Reconciliation at the Bloomsbury Baptist Church. This was yet again a most moving experience
and yet another link in a bond of friendship.
Although this is the finish of my writing, it is not the end of the story. Keiko is making plans for another pilgrimage,
etc. which will build another span to strengthen and widen a Bridge of Friendship across the world.