Josie Pitcher, with her
late husband Norman
Mrs Josie Pitcher

Norman first met Keiko at Lloyd Park, Croydon on October 1st 1994 and that meeting changed his life. Keiko had arranged a sponsored walk to help raise funds, to send a group of Japanese Prisoners of War on a journey of reconciliation to Japan. Norman decided, having read about it in the local newspaper, to go to Lloyd Park, to see what it was all about. He had been one of those captured by the Japanese when Singapore fell in 1942. An experience which was to overshadow not only his life and his family's but thousands of other service men's lives too. For they suffered as only they themselves knew, and such agony of body, mind and spirit found sympathy and compassion, fifty years later, in the person of Keiko Holmes.
When Norman arrived home from that meeting with Keiko he talked a lot about this new experience. After all Keiko is Japanese and he never expected to hear such an understanding point of view, even in his lifetime, from someone coming from Japan. His family arrived to celebrate his 75th birthday, on that day and were eagerly told that Keiko would be coming to visit on the following Monday. So I too, was able to take part in the new friendship, which has been strengthened through several more lovely meetings, letters, phone calls etc.

Norman could talk to Keiko about all the harrowing experiences in the P.O.W Camp at Changi, where along with so many others, he very nearly did not survive. He came through near starvation, beatings, awful sights of others being terribly ill-treated and many life taking illnesses all of which left him a nervous wreck, all his life, only overcome by great strength of will and his faith in God. Even so, his nightmares were hard to get over.

Then came the meetings at Keiko's home with other ex POWs, and all the conversations with them, Keiko, helped him to unwind. But most of all, he was able to forgive, although never forget, those who had carried out the atrocities during the years of captivity.

We had attended Reunions in London every year, to meet with other POWs. We thought there was always that wonderful fellowship of a never-to-be-forgotten experience, always, the bitterness would remain. Now that has all gone and though Norman is no longer with us, as he died in August 1995, I know he would want the ongoing reconciliation pilgrimages and all that they achieve, to continue.

He had such a wonderful weekend just before he died, beginning on August 19th - V J Day, when we went to London to take part in all the celebrations. The next day after a special service at Church, we attended a lovely picnic in the Vicarage garden, and through all of it Norman talked and talked.

I am sure, he would be pleased to know that I am going on this year's pilgrimage, accompanied by my grandson, and especially as the journey includes visits to Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I remember how it affected me when the atom bombs were dropped. First of all the tears were of happiness that the war might soon end, but closely followed with heartfelt sympathy and prayers for the people of those two cities.

When I attend the memorial service at Hodogaya, I shall be remembering our own people and also the Japanese people who died.

May Keiko's work be richly blessed and result in great friendship.