Sydney Humphreys

When in late February 1998 my wife Dorothy and I were offered a place on a trip to Japan by Mrs Keiko Holmes, we felt it was a great privilege and we immediately accepted. And so we joined a party totalling 22 people, which included 11 FEPOWs and 8 relatives of FEPOWs, at Heathrow Airport to start a journey which turned out to be one of the most moving and impressive fortnights I have ever experienced.

This was no relaxing holiday, nor was it purely a sightseeing tour, although we visited many towns and cities and saw countless fascinating examples of Japanese culture and history. On this pilgrimage we met a variety of Japanese people, from Government officials and local dignitaries, to ordinary people when we were guests in their homes, and schoolgirls, anxious to practise their English.

After a twelve hour flight to Osaka, we changed planes to fly on to Nagasaki. The following morning we participated in a short open air service of remembrance for fallen comrades in the Nagasaki Peace Park. The nuclear flash that in an instant reduced the city to ash and twisted metal was 500 metres above where we were standing. It was a sobering experience, to stand there at the epicenter of the explosion, which had killed 74,000 people, a third of the population and severely injured even more. However, if the atom bombs had not been dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the war would have dragged on. The Japanese would have fought on with their customary ferocity and hundreds of thousands more lives on both sides would have been lost. Moreover, we now know from documentary evidence produced at the Tokyo War Trials that in the event of an invasion of Japan, every POW would have been slaughtered.

I am also convinced that because the terrible effects of the atom bomb were demonstrated to the world in August 1945, we have had over fifty years of nuclear peace. It came to me there that that peace was bought with the lives of the citizens of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I pay homage to their sacrifice and believe that we who were saved must be charged with a mission to see that no atom bomb must ever be dropped again.

I bought four books at the nearby Atom Bomb Museum. They dwelt at length on the suffering and the scale and extent of the tragedy, but also described the Nagasaki Citizens Peace Charter that had been drawn up, committing them to campaign for world peace and universal disarmament. I felt at one with them in their great desire that this should never happen again, not just to the Japanese, but to anyone in the world.

Most FEPOWs hated the Japanese for causing them so much suffering and so many deaths during their captivity and couldn't bring themselves to forgive them. I thought, how deeply must the Japanese hate the Allies for the agony that fell upon them on those two August days. However I realised that there was no evidence of bitterness or hatred of those who had caused them such sorrow. Their energies had been directed towards friendship, not hatred.
In the days that followed I met and talked at length to many ordinary people, including some who had lost relatives in the atom bombing, and everything I heard confirmed my findings. At a later date, I met a Japanese lady in London who, as a young child, had been in the Hiroshima bombing, suffered from nuclear radiation and now had leukaemia. She held out her arms to us and said, " I forgive you." I felt that those FEPOWs at home, so many with minds firmly closed, could learn a great deal from these people.

Next day we travelled to Hirado, a small town on an island about the size of the Isle of Wight, with very hilly and wooded countryside. We booked into a traditional Japanese hotel, sleeping on futons on the floor which the chambermaid laid out for us every evening and packed away in a cupboard in the morning. We also learned to take off our shoes on entering the room and don the slippers provided. After lunch we visited the Town Hall and met the Mayor and a number of dignitaries. There were speeches of welcome and several of our members replied.

The following evening was a momentous occasion when our members were separately entertained by a number of local people. Dorothy and I were collected by our host, Tomoko Yagihari, a smiling and lively Japanese lady who worked for the Hirado Chamber of Commerce. Twelve members of the family gathered to give us a most friendly welcome. We were most fortunate in that we were accompanied by the official interpreter, a young lady called Hitomi Oyama from the Department of Education, so communication between us was first class and the conversation never lagged. They asked us hundreds of questions and wanted to know everything about us and our way of life. I noticed that our hostess's uncle wrote down my replies and when I asked why, he said he wanted to pass on to others my opinions, which seemed to meet with his approval. They gave us a magnificent meal, much of the contents of which were quite new to us. By the end of the evening, after much talking and a lot of laughter, I felt we had become very close. It was very late when we said our good-byes and we were hugged by most of the family. When the husband came to say goodbye to me, he was overcome by emotion and broke down. We were both deeply moved by such a demonstration of friendship and it is our fervent wish to maintain contact with them. Next day we found that most of our fellow members had had a similar experience.

On the last evening at Hirado, a reception was arranged for us at our hotel by the Hirado International Exchange Association. There was a sumptuous buffet, a band and all the hotel waitresses, dressed colourfully in national dress, danced for us, eventually enticing our party to join them on the floor. Next morning, as we left the hotel, all the staff lined up to wave us goodbye and also many of our hosts of the evening before.

Then we flew to Okinawa, an island about 350 miles south of Japan. It was the site of the final battle before the invasion of the Japanese homeland and thus the scene of some of the bitterest and bloodiest fighting of the Pacific campaign. We visited the Himeyuri Peace Museum where the history of the Battle of Okinawa was set out in English on wall tablets and illustrated by photographs. I was struck by the candour of the text. We have been led to believe that many wartime events have been hidden from the Japanese people, but if that was so, it no longer exists in Okinawa. I quote from the leaflet handed out at the Museum: " We still cannot forget the indescribable tragedy we witnessed and experienced, nor can we condone the crimes of the educational system of that age that blindfolded us from the truth, deprived us of our right to think and judge as individuals and denied us even the right to live as decent human beings, finally herding us like animals into the battlefields of certain death………We are determined ……by so exposing the brutality and insanity of war, to never allow it to happen again in the future."

In the evening a reception was held for us by various churches and the Rotary Club and I sat at a table with Bishop Paul Jitsumei Nakanura. He told me that during the war he was a Kamikaze pilot. Obviously he was not called forward for action, but as a consequence of his experiences, converted to Christianity and entered the church.

From Okinawa we went to Tokyo. On arrival we went to the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs for a fine buffet lunch. That evening we attended a magnificent reception organised by Mrs Kinuko Stricker, a close friend of Keiko, and the Anglo-Japanese Peace and Friendship Group. This reception was attended by the British Ambassador, Sir David Wright, Captain Neil Robertson, the Defence and Naval Attaché, Mr Shigeyuki Hiroki from the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs and many distinguished guests. I made an address on behalf of FEPOWs in which I urged reconciliation with the Japanese people. An unexpected event was the appearance on the platform of three engineering guards from the Siam-Burma Railway. One, Lieut. Abe, I immediately remembered as a particularly cruel individual who drove sick and dying men out to work. I experienced an immediate dilemma. I had just spoken of reconciliation and here before me was someone I found difficult to forgive. He had been sentenced to death after the war for his crimes, but the sentence was commuted to a term of imprisonment in Changi Jail. He admitted that the conditions imposed on POWs were very wrong and expressed his sincere apologies for the suffering he had caused. After a few minutes in which I marshalled my feelings, and I realized his courage in making such a speech before a crowd of FEPOWs, I am glad to say I was able to shake him by the hand. I found the whole evening a momentous occasion which I shall never forget.

Next morning we visited the British Ambassador's residence for drinks and went on to Group Captain Edward's house for lunch, again a most friendly occasion. The Group Captain and Captain Robertson then escorted us to Yokohama Commonwealth War Cemetery for a memorial service after which we said goodbye to all the embassy staff who had looked after us so well that day.

The following day we were allotted volunteer guides to take us shopping or sightseeing. Dorothy and I were accompanied by Mrs Kozue Komatsuzaki and her daughter Ayumu. We elected to take a driverless automatic train which travelled round Tokyo Bay where we saw a great deal of new industrial and commercial development and a magnificent modern bridge.

On our last full day we attended a church service followed by an excellent lunch. We talked and mixed with British, American and Japanese and had a most interesting time, finishing by each FEPOW saying a few words of appreciation to our hosts.

We left the next day and many of the residents we had met in Tokyo came to see us off. One man, Kazuo Motohashi, deserves a special mention. He was our guide from our first arrival in Japan to our final leave-taking and no-one could have been more caring or attentive to our needs. We shall long remember his kindness.

Now that we are back home and have considered all aspects of the trip, I am better able to sum up my experience. As a Pilgrimage of Reconciliation, I think it was a great success. It is difficult for FEPOWs with their burnt-in memories of their wartime guards to come to terms with the warmth and friendliness of the ordinary people we met. But we understand the emperor-orientated military regime that indoctrinated the minds of our guards and governed their behaviour and have seen how in the years since they have repented and apologised. Reconciliation was adequately demonstrated when FEPOWs were able to shake the hands of the three ex-railway guards. It is hoped that we will be effective in spreading the message to our comrades here in England. The friendliness of the Japanese was heartwarming and we have all left feeling that lasting bonds have been created with our wonderful hosts.

On the trip, from start to finish, we were looked after in right royal style. The hotels were excellent, the organisation ran smoothly, we were guided and looked after in a first class manner. My wife and I feel privileged to have been invited to take part and wish Keiko continued success in her endeavours to build a lasting bridge of friendship between our two peoples.