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... from Japan ...

Sharing a service at Aruka with an Anglican bishop and priest

Norman Cliff takes us on....

A journey to Reconciliation

Reform – November 1997

The mighty roar of London's traffic was silenced for fifteen minutes on 15 August 1996. Police held up the northbound traffic while Messrs Bill Holtham and Arthur Titherington laid wreaths at the Cenotaph in memory of military POWs who died in Japanese camps. They were followed by Mrs Phyllis Jameson and myself, who laid wreaths in memory of civilian prisoners who died.

Six weeks later I accompanied an organised tour to Japan. The group included men who had been prisoners in Japan, widows of POWs and a few whose fathers had been prisoners there. Most of the prisoners had initially worked in harsh circumstances in Singapore and Burma, and spent the final year of the Sino-Japanese War in Japan. Travelling in appalling conditions from South East Asia to Japan some had lost comrades as a result of torpedoings by American submarines, for of the nine ships which carried them. Five had been sunk.

A ministry of reconciliation

The tour to Japan was organised by Mrs Keiko Holmes, a remarkable Japanese Christian, and widow of an Englishman who had worked in Japan. In her desire to bring reconciliation after the sufferings of British prisoners in Japan in World War II, she has often 'bearded the lion' by attending meetings of POW groups in Britain.

She has had insults thrown in her face, but undeterred she has persisted in her vision to remove bitterness and hate among former prisoners who languished and suffered in prison camps. There are regular gatherings in her home in south London, and she has travelled throughout the UK visiting former prisoners. Part of her programme has been the organising of regular visits to Japan for those who were once prisoners there and or their wives or widows. In this way she has created much goodwill and cordial relations between former prisoners and the Japanese people.


We travelled to Tokyo by All Nippon Airways and stayed in the luxurious Hotel New Otani. We Visited the British Commonwealth Cemetery in nearby Yokohama, where there were thousands of graves of British, Canadian and Australian soldiers. My abiding memory of this visit was that of seeing a lady in our group sobbing at the grave of her brother, seeing his gravestone for the first time.

In Tokyo on our First Sunday in Japan I was keen to attend an indigenous Japanese service, not one for 'ex-pats'. A Mr and Mrs Wachi kindly took me by car to a Baptist Church, where I was moved by the Fervour and reverence of the worshippers. There are less than a million Christians in Japan. If there is not quantity there is certainly quality in the small Christian community. The pastor and visiting preacher not only took off their shoes at the church door, but on coming to the pulpit put on a new pair of slippers there. I thought to myself that the .Japanese would understand why God told Moses to take off his shoes.


We flew from Tokyo to Nagasaki - from extreme east to extreme west. Facing the East China Sea I felt close to the north China coast where I was born.

We visited the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum. Here we saw relics and representations of the damage done in the bombing of Nagasaki on 9 August 1945, when 75,000 were killed and thousands of survivors lay in the blasted area covered in wounds or doped by strong gases. We saw relics of buildings, charred wood, twisted steel, wax forms of people with arms from which portions of skin drooped five or six inches. I saw five schoolgirls looking at pictures of maimed people. One girl had her head bowed, and was sobbing uncontrollably. Was one of her grandparents killed in the bombing? I put my arm around her and expressed my sympathy.

I took part in a brief service near the museum. A few days later I stayed as a guest in a Japanese home. I asked my host, Ogawa Masumi, how his family had been affected by the atom bomb on Nagasaki. He said that he was four months old and not in the city itself, but his eldest sister, a Catholic nun, was in the bombing. His father went to the ruins of the city in search of his daughter, and was told that she had been killed. But be found her under some building ruins badly affected by the gases. She later died of cancer from this incident.


We travelled on via Hirado to Hiroshima. On 6 August 1945 almost the entire city of 300,000 was wiped out, and the exposure to radiation lefs others with permanent ailments, such as leukaemia and cancer. To-day it is a prosperous city of 3.1 million.

We visited the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Hall in the large Peace Memorial Park. Wreaths were laid for those who had died. Once again I spoke briefly and led in prayer for all who had suffered. At the museum we saw the relics of the bombing and wax figures depicting the effects of the raid.

Our visit was arranged by a group called Japanese Veterans against War Everywhere we went there were groups with similar aims. Clearly the Japanese are determined that the world should destroy its nuclear armaments and live in peace.

We visited Iruka briefly. Banners and bands welcomed us on arrival. It was here that British POWs worked in a copper mine. no longer in use. One of our party had been a prisoner here. He had previously been in Thailand, in fact in 55 camps in all! We went down the mine in a mini train, travelling in small railway compartments - five of us in one small railway compartment, but 12 POWs were once regularly crammed in one when going down to work.

Here we had a memorial service to 17 British POWs who bad died in Iruka. I took part in this service with two Japanese bishops and a British seamen's chaplain. We laid wreaths in front of the tablet to the 17 who died. British and Japanese officials placed wreaths there too, and finally some local Japanese women came forward to lay their wreaths. I remarked to the chaplain. `If this is not reconciliation. what is?'

Regret and remorse

Everywhere we went we experienced love and kindness. The Japanese wanted to know all about their country's actions during the war, and pressed us for information as so little has been recorded in their history books. In the welcoming speeches given at the various stops on the journey Japanese leaders expressed genuine regret and remorse for the treatment which prisoners of war had received, and in our group there was a softening and responsiveness to the warm hospitality and gestures of kindness shown us.