My parents were internees (with family) in Maymyo, Burma during the Second World War. They were in the Japanese camp (former British army barracks) for 18 months till the Forgotten Army, whom they greatly respected for their bravery, brought about liberation. My father did hard labour and my mother helped the elderly and those who were ill during internment. Prior to internment they had been able to supply some POWs who were starving with food.
Many years later Keiko Holmes contacted them in Sussex and invited them to join a Pilgrimage of Reconciliation to Japan. Though they had witnessed the terrible tragedy of war due to the Japanese occupation, they decided to go on the visit during which the participants received a warm welcome and apologies from the Japanese while visiting various parts of the country including Tokyo, Nagasaki and Okinawa. It was a moving experience with speeches and also visits to schools.
New friendships came about with some of the Japanese they had met during their visit.
As previously mentioned, prior to their internment, my parents managed to get permission to give food to British POWs who were starving. When the guards changed, this was stopped and my father received a severe beating. Many years later when retired in Eastbourne, my parents were contacted by Ray Wilson (Royal Army Medical Corps, then Chindits), one of the POWS they had helped. In old age, he was still having nightmares about the war. For many, the scars of war are lifelong. It was, however, a happy and moving reunion.
Mr Dudley Spencer:
‘The Japanese thought that winning battles against the British and Americans would lead them to winning the war. Japanese leaders headed by General Hideki Tojo with their many perpetrators whose acts of torture were common throughout the occupied territories were rightfully executed by hanging. Some had the audacity to say if their orders were to do these horrible acts, they would do them again and again.
‘When I went with my wife and youngest daughter to Japan in the early spring of 2004, we were astonished to find Japanese people of all ages extremely sad and full of sorrow and shame for what had happened in the war. They were deeply sorry and ashamed about what their fascist leaders had done in all the occupied territories. Large percentages of these people were not even born during that period.
Those who spoke out at the time were executed mercilessly. On surrender, the Japanese adopted a pacifist policy from infancy to adulthood. This was part of their life in homes and families, schools and all other institutions and they have upheld this policy in the strict belief they will not fire a shot in anger unless their country is attacked. This is despite the danger of North Korea testing atomic weapons over the Sea of Japan.’
Mrs Millicent Spencer:
‘We were a group of 22 people who went on this pilgrimage of reconciliation arranged by Keiko Holmes, OBE. At various gatherings and meetings in churches, schools and elsewhere we were asked to make speeches. We met schoolchildren and people from all walks of life, many of whom like ourselves had lost loved ones during WW2. We became their good friends.
‘After our difficulties and suffering in the war, we met old and young people, students from schools we visited, and attended some church meetings. In our speeches we spoke of experiences in the war and matters that were painful and fearful relating to our seeing the punishment of prisoners. However, I told the people in the audience that these were different times.
I reminded those in the meeting that friendship was possible. I said to the children, “You are not guilty.” There were also elderly people at the meeting. For some pilgrims who talked of their loved ones who had given their lives, not all could forgive.’