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Keiko Holmes

There is a Japanese woman who married a Londoner Paul Holmes who was a Christian, she also became a Christian, her name Mrs. Keiko Holmes OBE.

During the Second World War, 300 British FEPOWs (Far East Prisoners of War) who had been working on the Thai-Burma Railway were sent to work in a copper mine in a place then known as Iruka, which is now part of Kiwa-cho. The camp in Iruka was much better than the camps in Thailand and the FEPOWs worked alongside Japanese miners and schoolchildren. Unfortunately 16 of them died and the local people made a simple grave. When I visited their grave in 1988, I was surprised to discover that it had been transformed into a beautiful memorial garden. There was a large copper cross and the soldier’s names were engraved on a marble stone. I hoped that I might be able to trace the FEPOWs who had been in Kiwa-cho and one day bring them back.

Four years later my dream was realised. In 1991, after much difficulty, I was able to attend the annual FEPOW conference in London. I realised how much FEPOWs were suffering and I felt their pain and strong hatred towards Japanese people. I remembered the passage in the Bible, "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life."I knew that I was being urged to work to help the healing process of war wounds and for reconciliation.

After many uphill struggles, I led the first Pilgrimage of Reconciliation to Japan in 1992. This was mainly for Iruka POWs but since then Agape World has taken other FEPOWs on these pilgrimages, and so far about 500 people have participated. Since 1996 the organisation has been known as Agape World. As a result of their pilgrimages, many FEPOWs express how their hatred towards Japan has changed into love for the Japanese people.

The following is taken from a speech made after one such pilgrimage made by a FEPOW in 1997.

Our Annual FEPOW Luncheon at Carlyon Bay went very well again this year, the first year of the new arrangement whereby the Plymouth FEPOW Club arranged the VJ Day Lunch and the Duchy Club the Christmas Lunch, a great time was had by all. The Duchy Club Chairman welcomed everyone especially Steve Cairns and the Plymouth contingent, including that great chap Tom Adams.

Our Chairman, 'Blackie' Blackler, stood up to reply, surprised us all when he spoke of his trip to Japan. I give here a summary of his speech:

After the treatment we had received at the hands of our captors for 3 ½ years, how do you think I felt?

My whole being was full of hate for both Japan and its people, this hate has stayed with me for over 50 years.

But this began to change when on the 13th November 1997 I went to Thailand on a Pilgrimage with the Royal British Legion, to visit the War Graves of the friends we had left behind.

On this trip there was a Japanese Lady, a Mrs Keiko Holmes, who had previously been given permission to speak at a FEPOW conference in London. She told the packed hall that she wanted reconciliation; she was admired for her will but was taken with 'pinch of salt'!

Back to Thailand: Whilst we were at the War Cemetery at Kanchanaburi she spoke to me and again at the Chunkai Cemetery and yet again at Nam Tok station and at the notorious 'Hell Fire Pass' she said this must have been a terrible place. She said it was such a waste of young lives. She said she was sorry that it had happened and wished to apologise. "Here" I thought "Was a Japanese Lady, full of compassion and love, asking for forgiveness".

This had a great impression on me. Could I forgive? Even if I cannot forget. During this trip I told Mrs. Holmes that I had been to Japan during my captivity, she asked me if I would like to go back and offered to put me on a 'Pilgrimage of Reconciliation' with an organisation called AGAPE in August after a lot of thought I accepted!

We flew out of Heathrow on 6th October, (not August) and arrived in Tokyo to a great reception and stayed in the New Otani Hotel. On the Monday we met our Host for the day, she took us on the underground, to the Tokyo Tower which is 45 stories high, gave us wonderful views of the City.

Going to our hosts home, across the city, an old man noticed the Royal Engineers badge on my coat and asked what it was. Our host Mrs Komatsuzaki told him I had been a POW in Singapore, Thailand and Japan, he said he had been a fighting soldier in Burma for 3 years until the end of the war, as he left the bus he held out his hand in friendship and said "Sayonara", (that is Goodbye in Japanese). When we reached our hosts house we met her husband and her daughter, her husband had just flown in from America and her daughter had visited London. We had a lovely meal with them and to finish off the evening we had a few beers together.

We were having the most wonderful and enjoyable trip, we met many Churchmen and visited some of the Christian Churches in the various towns and cities that we visited. I should like to point out that many "Christians" were persecuted and not tolerated in Japan during the war.

Keiko Holmes was with us at all times during our trip and always ready to help us, I felt like she is an Angel.

We visited Mt Fuji, a very impressive sight which I last saw from the train in 1944 en route to work in the coal mine at Onahama. I thought it beautiful then, never did I think that I would see it again.

We met the people who look at the graves of the sixteen Iruka Boys (FEPOWs that worked at the Iruka Copper Mine), and had died in the nearby Prison Camp.

We held a Memorial Service and left knowing that these Boys will never be forgotten As long as these good folk in the nearby little town are in existence. They had created a beautiful memorial garden. There was a large copper cross and the soldier’s names were engraved on a marble stone.

We then met our second host family, they were Takao Kawamura, his wife Matsuyo, their two little daughters Mari and Risa aged 7 and 10. Takao could not speak English but his wife could, so did all the talking!!!. They made us most welcome and they told us we were the first to use their "Guest Room", a great honour indeed. We exchanged presents, the little girls were so excited and full of laughter as all children are the world over.

This house was so full of love and kindness I began to think to myself are these the same people that treated us so badly during the war?

No! They can't be!

We slept in the guest room, and a very restful and happy sleep it was. The next morning the two little girls asked their mother if they could take us to the river to feed the fish, I was not too keen but my wife Kate said we should go, I picked up my video camera and we set off for the river. As we walked along the lane all seemed so quiet and peaceful, then I felt a little hand in mine. I looked down and saw the happy face of this little seven year old Japanese looking up at me ---- then I felt a warmth go through me ----- I felt so at peace!

Then I thought "God I cannot go on with this hate in my heart", these were not the people who gave us so much torture and cruelty. At that very moment the hate seemed to leave me completely. I looked back the lane and the other little girl was holding Katie's hand, I shall never forget those two little girls, they brought peace to my heart and the power to forgive.

They were so trusting - no way the enemy that I knew.

Whilst there I met a Mrs Shuko Enomoto, she was most kind to Katie and I. As I think everyone knows I have always been known as "Blackie" from school days and this has continued through my life. Shuko, I think, found this very amusing, she thought it was a cat's name.

On our second meeting she brought me a little present, it was a small ornament, it was a little BLACK CAT she said it would bring me good luck. I thought it so kind of her, it is now in a place of honour in our house, when I look at it I shall always think of the Lady with so much charm and goodwill, her happy smiling face, another person who has helped to cement relations of good will, also lifting the burden of the feelings that I have carried with me for so long.

May God bless you Shuko, I shall always remember you with affectionate memories.