|First Contact from Neil|
|CAMP 24 SENDYU KYUSHU JAPAN (from Barbed Wire and Bamboo)|
| Guiding Mr. Neil MacPherson, Mr. Owen Heron,
and their sons to
Sumitomo Metal Mining Co., Ltd. (Nori Nagasawa)
|IT Brings us Together (Yoshikazu Kondo)|
|So why go to war anyway? (Andre Malan from the West Australian)|
Subject: Australian inquiry
Greetings from Australia
CAMP 24 SENDYU KYUSHU JAPAN
Written by Nori Nagasawa
At first, it seemed difficult for Neil
Owen, the ex-POWs visiting Japan then,
pay a courtesy call on the headquarters
Sumitomo Metal Mining Co., Ltd. on
12, 2002; because it showed the attitude
that they wouldn't like to meet them.
Ishizuka, President of JASJ, persuaded
company so tenaciously as a go-between
behalf of Japan and Australia that
accepted them. He went the extra mile
them, insisting that the purpose of
visit would not aim at protesting against
the company but rather showing their
to the Japanese coal miners who worked
with them some 60 years ago. He also
that the company should make what happened
during the war time public for its
The next day after their visit to the company,
we Yokohama residents guided them to the
British Commonwealth War Cemetery in Yokohama,
and guided them to the historic town Kamakura.
Written and translated into English by Yoshikazu Kondo
At noon on 15 April 2002, I arrived at Naoetsu
Station together with Miyoko Uchiyama and
David Green, an ALT in Takaoka, to welcome
Mr. Neil MacPherson and Mr. Owen Heron. First
meeting though it was, I didn't feel so at
all; looking back, we had exchanged our e-mail
messages for ten months.
IT actually brought us together at Naoetsu
Station; our face-to-face communication was
much more enjoyable than email exchanges.
Neil and Owen's stay in Joetsu was only 24
hours---by far shorter than the previous
ten months we had spent in email communication.
So Why go to war anyway?
Anyone observing the welcome given to Neil
MacPherson and Owen Heron in the Japanese
city of Emukae earlier this month would have
wondered whether the two 80-year-old West
Australians were royalty -- or just major
The locals had spent months preparing for the day and their arrival was greeted with sustained applause from a big crowd including the mayor and full council. Later they were the guests of honour at an official dinner in which they exchanged gifts with their hosts and dozens of locals were drunk to them and their country.
Their Japanese hosts even arranged for a full Catholic Mass, complete with altar boys and a choir in honour of the two former enemies.
Recording all of this was a big contingent of local and national news media, and by the next day the story of the two former prisoners of war was known to millions of Japanese newspaper readers and television viewers.
For Mr MacPherson, of Falcon, and Mr Heron, of Kewdale, who were traveling with their sons, Ian MacPherson and David Heron, it would have been impossible not to compare their warm reception with their circumstances. The first time they set foot in Japan.
That was back in January 1945 when, sick and emaciated, they staggered ashore in the middle of winter, with snow on the ground.
Captured as 19-year-olds in Java, they were survivors of the brutal treatment, disease and squalid conditions on the notorious Burma railroad. And now they had been selected, along with fellow Australians as well as American and British prisoners of war, to work as slave labourers at a coal mine operated by the Sumitomo mining company on the island of Kyushu.
It meant long hours of hard work in a hazardous environment, without enough to eat. But after the horrors of the railroad, it did not seem so bad to the prisoners. The huts they lived in were warm and comfortable, and apart from petty harassment from guards, they were pretty much left alone.
In fact some of the Japanese miners with whom they worked went out of their way to teach them how to survive in the dangerous and cramped conditions underground, and when the end of the war approached and the situation in Japan began to deteriorate, their lunch boxes contained not much more than those of the prisoners.
Of the 267 prisoners of war who worked on the mine for about eight months, 18 died of sickness and other causes -- a shocking statistic, but far better than for most other prisoners of the Japanese.
On August 16, 1945, they were paraded by their guards and told that the fighting was over. It began a short period that Mr MacPherson remembers with great fondness.
The prisoners took over the camp and supplies, which were boosted by drops from US planes, and spent their days hiking in the countryside, sometimes accepting invitations to visit the homes of farmers and sharing food with them.
After a few weeks they were repatriated.
When he returned to WA, Mr MacPherson made a conscious decision not to harbour any bitterness over what had happened to him.
Recently the two men, who have remained close mates, decided that they would like to return to Kyusyu and after some difficulties, were able to arrange the visit there with their sons.
In e-mails from Japan, Mr MacPherson has described to me the warmth and enthusiasm with which they have been greeted by everyone they have met in Japan.
One of the first things they did was to visit the graves of three Australians who had died in their camp. The floral tributes, which had been put together by their Japanese hosts, included some WA wildflowers.
Among the speakers at their civic reception was a woman who had lived near the prisoner of war camp. She explained to the gathering that she was pregnant when the war ended and was suffering from malnutrition. Generous Australians had given her some of the food that had been dropped by US aircraft. "We also met the 'baby'," Mr MacPherson wrote. "He is now 57 years old."
When you hear how thoughtful and charitable people are to one another, including arrangers from other countries, you wonder what it is that makes us go to war in the first place.