Neil MacPherson & Owen Heron's Visit to Joetsu

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)

First Contact from Neil

Subject: Australian inquiry
Date: Thu, 28 Jun 2001

Greetings from Australia
Details of your organizations have been supplied to me by the Australian War Memorial in Canberra as a possible source of information I am seeking.

My name is Neil MacPherson aged 79 years, in 1945 I was a prisoner of war working in a coal mine in Fukuoka Kyushu Japan, the camp was designated as Camp 24, it was possibly situated in Sensu, although I am not certain.

With the passing of the years I have a desire to make contact with some one in the small village where our camp was situated, we were on good terms with the inhabitants and the Japanese mine workers we worked with.

It would be great if I could establish contact via the Internet with some one in the area who understands the English language.

A railway passed through the village, the mine headquarters was on a hill, there was a big hall where our we were issued with lamps, the mine was accessed by rail trucks down a 30 degree tunnel.

The camp held about 250 prisoners, Australian, English, and a small group of Americans, we were evacuated by train to Nagasaki on the 14th September 1945.

Looking forward to receiving your help withy my request.

with warmest wishes
Neil MacPherson


(from Barbed Wire and Bamboo)

On the 15th December 1944, 545 Australian prisoners from River Valley Road camp boarded the Awa Maru in Singapore harbour, all had been selected from the survivors of A. Force on the Death railway. After 11 days battened down under scorching decks the vessel sailed for Japan Boxing Day, on the 15th January 1945 the prisoners staggered ashore at Moji, northern Kyushu, mid winter, snow on the ground
150 of the group including 34 Americans, travelled to Sendyu on the north west coast of Kyushu, after several days of training by Jap miners they were classified fit to work in the Sumitoma owned coalmine. Compared to the, horrors, death, disease, squalid conditions and brutal treatment on the railway conditions at camp 24 were 5 star, comfortable warm huts, 12 to an airy room. Apart from petty harassment by the guards, insufficient food to sustain the long shift in cramped and hazardous conditions underground the moral was excellent.

The Jap miners under whom we worked were helpful in teaching the prisoners how to survive in this dangerous environment, and unlike other work areas no punishments were handed out. Towards the end their lunch boxes contained very little more than the prisoners. On the 16th August 1945 we were paraded and told the order had been given to stop the fight, in due course the prisoners took over the camp, supplies dropped by US bombers made the next 5 weeks a pleasant memory. Hikes into the surrounding countryside, invitations from farmers to visit their homes, sharing scarce food, prisoners in turn sharing the bounties from the US planes are pleasant memories.

56 years later I had the urge to return to the village and rekindle memories of those five weeks, Owen Heron my close mate, another Pioneer both 19 year olds when captured in Java, who was in the camp, also nursed a wish to return. A problem confronted me, I could not locate a Sendyu in Kyushu, months were spent in the search, a letter to the Japanese Consulate was ignored, and the Australian War Museum had no records of prison camps in Kyushu. E.Mails flashed to authorities in Japan, no result, finally I located Yoshikazu Kondo Director of Japan Australia Society of Joetsu, who put me in touch with an American living in Fukuoka who had been researching prison camps there for 25 years. Yes, he had the Camp 24 roster, along with details of all 26 Kyushu camps, details of which have now been passed to the AWM. The camp was situated in Sendryu, not Sendyu, a village on the outskirts of Emaukie, and then commenced a series of E.Mail messages between the three of us.

In April both Owen And I with our two sons plan to spend 8 days in Japan before joining the Quiet Lion Tour in Thailand We plan to fly into Tokyo for 4 days and travel to Yokohama to visit the War Graves Cemetery where three Australians who died in Camp 24 are buried. A train trip to Noetsu to visit the Peace Park on the site of the notorious prison camp, Yoshi Kondo will be our over night host. From there we will travel to Fukuoka via Kyoto where we will be guests of my American friend Wes Injerd who will drive us across the island to Sendryu Camp Site

The three Australians who died at Camp 24 did so soon after arrival, due to the rigours of the long sea trip, they were, L/Cpl R Banks QX 8060, L/Cpl J.A.McNabb NX 30302 and L/Sgt O.V.Skinner NX37543. Should any relatives of these three soldiers like me to take photos of their graves when I visit Yokohama War Cemetery please contact me on 08 9534 4082 before 6th March. Here is a list of known survivors of the 114 Australians from Camp 24, HMAS Perth, Charlie Goodchap and Frank Chattaway, Pioneers Ted Rowe, Owen Heron, Neil MacPherson W.A. Fred Barnstable, Max Cowden Victoria, 2/12 RAE Bob Davis 2/19th Fred Asser NSW. Are there any others? and would they like to access my research, names of all 280 camp inmates, group photos taken in camp, camp layout or any details gathered on my visit.

As I leave on an extended caravan tour to Townsville via the East Coast on 6th March, flying out of Sydney 10th April.

Kindest regards Neil


Guiding Mr. Neil MacPherson, Mr. Owen Heron, and their sons to
Sumitomo Metal Mining Co., Ltd.

Written by Nori Nagasawa
Translated into English by Miyoko Uchiyama

At first, it seemed difficult for Neil and Owen, the ex-POWs visiting Japan then, to pay a courtesy call on the headquarters of Sumitomo Metal Mining Co., Ltd. on April 12, 2002; because it showed the attitude that they wouldn't like to meet them. Mr. Ishizuka, President of JASJ, persuaded the company so tenaciously as a go-between on behalf of Japan and Australia that it finally accepted them. He went the extra mile for them, insisting that the purpose of their visit would not aim at protesting against the company but rather showing their appreciation to the Japanese coal miners who worked together with them some 60 years ago. He also expressed that the company should make what happened during the war time public for its employees.

As their interpreter, I was worried and nervous about what would happen, because that was their first meeting for both the ex-POWs and the executive officers of the company. Actually they waited for us with copies of the pictures of entrances and inside of coal mines taken in 1951. Moreover, they introduced us an interpreter who used to be a manager of a coal mining division in Australia and had resided there.

Today in Japan, since there is no coal mine, necessary coal is mainly imported from Australia. So the manager, understanding technical terms I didn't know and all about coal mining work, could have a lively conversation with Neil and Owen.

Neil and Owen told us their hard experiences at that time. They said, "It was so hard for us to work for ten hours a day in a one-meter-high ceiling space underground. The fellow Japanese coal miners taught us how to work and survive in that dangerous environment. On sensing a cave-in from the faint sound of rumbling of earth, they let us escape through a mining hole outside."

In the end, Neil said, "Without their help, we could not have survived and definitely are not here." When company executives listened to his words, their eyes got wet with tears.

To our surprise, the company has found Mr. Nojiri, who used to work with ex-POWs and now is 90 years old. They explained to us that they would invite him to welcome party on 17th. I expected a big welcome party would be held in Emukae on the day. I hoped from the bottom of my heart that they could share the time for reconciliation.

Now I'm going to write about how they could come to visit Sumitomo Metal Mining Co., Ltd. The story is a little complicated. The coal mine was located in Senryu, Emukae, north of Sasebo City in Nagasaki Prefecture and was possessed by Sumitomo Metal Mining Co., Ltd which was called so those days.

Neil and Owen, ex-POWs living in Australia, wanted to visit their unforgettable place: "Senryu." They only remembered the name of the place, "Sendryu in Kyushu," and therefore it was too hard for them to obtain information about it. They tried to get the information on its location through Japanese Foreign Ministry or Consulate, but the inquiry letters to the authorities were just ignored. Finally they reached to Mr. Yoshikazu Kondo, Director of JASJ. As soon as he got an e-mail from Neil, he got in touch with Mr. Ishizuka and got him involved in finding-out mission. Mr. Kondo, an expert both in computer and English, also accessed to Mr. Wes Injerd, living in Fukuoka, who had been researching prison camps there for the past several years. Right after Wes got information from Mr. Kondo, he made contact with Neil. Since then e-mail between Perth, Naoetsu, and Fukuoka started and lasted for ten months. At last the great endeavor between those people made their visit come true.

Only after all those difficulties, the schedule of their visit was organized for the first time. I hear that Mr. Ishizuka went to Emukae and gave them some advice on how to welcome Neil and Owen.

At British Commonwealth War Cemetery
At War Cemetery in Hodogaya
(from left to right)Neil, Ms Tamura,
Ms Nagasawa, Ms. Sasamoto, Owen

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.

Since the four people in the party were invited to Naoetsu, they would see the monuments and the museum in the Peace Park, which stands at the site of the former prison camp. After their visit to Naoetsu, they were to leave for Fukuoka by bullet train, and the five, including Mr. Ishizuka, were planning to stay at Mr. Injerd's in Dazaifu. On the morning of 17th, they were scheduled to go to Emukae in his mini-van. How tight their schedule!

I'm sure Neil and Owen's visit this time would not have been realized without the cooperation works and volunteers' spirits among Mr. Ishizuka, Mr. Kondo, and Mr. Injerd.


IT Brings us Together

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.

In June 2001, an email arrived from Neil in Perth, in which he wrote he had a desire to return to the coal mine in Kyusyu, where he was interned as a POW during WWII. The passing of some 57 years, however, was long enough to make his memory hazy about the town's location. In search for the place, Neil had sent letters to a Japanese consulate and emails to authorities in Japan, asking for assistance in locating the town, only to be ignored. Finally, the Australian War Memorial in Canberra introduced our Society as a possible source of information, which made me feel glad that the Memorial recognized ours as one who could provide some answers.

At first, I thought it would be impossible to locate the mine in question and the POW camp as well, because a great number of POWs were sent to many coal mines in Kyusyu and many POW camps were set up to accommodate them. Fortunately I had been in contact with Mr. Wes Injerd, an American who was based in Dazaifu, Kyusyu, and had been conducting research on POW camps there for his Webpages. I immediately introduced Wes to Neil and, to our delight, Wes had a wartime camp roster on which Neil was listed. This stroke of luck allowed us to pinpoint the mine and the specific POW camp, which was located in Emukae, Nagasaki.

That was a great example, showing the power of networking which made, in our case, something seemingly impossible possible.

At the Peace Memorial Park
At Peace Memorial Park on 15 April, 2002

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.

I resolved to reciprocate their efforts by visiting them in Perth, a trip which would have dual benefits, in that we already have friends there. I have long cherished the opinion that no other trip is better than the one we undertake when visiting friends in another country.

The goals Neil and Owen set themselves in visiting Japan would not have been realized without the hearty backups provided by our colleagues in the JASJ network. Ms. Sasamoto, Ms. Tamura, and Ms. Nagasawa escorted them to the British Commonwealth War Cemetery in Yokohama; Wes welcomed them in Kyusyu; and Mr. Kobayashi in Hiroshima went all the way to Emukae and acted as their interpreter for the occasions held there.

I hope this powerful network will again make a significant contribution and that more people like Neil and Owen will visit us soon.


So Why go to war anyway?
(from the West Australian)

Andre Malan


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 celebrities.

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.