Japan says sorry to former Australian POWs

ABC AM / North Asia correspondent Mark Willacy
Posted Fri 4 Mar 2011 at 5:04am, updated Fri 4 Mar 2011 at 7:54am
Former Australian prisoner of war Norman Anderton shook hands with Japanese foreign minister Seiji Maehara in Tokyo. (Yoshikazu Tsuno: AFP)


Above:  In 2011 in Tokyo Japanese Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara  apologises to a small party of former Australian POWs.
Japan has apologised to a group of Australian former prisoners of war for the pain and suffering they endured as captives during World War II.
The apology was offered to the five old diggers in person in Tokyo by Japanese foreign minister Seiji Maehara, who told them he was sorry from the bottom of his heart for their treatment.
They came with walking sticks and in wheelchairs, five men the Japanese Imperial Army could not break – not in Changi nor on the Thai-Burma railway.
Once inside the Foreign Ministry in Tokyo, the group’s oldest member, Rowley Richards, 94, sat across the big table from Mr Maehara and he did not flinch.
“The important thing to our members, there are many of them as you know, are looking for an official apology,” he said.
After a 20-minute meeting with the foreign minister the old diggers emerged with something many POWs have been seeking for 66 years – a sincere apology for their suffering and pain.
“As I understood it, it was deep and expressed great remorse for the suffering that was inflicted on us and it was a very moving experience,” said 89-year-old Norm Anderton, who was used as slave labour on the Thai-Burma railway.
“He said to consider it a formal apology from the government.”
Standing next to Mr Anderton was 90-year-old Harold Ramsey. He said before the meeting that an apology would be worthless because it would come from a generation of Japanese who were not the ones who beat and humiliated him.
But after his meeting with the foreign minister, Mr Ramsay’s scepticism had melted somewhat.
“We waited a long time but it was sincere and much better time than when I was here before in 1944 … this is really good, very sincere,” he said.
Of the 22,000 Australian prisoners of the Japanese more than a third died in captivity.
The Japanese government realises time is quickly taking those Australians who survived the horrors of their captivity, so it is vowing to bring more former POWs to Japan to try to reconcile and offer remorse.
“I think we know that to have better future, it is very important to put right what was wrong in the past,” said ruling party member Yukihisa Fujita.
For Mr Richards, who as a doctor treated thousands of his comrades on the Thai-Burma railway, the time has come to forgive.
“I believe very firmly if any individuals hold bitterness, there is only one person who suffers – that’s the person who is being bitter and I’ve often said that if I feel bitter towards the Japanese country, they are not going to fall down on their knees and worry about it.”
Last year the Japanese government offered a similar apology to a visiting group of American former POWs.
Records returned
Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd has welcomed the apology and also thanked the Japanese government for their offer to return historical records of Australian former POWs held by Japan during World War II.
“I welcome their offer which is made in the spirit of cooperation,” he said.
“These index cards were originally offered to Australia by the Japanese government in 1953, but the Australian Government of the time chose not to take up the offer, believing that they would not contain any new information,” Mr Rudd said.
Veterans’ Affairs Minister Warren Snowdon says the Japanese records may shed light on the fate of the members of Lark Force, many of whom were lost when the Japanese transport Montevideo Maru was sunk by a US submarine in 1942.
“The Government recognises that there are families who remain uncertain about the fate of those captured by the Japanese during World War II,” Mr Snowdon said.
“In recent years, the Rabaul and Montevideo Maru Society have maintained interest in the fate of Australian prisoners of war and have pressed the Australian Government to seek access to the card system.”
The records are expected to be housed in the Australian War Memorial.
This event occurred 66 years after the end of the war.  Did this apology take a long time?