In April 2006 I received an invitation to attend an investiture ceremony at the British Embassy in Tokyo. Two Japanese ladies, Mrs Taeko Sasamoto and Mrs Yoshiko Tamura who are founder members of the Japanese P.O.W. Network were to receive the award of M.B.E. (Member of the British Empire) for their dedication and hard work in tracing details and final resting places of all British P.O.W.’s who had died in Japan. I became acquainted with these ladies when they visited my home in March 2004.
I decided to accept the invitation and extend my stay to twelve days intending to visit my old camps where I had been held prisoner. When I informed Mrs Tamura of my intentions she asked if she and Mrs Sasamoto could accompany me, I assented, they then arranged an itinerary. Unfortunately my wife was unable to travel with me as she had recently had surgery and not fit enough to travel, so my daughter Angela agreed to accompany me, also a personal friend, Bari Logan.
We booked flights, bought Japan Rail Passes and with the help of Mrs Izumi, who is a secretary of the British Empire, were able to book our accommodation at a hotel quite close to the Embassy, in Tokyo.
My companions and I took off from London, Heathrow Airport at 13.50 lunchtime, Saturday 27th May in pouring rain. Arriving at Tokyo, Narita Airport at 09:10 Sunday morning 28th May after a 10 ½ hour flight, only to find it pouring with rain, but not for long, soon the sun shone and stayed shining for the rest of our visit.
We boarded a Limousine Bus which took us to a drop off point in central Tokyo where we hired a taxi to our hotel, The Grand Arc Hanzomon. I had a pleasant view from my 15th floor room which overlooked the moat and grounds of the Emperors Palace.
Monday 29th May
Early morning, Yoshiko greeted us in the hotel lounge and explained the itinerary that had been arranged for us and to accompany us to the travel agent to pay for our hotels in Hakodate and Kamaishi which had been booked in advance, also our internal flight tickets from Hakodate to Tokyo, Haneda Airport.
First stop was Tokyo Central Station where we exchanged our Rail Pass Vouchers for Japan Rail Passes and made our seat reservations on the Shinkansen ‘Bullet’ trains.
This task completed, we boarded a suburban train to Yokohama where our next stop was the travel agent. Business completed we were driven by Yoshiko to the Commonwealth Cemetery where Taeko was waiting with two newspaper reporters, one from the Daily Telegraph, the other from the Asahi Shinbun, Japan’s number on Newspaper, who then proceeded to question me about my return visit and also of the time I spent in Japan during my P.O.W. years.
The reason for visiting the Commonwealth Cemetery was to see the grave of my friend Bill, who had died during captivity. I had kept his ashes with me until my release then handed them over to be returned to the U.K. In 2004, I learnt that his mother could not bear to accept him home in a box, she had not been informed of his death so was completely shocked, his ashes were returned to Japan.
Leaving the Cemetery our next stop was to a restaurant where we enjoyed a meal and chat after which the newspaper reporters departed. We were then driven to Taeko’s house for the afternoon where we indulged in more food, after a pleasant relaxing few hours we were taken to Yokohama station where we boarded a train to Tokyo returning without problems and back to our hotel.
Tuesday 30th May
It was only a short walk from our hotel to the British Embassy where the investiture ceremony was to start at 17:30 hours. Arriving at the gates we were admitted after the usual careful security checks.
On entering the building I was asked to put my signature beside my name on the list of guests, then escorted to meet the Ambassador, Sir Graham Fry’s wife, a charming lady who informed me I was the guest of honour and would be seated with the award recipients families, then went on to explain the procedure that would follow.
The guests were seated and the ceremony began, the Ambassador speaking in Japanese and an Army member of staff translating at intervals in English. A large group of press and television camera’s recording the event. Champagne followed, food and drinks were offered while people chatted. I was kept very busy by a number of people from the press and several members of the Japanese P.O.W. Network who asked to speak to me. The Ambassador thanked me for coming to Japan saying how much it was appreciated by all the guests and staff. It was a lovely warm evening as guests were able to stroll about in the gardens.
After a pleasant evening we made our way back to the hotel accompanied by fifteen members of the Japanese P.O.W. Network where a buffet meal and drinks had been ordered in the restaurant. They all wanted to speak to me, asking questions, so I was constantly passed from one person to another, it seems they rarely encounter an ex-P.O.W. to speak to, person to person.
It was the early hours of the morning before this happy gathering came to an end. I was pleased that my companions and I had a free day ahead of us, needless to say, we did not intend to rise at the crack of dawn.
Wednesday 31st May
During the day we took a stroll around part of the perimeter of the large moat that surrounds the Emperors Palace gardens, I then sat in the shade of trees enjoying the tranquility before returning back to the hotel for another rest followed by a meal out that evening.