Neil and Owen are two wonderful Australian ex-POWs whom I've had the privilege to meet. I first started corresponding with Neil in June of 2001. His e-mail messages below pretty much explain his amazing story, a story of bitterness giving way to forgiveness and compassion. In April of 2002, I met Neil and Owen face-to-face for the first time, and it was an honor to travel with them to the town of Emukae where they were both interned for 8 months at POW Camp #24 in Senryu.
Visit Neil's website: Burma-Thailand Railway Memorial Association, Inc.
Sent: Thursday, June 28, 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.
In Camp 24, there were 114 Australians, 32 Americans and over 100 British, unfortunately our Australian contingent is reduced to about 10.
Our group had been working on the Burma Thailand railway for 2 years before being sent to Japan, we had a number of survivors from the US cruiser Houston as well a some chaps from the 141st Artillery captured in Java.
Looking forward to receiving your help with my request.
With warmest wishes, Neil MacPherson
Date: Fri, 27 Jul 2001
I can't thank you enough for giving me your time to look at my project, having read through some of your web site details, I can't access all of it until I get home, my experience in Japan was much different to those prisoners you have written about.
It was probably due to our terrible experiences on the Burma railway with our sadistic captors, disease, starvation long hours of toil and so much death that we found in our Japanese camp particularly a sort of sanctuary, with comfortable warm quarters.
Although we were virtually starving, drawing on our reserves day after day like over-drawing on your bank account, with the inevitable end getting closer, we were not harassed by our guards, petty bullying occasionally yes.
It is possible that the mine managers had stipulated that the prisoners were expected to maintain coal production and this would be jeopardised if they were molested and did not get regular rest, we worked two shifts each of 12 hours duration, camp back to camp.
We worked in a gallery with only 36 inches between floor and roof, working 10 hours in a crouched position, roof collapses were common and we relied wholly on the experienced Japanese foreman to warn us of imminent roof collapses.
We worked 13 days and rested on the 14th, we were in long barracks, divided into rooms which held 12 prisoners, sorted alphabetically, all my roommates were MacPherson, McGraw, Mason, etc.
Apart from our poor diet our main problem were fleas, which had no respect for rank, quite often we would see the camp commandant, a major, sitting on the step of his quarters going through his garments looking for fleas. You may smile at this story -- we slept on the floor on grass matting, we each had 30 inches of space, for our bedding with a small space between each we slept 6 on each side of the room with a 36-inch space between the two rows.
Our first experience with the flea were devastating, the first body to hit the bed attracted hundreds of the little blighters, one could even hear the stampede of the fleas, they made little clicking noises as they hopped across the matting. The solution was obvious, at a given command, we would all hit the floor at the same time, why, because that way the fleas were spread evenly and no one had more than their share.
My apologies for this lengthy epistle but in my 80th year my memories are flooding back and this is the result. If you are interested in learning more about my POW experiences let me know, I am a committee member of a ex-POW group who organise 9-day pilgrimages to Thailand each year to celebrate our Anzac Day in Hellfire Pass with a dawn service. The other members of the committee were with Weary Dunlop on the railway and our tour is a story-telling experience for the 80 members which include 25 students.
With warmest regards, Neil
Date: Sat, 19 Jan 2002
It is great that you are continuing to help to make our visit a success, I look forward with great interest to receiving the photos and maps.
You will be interested to learn that British based Keiko Holmes arrives in Perth today, the local Ex POW Association has refused to allow her to address it's members on the basis that it would not change those who intend to maintain their anger.
I will attach a copy of the press articles which includes a story on my feelings which as you know is free of bitterness and anger and need no reconciliation programme.
I was contacted by Akemi Brinkworth a Japanese born member of the Japanese language church who are arranging a service and later a function for Keiko to met some of us POWs, she says that she knows about you and Ishizuka-san and your efforts to make our visit a success
I have agreed to address the church gathering on my experiences as a POW I will not dwell on the railway story but will tell them of our experiences in Japan which as you know were not too bad, I will tell them however of the 11.000 prisoners who lost their lives on the way to Japan. To put that number in context I will tell them that is nearly four times the number who lost their lives on the 11th September.
I have written an article for publication in the National POW magazine about my trip to Japan. Maybe you would be interested in reading it. Here it is:
CAMP 24, SENRYU, KYUSHU, JAPAN
On the 15th December 1944, 545 Australian prisoners from River Valley Road camp boarded the Awa Maru in Singapore harbour, all having 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 on Boxing Day. On the 15th January 1945 the prisoners staggered ashore at Moji, northern Kyushu, in mid-winter, snow on the ground.
150 of the group including 34 Americans, travelled to Senryu on the northwest coast of Kyushu. After several days of training by Jap miners, they were classified fit to work in the Sumitomo-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, with 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 morale 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 did. On the 16th August 1945 we were paraded and told "the order has 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 all pleasant memories.
Fifty-six 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 Sendryu 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 the Japan-Australia Society of Joetsu, who put me in touch with an American, Wes Injerd, living in Fukuoka, who had been researching prison camps there for the past several 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 Senryu, not Sendryu, a village on the outskirts of Emukae, 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. Then a train trip to Naoetsu to visit the Peace Park on the site of the notorious prison camp, and Yoshi Kondo will be our overnight 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 the Senryu 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. Should any relatives of these three soldiers like me to take photos of their graves when I visit the 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? 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?
Warmest wishes, Neil
The West Australian
Veteran lets go of bitterness
NEIL MACPHERSON had ample reason to hate the Japanese by the time the war ended in 1945.
Captured in 1942, he spent 20 months as a slave labourer on the notorious Burma railroad before being shipped to Japan in mid-1944 to work in a coalmine with other Allied prisoners.
PHOTO: Mr MacPherson aged 23
But Mr MacPherson, who is 80 in May, made a conscious decision to put the cruelties behind him.
"I decided that I would not harbour bitterness for the rest of my life because, if I did, I would be the only one who would be affected," he said. "No one in Japan was going to lose any sleep over my carrying that bitterness."
He said he would attend the special reconciliation service on Sunday and a reception immediately after for Keiko Holmes. During the church service Mrs Holmes will apologise for the atrocities committed against PoWs.
Mr MacPherson said he respected what she was trying to do, especially in reconciling former prisoners with the Japanese people.
"We didn't have much of a problem with the people in Japan when shipped from Burma to the Sumitomo coal mine on Kyushu island," Mr MacPherson said. "The conditions were five-star compared to the Burma railroad and the Japanese miners working alongside us were helpful in teaching us to survive a dangerous environment."
He will visit Japan in May, and said the Japanese should not feel guilt for their grandfathers' actions any more than Australians should for what their grandfathers did to Aborigines.
The railway story is already known to the world.
What is not generally known is an equal number of POW lives were lost in transit to Japan for slave labour.
Thirteen ships were sunk while transporting 15,712 POWs from Asia to Japan. Some of the ships sunk had no survivors. All told, 10,720 prisoners lost their lives at sea -- many more while in Japan.
September 1944 -- I was one of 3,000 POWs in Singapore in late 1944 awaiting shipment.
Early September 1944 -- We were loaded onto two transports, the Akuyo-maru and the Achidoki-maru, and on 12th Sept. in the China Sea both were sunk -- 1,514 POWs were drowned.
15th December 1944 -- 545 POWs boarded the Awa-maru in Singapore harbor not knowing the fate of our mates. I was one of these and we were crammed down below decks in searing temperatures for 11 days.
On Boxing Day, 26th Dec., the convoy of 23 ships sailed. Twenty-one days later we arrived unscathed at Moji, in mid-winter with snow on the ground, and poorly clothed. 150 of us were sent to Senryu, a mining village on the outskirts of Emukae, 60 km. north of Nagasaki.
Here we laboured in the Sumitomo coal mine in very hazardous conditions. The coal seam was only 1 metre high so we worked in a crouched position for up to 12 hours a day. For 8 months our daily ration provided only 75% of the energy used in our work -- we were working only on our reserves. Many of us weighed less than 38 kilos.
We worked under Japanese foremen, to whom we owe a debt of gratitude due to their skills which they passed on to us -- not one death occurred in the midst of many cave-ins and rock falls.
On the 16th August 1945, I was working underground. Half-way through the shift we were taken back to our camp and we were told the "night had ended." Five days later, USA bombers dropped huge supplies of food and clothing near the camp.
Imagine the scene. Most of us were near skeletons, so we ate, drank and smoked to excess -- meat, butter, biscuits, milk, candy, chocolates, books and clean warm clothing.
Many of us took the opportunity to hike into the countryside. Here we met the kind farmers and their families and shared our bounty with them. We showed them photos of our families, they also theirs.
Not one of the 250 POWs looked for retribution for the wrongs done to them.
You will understand, therefore, why my mate, Owen Heron, and I are planning to visit this village in April this year to meet again the Senryu villagers and farmers.
Two Australian Ex-POWs Visit Emukae for First Time in 57 years
On forced Labor: "No ill-treatment, the people were kind"
With deep emotion, memories come flooding back
Two former soldiers of the Australian Army who became prisoners of war of the Japanese military during World War II and forced to work at the Senryu Mining Office of the Sumitomo Mining Company in Senryu, Emukae township, visited the town on the 17th to remember the days they spent here 57 years ago.
Neil MacPherson (79) and Owen Heron (80) are both from Perth in Western Australia. They became POWs in 1942 and worked on building a railway connecting Thailand and Burma (present-day Myanmar). In January, 1945, they were sent to Fukuoka Camp #24 at Tanomoto in Emukae and worked in the coal mines until the end of the war.
According to MacPherson, there was no ill-treatment at the camp and the Japanese foremen put safety first in teaching them to work in the mines. However, among the 267 POWs interned at this camp, 18 died of sickness and other causes.
Both men initially desired to come to Japan for memorial services. With only the name of "Senryu" in their memories, they were able to find its location through the help of the Joetsu Japan-Australia Society in Naoetsu (Shoichi Ishizuka, President), and Wes Injerd, an American residing in Dazaifu, Fukuoka-ken, who is doing research on POW camps.
The Executive Committee of Emukae organized a welcome party for the visitors. They also invited a number of Japanese who once worked at the mining company and together showed them the former site of the mine, the foreigner's cemetery, and other sites as well.
"It's completely different," remarked the two men, amazed at the change. At the old entrance to the mine, memories of the past came flooding back. "I remember the hills here. And I remember seeing in the Administrative Office a large mural depicting the Battle of the Coral Sea," said one of them, reflecting on the harsh yet memorable past.
At a cemetery, the men planted cherry trees and placed a plaque which read, "We shall remember 1945."
"The mining company's dealings with us was good, and the people were very kind. I think it is important that we tell the facts about this camp to future generations," MacPherson related emotionally. Heron added, "I just had to come back to this place."
Earlier on the 12th, the two visited the head office of the Sumitomo Mining Company in Tokyo where they had a friendly meeting. "It was a rare example of where reconciliation between former POWs and a Japanese company became a reality," commented Ishizuka.
Emukae Town Information newsletter -- Japanese page with photos
April 2004 visit to Emukae
The Mainichi Shinbun
Memorial plate for remembering POWs set up
Moved by the town's hospitality, he returns to Emukae again
Australian ex-POW attends unveiling ceremony
A memorial plate was set up at the site of the former POW camp in Emukae, where British and Australian men were forced to work in its coal mine during World War 2. On April 16, Neil MacPherson, 82, an ex-Australian POW, joined the unveiling ceremony for the memorial plate. MacPherson with a serious look on his face, together with his comrades, made an offering of flowers onto the memorial plate.
The plate was established on the compound of Iwashita Public Hall near the former campsite. With MacPherson's previous visit of 2 years ago to Emukae as a start, Shoichi Ishizuka, ex-president of Japan-Australia Association Joetsu, made the memorial plate, and the town did its pedestal.
MacPherson was brought to the Emukae POW camp and labored at the Sumitomo Senryu Coal Mine. In April 2002, he visited the town with his son and other members for the first time after the war. With good impressions of his last visit in mind, he returned to the town again. This time, moved by MacPherson's story about Emukae, Jack Boon, 87, an Australian ex-POW, who was forced to work at Saganoseki in Oita and Omuta in Fukuoka, accompanied him to Emukae.
"Our Japanese workshop leader was kind to us and so I don't have only bad memories. Every time I return to Emukae, I'm happy to receive a warm welcome from the townspeople," said MacPherson.
267 Allied Prisoners of War were imprisoned
In memory of the 17 British and 3 Australian men who died here,
Special thanks to Koshi Kobayashi for this article translation
Visit to Saganoseki, Kyushu
The Yomiuri Shinbun