Richard Day, 97, is a former British soldier who fought against the Japanese Imperial Army in Operation Imphal during World War II. He and other British Army veterans visited Japan for a series of memorial events in the country. They also attended an October 20 press conference at the Japan National Press Club in Tokyo.
At a memorial service in Yamagata, Day shook hands with a former Japanese soldier, the enemy he had once fought against. He also spoke of the warm and friendly treatment he received from the Japanese. "I felt no hate (towards them) and had no disagreement with them," he said, speaking of his recent encounters with former Japanese Imperial Army soldiers. "I wish for us all to continue on a friendly basis."
The Hardships of Imphal
In 1944, the Japanese Imperial Army launched Operation Imphal to capture northeastern India, which was under British control. Approximately 30,000 Japanese soldiers died from the fierce fighting, and another 40,000 from starvation and disease, according to Japanese records. Many consider Operation Imphal one of the most vicious battles of the war.
Mr Day was one of those fighting on the British side. He was drafted at 18 and fought as a British Army soldier in Kohima in northeastern India. In October 2023 he was invited to Japan under the auspices of the Burma Campaign Society (BCS). The organization promotes mutual understanding and reconciliation between former British and Japanese soldiers.
Rememberances Prompted by Memorial Services
A memorial service at Chidorigafuchi National Cemetery in Tokyo was one of several attended by Mr Day. The cemetery is home to Japan's "Tomb of the Unknown Soldier." Day also attended another service at the Commonwealth War Cemetery in Yokohama's Hodogaya district.
At a service in Shonai-machi, Yamagata Prefecture, the former British soldier shook hands with a 104-year-old Japanese veteran who fought on the Japanese side at Kohima. Day laid flowers at the grave of Lieutenant General Kotoku Sato, who hailed from Yamagata Prefecture and led the Kohima offensive.
Visits to Kyoto and Hiroshima were also on Day's itinerary. After the war, Day stayed in Kyoto for several months. As he prepared to leave Japan at that time, he recounted an episode illustrating how the Japanese and former British soldier got along. "The staff from the hotel came (to Kyoto Station) to see me off," he said. "Unfortunately, I couldn't get across the tracks to talk to them because my train was due (at) any time."
Reconciliation between Japan and the UK has been facilitated by the Five Eyes. The Five Eyes (FVEY) is a framework for sharing classified information among the United Kingdom, United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. Representatives from these nations and the Netherlands also attended the joint memorial service at the Chidorigafuchi National Cemetery. It was the first time that non-British ambassadors and military officials stationed in Japan had participated in these memorial services.
BCS Chairman Akiko Macdonald emphasized the significance of the event. "Not only the British and Japanese but also the FVEY countries that share the same values participated in the service. This is a great achievement and shows that these nations are friends of Japan."
The security environment in the East Asia region is the worst it's been in the postwar era. Japan is surrounded by three aggressive nuclear powers (China, Russia, and North Korea).
However, through postwar reconciliatory initiatives such as the ceremony at Chidorigafuchi, Japan has communicated its alignment with the FVEY countries and the Netherlands to the world.
British Army Lieutenant Colonel Paul Corden accompanied Day on this visit to Japan. Colonel Corden talked about the importance of Japanese-British solidarity amid the changing international climate. "Britain and other allied countries join Japan in facing the new threats (from) Russia, China, and North Korea," he affirmed.
Former British Army Colonel James Bogle, who also participated in the reconciliation tour, visited Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Criticizing the use of atomic bombs, Bogle said, "Civilians should never be a target deliberately. I think it was morally wrong to drop (atomic) bombs on civilians in Hiroshima and Nagasaki."
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(Read the report in Japanese.)
Author: Noburu Okabe