Why we built the memorial plates on Mukaishima:
An American flag after 68 years

Koshi Kobayashi



 

In October 1998, a group of FEPOWs (Far East Prisoners of War) and bereaved family members from Britain, 24 in all, visited Mukaishima. Among them, there was one POW who had been detained in the Mukaishima Prison Camp. His name was Norman Widlake. He showed me a photo of a wooden gravepost together with a nameplate on which 23 British POWs’ names were written. They died in the camp during the war, but one of them died just after the war, and his ashes were reportedly returned to Britain.

(Gravepost for the British POWs)

After the British tour group returned home, we, 10 members, had a reflection meeting. One Japanese elderly man who had been forced to work in Siberia as a POW, suddenly raised his voice, “The gravepost exists somewhere in the nearby mountains. It’ a shame to us Japanese if we don’t recognize its existence!” Thereafter, we searched for it in the nearby hills and mountains for one year, but in vain. After that, a priest from a Japanese temple told us that it had existed on a hillside near the Onomichi Jail on the mainland. We visited the grave site, but there was no gravepost. We happened to ask a farmer doing his work nearby, whether he knew of the gravepost. He said, “Yes, there used to be a post over there, but around 1947, two or three people came here and it seems as if they removed the post in order to take the ashes somewhere.” Thereafter, they were moved to the British Commonwealth War Cemetery in Yokohama.

The Rev. Mitsuo Minamizawa and I felt that a memorial plate for the deceased 23 British men would be needed because a group of British people were likely to come to Mukaishima every year from then on. The Rev. Minamizawa became the leader of the campaign to raise money for the memorial project from the public as well as from his Christian church. With the cooperation of the old Mukaishima Spinning Co., we had the memorial plate made and attached it onto the red-brick wall of the former camp house in March 2002. Also, just after its completion, we held an unveiling ceremony for the plate together with a group of British POW’s relatives. To date, 180 former British POWs and bereaved family members have visited Mukaishima.
 


Former Prison Camp with the British Memorial

In the same year that the memorial plate was set up, I unexpectedly received a letter from an American POW, Harold Baker who was imprisoned in the Mukaishima camp. In his letter, he wrote that out of 100 American POWs held in Mukaishima one had died. His name was George B. Scott, and he died on February 13, 1945. That was the first time that 1 became aware that an American soldier had died there. In the letter, Baker also wrote about a warmhearted Japanese supervisor named Kaoru Fukuoka who had been in charge of Baker’s work group during his toil in the Hitachi shipyard. The two above-mentioned items were also written in a letter from Mr. Edward Malikowski, who will come to Mukaishima sometime soon. He is a younger brother of Francis Malikowski who was held in the Mukaishima camp.


100 American POWs at Mukaishima Camp

From the time that I found out this piece of information, I considered setting up a memorial plate for Mr. Scott.  In December 2011, unexpectedly, Mukaishima Spinning Co. went out of business, and as a result, the British memorial plate had to be relocated. At first, some people firmly maintained that the red-brick walls of the former camp building with a 95-year-old history should be preserved. But the old building was pulled down and removed, because it belonged to a private company and it was likely to give a bad image to business. With our luck, however, through the courtesy of the supermarket “EVERY” which took over the site of the old company, we were allowed to use one small area of the new company’s land for free. After that, our desire grew stronger to establish a plate for the American POW. One year and three months after the company went bankrupt we completed a new memorial plate.
 


From left, British Memorial Plate and American one (inscription)


Commanding Officer Col. Stewart

On April 15, 2013, we held an unveiling ceremony for the newly-built plate for the American POW along with the relocated British plate. The ceremony was attended by many people, including U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni Commanding Officer, Colonel James C. Stewart, British Consulate General of Osaka Consul General, Simon Fisher, Onomichi City Vice-Mayor, Kazuharu Goriki, 73 fourth graders of Mukaishima Chuo Elementary School and many other people, about 120 in total. The ceremony opened with a guitar rendition of “Amazing Grace,” followed by both a Christian and Buddhist invocation. Once unveiled, a floral tribute began with bouquets laid at the base of the memorial, followed by guest’s remarks.

The following address was made by a school girl:

Today, thank you for letting me join the unveiling ceremony for the Japan-UK and USA Friendship Memorial. I learned at school that there was a Prison Camp on Mukaishima many years ago.     

I had already known that there is a monument called “The Wing of Time” near Mukaishima Junior High School, but it was my teacher who told me that this site had been used for the prison camp. Standing in front of the memorial, I feel the preciousness of peace. I believe the memorial is a witness of peace between Japan and America and Japan and Britain.

We are now living peacefully in Mukaishima, the same place that was affected by war 68 years ago. Appreciating such a peaceful life, and after taking part in the ceremony, I feel I must study more about the history of Mukaishima and the preciousness of peace. Thank you.       
                 
---  Aoi Ode,  fourth grader from Mukaishima Chuo Elementary School
 

From left, British Consul General Simon Fisher, Aoi Ode and the author
 


Nao Imaoka (9) and Commanding Officer Col. Stewart


When an American flag was raised for the first time on the island of Mukaishima just after the war, it was reportedly the first flag raised on Japanese soil after the cessations of hostilities. American planes began dropping food and medical supplies on Mukaishima. The flag was improvised with the parachute cloth. At the first flag-raising, Sgt. Clifford Omtvedt said, “Tears streamed down the gaunt cheeks of every prisoner. Some of them were so weak from the starvation they were barely able to stand at attention.” On September 13, 1945, the liberated prisoners were marched to the port of Onomichi with Omtvedt carrying the flag and went back to their home country.

At the unveiling ceremony, a brand-new Old Glory billowed again on the former site of the prison camp for the first time in 68 years. After thinking for 15 years that a memorial should be built for the Americans, I was finally able to see it happen.
 

* Koshi Kobayashi lives in Hiroshima Prefecture and is a member of POW Research Network Japan.