Burma veteran reveals he committed jungle atrocity

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A Burma veteran relived the moment he comitted a war-time atrocity yesterday when he confessed to murdering a wounded Japanese prisoner. John Nunneley, then a young lieutenant leading African troops on an intelligence patrol in Burma's Kabaw ("Death") Valley, confessed during a church service broadcast live on Radio 4 .

"Burma was a savage campaign. In the heat of battle there are no Queensberry Rules. It's 'kill or be killed'. There's no doubt that atrocities were committed by both sides.

"One incident 50 years ago had a profound influence on my life. My patrol behind enemy positions found a wounded Japanese soldier on a makeshift bed, in a grass hut. He gave a slight smile, perhaps to conceal his fear of the huge soldiers looming over him. He looked thirsty and hungry, and we gave him water and a biscuit while I thought what to do with him.

"We had to continue the patrol, so we could not carry him with us as a prisoner. I knew that the wounded man must not be allowed to live. And I knew that because a single revolver shot would bring the enemy upon us,he had to die silently. There is no tiny detail of that jungle scene which is not etched deeply on my mind's eye. Of all the Japanese soldiers I've fought, he's the one whose face stands before me. In those few moments when we looked at one another he taught me the value of human life. As the years passed I knew I must make amends for that young soldier I condemned to death."

The confession came during a service in St Margaret's Church, Westminster, the MPs' "parish church", which was also addressed by the former Speaker of the House of Commons, Lord Weatherill.

Talking outside the church about his confession, Mr Nunneley said: "I am not going to duck the issue. There must have been thousands of us who had to kill Japanese other than in the heat of battle. We were ordered to kill Japanese. But we were not ordered to continue that hatred after the war. Some may think my experience is trivial. But it was an atrocity comitted by a conventional church-going man, and it has affected me deeply. This is the first time I have ever talked about it.

"The Burma Campaign Fellowship Group to which I belong is about 100-strong. We are not a religious or political group. We do not lobby. We simply say 'enough is enough', and if there's a choice between continuing hatred and reconciliation, then we'll go for reconciliation. Among us we have a DSO, 16 MCs, a DFC, an MM, a DSM and no fewer than 10 Mentions in Dispatches, as well as two Military MBEs. So I feel that gives us the right to hold these opinions."

The Burma Campaign Fellowship Group has formed links with Japan's 18,000- strong Burma Veterans' group.