Christians commanded to forgive but horrors cannot be forgotten

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The Independent Online

The singing of the choir swept gracefully and soothingly into the Great Dome of St Paul's Cathedral yesterday. But in the congregation below there was a host of sad memories .

These were the people who had suffered most at the hands of the Japanese. As prisoners of war or civilian internees they had endured torture and beatings and watched as their comrades died.

Of the congregation of 2,000, three-quarters were former prisoners each with his or her memories. All had gathered to remember those who had died in the Far East theatre of war. No one had forgotten and many still find it hard to forgive.

Before the service, Arthur Titherington, Secretary of the Japanese Labour Camps Survivors Association, said "I will be remembering the people who did not come home, all my friends who didn't make it"

The service organised by several groups of veterans of the Far East conflict was not official but it was attended by the Duke of Edinburgh who read a lesson, Lord Cranborne, the Lord Privy Seal, and Frank Dobson, representing the Labour Party.

The number of official guests had been kept to a minimum to give priority to former prisoners. There had been fierce competition for tickets with more than 4,000 people applying.

Although the service was also to remember those killed in action, it was dominated by the experiences of prisoners of war who are still demanding a full apology and compensation from the government in Tokyo

They listened to a sermon from the Rt Rev Michael Mann, a former Chaplain to the Queen and himself an ex-soldier.

He said "The prisoners died like flies because they were treated like flies. Some people say that it is time for old men to forget the horrors of 50 years ago and to the young it is now part of history. But to reject past experience of human nature imposes upon a future generation a heavy cost which too often has to be paid for with the lives of more young men.

"As a Christian I am commanded to forgive but should I forget? Does not that seem a betrayal of their sacrifice and their memories. Perhaps what we need is a healing of our memories."