Former enemies join forces in mission to conquer bitterness

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On the steps of Church House, a short walk from the site of the official VJ-Day events, 150 people posed smiling for a group photograph yesterday.

Some wore medals denoting service in the Second World War, not an unusual sight on a VJ-Day anniversary, but what made the gathering unique was that 25 of the group were Japanese.

It was made quite clear to the Japanese that they were not welcome at official VJ-Day events. The legacy of bitterness left by the fierce fighting in the Far East and the ill-treatment of Allied prisoners was too strong.

But the Burma Campaign Fellowship Group, which consists of about 100 veterans committed to reconciliation, decided to invite the Japanese to their remembrance service at Westminster Abbey yesterday.

Diplomats from the Japanese embassy were there in an unofficial capacity along with members of the Japanese business community in London, friends of the Burma campaign group members, and at least one war veteran.

Masao Hirakubo, a former captain in the Japanese 58th Infantry Regiment who now lives in London, was one of those who organised the service.

He said: "As soon as I heard that the Japanese were not to be allowed to the VJ-Day events I had this service in mind. I am very happy that we have been able to organise it."

Kazuo Tamayama, secretary of the Japan British Society who had travelled from Tokyo for the service, added: "I think it is wonderful to be able to attend. I think this is an important part of the VJ-Day events."

The group - which included Lord Weatherill, a former Commons Speaker, who read a lesson - walked across to the Abbey where numbers swelled to several hundred.

The Very Rev Michael Moyne, Dean of the Abbey, called for reconciliation, saying: "It is my passionate belief that we best honour those who died in the Second World War and those who still suffer from its effects by learning the liberating power of forgiveness."

The views of the Burma group are anathema to most of the veterans to fought the Japanese, but it remains determined to increase the links it has already established.