Japan veterans begin legal fight in solemn mood

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The Independent Online
A group of former Allied prisoners of war and civilian internees launch a painful and controversial court case today to demand financial compensation and, more importantly, a clear apology from the Japanese government for their suffering in captiv ity.

Timed for the 50th anniversary of the end of the Second World War, the legal action by plaintiffs from Britain, Australia, New Zealand, and the United States is intended to harness foreign opinion to the vulnerability of the Japanese conscience to redress wrongs which their own governments have long tended to overlook.

Horrific testimonies from former Allied captives have already been assembled by their London solicitor, Martyn Day.

The eve of the legal battle was fittingly devoted to solemn remembrance. Sunday began with a memorial service at the Yokohama Cemetery, to pray and lay poppy wreaths at memorial crosses. Each of the cemetery's 1,520 grave stones bore witness to men, mostly in their twenties, who had perished in Japan after being brought here as prisoners during the Second World War.

Gordon Clack was there to see for the first time the resting place of his elder brother Arthur, who was captured just as Singapore fell to the Japanese. Shipped to a prison camp in Fukuoka, southern Japan, 23-year-old Arthur Clack died there in December 1942 from an unknown illness. When Gordon came across his brother's grave, he broke down. "I had been planning to come out here for years, yet when I finally got there I was dying to get away from the place. I paid my debt, and that of the rest of my family," he said.

Phyllis Jameson could not bear the visit to the cemetery either. In 1942 the ship in which she was fleeing Singapore with her family was bombed and sunk, and while Phyllis, then 13, managed to get into a lifeboat, nearly all her family, except for her father, were killed.

She spent the rest of the war in prison camps in Indonesia, where part of her work was to dig graves for other prisoners who died from malnutrition or disease. She was once badly beaten by a Japanese guard for telling him: "Dig it yourself!"

Arthur Titherington, a former PoW, summed up the feelings of the majority: "It's been very good. Only thing I can say is that I'm glad I'm not resting here."

The highlight of the afternoon was to be a set-piece ``reconciliation,'' with the Allied veterans meeting three Japanese former soldiers in private before a joint ceremony at Japan's tomb of the unknown soldier.

Two of the former Allied prisoners excused themselves from the ``reconciliation.'' Ms Jameson said: "Until they apologise to us, why should we honour their dead?"