It’s taken almost seven decades but yesterday Japan’s Foreign Minister, Seiji Maehara, finally apologised to a small group of former WWII prisoners of war in Tokyo for their treatment at his country’s hands while they were in captivity.
The long-awaited mea-culpa will give some measure of closure to the dwindling band of surviving veterans who endured and it heightens the prospect of securing Japanese Government assistance in finally solving the 69-year-old mystery of who was aboard the Montevideo Maru, which had its holds chock full of Australian Diggers from Lark Force and civilians when it was unwittingly sunk by an American submarine in 1942.
The Australian POWs who received the apology showed superhuman forgiveness in accepting it. One Thai-Burma Railway survivor, Harold Ramsey, 89, said he believed the apology was “sincere”. Prior to meeting the Japanese Foreign Minister, Mr Ramsey had said: “If you go through life full of hate, the only person you hurt is yourself.”
At the meeting, Mr Maehara also said that Japan would return to Australia historical records of former Australian POWs held by Japan during World War II. Ironically, these records – believed to be an extensive set of index cards - were originally offered to Australia by the Japanese Government in 1953. The Australian Government of the day chose not to take up the offer, saying it did not believe that they would not contain any new information.
On the contrary the Rabaul and Montevideo Maru Society has been asking the Australian Government to intercede with the Japanese Government to seek access to the records because it believes it may unlock the mystery of the fate of the POWs and civilians who perished on the Montevideo Maru.