In 1988, Keiko C Holmes, who lives in London, visited Japan soon after her husband’s tragic death, and in her home county ‘Kiwa-Cho’, she found a marvellously rebuilt memorial-grave of sixteen Far East Prisoners of War (FEPOWs), who died working in the Iruka copper mine in a neighbouring village called Iruka during WWII. Inspired by the moving sight and the Roll of Honour, she decided to find the sixteen mothers and the returned FEPOWs to show her photos and tell them the story.
Immediately, she started to search for people who knew the FEPOWs in Kiwa-Cho and beyond. Finding out that her father’s driver worked in the copper mine when he was seventeen, she interviewed him. He recollected that the FEPOWs and the miners worked side by side, sharing the dangers and hunger together. He remembered a few FEPOWs by name and what they had told the miners about their jobs and families.
Iruka is in Kiwa-Cho. Kumano City, where Keiko’s brother and his family live, is along the Pacific Ocean coastline, about thirty minutes drive from Kiwa-Cho. She met a former soldier at her brother’s, who was in Thailand during the war. He recounted the following:
“Our officer ordered us to complete the Thai-Burma Railway sooner than expected. We treated the POWs unfairly and drove them to work harder. As it was, one day the circumstances changed completely - we, the Japanese Army, surrendered to the British Army. Now under British supervision, we engaged in exhuming corpses alongside the railway. We feared being treated badly by them, and hid our faces with our towels to avoid recognition as individuals. One day Andrew, a British soldier, came up to me, took off my towel and looked into my eyes. I froze. However, contrary to my expectation, he said thus, ‘Take your time, there’s no need to hurry.’ I hear that there are many Christians in Britain. He must have been a Christian, that is why he could treat us in such an extraordinary manner. I am sure of it. I have long since forgotten every other British soldier’s name, but I will never forget Andrew.”
Keiko’s brother also showed her the local evening newspaper, which carried a report about a memorial service which had taken place, where Keiko and her mother had seen the large orchid wreath earlier in the afternoon. It had been organised by former school children who had worked in the mine for the war effort. About twenty of them, now in their 60s, reminisced about the FEPOWs with whom they had exchanged language lessons.
After nearly a year of prayer, Keiko got to know an Iruka POW, Joe Cummings, who lived in Northumberland. They started to correspond. Keiko travelled back and forth to Japan with Joe’s messages to the locals each year, and interviewed more people who were active during the war.
In 1991, after being told by Joe about a FEPOW Conference in London, against all the odds, Keiko attended it. In the midst of the reunion of 1000 unfriendly FEPOWs and their families, Keiko realised how much the war had affected so many people. She sensed that God wanted her to do something for them and needed her to work with Him. She prayed that she might be useful to Him.
Each time Keiko visited Japan, she met and interviewed interesting people. Together with the FEPOWs’ essays, she compiled a booklet, ‘Little Britain’ in both languages in December 1991.
Through ‘Little Britain’, Keiko gained more FEPOWs’ hearts and, after many uphill struggles, took 26 of them to Kiwa-Cho for the first ‘Agape Pilgrimage of Reconciliation’ in October 1992.
Keiko has visited numerous FEPOWs and Civilian Internees and their families all over Britain, Holland, United States, Canada, Australia and many parts of South East Asia for reconciliation work.
Since 1992 she has been taking FEPOWs, Civilian internees and members of their family to Japan each year. After positive media’s report, more people, an increased number of Japanese enterprises, and the Japanese government, started to support in 1996.
Since 2006, almost all the support has dried up. We are continuing on a small scale. So far we have taken about 500 people from different countries to Japan on our Pilgrimages of Reconciliation.
1996 Given the Japan Society Award for her work in Anglo-Japanese Reconciliation.
1998 Conferred OBE by HM Queen Elizabeth II in recognition of her work in fostering Anglo-Japanese Reconciliation.
1999 Given the Foreign Ministry Award by the Japanese Government.
2000 Given the title of Companion of the Cross of Nails by the Coventry Cathedral on 18th August.
2018 Given the Order of the Rising Sun, Gold and Silver Rays by the Japanese Emperor.
Keiko was intervewed by NHK, the Japanese public broadcaster in a documentary reviewing the HEISEI period, as Emperor Akihito, after 30 years on the Chrysanthemum Throne, abdicated on 30th April 2019.
You can watch the documentary in Japanese via the NHK website.