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Jimmy Walker, with former 
guard Minami in Japan 
Written in October 1992 after participating in a Pilgrimage of Reconciliation to Japan 

My dear Keiko, Iruka Girl, Wonder Woman

You did it! You actually got nineteen Iruka Boys back to the prison-camp they so detested in 1944-5.

Above is the bare fact but I wonder if you realise what you did to the minds and hearts of those nineteen men. 

You see, Keiko, since 1942 all prisoners of the Japanese have detested their captors and with very good reasons. For 50 years hatred has lain in our hearts. True a tiny minority are more ready to forgive than others but the atrocities committed against us by the Japanese soldiery are something the vast majority of us will never forgive or forget. I hope I give you no offence when I do this but I'd like to give you some idea of the depth of this hatred in order to show the Pilgrimage as the miracle it actually is.

Throughout my 3½ years as a prisoner I found myself constantly seeking some sign of pity or human concern from our guards as we died in our thousands from ill-treatment, malnutrition and disease but never did I find one. When a Japanese Camp commandant, in Thailand, was told that a hundred prisoners had died that week, he roared with laughter!

Slaving on the docks of Keppel Harbour, Singapore, we watched a circle of Japanese sailors douse their pet monkey with petrol then set fire to it. As the poor creature screamed and contorted, we watched with horror but the sailors held their sides as they rocked with laughter. Little wonder that we concluded that Japan was not a nation of human beings but of uncivilised beasts. 

Many books have been written about the Railway of Death we white coolies and their slave-masters built through the jungles of Thailand and the acres of graves of young men can be visited there today and in Singapore. The sea journey from Singapore to Moji was conducted under horrific conditions and many prisoners were buried at sea.
All these British boys who died at the hands of the Japanese were, in truth, murdered.

Only the last fifteen months of our captivity were spent in Iruka and the 300 men who trudged into that village were already physical wrecks. As many Iruka boys testified Iruka camp was a tremendous improvement on the Siamese jungle - but it was no bed of roses! True we had dry shelter and clothing albeit rough but better than the near nakedness of that Railway. Food however was very, very scarce. My overall memory of Iruka was of always being hungry and the killer-cold of winter. The cold, after 2½ years in the tropics, proved the final blow to many bodies totally devoid of fat to combat the bitter winds. Death called regularly and to us the world was grey. Men were skeletons …I weighed 102 pounds and Jack Shotton was like a baby-doll weighing only 74 pounds. To hold on to the mind, your will to survive…When, at last, that glorious day dawned and we were really free we vowed that when we got home we'd never roam again..and thereby hangs a tale..

A chap called Ken Crossley who, before the war, sang with Henry Hall and his Band, wrote a little ditty in Iruka..

F-R-double E-D-O-M
Always on our mind
F-R-double E-D-O-M
And if Fate be kind
We'll be going home again
Never more to roam again
F-R-double E-D-O-M
That's our Freedom Song

But it can now be recorded that a miracle happened and twenty of us (including Doc. Wilson) did roam again!

And so you see, dear Keiko, that when we read the priest's article, this is what happened:- Fifty years of sheer hatred gave way first to amazement that Japanese people had, without any thought of publicity, lovingly tended the grave of our comrades. We had never suspected the Japanese of caring a tupenny damn for us, alive or dead. And how amazement slowly turned to love as we embraced those dear villagers of Iruka.. If only the Imperial Japanese Army had been endowed with the gracious spirit of those dear ladies, there would never have been a memorial in Iruka. I expressed that thought to Doctor Bob Wilson during that wonderful service at Iruka and he added that had that spirit been universal there would never have been a war.

So, for us, it was much more than a pilgrimage, it was the removal of the cancer of hatred from our inner beings. Although most of us can never forgive or forget…the HATRED has gone!

Arigatos and 'thank yous' however multiplied, cannot express my gratitude to you, to the good Father, to the Iruka committee, the London Committee and all those helpers and volunteers, all those lovely people we met on that memorable journey through Japan. The efforts of you all taught us that there is humanity in the ordinary folk of Japan. Humanity and love too. And for fifty years I never thought I'd ever say that. Now do you see what you did, dear Keiko, you made the world a lovelier place and here's one septuagenarian who thanks you from the bottom of his much-softened heart.

Love and admiration

Jimmy Walker

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