Former prisoners of war received a chance to lay wartime ghosts to rest in a remembrance ceremony in Taipei County's Chinkuashih yesterday.
Over 100 people gathered yesterday to commemorate the memory of the 542 men that were interned at the Japanese POW camp Kinkaseki in Chinkuashih in a simple ceremony that had POW family members tearing up and former World War II veterans solemn, but joyful, as they swore to "forgive, but never forget."
Chinkuashih, a former mining community outside the tourist town of Chiufen, is known for the copper mine that produced its "golden waterfalls"and the more infamous Japanese prisoner of war camp, Kinkaseki, reportedly one of the most brutal Japanese prisoner of war camps in Asia. A total of 542 men were among the first wave of Allied soldiers brought to Kinkaseki after the Japanese conquered Singapore in 1942. Without regard for the health or safety of their charges, the Japanese forced the American, British, Australian, and Dutch soldiers at Kinkaseki to work under extremely dangerous conditions in the nearby Kinkaseki copper mine, the largest such facility in the Japanese empire at the time.
Kinkaseki was one of at least 15 POW camps in Taiwan.
This year seven POWs who had been interned in prison camps in Taiwan were present at the remembrance service: Harold Brant, Sid Dodds, Jack Fowler, George Reynolds, Clement Schmitt, Ben Slack, and Stan Vickerstaff.
Representing her father Robert Glendinning, who was interned in Taiwan from 1942 until his death in 1945, Moira Webster said that it was very emotional for her to make this first trip to Taiwan.
Webster, whose father died at the Oka POW camp north of Taipei when she was 12, just two weeks shy of the Allied victory that set the POWs interned in Taiwan free, teared as she laid a wreath on the memorial stone marking the location of the Kinkaseki camp.
"If only he had held on for two more weeks, life might have been different," said Webster yesterday.
Speaking at the ceremony on his first trip back to Kinkaseki in 62 years, Schmitt recalled the terrible conditions of POW camps in Taiwan.
Schmitt was interned in the Taichu camp for 40 days before being sent to work in the shipyards in Yokohama.
"When we were first captured, our superior told us, you are POWs now. Don't antagonize them [the Japanese]; just go along with them,"said Schmitt yesterday, adding that it was taking that advice to heart that carried him through his five years as a prisoner of war.
The remembrance ceremony yesterday was co-held by the Taiwan POW Camps Memorial Society and the New Zealand Commerce and Industry Office. To learn more about POWs in Taiwan, see the society's webpage at www.powtaiwan.org.