The granddaughter of a World War II British prisoner of war (POW) is visiting Taiwan in commemoration of Private John Hayes, who was held in prison camps in Taiwan and Thailand.
Joanne Officer, along with her husband, visited one such camp in Pingtung County on her first trip to Taiwan, which she said was a “memorial” to her grandfather.
The couple also toured the POW Memorial Park in Jinguashi (金瓜石), New Taipei City (新北市), the site of one of the most notorious Japanese camps, known as Kinkaseki.
Officer said she found her grandfather’s name on a war memorial at the park, among the names of 4,362 other POWs who were held in camps around Taiwan between 1942 and 1945. Those were the last four years of Japanese colonization of Taiwan, which began in 1895.
On Saturday evening, Officer attended a program in Taipei organized by the non-profit Taiwan POW Camps Memorial Society to mark Far East Prisoner of War Day, which is observed on Wednesday.
At the program dedicated to military personnel and civilians imprisoned by Japanese forces during World War II, Officer shared her grandfather’s story.
She said Hayes was among those fortunate enough to return home after suffering the hardships of war camps.
The thought of his “wife and son back home” was the greatest motivation for him to survive the difficult conditions, Officer said.
“His eyes were quite sad,” she added.
Saturday’s program also featured a screening of the documentary The True Story of the Bridge on the River Kwai, which details the experience of the POWs who constructed the Railway of Death in Burma and Thailand.
The film showed the POWs endured terrible mental and physical mistreatment at the hands of Japanese forces. The prisoners suffered starvation, disease, overwork, beatings and torture, according to the documentary.
What they went though is something that “should not have happened to human beings,” one of the POWs in the documentary said.
“It is very moving,” Officer said, tears streaming down her cheeks as she watched the film.
The joy of those POWs who eventually made it home reminded her of her grandfather, she said.
Officer and her husband will wrap up their trip today.
A memorial service has been held annually by the Taiwan POW Camps Memorial Society since 2008, one year after the UK designated Aug. 15 a day of commemoration for those who were imprisoned in East and Southeast Asia by Japanese troops, said Michael Hurst, the Canadian founder and director of the organization.
In addition to organizing the annual memorial service, Hurst has been instrumental in setting up monuments and other memorials at former POW camps around Taiwan.
“Their [the POWs’] stories must be told,” Hurst said.