Mon, Nov 13, 2017 - Page 3 News List

POWs return to remember, share

By Han Cheung  /  Staff reporter

A woman lays flowers at the Kinkaseki Prisoner of War Memorial at Jinguashi in New Taipei City yesterday.

Photo: CNA

Charles Beecroft bought his father, Nick, a plane ticket to Taiwan as a birthday present this year. It was a completely unfamiliar place, but the journey was deeply personal as Nick’s father, Thomas, spent nearly three years in Taiwan as a Japanese prisoner-of-war (POW) during World War II.

“I didn’t want [my father] to look back in 10, 15 years’ time and wish he had done it, but was no longer physically able to,” Charles said. “This seemed like the best time.”

Thomas did not spend time in the Kinkaseki camp in New Taipei City’s Jinguashi (金瓜石), but the Beecrofts yesterday visited the site to take part in the annual Remembrance Day service to honor the more than 4,350 Allied prisoners that passed through 14 POW camps across Taiwan.

The ceremony also marked the 20th anniversary of the dedication of the Kinkaseki POW Memorial — the first of many to be built by the Taiwan POW Camps Memorial Society.

Looking back on the organization’s 20 years, society founder Michael Hurst said the original goal was just to get the memorial built, but that turned out to just be the beginning.

“We just spent NT$1 million [US$33,143] to build this memorial; don’t you think it’s reasonable to find the prisoners we built this for to let them know?” Hurst had told his committee members. “But other than four or five of them, we didn’t know anybody.”

Hurst started writing letters to veterans’ organizations in January 1998, and discovered the first camp outside of Kinkaseki in Hualien County a month later with the help of local residents.

“It grew and grew over the years. Not a day goes by in a year that I don’t hear from someone who wants to know about their dad or granddad,” Hurst said.

Many people get in touch with Hurst, because POWs typically do not talk about their experiences with their family members.

“Before this trip, I fell into the camp of relatives who knew relatively little about the wartime experiences of their loved ones,” Nick Beecroft said. “He said almost nothing apart from a few humorous anecdotes. Somehow, I didn’t like to ask. It seemed like an intrusion on his pain.”

However, there were signs of past trauma. Nick said that 25 years after his release, his father would still have a huge reaction to being woken up, because as a POW, that usually meant he was to receive a beating.

Jim Ferguson, who visits Taiwan for business, has attended the service four times for his father George, who spent time at a camp in Taipei’s Dazhi (大直).

“Granddad never talked about his time as a POW,” his daughter Fiorelle said. “He was a very happy man. Until I arrived in Taiwan, I hadn’t really appreciated what really happened during his time here.”

Jim has brought his brother and wife to Taiwan before, but this is the first time a member of the younger generation is attending.

“The biggest thing is it’s the next generation that needs to carry on the memories and the stories,” Fiorelle said.

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