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Saturday, 25 August 2012

Lest we forget. A pilgrimage to the Commonwealth War Cemetary in Yokohama, Japan

August 19 is the anniversary of the Battle of Dieppe which was a disaster for the Canadian Army in 1942.
Another disaster which befell Canadian troops was their defence of Hong Kong in 1941. The main troops for this campaign came from the Royal Winnipeg Grenadiers and The Royal Rifles of Canada.
Unknown to me, there were many Atlantic Canadians who fought in that battle. Here in Japan, there are about 12 of them buried in the cemetery in Yokohama.
I took my Japanese wife and two children and Japanese co-worker through the cemetery to pay our respects. What I felt was a place of peace and love. It was a beautiful sunny Sunday summer afternoon. It was 31c. The graves are tended well, a beautiful landscaped area set in the middle of a busy Japanese city. The sad fact is that many Japanese are unaware of what the place is. As my family walked through, we talked to some of the Japanese. There was a few young couples reading. I asked an old woman if she knew where the Canadian section was as we became lost. We made back to the front gate and found a map. The Canadians are buried with several New Zealand troops. She then followed us and was surprised to find that I was looking for the graves of men who were from my part of Canada. My teaching co-worker was moved by my desire to pay respects to my countrymen.
One of the most sad aspects of the burials are the dates. Most of these men died between 1943-45. After being defeated in Hong Kong, they were marched into POW camps and their personal hell began. The official Japanese position during the war was to use Allied prisoners as slave labourers. These men died either slaving away in the coal mines of Northern Japan, the dockyards and were killed either by abuse, starvation, and allied bombing on the sites they were working on.
I took it upon myself to photograph the Maritimers who I could find. In future, when I have the chance, I will go back and take more pictures.
One of the most touching moments was when both of my children knelt at a cross and with hands together, prayed for the souls of these brave men, some hardly out of their teens. In an upper section were the graves of Commonwealth troops who died during the Allied Occupation of Japan, and those who died of wounds received in the Korean War (1950-53). What brought tears to my families eyes were the graves of children of service personnel who died during the occupation. Some were only days old.
My children laughed and played in the shade, running and saying Hello to soldiers who to them are names on bronze plaques. I was wearing my Royal Artillery t-shirt, and my son then realised what my shirt meant. He then went through and pointed out gunners who had died, and then found Maple Leaves for the Canadians. My wife wished that wars would stop. The men and boys who are there at rest are about the same age as my teenage sons.
I hope that with this posting, I can touch those Canadians who are unable to travel to Japan to visit this special place.
Below are the graves which I took. Please leave polite comments and I will try to get back to you.

Perry Sarty was from Mersey Point, Nova Scotia


This soldier had the same name as myself, Roderick.

Howard Bent was from Waterville, Nova Scotia

Angus Jacquard was from Little River Harbour, Yarmouth County, Nova Scotia

John Gee was from Arthurette, New Brunswick

Elmer Cole was from Sussex, New Brunswick

Irvin Ray was from St. Mary's River, Nova Scotia

Leo Bottie was from Ardoise West, Nova Scotia

Lloyd Roblee was from Sackville, New Brunswick.
I have also contacted the Royal Canadian Legion about these pictures.
The phamplet which was at the site lists as this:
Yokohama War Cemetery was begun by the 38th Australian War Graves Unit in 1945, and the graves of POW casualties from throughout Jpaan were concentrated into this, the only Commonwealth War Cemetery in the country. It is located 6 miles (about 10km) south of Yokohama, in Yuenchi Park, Hodogaya. Unusually for a Commonwealth war cemetery, it has four main sections; UK, Australian, Indian/Pakistan and a combined New Zealand and Canadian. In total there are 1,555 Second World War burials, including one Dutch war grave. There is also a plot containing 171 servicemen who died during the Allied occupation.
The Yokohama Cremation Memorial houses and urn which contains he ashes of 335 Commonwealth, American and Dutch casualties who died as Prisoners of War in Japan and whose remains were cremated. Of these, the names of 284 are known and are inscribed on the walls of the Memorial. Also in the cemetery stands the Yokohama Memorial which bears the names of 20 Indian casualties who dided in Japan and whose place of burial is unknown.

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