Emperor gets the cold shoulder Japanese visitor stirs bitter war memories of British veterans


LONDON -- It was a very British snub, filled with pomp, circumstance and anger as 1,000 veterans of Japanese prisoner of war camps turned their backs yesterday on a gilded royal carriage ferrying Japanese Emperor Akihito during his state visit to Great Britain.

The veterans and civilian internees were seeking an apology -- and compensation -- over harsh treatment they endured in Japanese camps during World War II.

"Everyone says, 'It's 50 years, let it go.' But it's 50 years because the Japanese have procrastinated about this," said Arthur Titherington, 76, chairman of the Japanese Labor Camps

Survivors Association.

The old soldiers brought out their medals and told stories filled with horror and heartbreak. They spoke of such places as Singapore's Changi jail and the Thai-Burma railway, destinations a trail of misery and death.

And between thunderstorms, they turned on their heels and showed their displeasure, while rows of spit-and-polish Household Cavalry escorted Emperor Akihito and Queen Elizabeth II down an elegant and historic road called the Mall.

Some protesters whistled "Colonel Bogey," the march that gained fame in the movie "The Bridge on the River Kwai." Others booed. One veteran burned a Japanese flag. Many wore red gloves to symbolize the blood they said was on Japan's hands and white sashes saying they were prisoners or war.

Others along the route waved Japanese and British flags handed out by workers for a Japanese bank and members of the Nippon Club, an association of Japanese citizens.

"I don't think anyone will really forgive or forget," said Rose

Shurvington, 82, whose brother Jack died after four years as a prisoner.

She wore a sash that said "Prisoners of Japan," and a button that read "Block Out the Rising Sun Until Justice Is Done."

Later, at Buckingham Palace, Emperor Akihito was presented with the Order of the Garter, Britain's highest order of chivalry, by Queen Elizabeth.

"If I could talk with the emperor, I'd sit down over a cup of tea and try to explain to him that he should use any influence he can to bring this matter to a close," said Titherington, who was imprisoned in Singapore and Taiwan.

At a state banquet at Buckingham Palace, the emperor expressed "deep sorrow and pain" after acknowledging "the many kinds of suffering so many people have undergone because of that war."

But he stopped short of a specific apology for the war that was waged under his father, Emperor Hirohito.

Akihito, who was 12 at the end of the war, is forbidden under Japan's Constitution from stepping into politics and could not therefore deliver the kind of apology demanded by the veterans.

Most British veterans groups have encouraged reconciliation between the former foes.

In recent months, Japanese leaders have issued statements of regret about the wartime events. A spokesman for British Prime Minister Tony Blair also urged Britain to give a "warm welcome" to the emperor.

Yet memories of Japanese actions during World War II are still vivid among an estimated 9,000 British survivors of the prisoner camps.

Many of the survivors, now in their 80s, say that Japan has never fully apologized or paid for its wartime atrocities.

After the war, British survivors of the Japanese camps received a small payment from Japan -- 75 British pounds each. The veterans are undertaking a court battle in Japan to gain $22,000 for each of the survivors.

"We've got nothing against the younger Japanese," said Charles Peall, 80, who was imprisoned for more than three years.

"But we're determined they should know the story of the war. And we're determined to carry on this campaign until the last one of us is alive."

Pub Date: 5/27/98

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