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A STORY OF RECONCILIATION AND REDEMPTION – THE VISIT OF FORMER JAPANESE OFFICER SHOHACHI IWAMURA WHO SERVED IN PORTUGUESE TIMOR TO PERTH IN AUGUST 1993


Edward Willis
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A STORY OF RECONCILIATION AND REDEMPTION

The visit of former Japanese officer Shohachi Iwamura who served in Portuguese Timor to Perth in August 1993

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A former Japanese officer Shohachi Iwamura who served as a platoon commander with the 48th Division in Portuguese Timor visited Perth in August 1993 and at his request met with members of the 2/2 Commando Association of Australia.

It had not been an easy matter for the 2/2 veterans to agree to host their Japanese visitor.  The Association debated the matter long and hard and there were members who openly expressed their antagonism towards the Japanese because of atrocities the invaders committed in Timor and other islands during World War II.

Nor did Mr Iwamura evade the issue, openly admitting that men under his command had raped Timorese women and that many of the Timorese men mobilised to work for the Japanese had died of starvation because they were not given food.

But there is one issue strong enough to unite the men behind a single cause.  In Osaka and in Perth, both sides have been working persistently and against heavy odds to promote the right to self-determination of the Timorese people in whose country they fought their battles in the 1940s.

The full story of this landmark meeting between former follows:

WAR FOES UNITE BEHIND COUNTRY LEFT BEHIND

 

Fifty years ago, the Portuguese colony of East Timor was the scene of fierce fighting between Australian commandos and Japanese invaders.  But some of the old enemies have now found a common cause in East Timor.  ANDRE MALAN reports on an emotional meeting in Perth yesterday.

WITH shaking hands, but a clear voice, Shohachi Iwamura yesterday made peace with his enemies of 50 years ago.

In halting English, the dignified retired engineer from the Japanese City of Osaka read from a prepared statement: "Fifty years ago, I was forced to meet you as an enemy in East Timor, but now I want to express my respect and brotherly affection for you.

"I am alive today and able to meet you because the Timorese people helped me and fed me, as they did you, when we were in need.

"Now we are no longer enemies, and I am proud to be your comrade and friend.  Thank you."

Listening to this over beer and sandwiches at a Perth hotel were about 20 timeworn Australian veterans who once would have happily killed their visitor.

"I don't think I ever saw his face in my sights," one of them whispered.  "If I had he wouldn't have been here today."

There was no malice in the quip, just a healthy dose of the seasoned larrikinism that old soldiers try on each other when they get together.

The same man later remarked: "It can't have been easy for him to come here.  I admire his guts."

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Front Row (left to right): Jack Carey, Doc Wheatley, Kiyoko Furusawa (interpreter), Shohachi Iwamura, Domingos De Olivera, Colin Doig, Bill Howell.  Back row (left to right) Bernie Langridge, George Bayliss, Ted Monk, Henry Sproxton, Geoff Swann, John Fowler, John Poynton, Ray Aitken, Bob Smyth, Jack Wicks, Dick Darrington, Les Halse, John Burridge.

 

Nevertheless, it had not been an easy matter for members of the 2/2 Commando Association to agree to host their Japanese visitor.

The association debated the matter long and hard and there were members who openly expressed their antagonism towards the Japanese because of atrocities the invaders committed in Timor and other islands during World War II.

As he posed for a picture with his guest yesterday, the association’s president, Ted Monk, did not forget the 12 men in his section of 19 who had been killed by the Japanese.

Nor did Mr Iwamura evade the issue, openly admitting that men under his command had raped Timorese women and that many of the Timorese men mobilised to work for the Japanese had died of starvation because they were not given food.

But there is one issue strong enough to unite the men behind a single cause.  In Osaka and in Perth, both sides have been working persistently and against heavy odds to promote the right to self-determination of the people in whose country they fought their battles in the 1940s.

Mr Iwamura was a 23-year-old platoon commander in the Japanese 48th Army Division when he arrived in Dili on a Japanese troopship in November 1942.

He was assigned to mopping up operations against Australian and Portuguese soldiers who had resorted to guerrilla warfare in the hills of East Timor, as well as construction of roads and other military facilities.

Yesterday, he recalled several times coming into direct contact with the Australians in East Timor.

Once he was wounded in an exchange of fire when he went into the mountains to collect horses for the Japanese troops, and on another occasion, he helped in the capture of two Australian intelligence officers who had been landed on the coast.

Mr Iwamura said that many Timorese women were raped by Japanese soldiers.

No action was taken against the rapists, but when he heard that men under his command had been guilty of assaulting Timorese women, he forced the entire platoon to kneel on stones as an act of contrition.

When the war worsened for the Japanese, he was transferred to Java, Singapore and Burma before being sent home to a country left in ruins by US air attacks.

However, like many of his contemporaries, Mr Iwamura prospered during the Japanese post-war economic revival.  He married, had two daughters and became a successful engineer.

The former soldier did not give much thought to Timor for the next 40 years until 1985, when he read an account of the 1975 Indonesian Invasion of East Timor.

He joined an infant East Timorese independence support group in Japan and in 1987 he went to New York to make an emotional address to a United Nations special committee on decolonisation.

In tears, he told the committee: "In Japan I am simply one elderly citizen, but I am determined never to forget the crimes Japan committed in World War II and to act on what I have learnt from bitter experience.

"It is painful to speak today of the sacrifices and burdens we forced, upon the East Timorese, a people who had nothing to do with the war."

He said that after the war the Japanese Government did not pay war reparations to East Timor on the ground that Portugal, the colonising power, was not an Allied country.

He noted that Japan had become Indonesia's biggest aid donor and remarked: "If Japan wants to build real friendship with Indonesia it should tell that country, ‘we know from experience that no country can escape the judgment of history on a war of aggression’.

"And let the rest of us remember that grovelling before the strong, while cutting down the weak, is the way of fascism.

"I have learnt much about this issue from young people in Japan who support the East Timorese.

"I have learnt that the big powers, because of narrow national interests, close their eyes to the injustices committed by Indonesia."

The battle for the rights of East Timorese is one that has not been forgotten by members of the 2/2 Commando Association and other veterans who fought against the Japanese on Timor.

A mob of knockabout volunteers, drawn largely from WA, the 2/2 Independent Company was sent to secure East Timor.

Faced with overwhelming odds, they made an orderly retreat into the mountainous interior of the colony and conducted an unremitting guerrilla war against the enemy.

Against far superior numbers, the handful of Australians maintained effective opposition against the Japanese at a time when Allied forces elsewhere in Asia had surrendered or been driven into retreat.

The survival of the Australians depended on the heroic support of the East Timorese and the wartime experience forged close bonds between the soldiers and the Timorese.

After the Indonesian invasion of East Timor, the veterans became a vocal lobby group in favour of a firmer Australian stand against Indonesia's aggression.  But their protests have fallen on deaf ears as successive Australian governments have put the diplomatic and economic relationship with Indonesia ahead of the rights of the East Timorese.

However, with the same persistence they displayed as soldiers, the veterans, most of them now in their 70s or older, have refused to give up.

THEY continue to lobby hard, and to supply books and other aid to the East Timorese — when they can get the goods past Indonesian officialdom.

Yesterday, Mr Iwamura was able to give them guarded good news.  He said the new Japanese Government contained a number of people who were sympathetic to the East Timorese cause and that the Diet — the Lower House of the Japanese Parliament — would in future give more consideration to the rights the East Timorese.

He and the Australian veterans also applauded a decision by the US State Department to reject a request by Jordan to sell ageing American F-5 jet fighters to Indonesia because of Jakarta's human rights record and other sensitive issues.

But nobody is optimistic enough to think that East Timorese independence is on the horizon.

Mr Iwamura yesterday told his Australian hosts of a plan by Japanese East Timor sympathisers who have collected more than $100,000 towards a special school for East Timorese expatriates in Darwin.

The idea is for East Timorese culture to be kept alive at the school in preparation for the day — if it comes — when the refugees reclaim their country. [1]

[1] Andre Malan ‘War foes unite behind country left behind’ The West Australian, Wednesday August 11, 1993: 11.

 

Col Doig reported on the meeting for the Courier as follows:

AN HISTORIC OCCASION

Visit of Mr Shohachi Iwamura and Mrs Kiyoko (Kiyo) Furusawa

 

It is necessary to give some background as to how this visit came about,

When the massacre occurred in Dili, East Timor, in November 1991 the Association made every effort to bring the plight of the people of East Timor to the attention of the world, having failed miserably to move the Australian Government to any real effort in this terrible situation, letters were forwarded to Ex Service Organisations in many parts of the world including The Legion of Ex-Servicemen in the USA, Canada, United Kingdom and New Zealand and it was also decided to include ex-service persons in Japan in the hope that they would also throw their weight behind our efforts and bring the case to the notice of the United Nations.  The only real contributor was the Ex Legion of Canada which made representations to the UN.  The American Legion said this matter was not on 'their agenda', no replies were received from the UK or New Zealand.

Regarding our overtures to the Japanese, the only response to a letter put together by Mrs P. Thatcher and translated into Japanese by a University academic was from Mr Iwamura.  It was discovered that he had already put a case to the 'Special Committee on Decolonization' on August 13, 1987.  He had told of the Japanese occupation of East Timor, 1940- 1945, and of the horrific usage by the Japanese of the East Timorese people and pleaded the case for United Nations not to allow the Indonesians to perform the same atrocities once again on these unfortunate people.  As a result of his stance he was ostracised by his own people and especially his old regimental members.  He received death threats and was generally abused.  This did not shake his determination to do something for the cause of the East Timorese, and he joined with a small band in Japan who are promoting the cause of the East Timorese in many centres of Japan, especially in Osaka and Tokyo.

Mr Iwamura was an army officer in East Timor for two years and four months, and was engaged in transportation, security, punitive operations and road construction.  He was an independent platoon commander and a battalion adjutant stationed mainly in Baucau, Baguia, and Aliambata.

As a result of correspondence between Mrs Thatcher and Kiyoko Furusawa, who speaks and writes English excellently, a request was made for these two people to visit Australia with the object of Old Foes meeting to assist the cause of the East Timorese, with the high hope that publicity generated by the visit would awaken deep interest in Japan for the cause, Japan being the greatest contributor to aid for Indonesia.  This idea was forwarded to the WA Branch of the Association for consideration, as WA is generally regarded as the parent body.  At a well-attended committee meeting on July 13, 1993 the matter was brought to the attention of the Committee by Secretary Jack Carey and Col Doig, who had both been contacted by Mrs Thatcher.  After a full and free discussion it was unanimously decided that we would be prepared to accept such a visit as it possibly could do considerable good for the cause.  The decision was conveyed to Mrs Thatcher who was the go-between for the parties.

Advice was rapidly to hand that Mr Iwamura and Kiyo Furusawa would be arriving in Perth on Tuesday, August 10 which, incidentally, was the W.A. Committee Meeting day, and that accommodation and publicity be arranged for an itinerary commencing Perth on August 10, departing for Melbourne Thursday, August 12 and on to Sydney August 15, departing for Japan, Monday, August 16.

A Sub-Committee was called in WA to arrange the necessary details for the WA visit.  Thanks to John Poynton accommodation was arranged at the Airways Hotel (where we hold our Anzac Day Reunions) at excellent rates.  Jack Carey arranged for Andre Malan, special features writer for the 'West Australian' with a photographer to interview the couple, also a segment of the Gerry Gannon talk back programme was arranged for Wednesday, August 11.  A room was booked at the Airways Hotel for a meeting with the Japanese guests and for the necessary Interviews.

It was decided that the Committee meet as usual and at midday all possible to go to the Hotel to meet with the Japanese.  Everything happened in haste and as many as possible of our members were contacted by phone and requested to attend at the Hotel where drinks and snacks were to be available.  Bob Smyth kindly arranged to meet the visitors at 1am and set them up at their hotel.  The actual meeting occurred at 12.15pm with 16 members, Andre Malan and photographer Nic Ellis and Domingos Oliveira representing the Timorese Association in W.A.

The atmosphere was one of expectancy and some excitement, but it did not take long for everyone to become acquainted with the two people who proved to be most genuine and full of personality.  Mr Iwamura did not speak English, but all proceedings were interpreted by Kiyo.  The guest was able to read a specially prepared speech in English which he handed to our President Ted Monk on its completion.  He told of the Japanese treatment of the East Timorese and also spoke of the current treatment of these unfortunate people by the Indonesians and sincerely hoped that this getting together of Old Foes would generate a high degree of publicity in Japan and so help to benefit the cause of the East Timorese people.

Many questions were passed to the speaker who answered each question in a most able manner.  It transpired that Mr Iwamura's speech at United Nations was heard by Domingos Oliveira who was also present at that dramatic meeting.  When this was made known to Mr Iwamura, he immediately left his place to embrace Mr Oliveira - it was a most touching moment. [?] During all this time Andrew Malan was taking notes and later had a lengthy interview with our guest.  Later a special photo for insertion in the 'West Australian' Wednesday edition was taken and also a full group photo was arranged, a copy of which appears in this issue.  The couple were the guests of Mr and Mrs Smyth for Tuesday's evening meal.

The coverage in the Wednesday edition of the 'West Australian' was excellent. Mr Malan did the show really proud, had all his facts right and as a publicity affair it was outstanding, and the photo came up in a grand manner.

On Wednesday, John Fowler and Jack Carey took the visitors on a tour of the suburbs after the interview for the Gerry Gannon show which was steered through for the guests by Ray Aitken.  This was an excellent interview and did the participants great credit.  A tape of this event has been forwarded to Mr Iwamura in Japan.  The couple were entertained at lunch by Jack and Delys Carey, John Fowler, Ray Aitken and Col Doig.  They proved to be a charismatic duo - Kiyoto was especially charming.  They took with them a couple of ‘History’ books and a couple of the new ‘A Great Fraternity’, Delys made a presentation of a koala which played 'A Jolly Swagman' and jack presented a special WA ball point pen made of WA timber with the Double Diamond emblem on it.  In the afternoon and evening the East Timorese of WA took over and had a good rundown with these people.

Bob Smyth delivered the couple to the airport on Thursday morning for onward transit to Melbourne.

To sum up the W.A. section of this exercise, it was as much of a success as could be made of such a project.  The couple proved to be easy to know and most intelligent.  Mr Iwamura is an engineer now retired and Kiyoko is a lecturer at a university.  Both are hard workers for the East Timorese cause in Japan and are most courageous in taking this course as it is currently not a particularly happy one to take, especially in acknowledging Japanese war crimes which definitely brought all types of repercussions on to Mr Iwamura's head.  As Ray Aitken remarked, ‘they are both people you would be happy to know’. [?]

[2] Col Doig ‘An historic occasion: visit of Mr Shohachi Iwamura and Mrs Kiyoko (Kiyo) Furusawa’ 2/2 Commando Courier October 1993: 11-14.

PASSING OF SHOHACHI IWAMURA AND HIS RECOGNITION BY THE GOVERNMENT OF TIMOR-LESTE

 

Shohachi Iwamura passed away at his home in Osaka in May 1994 less than a year after his Australian visit. [3] He was posthumously awarded the Order of Timor-Leste by government of Timor-Leste in February 2015.  The award recognises ‘… those nationals and foreigners, who in their professional, social activity or, even in a spontaneous act of heroism or altruism, have contributed significantly to the benefit of Timor-Leste, the Timorese or Humanity’. [4]

[3] Documents on East Timor from PeaceNet and Connected Computer Networks v. 39, June 28-August 31, 1995: 96.

[4] ‘Decreto do Presidente da República n.º 1/2015 de 4 de Fevereiro, São condecorados com a Medalha da “Ordem de Timor-Leste”, os seguintes’ Jornal da República Série I, N.º 5, Quarta-Feira, 4 de Fevereiro de 2015: 1.

 

 

Edited by Edward Willis
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