The Taiwan POW Memorial Wall in the Taiwan Prisoner of War Memorial Park
Address given by Society Director Michael Hurst MBE at the Remembrance Day Service - November 15, 2015
Time marches on! It has been 70 years now since the end of World War II and 18 years since we first built and dedicated the Taiwan POW Memorial here in the park. It was just a simple place back then with many trees and walkways and flowers. In the ensuing years it has been changed into the beautiful park you see here today with all its memorials to honour and remember those who were prisoners of war in Kinkaseki and also in the other camps in Taiwan over 70 years ago.
On this very special Remembrance Day we have with us one of those former POWs, Ken Pett - a Gunner in the 80th Anti-Tank Reg't. Royal Artillery.
74 years ago in December 1941, Ken's unit was stationed at Jitra on the western side of northern Malaya when the Japanese attacked on December 11th – three days after their first landings on the east coast at Khota Baru.
After two days of fierce fighting and with a number of men killed and many wounded, his gun battery - and the men of the other regiments who fought alongside them there, were forced to withdraw and thus began the retreat to Singapore. He became a prisoner of war on February 15th 1942 at the fall of that island to the Japanese, and was subsequently shipped to Taiwan in November of that year. He slaved in the notorious Kinkaseki copper mine until early 1945 and then finished the war in the terrible Kukutsu 'jungle' Camp in the hills south of Taipei.
This is Ken's third visit back to Taiwan, following his time here as a POW. His last visit was in 2011 – the year we dedicated the POW Memorial Wall and the POW sculpture. He told me then that he felt that there should be a former prisoner present at the dedication of the wall, and he wanted to be that one - and so he was.
A couple of months after that event, I got an email from Ken's son-in-law Mike Heather. In it he enclosed a poem that he had been moved to write after seeing The Wall. He said to me that he had never written a poem before in his life, and he most likely would never write another, but that somehow he had been inspired to write this one.
He told me in a later email and I quote – "The first time I saw the Memorial Wall on the Thursday, I was hugely impressed, but what I actually saw was a beautiful piece of architecture and an area of lovely landscaping.
The second time I saw it at Remembrance Day on the Sunday, I saw something that I felt we should be so proud of - that Ken was the one who would always be remembered as the POW who represented the 4,300 names on that wall at the opening ceremony.
As you will remember Michael, I then requested to go back yet again on the Tuesday, as "something was still missing". That "something" was there on the Tuesday when all the crowds were gone, and the wall became a monument to the bravery, hardships, sadness, and courage contained in all those names. Each name was now a person with a story to tell."
Being that the wall in our POW Memorial Park is so important and so special to the POWs and also to their family members, I would like to read Mike's poem for you now. The words are inspiring - please listen carefully to:
The walls of Kinkaseki Camp
Were built to keep men in.
To deprive them of their freedom
And remind them of their sin.
The gates did not lead homeward
But to the copper mine each day,
Where slavery was forced upon them
And beatings paved the way.
They fought against starvation,
They fought against disease,
They suffered such brutality
It bought many to their knees.
Those walls have now all crumbled
And a single post remains,
To remind us of the horror
Of the suffering and the pain.
But now in all its glory stands,
THE WALL - so proud and tall,
In honour to the men of rank
Who answered their country's call.
Upon the jet black granite
Their names are carved with pride.
Four thousand men once captive,
With a buddy by their side.
This wall will stand forever
So their story can be told
That freedom IS worth fighting for,
A treasure, more than gold.
When he unveiled the Menin Gate Memorial containing the names of almost 55,000 missing men from WWI at Ypres Belgium in 1927, Lord Plummer affirmed - "They are not missing, they are here", and I think we can say that this morning about all of the former Taiwan POWs - the 430 men who died here in Taiwan, all those who survived, and those who have passed on since - they are here with us today - 70 years after - in this very special place!
We thank Mike for this beautiful and meaningful poem, and let us never forget the men whose names are carved on that wall – those who suffered and those who died here in Taiwan for the freedom, the peace and the happiness that we enjoy today!
On this 70th Anniversary of the end of the greatest war in human history and in closing, I would like to reiterate the words of Rev. David Homer of Taipei when he said -
"We must never forget what these men did for us. If we forget, we shamefully trample underfoot their precious blood; we make their life meaningless and their deaths senseless. If we fail to remember, we do not deserve the freedom they paid for so dearly".
LEST WE FORGET!