I suspect the earliest part of planning for this trip actually must have started when I was a young boy - seven or eight years of age - at home in Clydach as I recall one day asking Dad why he had scars on his back and he told me that they were from working in the copper mine whilst he was at a Japanese Prisoner of War camp in Kinkaseki - Formosa (now Taiwan).
Growing up I became more and more aware of the fact that he had been a FEPOW ( Far East Prisoner of War ) as many of his friends were FEPOW's and we would meet up on a regular basis with their families. He proudly had a FEPOW badge on the front of every car he owned. Additionally he would attend on a regular basis his FEPOW reunion nights in Cardiff and often a big one annually in London or Blackpool often coming back to say that he'd met someone he hadn't seen since the end of the war.
Accordingly this name - Kinkaseki was never far from my mind. Apart from a few funny stories - in my recollection - Dad never talked about his times as a POW, but I was aware through the people I met over the years the strength of the friendships and camaraderie built up between them all.
After Dad died in 1990 I read a little more about Kinkaseki; Tony my brother who still lives in Clydach lent me Jack Edward's famous book "Banzai You Bastards" and I also read the other - possibly more objective book by Arthur Titherington - "One Day at a Time". Jack had inscribed Dad's copy of the book along the lines of - " To Harold - this book is as much about your story as mine" He, Jack, was also formative in subsequent negotiations between the UK and Japanese governments becoming quite high profile in later years before his death.
Over the years I regularly visit the FEPOW building at the National Arboretum at Alrewas in the Midlands and for some time have been a member of COFEPOW who are responsible for that building ( Children of Far East Prisoners of War ).
I had also collected from my Mother the original censored telegrams (on pre-prepared Japanese Forms) that Dad had been allowed to eventually send from the camp to advise that he was alive (no emails/mobiles or Sky News in those days), as well as the heart-rending letters sent over time from his Mum and Dad written to him in hope, not knowing the fate of their only son.
Apparently he had a magnificent welcome when he finally returned home to Wales.
Over the past eight years or so I have been in touch via email with Michael Hurst MBE, Director of the Taiwan POW Camps Memorial Society (www.powtaiwan.org ). Living in Taiwan he perpetuates the memory of the FEPOW's on the island and has discovered all of the POW camp sites - some of which had been almost lost. Through his work, and that of his committee, many of the sites have memorials in place now and he received the MBE for his efforts for the former POWs and their families. Michael told me that they hold an annual remembrance service in Taiwan and with Liz's support we decided to sign up for the November 2009 trip.
In the meantime I was able to contact Arthur Titherington (author of one of the books about Kinkaseki) and visited him in February 2009 to talk about the camp, his book and my trip. He appeared to be a man still bothered immensely by his treatment during and since the war- it seemed that he warmed to me a little during my visit - and signed our copy of his book.
Liz and I decided to start our trip in Singapore where all the POWs were captured. I remember Dad talking about Changi Jail and I had read in the books the terrible details of the trip they made in the hellship from Singapore to Taiwan - known then as Formosa.
On our first full day in Singapore Liz and I went to the museum at Changi Jail where the POW's were held and we started to experience some of the sadder reasons for making this trip. While in Singapore we had also arranged to meet up for one day with a British Legion tour. They were so welcoming and we visited the famous Changi Murals and the Kranji War Cemetery with them. There were some other POW's on that trip - as well as their families - and we were spellbound to see their vitality and to listen to their stories - as a precursor to the main part of our journey. The group included Gus Anckhorn, Bob Hucklesby, Peter Proctor and Tony Truett.
Flying up from Singapore to Taiwan we passed over the Malayan peninsula where the POW's had fled from the Japanese onslaught and we also flew over the China Sea where all those years ago they would have suffered for weeks in the hellships, not knowing where they were going or what to expect.
Meeting up with Michael Hurst at Taiwan airport we found out there were approximately twenty two people in our party including six FEPOW's – five who had been in the POW camp at Kinkaseki. Three of them had been back before and for the other three it was their first time. Hearing a Welsh voice and making the enquiry it turned out that one of them - George Reynolds lives in Newport and had been to Dad's funeral in 1990! The others were Jack Fowler, Stan Vickerstaff, Bill Roy, Ken Pett and Stan Wood.
The FEPOW's confirmed the conditions they were kept in - tortured, beaten, made to walk to the mines to work and starved - some were less than five stone in weight when freed. They had to steal food if they could from anywhere and would eat grass, leaves, insects - anything to try to keep alive. Many died in captivity and were buried at the camps - later these bodies would be repatriated to Hong Kong.
We made our first trip up in the mountains to Kinkaseki on the Thursday. On reflection I was glad that we went twice as the visit was very, very emotional indeed. We saw the site of the copper mine where the POW's trudged to each day - up one steep hill and down the other side - and spent some time deep in our own thoughts in the impressive memorial Park now on the site of the original POW camp. We also visited a museum in an adjoining mine where our POW's confirmed to us that the original tunnel we saw there was much the same as the one they went into every day to work.
The weather was damp and misty - George told us that it seemed to rain most of the time they were prisoners there - it was strange to experience that same sort of weather. I found it sad that the surrounding mountains were very similar to those in Clydach where Dad was raised and I'm sure sometimes he must have thought there must have been some mistake and - instead of being thousands of miles from Wales with his parents not knowing if he was alive or dead - he was really back home in the sight of the mountains he loved.
On Saturday we went to the second POW camp - Kukutsu. This was known as the Jungle Camp and it was where the POW's were sent to die. The plan was to shoot them there - it was so far away from anywhere that the bodies would never have been found.
When we got there we were welcomed by crowds of locals as well as press and TV - together with a Chinese band and an orchestra. We held a service there - Liz and I both did readings - and we then went into the jungle where the original camp had been. A lady who has since built her house there welcomed us with open arms.
Seeing both those sites I was now able to link together the actual places with the images I'd had in my mind for many years before reading the books and after reading them both many times. I really did feel a connection and my sister Cath summed it up in a text message back to me - what a pity we didn't know more about all this before Dad died.
In the evening we had a formal dinner back in Taipei with Foreign Ambassadors and other dignitaries. All of the POW's stood up and told their stories, and as well as mentioning Dad in both programs for the Memorial Services, Michael also talked warmly about Dad at length during his speech and then asked Liz and I to stand upon which we were warmly applauded.
On the Sunday we went back to Kinkaseki for the formal Remembrance Day service. So glad I'd been there on the Thursday as the atmosphere was something quite special. Other Veterans were there - as well as the Ambassadors we'd met previously - together with local dignitaries. There were flags and a marquee in addition to which the local people put up some special flowers to mark the service. There was also a Piper and a young Taiwanese trumpeter.
Quite a formal occasion, the POW's did readings as did yours truly ( just ! ) following which we laid wreaths at the memorial stone. The piper played "Amazing Grace" and the trumpeter played "The Last Post" - thank goodness Liz was there to hold me - I've never experienced emotions like it.
The fellowship of the people on the trip was amazing and to meet, spend time with and to listen to the stories of the POW's was something Liz and I will never forget. I personally feel that something has been lifted from my shoulders - visiting this place that I've known about for over fifty years and finding out much more about it.
Both my daughters have recently been to Japan with Pacific Ventures - a body funded by the Japanese government to promote peace and reconciliation amongst the grand children of POW's. As a family, the four of us hope to return to Taiwan in a few years so that they too may experience what their Grandfather and his friends endured all those years ago.