Far East POWs remembered in Taiwan

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(CNA photo)

(CNA photo)

The Taiwan POW Camps Memorial Society (TPCMS) held a gathering Saturday evening to remember thousands of prisoners of war who endured hardship and in many cases lost their lives at POW camps in Taiwan and the Far East during World War II.

Participants observed a moment of silence for the deceased POWs after remarks by guests that recalled the suffering they endured.

A 2001 war film "To End All Wars," which depicts the story of POWs held in a Japanese camp during World War II, was then screened.

The event was held on Far East Prisoners of Wars Day (FEPOW Day), a day of tribute to those held by the Japanese as POWs in the Far East during World War II, including in 16 POW camps in Taiwan.

According to TPCMS research, 4,373 POWs, including British, Australian and Dutch nationals, were held in Taiwan at 14 POW camps and two temporary evacuation camps scattered around the island from August 1942 to September 1945, and more than 400 of them died in Taiwan.

The idea for the day of remembrance was conceived by a group of former POWs and their families, friends, and historians in the United Kingdom. It was first celebrated in the U.K. on Aug. 15, 2007, and in Taiwan the following year through the efforts of the memorial society.

Since then, the day is usually celebrated each year in Taiwan on a Saturday prior to or closest to Aug. 15, said TPCMS Chairman Michael Hurst.

Hurst, who has studied the history of Taiwan's POW camps for 23 years, said the POWs, including civilian internees such as nurses, engineers and other servicemen, endured horrific mental and physical torture when they were held in the camps.

And for those lucky to return home, he said, many continued to suffer because no one cared for them because of the general desire among many people to let go of the pain brought by the war.

Hurst thanked Taiwan's government for being supportive of his efforts in raising awareness on the history of these POWs over the years, and felt glad that a growing number of Taiwanese are becoming aware of this history.

"It's been very rewarding, and I think the word is spreading," said Hurst, who initiated the effort to construct POW monuments at various former POW camp sites in Taiwan.

Now, he is planning to establish a POW museum in Taiwan to let more people find out about the stories of the POWs, which he described as "unique but not as well-known as the Bridge on the River Kwai."

"One of the things I want to do is to open a POW museum either in Taipei or New Taipei, and that's going to be a big project. We are going to need help from the central government and local governments," he said.

Hurst is also working on a book that tells the stories of the POW camps, which will be out later this year.

Much of the book's content comes from interviews with more than 500 POWs and their families or from diaries provided to him over the past two decades, while other information came from archives of different countries involved in World War II, Hurst said.