Isao Toji from Kiho in Mie Prefecture has been holding an annual tribute for WWII British soldiers who became prisoners of war and died in the Kansai Region. For his homage for the British POW, the 66-year old has been appointed a Member of the Order of the British Empire, an honor bestowed on those who provide distinguished service to Britain and its citizens. The award ceremony will take place at the British Embassy in November.
“I believe that letting young people know what happened will comfort the souls of the soldiers who died, and contribute to peace,” shared Toji. For 20 years, he has been organizing memorial services for the 16 British soldiers who died in the Prefecture. While working at a copper mine or farm in then Iruka Village in Kumano District, the soldiers suffered illnesses or accidents that led to their death. 300 British soldiers total were said to have been taken as POWs and detained in the village.
After the war, the remaining POW survivors were able to return home. But local residents, especially a group of senior citizens, have been keeping a communal burial plot for those who died. The burial site was even visited by a former POW, who call themselves the “Iruka Boys,” when they learned of the local residents’ efforts. In 1992, 30 of them visited Iruka Village and held a memorial service for their comrades who died. The annual memorial service has also been observed including the participation of the younger generation.
Toji has also founded the Kinan International Exchange Association, which aims to educate children about the prisoners of war. A grass-roots exchange program is part of the association’s efforts, where some middle school and high school students are granted visits to Britain. “It takes a lot of effort to maintain peace, but I’d like to continue these activities,” Toji said.