Wednesday, June 1, 2005
Michael Henderson

For many the war years were enough adventure to last a lifetime.

Australian poet Michael Thwaites served throughout World War II in the North Atlantic. In the first months of the war he wrote:

No drums they wished, whose thoughts were tied
To girls and jobs and mother
Who rose and drilled and killed and died
Because they saw no other,
Who died without the hero's throb
And if they trembled, hid it,
Who did not fancy much their job
But thought it best and did it.

American TV presenter Tom Brokaw wrote a best seller, The Greatest Generation, after returning with American veterans to the Normandy beaches and realizing that he had failed to appreciate what they had been through and accomplished. Many in Britain would say the same as we mark the 60th anniversary of World War II's end. Brokaw wrote that for many the war years were enough adventure to last a lifetime.

Some, however, found even greater adventure after the war-by reaching out the hand of friendship to the Japanese and Germans against whom they had fought. Have we fully appreciated their achievement too? Two RAF friends, Melville Carson (see p20) and David Howell, who were shot down over Germany, have worked with other veterans to heal the differences with former enemies, helping lay the cornerstones of the peaceful Europe we now enjoy.

Others have done similar work in Japan. Like Dick Channer who won the Military Cross at the battle of Imphal and has been to Japan with the Burma Campaign Fellowship Group. And Les Dennison, who was captured in Singapore and was put to work on the infamous Burma railway, where thousands of prisoners of war died. At an international conference a Japanese general bowed low to him and apologized for the suffering inflicted. Les says, 'It was the beginning of a remarkable change in my attitude. For a long time I felt bitterness and hatred but I don't want that to be passed on to the second generation.'

The greatness of these people found echo in great souls on the other side, who, despite the disillusionment of having given their lives to a flawed cause, gave themselves again in the service of democracy. Hideo Nakajima, for instance, was trained as a kamikaze human torpedo. His life was saved by the ending of the war. He poured himself into creating the new Japan. Peter Petersen, a Nazi who faced repentance, found forgiveness and was an architect of the new Germany.

A Devon neighbour, Roger Cobley, and his younger brother both flew against the Japanese, his wife was an airforce officer, and his older brother, like Dennison, worked on the 'death railway'. Roger has been involved for years with Agape's work for reconciliation with Japan.

In response to an apology by Japanese veterans at York Minster in 1992 he wrote these lines:

You have marched a long way to this,
This quiet, from the flaming kiss
Of frenzied science and the cold
Painted glare of fame. Bells have tolled
For friends who you will not forget.
We too will remember while yet
Our trust falters and our hearts drain
Tears bloody as yours. We'll gain
Together now a bond far kinder
Without regret nor any sham reminder,
Before this Minster church which always
Lifts up the morning with the praise
Of God in songs that fuse the trees
With laughter. For are not these
Life's comforts none of us may miss?
You have come a long way to this.

In 2065, what will be written about today's generation?

Michael Henderson is the author of 'Forgiveness:
Breaking the Chain of Hate', Grosvenor Books, 2002,
ISBN 1-85239-031-X. Visit his website at