Australian Embassy
Tokyo
Japan

Tommy Johnson

There are about 280 Australian graves in this section of the cemetery. Some of them are of soldiers who died while serving in Japan as members of the British Commonwealth Occupation Forces just after the war. But most are of prisoners of war in Japan during the war. You may already know something about Mrs. Gleeson, the only woman interred in this section, so today I'd like to talk about this man, Tommy Johnson.

Last year I was fortunate to meet some Australians who visited the Australian Section, including some ex-POWs who were held in POW camps in Kyushu during the war. They had worked in coalmines there and wanted to visit their mates who didn't make it back to Australia. After placing flowers on some graves, one of them started to look for another grave. This is the grave he was looking for, which is how I heard Tommy Johnson's story.

When their work on the Burma-Thailand Railway was finished, they were sent to Vietnam. There, those healthy enough were chosen to go to Japan for further forced labour. The ex-POW I met here last April, Neil MacPherson was one of them, and Tommy Johnson was his superior officer in camp at the time. He wrote a letter to Neil's parents giving them the latest news about their son, saying, "Your son is fine now and will soon be transferred to Japan as a POW." His parents got the letter, and treasured it. But actually, he was not fine - he was suffering from diarrhoea. However, he boarded the transport ship and arrived safely in Japan, and when the war ended seven months later, was released and repatriated to Australia. But Tommy Johnson met a sad ending. He, too, was sent to Japan, but it turned out to be a terrible journey for him. His transport ship was attacked by the Allies and sunk. While drifting, he was rescued and taken to the nearest island and then again sent to Japan. He was interned in a camp at Kawasaki, but unfortunately was killed in a massive air-raid on 13th July 1945.

I don't know who decides our fate, but I think Tommy Johnson's story shows us the irony of life. I'd like to pass on a few words from Tommy's family, which I received just recently: "We are very glad to know where Tommy is buried and that his grave is respected and well tended. Through this he will always be remembered."

Whenever I attend a memorial service like todays, I am struck by the number of young men who lost their lives at such an early age - at the very threshold of their lives. This makes me realize how precious life is, how it should be lived to the full. To me, and also I think to the bereaved families, this is the legacy of those interred here.

I am a member of a group formed in Tokyo last year called the POW Research Network (Japan). We exchange information on wartime POW camps. Little by little, we have been able to learn more about this cemetery. We are continuing our research so that we may help, in some small way, to ensure that the mistakes of history are not repeated.

Thank you very much for the opportunity to speak to you today.

(Australia War Section, Plot A, Row C)

Written by Mrs Yoshiko Tamura