Mrs Koshida also enlisted the help of The Telegraph, which – following its own investigations – can now reveal what became of the prisoners to whom her music brought such comfort.
The incredible story began in March 1945, after Yoko and her family left their home in Tokyo, where the firestorms unleashed by American bombing raids on the city killed between 80,000 and 130,000 civilians.
The camp (LEE SOMERVILLE)
The family found refuge in the city of Yokohama, in a house overlooking prisoner of war camp 14B. This held around 120 POW’s from Britain, the United States, Australia and the Netherlands captured by the Japanese.
Now a widow, Mrs Koshida, said: “I was very frightened when the prisoners were first brought here because they were all very tall and I had never seen a foreigner before. They were not aggressive at all; they were very quiet”
She recalls that the men, who were forced to work in factories, spent their spare time growing vegetables, though they were not above stealing from her father’s crop of cucumbers, tomatoes and aubergines.
“My father said they were starving, just like us, so he didn’t make a fuss,” she said.
Mrs Koshida, who hoped to go to music college, would practice every day, the pieces she played drifting through her open windows and down over the prison blocks. “One day, I noticed from the window that there were three men sitting on the roof of the barracks,” she said “The next day, there were a few more people with them – and the day after that there were dozens of them.”
Forbidden to communicate with the prisoners, Mrs Koshida did not wave or make eye contact with the men, but after a while she began to recognise a few of her regular listeners.
Former British prisoner of war Harry Hines before his capture (JULIAN SIMMONDS)
Within days of Emperor Hirohito announcing Japan’s surrender on August 15, Allied aircraft began dropping food and medicine onto the camps, and one evening the men brought round tins of food as gifts for her family. Mrs Koshida said: “The bell rang and my father went down to the door. He came back with some cans of food. The prisoners wanted to give them to me because of my piano playing and they told my father that we were all friends now.”
When Allied forces arrived on August 30 to take away their men, the men made a point of returning to her home with more gifts, handing over sugar, soap and more tins of food. “They were excited,” Seized by a sudden impulse she grabbed her autograph book and asked the men to write their names and addresses.
The yellowing pages of her notebook still clearly show the names of Harry Hines, of Luton; a T. Taylor, of Ponders End in Middlesex, and Leonard Patrick Sheaf, of Enfield, Middlesex; along with that of an American from Georgia and an Australian POW from Tasmania. Mr Sheaf and Mr Taylor penned brief messages for the teenager.
“Thank you for a very nice evening. I hope to see you again. Hope England and Japan [can] be friends,” wrote Mr Sheaf. Beneath Mr Taylor’s name was written August 30, the date of their departure, and the message: “This war was a very bad thing for everyone. I would very much like them to come back and to see them again.”
Mrs Koshida said. “The war was over, they had survived and they were going home now.” Sitting at the same Mason & Hamlin grand piano she played all those years ago – still positioned by a window overlooking the site of the camp – Mrs Koshida added. “I hope they have survived all these years and, after the terrible time they had, that they are all well now. I still think I could play them some Chopin if they were able to return.”
Inspired by her wish, the Sunday Telegraph set out to discover what became of the three British PoWs who signed that autograph book and their story of capture, imprisonment and liberation is as inspiring as her own.
Records show that Mr Hines, who was born in 1917, served in the Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire Regiment, having joined as a reservist before enlisting as a Sargeant in 1939, on the outbreak of war. The regiment has been expecting to be posted to the Middle East, but when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbour in December 1941, Mr Hines and his comrades were redirected to the defence of Singapore.
It was here, in February 1942, in what was one of the worst defeats inflicted on the British Army, that Mr Hines was captured by the invading Japanese.
Mr Hines’s daughter Janice recalls: “He had become separated from his regiment and at first my mother believed he was killed when Singapore fell.”
In fact Mr Hines had been taken to Omari POW camp, near Tokyo, before being transferred to Yokohama’s camp 14B. The ordeal left its scars. He was frequently beaten by guards and the poor prison diet, consisting mainly of rice, left him with lifelong stomach problems.
But Mr Hines managed to rebuild his life after the war, marrying his childhood sweetheart Irene Seabrook on his return and returning to his job as a lathe operator for an engineering firm in Dunstable, eventually rising to the position of company buyer.
In 1946 Harry and Irene had Janice, but for several years Mr Hines was haunted by his wartime experiences.
Former British prisoner of war ‘Joe’ Taylor aboard a ship after the war (JULIAN SIMMONDS)
Janice Schaub, now married and living in Minnesota, said: “My mother said that when he first came back he was an entirely different man. When the first jet planes started to fly overhead he would dive under the table. To him they sounded like the bombers.”
But for all his suffering Mr Hines bore no ill will towards Japan and its people.
“My father lived a life without hatred,” said Mrs Schaub, 68. “He always judged people by their character rather than their nationality. He remembered Japan as a beautiful country and in later years had even planned to go back, because he wanted to see Mount Fuji.”
Unfortunately Mr Hines died at the age of 67, in April 1985, before being able to fulfil his ambition.
His comrade ‘T. Taylor’ was, we discovered, Thomas ‘Joe’ Taylor, who was captured with his regiment, the Royal Engineers, when the Japanese invaded the British colony of Hong Kong, in December 1941.
Mr Taylor later told his family how he suffered terribly from the cold at camp 14B, having been issued with just one blanket. After the war he stayed in the Army until 1957, when he went on to work for the Foreign Office, coordinating security at embassies. This saw him posted around the world, including Cuba, China and Nigeria, with his wife Hazel, who he married in 1953.
But his favourite posting was, surprisingly perhaps, to Japan, where he served at the British embassy from 1976 to 1979. Mrs Taylor, now 92 and living in Hampshire in a house filled with Japanese prints and decorative dolls, said: “He was very fond of Japan in the end. He got on very well with the people. In fact we made more friends there than anywhere else.”
Mr Taylor never told the Japanese he met that he had once been their POW. His widow, who remains in contact with several of the Japanese friends she taught English during their stay in Tokyo, said: “He didn’t hold any resentment against the ordinary Japanese.”
The story of Mr Sheaf, the third Briton in the group, remains more of a mystery. In the autograph book Leonard Patrick Sheaf gives his address as one in Enfield which records show a man with the same name shared with his father Leonard, mother Alice and brother Patrick before the war.
But Mr Sheaf’s son John, 41, said he knew nothing about his father being a Japanese POW. “I’m sure its something he would have said. We always thought he’d been evacuated to Northern Ireland as a teenager and joined the merchant navy after the war. We don’t know anything about him being in Japan” he said, adding however: “Funnily enough he was a great fan of Japanese culture. He liked how respectful and honourable they were.”
The question remains whether any of the men told their loved ones, on their return to Britain, of the girl who played the piano? It seems not. But their families can easily imagine the comfort her playing brought. “It must have been something for them to really look forward to each day,” said Mrs Schaub. “Something as nice as that.”