Posts Tagged ‘battlefield’

Japan emperor heads for WW2 battlefield as war memories haunt Asia

April 8th, 2015

Some 10,000 Japanese defenders, fighting in the name of Akihito’s father, Emperor Hirohito, died in a two-month battle in 1944 on Palau’s tiny Peleliu island along with about 1,600 American troops. Unaware Japan had surrendered on August 15, 1945, 34 Japanese soldiers hid in the jungle until April 1947.

Besides mourning war dead at home, Akihito has sought to help reconciliation with former enemies. In 1992, he became the first reigning Japanese monarch to visit China, where wartime memories still rankle.

Akihito and Empress Michiko marked the 60th anniversary of the conflict’s end with a trip to the US territory of Saipan, site of fierce fighting in 1944.

The soft-spoken Akihito, 81, has often urged Japan not to forget the suffering of the war. Such comments have attracted increased attention at a time when the Japanese prime minister appears to be pushing for a less apologetic tone towards Japan’s past.

“He has been saying the Japanese need to reflect on their history, including the dark chapters,” said Portland State university’s Kenneth Ruoff, author of The People’s Emperor: Democracy and the Japanese Monarchy, 1945-1995.

Some young Japanese also worry memories are fading. “Until now, you had veterans and families of the deceased who could talk about their experiences,” said Atsushi Hirano, 22, a student who travels to old battlefields to help collect remains and bring them home.

“But those people are older now and it is harder to hear about their experiences first hand.”

Members of Japan’s dwindling band of veterans are grateful for the royal pilgrimages. “We felt we had to fight on for the country, for the emperor, for our families,” said Masao Horie, survivor of a doomed campaign in New Guinea, where more Japanese soldiers died of starvation and disease than in battle.

“I am truly grateful that the emperor goes to places like Saipan and Palau,” the 99-year-old said.


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Blood and mud: living on a former battlefield in Singapore

December 9th, 2014

Then the Japanese invaded on February 8, 1942. Families were evacuated, leaving clothes, furniture and toys in their wake.

The estate was the site of an intense three days of fighting in the battle for Singapore. The men of the 1st Battalion Cambridgeshire Regiment held off a series of attacks by the troops of the Japanese 41st (Fukuyama) Regiment but the island collapsed to the Japanese.

The Allied soldiers were sent to Changi Prison and the estate was turned into a prisoner of war camp, with Japanese soldiers using the homes as a base (pictured below.) The island was only liberated when America dropped an atom bomb on Hiroshima, in Japan, in August 1945.

When peace came, the buildings in Adam Park were patched up and became private homes again as they remain today. With the consent of the homeowners, Jon has dug gas masks, empty bullet cases and regimental insignia from among the shell scraps hidden in their gardens.

“We have a lot of visitors [to the battlefield] from the UK, US and Australia, as well as expats,” Jon said.

“These are countries united by the fact that, although they took part in a world war, they didn’t fight a battle on their own soil. People struggle to understand the battlefield. Without military service most people’s experience is the picture painted by a trip to the cinema.”

Much of Singapore was a battlefield, and living here I have become immersed in the past. Some of the buildings surrounding my home housed soldiers. I can imagine snipers at the windows, and platoons patrolling the undergrowth. I have a real connection to the soil I stand on.

“The aim of the Adam Park project is to show the heritage potential of the battlefields. It is important as it gives people a sense of who they are and why they’re here,” Jon said.

“In the UK we take heritage and history for granted. If people understand the past they can have pride in the future. As Brits we can learn from this kind of nationalism. Singaporeans are proud of who they are.”

Jon, 49, has written books on the military and holds a Master of Literature in conflict and battlefield archaeology from Glasgow University. He was born in Canada where his father had been seconded from the Royal Navy to the Royal Canadian Navy, and brought up in Cannock, Staffordshire.

He’s served in the Merchant Navy himself, and later the RAF. With six years of expat life in Singapore under his belt – he lives there with wife Alison and their two children – he has the academic and practical experience to bring the battlefield to life.

“The British have left a strong legacy here and Singapore has built on that to become one of the greatest cities in the world,” he said.

A Colonial-era house in Adam Park, Singapore today


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The best remembrance and battlefield tours

August 6th, 2014

Travelling over 450 miles along the Western Front from the Belgian coast to the border of Switzerland, the seven- or nine-day itinerary includes the vestiges of several battlefields: memorials, cemeteries, trenches and museums. The seven-day tour, departing on August 25, is now reduced to £499 (from £620), while the nine-day tour (which allows more time in Nancy and Reims) departs on various dates between April and September 2015, from £799, including coach travel.


British troops go over the top during the Battle of the Somme

3. Corners of a Foreign Field
Titan (0800 988 5823; titantravel.co.uk).

With four nights in Lille, this tour focuses on the Flanders battlefields and Ypres and Passchendaele between 1914 and 1917. Two expert guides accompany the tour, Rhydian Vaughan (a former Welsh Guards officer and war historian) and Barrie Friend. Limited places are currently available on the September 18 tour, but there are plenty of other departures until October 2015. Prices start at £895 including coach travel.

4. First Ypres and the Christmas Truce
Holt Tours (01293 865000; holts.co.uk).

This wintertime itinerary is guided by an expert First World War lecturer, Simon Jones, who explains the gruelling, month-long First Battle of Ypres, including the Christmas Truce, examining the conflicting accounts of the famous football match and whether it really took place. The three-day tour departs on December 12 2014, and costs from £535 with Eurotunnel crossing.

5. Bruges and The Battlefields of Ypres
Great Rail Journeys (01904 891215; greatrail.com).

A leisurely itinerary allows plenty of time to explore the sights of Bruges, however, the third day packs in the key monuments of Ypres, including Tyne Cot Cemetery, the Bayernwald trenches and the “In Flanders Fields” museum. The five-day tour departs on September 7, 14, 28 and October 19, 2014 (note that availability is limited for September 14 departure). Prices from £495 including travel by Eurostar.

6. Battlefield Weekend
Back Roads Touring (020 8987 0990; backroadstouring.co.uk).

An insight into the major involvement of British and Commonwealth forces is compressed into three days and aims to give participants an understanding of strategies at the Somme, Villers-Bretonneux and Vimy Ridge. The three-day tour departs on various dates from September to October 2014 and from April to October 2015. Prices from £595, excluding travel from the UK.

7. Western Front and Ypres
Bartletts Battlefield Journeys (01507 523128; battlefields.co.uk).

These all-inclusive, tailor-made tours to the Western Front and Ypres are planned around the requirements and interests of individual guests (outline itineraries are available), in groups of up to seven people. Tours depart regularly until mid-December 2014 and cost from £845 (for three days).

8. First World War Battlefields
Insight Vacations (0800 533 5622; insightvacations.com).

Starting in Paris, the itinerary includes a visit to Flanders and the Ypres Salient (including Hill 60, Polygon Wood, Tyne Cot Cemetery and the Last Post sounded at the Menin Gate). It continues to the Somme and a visit to the Franco-British memorial at Thiepval. The four-day tour departs on various dates until mid-October 2014, and costs from £685 per person, excluding travel to Paris.

9. First and Last Shots: Mons in the First World War
Battlefield Breaks (02920 761379; battlefield-breaks.com).

This tour examines the beginning and end of the Great War, from the first shots fired by Corporal Thomas of the British Army to the canal and battlefield east of Mons where the final casualty fell. The four-day tour departs on September 19 and October 30, 2014, and costs from £279 including coach travel.

10. The Somme and Ypres
Somme Battlefield Tours (01202 880211; battlefield-tours.com).

Discover the battlefields at your own pace on a self-drive, tailor-made tour with a detailed guide of the key sites, road directions and historical information, including original trench maps, battlefield diagrams, panoramic and aerial photographs and descriptions. Hotels, sea crossing and local, English-speaking guides can also be arranged. The tours are available throughout the year and prices depend on individual requirements.


Britain declared war on Germany 100 years ago this week

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This article was first published on November 10, 2013, and updated in full, with new recommendations, on August 5, 2014.


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