By Robin Millard, AFP
LONDON — A Japanese engineer on the notorious World War II ��Death Railway�� and a British soldier forced to build the line clasped each other’s hands tightly Monday as they met in reconciliation. Mikio Kinoshita, 94, and former prisoner of war (PoW) Harold Atcherley, 96, whose Japanese captors made him work as a slave laborer on the track between Burma �X modern-day Myanmar �X and Thailand, sat quietly on a sofa together as they reflected on their shared experiences. The two did not cross paths in the 1940s and despite only being able to converse through a translator, the warm rapport between the elderly men, both slowed by age but razor-sharp in mind, was evident at a reception in the Army and Navy gentleman’s club in London. As the 70th anniversary of the Japanese surrender ending World War II approaches in August, the two men hoped their rare meeting would encourage understanding between those affected by the ��Death Railway�� �X and foster remembrance of the suffering of those who worked and died building the line. ��This evening marks the reconciliation between Mikio Kinoshita and myself. It is 73 years ago since he and I worked on the construction of the Burma-Siam Railway,�� said Atcherley, who was then a young army captain. Citing his former enemy’s empathy, he said it was wrong to judge people for the group they happened to belong to rather than their character. ��We should, I think, remind ourselves that wars are not made by soldiers but by governments,�� he said. Brutality of Slave Labor
More than 60,000 Allied PoWs worked as slave laborers on the Burma railway line in 1942-43 in brutal conditions. Some 13,000 PoWs and 100,000 indigenous workers died building the line. The 420-kilometre (260-mile) track linking the Thai and Myanmar railway systems was aimed at resupplying the Japanese army as it fought British colonial forces and their allies.