Internal Affairs Minister Tracey Martin laying a wreath in honour of her grandfather, a senior guard at the Featherston POW camp. PHOTOS/HAYLEY GASTMEIER
Clasping flowers and a framed vintage photograph, Internal Affairs Minister Tracey Martin remembered her grandfather who was a guard at the Featherston prisoner of war camp during World War II.
She was one of many who attended a moving ceremony at Memorial Gardens on Sunday to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Featherston Incident, in which 48 Japanese prisoners and one New Zealand guard died.
Ms Martin said that her grandfather, Kenneth Martin, was the second highest ranking officer at the POW camp.
“It was his gun that was taken by the adjutant that shot Adachi, the interpreter, and that is what started the riot.
“Adachi came back here as an old man and he blessed the Japanese Memorial.
“My grandfather met Adachi again and there’s this wonderful photo . . . of the men with their arms around each other.”
At the time, both men were asked who was to blame.
“And they both said no one is to the blame — it was war.”
Ms Martin said her grandfather was deeply affected by the incident.
“That was the most horrific and tragic thing he had seen in his life and he repeated the story so many times because to him it was really important that people knew he didn’t have a gun on him, that he didn’t kill anyone that day.”
Japanese Ambassador Toshihisa Takata delivered a message to the people of Featherston from Japan.
“I’m sure our ancestors could not have guessed how far we have come in our struggles for peace . . . but I’m sure they would be proud to see us here today . . . united as a group.”
It would have been impossible to comprehend the positive relationship that Japan and New Zealand now had at the time of the 1943 incident, Mr Takata said.
“It is a great accomplishment that we commemorate this day and pay tribute together as friends to all those who lost their lives, regardless of our nationality.”
He said former South Wairarapa Mayor Adrienne Staples had played an integral role in what could now be described as a strong bond.
“Mayor Viv Napier is following in those same footsteps, showing much respect and goodwill.”
Mr Takata was eternally grateful to Featherston and the wider South Wairarapa community for the enduring hospitality shown to Japanese residents and visitors alike.
The Australian town of Cowra was also home to a POW Camp, where a similar incident broke out on August 5, 1944, in which four Australian soldiers and 231 Japanese soldiers were killed.
On behalf of the Cowra Council, Graham Apthorpe spoke at the service.
He said Cowra and Featherston, with their POW camps, had experienced the tragic loss of life on both sides, allied and Japanese.
After the ceremony, Warrant Officer Class 1 Pete Albrett, of Masterton, paid his respects at the Japanese Memorial.
His grandfather, originally from Petone, served with the Otago Regiment in France in 1917 and 1918 during World War I.
Mr Albrett said his grandfather was one of few soldiers who marched over the Rimutaka Hill twice — from Wellington to the Featherston Military Training Camp and then back again to head off to war.