Re-visiting Kure: Some Reflections

      by John Beckwith


In 1952, as a young soldier who had never been outside Britain before, I arrived, after a six week voyage, in Kure, as part of the British Commonwealth Forces with the United Nations, during the Korean War. A year later, when the prisoners of war were released, I traveled home with them. Those twelve months I spent in Japan changed my whole life. One day, visiting the Todaiji Temple in Nara, I was impressed and inspired by the devotion I found there. I began to think that, as a Christian, I ought to do something in my life to express my own involvement and commitment to the faith I professed.


Eventually, after university and college, that young soldier became a priest, and since 1958 I have traveled widely in Europe, Asia, Africa, and North America, often as a result of my work. Today, the title ‘Canon’ reflects my long involvement with the Anglican Diocese of Gibraltar in Europe, an area of responsibility stretching from Norway in the Arctic Circle to the Canary Islands in the Atlantic Ocean, and from Lisbon in Portugal to Ulan Bator in outer Mongolia. The Bishop’s ‘official chair’ [his cathedral] is in Gibraltar Cathedral, and in 1984 I was appointed a Canon of Gibraltar Cathedral, an officer on the bishop’s staff. Gibraltar is probably the only cathedral with cannons [big guns] outside and canons [priests] inside. The ones outside are only historic relics, but the ones inside work very hard throughout the diocese.


In the intervening 46 years I have often longed to revisit Japan and, when the opportunity came in October 1999, I was very pleased to be able to join the group of ex-servicemen revisiting Kure; this time travelling by air. Despite all the changes – Nakadori now a covered walking-street, large department stores in place of little shops, the city spreading out into the countryside – it was a joy to walk up the Niko Valley once more, remembering being a guest at a private tea ceremony, joining a group of students enjoying a sake and sushi party under the cherry blossom and watching the travelling 

storyteller, surrounded by the little children, all those years before.


Each year, on 6th August, I especially remember Wakioka Masae-san, my former mama-san. I still recall with gratitude that, despite losing her soldier husband on a distant Pacific island, and then the remainder of her family in Hiroshima, she looked after me like a mother when I was myself a young soldier long away from home,


#95 Parkway Vol.14 No.4 October - December 2000









毎年、8月6日になると、私のママさんだったワキオカマサエさんを思い出します。 遠い太平洋の島で兵士だった夫を、そして広島で残った家族を失ったにもかかわらず、遠く故郷を離れた若い兵士の私を母親のように世話してくれたことを、感謝をもって思い出すのです。

                    by Alan Porter


To re-visit a country or a city after absence of more than 45 years is an experience which is rare for most people, and in my case was unique. I had found it impossible to imagine how I could react to the sights and sounds of Kure, which I first visited as a teenager, and to which I was returning as a pensioner. While the memory of the visit is still fresh, this may be an appropriate moment to record briefly a few of my personal feelings.


The first has to be the delight I shared with everyone else at the very warm welcome we received from the City Council on arrival at Kure station – an emotional experience much enhanced by the presence of two Japanese friends of one of my colleagues, who were meeting again for the first time since 1953. (I seem to remember a rather different sort of reception from the British army on arriving at my camp in that same year! 


Once out of the station, I found myself totally bewildered by the sheer scale of the changes made since the 1950s. Even streets which had been familiar haunts, such as the Hon-dori and the Naka-dori (now the Renga-dori), were now completely unrecognisable. This disorientation became even stronger when I wandered round my own particular watering-hole, Cassel’s camp. According to my calculations, the square is now a block of offices, my barrack-room a huge blue mechanical contraption, the cricket pitch a warehouse (what sacrilege!), and the guard-room a dress shop.


On the other hand, mountains don’t change; and the contour of Haigamine in particular, managed to instill some degree of familiarity, as did the sight of Kure House and the broad outline of the docks area.


But overall, while I much admired the lay-out, amenities and, not least, the cleanliness of present-day Kure, such a complete transformation of the city in general, and of Cassel’s Camp in particular, tended to dilute the nostalgia which I had expected to feel. I must confess that I missed the local colour and character of the Kure I knew all those years ago, which made such an impact on a young Western mind. But such is the price of progress.



Cassel’s Camp in Kure was named after Sir James Cassel who, in 1951, was appointed first General Officer Commanding the 1st British Commonwealth Division in Korea. 


#92 Parkway Vol.14 No.1 January - March 2000 















                        by Jean Bramley


 I am the wife of the late Les Bramley. Les often talked about the six months he spent in Kure and said what a beautiful country Japan was. He spoke a lot about the Island of Miyajima and said how lovely and relaxing it was there on weekend leave.


He always said one of his ambitions was to go back and take me to see it when he retires but at the time he was a very busy man, being involved with British Steel Industry, he travelled to lots of countries on business, but never to Japan.


Unfortunately, the opportunity to bring me to Japan never came because he was only retired 10 months when he was taken ill and died. However, thanks to my good friend George and Enid Russell I was given the chance to come and see your beautiful country for myself.


How nice it was to meet such warm, friendly people, some of whom had worked in the same office as Les in Kure ‘Royal Army Pay Corps’ in 1953-4.


Also meeting with Jose Hiraga who had worked in the dining room on the camp 46 years ago. What a wonderful man he is! He took us to all the places of interest. I wouldn’t have missed this trip for all the world and look forward to coming back again one day to see some special friends I made.


I know Les would be so pleased that I managed to realise his dream of visiting Japan, especially Kure and Miyajima. It was certainly a trip of a lifetime and one that will be forever in my mind. At times I felt so nostalgic and emotional, but also very much at home with everything and everyone that I met. Knowing that Les had spent such a happy six months in Kure, and now I’ve been, so I can understand why.


#93 Parkway Vol.14 No.2 April- June 2000 














                           by Betty Johnstone


When my husband Jim and I with our friend Peter flew to Japan in October 2002, it was the fulfillment of a long held wish for them and an unbelievable experience for me. Never in my wildest dreams had I ever thought I would visit Japan; they had been yearning to return since 1948.


They had sailed into Kure Harbour in March 1946 as part of the British and Commonwealth Occupation Force, two nineteen-year-old boys, deeply apprehensive of what lay ahead. The total devastation they saw that day has stayed with them throughout the years. What they found, in spite of the “No Fraternization” order, was kindness and friendship with Japanese workers in the hospitals at Kure, Yokohama and Meguro where they were stationed. Invited into Japanese homes, they were able to experience life as it was being lived there at that time.


Two years on, when they were being sent back home, they were bid farewell at Tokyo Station by a weeping Mamma san, Papa san and their daughter Kitty san, accompanied by their interpreter, Charlie. Sadly, they forgot to exchange addresses and so were unable to keep in touch with the family they had come to know and respect. All of this caused the recurring wish to return.


When we heard about Wilf and his tours for ex-servicemen, we couldn’t wait to sign up and how glad we are that we did.


Of course, there was nothing left of the Japan that Peter and Jim knew in 1946-47. No narrow streets of wooden shops and houses and women wearing kimonos every day. No sign of the hospitals or the roads they walked along where little girls would often sing the ‘apples song’ for a bar of chocolate, reminding Jim of his little sisters at home.


But the Japanese kindness and hospitality was still there.




#107 Parkway Vol.18 No.1 January - March 2004 













                     by Hatsue Williams


I am 71 years of age. I was born in Iwakuni, Japan, and in the early 1950’s I worked for the British Army at Kure Docks. During my work I met my husband-to-be Richard Williams, who also worked at Kure Docks. During our relationship we visited many places in Kure such as Niko Park and the movies. Those days if a Japanese female walked out with a soldier it was frowned upon and it did make life a little difficult during our courtship. Also my family were against any relationship with a foreigner.


In 1955 we decided to get married in Kure (after a long wait from the various authorities) and this we did both Japanese                                 January 1955, Kure

style and by the Army chaplain. Also, in 1955, I left Kure with my new husband and arrived at Southampton Docks via the troopship “Asturias”. As it was December, England was very cold but at Southampton my new in-laws met us and made us very welcome at their home in Liverpool.


I like England and am fortunate to have a few Japanese friends from the nearby car   

works of Toyota with whom I can keep up my use of the language and update my knowledge of modern Japan. I have never had any problems here in England and have been accepted and mastered the language reasonably well.



      Hatsue and Richard in Scotland                 #94 Parkway Vol.14 No.3 July-September 2000





1955年、私たちは呉で結婚することにしました(長い間当局からの許可を待った末)。結婚式は日本式と陸軍の牧師によるものと両方行いました。その年、夫と共に呉を離れ、艦船 "Asturias"に乗ってササンプトンドックに到着しました。 12月だったので、イギリスはとても寒かったのですが、サウスハンプトンでは義理の家族たちが出迎えてくれ、リバプールの家では暖かく迎えてくれました。私はイギリスが好きです。幸いにも近くにトヨタの自動車工場があって日本人の友達もいます。おかげで、日本語を使う機会もありますし、日本の新しい情報を得ることもできます。ここイギリスの生活に何の問題もなく、心よく受入れてもらい、言葉もある程度マスターすることが出来ました。