“If you wish to see his monument, look around you.”
This is the epitaph inscribed on the grave of Len Harrop (1915 – 2011), the first supervisor of the Yokohama War Cemetery in Hodagaya. For the close to 2000 in number resting there, it is as close to home as they can be.
The Yokohama War Cemetery is the only one of its kind in Japan – a resting place for Commonwealth service personnel who died in the Second World War, the Korean War and as POWs subjected to horrors in the camps during the ensuing battles. Harrop went above and beyond to provide for the fallen, employing gardening master Kametaro Morii (who completed his training in Kyoto) to decorate and sourced earthquake-proof headstones to prevent their destruction in the case of a natural disaster. This makes for a precisely laid and well-tended space. When Mum and I visited, the gardeners were busy pruning bushes and mowing the lawn under the springtime sun, working efficiently but quietly, almost as if they did not want to disturb the people resting there.
The Australian War Graves Group was responsible for the Cemetery coming to fruition in 1945. The area is divided into sections by country – Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the UK, India and Pakistan, the Netherlands and the USA. The number of slain soldiers at rest there is just over 1500 and the Cremation Memorial near the entrance of the Cemetery holds the collective ashes of 335 POWs, their names mounted on the Memorial walls. Naturally there are those who were unidentifiable, but they were given recognition nonetheless. The remainder of the headstones belong to those who died post-war, including ones who made lives for themselves in Japan after the Wars ended. Having fallen in battle or not, Morii ensured that each grave had a flowering bush next to it from where the person was born.
In spite of royal visits in 1995 and 2015 respectively by the British royal family, as well as annual services on Remembrance Day, Mum and I lamented that in spite of being the only Commonwealth cemetery in Japan, it is not given more attention on tourist maps and trails. Though we took two buses and a train to get there, it was worth the effort and a humbling experience. On the highest hill of the cemetery lies Mr Harrop looking over his monument, lest we forget.