Daily Telegraph article

The creative spark that inspired Black Sun, Red Moon: A Novel of Java and Merdeka Rising came from a short news article in the (London) Daily Telegraph newspaper. It is reproduced in full below. A single sentence mentioning 'a little known incident when…', first amazed me, then fired my imagination. Like many I had assumed that Japan's surrender in the Far East had been a calm and orderly 'wrapping up' after the decisive use of the atomic bomb. In fact Asia was plunged into turmoil. Revolutions in Indonesia (then the Netherlands East Indies); Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia (then French Indo-China); and civil war in China meant that there was no peace in Asia. A World War had fractured into multiple local conflicts. 

The situation in Indonesia, the setting of the first, post-war, Islam-influenced nationalist revolution, was complex, tense and deadly. Black Sun, Red Moon (and Merdeka Rising) is my fictional take on many events that are a matter of record. In truth there was far more behind the—as Martha Gelhorn wrote for Collier's Weekly—'dirty little war' that began in Java in late 1945. It was a drama played out against a background of three dying empires (Japanese, Dutch and British); a resurgent Islam; a fresh, optimistic Asian nationalism that deeply unsettled the victors of the Second World War, those 'Great Powers'; all of which threatened the fledgling United Nations. The conflict was also a 'forgotten' or at least a largely 'ignored' war, certainly in Britain, where a war-weary populace probably did not want to hear of British soldiers still fighting, not least in an ‘ lliance' with their very recent enemy. The British Government, equally sensitive, obliged by describing the revolution in official communications as 'the Java situation'. 


Japanese war crimes. 

Old soldier returns surrender sword

By Jenny Shields, Scottish Staff

In a remarkable gesture of reconciliation, the British general who took the Japanese surrender in Indonesia 45 years ago has returned a 16th century samurai sword to the defeated commander’s widow.

The story of the gift started with an extraordinary incident after the surrender, when Japanese troops were re-armed by the British to help them liberate the Java internment camps.

In 1945 Gen Sir Philip Christison was Commander-in-Chief Allied Land Forces, South-East Asia, and he accepted the surrender of Japanese general, Moichiro Yamamoto. The ceremony took place in the Dutch KPM hall in Jakarta. However, it was not the first time the two men had met, as Gen Christison recalled at his home in the Scottish Border town of Melrose this weekend.

Gen Christison, 96, said: “In 1929 a Japanese Captain called Yamamoto spent a year attached to the British Army, and for part of that time he worked as a staff officer in my office at Borden in Hampshire where I was stationed with the Third Infantry Brigade.

“He was a nice little man and spoke very good English; and so of course, I recognised him when he came into the hall in Jakarta to surrender.

“I said: ‘You can send your interpreter away. I know you, you know me, we’re going to speak English.’ He said: ‘General, my shame is very great. I did so hope you would not recognise me’.”

At that point the sword was handed over. “Yamamoto said: ‘I would like you to have my family sword which was made in Bizen in the 16th century’.”

The samurai sword stood in the corner of the general’s living room in Melrose until a few weeks ago when he received a telephone call from a Japanese war veterans’ association.

“He said the 16th Japanese Army association wished to mark the occasion when their troops were under British command.”

Gen Christison recalled that the defeated Japanese were re-armed to help the British to defend their base at Semarang. “From Semarang our lorry columns went out into the mountains to collect the Dutch women and children from the camps. But I didn’t have enough troops to hold my base and protect the convoys as they went up and down. As soon as the lorries moved out the first time, the Indonesians attacked Semarang. It was an impossible situation, hence the re-arming of the Japanese.

To mark the quirk of fate that led to the Japanese being under British command, the veteran’s association presented Gen Christison with a carriage clock at an informal ceremony at his home.

It was a gesture which led to the General making a generous offer of his own. “I felt that with this renewal of contact with the Japanese, we were now all friends together and I wondered what I could do to cement that. I felt I had to forgive and forget. It’s very difficult to forget, but not so difficult to forgive.”

He said that in the “last year or so” he had begun to feel forgiveness towards his old enemy. “It gradually dawned on me that things had changed for the better, but I had a lot to forgive them for: my only son was killed in Burma.

The return of the ancient sword was a spontaneous gesture. “I just felt during their visit, that the time had come to forgive the enemy,” he said.

© The Daily Telegraph [1990]

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