LONDON — Elderly residents in a British town are opposing plans to set up links with a community in Japan, claiming that memories of World War II are still too raw.
Barbara Pagett, a member of the local council in Lytham St. Annes, which lies in northwest England near Blackpool, has written to newspapers saying those behind the scheme should consider the suffering that was meted out to Allied prisoners of war by the Japanese.
She says her claims that it is “not yet long enough” to forget Japanese atrocities have struck a chord with the town’s pensioners, many of whom can vividly recall the war.
But a substantial number of townsfolk are also backing the plans to establish links with the town of Hayashima, population 12,300, in Okayama Prefecture.
Barbara MacKenzie, chairwoman of the town’s twinning (sister-city) association, said that while she acknowledges the pain of those who suffered, it is time to move on and work to improve understanding and tolerance between the two countries.
MacKenzie and Tomohiko Sato, the mayor of Hayashima, have visited each other’s towns and are “exploring the possibility of making links.”
Initially, this would probably take the form of mutual school visits in 2011 and both councils are planning to exchange information on sports and culture. In the future, the two towns could be formally “twinned.”
However, this is a step too far for Pagett. “I’m in no way racist or being un-Christian,” the 71-year-old said. “I just feel that the time is not quite right. I feel that in the future, when those of us who have long memories, are dead and buried, then, maybe. . . .
“I feel that unfortunately it is old people who are supporting me and they are the ones with the memory.
“I have had people knocking on my door and people on the street supporting me, as well as calls from neighbors, friends and relatives backing my position,” Pagett said. “Nobody, other than the letters sent to the press, has been critical of my point of view which, as an English person of a certain age, I feel I’m entitled to have.”
She said she is not trying to tell younger people what to do, but she hopes they will listen to what she is saying. It is “fair enough” if they proceeded with the sister-city plan, Pagett added.
“It’s 64 years ago,” said MacKenzie. “If people who were ill-treated by the Japanese can accept it and get beyond it (referring to reconciliation visits to Japan by former POWs), then other people shouldn’t try to carry it on.
“It’s making people look at Lytham St. Annes and thinking, ‘What are these people? Are they misinformed, unenlightened or racist?’
“We are a Christian nation. These people purport to be Christians, but I’m sorry, it’s a very un-Christian attitude.”
She said the plans will continue and the council — which has no influence on the plan — is not taking an official position.
MacKenzie has spoken to Mayor Sato, who told her “not to worry about all this.” She said, “As I expected, the officials in Hayashima seem to have reacted with grace and dignity.”
Lytham is famous for its championship golf course, which attracts Japanese visitors each year.
MacKenzie said she had an excellent visit to Hayashima in October. The towns have roughly the same number of people and are on coasts. The idea for establishing links came from a Japanese woman from Hayashima who used to live in Lytham St. Annes.
“The people are very courteous and friendly. We had a wonderful experience. Everyone was so enthusiastic about the two towns being linked. I was stunned when I came back and got this reaction, albeit from a minority,” said MacKenzie.