|McGrath’s visit to Japan in 1965
YAMASHITA Takeo, a policeman in Osaka, served in the Pacific War and was in Celebes when the war ended. In 1959, he published a memoire in Japan, Minami Jujisei (the Southern Cross), and donated a copy to the Australian War Memorial. He decided to visit the Memorial in October 1963, and paid a courtesy call to Memorial Director, J.J. McGrath at his office. During his visit to the Memorial, YAMASHITA became aware that a thousand-stitch body belt was displayed in the gallery. He was astonished to find that the body belt, stained with blood, was on public display. The exhibit lacked a detailed label, so he made an enquiry about the relic to McGrath. YAMASHITA was shown a file indicating that the belt had been collected from one of the midget submarines. There were names written on the belt which showed that the Saeki family had presented it to one of the crew. The last name on the list was SAEKI Fujie, who turned out to be the elder sister of MATSUO Keiu.
YAMASHITA explained to McGrath how personal and precious the item was for the crew and how precious it would be for the bereaved family. He asked McGrath if the belt could be repatriated to the family. McGrath listened quietly and said, “I did not know that it was such an important item. I would like it to be returned. However, it cannot happen right now. I need to get approval from the Council. When I do, I will send it to you, so can you return it to the family on behalf of the Memorial?”  Subsequently, two photographs of the belt were sent to YAMASHITA and they were shown to the MATSUO family members, including Mrs. MATSUO, Keiu’s mother. YAMASHITA probably assumed that the belt was going to be returned to the family and must have mentioned that to the family.
Contrary to YAMASHITA’s expectation, the repatriation of the belt was not approved by the Council. The Council took the view that they could not comply as it would create a precedent where they would not be possible to meet the future requests and suggested the photographs should be sent instead. McGrath asked YAMASHITA to assure the family that the belt was very well cared for and was viewed closely by many visitors.  Even though McGrath was well-meaning and sincere, he did not understand the sentiment of the family correctly. The MATSUO family were hoping that the belt would be returned as their memento, because Keiu was wearing the belt when he died. Furthermore, the belt was stained with his blood. On the other hand, McGrath wanted to emphasise the value of the belt as a museum display object. For him, the value of the item was measured by whether it was viewed by many people with interest, and whether it was well maintained as a museum object.
YAMASHITA was in trouble. He had already told the MATSUO family that the belt would probably be returned to them. The local newspaper in Kumamoto wanted to display the belt at an exhibition. Furthermore, in anticipation of the return, the MATSUO family had asked an Australian high school exchange student, Kenneth Angel, to take a lacquered chest of drawers as a gift to the Memorial. In order to resolve an embarrassing situation, YAMASHITA asked McGrath to write a letter to Keiu’s mother, and he offered a suggestion of what McGrath might say. McGrath obligingly wrote a letter to the mother. In it, he pointed out that the belt was well cared for and attracted great interest. In addition, he wrote the following sentence, which must have delighted YAMASHITA and the MATSUO family. It said, “You will be aware that the bravery of your son and the other member of the crew was so highly appreciated that they were given a military funeral at the time.”
YAMASHITA visited Kumamoto in March 1964 to show McGrath’s letter and photographs of the belt to the MATSUO family. A photograph of the mother, wearing a kimono and sitting on a veranda of the family house, listening intently to YAMASHITA, was sent back to Canberra. The Japanese local newspaper reported that the War Memorial’s Director had apologised because the belt could not be returned to the family.
The photograph of MATSUO’s mother must have left a strong impression on McGrath. In 1965, McGrath and his wife were going to have a holiday and travelled to Japan and other Asian countries. They were invited to visit the MATSUO family in Kumamoto. A visit by the director of a foreign national institution to a regional community was big news. Furthermore, the War Memorial had the personal property of MATSUO, the local hero. McGrath and his wife arrived in Yokohama by boat in July and they were going to be flown to Kumamoto by courtesy of All Nippon Airlines. YAMASHITA and the local parliamentary member were going to join the Australian couple in Tokyo to accompany them to Yamaga where the MATSUO family lived. Unfortunately, the rainy season caused a problem with the flights, and they had to fly to Fukuoka instead of Kumamoto and travel a few hours by taxi to Yamaga, Various events which had been planned at the Kumamoto airport and the city hotel had to be cancelled. YAMASHITA wrote that they did not want to disappoint the McGraths because of the bad weather; he wanted to show them that the Japanese were people who would not forget their appreciation.
In Yamaga, a lavish reception was organised at the best hotel in town with thirty attendees, including the mayor and local council members. Members of the MATSUO family whose names appeared on the belt were there as well. On the next day, as a welcoming party waved Australian flags, the director and his wife visited MATSUO’s grave to pay their respects. Mrs McGrath laid some flowers on the grave and McGrath stood in silence with his head bowed. After that, they visited the MATSUO family home, where they sat together in the drawing room. When McGrath said to Mrs. MATSUO that the Australian people were impressed by the courageous action of her son, she replied by thanking the Australians for the military funeral that her son had received. Then they talked about episodes from Keiu’s childhood. Finally, a bottle of Keiu’s favourite sake was delivered to the house by the brewery. The family wanted McGrath to take it back to Canberra to dedicate it to the submarine by pouring over it. As he and his wife bid farewell, McGrath told Mrs MATSUO that he would look after the belt on her behalf and treasure it. It was an emotional farewell for all of those who were involved.
1. Takeo Yamshita and Hugh V. Clarke, Sidoni kesshi kobegi Tokyo: Rukkusha, 1968, pp.12–13.
2. Letter from McGrath to Yamashita on 11 February, 1964. AWM file 748/002/006 03.
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