This post is inspired by a poem by my online friend Na’ama Yehuda – A Bell to Tell
In a dusty country town out in central west NSW, Australia a large peace bell hangs in a pavillion in the town square. Just how it came to be there is a strange tale of war and peace.
During WW2 Japanese men living in Australia suddenly found themselves arrested and sent to an internment camp at Cowra, NSW. Although the men were treated fairly under the international law they were naturally very unhappy about their internment. Around breakfast time on the morning of August 5, 1944 they staged a breakout. Armed with baseball bats and sharpened kitchen knives they rushed out across the barbed wire surrounding the camp and into the firing line of the Vickers machine guns set up around the perimeter. Tragically 231 Japanese men lost their lives along with 4 Australian soldiers. A later enquiry decided many of the Japanese had suicided rather than face the ignominy of re-capture.
The event and its tragic outcome left a deep mark on Cowra. Soldiers returning home after the war took it upon themselves to clean up the graves of the Japanese who died at the camp. The graveyard was later expanded to include the graves of other Japanese who had died in Australia during the war. It is still the only Japanese War Cemetery in the world.
Since then cultural exchanges and a student exchange program have consolidated peaceful relationships between Cowra and Japan. A Japanese garden has been established and a Cherry Blossom Festival is held every year. Researching this post I discovered that Festival of International Understanding was held in the town over the weekend just passed. It included a haiku competition.
In 1992 the Australian World Peace Bell was awarded to Cowra for it’s contribution to world peace. The World Peace Bell is usually placed in capital cities but Cowra was given the honour because of its long standing commitment to peaceful international relations.
The inscription on the front of the bell reads:-
The Bell Is A Replica Of The Original World Peace Bell Which Is Located In The Inner Court Of The United Nations Headquarters In New York.
Like The Original, This Bell Is Cast From Melted Down Coins And Medals Of Member Countries Of The United Nations In The Hope That World Peace Will Be Realised.
Cowra Was Chosen By The Australian Government As The Site For The Australian World Peace Bell In Recognition Of Its Unique Contribution
To International Understanding, Promotion Of Peace And As A Centre Of World Friendship.
I visited Cowra on a sleepy summer afternoon some years ago. Not much moved in the heat. A few visitors milled around the Visitor Centre reading the plagues that told tragic story that had led to the town’s deep and abiding desire to promote peace. That peace seemed to have settled over the town like a mantle. I didn’t take any photos. It didn’t seem appropriate somehow.
While Na’ama Yehuda’s poem led to me recall my visit to Cowra writing this post and checking the facts re-affirmed my belief that peace can be built between nations and between people even when the foundations of that peace are mired in tragedy.
World peace bells
ringing out their message
– love is the answer