My grandfather was a prisoner of war of the Japanese during WWII. As I was eventually to find out he had been stationed in Hong Kong not long before the outbreak of the war. He was a bandsman in the Scotch Guards (He used to talk about how he had been a French Horn player in the Hong Kong Symphony Orchestra).

However this story starts long before I was ever able to find out this much detail. In truth it starts back then when the Japanese invaded Hong Kong during December1941, in what was by all accounts a brutal invasion, before the British surrendered on Christmas Day. But this was all long before I became some small part of it, and I can only tell what I know and what I can piece together from the fragments that I have been able to gather.

I can not remember a time in my life when I was not aware of the fact that my grandfather had been a Prisoner of War , nor can I can remember a time when I knew anything more that this single stark fact. All through my childhood it was like a black hole, something that, no matter how hard you stared into it, never reflected back any light. All there was was a sense of bitterness and rancour that would occasionally spill out if anybody mentioned the Japanese and an impression of my Grandfather (actually my step-grandfather) as a man who could never quite settle down, who was always throwing himself into some new thing, some hobby or other, only to drop it a few months later before moving on to something else.

As a teenager I became involved in the peace movement and I remember the arguments it caused, how my grandfather would rage shouting that he was glad the Americans dropped the atomic bomb 0n Hiroshima. It was not as if I was unaware of the situation, and though curious to find out what might have been behind it I quickly learned to keep things to myself and it remained a black hole (This was nothing new in my father's family, who seem bereft of the expression of emotion and hid much away. Of my biological grandfather I knew only three facts -- that he had run in a trial for the Olympics, that he had worked in the factory that made Cat's Eyes, and had died of lung cancer when my father was twelve. I was in my late twenties before I was even able to find out his first name).

As I grew into an adult very little changed, everything remained as closed off as it had always done and though I learned to feel sadness for my grandfather it was to remain a private thing. Then a few years later I learned that my grandfather had returned to Japan. He had gone to look for the grave of a friend - I am still unclear what precisely had gone on but from what I know it seems his friend had taken the punishment for something he, my grandfather, and another friend had done. I am not sure what, only that it was something necessary for their survival, probably stealing food. As a result of this my grandfather survived the war but his friend didn't. When I first saw my grandfather after I had learned this I found myself in the presence of a changed man as if something had been released in him. For the first time in my life I heard him speak about his experiences in the camps.

When he started to speak about this the words that came from his mouth were not tales of pain and suffering, instead he told one simple story that spokes volumes of the possibilities of forgiveness and of the potential to be human in the face of degradation. He told of how he had been taken to Japan to work as a slave labourer in a peanut oil factory in Honda Docks. One day the Allies had started to bomb the city, dropping incendiary devices that soon set fire to the wooden houses. The prisoners were taken out of the factory and given beaters, then sent out to fight fires as the incendiary bombs fell on roofs. He describes coming across a Japanese woman and her children, frightened, lost in the streets as the bombs fell around them. He talked of putting his arm around and running with her to the air raid shelter before returning to fight the fires.

As I listened to the story I had to choke down the tears amazed that of all he could have chosen to tell me he has told me a story of such simple humanness, of an act of kindness to what only a few years before had only ever been the enemy. Since that time I have a sense of my grandfather who has at last found a little peace because he has at last been able find some forgiveness. He has subsequently made other trips to Japan. He has never been able to find the grave.

I wanted to say a little of why I chosen to write this and why now? Today I have the feeling that I too have to make some kind of journey to release something from my past, to take a trip to my own Japan. The connection is somewhat accidental; something I read here put me in mind of my grandfather's story for the lessons I have learned from it seem clearly relevant -- that holding onto things from the past is likely only to perpetuate pain but that it is never to late to find a way back to release it.