Japanese wartime widow finds peace in Darwin

This article has photo gallery Published on Dr Tom Lewis (author), LSIS James Whittle (photographer)

Location(s): Darwin, Northern Territory

Dr Tom Lewis, OAM, assists Members of the Ito family commit a bunch of flowers to sea in memory of Miyoko and Shinji Kawahara, after completing a dignified ceremony to lay to rest the ashes of Mrs Miyoko kawahara, the wife of WWII aircrew member Shinji Kawahara, who was shot down in action outside Darwin Harbour in 1943. (photo: LSIS James Whittle)
Dr Tom Lewis, OAM, assists Members of the Ito family commit a bunch of flowers to sea in memory of Miyoko and Shinji Kawahara, after completing a dignified ceremony to lay to rest the ashes of Mrs Miyoko kawahara, the wife of WWII aircrew member Shinji Kawahara, who was shot down in action outside Darwin Harbour in 1943.

A Japanese woman has laid her mother's ashes to rest in Darwin waters, in the same ocean where her father - shot down in 1943 in combat off the Northern Territory coast - lies with his Second World War Dinah aircraft.

All warfare needs reconnaissance, to find out where the enemy is, or his strength. One fine afternoon in August 1943 off Darwin it was the Imperial Japanese Navy's misfortune to have one of its reconnaissance aircraft meet up with an ace of the Royal Australian Air Force, Wing Commander Clive Caldwell.

The Dinah twin-engine aircraft from Koepang was intercepted west of Bathurst Island north of Darwin at around 4.30pm. Wing Commander Caldwell and his wingman Flight Sergeant PR Padula spotted the Dinah at a considerable height ahead of anti-aircraft fire over Charles Point.

An initial attack by Caldwell hit the Dinah, while Padula's attack was made at too great a range. The Dinah had its own machinegun defence but this was no match for the agile Spitfires and their formidable guns and cannon. Caldwell made two further attacks. The Australian pilot reported the enemy aircraft was losing height: "First gradually and then steeply until I was obliged to dive in order to retain my position abreast."

The Japanese machine continued a steep descent until it appeared to attempt to level out momentarily, but then it hit the water at high speed.

Neither of the crew members, Flight Chief Petty Officers Tomihiko Tanaka and Shinji Kawahara were recovered. 

Kawahara's widow, Miyoko, lived on through the rest of the war in Japan, bringing up the couple's two children. She led a long and happy life, but before she died in 2004 expressed a wish for her ashes to join her husband's body off the Northern Territory coast. 

Supported by the federal and Northern Territory governments and the City of Darwin, the Kawahara family were able to carry out this request. 

In a simple ceremony on the sparkling blue waters of the ocean outside Darwin, led by Royal Australian Navy Chaplain, Richard Quadrio, Miyoko's ashes were given to the sea by five family members, led by Noriyo Ito, the daughter of Shinji Kawahara and his wife.

Northern Territory Minister for Multicultural Affairs, Peter Styles, was quietly sympathetic to the cause.

"It's nearly 75 years now since the Second World War," Mr Styles said. 

"For many Australians now the war is more a subject of interest rather than anger. 

"We are firm friends with Japan, and we're happy to support this request to bring the family peace in their quest."

The Territory saw more than two years of being on the war's front line, with air raids carried out until the end of 1943.