A War Time Tragedy Full of Christian Heroism
As narrated by Rev.J.W.A.Kadirgamar
Pastor, Methodist Church, Seremban, Malaya
The New Zealand Methodist Times
March 2 ,1946
(This article was first published in The Methodist Recorder, England under
the caption’ True wartime stories’- I lost the paper cuttings of the original
publications. This article copied by the New Zealand Methodist Times was
found in the archives of the Methodist Church in Singapore and sent to me
by my sister in Singapore. Rev.J.W.A.Kadirgamar is my father)
On February 6th, 1943 one Sunday morning when I was about to begin worship services at Port
Dickson-an attractive sea-town of Malaya- a young English-speaking Japanese officer just past his
teens, a Christian who had been in the church services some weeks previously, made a remarkable
request from me that is permission to speak a few words. In Malaya under Japanese occupation
We dare not refuse anything to Japanese officers. In addition there was an earnest tone in the
Request and it was granted. Then that officer, with tears in his eyes, heart-broken and with a
Disturbing conscience, we heard a tale that has moved us ever since. A tale of two Christian
Young men brought up in the best of Christian homes, their lives deeply influenced by Christian
truth, facing each other as enemies with destructive weapons and against their conscience in the
bloody death struggle. Here is the story:-
After the fall of Kuala Lumpur, which took place on January 11th, 1942.there was a bombing
attack on Kuala Lumpur by the British Air Forces. Among the pilots that manned those planes of the
R.A.F. there was one Paul Michael from New Zealand. He was fortunate in the first instance to have
been hit by the Japanese anti-aircraft fire which resulted in a damaged compass. Being new to Malaya
he did not know the directions and he zigzagged again and again between Kuala Lumpur and the
Indian Ocean. Once when he appeared over Kajang about 20 miles from Kuala Lumpur, his plane
was shot down. He escaped unhurt but was captured.
Immediately Paul Michael was taken to the Japanese military station and attempts were
made to get from him details of the disposition of the British Army and Air Force. Of course he would
not disclose and the Japes (sic) with their funny military courts, condemned him to be killed for his
failure to give military information. The interpreter in this farce of a trial was this same Christian
Japanese officer - Joseph Tsutada. He, of course, did not agree, but he did not tell Paul of the decision
arrived at. Paul was interned and in the camp that night, in the still hours, there was heard someone
singing beautifully a Christian hymn:
‘Come, Thou Fount of every blessing,
Tune my heart to sing Thy grace’
Joseph Tsutada was on duty at that time, watching at the camp. He was strangely warmed
by the fervor and beauty of the hymn in the still moment of the night, in the prison camp
of this battlefield. His heart was lifted up to the realms of God. He was drawn to the prison. He bluffed
at first as he approached him and reprimanded him for singing in the night and received the answer,
This is a hymn that my mother taught me, and it consoles me at this moment of my life,” Tsutada on
further inquiry learned that Paul Michael was a Methodist Christian and revealed that he too
belonged to the same Church. They at once started a friendship and in Christian fellowship they
spent the whole night. Whatever may be the differences, even though we be at war, we can be one in
Christ. At the break of dawn Paul asked from Joseph a favor. He requested that Joseph bring him
from his wrecked plane a book of devotions and a golden cross…his treasured possession from his
home, gifts from his dear ones in his “Home Sweet Home”. Joseph knew that his Christian friend had
only a few more hours to live though Paul himself was ignorant of it, and he readily consented to
bring them down to him.
That evening, his fate as tragedy would have it, Joseph was called by his commanding
officer and ordered along with another colleague to take Paul to the jungle nearby and have him
beheaded for his refusal to disclose the military secrets of his army. Joseph felt sad but military orders
had to be obeyed. He went to Paul and informed him of this and asked what he could do for him as a
last favor before his death. The valiant Christian that he was he took the news of his fate unusually
calm. Joseph said that normally when anyone gets the news of impending death they would get
benumbed and excited. Paul with remarkable Christian courage replied that he came to die for his
country and asked whether Joseph could prepare a dinner such as he used to have at home. He gave
him the menu and some directions for cooking. Joseph readily agreed to prepare it, for he had
everything there to make a good English dinner with looted stuff the Japanese had. And they had
a good dinner together in a most pleasant spirit. Joseph with his non-English speaking Japanese
colleague took Paul Michael to a jingle nearby to be executed. They reached the appointed spot, they
dug the grave, and then Paul asked permission to pray, which was readily granted. He knelt down and
opened his heart to a beautiful prayer. He prayed for strength from God, he prayed for his country, for
his Empire, for his home, for his parents, for all the other dear ones at home, for his Church, for Japan
and the Japanese officer by his side who had been ordered to kill him and for peace of the world.
He got up. He gave his Bible to Joseph and asked him to bury it with him. He gave his book of devotions
to Joseph as a memorial gift to mark their friendship in the last moments of his life. He entrusted the
golden cross to Joseph and asked him to have it sent to his mother when peace comes, with the message,
“For me to live is Christ and to die is gain. Christ shall be magnified in my body whether by life or death”
(Philippians :20 to 25). Then he said he was ready to die !
This beautiful courage and faith at the very moment of death by Paul entirely unnerved Joseph.
He stood trembling and in tears and told Paul he cannot kill him. In the meanwhile his
Japanese colleague was restless. He did not understand the meaning of all this and asked Joseph
why he is talking and delaying instead of finishing his job. Then Joseph explained to him the history
of their contact these 24 hours, how they belonged to one faith and one Church. He told in detail the
noble acts of Paul’s last moments, the prayer of the man and the presents and the message he had given,
ready to die in the faith of eternal glory in Christ. The rough Japanese military officer was
tremendously moved and said he too would no cut him. Then the three faced each other ennobled
by the heights of Christian heroism. Finally, Paul told Joseph, “You know your military orders. If you
don’t cut me now someone else will do it most unceremoniously tomorrow and you too may die. I came
to this country to die and to die in Christ is far better. I prefer to die by your hands,” and taking
Tsutada’s hand he enabled him to complete the tragic duty and passed into eternity, a noble
“Take my heart and Seal it,
Seal it for Thy courts above “
As Joseph related this story the congregation wept. It moved us to our depths. Joseph
Tsutada said,”Paul’s face is ever before me. My conscience tells I should not have done this and I ask
your prayer on my behalf and that God may forgive me if I trespassed His law in the course of my
We turned that service into a memorial service for Paul Michael. We sang this hymn,
“Come Thou fount of every blessing,” as a memorial tribute to Paul Michael, prayed for peace of his
soul and for his parents and his Christian home and asked God to stop this war that so carelessly
misuses two noble Christian young men amidst their love and friendship in His name to kill each other.
Joseph remained with us a loyal member of our Church, till a few months before the surrender,
when he was transferred to an unknown destination.
Note:- (1) The Book of devotions,”Daily Light,” given to Joseph Tsutada is now with
me, to be sent to the mother of Paul Michael as soon as I know her address.
(2) The golden cross Mr.Tsutada had forwarded to his brother who is a minister of the
Methodist Church in Tokyo, with instructions to send it to New Zealand as soon as peace comes.
(3) This confession and memorial service was held exactly on the 1st anniversary of
Paul Michael’s death.
(These above notes were written by Appa (my father)
Notes from Rajan Kadirgamar (1996).
I and other members of our family have met Joseph Tsutada on his visits to our
Home in Seremban (1943) which is only 20 miles away from Port Dickson. I can still picture him as a boyish looking, pleasant soldier. Most Japanese soldiers were stockily built and looked
Punishment by beheading was rampant specially for the traditional enemies of the
Japanese-the Chinese. The first thing that the Japanese soldiers did as they occupied our town of Seremban was to exhibit decapitated heads of Chinese on poles at busy junctions with the placard reading, “This is what will happen to those who disobey the Japanese army !”
Those of us from Jaffna may remember another version of this punishment. During our own conflicts a few years ago!
It was Joseph Tsutada’s appeal that this confession made in the Port Dickson Methodist
Church should be divulged only when peace had returned to the country. This was the first sermon my father preached after Japan surrendered in August 1945.
NOTES BY SILAN KADIRGAMAR (1996)
I found the above notes from Rajan as I began locating some of the more significant letters among hundreds that Rajan had written to me and others. As he mentions in his letter he had lost the original clipping of this story. Someone had taken it in the pre-photo copying days and did not return it. It turned up in a most unexpected fashion. The Chinese lady (no longer living) in charge of the Methodist Church library in Singapore had called my sister Sita one day in the early 1990s. She told Sita how a young Chinese theological student had gone to study in New Zealand and found this in the archives of the church there. That is how Rajan and I received copies of this story some 45 years later!
Fifty years after the war I have some reservations regarding the expression “Christian Heroism”, but these were perceptions of those times. The message lies in the tragic nature of war wherein young men are sent to kill young men. “When will they ever learn.”
In 1995 when Japan commemorated the fiftieth anniversary of the end of the war I read this story in all my classes in four different Universities in Tokyo-Yokohama and at three chapel talks. Several Japanese students openly wept. A non – Japanese young American lady lecturer wept through the whole 15 minutes I read this at a well attended chapel service.
As Rajan states I too remember Joseph Tsutada. I was able to contact his niece in Tokyo and she told me that he had returned to Japan and died sometime in the 1970s. His brother had been a pastor in the Japanese church and hence I was able locate this lady through church sources.
I also remember meeting the NZ Air Force officer who came to Seremban to interview Appa in early 1946. I had a ride in his jeep together with Appa all the way to Singapore (200 miles). Older siblings Acca, Rajan, Alagan and Padma had already visited Singapore. It was my turn this time (at age eleven) and this officer kept giving me chewing gum throughout the trip – a rare commodity in war torn Malaya. Indian and British soldiers used to lavishly drop packets of biscuits and chewing gum whenever they passed children on the streets. We stopped halfway at Gemas for lunch at Dr.A.B.C.Dorai’s residence. He was later family doctor to us when he too returned to Chavakachcheri sometime after we did.