The lives of 48 Japanese soldiers and one New Zealand guard who were killed at Featherston's Prisoner of War camp in 1943 have been remembered at a wreath-laying ceremony.

Last Wednesday marked the 72nd anniversary of the "Featherston Incident" and several wreaths were laid at the soldiers' memorials.

Those gathered included the Japanese Ambassador Yasuaki Nogawa, South Wairarapa Mayor Adrienne Staples, councillors and board members, and Archdeacon Rev May Croft.

Also attending were representatives from Juken New Zealand, The Sakai Association, the Featherston Anzac Club Society, Featherston Heritage Museum and the Featherston Memorial RSA.

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Exactly what happened the day of the incident is still debated but in just 30 seconds, 32 people were fatally shot by New Zealand guards.

It happened after some of the prisoners staged a sit-down strike, refusing to work.

Their leader, Adachi, who wanted a conference with the camp commander, was wounded by a warning shot.

It was thought a riot had ensued but according to the investigation carried out immediately after the incident, the firing by the guards and the attack by the prisoners with stones started simultaneously.

Although there had been no order to shoot, the guards opened fire with rifles and sub-machine guns as the prisoners threw stones and moved towards them.

Thirty-one Japanese died instantly, 17 died later and 74 others were injured.

Six New Zealanders were wounded and another, Private Walter Pelvin, killed.

Details were censored by the Government at the time and a military court of inquiry exonerated New Zealand.

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But after a 50-year embargo was lifted on the records of the tribunal and records kept by government departments about the incident, researchers have suggested the New Zealand side was to blame.

From 1942 to 1943, 868 Japanese soldiers and paramilitary personnel were interned at the camp after being taken prisoner on Guadalcanal.

Japanese Ambassador Yasuaki Nogawa (left) looks on as Featherston Community Board chairwoman Lee Carter and South Wairarapa mayor Adrienne Staples lay flowers for the NZ soldier killed.
Japanese Ambassador Yasuaki Nogawa (left) looks on as Featherston Community Board chairwoman Lee Carter and South Wairarapa mayor Adrienne Staples lay flowers for the NZ soldier killed.