September 2, 1945 – The Signing of the Japanese Instrument of Surrender on the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay

By: 3572 FJN

Hostilities with Japan ended on 15 August, 1945, to be followed by a signing of the Japanese Instrument of Surrender on 2 September. No. 851 Colonel L Moore Cosgrave, DSO, Croix de Guerre, represented the Canadian Government at the signing, and has the reputation of having caused ‘The Cosgrave Error’ when he signed, on the Japanese copy of the document, on the wrong line, causing all those below to have to sign one line lower than the copy showed. The last signatory, Air Vice Marshal Leonard Isitt signing for New Zealand, had to sign in an open space, with his title written in by hand. That is the story as described in a number of sources. But Colonel Cosgrave deserves better.


A 1912 graduate of RMC, he was a classmate of No 841 Lt Alexis Helmer, the ‘close friend’ of Major John MacCrae, whose death on 2 May, 1915, prompted the writing of In Flanders Fields. Cosgrave, who had gone to McGill with Helmer after their graduation from RMC, joined the Ist Brigade unit of the Canadian Field Artillery with Helmer, and both served with MacCrae. Lt Cosgrave was at the burial service, and was present the following day when the poem was written. He continued to serve with the Guns until the end of the Great War, becoming the CO of the unit in 1918. During that service, he was twice awarded the Distinguished Service Order, in 1916 and 1918, on both occasions for ‘conspicuous gallantry in action’ (becoming one of only six Ex-Cadets to receive a DSO & Bar in the War and he was one of only 27 to have received three Mentions-in-Despatches). He was wounded at least once, losing the sight of an eye, and at the end of the War he wrote a memoir ‘Afterthoughts of Armageddon’ which was privately printed by his wife.

In 1919, he resigned his commission and joined the Canadian Trade Commissioner Service, initially in the UK, later in the Far East, serving 10 years in Shanghai, before moving to Australia. In 1942, he re-enrolled and was appointed the Dominion Military Attache in Canberra. After the War, he returned to the Trade Commissioner Service, serving again in China, and later in Europe. He was to open the Colonel John MacCrae Memorial in 1963, and died in Knowlton, Quebec, in 1971, having served his country and his College well.

There are two additional stories:

The Minister Plenipotentiary, Mamoru Shigemitsu, who led the Japanese representatives, signing on behalf of the Emperor, was an old friend of Moore Cosgrave from shared days in Shanghai, and it is recorded that on arrival on board the Missouri, they acknowledged one another with smiles, until the seriousness of the situation took over.

The Missouri was, like all ships of the USN, a ’dry ship’. The Empire and Commonwealth signatories, however, wished to celebrate the occasion. Colonel Cosgrave knew the Canadian Mission well, and led a small group to the Mission opposite the Akasaka Palace, where he was greeted by the major domo, a Japanese, who had occupied the building throughout the war – no Japanese other than he and his staff had ever entered the building since 1942. Canadian Ambassador Barry Steers recounted this story to me in 1986, saying that the major domo provided the drinks sought, the cellar equally having been untouched throughout the war. AVM Isitt, unsurprised at the Cosgrave initiative, was present; he knew Canadians well as he had been the RNZAF representative to the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan (or Empire Air Training Plan as the New Zealanders knew it), throughout the Second World War.

The  debt was paid...