On the Dotted Line

Lawrence Moore Cosgrave paved the way for a new Canada–Japan relationship

The sky over Tokyo Bay was gunmetal grey on September 2, 1945, matching the colour of more than 250 warships anchored off the bombed-out Japanese capital. Aboard the USS Missouri, the flags of the United States, Britain and the Soviet Union snapped in the breeze.


On its deck, hundreds of servicepeople had gathered to witness the formal end of history’s bloodiest conflict with Japan’s signing of the Instrument of Surrender.

Just after Japanese Foreign Minister Mamoru Shigemitsu and General Yoshijiro Umezu signed on behalf of the Japanese government and armed forces, respectively, U.S. General Douglas MacArthur and nine other Allied delegates added their signatures to the document.

One, however, caused a hiccup in the care­fully scripted ceremony: Canadian Colonel Lawrence Moore Cosgrave put his signature on the wrong line on the Japanese copy of the document. Delegates from France, the Netherlands and New Zealand had to sign on lines intended for others. General Richard Sutherland, MacArthur’s chief of staff, crossed out the printed titles and corrected them with a pen so all would be in order.

When the Japanese delegation questioned the changes, Sutherland initialled each one. The Japanese accepted this, took their copy and disembarked from the battleship as dozens of fighter planes thundered overhead. World War II was over, and peace was official.

Gallant Soldier

It’s unfortunate that Cosgrave is remembered for the blunder: In 1971, the Canadian Press said he “unintentionally delayed the conclusion of the armistice.” Born in Toronto in 1890, Cosgrave was named after his father Lawrence J. Cosgrave, one of the founders of the city’s Cosgrave and Sons brewery.

He was educated at the Royal Military College of Canada in Kingston and McGill University in Montreal, and served as an artillery officer in World War I. In Belgium, he fought at the Second Battle of Ypres under John McCrae (1872–1918), who wrote the famous poem In Flanders Fields there.

Wounded in battle, Cosgrave was left blind in one eye. Canada twice awarded him the Distinguished Service Order for “conspicuous gallantry in action” and France decorated him with the Croix de Guerre.

Finishing the war with the rank of lieu­tenant colonel, he wrote an essay, Afterthoughts of Armageddon. Published by his wife Beryl Hunter Jones in 1919 and dedicated to “the million dead,” it’s an account of the emotions Cosgrave and his comrades experienced in the years of grinding horror, poison gas and trench warfare.

The war came to an end on November 11, 1918, when Germany signed an armistice with the Allied powers in a railway car in the Compiègne Forest. In his essay, Cosgrave describes hearing two young children singing “Silent Night” in occupied Germany that Christmas, and reflects that “at last, the world was safe for all the babes of the world — which, thank God and the men of to-day, would never again undergo the agony, the pain and the heart torture of another such Armageddon; and in the days to come — the hate, the loathing, the unutterable contempt, even the after-pity for a diseased band of nations such as Germany and her Allies, would never repeat itself.”

It’s unfortunate that Cosgrave is remembered for the blunder

Service around the World

Sadly, that was not to be the case. Cosgrave spent the interwar years working in consular posts at embassies around the world, and as a senior official with the Trade and Commerce Department was Canadian trade commissioner in the Orient. Then, 22 years after the 1918 Armistice, Hitler accepted France’s surrender in the very same railway car. Five years after that, Germany lay in ruins and Cosgrave, then the Canadian Military Attaché in Australia, was signing the Japanese Instrument of Surrender on the Missouri.

In 1946, Cosgrave retired from the military and rejoined the Commerce Department, serv­ing in Europe in the 1950s. He later settled in the town of Knowlton, in Quebec’s Eastern Townships, where he died in 1971.

Regardless of where it was placed, Cosgrave’s signature paved the way for a strong new bilat­eral relationship after the war, with Canada supporting Japan’s return to the international community. But if you’re interested in seeing that wayward signature for yourself, there’s a copy of the Instrument of Surrender at the Edo-Tokyo Museum in Sumida Ward.

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