We’ve all been there. You’ve got to fill out a long form, and halfway through you realise that you put your first name in the surname space, or put today’s date instead of your birthdate, or signed your name on the wrong line.
Most times it’s a simple matter of asking for another form, or correcting your mistake and handing it over with a sheepish apology. But what if you screwed up one of the most important documents of the 20th century? That’s exactly what Colonel Lawrence Moore Cosgrave did when signing the Japanese Instrument of Surrender on September 2nd, 1945 – the document that marked the official end of World War II.
After Japanese officials had signed the document, and General Douglas MacArthur had countersigned it in his role as ‘Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers’, the individual representatives of the Allies then added their own signatures: first the U.S. representative, followed by China, the U.K, the U.S.S.R. and Australia. But when Colonel Cosgrave scribbled his moniker, he made the mistake of putting it below the line, instead of above.
The error has been attributed to Cosgrave being blind in one eye, as a result of a World War I injury. It has to be said though, that looking at the form it seems an easy mistake to make, if you were feeling a bit nervous and rushed: in looking for the appropriate spot to sign, one would look for and find ‘Dominion of Canada Representative’, before the eyes naturally dropped down to the next line. Which, unfortunately for Col. Cosgrave, was the line reserved for the French representative, not him.
Each subsequent representative then continued signing their name one line below where they should have been, until it came time for the New Zealand delegate to add the final signature…but there was no line. Undaunted, he simply added his signature in the white space beneath.
The unfortunate result, however, was that names were being signed to spaces that were titled for other representatives – and any legal document generally has to be done exactly by the books, lest it be considered invalid. And when we’re talking about ending the worst conflict in human history, that’s not something you want to happen.
When the Japanese delegation protested – could they accept a botched surrender document? – Douglas MacArthur’s famously brusque chief of staff General Richard Sutherland scratched out the now-incorrect list of Allied delegates and handwrote the correct titles under each signature, adding his initials to each correction to forestall further protest. The Japanese were then dismissed from the USS Missouri with a short “Now it’s all fine” from Gen. Sutherland.
Regardless, we can only assume Colonel Cosgrave was left rather red-faced by his faux pas…being Canadian, he was probably quick to say sorry. Sadly for him though, his mistake has been preserved for future generations to see, as the historic document is on display at Japan’s Edo-Tokyo Museum (the Allied copy has no such error).