National / History

Memorial for victims of Japanese vessel sunk during World War I unveiled in Wales

Kyodo

A memorial dedicated to the victims of a Japanese merchant ship sunk by the German navy in the final days of World War I was unveiled Thursday in Wales.

The churchyard ceremony, which took place exactly 100 years after the sinking, was attended by descendants of the victims and members of the British royal family.

Only 30 of the 240 sailors and passengers on board the Hirano Maru survived when the ship was torpedoed by a German U-boat in the Irish Sea on Oct. 4, 1918, just over a month before the peace armistice was declared to end the conflict. As Japan was one of the U.K.’s allies, its merchant vessels were targeted by the German navy.

Residents of Pembrokeshire found at least 20 bodies along the county coastline, 10 of which were buried in the churchyard in the small village of Angle where Thursday’s ceremony took place. The wooden post erected at the time to commemorate the 10 victims rotted away and has now been replaced by a new granite memorial inscribed with a dedication written in English, Japanese and Welsh. Bouquets and wreaths were placed by Queen Elizabeth’s cousin Prince Richard after he unveiled the memorial, followed by representatives from the Japanese Embassy and Nippon Yusen K.K., the company that owned the ship.

Only one victim is named in the church records and on the memorial, as the other nine could not be identified.

Flowers were also left by Yoshiko Nakamura, 72, whose grandfather was among the victims. Shintaro Yamamoto, her grandfather, had been an officer in the Imperial Japanese Navy and was returning to Japan after visiting Britain on business when the boat was sunk, she explained.

After seeing a story about the planned memorial in her local newspaper, she decided to attend the ceremony with her daughter to pay her respects.

“My father, my mother, and all the people who remember the war have gradually disappeared,” she said. “I want to pass on this history to my daughter.”

Funds were raised for the memorial by David James, secretary of the West Wales Maritime Heritage Society. “I feel a great sense of satisfaction … (to have) brought something to so many people,” he said. “Wars are easy. It’s the peace that’s hard to find and keep.”

He said he was “humbled” to have helped Nakamura connect with her family’s history. “She came as an act of remembrance, which I find quite touching,” he said.

The memorial was carved by a local stonemason and cost approximately £3,500 pounds ($4,500), paid for through contributions from residents and Nippon Yusen.

A spokesman for the shipping company said it was “a great honor and privilege” for representatives of the company to be present at the ceremony.