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War grave plans to honour Japanese WW1 soldiers

The Hirano Maru passenger ship

PLANS to build a new war memorial are underway to pay tribute to fallen Japanese soldiers whose ship was bombed just one month before the end of World War One. The Hirano Maru was torpedoed in the Irish Sea by a German U-Boat on October 4 1918, killing 291 of 320 men on board.

Although most of the poor sailors’ bodies were washed up on Irish beaches, 15 bodies washed up on Pembrokeshire shores – 7 at Freshwater West, 5 in Dale, 2 in Solva and 1 in St. Ishmael’s.

Japan was Britain’s ally during the Great War, making Japanese trade ships one of the primary targets of German U-Boats, with more than 40 Japanese ships being sunk before the 1918 armistice.

David James, Secretary of the West Wales Maritime Heritage Society, said that though each of the soldiers’ graves have a marker, only one of the drowned men, Shiro Okoshi, was named. He also noted that: “the wooden post which was erected in nearby Angle for seven of the victims has long since rotted away.”

Mr James is now seeking to create a new memorial to commemorate the Japanese soldiers at the site of the unmarked grave in St. Mary’s church in Angle, and has contacted the Japanese Embassy to raise the issue.

Ken Matsui, a retired Japanese Major General living in Swansea, was also contacted by Mr James regarding the memorial and was “touched” that Pembrokeshire residents wanted to mark the loss that his country had experienced.

Japan also has naval roots within Pembrokeshire, as the first ever ship for the Imperial Japanese Navy was built in Pembroke Dock.

Remarking on his wish to remember the fallen soldiers, Mr James said: “”You could say I’m keeping a promise that I make every Remembrance Day: ‘We will remember them.’ These people were our allies, somebody’s sons, husbands and fathers.  There should be a marker there; I feel it is only right.”

With the permission of St Mary’s Church, Mr James would like to hold a special remembrance service for the Japanese soldiers once the memorial has been built.