South West Wales

Pembrokeshire war grave plan for Japanese sailors

The original memorial at Angle
Image caption Long gone - the original memorial for seven of the victims

Plans are under way for a new memorial in Pembrokeshire for Japanese sailors who died when their ship was torpedoed by a German U-boat in the Irish Sea.

Just 29 of the 320 on board the Hirano Maru survived when the vessel was hit, a month before the end of World War One.

Fifteen of the bodies were washed up on Pembrokeshire's shores.

A wooden post in a churchyard in Angle to remember the victims has rotted so locals hope to erect a new memorial.

During the Great War, Japan was Britain's ally and her merchant ships were a target for German U-boats.

On 4 October 1918 - one month before the armistice - one such vessel, the Hirano Maru, was torpedoed off the coast of Ireland.

Most of those who died washed up on Irish beaches, but 15 bodies were found on Pembrokeshire's shores - seven at Freshwater West, five in Dale, one at St Ishmael's and two in Solva.

David James, of the West Wales Maritime Heritage Society, said: "All of these graves have markers, but the wooden post that was erected in nearby Angle for seven of the victims has long since rotted away."

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Media captionThe Hirano Maru was sunk a month before the end of World War One

He is now trying to get a new memorial erected at the unmarked grave in St Mary's church.

"You could say I'm keeping a promise that I make every Remembrance Day: 'We will remember them'," he added.

"These people were our allies, somebody's sons, husbands and fathers.

"There should be a marker there, I feel it is only right."

In the burial records of Angle churchyard, only one of the victims from the time is named, Shiro Okoshi. The rest are listed as "unknown".

Mr James has contacted the Japanese Embassy to raise the issue, and enlisted the support of a retired Japanese Major General living in Swansea.

Ken Matsui said he was honoured to hear that the people of Pembrokeshire wanted to mark his country's loss.

"I was very touched to hear about this," he said.

"More than 40 Japanese vessels were sunk or attacked during World War One.

"But the Hirano Maru stands out because it was sunk so close to the end of the war - only a few weeks later the German U-boat surrendered to British forces."

If St Mary's church gives the go ahead, Mr James said he hopes to hold a special service of dedication.

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