The 75th Anniversary of the sinking of the Lisbon Maru fell on 2 October last year. Ceremonies were held both in Zhoushan, China, where the Incident took place, and in London at the FEPOW Memorial in Camden. There was a television link between the two events.
Our speaker Brian Finch also published in 2017 a translation of a Chinese book giving an account of the Incident seen through the eyes of the courageous Chinese fishermen who rescued hundreds of prisoners of war under fire from Japanese soldiers. It was published in Hong Kong on 16 November by Proverse Hong Kong in the Royal Asiatic Society Hong Kong Studies series. For those not familiar with the Lisbon Maru Incident, the book is said to be one of the finest examples of Chinese-British people-to-people cooperation in wartime – to the extent that Chinese President Xi Jinping referred to it during his speech at the State Banquet in Buckingham Palace during his State visit in 2015. Here is a brief summary:
In 1942 the Japanese shipped 1,834 prisoners of war from Hong Kong to Japan to become slave labour. The ship was not marked in any way to show it was carrying prisoners of war and was torpedoed by a US submarine off the coast of China near Zhoushan. It took 24 hours for the ship to sink. During that time the prisoners were confined to the holds, the hatches were battened down and it was the apparent intention of the Japanese that they should all drown when the ship finally sank. Conditions were atrocious, quite apart from the obvious feelings of terror and impending doom. Many were suffering from dysentery and other diseases, there was no water or food, no light, no fresh air, and of course there were no toilet facilities. At the 11th hour, shortly before the ship went down, some prisoners managed a break-out. As they came out of the holds and jumped into the sea to save their lives, Japanese soldiers fired at them with rifles and machine-guns. Local Chinese fishermen saw what was happening and at great personal risk rowed out to rescue hundreds of prisoners. In so doing they also prevented further wholesale slaughter as the Japanese then realised there were witnesses, stopped shooting and started picking up survivors.
Brian has said: “I believe very strongly that the quite extraordinary courage shown by those Chinese fishermen should not be forgotten, and that is one of the main reasons I took the trouble to translate into English the Chinese account of the rescue and the events that followed. My interest also stems from having served in The Middlesex Regiment with one of the survivors of the sinking and having since met several other survivors. I am keen to spread knowledge and understanding of this terrible incident and the outstanding actions of the Zhoushan fishermen as widely as possible and I work closely with the Lisbon Maru Association of Hong Kong to this end.”
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Lunch: A self-paying lunch will be arranged at 12:30 p.m. at‘Red and Hot’, 37 Chalton Street, NW1 1JD. Please note on the booking form if you wish to join the lunch.
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