Thursday, April 07, 2005


Declassified document unveils truth of WWII shipwreck


China View
April 05, 2005

The Lisbon Maru.

HANGZHOU- Sixty-three years ago, nearly 200 fishermen in east China's Zhejiang Province rescued more than 380 British prisoners after a Japanese ship was torpedoed and sunk in East China sea.

Sixty-three years later, the story of the rescue, which had been largely forgotten, came out as a confidential document was declassified in the Zhejiang Provincial Archives in April, 2005.

The 99-page document, which was accidentally found by scholars in Zhejiang, recorded in detail the rescue and includes 1948 telegrams from the British governments expressing gratitude to the fishermen.

On Sept. 27, 1942, more than 1,800 British prisoners of war boarded the "Lisbon Maru," a Japanese prison ship disguised as common cargo vessel, leaving Hong Kong for Japan.

The ship was torpedoed by a US submarine off the Zhoushan Islands in Zhejiang, on Oct. 1, 1942. While many were killed, others jumped from the sinking ship.

The document said nearly 200 local fishermen with 46 fishing boats rushed to the site and pulled 384 British soldiers from the water.

"It was Aug. 23, 1942 in the Chinese Lunar Calendar. I heard a huge bang. All the men in my family rushed out of the house and wesaw a big ship in the sea with its back part in the water. We decided to see what happened," recalled Shen Agui, 81, one of the 13 fishermen still alive.

"First we saw some wooden blocks and cotton floating on the water. But to our surprise, we found many people in the sea, yelling something," said 80-year-old Guo Ade, another of the fishermen.

"We dared not get too close, as four Japanese ships were around.So we had to wait until they left and began to save the people," said Shen.

"Blue eyes, yellow hair and white skin. We had no idea they were British, but we could see they were foreigners," said Shen, who said that he, his father and his uncle rescued seven of the men.

"Japanese came to our village the next day and I told my families to send three foreigners hiding at my home to a nearby cave, which was barely known to the villagers," said Wang Baorong, another fisherman.

The rescued soldiers were recaptured by the Japanese and taken back to Japan -- all except for J. C. Fallace, W. C. Johnstone and A. J. W. Evans, the three hidden in the cave, who managed to escape to Chongqing, an inland city in southwest China with the help of the Chinese, according to the document.

Altogether 847 died in the shipwreck and 970 survived.

The three Britishers disclosed the truth of "the Lisbon Maru Incident" and Japanese armies mistreating the British soldiers through broadcast in Chongqing, firstly making the truth known to the public.

USS Grouper, the submarine that sunk the Lisbon Maru.

As time passed, the "Lisbon Maru Incident" was remembered only by historians and insiders. In 2002 when Wang Haigang, a deputy ofthe City People's Congress of Zhoushan, made a proposal to salvagethe sunken ship, that the public focused on that period of history again.

The government of Zhoushan launched a large-scale investigation into the shipwreck and found the 13 fishermen who took part in the rescue.

In May 2003, Tian Qinghua, vice-chairman with the Zhoushan Social Science Association, happened to find the classified document in the Zhejiang Provincial Archives, providing authoritative evidence for the truth of the shipwreck.

In fact, the "Lisbon Maru Incident" has not only riveted attention from Chinese people, but also from Tony Banham, a British war history scholar, who first learned of the incident in 1988 and decided to write book on it.

"I heard some British soldiers were saved by Chinese people in a shipwreck, but I wanted to know the details," said Mr. Banham, who came to Zhoushan Saturday to research his book.

He met three of the fishermen on Sunday, but the interview doesnot go smoothly.

"Communicating with them is tough job, because my questions must first be translated into Mandarin and then Zhoushan dialect and their answer had to be also translated twice," said the British scholar.

"But it was totally worth it because I found out so many new things and I was so impressed by these people -- they risked their lives to save several hundred foreigners, which should never be forgotten," he said.

Banham has interviewed 15 British survivors.

"They said after they fell into the sea, the Japanese did not offer help, instead, they shot them and kicked those who tried to climb onto the life boats," he said.

Banham's book, scheduled to be released early next year, will include a poem written by the daughter of a British survivor about her father's experience of being rescued by Chinese fishermen and sent back to the jail in Japan.

"The 'Lisbon Maru' was a life-long scar to the British soldiers, but also to their families," he said.

To carry out further investigation into the "Lisbon Maru Incident," a special research association was established in Zhoushan and the local government also plans to shoot a movie about the shipwreck.

"I don't want to be hero of the movie. I am not a hero," said Guo Ade, one the three fisherman interviewed by Banham.

"I just did something that I always believed in," the old man said. "Saving a life adds a star in the sky and the Lord knows allwe've done." Enditem


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