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Embassy event remembers victims of WW II ship sinking that killed 800

By XING YI in Gloucester, England | China Daily | Updated: 2023-02-23 09:51

The relative of a survivor of the Lisbon Maru draws on a folding fan at a Chinese New Year reception in Gloucester, England, on Sunday. LI YING/XINHUA

The Chinese embassy in London has hosted an event honoring the memory of victims, survivors and heroes of a ship sinking in which more than 800 British prisoners of war lost their lives during World War II.

The Chinese New Year reception and memorial event was held in Gloucester, England, on Sunday for nearly 150 relatives of prisoners on the vessel the Lisbon Maru. It sank in the East China Sea in October 1942.

Zheng Zeguang, China's ambassador to the UK, said the Chinese New Year is an occasion when people hold family reunions, and that the memorial event was an opportunity for all present to remember a special bond between the Chinese and British.

The Lisbon Maru, a Japanese cargo ship carrying more than 1,800 British prisoners, sank off the coast of Zhejiang province after it was hit by a torpedo, fired by a United States submarine, USS Grouper, its crew unaware that prisoners were on board.

More than 800 British prisoners died in the sinking, but about 380 were saved by Chinese fishermen from Zhoushan, Zhejiang province, who ferried the drowning soldiers on small boats to nearby islands.

Many of the attendees at the event are second-generation relatives of the survivors, embassy officials said. It was the first time they had all met, with many traveling from all over the UK, including some from Scotland, to be there.

Dennis Morley, the last survivor of the sinking, died aged 101 two years ago. In his last years Morley and his daughter, Denise Wynne, set up a memorial for the sinking in the National Memorial Arboretum in Alrewas, Staffordshire.

With the help of friends, Wynne wrote a letter to President Xi Jinping suggesting that a similar memorial be built in Zhoushan to recognize the heroic story of the Chinese fishermen.

Quoting from her original letter on Sunday, Wynne said: "Fishermen from Zhoushan risking their lives to rescue hundreds of British prisoners of war on the Lisbon Maru is a valuable asset in the relationship between the two countries.

"My father once said that all prisoners of war on board would have lost their lives if they had not been rescued by the local fishermen, nor would he have gone back to the UK to build a happy family of five generations."

Unexpected reply

Wynne said she was surprised to receive a reply last year in which Xi encouraged her to "carry forward her father's legacy" and "continue to work for the advancement of friendship" between China and the UK. In his letter Xi said he had instructed "competent agencies to look into the idea of building a memorial".

Zheng told the audience that planning of the memorial has begun.

"Care about this matter is a testament to China's consistent policy and efforts to promote mutual understanding, friendship and cooperation between the Chinese and the British people. History should be remembered, and the history of the great cause should never be forgotten."

Zheng said that despite ups and downs, the people of China have always cherished the friendship with the British people, and that people-to-people exchanges hold the key to sound and productive state-to-state relations.

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