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Japanese War Grave Lochgilphead

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Japanese gravestone, 2008
Japanese gravestone
© Peter Moran

A Japanese war grave lies in Lochgilphead cemetery at Achnabreck (Achnabraec), east of the Crinnan Canal to the north of Lochgilphead.

Local records show this to be the grave of Nisaboru Murai, who died of a coronary thrombosis at the age of 51, while at Knapdale PoW camp, however the precise circumstances of his presence there are uncertain, despite attempts by a number of researchers to determine the details.

Inscription

Inscription detail, 2008
Inscription detail
© Peter Moran


The simple inscription reads:

DONKEYMAN
N. MURAI
JAPANESE FORCES
14TH MAY 1942

We understand that Donkeyman refers to someone who undertook Merchant Navy service, and have been told that the Register of Deaths for Lochgilphead, 1942, gives further details which confirm this:

Nisaburo Murai, a seaman in the British Mercantile Marine, died age 51 of a coronary thrombosis at Knabdale (sic) POW Camp.
His usual address is given as 73 Seymour Street, South Shields.

- Lochgilphead Register of Deaths, 1942.

The transfer of a Japanese merchant seaman from the Isle of Man to Knapdale POW camp is confirmed by records held in the National Archives.[1]

According to a local archive: a number of small fishing vessels were bought from Japan at the time of World War, intended to be used in minesweeping activities. It seems the crew accompanied their vessels, and many of the Japanese crew settled in this country, often marrying local girls. This is thought to be how N Murai came to Britain, and his nationality meant that he was interned at the start of the war with Japan (1941), where hw was to die of on natural causes, at the internment camp at Cairnbaan.

A number of questions have been raised, and remain unanswered in relation to the presence of this gravestone, and arise primarily from the inclusion of the term Japanese Forces within the inscription:

  • Would a merchant seaman serving on British registered ships, and with a home address in England, be classified as an Enemy Alien and be sent to an internment camp on the Isle of Man
  • Would the transfer to a PoW camp, along with other Japanese merchant seamen, mean they would have to be classed as being in the Imperial Japanese Forces
  • Japan signed but did not ratify the 1929 Geneva Convention. Did this mean Britain could reclassify Japanese subjects at will

Further information may be available from [2], which explains the background an experience of the often overlooked small number of Japanese internees, but this appears to cost some £80, so we are dependent on someone who own the book looking in here, or who has access to in a reference library.

The monumental sculptor who created the gravestone would be unaware of the circumstances or history of the deceased, and the term may be little more than a misunderstanding, which may have arisen if the sculptor was simply told that the stone was to be carved for seaman a Japanese seaman who had been in service without further explanation. The obvious assumption being that this was with the Japanese, rather than British, Navy. In 1942, during the war, no-one would really have cared about such a slip, which would have consumed another stone to rectify. If the stone is postwar, it may simply have copied existing wording.

References

1 Transfer of Japanese merchant seaman from Isle of Man to Knapdale POW camp

2 The Japanese Community in Pre-War Britain from Integration to Disintegration, Keiko Itoh. Richmond, Curzon Press, 2001. ISBN 0-7007-1487-1

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