Town Mayor Councillor Jane Phillips led a party of guests from Pembroke Dock who attended a reception at Portsmouth Royal Dockyard on board the Japanese warship Kashmia.
Hosting the reception were the Japanese Ambassador, His excellency Keiichi Hayashi,and the commander of the Japan Maritime self-defence force training squadron, Rear admiral Fumiyuki Kitagawa.
The Mayor presented town crests to the Ambassador and Admiral Kitagawa coupled with invitations to visit Pembroke Dock in 2014,its bicentennial year. A letter from the chairman of Pembrokeshire county council,Councillor Arwyn Williams,
was also presented. Councillor Williams was unable to attend but added his invitation to the Ambassador to visit Pembrokeshire.
Pembroke Dock’s remarkable links with Japan date to 1877 when an armoured corvette, the was launched at the private Shipbuilding and Engineering works at Jacobs Pill Pennar. Hiel was one of the first modern warships built for the Japanese navy.
Her Captain was Lieutenant Heichahiro Togo who trained at the royal naval college,Greenwich,London, and later became Commander in Chief of Japan’s Imperial Grand Fleet. He lodged in Pembroke Dock while the vessel was being built.
Among VIP’s present for the launch in 1877 was the Japanese Ambassador. His Excellency Jushie Wooyeno Kagenori and the vessel was christened by the daughter of Mr E. J. Reed, owner of the ship yard. During his visit the Ambassador planted ginko tree in the garden of the master Shipwright’s House in the Dockyard and today,136 years on, this tree is a tall and impressive specimen.
After completion early in 1878 and Hieli sailed for Yokohama taking with her of the shipyard workforce, and went on to complete a long and distinguished career up to 1911.
Joining the Mayor at Portsmouth were Deputy Mayor Councillor Pam George, Commander Tony Mason, RNR Honoray Naval liaison officer; retired naval chaplain the Rev Mike Brotherton of Angle; David James, of the West Wales maritime Heritage society; Martin Cavaney,2014 Bicentennial Coordinator and Chairman of the Pembroke Dock Museum trust and John Evans, of the Sunderland Trust.
Great War Tragedy
Japanese hosts at the Portsmouth reception were also told of another special -and tragic-connection with Pembrokeshire.
On 4th October 1918,just 32 miles off the Pembrokeshire coast the 8,000 ton Japanese passenger cargo liner Hirano Maru was torpedoed by a German U-boat with the loss of 292 lives.
Casualties from the Hirano Maru were washed ashore along the Pembrokeshire coastline and over the coming weeks were buried in village cemeteries including Dale,Marloes,St Ishmaels and Herbrandston.At Dale cemetery a large cross carries the words: In memory of eight unknown heroes washed up at dale during the great war 1914-1918.
Other unidentified casualties were buried at Angle Cemetery and for many years there was a prominent grave marker here but this has been lost.
Pembroke Dock heritage groups are leading initiatives to remember important chapters in our maritime history and the forgotten story of the Hirano Maru is one of these.