This is the first time we learnt about the story of Lisbon Maru.
Asia-Pacific War Crimes Trial is a documentary series which has been released in China and the United States. This is the first time that London audience had a chance to see it. The special event was organised by the series’ producer SMG Documentary Centre and The Media Pioneers, a UK based production and distribution company.
On 2 September, the event attracted almost 100 attendees, including descendants of the veterans of World War II and contributors of the documentary. The screening showed one particular episode detailing Japanese atrocities and the inhumane transportation of prisoners of war in the Pacific. It also showed how Chinese fishermen from a nearby village saved 384 British prisoners of war from the sinking Lisbon Maru.
The documentary interviewed Dennis Morley, the last British survivor of the Lisbon Maru, a Japanese cargo ship. Morley was rescued by Chinese fishermen near Zhoushan, Zhejiang province in 1942. A musician of the second battalion of the Royal Scottish Regiment, then 22-year-old, Morley was one of the prisoners held on the Lisbon Maru and was lucky to escape the sinking ship after it was hit by a torpedo.
Seeing the British prisoners of war jump into the water, Japanese soldiers opened fire on them. Morley recalls, that “it was the Chinese fishermen that changed everything. When they came out, the Japanese saw them, and that was it. That was when they (Chinese fishermen) started picking us up,” Morley revealed the details in the film when he was interviewed in 2019.
Morley sadly died of complications triggered by COVID-19 in January, but his daughter, Denise Wynne, traveled from Chalford to London to attend the screening session. “I felt overwhelmed and honoured to come and watch the premiere, it is my first time seeing this on the big screen,” said Wynne, with tears in her eyes. “If it wasn’t for the Chinese fishermen, the Japanese would have continued shooting those who escaped from the sinking ship, so I suggest building a memorial for the people who died in the incident and also the fishermen who saved lives,” she said.
Earlier this year, Wynne wrote to the President of China Xi Jinping, expressing her gratitude to the Chinese people for the rescue, and firm support for the friendship between the two countries. At the event, Wynne brought a letter of reply which she received last week from Xi. In the letter, the President encouraged all family members of the survivors to further work on the advancement of the bilateral friendship, as this year marks the 50th anniversary of ambassadorial-level diplomatic relations between China and the UK.
Major Brian Finch, translator of the book A Faithful Record of the Lisbon Maru Incident, said in a panel discussion after the screening, ” ‘Remember’ is the word that I’d like to say to recommend the documentary to UK audiences — remembering what those people suffered and how people went out of their way to save lives.”
Leone Coyff, Morley’s great-granddaughter, said a memorial of the Lisbon Maru was built in the National Memorial Arboretum in Britain in October. “We’d like to see a twin memorial being replicated in Zhoushan for future generations to visit and remember the past.”
In a tablet Wynne brought with her, she saved many photos of local Chinese in Zhoushan performing a commemoration at the shore and on ships. “If my health allows, I would love to travel to Zhoushan to meet the families of the fishermen when the memorial is built,” said the 73-year-old.
The Story Continues
updated on 15 August
Since then, more media overages appeared and so as a feature length documentary titled The Sinking of the Lisbon Maru (2022). Financier, producer, and director Li Fang spent more than 5 years on a more in-depth documentary film to capture the untold history.