Saturday, August 29, 2009

The Sinking of the Lisbon Maru: Britain's Forgotten Wartime Tragedy

by Tony Banham Hardback 342 Pages 2006 ISBN 9789622097711
The Japanese assault on Hong Kong in 1941 has been well documented over the years. However the story of what happened afterwards has never been looked at in detail before.  
The British Army had maintained a garrison in Hong Kong since at least the time of the Opium wars of the 19th century. With war clouds looming, most of the soldier’s families were sent to Australia for safety before the invasion.  The author paints a vivid picture of Hong Kong before, during and after the Japanese invasion. Personalized accounts help to bring the reader to feel they were practically there.  
USS Grouper, the submarine that unfortunately sank Lisbon Maru is profiled in great depth, giving the reader another side of the picture in this tragedy.  
The book is the story of a large group of British soldiers who were despatched to work as slave labor in Japan in September of 1942. They boarded the SS Lisbon Maru, a ship captained by a man who had already lost two ships to torpedo attack. Lisbon Maru was to be #3.  
Locked in vile cargo hold in stifling heat, the prisoners were allowed just a brief period on deck during the day to exercise. After Lisbon Maru was torpedoes by USS Grouper on October 1, the prisoners were not allowed out of the cargo holds until the next day when the ship was in clearly about to sink.  
The horror which ensued as many prisoners were killed in the water with not many afforded rescue was war at its worst. The prisoners left were first taken to China and then on to Japan. Few managed to survive until the camps were liberated in 1945 by Allied forces.  
Author Tony Banham is commended for undertaking years of painstaking research to bring this story to light. It was indeed timely as many of the survivors have passed away and allowed many of them to recount events they have never told anyone - so horrific were they to recall.  
The Sinking of the Lisbon Maru Britain's Forgotten Wartime Tragedy is truly one of the best works of history of the Second World War in recent years. How refreshing to have an author cover new ground instead of rehashing old ground.

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