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Malta connection with Japanese Imperial Navy under study

A photograph taken in Malta by Richard Ellis of Japanese officers including Admiral Sato Kozo (seated, at the centre) who led the Japanese warships to the Mediterranean during the first world war. Picture from Frank Borda`s collection.

A photograph taken in Malta by Richard Ellis of Japanese officers including Admiral Sato Kozo (seated, at the centre) who led the Japanese warships to the Mediterranean during the first world war. Picture from Frank Borda`s collection.

Sixty-eight officers and men from the Japanese destroyer Sakaki, who lost their lives during the First World War and were buried in Kalkara, were recently remembered by a group of Japanese who visited Malta with author and environmentalist C. W. Nicol.

The Maltese connection with the Japanese Imperial Navy goes further because Vincent Borda and his son Carlo Vincent, who were the great-grandfather and grandfather of Frank Borda, were ship chandlers to the Japanese navy during the time they were based here.

Frank Borda is the chairman of Frank Borda Ltd, agents for Gala and Skoda in Malta.

He still treasures several photographs of Japanese officers who served in Malta as well as testimonials in Japanese from captains testifying to the Bordas' excellent service as ship chandlers.

From April, 1917, 14 destroyers with cruiser flagships were based in Malta, playing an important part in anti-submarine convoy escort.

Eight of the 'Kaba' class destroyers, including Sakaki, formed part of the 10th and 11th flotillas with the cruiser Akashi as their flagship. The Japanese warships were under the command of Admiral Sato Kozo.

Sakaki was damaged off Crete on June 11, 1917, when it was torpedoed by the Austrian submarine U 27. Her bows were blown off. However, she was salvaged and eventually repaired.

Four Momo class destroyers Hinoki, Kashi, Momo, and Yanagi, arrived in Malta in August, 1917, as the 15th Flotilla with the cruiser Idzumo to form part of the convoy protection in the Mediterranean.

Author Nicol first went to Japan 40 years ago. He has been on 15 Arctic expeditions and was a game warden in Ethiopia.

His two fields of specialisation are biology and environmental field work and writing. Originally Welsh, he is a Japanese citizen and lives in Naganoken.

He has been researching Japanese men of the sea, from whalers to the navy for the past 10 years.

"This led me to know that there were Japanese navy personnel buried in Kalkara," Mr Nicol said.

"I first came to Malta five years ago and found a lot of material about the First World War and the Japanese navy at the National Library in Valletta," he said.

Mr Nicol met Frank Borda by accident during a lunch meeting.

"It surprised me to find so much material in Malta because when I asked in England what the Japanese navy did in the war, they said 'nothing', which was just untrue.

"Because of the Second World War, a lot of good things done by the Japanese navy during the First World War were swept under the carpet. Very few Japanese know about the contribution of the Japanese navy in WW I".

Last year, Mr Nicol re-edited and re-published an account by a young Japanese officer, Kata Oka, about the time he was based in Malta after 1917.

The account was published by the Japanese Imperial Navy but after the Second World War only three copies of the book remained in the whole of Japan.

"I got one copy of Kata Oka's account for my research but the original was so good that I edited and re-published 10,000 copies of it.

" I presented my share of the proceeds from the book to the Japanese consul in Malta to go to the war graves in Kalkara".

Accompanying Mr Nicol in Malta were Takekuni Ikeda, a former naval officer and one of the most famous architects in Japan; Yuichi Takami, chairman of the Japan Ecology Foundation and board member, Foreign Advisory Board of the Beijing Olympic Games Committee; and Sumio Araki, president of Viewpoint, the information Science Research Institute Inc. Mr Takami's grandfather was on the Sakaki but survived the torpedo attack.

Prof. Ikeda's father was a commander of the destroyer Momo.

Mr Nicol ventured to Canada from South Wales at the age of 17. From 1972, he was appointed senior field technician in Environmental Impact Studies for Environment Canada, Freshwater Institute, Winnipeg.

His works include Yugyo (Brave Fish) and Chisa na Hangyakusha (The Little Rebel).

Mr Nicol still remains active in environmental issues, writing, and making television documentaries. He is currently working on another novel and spends much of his time travelling throughout Japan.

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