Hornchurch veteran: Japanese pupils honour British sailor for 104 years

The touching story of Hornchurch schoolchildren writing to Japanese earthquake victims has sparked an elderly man’s moving tale of wartime compassion spanning more than 100 years.

Former army clerk Derek Trayler, 79, this week recounted the heart warming tale of Japanese youngsters honouring a British seaman who drowned on April 13, 1907.

For 104 years the children of Kure, in south Japan, have continued the tradition of taking flowers to the grave of British sailor George Tibbins, 18, buried in a local cemetery.

Grandfather-of-four Derek, of Grosvenor Drive in Hornchurch, was stationed in Kure in 1952. After reading last week’s Recorder story about Towers Juniors School pupils fundraising and writing letters to Japanese earthquake victims, he was prompted to share his incredible tale with our readers.

The former publisher said: “The royal navy sent a cruiser on a courtesy visit and while it was in the harbour a young seaman fell overboard and drowned.

“The citizens of Kure felt sad that a young boy should be buried so far from home in a lonely grave. So they raised money for a memorial and the Japanese navy allowed him to be buried in their cemetery along with their own sailors. They erected a monument that was fit for an admiral and the local schoolchildren took fresh flowers every day.

“They did this throughout the Second World War and continued even after the atom bomb was dropped on Hiroshima – which is only 30-miles away. Some of the children lost relatives in the war but they still continued to attend the grave.”

Most Read

It’s a tradition that continues to this day. In 2002 Derek and 20 of his fellow officers returned to Kure, visiting George Tibbins’ grave and meeting the youngsters who still look after it.

The British veterans visited Nagasako Primary School where, much like their Hornchurch counterparts, youngsters wrote letters to the former servicemen and performed song and dance routines.

Derek, whose three sons also attended Towers Juniors School, said: “The story about the local children reminded me of the ones I met in Japan. Without the prejudices of war, children of all nations are pretty much the same.”

Anyone who served in Kure from 1946 to 1956 is urged to contact historian Wilf Aldridge at

wilf.aldridge@talktalk.net or call 01603433259.