While browsing through Wikipedia today (hey, everyone needs a hobby), I came across the oddest reference in their short item about a British steamship called the S.S. Sauternes, a freighter built in 1922 which sank in a storm off the Faroe Islands on December 7, 1941. Whoever wrote the item saw fit to list the names of every one of the 25 crew and passengers who died in the disaster.
It wasn't the excessive detail which really caught my eye, however, it was one of the names: in the midst of names like "Captain George Albert Perris", "Robert Brown Palmer", and "Donald Fraser" was the name Tokuzo Mitsuda.
Tokuzo Mitsuda? What the hell was a Japanese man doing on a British Merchant Navy ship in the North Atlantic in 1941?
A little digging turned up very little, once I had plowed through all of the various websites that reuse Wikipedia content (and therefore simply reprint the Wikipedia article). I did find out a little something, courtesy of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, which tracks memorials and cemeteries of UK and Commonwealth war dead. According to their entry for Tokuzo Mitsuda, he was a member of the crew of the Sauternes, a 57-year-old Fireman and Trimmer (meaning he worked down in the ship's engine room). Because he was lost at sea, there is no grave: rather, he has a spot on a memorial panel at the Tower Hill Memorial in London, near the Tower of London.
Which, of course makes it a bigger mystery: how did a Japanese man, born in 1884 -- only 17 years after the Meiji Restoration -- wind up in Britain, at age 57, shoveling coal (or stoking the oil fires) in the boiler room of a steamship in the North Atlantic on the literal eve of World War II?* Somehow -- though I doubt I'll be the one to do it -- I sense there's a story here waiting to be told.
*Yes (to forestall the nitpickers) I am well aware that for Great Britain, war with Germany started in 1939. But war between the British and the Japanese did NOT start until 1941, when Japan attacked British colonies in Asia at the same time they attacked Pearl Harbor.