The discovery of a flag forged during the height of war has formed an unlikely alliance between a Lincolnshire and Japanese family.
Gerry Merlo was just 18 years old when he was posted to Burma in 1943 during the Japanese invasion in the Second World War.
One of his duties involved searching equipment abandoned by Japanese troops during rearguard action in Rangoon. There he discovered a Rising Sun Flag – used as a symbol of good fortune by the troops – and inscribed with a family’s messages of goodwill.
Gerry kept hold of the flag and brought it home where it remained in his drawer for 70 years and was only brought out for memorabilia displays by his Boston and South Lincolnshire Branch of the Burma Star Association.
It was when his grandson Paul met and married a Japanese girl that he decided the time was right to track down the rightful owners of the flag and return it to the family, if they could be found.
It took nearly two years but the family were located and the flag has been returned.
Mr Merlo, now 88 and living in Leverton, said: “It may sound unusual for a Burma veteran, but the family are human beings and I thought it would be nice for them to have the flag back.”
He gave the flag to his grandson and his wife, who now both live in Japan and run a British cafe. Through much research and translations of the inscriptions on the flag they tracked down Fumi and Isamu Ogura, the wife and brother of Tokujiro Ogura.
In a letter thanking Mr Merlo for returning the flag, the family wrote: “Being a warrior was the pride of Japan and if they went to the front, it was normal to think that they would die in the war. We prepared ourselves that Tokujiro would not return. Fortunately, he returned home in 1946. He had four children and 10 grandchildren. He died in November 2000 and was 78 years old.”
Thanking Mr Merlo for returning the flag, the family sent photographs and a huge scroll inscribed in Japanese. Their story has also been featured on Japanese TV and media.
They wrote: “Against the backdrop of this current social climate, we were moved to see such a display of human kindness, bridging the gaps between cultures, borders and generations.”