Fringe Box



Parke’s People No 1. Post-war Ambassador’s Memorial is Popular With Japanese Visitors

Published on: 4 Apr, 2012
Updated on: 22 Apr, 2012

Memorial plaque to Sir Elser Dening at Guildford Crematorium.

In an occasional series about people who are now largely forgotten, but who have a connection with Guildford in one way or another, Bernard Parke recalls the story of a post-war UK ambassador to Japan.

Sir Esler Dening

In a quiet corner of Guildford Crematorium lies a simple memorial plaque surronded by cherry trees. The name on the plaque is Sir Esler Dening, a distinguished diplomat who was instrumental in bringing Japan back into the Western camp after the atrocities of the Second World War.

So revered is Sir Esler in Japan, that this setting has almost become a shrine to wealthy Japanese visitors to Guildford.

With his father, who was a missionary, Sir Esler spent most of his early years in Japan. He was far from being in the old boy network which controlled the diplomatic service until Eden’s refoms in 1943. During that year Sir Elser was made political adviser to Louis Mountbatten.

However, Mountbatten did not warm to him and he was eventually sent home in 1946. It was by the influence of the Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin that Sir Elser returned to the Far East.

Bevin was relieved to find that he could leave much of the Far Eastern affairs in the hands of Sir Esler whose work eventually led him back to Tokyo as ambassador in 1951.

This was at a time when Japan had once again become an independent nation. It was a difficult time for any ambassador to Japan as the sores of the war years were still very fresh in English minds.

Despite this obstacle, Sir Esler did much in the interests of Japan and its future; although it is true to say it did not seem so at the time. He was adamant that it was in Britain’s interest to cultivate good relations with Japan – a country that wished to break away from American interference.

Japan, as in the case of Britain, had to export to live and to live in harmony in a peaceful world. Sir Esler had difficulty in putting forward the case that Japanese competition could only be successfully contained if Britain adopted better marketing and increasing its own productivity.

Within the traditional British manufacturing areas this was a hard pill to swallow. However, Sir Elser believed that If Britain was to maintain good relations with the USA, an acceptance of Japanese needs had to be realised.

However, relations continued to worsen over the following decades. The British government endeavoured to restrict Japanese trade and to silence Japan’s voice in international affairs.

Sir Esler continued his struggle until 1957, after which he quickly dropped out of the limelight.

He continued to work in a lesser role, becoming chairman of The Japan Society, and later chairman of The Royal Central Asian Society. He received many honours for his work, which included the ulitmate Japanese Honour of The Rising Sun, First Class.

He died at the age of 79 and was cremated here in Guildford in 1979. His ashes, as indeed the work of this very talented man, were left to drift away in countryside far differnt from that he knew and loved so well.

Cherry trees in bloom around the memorial plaque to Sir Esler Dening.

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