LibLink | Starved by the Japanese: the Clegg family’s war

Today’s Sunday Times [£] has an interview with Nick Clegg in which he talks for the first time about his mother’s time in an internment camp during World War II.

As a child, when Nick Clegg heard his mother talk quietly about her time in “the camp”, it conjured up happy images in his mind of a Butlins-style summer vacation. The truth was very different, as he would later find out — a discovery that brought home to him the grim reality of war, he reveals in his first interview about his mother’s wartime experiences.

“My mother Hermance, her two sisters and my grandmother Louise were imprisoned in an internment camp where the Japanese camp commandant was quite literally a lunatic,” says the deputy prime minister. “When there was a full moon, he would wake up all the prisoners, most of whom were emaciated and close to starvation, and march them around the camp all night while he ransacked what remained of their belongings.

“My mum, who remember was just a little girl at the time, suffered terribly, like all the internees, and was close to starvation by the time the war ended. Indeed, my grandmother told her that if the conflict had gone on for one month more, she wouldn’t have survived.”

Discovering the full extent of what his nearest and dearest experienced made Clegg realise “just how much my family, like so many families in Britain, were affected by the second world war”, he admits. “And like a lot of people, I suspect, I’m far more interested now, as a 44-year-old, in what happened to them, than I was as a 14-year-old.”

That said, Clegg is quick to observe that “war is brutal and unforgiving, wherever and whenever it takes place … That’s why Remembrance Sunday is such a unifying experience: it brings together experiences and memories from so many different places and so many times.”

He believes future generations must constantly be reminded of the sacrifices of those past. “I’m conscious of the fact that I’m part of that generation in Britain that didn’t experience any of these horrors first-hand but heard about them second-hand from our parents and grandparents — and I feel we have a duty to pass on the memory of those horrors when that generation has moved on.”

The full piece is available at the Sunday Times website [£]

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  • It’s therefore interesting – and touching in a way – that Nick’s father became a trustee of The Daiwa Anglo-Japanese Foundation!

  • The Yasukuni Shrine operates a museum of the history of Japan called the Yūshūkan, which honours Japanese war heroes. Although the Yūshūkan displays items relating to earlier military conflicts, such as the Meiji Restoration and the Satsuma Rebellion, the museum focuses primarily on the events surrounding World War II. The museum has been criticized as presenting a revisionist interpretation of World War II.The museum highlights heroic war stories and kamikaze pilots, but does not mention atrocities The museum depicts Japan as an Asian liberator, provoked into war by European and U.S. officials, who choked the incoming supply of raw materials to the resource-poor nation. Some believe that the museum is unapologetic of Japanese colonialism and nationalism, and is a reminder that Japan has been slow to apologize for wartime atrocities.]

  • Ian Magrath 14th Nov '11 - 5:16pm

    It is worth recalling that after D-day as the Germans retreated from Holland they perpetrated a ‘scorched earth’ policy and took much of the food with them, leaving the Dutch to starve: many actually died. While my own father spoke little of his experiences as a RAF medical officer in a succession of camps in Java and Japan, he did speak highly of the Japanese interpreters, mostly of American origin, who having had experience of Western civilisation acted as a very welcome source of humanity and saved his own life on more than one occasion.

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