All British internees deserve justice
Sixty years ago, when the Japanese army marched into China, and then Malaysia and Singapore, thousands of British subjects ended up in just such camps. They were not soldiers, but civilians, either members of the colonial administration or the flotsam of empire that had washed up on a far-flung shore. Many had not been to the mother country for years. Some had never been at all. But of one thing they were certain and that was their Britishness.
So, too were the Japanese, which is why they put them in prison. For many years after the war, the thousands of soldiers and civilians held captive unsuccessfully pressed the Japanese for compensation. Then, out of the blue, in 2000 the Government announced that Britain would honour Japan’s debt and make a £10,000 ex gratia payment to all PoWs and civilian internees. …
When it became clear that far more than the 16,700 claims they had estimated were being lodged, officials at the Ministry of Defence suddenly changed the qualification criteria. …
Claimants were rejected even though they possessed British consulate birth certificates and passports. Many of those excluded were the sons and daughters of empire, a concept that may be difficult to grasp today, but which was perfectly valid in 1942. …
If Mr Touhig allows this injustice to continue for one day longer, then you know what to do the next time you hear a government minister blathering on about his belief in the importance of Britishness and that is to blow a very loud raspberry. After all, among our defining national characteristics is a belief in fair play.
In August (after and responding to the July 7 bombings in London) Mark Steyn wrote a column in the Spectator saying:
‘British’ was the prototype multiethnic nationality: if you were a doctor from Kingston-on-Thames or a nurse from Kingston, Jamaica, or an assistant choreographer from Kingston, Ontario, you were British — and, unlike the Germans, race didn’t come into it. ‘The British,’ wrote Colin Powell of his Jamaican background, ‘told my ancestors that they were now British citizens with all the rights of any subject of the Crown.’ That’s correct: in law, there was no distinction between a British subject in Wales and a British subject in Tobago. Britishness was far more of a genuinely multicultural identity than the yawning we-are-the-world nullity of modern multiculturalism. I’m still a wee young thing but my earliest passports bore in bold print on page three the words ‘A Canadian citizen is a British subject.’ It requires a perverse ahistorical fanaticism to decide that Britishness is some shrivelled Little-Englander thing that should never be passed on to our children.
So I guess the modern government is made up of perverse ahistorical fanatics.