PoW recalls time spent in Japanese internment camp

Mildred Tunbridge and her family were taken to a Japanese run internment camp. Credit: ITV News

By Nina Nannar: ITV News Correspondent

The first thing that strikes you about Mildred Tunbridge is her spirit. Feisty sums her up - an 89-year-old who you can tell straight away, would have given her Japanese captors a very hard time.

She was just a teenager when she and her sister, brother and mother were ripped from their comfortable lives in Shanghai where they'd lived with their Royal Marine father who'd died years earlier. It was 1942 and they were taken to the Lunghua Civilian Assembly Centre, a Japanese run internment camp for British and American civilians, since made famous in the Stephen Spielberg film Empire Of The Sun.

But she didn't go quietly.

She refused to let the Japanese soldiers who had taken over the city, remove a picture of her father from the wall of the family's ten bedroom house, arguing that they wouldn't like it if the same was done to them. Her mother tried to keep her daughter quiet - but Mildred was having none of it, and the Japanese soldiers relented, before they ordered the family from their home and into the camp.

They had known a Japanese occupation of Shanghai was imminent but had she said no-one abroad to go to, to escape.

A young Mildred Tunbridge Credit: Mildred Tunbridge

She remembers the starvation - "we had rice for breakfast, rice for lunch and rice for dinner, watered down so it would go further" - taking a job in the kitchen so she could scavenge food.

Her mother got tuberculosis and was sent to a hospital outside the camp to prevent it spreading - it meant Mildred and her siblings didn't see her for a year. Somehow with the support of fellow captives they survived.

They were not shown any cruelty, she says, but on one occasion stopped guards from beating someone up by reminding them that were civilians not soldiers and that the guards had no right. It worked. And she is convinced that it was her argumentative nature that saw her through those years.

She has no hard feelings but says any renewed apology from the Japanese government now will simply have come too late for those who suffered far greater than she did.