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Nathan supplied food to Japanese Imperial Guard in WW2

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By: 永久浪客/Forever Vagabond

It was reported that former president S R Nathan was hospitalised for a stroke and that many community leaders, civil servants and ministers have been visiting him.

Among the first to visit Mr Nathan at the hospital was President Tony Tan. Others who went to see him included Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, Acting PM Teo Chee Hean, DPM and Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen. ESM Goh Chok Tong and former Speaker of Parliament Abdullah Tarmugi were also among his visitors.

Non politicians included NUS Prof Wang Gungwu, Foreign Affairs Ministry’s Second Permanent Secretary Albert Chua, Singapore’s Permanent Representative-designate to UN Burhan Gafoor and Ms Claire Chiang of Banyan Tree Holdings.

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On social media, Mr Nathan’s fans prayed for his recovery. Facebook user Elias Sandy said, “He’s a very down-to-earth person, even when he was the President… Let’s all keep him in our prayers.”

NTU President Prof Cham Tao Soon even wrote to ST saying, “As one who was twice his Proposer for the election of the President, I am glad to be associated with him as he was a great President loved by many Singaporeans.”

Although some Singaporeans said they love Mr Nathan, others may not necessary have any kind words for him, especially those who have gone through terrible hardship under the Japanese Occupation in WW2 (1942–45). Many commented about his close affiliation and relationship with the Japanese during the war.

More than just an interpreter

It was recorded in the National Library’s Infopedia (http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/infopedia/articles/SIP_490_2004-12-23.html) that during the Japanese Occupation, Mr Nathan received an English–Japanese dictionary as a gift and learned the Japanese language. He then became an interpreter.

“He excelled as a translator and interpreter, and eventually worked for the top official in the Japanese civilian police,” said NLB’s Infopedia.

In fact, what NLB did not mention was that he also acted as a translator and interpreter for an Imperial Japanese Army unit stationed in Muar. Mr Nathan actually received 2 dictionaries from a Japanese officer, Amaya-san, of the elite Japanese Imperial Guard. He said so himself in his book, “An Unexpected Journey, Path to the Presidency”:
1

As disclosed by Mr Nathan, he learned the Japanese language so as to make it easier for him to earn more money, trading fruits and cigarettes with the Japanese.

Middleman food supplier

In his book, he also described how he would arrange to buy fruits from a fruit seller, then resell to the Japanese troops in Muar. He described this as a “business” and his business was prospering.

He also described how he was given an armband to freely walk in and out of the Japanese camp which was limited to only Japanese personnel. This was before he picked up the Japanese language:
02

He also recounted how he became “indispensable” to the Japanese troops and was well trusted by the camp commandant, Lt Kokubu. In fact Lt Kokubu had trusted him enough to invite him to cycle with the lieutenant through town:

3Meanwhile, while Mr Nathan was busy doing business with the Japanese, resistance fighter Lim Bo Seng of Force 136 was captured and tortured by the Japanese.

Despite being terribly tortured, Mr Lim refused to provide the Japanese with any information about his unit. He died in the early hours of 29 June 1944 and was buried behind the Batu Gajah prison compound in an unmarked spot.

His remains were brought back to Singapore after the surrender of the Japanese. Upon the arrival of his remains at the Tanjong Pagar railway station, the hearse was sent off by a large procession of British officers and prominent local businessmen from the station to Hock Ann Biscuit Factory in Upper Serangoon Road via Armenian Street.

A funeral service was later held on 13 January 1946 at City Hall. Mr Lim’s remains was transported in a coffin to a hill in MacRitchie Reservoir for burial with full military honours. The Lim Bo Seng Memorial was later unveiled at the Esplanade on 29 June 1954, on the 10th anniversary of his death (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lim_Bo_Seng).

It’s not known if the government will likewise erect a memorial for Mr Nathan later.

Mr Nathan, 3rd from left, wearing a Japanese soldier cap
Mr Nathan, 3rd from left, wearing a Japanese soldier cap

Mr Nathan with Lt Kokubu, commandant of a Japanese Imperial Guard unit in Muar
Mr Nathan with Lt Kokubu, commandant of a Japanese Imperial Guard unit in Muar

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