History December 21, 2017
Bernard Spencer (Miyaguchi) war hero, skater
Born August 6, 1924 in London, England, Bernard Spencer Miyaguchi was the son of Shunjiro Miyaguchi and his British wife Marguerite (nee Spencer) Miyaguchi. The elder Miyaguchi was a representative of the Japanese trading firm Suzuki Shoten. After the Suzuki company went out of business, he found a job with Nissho & Co., an import-export firm built by former employees of Suzuki. Bernard Miyaguchi and his sister Ranko, three years his senior, grew up in London. Bernard attended Dulwich College. In 1941, as war loomed, Shunjiro Miyaguchi returned to Japan with his family on the Fushimi Maru. Bernard and his sister immediately disliked Japan, and made plans to return to England. By the time their required Japanese passports arrived, however, it was two days after the last boats to England had left, and they were stranded in Japan. In the following years, as Japan went through World War II, Bernard was forced into national service. Because he did not speak Japanese, he was placed in a forced labor contingent with Koreans and others, and sent for work in a coal mine. In 1944, in the last year of the War, he was conscripted into the Japanese Army. In response, he engaged in passive resistance. As he later recalled, “I spent the first four months in uniform pretending I couldn’t speak Japanese, and they finally sent me home for a month and a half to learn it. It was a case of learn it, or else!” He returned to his unit, and was sent to spend the winter of 1944 serving in Himeji, near Kobe. Although the region had snow piled two feet high, Miyaguchi and his mates had to go through the winter with insufficient clothing. Miyaguchi remained hungry from the poor food that soldiers were offered, which consisted mainly of rice and of boiled pumpkin stalks. This diet led him to develop large malnutrition sores on his legs, leaving permanent scars.
When Spring came, Miyaguchi was supposed to be sent for service in Thailand. However, Okinawa was undergoing heavy bombing by the Americans and Japanese ships could not get through. Instead, Miyaguchi was sent to the island of Goto, about 60 miles from Nagasaki, where he was kept busy digging and clearing land for fortifications, as the island was considered a likely invasion target. Whether because of his mixed ancestry and foreign accent, or just as part of military culture, he was subjected to rough treatment. As he later recalled, “Any man who outranked you could beat you up and you had to take it. I was a first-class private, and anyone from a special-class private on up could do whatever he wanted. I got several beatings, mostly for nothing. Once I was slugged on the head with a boot for some minor infringement of regulations. They gave us an inspection after roll call every evening. My boots were dirty once, and I had to lick them clean then and there.” Miyaguchi made himself further a target for harassment when he tried explaining to those around him that Japan was losing the war. His fellow soldiers, who were mostly middle-aged and uneducated, had been subjected to Tokyo’s propaganda and refused to believe him, even after the Americans invaded Okinawa.

Miyaguchi was still stationed on Goto when word came of the atomic bombings of Nagasaki (which he could not detect). He and his fellow soldiers were warned to move underground quickly whenever they saw an airplane approach.
While serving on Goto, Miyaguchi discovered a group of six American airmen whose B-24 had been shot down and who had been taken prisoner. They faced harsh conditions. As Miyaguchi recalled, “When I saw them first, they were tied up, stretched out on the ground, and blindfolded…A friend of mine and I were the only ones on the island who spoke English. We arranged to have the prisoners given the best food available and their position eased a little.”
Miyaguchi was still stationed on Goto when word came of the atomic bombings of Nagasaki (which he could not detect). He and his fellow soldiers were warned to move underground quickly whenever they saw an airplane approach. A few days later, while on a march, they received word of Japan’s surrender. Soon after, Miyaguchi was discharged from the Japanese army.

Once they arrived in England, initially Bernard expressed the intention to join the Royal Air Force as a cadet. Instead, he soon went into professional ice skating, working under the professional name Bernard Spencer...
Following the end of the war, Bernard Miyaguchi officially renounced his Japanese citizenship. With assistance from British authorities, he and his sister Ranko (later known as Marguerite Wilson) were able to leave Japan. The two travelled across the United States, stopping in Seattle en route to speak to journalists. Once they arrived in England, initially Bernard expressed the intention to join the Royal Air Force as a cadet. Instead, he soon went into professional ice skating, working under the professional name Bernard Spencer (his mother’s maiden name). In 1949, he achieved acclaim when he and his partner Gladys Hogg entered the British professional ice dance contest. It was the first time that the Free Dance, theretofore an amateur event, had been approved on an experimental basis by the International Skating Union for professional competitions. The couple won the competition. That same year, Spencer performed in Hogg’s Ice Revue. These achievements helped launch him on a long and successful career, both as a performer and as an accomplished trainer and coach. In 1955, while working as an instructor at Streatham ice rink, he was featured in a TV program, “British Ice Skating.” In 1957 he was featured on the ITV program “Seeing Sport.” During these years, he had two children, Julie and Richard.

There, together with three ice-skating colleagues, he started a restaurant called Buffalo Wild Wings.
Through skating, Bernard met Janet Spiker. The two were married in 1972, following which Spencer moved with Janet to Columbus, Ohio. There, together with three ice-skating colleagues, he started a restaurant called Buffalo Wild Wings. Bernard Spencer Miyaguchi died in Powell, Ohio on September 24, 2009, a few months after his wife passed away.

“British ‘Nisei,’ Stranded by War in Japan, en Route Home,” Pacific Citizen, August 3, 1946

“Obituaries,” The Columbus Dispatch, September 26, 2009

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