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EXCERPTS:

- Ariving in Weihsien ... March 20, 1943

- Excerpt from Ida Jones Talbot’s diary entry of April 11, 1944

- Liberation day, 70 years ago ...

- September 4th, 1945 : Weihsien Concentration Camp, official letter.


An account of the Talbot family journey from Chinwangtao to the Weihsien POW Camp in March 20th 1943

Written by Ida Talbot after the war, based on her diary entry of March 27, 1943, and edited by Christine Talbot Sancton in March 2013.

Dear Freda,

I am afraid I have been compelled to allow a week to lapse before writing, as I have been extremely busy. Huge quantities of diverse furniture were heaped in piles at various points in the courtyards and alleys and I managed to scrounge a table, a couple of chairs, rough stools and planks of wood which will later, I hope, be made for shelves.

Let me get back to the journey from the starting point: it was long, monotonous and arduous after a very long and dreary wait at Chinwangtao Station. It was not long before we had exhausted our small talk and we were not allowed the distraction of talking to the porters, booking clerks etc as they were not in evidence. In fact, no one paid any attention to us, which is quite unusual for the normally inquisitive Chinese peasantry. The Chinese travelers just behaved as though we were not there. We were joined at the station by an American missionary with his wife and son, looking most pathetic with their few belongings and looking so thin and pale. How mistaken we were by their appearance.

Suddenly we all perked up as there seemed to be a rippling movement. We knew that the time of departure was near because this ripple was caused by the arrival of some officious-looking Chinese minor officials who ordered us to place our baggage in piles and then to stand by them. When this was done, the leader shouted in a harsh voice whether there were any cameras, radios, etc. in our luggage. And yet he seemed to be relieved at our concerted “no” and passed the luggage.

We had a terrific reception at the mines. At Linsi, Mr. Walravens, Dufrasne and Kelsey brought a huge quantity of food. It was so unexpected that we were speechless and very touched, and the parting was very tearful. Then at Tongshan, Bill Gunn, Grace Hill Murray, Vera Dutoff and the Ducuroirs came laden with 28 boxes of foodstuff as well as cigarettes, tinned milk and biscuits. The Japanese Consular Official who accompanied us from Chinwangtao was a particularly sympathetic man, looking extremely spruce and smelling of perfumed soap. He tried to be helpful and Jock Allan knowing that I could speak a smattering of Japanese asked me to interpret. Very haltingly I asked the Consular Official if we could take this vast quantity of food on board and he agreed providing he could examine the boxes. It was only perfunctory, of course, and with everyone’s “face” satisfied, the “cargo” was put on board and again farewells had to be made. It was even sadder this time, for we were leaving Britons behind.

I am afraid I dozed whenever I could, for Christine slept quite a lot. The two older children managed to occupy themselves playing with the others along the aisles. If they got too exuberant some parent soon told them off. We stopped at the various stations where more internees came aboard and as these people were not as fortunate as we, it was generally agreed to share our food with them. At Changli almost a hundred priests from the Dutch Lazarist Mission joined us. The sight of so many men heartened us, for until then the women and children were in the majority.

We had to change trains in Tientsin and, of course, where one of our dreaded ordeals had to be lived through. The usual vast horde of porters were conspicuous by their absence and in fact we were roped off from the general public, and the Japanese sentries made sure that the public would not be contaminated by contact with us. I believe Mr. Joerg came to the station to see how things were going. I was too much tied up with the children to have even noticed him, but providentially, after we had painfully de-trained ourselves and our luggage, for some unaccountable reason the authorities decided that after all they would shunt the train we had vacated on to the Tsuipui line, so once more we were back on the train.

We arrived at Tsinan 2 hours late, thereby missing the express connection. We managed to change trains in record time, for on this occasion the authorities had recruited men to shift the baggage from one train to the other whilst we “helpless women” looked after the arriving pieces. When the train started moving we had to pick up threads again, some of us to feed our babies, others to re-settle the old folks and still others to amuse the older children. The train was badly overcrowded. The priests and nuns stood packed like sardines in a tin when suddenly the train stopped moving in a very desolate valley and we were surprised to see a squad of Japanese soldiers march out and proceed to do P.T. It was a blind, of course, which we didn’t realize at the time as apparently the rails further along had been blown up and we had to wait for the repair work to be completed before we could proceed.

We arrived at Weihsien at 7.30 and tumbled out as best we could and again we lined up beside our luggage, with Christine still sleeping peacefully in her moses basket. Those Chinese who were allowed onto the platform could not resist coming and having a peek at the baby sleeping so confidently in the wicker basket. After a great deal of fuss and palaver we were told to pile into busses. The one I went on kept breaking down but I wasn’t worried as it was full of hefty priests. It was quite dark when we arrived at the Assembly Camp and we were made to stand in a large courtyard for what seemed to be an age, being counted and recounted when at last to our relief we were told to go into a largish building. The priests were allocated the ground floor and we, the families, upstairs. I think the single men were assembled on the attic floor. What a bedraggled, untidy sight we must have been. The Tsingtao contingent had arrived the day before and acted as hosts and served some sort of hot meal for us. I don’t know how they managed it.

Sister Eustella made her first appearance and she seemed to us like a gift from Heaven. She borrowed blankets, mattresses etc. and as soon as we were given permission, we made a rush for the thick Japanese mats, called tatamis which we piled up against one wall. Sid and I managed to get two and by putting the two together we five managed to have a rest. The sleep was fitful, as throughout the night babies could be heard whimpering, older folks talking and others snoring. What a medley of noises and smells.

The following morning, after a cold wash in an icy wash place and toilet, we had breakfast of millet and bread. There was a roll call, the riot act was read out to us and then the rooms were allocated. This was an American Campus for Chinese students and therefore, apart from the Assembly Hall and the Executive buildings, the sleeping quarters consisted of long rows of single room terraced dwellings. We had been given two connecting rooms, as we are five in number, in Alley 6 which backs onto the playing field and is in front of the bakery and village pump and pump house. The Wallises, Dregges, Joneses, Carters, Barnes and last of all the Marshes are in our row. As Sid has been allocated the first house, he has been made warden of the row. The Ladies latrine is a fair distance away from where we live, whereas the Gents is next door to the Bakery so Sid, in company with most men, with all false modesty laid aside, has to empty the gerries each morning. It’s hard for him, but for the moment there is no alternative.

Letters and comfort parcels are admissible: the mail is sent out weekly, on Mondays, so we are told. The life is one continual round of chores for everyone. It is hard but then I have no time to be bored. We take Christine with us to the dining room for our three meals. She is placed at the bottom of the table close to the wall to be propped up, and as she is always in her blue coat, she is known as the Baby in Blue.

I have never seen such a congregation of religious folk – so many priests – and as for the nuns, the prettiest seem to wear the veil. The American sisters are extremely jolly, but the Dutch and Belgian sisters are quite subdued and mouse-like. We all eat together in a common dining barn to which we had to bring our own plates and utensils, line up for servings, help ourselves to bread and tea and then seat ourselves. We all seemed to have brought butter, jam and milk and the food was not too bad although it was always sloppy and to my benefit for it was conducive to have an ample supply of milk for Christine. Breakfast was at 8.30, lunch at 12.30 and supper at 6.30.

I forgot to mention that Mrs. Simmie, Louis Ladow and wife and Bill lived in our alley. Louis was very helpful.

The morning after we arrived, as I was coming down the stairs I met the Consular Official who greeted me and asked me if I had a stove. He promised to put my name on the list as only those who are extremely old, or sick or with young babies are entitled to have one. But when we got the stove, we didn’t seem to be able to get it going and did not realize this was due to the fact that we were one length of piping short. The Chinese contractor gave us only two instead of the regulation three. By greasing his palm we managed to get a third one from him. This has made all the difference to our lives here, as it solves the problem of making Christine’s food, such as cream of wheat porridge etc. and each night we have visitors dropping in for warmth, a chat and a cup of tea.

When the Tientsin contingent arrived, we put Marie and Wendy (Robinson) up until they went to live in their one room and when the Peking contingent arrived later, we turned our outer room over to the Hennings. They were friends of my father’s (Jas Jones in Peking) and quite elderly. We were a little squashed as we five had to sleep in a room intended for one, but in the day time we lived in the outer room. It was Bill (Chilton) who actually asked us to put them up. I know that WBC will climb up to be the leader because he has the personality, as you know, but I haven’t seen much of him yet.

Our lodgers left today so we will now be able to straighten things out. The K.U.K. have done a good job, not a thing lost. I wish I had known that I could have brought more useful household articles, such as pails, curtains, fancy plates, teapots etc. I do miss them. I will work on my promise soon and it will be a humdinger. The people here are full of fun. I am getting more laughs in one day than I would in one year in Chinwangtao.

Please remember me to Will, Olaf, August and yourselves. Thank you very much for your friendship. I appreciate it so much. Without you I should have been extremely lonely and you helped to make my days pleasant and companionable.

Love Ida

Easter Monday 10-4-44
Excerpt from Ida Jones Talbot’s diary entry of 11-4-44


The wedding of Bill and Clemmie Chilton

(as written in the diary changes made in italics)

My dear Freda:

The wedding went off grandly. I had to assist at the Homes’ Committee Monthly meeting first and dashed off at 3.45 to the wedding. The church was already packed by the “other” guests, and 1/4 of the Assembly Hall was reserved for the K.M.A. Albert Carter, Percy Jones & Lungmow Smith were ushers. The altar was austerely beautiful: a black velvet all-over cloth, then a centre piece of Persian rug, a-topped by a large earthenware vase of peach blossoms. Vases of peach blossom were placed & evergreens in the 2 side tables. Down below in the hall the organ & piano were placed back to back. Percy Glede (Gleed) the organ & Frankie Taylorson the piano.

The lady guests were groomed to perfection atopped by their latest style bonnet. Black was prominent. Mrs Ghislaine Declercq Winslow looked a magnificent grey steed she had a grey postilion hat, and a postilion coat without cape. ‘Twas heard that one lady asked another if she were going to the wedding, “of course,” I want to see, for a change, well dressed folk! I had my black woollen frock, wore my white organdi lace edged blouse, the collar plastron showed handsomely out of the deep “v”. I wore my white string turban and my beautiful lilies.

Clemmie looked most bride like in her short sleeved blue dress and white silk turban with stiff white nose veil. Jo Kemball & Claire Abbess made a fine “pair-some” bridesmaids.

As for the Rev. H. Cook he was dramatic. His pause after: “let those who have any just cause to prevent this wedding...” I was impressed by his emphasis and deliberation when he uttered “for better, for worse, in sickness and in health love cherish and honour”. No loop holes for a divorce.

We went on to No 2 Dining Room, the bride & groom went the hospital to visit Elsie, and when they arrived at the Kitchen ludo beans were sh(ower)ed on them. After Clemmie & Bill had been “wished happiness”, E.J.Nathan made a speech and he mentioned that the knife with which the bride would cut the cake was an heirloom. That its painting of a wounded officer on a horse, tired out, arriving at the army head­quarters in 1840 was the only British survivor of the 2nd Kabul War. That man was Captain William Bryden after whom Bi1l was named, he was Bill’s mother’s uncle. It is a giant boy scout knife. Bill at the end of his reply continued with .. “before I will permit my wife to cut the cake I must” The bridegroom was the more prominent of the 2, like a king and his consort a few steps to the rear smiling graciously.

I think they’ll be happy, Clemmie didn’t go into it blindly and she knows that always ‘Bill’ wi1l always have to be No 1.

#


17-8-45
August 17, 1945

Well my dear, our most thrilling day materialised today.

As I was taking Christine to her nursery school, the plane zoomed very low overhead, crowds who were awaiting the return of passports cheered & cheered. Presently it came back, and again, then on my way home I saw the parachutists.


At first I thought they were dropping supplies, but presently when the ‘chutes unfurled and the forms took the shape of men. What a glorious sight. Then Sid dashed for the gate and so did many others after him.

The Guards at first wouldn’t let us pass, but we swarmed past and into the fields. We went through the melon fields, cornfields, Kaoling fields, on and on towards the chutists. Meanwhile the plane returned twice or three times more and dropped what we thought were supplies.

The Chinese peasants etc. lined the route & paths showing thumbs up. How Caesar would have enjoyed the sight of even the poorest peasant understanding “thumbs up”.

Eventually after trudging miles & miles (as it seemed) came up to Taffy with a red ‘chute. He asked me to look after it as “if it is not wanted I want it as all my life I have wanted one”. However Mrs. Oates came & took it up and I followed her, however I stumbled and into a pitfall I tripped, was just dropping into a watery grave when Frederici and another Italian grabbed hold of my arms and saved me. Then suddenly a ‘chutist appeared followed by a horde who grabbed me by the arms and all I could say was “thank you for coming”.

Then the major got on a mound saying “as there is much to do would all the women & children return to the camp.” So we did. On my way back saw Mrs. Marshall prone on the ground calling for Dickie “he’s all I have you know”. I stayed a while holding Mrs. Marsh’s apron over her. Eventually I trudged home. Saw Sid & Christine on the wall, so I joined them.

Presently the parcels followed by the ‘chutists, came in and did we clap & cheer. 5 American, 1 American born Japanese & 1 Chinese. Marie patted them all, but Mrs. Gerfer & Mrs. Klamer gave them kisses. Eventually we landed up in Robbie’s room where Louis installed with a bottle. Stan, Sid, Louis, Marie Mrs. Cole, Johnny Hilburn, Percy Jones were all in there having snorts. J. Hilburn gave us girls a kiss before settling to a drink.

Dennis Carter was outside the Police Office when McLaren walked up with 2 Americans. When they walked up to the door of the office, they drew out their pistols, when the Chief saw them he drew out his pistol & laid it on the desk. Then the Americans put their pistols back & saluted. The Japanese bowed after the Japanese fashion. Then followed by handshaking.

We understand following upon the 2 atomic bombs, which destroyed everything within a 5 mile radius, the Japanese sued for peace. Apparently that territory is so vile that no living being can ever approach it even after several months have lapsed.

Alec Broome was much perturbed by ‘chutists in No 2 kitchen not only refused seconds but even firsts at lunch. I myself have had anything to eat since breakfast only cups of coffee galore with heaps of sugar.

A Chinese Mission Delegation is already in, Hugh Hubbard & Father de Jaegher acting as hosts.

The Chief of P. sent for McLaren last night & asked him was it true Watanabe’s life was threatened by internees. McLaren replied ‘not threatened but he’ll be sure to be manhandled. So this morning early he was smuggled out.

Mr Egger is in. So far we don’t know the object of his visit.

Mr Kojo came up to the gate. When the door was opened by our Police, he wanted to know what had happened. “ Don’t you know?” – “No” – “Well, the Americans are here!!!!”

I hear that the three Americans have gone to Suih Shih Li Pu to take over the airfield.

Apparently when they landed, they were quite expecting to have to fight their way to the camp. So they laid doggo until they heard our voices.

Mrs Thomson says, after conversation with Sgt Harmond(?) that they were anxious about our safety as our camp is the worst situated owing to the Chungking & Yennan troops warring. So they dropped on us to see how we were and to report. The wireless transmitter is being set up now. He asked her what did the camp need most – sugar, she replied. That was coming in quantity. – Cigarettes – That too, we’d be getting plenty. – Beer – “No, lady, we haven’t had any ourselves for months – Lang Gilkey tells us they are coming with our kitchen for supper. Our bill of fare will be boiled potatoes and a cinnamon bun.

Coralie Ross had an amusing set to with Denise Winslow. I was returning from my shower and unashamedly eavesdropped on Coralie & Rusty. “Yes”, she said, there is no truth in this evacuation stay”. – No truth in what, says Denise popping her head over her fence. Coralie repeated. Well, says Denise, Jimmy has just been speaking to one of the ‘chutists and he says there will be an evacuation”.

– No, says Coralie, the men dining in our Kitchen said no.”

- “Do you mean to tell me Jimmy is lying?” retorts Denise flushing angrily

- I don’t know whether Jimmy is lying or not but I believe the marines.” Answered Coralie and walked away.

- That is the temper of the Camp but the amazing thing is the way the Japanese & American ‘chutists ignore each other. The J.Guards are taking it well. Good Scouts!

We have a 100% cockney in Camp and his job is to tend the boiling water boiler for drinking in our Kitchen.

This a.m. he relates that: ‘Alton came in a flush and ‘urry and said ‘ere quick I want tea for the Americans. ‘Alton is a fool thank goodness I ain’t a bleeding committee member. When do you think I’m going to get tea from, do you think I am a bloody Lipton’s tea plantation!!

A Chinese official came in the afternoon to ask if the Camp Committee would mind Hummell & Tipton returning to the Camp?

We thought they were home! as it was their object when they left here.

My sleeping draught is working now as I’ll say good night.

The ‘chutists are still trying to make contact with G.H.Q. Love Ida Deo Gratias

18.8.45
August 18, 1945

My dear:

With what joy and pleasure we welcomed Tipton and Hummell. Diana Candles stood at the gate to welcome Hummell. What clapping. The Japanese Guards only looked on. Do you know that our local political situation is unique the like of which never has existed before & never will, namely the vanquished are still in charge and protecting us, the conquerors.

The "Liberation Group" [click on the picture]
from left to right ---
-?-, Arthur Hummel, -?-, Laurie Tipton, -?-, Father Raymond deJaegher, Zhang Xihong's father and --- Roy Tchoo.

Understand Tipton & Hummell never got beyond 25 miles from here with the Chungking forces. One day fighting Japanese, next day 8th route & perhaps the next guerillas.

They had been dropped from an American plane a receiver & broadcasting set with which they used to broadcast to the States etc.. However they had had a surprise attack from the Japanese and were compelled to lose their set.

Today we witnesses the first departure: Tom Cameron, old man Taylor, Robert Hall & Delagespi, Peyton & Mrs Miller are being shipped off by plane to Chungking & then home.

We are all agog.

All day long we stand around Main Street Way waiting for something to see.

We did see Watanabe walk in steadfastly. Brave he was some atarted to boo but were rapidly shut up.

It is on the notice board that a – daily expectation of 5000 lbs of foodstuffs brought. The Prefect has sent us eggs – sugar, potatoes etc... But I understand the quantity is insufficient to go round, we don’t mind.

Later:

The American plane was several hours late, and when it arrived at about 5.30 it circled over and over, and the all clear signal shown on the playing field outside the camp was quickly changed to “no”- It finally flew away.

The ‘chutist major and party dashed off to the field. The Japanese plane which had been on the runway flew after the US plane, no apparent sign of anyone else but suddenly groups of Japanese with drawn bayonets and helmets.

The major approached the colonel for explanation but they were non-committal, and the situation ugly so they returned to camp. Apparently the Liberator B.25 although in possession of 16 guns had no gunner but 30,000 lbs foodstuffs, and in a scrap with the Japanese fighter she would not have had a ghost of a chance.

The sick party when arriving at the airport was met by the Jap fighter which dove almost into her, everybody but the 3 seriously ill jumped off and took shelter in the kaoling.

We feel that Kogo, Idgu & Watanabe are responsible for the Jap plane being here, namely that if the Japanese are still in control what right have the internees etc. to send away the sick?

A meeting was called for 8.30 p.m.

Love Ida

... official letter ...

Weihsien Concentration Camp
Official correspondence to the Americans

Civil Assembly Centre,
Weihsien
September 4th 1945






Dear Major Staiger,

Now that your particular Mission is completed, we, the elected representatives of those interned in this Camp, would like to express, however inadequately, the depth of admiration and gratitude which is felt towards you and your group by everyone in Weihsien.

The memory of your arrival on August 17th is one that can never fade from the minds or hearts of any of us, and we hope that the memory of our joy and emotion at your coming is one that you, also, will be able long to cherish.

But it is not only the heroic manner of your arrival that has excited our admiration; it is also, and perhaps especially, the tactful and efficient manner in which you have performed your duties, maintaining all the time the happiest and friendliest of personal relations with us all. If we, as a Committee, have worked with you and for you to the best of our power and ability, this fact but offers one more token of the respect in which you and your group have been held by us and all the internees of this camp.

To you, to Capt. Georgia, Lt. Hannon, Lt. Moore, Sgt. Hanchulak, Sgt. Nagaki, Cpl, Orlich and Mr Wang we offer the heartfelt thanks of this community, and express the hope that some where and some when it may be possible for some of us to meet again.

Yours very sincerely,
THE COMMITTEE OF THE WEIHSIEN CAMP:

(signed)

J.Allan
W.R. Chapman
J.H.W. Grice
M.C. Halton
W.J. Howard
E. McLaren
W. Pryor
E.J. Schmidt
P.A. Whitting


From the Americans.

Weihsien
September 6th 1945





TO: Internees, Weihsien Civil Assembly Centre.

In anticipation at the departure from this area of the undersigned officers and enlisted men of the United States Armed Forces, it is our desire and wish that this letter be brought to the attention of all internees.

The sincere manifestation of good-will, appreciation of our work and in particular the efforts of the Camp Committee and all concerned in the whole-hearted support of our team, facilitated our task immeasurably.

We want each of you to know that any success achieved in the performance of our duties, from the moment of our arrival to the completion of our mission, is largely due to the excellent administration organisation already in existence and the complete cooperation so freely and cheerfully displayed by all on our behalf.

We feel that the attitude of the internees is indicative of the true ideals that made possible the total victory of all Allied Forces during the titanic war now successfully concluded. Further, the conduct and the adaptation of you towards difficult and trying circumstances of the three unfortunate years now passed permits our most sincere respect and profound admiration.

(signed)

Stanley A. Staiger Major – U.S. Army

Willis S. Georgia Captain – U.S. Army
J. Walton Moore Lt. – U.S. Navy
James J. Hannon Lt. U.S. Army
Tadashi T. Nagaki Sgt. – U.S. Army
Raymond N. Hanchulak Sgt. – U.S. Army
Peter C. Orlich Cpl. – U.S. Army
Cheng Han Wong – interpreter

The originals have not been found (November 11th 2005) but these were typed by Ida either while still in China before we left in 1948 or in the early 1950s, I believe. And it looks as if they were carbon copies, purple print on very thin paper.