"The Russians have landed in Norway,

Rabaul is reported to be

In the hands of our staunch U.S. allies,

But that sounds like rumour to me!


The guards are all leaving on Wednesday,

And weekend will see us free,

But look in to-morrow at tea-time,

And there'll be some more rumours for tea!"

(Tune: "0 bring back my bonnie to me")


"Be of good cheer. After sad and evil days hurries the hour of gentle joy."

(Sextus Propertius)


     IN JUNE 1945 the discipline, morale and patriotism of the Japanese were clearly beginning to break down. Prior to that their loyalty to their Emperor had been almost fanatical.


         From the moment when I had met the first Japanese taking over Chefoo in 1938, I had been struck by their solidarity. In contrast to the lack of cohesion among the Chinese, here were a people loyal to their fatherland, enthusiastic about the New Order in East Asia, and respectful to all orders from their superiors, whatever the task might be or the cost. I had observed these qualities consistently at Chefoo Compound, at Temple Hill Camp and now at Weihsien.


         But a change was coming over them. Guards off duty walked to their living quarters unsteadily, the worse for bigar (wine). In conversation with them (by now I had built up a fair vocabulary of their language) they were now critical of their senior officers. One night we were aroused by shouting, and found that two guards had had a violent quarrel; one had slipped into a family room in Block 22, hidden under a bed, while his colleague banged at nearby doors, demanding of sleepy-eyed internees where he was.


         One development in this breakdown of morale and discipline was the formation of what one might call the "Black Market in Reverse". Instead of internees getting necessities over the wall into camp, the Japanese were now buying valuables from them for a song, and reselling them out of the camp to Chinese in nearby villages at four to five hundred per cent profit.


         "Comfort Money" from the Red Cross was no longer being brought to us. Prices of soap, peanuts and other things at the White Elephant were soaring, while our monetary resources were almost nil. The bartering of valuables for these needs was the only alternative left.


         The Japanese were in a monopolistic position, and could pay low cash prices for valuable items, which in the fight for survival we reluctantly had to part with. A guard came into our bachelor dormitory in Block 23 one day and bought a watch from an American friend in the bed next to mine and my mosquito net, which was hardly a luxury in those hot summer nights. I walked on the outside of the guard along the long veranda, while he carried his wares on the side of me away from the officers' quarters, anxious not to be caught red-handed.


         Soon afterwards two of us were carrying ashes out of the front gate of the camp with the guards' permission. They were clearly in a friendly mood. Leaving the crates upside down on the ground to catch our breath, we talked with the men on duty. From food, sports and romance the discussion came to the war in the Pacific. Chinese, Japanese and English were used according to linguistic necessity. Hesitantly I asked one of them, "Senso- ka o-ari -mashita-ka?" ("Is the war over yet?") He sheepishly replied, "Ma-da ooari-masen" ("It is not yet finished").


         His companion then conveyed to us in Chinese, Japanese and sign language the fact that if and when the war did finish, they would shoot us all and then fall on their swords. The same idea was spread by other guards to other internees.


         The result was that the prospect of the Allies soon winning the war became for us (as with Pavlov's dogs) one of conflicting emotions ― exciting anticipation mingled with apprehension and fear.


         As we walked round the camp grounds in the evenings, the day's work done, not only did we speculate on our own eventual fate as prisoners of a defeated nation, but also on how and from where our deliverance would come. Would the Russians press down from the north and liberate us? Would Chiang Kai-Shek's troops come from the west? Would America invade Shantung Province? Would it be a peaceful finale or a fight to the bitter end?


         The "bamboo wireless" continued giving news of American bombings and advances in the Pacific. Then we heard one day that there had been negotiations for an Armistice. . . .


         On Wednesday afternoon, August 15, 1945, I joined a crowd in the Moon Gate courtyard outside the administration offices. Voysey, a half Japanese and one of the camp's most competent interpreters, was asking the commandant on behalf of our camp leaders if the war was over or not. It was a delicate matter as the information had reached us via the cesspool coolies who had spat it out in waterproof paper on to a rubbish heap that morning. There was an evasive reply, and the crowd dispersed dissatisfied.


         On Friday, August 17, the uncertainty and speculation came to a dramatic end. In the middle of the morning while I was dictating a business letter in a Gregg Shorthand class to a group of girls preparing themselves for Oxford Matriculation, and while hundreds in the camp were at their normal duties, the sound of a plane could be heard.


         It became louder and louder. Throughout the camp, studies, manual work and cooking were instinctively and instantly dropped. Standing outside on the roads of the camp, we looked skywards.


         A plane was flying overhead lower and lower, as though searching for our camp. We were later to know it as a B29. British and American flags, which had been concealed in the bottom of trunks from earlier days in Tientsin and Peking, were brought out and waved towards the sky. The plane responded to these signals of identity and circled even lower, dropping leaflets. And then the unimaginable happened. A man floated down on a parachute, followed by six others. They landed not far from the front gate.


         Without any thought for the camp regulations which had confined us for years, fifteen hundred internees rushed down the main road through the "Courtyard of the Happy Way" gate, past the solitary guard on duty unable to hold us all back, to welcome our liberators.


         We found them a mile outside the gate, perched behind mounds (which were Chinese graves) with loaded guns, uncertain of their reception by the Japanese but ready for any eventuality. I suddenly remembered my commitment to the Salvation Army band ― to welcome whoever freed us with the "Victory March" ― the medley of the various Allied national anthems which we had practised to perfection, hitherto without the air, for obvious reasons.


         Getting my trombone from Block 23 I rushed back to the gate. The band was standing on a mound behind the electrified wires at the rear of the church in a position which commanded a good view of the triumphal entry of the seven American parachutists. The baton of Brigadier Stranks gave the signal, and we were away.


         But my eyes strayed from the music to the drama going on outside the gate. The parachutists were being carried shoulder high towards the entrance by excited internees. My right hand went through motions of playing the trombone as I watched the developments in front of me. In the group of Americans was Jimmy Moore who had been a prefect at the Chefoo Schools when I was in the Second Form. He had evidently pulled strings to be in this particular relief mission.


         Steven, the first trombonist beside me, a tall American lad, stopped playing and collapsed, sobbing like a baby. I was later told that hospital patients, suffering from all kinds of ailments, had jumped out of their ward windows to witness the morning's spectacle, and never returned to their sick beds, mysteriously healed of their various physical complaints.


         Meanwhile in the guardroom just inside the gate an unexpected drama was being enacted. The American major entered the room with a loaded gun. Led by the commandant, the police stacked their guns in one corner ― a symbol of submission. But Major Steiner had other ideas. Not far from the camp, we learned later, a group of Chinese bandits was planning to capture the camp, and use us as hostages in some political bargain. Moreover, with Japan beaten, there were already signs of Communist and Kuomintang troops fighting all around Weihsien, struggling for leadership in the new chapter of China's history.


         To the surprise of the Japanese the major dramatically handed them back the rifles. These guards, up to now stubborn enemies in a long-drawn-out war, were to be enlisted as allies, helping the Americans to keep law and order between rival Chinese factions. Among the parachutists was a young Japanese American who as interpreter explained to the frightened guards that their help would be desperately needed. They must continue to guard the camp, from now on under American orders.


         At the first opportunity that afternoon we surrounded any paratrooper we passed on the road. They were like deities from another planet. To them these barefooted men clad only in tattered khaki shorts must have seemed like hermits from some primitive Robinson Crusoe island. We listened eagerly as they told us of the final bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and of their experiences in Burma, Siam and Free China.


         Two members of the group came to Kitchen I for supper that night. We drew out specialities from our store which we had been using sparingly for our six hundred strong clientele and cooked for these heroes a special meal to celebrate their arrival from the skies. But quietly and politely the food was left uneaten. What to us seemed a treat, to them was unpalatable.


         Realising how little of the events of the previous four years we knew, the Americans organised "Reorientation Classes" for us in Kitchen II, to bring us up to date with recent world events. An officer sketched the initial retreat of the American forces following Pearl Harbor, the turn of the tide in mid-1942, and the steady north-westerly retreat of the Japanese, culminating in the dropping of atomic bombs on Japan itself. Our vocabulary too was pitifully out of date. The American officer carefully explained the meaning of certain terms to a class of eager learners ― G.I., D-Day, Jeeps, B24, Mulberry Harbour, Kamikazes and so on.


         Chinese officials came to the camp with cordial greetings and cartloads of gifts of food from mayors of nearby villages. I took turns on duty at the gate to help control comings and goings, and thus maintain law and order. Up the path towards the entrance came Chinese Church dignitaries, pastors, Salvation Army officers to visit their respective leaders in the camp. I asked them how the Chinese Church had been faring during the war years of ch'ih ku (eating bitterness). Church attendances had dropped, they told me, "rice Christians" had fallen away, but a new quality of membership and leadership had emerged from the fires of trial and persecution.


         Outside the camp among the trees Chinese hawkers formed a market. Canvas was tied between the trees, and underneath in the shade were spread out in trays beautiful ripe tomatoes, packets of pi-t'ang (sugar) and vegetables. Under a system of barter the internees exchanged these items for old clothes.


         Then planes came regularly from the east. They dropped parachutes loaded with food, clothing and medicines. I stood one morning in front of the guardroom, and looked at the sky, which was full of blue, green and red parachutes floating down on to the fields in front of me. It was a moving sight, and with a lump in my throat I sent up a little prayer of thanksgiving to my God. The years of bread porridge, bread pudding and bread-what-have-you were now over. The guards in the room to my right had no further authority over us. Manna was coming down from heaven. I recalled the words of the psalmist:


"Thou spreadest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies. My cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever" (Psalm 23).


         Not only did I take turns guarding the gate. I was also part of a team charged with supervising the arrival of the parcels from the skies and ensuring that they arrived intact at the church for subsequent distribution. As soon as the sound of plane engines could be heard, one of us went up the tower of Block 23 and rang the bell to summon those on duty (the same bell which had been rung on that fateful midnight soon after V.E. Day). We then went into the fields, recorded the parcels as they landed, and later proved that all had reached the church safely.


         The sudden cessation of fighting in the Pacific had meant that thousands of boxes of surplus supplies, suddenly no longer needed for American troops, could now be re-directed to needy civilian camps in Weihsien and Shanghai.


         But the dropping of the parcels of food and medicine and clothes was not an unmixed blessing. Having been hastily loaded on to the planes they did not all float down softly. Many of the parachutes did not open fully, with the result that the boxes hurtled down, bouncing ten feet high, with tins and bottles scattered and broken around them. Tomato soup and vitamin pills lay in the mud around the large shattered boxes.


         Chinese peasants swarmed about them. For food to crash from the skies onto their humble fields was an unheard-of event. Their eyes boggled at the quantity and quality. They tried to take back to their humble dwellings whatever they could lay their hands on unnoticed. But our instructions were to ensure that everything arrived at the church. Rumour had it that one farmer had eagerly devoured a bottle of vitamin pills, and with newly endowed energy was last seen still running north of Peking!


         A further complicating factor to the danger of parcels falling to the ground all around us was the fact that as the planes emptied themselves of their cargo they normally closed their undersides, tipped their wings as a farewell sign and went back east. This became the signal to us to go out from our hiding-places behind the trees to the open fields, count the boxes and arrange for others to carry them through the "Courtyard of the Happy Way" gate to the church.


         But to our dismay we discovered that on several occasions after the plane had waved good-bye and closed its underside it reopened its belly and dropped a few more parcels not previously noticed. Boxes were raining down. Should I run for shelter and perhaps into the falling boxes, or stand still and pray? I held my breath. They landed all round me a few yards away, bouncing into the air again before lying dented or broken. An American officer standing beside me, shaken and out of breath, remarked that he had faced more hazards that morning in the Weihsien fields than in the earlier fighting in South-East Asia!


         From then on we kept on the safe side of tall trees, and going into the fields again only when the planes had gone.


         It was not long before the food and clothes were distributed. Supplies were so abundant that this time (in contrast to the distribution seven months previously) there was no quarrelling about how they should be divided, so there was no rationing and we could enjoy them to our heart's content. The welcome food was supplemented by the fruit, eggs and vegetables bought by barter at the Chinese market, set up outside the camp. We were soon walking round in American Army khaki uniforms, strong military boots and hats. The women folk lost no time in making khaki dresses from their issues of male clothes.


         Beer was readily available from nearby villages in exchange for tins of milk powder and chocolate. Parties to celebrate the end of the war were indeed rowdy. Erstwhile moderate drinkers, having a few glasses after several years of enforced abstinence, soon found themselves tipsy.


         The more devout internees gave vent to their happiness in services of thanksgiving at the church in various traditions of Christian worship ― Catholic, Anglican and Free Church. The Edwardian style church, which had served at various times as school, prison and distribution centre, was now (as it had often been during the darker years of internment) the focal point of worship and heartfelt praise to the Lord.


         Letters and cables came from Chungking, Britain and America. Communications were being re-established with missionary societies, business organisations and not least with families far away. From London I received a message from my Uncle Norman, a journalist with the News Chronicle: "Your parents eagerly await reunion with Lelia, Estelle and yourself in Durban at the earliest opportunity."


         I was now twenty, and my sisters eighteen and sixteen. We had not seen Father since July 1940, five years previously, and then only briefly, and Mother since a year before that. I got down one day to writing a long letter home (I use the word "home" as the place where my parents had been for two years. I had never set foot in Africa.) But it was not easy. For so long we had been limited to twenty-five words on Red Cross forms, and a formidable list of forbidden subjects. Here I was with a writing pad in front of me, and no restrictions on length or subject-matter. With a strange feeling of guilt I wrote eight long pages, describing particularly the closing weeks of internment and our deliverance.


         Other adjustments had also to be made ― eating food unrestricted by rationing; walking in the fields outside the gate unaccompanied by armed little yellow men; wearing shoes and socks after running around barefoot ... These were but a few of the milestones to be passed before I was to become once again a normal human being in a wide open world.



End of Chapter.