"When the Lord turned again the captivity of Zion, we were like them that dream. Then was our mouth filled with laughter, and our tongue with singing: then said they among the heathen, The Lord hath done great things for them. The Lord hath done great things for us; whereof we are glad." (Psalm 126: 1-3)


   IT WAS NOW the middle of September 1945, a month since our rescue by the American parachutists. The novelties of better clothes, more plentiful food and greater freedom were beginning to wear thin. We were still in Weihsien Camp with its cramped rooms, still walking its dusty roads and living behind its electrified wires, even though they were now less forbidding.


         Only one thing mattered, and that was repatriation ― to get home to parents, to get on with our careers after years of delay, to live as a normal person in a workaday world.


         Some forty military personnel had now taken over from the eight airmen who had rescued us so dramatically, and their task of repatriating fifteen hundred internees of many nationalities was no easy one. Rival Communist and bandit groups were fighting fiercely all around us. At night we could see and hear gunfire in the distance. Peace had come to the world, but not to our immediate locality.


         To organise the transportation of the entire camp to the coast at Tsingtao was not a simple task in these circumstances. The problem was finally resolved by the Americans offering a large sum of money to the guerrilla bands if they would delay their destructive plans to beyond an agreed upon date, during which time the Americans would hurriedly arrange our removal to Tsingtao by train. The guerrillas had already threatened to cut the lines.


         September 24 was the date fixed for the departure of the Chefoo group. We packed as we had done many times during the war in readiness to move to Peking, Shanghai, Cape Town… Previously our hopes had been dashed to the ground. This time there was a strong element of certainty that we were in fact packing to go. Into my box I packed the few treasures I had to my name ― my study books on Chinese, Hebrew, Greek, photographs and souvenirs of days at school in Chefoo, family letters and snaps, khaki clothes and underwear dropped by parachute. I added some green silk, ripped from an American parachute, and a Japanese guard's helmet ― reminders to take home with me of the years inside the "Courtyard of the Happy Way".


         I went to bed in my bachelor quarters in Block 23 on the evening of September 23, but sleep was hard to come by. To-morrow I would be free and away from Weihsien, and on my way home! When I did get to sleep it was to awake in the early hours of the morning to torrential rain. As it grew lighter, I looked out of the window to see nothing but mud and slush on the roads. As we got dressed the news I dreaded reached us our departure was cancelled. Would we ever get away?


         The following morning, September 25, we clambered on the lorries with our luggage, travelled out through the gate with all its memories, happy and unhappy, to the Weihsien station where we boarded the train for Tsingtao, now well and truly on our way to freedom.


         Two years before we had taken that same train ride in reverse when going to Weihsien for the first time. The Chinese at Tsingtao had treated us with contempt as we boarded the train. But now the situation had changed. At every station the banners were out with slogans in Chinese and English, such as "Victory of the Allied Nations is the base of World Peace". Chinese schoolchildren cheered and waved by the railway line. There was excitement and optimism in the air.


         At Tsingtao station the band of H.M.S. Bermuda was waiting on the platform, and welcomed us with naval marches. It was the first glimpse we had had of any British in uniform since 1938, and we felt proud to belong to them. We talked excitedly with the naval officers, and after our American style reorientation classes were glad to be assured that Britain had also played her part in achieving the Allied victory!


         We were taken to Edgewater Mansions, a luxury hotel overlooking the China Sea. We slept in beds with sheets and pillows. Chinese waiters served us at meals. Japanese prisoners ran at the double, carrying luggage for people as they arrived from Weihsien, polishing our boots, doing anything we required. The tables had turned after all these years of Japanese domination, but what an amazing race the Japanese were! Just as they had been enthusiastic conquerors, so they were now enthusiastic losers. It was as if a fierce game of football had been played for seven long years, the referee had blown the whistle, they had lost, and were now congratulating the winners with the fervour they would have liked to be shown had they won.


         We walked along the waterfront of Tsingtao in twos and threes, free people; no Japanese guards haunting our footsteps. Long, uncensored letters arrived from parents in Southwest China, England and South Africa. The details were different, but the contents of each were basically the same ― relief at our release, happiness that we were well in spite of the ordeals and hardships of the past months, and keen anticipation of family reunions.


         On the first Sunday in Tsingtao I slipped off by myself to a large Chinese church where a Service of Thanksgiving was being held for the end of the war and the release of the missionaries. On the platform were Chinese pastors, leaders of the main denominations and societies. Their faces told the inevitable story of "ch'ih k'u" (eating bitterness) during the war years. Some had been imprisoned; others had had their congregations dispersed in the great trek of families and university groups away from the fighting zones to Chungking and Free China. One by one these men got up, and with shining faces testified to God's blessing and en-tien (grace) during the bombings, arrests and separations.


         On October 7 we boarded the American troopship, Geneva, heading south for Hong Kong. We queued up at mealtimes with trays, shaped to hold soup, meat course and pudding. The bread seemed so finely sifted that it melted in our mouths. The cream and tinned fruit were too rich for our stomachs, which had been accustomed to Weihsien menus. When we had eaten all we could manage, we again queued to put the trays and cutlery into a slot. Carried by conveyor belt they emerged a few feet away spotless and steaming. What gadgets we had been missing, working with our hands over the oily dishes at Kitchen I! The next scene was even more disturbing. From the deck we saw pouring from the porthole of the ship's kitchen into the sea buckets of bread, fruit and vegetables left over from the meal. How extravagant it seemed after our austerities.


         Travelling southwards we struck one of Okinawa's seasonal storms. The boat tossed and turned, and so did our stomachs. Passengers and crew alike were sick. It seemed that the tornado would overturn the ship. Like the Children of Israel we began to think nostalgically of the fleshpots of Weihsien, where at least we could walk on terra firma and hold down our meals.


         With a measure of relief we got ashore at Hong Kong and were accommodated in flats on Argyle Road, not far from Kai Tak aerodrome. We had been placed under the supervision of RAPWI (Repatriation of Allied Prisoners of War and Internees). Several Indian Army officers, hardly twenty-one, were responsible for booking passages as they became available for ex-internees to get to Australasia, Britain or America. Here my sisters and I found ourselves in an invidious position. As we were heading for Africa, halfway to Britain, the officers were naturally unwilling to book us on a ship bound for England, when we would disembark halfway through the voyage, leaving vacant berths while others in Hong Kong were wanting to travel the complete journey. It looked as if we would be delayed until the last batch.


         Hong Kong, tiny British colony at the foot of mainland China, has always been associated in my mind as being a city of refuge. Ten years before I had been a schoolboy passenger on the S.S. Tungchow, and after several days of being held by Cantonese pirates, subsequent to their hasty escape to Bias Bay north-east of the colony, had been escorted into Hong Kong by the H.M.S. Dainty and a seaplane. Now I was sheltering in this port after release from a Japanese camp.


         On our first Sunday in Hong Kong we went to a Free Church service, attended by many British servicemen as well as ex-internees awaiting berths to return to their home countries. Several British chaplains took part in the service, and then a middle-aged Japanese was called upon to speak.


         Before he even addressed us the introduction by the British chaplain aroused my intense interest. His name was Pastor Watanabe. He had been living in Hong Kong throughout the Japanese occupation, serving as an interpreter. Distressed by the prevalence of beri-beri, dysentery, malnutrition and the like in the civilian Stanley Camp and the military Shamshui Po Camp, he had risked his job and his life doing everything he possibly could for those inside barbed wire. His Christian love for these internees and P.O.W.s outweighed his loyalty to his Emperor, and into the camps he had brought over the months and years letters, milk powder, vitamin pills and funds. With the surrender of Japan, all Japanese personnel in Hong Kong were now in the camps in which they had been holding British civilians and soldiers during the war years. Pastor Watanabe was the only Japanese at large, having been given his freedom out of recognition for his humanitarian services rendered at such risk to his own security during the occupation.


         We listened eagerly and inquisitively to what Watanabe had to say. The newspapers and general talk around Hong Kong were full of the atrocities perpetrated by the Japanese in the colony-stories abounded of their cruelty, torture and bestiality. Here was evidently a compatriot of different calibre.


         In faultless English he told how he had been brought up in a Buddhist home in a village in south Japan. In his teens he began to ask the question which every young Japanese asked himself ― what is the purpose of life? ― a question which if unanswered had led some to commit hara-kiri. Just about this time his university student brother came home with a Bible for him to read. He eagerly devoured its teachings, finally coming to the words quoted by Jesus in His temptation in the wilderness: "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word which proceedeth out of the mouth of God." There was more to life than bread and rice and money.


         His further search for God, aroused by this Book, led him to a group of Japanese Christians, and subsequently into the Christian faith. Hearing the call to serve God in the Christian ministry, he had gone on from school to theological seminary, finally to become a Lutheran pastor.


         While serving as pastor and teacher in Hiroshima, he had been surprised to receive call-up papers instructing him to serve the Japanese army as an interpreter, as he was well over the age for normal military service.


         Leaving his wife and family behind, he had come with the Japanese forces to Hong Kong, proud of his country's conquests to date in the Far Eastern war. At Shamshui Po Camp, where he did his first stint of interpreting for the military command, he was pleasantly surprised to discover that Christian services of worship were being conducted by a British padre. As discreetly as his position allowed him, he had identified himself with these fellow Christians and helped them as unobtrusively as he could. This full story, told with such genuine modesty, made a deep impression on me.


         Twenty years later, travelling in a London tube to work, I was to spot in the morning paper a further instalment in this pastor's life. A book review of Watanabe's biography assembled by a London journalist ― (Small Man of Nanataki by Lam Nolan (Peter Davies)) ―.recounted the tragedy which overtook this man of God. In the first atomic bomb attack on Hiroshima the pastor's wife and daughter were wiped out, and his humble home razed to the ground.


         Towards the end of November 1945, my sisters and I were assigned berths on the Tamaroa, a British troopship going to England. In addition to ex-internees from Hong Kong and North China on board, there were some British airmen and soldiers due for "demobbing", eager to get back to their wives and sweethearts. We were naturally very excited.


         Just before Christmas we arrived at Port Tewfik in the Gulf of Aden. Imagine our surprise when a loudspeaker summoned the three Cliff children to the captain's bridge. There we found the British consul waiting to see us. We were to go ashore, stay in his home, and be flown later to Durban.


         We first went with all the other ex-internees to some tents ashore. Issued with, cards which entitled us to shirts, underclothes, trousers, shoes and other articles, under the RAPWI scheme, we were served by German P.O.W.s as we went through the long tents, producing our cards at each table.


         An official car took us to the consul's home. From there we were taken to the Victoria Hotel in Cairo. We visited the pyramids and saw other sights. On the Sunday before Christmas, December 23, we-sat in the gallery of the American Church in Ezbekia for the evening service. The lights were dimmed as a choir of American G.I.s filed in, each carrying a lighted candle, and singing:


"0 little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie!

Above thy deep and dreamless sleep the silent stars go by.

Yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting light;

The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight."


         For the first time for many years Christmas was coming to a world free from war and optimistic about a new era of peace dawning.


         Early on Christmas morning we sat strapped in our seats in a B.O.A.C. flying-boat parked on the river Nile, ready to fly southwards for a long-awaited family reunion. At lunchtime we were 6,000 feet above sea level and travelling at 146 miles per hour. Our Christmas Day menu was consommé; cold roast turkey; cold ham; chipolata sausages; crisped potatoes; assorted fresh salad; Christmas cake, mince pies; fresh fruit, nuts and raisins; coffee ― a little different from the strange recipes we had concocted in such contrasting circumstances the previous Christmas at Weihsien Civil Assembly Centre!


         On Friday afternoon, December 28, 1945, we landed at Mayden Wharf, Durban harbour. Within minutes we were in our parents' arms. A Natal Mercury reporter was waiting to "scoop" our story. Afrikaner policemen on duty at the docks cried as they saw this touching family reunion.


         Father drove us to our home in Glenwood in which they had been waiting for us for so long.


         Mum and Dad had been in South Africa two and a half years. Forced by the war in China away from their missionary work, they had returned to their profession of pharmacy after twenty-two years of being out of it. Working in two government hospitals as dispensers, they had slowly got their hands into this specialised profession again and, just before our arrival, had bought a pharmacy of their own in Stamford Hill. With a number of ministers serving as chaplains in the forces, Father had helped on Sundays in a number of Durban pulpits-Christchurch, Addington, Overport and Mayville Congregational churches, Lambert Road and Bulwer Road Baptist churches.


         In spite of a full week's programme (pharmacy from Monday to Saturday, and preaching on Sunday) they had maintained a habit, formed at the beginning of their missionary careers, of reading many chapters of the Bible daily in both English and Chinese.


         Isaiah had always been one of their favourite books, and during their long years of waiting for our release two passages, one in the Chinese and one in the English, had given them immense comfort. The first one, found in their Chinese Bible, brought in the Chinese names of us three children:


"... to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy (Shi-loh ― my name) for mourning, the garment of praise (Tsan-mei ― Lelia's name) for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that He might be brought glory (Rong-yao ― Estelle's name)" (Isaiah 61: 3).


         In their reading from the English Bible they had found this promise which seemed so fitting to the war situation at the time:


"Fear not, for I have redeemed thee, I have called thee by thy name; thou art mine. When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee.... I will bring thy seed from the east, and gather thee from the west. I will say to the north, `Give up', and to the south, `Keep not back'. Bring my sons from afar, and my daughters from the ends of the earth" (Isaiah 43: 1, 2, 5, 6).


         Sunday, December 30, 1945, was a hot sticky day. We had been home two days, and with the oppressive heat of a Durban summer, coupled with the strain, fatigue and excitement of our journey from North China to South Africa, we had slept the hours of Saturday away.


         Father was to preach at the Mayville Congregational Church at 5 p.m. For the first time all of us accompanied him in the car to his service. We drove through Glenwood and Umbilo. Outside many of the houses were banners welcoming home soldiers back from the war "up north".


         We went up Berea Road some distance before stopping at the little white church, built on a slope and overlooking the main highway to Pietermaritzburg. There were scarcely a dozen in the congregation, including the five of us.


         Father ascended the pulpit. The prayer and longings of many years had come to their moment of fulfilment. In his sermons he had often expressed his conviction that one day his children would be released and join him in Durban, though the paucity of news of us and the fluctuations of the war had sometimes made his hope seem unlikely to be realised.


With shining eyes and a lump in his throat he read his opening words of invocation:


"I love the Lord, because He hath heard my voice and my supplications.... Return unto thy rest, 0 my soul, for the Lord hath dealt bountifully with thee.... What shall I render unto the Lord for all His benefits toward me? I will take the cup of salvation, and call upon the name of the Lord. I will pay my vows unto the Lord now in the presence of all His people" (Psalm 116: 1, 7, 12-14).



End of Book.