"The old order changeth, yielding place to new,

And God fulfils Himself in many ways."

(Tennyson, The Passing of Arthur)


"We take off our shoes and socks today, but do not know whether we shall put them on tomorrow."

(Chinese proverb)


         BY THE END OF AUGUST 1942 the Japanese had taken possession of the hospital, doctor's residence and a block of staff residences. Imagine the feelings of the missionaries, whose compound half a century previously had been dedicated to the service of Almighty God, walking past some trees where a Japanese priest was performing a strange ceremony, setting the ground apart to the Emperor of Japan.


         Rumours varied from day to day. We were going to be moved to Manchuria, then we were to be evacuated to the Cape of Good Hope, then it was to be removal to Shanghai. We felt like pawns in some complex manoeuvre. Excitement, depression and uncertainty came round in ever recurring cycles.

But the shape of things to come soon became clearer. On October 29 we heard authoritatively that the business community had already been moved to a large house in the American Presbyterian Mission compound at Temple Hill to the west of the city, and that within a week we were to join them.


         The next few days were a mad rush getting rid of unwanted books and furniture, selling them for funds for the unknown future, and selecting the basic items we could get into a rickshaw that would take us across the city. I smuggled my bicycle over the wall of the school field on to the main road, placed across the handlebars a bath tub full of school brushes and bottles, my father's field-glasses from the First World War, some books ― and slipped into town, stopping here and there to sell my assortment of wares to passers-by.


         November 5 was the great day. With some trepidation concerning what I was in for, I boarded a rickshaw at the compound gate where I had often collected mail from the interior in those Chinese envelopes, the gate through which I had frequently gone on Exeat Days to trudge to Third Beach or to chat with Japanese guards. At my feet was a large trunk with all my earthly possessions and on my lap some blankets.


         Mine was one of a long file of rickshaws. We went through the Japanese barrier and past the front of the Boys' School. I looked wistfully back at it. I had spent within its walls seven happy years; and now even as we left we could see Japanese and Chinese looters rushing into the buildings we had just vacated.


         On we trailed into the Chinese city with its narrow streets and oriental odours. Shopkeepers came to their doors to see the astonishing sight. Street pedlars selling dates and peanuts on the narrow pavements dropped their wares and stared in amazement.


         My mind was working fast and apprehensively. How long was "the duration" going to be? Would we die of starvation or maltreatment? My sad musings were mercifully interrupted. Someone a few rickshaws behind struck up the chorus:


"God is still on the throne, and He will remember His own.

Though trials may press us and burdens distress us,

He never will leave us alone.

God is still on the throne, and He will remember His own.

His promise is true, He will not forget you,

God is still on the throne."


         It certainly reassured me, and the many Chinese onlookers were even more wide-eyed. The foreign devils' God seemed to help them in adversity.


         On we went past Consulate Hill, where we had often trudged to the Union Church; past the harbour, reminiscent of earlier years when we boarded ships for Tientsin or Shanghai for Christmas holidays. On to a part of Chefoo with which we were less familiar. At the end of a long lane we came to a spacious missionary house ― spacious for a missionary family, but seventy girls, eight teachers, three boys plus some missionaries from other societies were all to squeeze in.


         The luggage on the rickshaws was emptied on to ― a lawn overlooking the harbour, and we three able-bodied boys carried it inside piece by piece. The girls were allocated the large attic. Mattresses were placed side by side, and beds of sorts were made. We three boys settled in a room down in the basement. One small barred window looked out at ground level to a footpath outside. The community lounge was furnished with cabin trunks round the edge, and some tables in the middle. This was to be our chapel, dining-room, classroom and sitting-room combined.


         The boys worked out a rota for going on duty at the pump-house. When our work was done we walked round and round the house, six times round to the mile, to pass the time. The girls worked mopping the floors, peeling vegetables and cooking the food.


         Every morning we had roll-call, numbering off in Japanese. The guard on duty would then salute the commandant and give a speech with which we soon became familiar. It went something like this ―

"This is Camp No. 3. Out of 98 inmates there are 94 present.

Three are on duty, and one is sick."


         As soon as this formality was over two of us boys would carry a crate of ashes out of the back gate next to the pump-house. Emptying the contents, we would leave the crate lying upside down for a few moments while we took the coveted opportunity to look across the beautiful countryside and breathe the fresh air. It was a treasured moment of enjoying the open spaces, pretending to ourselves that we were not prisoners, before returning to the narrow confines of what came to be called Irwin House.


         A bitterly cold winter descended upon us. Supplies of coal and fuel were dwindling fast. We dressed ourselves warmly to make up for other shortages. Christmas Day came. We were fortunate to be given permits to go under escort to the two other camps, see old friends, compare accommodation and conditions and return late in the afternoon to our Irwin House.


         The girls in this camp soon resumed studies. When not doing manual labour I began to learn New Testament Greek with the Rev. Ives Stocker, Port Chaplain, who was in this camp. I also taught Gregg shorthand and book-keeping, which I had been studying since taking the Oxford Matric in July.

Food at Temple Hill was fairly good. By divine over ruling a former Chinese servant was contracted to deliver food and take orders for the next day. Japanese guards watched this daily operation carefully, but when the soldier on duty moved away momentarily, news of the outside world would be conveyed tersely in Chinese.


         Jimmy Murray had a girl friend at the Business Camp. We would engage the guard in a prolonged conversation in the pump-house while he ran the two hundred yards to the next camp of internees.


         The small contingent of consular police who guarded the three small camps lived in quarters just next to Irwin House. When going off duty they would put on white open-neck shirts and shorts, go out of the camp gate, and mingle freely with the Chinese on the streets. We watched them over the wall as they spied for their country in their leisure hours.


         One night Mr. Arendt, a local German missionary, pushed some bags of rice over the camp wall and a bundle of letters from parents inland. There was one for me. Mother and Father, harassed by the increased bombing in Honan province, had travelled to Szechwan by train, flown over the Himalayas to India, crossed India by train, and gone by ship to Durban, South Africa, where Father was acting vicar of Christchurch, Addington.


         I shared the letter with my two sisters, Lelia and Estelle. We discussed our family affairs. Our parents did seem far away on another continent, but at least they were out of danger. But the possibility of reunion with them seemed remote, to say the least.


         America, we heard via the anonymous grapevine, was taking the offensive in the Pacific. In anticipation of raids on Chefoo, the Japanese began placing sandbags everywhere and rooms had to be blacked out at night.


         Sandbags were needed in the Temple Hill camps. We three boys were asked to march down to the West Beach, near the harbour, to fill up the empty bags with sand. It was a day of unprecedented liberty. We marched through the streets escorted by a guard. Arriving at the beach we quickly filled the bags and, turning to the consular policeman, pointed to the water. He nodded. By the language of signs we had obtained permission to have a swim. We stripped off our clothes and had ten minutes of swimming ― an experience we talked about for days afterwards. As we got dressed I looked nostalgically across to the harbour, the Bluff and familiar landmarks, associated with school holidays, picnics, long swims.


         A German Jewish dentist was allowed to come at regular intervals to attend to our teeth in a room close to where the Japanese guards lived. While extracting teeth, inserting fillings and so on, he spoke in French and German, passing on the news he had heard over the radio at his home.


         It was just at this time that Mr. Eggar of the Swiss Red Cross made his first appearance with Red Cross letters and messages from the Mission leaders, as well as news of the other camps in Hong Kong and Shanghai. As he was based at Tsingtao we were to see him at regular intervals throughout our internment period.


         Another spate of rumours hit our small community. The schools were going to move to Lourenço Marques ― there were some buildings in Cape Town for us to occupy-another story claimed that we would continue our schooling in Peking. They all came to naught. At a concert soon afterwards we were singing to the tune of "The British Grenadiers":


"Some talked of 'Vacuation, and some, I'm also told,

Of hostile transportation to Peking's temples old.

But whatever information may reach this distant hill,

We're here in concentration, and bright and happy still.

Some talk of Nagaoka, and some of Mr. Wang,

Of Chong Shan or Messawa, they gossip loud and long.

But of all Chefoo's great heroes, there's no one to compare

With the valiant Mr. Eggar, who brings us words of cheer.

Some talked of far Lourenço, and some of bare Cathay,

And some of Shanghai's compounds, so we didn't know what to say.

But of all the world's great places, there's nowhere with such thrill

As living in small spaces in Chefoo's Temple Hill."


         The months at Temple Hill dragged on monotonously. Stocks of flour and coal often ran dangerously low to be renewed in the nick of time. Clothes were wearing out, and children were outgrowing what they had. Dresses and shirts were made from curtains brought to camp. We were learning to improvise in a hundred and one ways.


         In the spring of 1943 "Candleblower" (so named because of the face he made when listening to the guard's speech at roll-call) handed over to Kosaka as commandant. This immaculately dressed man, with kindly face, impeccable manners and a good command of English, stands out in my memory as unique and superior to any Japanese officials with whom we dealt up to that time and subsequently.


         He never raised his voice in anger and always approached us with a courtesy which removed all the fear and tensions of those difficult days. He would inquire after our health and well-being, and showed a special concern for the older missionaries.


         We gathered that he had come under the influence of Christian missionaries in Japan, was a Christian himself, and regarded himself as having been divinely placed in this largely missionary camp to soften the hard blows of the war for his fellow Christians.


         One day in August 1943 a top-ranking Japanese officer from the consular headquarters accompanied by Kosaka came to each of the three Temple Hill camps with the curt instruction-"Make immediate preparations to be transferred to the Weihsien Civil Assembly Centre."


         Certain Americans and Canadians were told to prepare to travel ahead of us to Weihsien via Tsingtao. There they were to be grouped with hundreds of other compatriots and be repatriated to the USA and Canada in a recently organised exchange of prisoners.


         We did not take long to pack and make ourselves ready. We had already discarded all extraneous belongings when at the C.I.M. compound, and were living with our basic possessions-mattress, blankets, clothes and a few books.


         In September amid much excitement we boarded a small Japanese steamer in the harbour. At last we were leaving the narrow confines of the Temple Hill camp. The Japanese had warned that they would not be supplying any food for the voyage, and so the baker, a former mission employee, who had been bringing bread daily to the Temple Hill camps, had agreed as his last transaction with us to deliver to the ship enough for the short voyage and journey ahead.


         But when the ship's siren sounded the baker had not arrived. The vessel began to glide out of the harbour. The headmaster had visions of a shipload of frantically hungry school-children crying out for food. But the ship stopped in the harbour. A launch was making its way from the docks towards us.


         The determined baker had secured transport for his important cargo of food. The bread aboard, we slipped out of the harbour in front of the Bluff towards the open sea. Across the water was the whole port of Chefoo ― the place of my birth eighteen years before, the scene of my upbringing for the previous twelve years, including a year's internment. Few could lay greater claims to this port as being home.


         There was the Bund along which we had trudged every Sunday to Union Church, the Chefoo Club where the business community had had their social life, the Settlement Hill with its consular offices in past days. Every glance recalled a thousand memories.


         From the deck we looked across at the Boys' School, the compound, the Co-Educational block, the bathing houses, and in front of them all the sea, where we had bathed and had boat races. On looking more closely we could see alterations to the premises-stables and other buildings erected by the Japanese.


         In that small geographical area which we could see I had learned virtually everything I knew of life-discipline, sportsmanship, educational knowledge and, not least, trust in God.


         The fleeting glance at the schools was over. We were going out to sea, but Chefoo was still very much in my heart.

"Land of my youth!

What mortal hand Can e'er untie the filial band

That knits me to thy sunny strand."


         My mind went back over the events since Pearl Harbour nearly two years before ― the food brought to the compound by a German missionary, the arrest and subsequent release of the business men of the town and Pa Bruce, the ten months at Temple Hill and the launch with the supplies of bread arriving in the nick of time.


         Was it not a twentieth-century version of the wanderings of the Children of Israel? We "mish" kids were the Children of Israel, and Pa Bruce our Moses. Manna had been coming down upon us from heaven. The pillar of cloud was now moving south. The wilderness was that part of the Yellow Sea through which the steamer was taking us. We knew it was subject to storms and typhoons at this time of the year, and yet all was calm. There was also the danger of mines left by the American navy. . . . We could sing with the faithful of past ages ―

"0 God of Bethel, by whose hand

Thy children still are fed,

Who through this weary wilderness

Hast all our fathers led."


         The sun was setting beyond some islands in the west. We had eaten a few sandwiches as our supper and were sitting on our hard "beds" in the hold of the ship, hungry, damp, cold and uncomfortable. The portholes were covered by thick sacking lest American submarines should spot us.


         Some two to three hundred lay side by side in the ship's hold. An improvised curtain (some military equipment) divided the boys from the girls, the sound of whose giggling and nervous chattering reached us.


         We tried to settle down for the night. The floor was hard, the ship was rocking, our stomachs were hungry and rats were running over us. As I dozed off into a light sleep I could hear the girls a few yards away on the other side of the "curtain" singing in harmony,

"Jesus, Saviour, pilot me

Over life's tempestuous sea;

Unknown waves before me roll,

Hiding rock and treacherous shoal;

Chart and compass come from Thee:

Jesus, Saviour, pilot me."


         Two mornings later we looked out of the portholes to see the harbour of Tsingtao. We disembarked, carrying our luggage from the docks to the railway station. Changing from ship to train we passed Chinese students who showed their contempt by spitting on the pavement.


         Soon we were in the train with our mattresses, blankets and boxes. Standing on the platform was Commandant Kosaka, doing all in his power to ensure that we left Tsingtao in as comfortable circumstances as was possible. The train pulled away. Kosaka was standing at attention and at the salute-my last sight of a great Christian gentleman. It was a sad parting.


         That afternoon we arrived at Weihsien Station ― 130 miles inland from Tsingtao. Tired, hot, dirty and thirsty, our morale nevertheless high, we were curious to see where we were going.


         Three hundred weary travellers were soon standing on the platform, surrounded by cases, baskets and boxes. A Japanese officer was yelling commands which we did not understand.


         The womenfolk and younger children were packed into buses. I jumped on the back of a lorry piled high with luggage. We rattled and bumped along a dusty road for several miles past Chinese farm fields. What we gathered must be Weihsien Camp sprang into view. Rows of juniper trees, long lines of dormitory blocks, the red-tiled roof of an Edwardian style church ― all surrounded by a wall with electrified wires and with cement boxes here and there.


         The lorry bounced along the rough road and turned a corner through some trees. We were now driving towards the entrance of the camp a large Chinese gate, over which were three Chinese characters meaning "Courtyard of the Happy Way". Japanese guards with bayonets were standing on duty.


         We were driven through the gate, past the guardroom on the left, and up the hill; the lorry stopped on the central road of the camp. On our right was the church building and beyond it a sports field.


         The streets were lined with hundreds of internees staring at us curiously. The men wore only khaki shorts, were bare-foot, tanned with working in the sun, and looked like creatures from another world. As we clambered off the lorries they cheered and surrounded us excitedly, asking all kinds of questions.


         Their accents were American, Russian, Greek and British, a cosmopolitan group indeed.


         The story of our arrival in Weihsien as seen by the local inhabitants is recounted in the following poem, entitled "The Two Hundred and Ninety-seven":


"Hooray! The Chefooites have all arrived at last!

Right heartily we cheered them as through the gates they passed.

They trudged up Guardhouse Hill, their baggage in the lead,

We ‘Servers' nudged each other: `Great Scott, more mouths to feed!'

That's not a nice expression but our rations were so low

And they had come from what we'd call luxury, you know.

They joined the Tsingtao Kitchen, school-children big and small;

We fed them on bread porridge, and they ate it, one and all!

We felt sorry for them when we filled their cups with bitter tea,

But they said, ‘If you can drink it without sugar, so can we,

Then came a real calamity, the camp ran out of yeast.

Our manager said, ‘Doughnuts! Make twelve hundred at least!'

The boys soon took to ‘Pumping' and other hard work too;

Some girls became dishwashers, others joined the kitchen crew.

We've grown fond of these school-children who so bravely stood the test

And should they ever need our help, we'll gladly do our best!"

(G. E. Norman)


         We were herded through a Moon Gate into a courtyard which was outside the administrative offices. There we stood listening while the chairman of the camp's Discipline Committee, a fellow internee, read out the camp rules and regulations. Everything was so much more sophisticated than at little Temple Hill.


         There were three kitchens each with a dining hall, and each catering for some four to five hundred internees. We were placed with Kitchen I where the best possible supper in the circumstances was ready for us-leek soup, corn flour and water custard, dry bread and tea.


         We were taken to Block 23 to sleep. It was to be three weeks before all the luggage from the train would be sorted out and distributed, and so we slept with borrowed rugs and coats, kindly lent by the Weihsieners.


         The next day we met the Canadians and Americans who had preceded us from Chefoo. They were excited at the prospect of getting to their home countries.


         A week later they lined up outside the church. The authorities had stipulated that they could take with them no printed matter except one Bible per head, without markings or notes. Japanese officials took them into the church building where they were carefully screened, and stripped to the waist. By an arrangement made by the International Red Cross they were to travel in a Japanese ship to Goa, where they would be exchanged for Japanese prisoners from North America, and continue from there home.

At the request of my sisters Mary Pearl Nowack had memorised my parents' address in Durban. In her luggage was a handkerchief embroidered by Lelia and Estelle which she had promised to post to our parents, undertaking also to write and tell them about our conditions and experiences. She proved to be as good as her word, for later we were to hear of what this kind gesture meant to our news-hungry parents.


         Then followed what was to us who were left behind a sad farewell just inside the front gate. Among the hundreds going were Jack Bell and Grant Hanna who had been classmates with me since Prep. School days. Loaded with excited travellers, the lorries drove off through the gate, down the avenue of trees and round the corner towards the station. We returned to our duties with heavy hearts. They were going to freedom and plenty while we had to continue business as usual for some indeterminate period behind the electrified wires.


End of chapter.