Even though you have ten thousand fields, you can only eat one measure of rice a day. Even though your dwelling contains one thousand rooms, you can only use eight feet of space at night.

 (Chinese proverb)






         Clearly the major problem in the China camps was the acute shortage of food. A typical day's menu would be congee for breakfast, diluted stew for lunch and some leftovers in the evening, and at the meals a limited supply of bread.


         The meat in the camps came from a wide variety of animals. David Michell speaks of horse and mule meat in the Weixian kitchen. Carey in Lincoln Avenue Camp speaks of water buffalo meat, "which has a very coarse and tough texture. It had a strong odour and was not palatable. We sometimes received horse meat from the Japanese cavalry lines across the street from our camp. When hungry, one is not too fussy." Christine Akerman (then Anderson) recalls of Ash Camp, "When they closed the Greyhound Race Track some very strange meat came in." Hugh Collar speaks of camel meat in Fengtai.


         The internees went to great lengths to solve the problem of hunger. In Weixian scientists advised the inmates which plants and berries were harmful for eating, and which were not. One scientist in this camp experimented with the making of yeast, as the Supplies Committee reported sometimes of having large quantities of flour, but the delivery of yeast had become irregular. Ivy Gallagher recalls of Yangzhou Camp A, "My memory is of being so hungry that we raided the guards' rubbish bin for the pork rind. This we boiled in a tin set in the smouldering reed ashes, and then let it cool. We called it “brawn” In Pudong Camp they discovered that a certain creeping plant was high in Vitamin C, and not just a weed, and so made use of it for eating. Hunger also forced the prisoners to process and eat food which was in poor condition. John Fee says of the Longhua Camp, "It took the ladies of the vegetable cleaning squad a lot of stamina to cope with the lorry load of mixed and decaying vegetables dumped outside the vegetable shed." It was fortunate that in Stanley Camp and some of the Shanghai camps vegetables and fruit were grown locally, and a small farmyard of animals maintained for the supply of milk and meat.


         Another source of nourishment for some camps came in the form of the regular monthly parcel of food. Many internees in Shanghai and Hong Kong had left funds with friends or business associates, who in turn sent them parcels up to the permitted ten pounds in weight. Many continued sending in these parcels long after the funds dried up. Those going into camp had not expected that their captivity would be for very long. The delivery of the parcels by the Red Cross was made easy by the fact that most Shanghai prisoners were within ten miles of their former homes and business colleagues. For those in Weixian and Yangzhou camps, due to their geographical locations, such parcels were far less frequent.


         The acute shortage of food meant that its distribution to each internee had to be carried out with precision, or there was trouble. Methodist missionary Deirdre Fee was given the unenviable task of being a food server at Longhua Camp. "It was the place to make enemies, for if you served one person a fraction more than another, there was sure to be a blow up." The other possibility was that some would rejoin the food queue and get double rations. Brethren missionary Chris Willis in Yangzhou Camp C was appointed "to see that no extra-hungry person slipped in and got a second helping." In the same camp the kitchen workers began to claim excessive perks and take extra food home. The management committee had to appoint George Henderson of the Scottish Bible Society to police the kitchen, and supervise the opening and locking up of stores.


         In Weixian Camp the Discipline Committee had to regularly handle cases of "scrounging", the punishment for which was having one's name "posted" on the official Notice Board, and having certain camp privileges withdrawn for a fixed period of time.


         It is clear that the supplies brought into the camps by the Japanese authorities were woefully inadequate for the inmates, whose health and stamina went steadily downhill as the months and years of internment went by. It is doubtful whether the 11,500 civilian prisoners in mainland China and Hong Kong would have survived but for the important services of the Swiss Red Cross. This noble organisation performed a three-fold service as far as food was concerned. First, it arranged the delivery of regular monthly food parcels to the internees from friends and relatives outside the camp. Second, it provided "Comfort Money" to the prisoners, whereby they were given funds for the purchase of food, signing promissory notes to repay after the war. This facility petered out during the last year of the war under the increasing strictness of the Japanese. Lastly, it brought Red Cross parcels from the British, Canadian and American Red Cross organisations.


         There was a high vitamin value in these carefully selected parcels, in which were powdered milk, tinned butter, Spam, cheese, chocolate, sugar, coffee, jam, salmon and raisins. However, few if any camps received more than two consignments of these boxes of nutritious food. Some parcels were appropriated by the Japanese authorities for their own soldiers." Others were stored in godowns and never delivered." Others, such as the Canadian Red Cross parcels (which were sent at the time of the repatriation in September 1943) were brought to prisoners over a year later.


         One solution to the acute shortage of food in the camps was the development of the Black Market. Bill Ream describes the form it took in Stanley Camp. "It created something quite new in camp a new elite, a moneyed and privileged class, consisting of a very small group of middlemen. Gold etc. went out, and food, cigarettes, bread and other requirements came in. The Japanese had to be seen to suppress the trade, while at the same time some were getting a rake-off. Often the trade was in sterling cheques and IOUs to be honoured after the war." In the Shanghai camps the regular receipt of parcels from friends in the city rendered large-scale black marketing unnecessary, but still there was some. Christine Akerman recalls that at Ash Camp her mother sold a ring in exchange for some sugar and long bars of yellow soap ― an indication of the family's desperate need.


         But it was at Weixian Camp, with its ideally large circumference and country surroundings, that this black market trade was conducted on a larger scale. Laurence Tipton claimed that "at night thousands of dollars' worth of goods, would pass over the wall in the form of eggs, sugar, preserved fruits, jam, oil, tobacco, cigarettes, canned milk." To show how highly organised it was he states, "On the outside [i.e. outside the electrified wires of the camp wall] regular bootlegging gangs were organised ― the Hans, the Chaos and the Wangs. In the dead of night or at dawn they would send a representative over. Greased and clad only in G strings, he would slip in, take the orders, run over the accounts, receive payment and quietly disappear."


         The ringleader of this large-scale activity was Trappist priest, Father Patrick Scanlan. He was concerned about the mothers and children in the camp, who needed more nutritious food; and, as a man free from family commitments, he felt that he could risk the harsh penalties imposed if he was caught. Scanlan became a legendary figure in the camp, and was spoken about with admiration long after he was transferred with others priests and nuns to Peking. There was a network of internees on the alert for the movement of Japanese guards, ready to pass the warning down the line, but in spite of that there were times when Scanlan was caught red-handed at the wall when guards turned the corner unexpectedly, and he used the singing of the Breviary to conceal his true actions.


         After many narrow shaves the priest was finally caught in the act of black-marketing, and put in solitary confinement for two weeks in a small stone house, near the Japanese officers' houses. Food was brought to him by Ted McLaren of the camp Discipline Committee. Scanlan's chanting of hymns at all hours of the night, to the annoyance of the officers in their homes, secured for him an early release. After Father Scanlan was transferred to Peking, black-marketing activities were considerably reduced, and those who carried on in it did so for reasons of profit and not for humanitarian motives.




         Next to the problem of food and nutrition in the camps came that of accommodation. It would be true to say that most of the camps had twice as many people as they could comfortably accommodate, apart from the problem of the condition of the buildings. With such a squash inevitably came tension and conflict. Langdon Gilkey, Chairman of the Housing Committee at Weixian Camp, found that people in both the male and female dormitories resisted requests to move their mattresses merely a few inches, in order to make way for a late comer to camp. He observed, "Everyone, having lost his 'place' in his home and club porch in the treaty ports, and thrown into cramped quarters with insufficient room to establish himself, felt less than real until he made some small corner of space his own."


         John Fee shows how the inmates of Longhua Camp craved for mere privacy and independence. "There was frequent friction over the opening and shutting of windows. All slept, washed, dressed and lived every minute of the day in the full blaze of publicity." This basic human need for privacy was particularly true of the many women in the large female dormitories. Ivy Gallagher speaks of a woman in a Yangzhou camp who confessed to her, "All I want is to go into my bedroom and lock the door." But few in the camps had such a luxury.




         Besides the acute problems of food and accommodation was the inability of the civilian prisoners to communicate with family and friends in the outside world. Officially, the 25-word Red Cross form should have sufficed, giving briefly some basic personal news, but in practice few left the Commandant's office, let alone reach their destinations. The Japanese knew that with the richness of the ambiguities of the English language about Uncle Sam, John Bull and the state of the weather, all kinds of messages could leak out, and few of their officers were qualified to censor English mail at this level. Consequently, few letters were permitted to go out. After the surrender in August 1945, Ken McAll found in the Commandant's office at Pudong Camp hundreds of Red Cross letters torn up in the waste paper basket.


         At Stanley Camp in Hong Kong, a large number of the women had husbands at the military Shanshuipo Camp. The conditions in this latter camp were such that the wives were understandably anxious about their husbands' well-being. Sewell says, "It was one of the cruellest hardships inflicted by the Japanese on so many of the women in the camp that, although separated from the men only by the width of the island and the narrow channel to Kowloon, letters were not permitted."


         Father Raymond de Jaegher, in the Weixian Camp, was highly competent in both spoken and written Chinese, and found ways around the problem of correspondence. With a view to obtaining help and information for the beleaguered camp, he found some names and addresses of patients of the former Sunnyside Hospital in the camp, and wrote to them, using Chinese-style envelopes. At first he tied the letters and some American dollar notes to a brick, and threw them over the wall to the Chinese black marketers; but when the Japanese doubled the electrified wires around the camp, he changed his tactics, and made use of the cesspool labourers, having had himself appointed by the Labour Committee as the "sanitary patrol captain". The Chinese labourers, who at that stage were only searched on going into the camp, placed the letters inside their wadded clothes and took them away. But subsequently they were also searched going out. For the remainder of the war, de Jaegher slipped the mail, together with some American dollar notes, into the Chinese postman's empty bag, which hung on his bicycle, while the postman was delivering the mail in the Japanese administration office.




         An important feature of camp life was the Rollcall, which was usually held twice a day. In some camps this entailed the internees numbering off in Japanese. If someone in the group was on work duty, a person who was normally number 57 now became number 56; and not all could adjust to this change linguistically. The guard on duty would give a report in front of the prisoners to his superior, which went something like this: "There should be 149 people in this section. There are 139 present, 6 are on work duty and 4 are sick." It was the writer's privilege to follow Eric Liddell in 1945 as the Warden for Blocks 23 and 24 in Weixian Camp. Liddell had clearly made a good impression on the guards, and so Rollcall always went smoothly. The writer would then walk to the Guard Room. Guards came in from the five sections of the camp, the figures were chalked up on a blackboard, were duly reconciled (though not with precision), and he would be given permission to ring the bell for the whole camp to disperse and return to their duties. Where there had recently been escapes, Rollcall was considerably prolonged, and extra Rollcalls would be summoned in the middle of the night, partly as punishment and partly to avoid further escapes.


         In the winter of 1944, when the temperature was down to 14 degrees below zero, a group of lady missionaries in Longhua Camp, who were in their 60s and 70s, bravely refused to leave their beds and go out into the cold for Rollcall. Fortunately the guard accepted their remaining indoors, and counted them as in their dormitory. In Weixian Camp, a year before the end of internment, a tragedy occurred during Rollcall. While 500 men, women and children were waiting outside the hospital in lines, a scholar of the Chefoo School touched a sagging wire, which ran from the hospital to the guards' watchtower, and was electrocuted.


         In some camps, failing to stand fully at attention or to bow when the guard passed by, earned a hard slap in the face or prolonged Rollcall. Sewell says of Stanley Camp, "Some internees were merely slapped, others had to kneel at headquarters, and quite elderly men were kicked or birched like young schoolboys." To many in the business community to bow was a foreign and degrading gesture, but for the missionary community Oriental bowing was a familiar action.




         All former prisoners, who have written about the China camps, have spoken with appreciation and praise of the efficient internal running of the camps by fellow internees. While the Japanese authorities clearly failed to provide adequate and hygienic accommodation and sufficient food, leading internees, usually business executives administered the communities with remarkable success, in spite of the severe handicaps under which they worked. The structure within which they worked was a familiar one in the Far East, going back to as far as the Zhou Dynasty. Known as "bao jia", it has the effect of making the individual citizen feel accountable for his actions to the Emperor, which in the camp situation was the Commandant.


         At the top of the pyramid was an elected Camp Representative, who dealt directly with the Japanese Commandant. Under him were the Chairmen of the various committees, and in a large camp these would include General Affairs, Discipline, Labour, Education, Supplies, Quarters, Health, Engineering and Finance. Under this elected council there would be Monitors, each covering a row of houses or a large dormitory. Frequently the Camp Representative vicariously faced the wrath of the Commandant for actions and incidents in the camp. He had the unenviable task of reporting the escapes, and this he usually did after a calculated delay. It fell to him to pass on complaints about food or accommodation, which were often met with outbursts of anger, for had not every internee undertaken at the beginning of camp life not to lodge such complaints? For example, Clause 3 of the Regulations of the Yangzhou "Civil Assembly Centre" stated, "Complaints or manifestations of discontent against the food provided, or against its quantity, or any complaints against living conditions or requirements of the Civil Assembly Centre shall not be made."




         We come now to some of the achievements in the China camps during those difficult war years, and the first is in the field of Education. In the various centres there were hundreds of children of school-going age, and it was important that the years spent in internment, however long it might last, should be valuably spent, and that the young should not fall behind in learning in this period. Fortunately there were many inmates who were highly qualified to teach on a wide variety of subjects, but there were few text books or maps, and no scientific equipment.


         Such things as history dates and geographical boundaries had to be given by memory. In some camps notes were taken down by the pupils in pencil in note books, rubbed out and the books re-used; in others, toilet paper was used. Before the end of the war, examination papers were taken which were later validated by educational authorities in Britain. The results were invariably good - the very difficulties under which the pupils worked must have brought the best out of them. In Longhua Camp twelve obtained the Cambridge Matriculation Exemption, and 50 obtained the School Certificate. " In Ash Camp the Japanese co-operated by providing foolscap paper and indelible pencils for the exams, and the School Certificate exams were accepted by Cambridge University after the war. In Stanley Camp the school held two sets of matriculation examinations, one in 1943 and one in 1945, for submission to the London Matriculation Board, for both of which there were good results. In Weixian Camp the Chefoo School sat three years of Oxford Matriculation Exemption, which were subsequently accepted and obtained high marks.


         Not only were classes organised for the young, but most camps had Adult Education, as well as public lectures on many subjects. In the Haifong Road Camp, under the leadership of A.E. Thornton, formerly the Principal of the Lester Technical Institute, a busy curriculum was arranged. There was even a course on Navigation, though, to avoid arousing the suspicion of the Japanese, it was called "Territorial Mathematics". Collar asserts, "Many men left the camp far better fitted to earn a living in a competitive world than when they entered it." The inmates of Pudong Camp had more leisure time than those in the other camps, and set up a Pudong University. No less than 800 attended classes in a single day. In Longhua Camp a Polytechnic was instituted which gave classes in commercial subjects and modern languages. Weixian Camp had adult classes in many Modern Languages, Philosophy and Accountancy.


         In most camps there was a weekly meeting of Drama or Music. When there were plays, the Japanese officers usually took the front seats, even though they did not understand everything. In Longhua the inmates formed an Amateur Dramatic Society, and produced Shakespeare's Macbeth and Twelfth Night; and Gilbert and Sullivan's Pirates of Penzance, H.M.S. Pinafore, Trial by Jury, and The Gondoliers. In Weixian the inmates produced, among other plays, Shaw's Androcles and the Lion.


         In Pudong Camp a choir sang Elgar's Pomp and Circumstance. One musical event there ended with a flourish of Rule Brittania, and the final bars of God save the King were carefully camouflaged by the violins. The audience leapt to their feet, and the Japanese, not to be left out, leapt to theirs, and joined in the rapturous applause. Haifong Road Camp produced Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest.


         Stanley Camp produced John Masefield's Good Friday and Midsummer Night's Dream, Noel Coward's Private Lives and The Housemaster, J.B. Priestley's Laburnum Grove and White Cliffs of Dover. In all the camps Gilbert and Sullivan's plays were popular, but the writers all stress that they did not have The Mikado. Much ingenuity was needed to furnish the correct scenery and garments for the plays; and life in the camps would have been much poorer without these evenings of entertainment.




         One of the qualities which camp life brought out was inventiveness and improvisation. The old proverb says, "Necessity is the mother of invention", and this was a daily challenge in the long war years. Langdon Gilkey observes, "No problem of sanitation, cooking or drama was so difficult that some means could not be devised to cope with it." In the Weixian Camp there was a special exhibition of camp inventions and gadgets ― all kinds of contraptions were displayed. Bill Bream speaks of an ingenious gadget in Stanley Camp. "We were having trouble with the rice, which came to us in large sacks. Hungry Chinese in Hong Kong had learned the art of extracting rice and replacing it with stones, so that its weight was unaltered. Our engineers came up with a Heath Robinson contraption with a series of grids, in which you turned a handle, and the stones were gathered in one place and the rice in another."


         There was also ingenuity amid the crises facing the camp doctors, who had little equipment. In Yangzhou Camp C a boy of 16 had developed acute appendicitis. Frances McAll recalls, "Between us we possessed one pair of surgical gloves, two pairs of artery forceps and a very small bottle of chloroform. Within two hours of the diagnosis being established, a table had been made by a carpenter, a mask for the anaesthetic had been produced out of a piece of wire; towels, swabs and the handful of instruments had been boiled, and the room selected as the operating theatre, scrubbed from ceiling to floor." Dr. Godfrey Gale wore the one pair of gloves, and applied the scalpel, with Dr. Ken McAll assisting. Dr. Frances McAll gave the anaesthetic, "drop by precious drop". The offending appendix was removed, and the patient made an excellent recovery.


         Dr. Keith Gillison, in the same camp, had a cavity in one of his teeth, and made an appointment with the camp dentist, who had only a tooth forceps and a few instruments. He was assisted by a member of the carpentry team using a hand drill. The carpenter supplied the power, and the dentist his expertise in preparing the cavity for filling. The tooth was successfully filled, but the two workers went on to improve their apparatus for the future. They made a wheel and treadle. Gillison had brought to camp a length of expanding curtain wire, and this was used to transmit the rotation from the spinning wheel to the dentist's drills.




         Our final observation centres around the question of whether Japan observed international conventions regarding civilian camps. At the time of World War II, existing international conventions dealt largely with the treatment of military prisoners, though most nations regarded the provisions as also covering civilian prisoners.


         Japan had been a signatory to the 2nd Hague Convention of 1907, which required humane treatment of all P.O.W.s in various spheres. The 4th Geneva Convention of 1929 had taken the provisions of the 1907 Convention a step further in the light of experiences of World War I. This had been signed by Japan, but never ratified by its Diet.


         Japan's membership of the League of Nations also placed obligations on it in the international field, but in 1932 it left the League after the "Manchuria Incident", alleging that this organisation was purely the instrument of Anglo-Saxon supremacy. This left Japan free to make its plans to conquer South East Asia under only the restraints of its own historic principles of 'Hakko Ichiu' and 'Kodo' - both good codes of conduct going back 2,600 years, though they were to be exploited and misapplied by the Army, which gained the ascendancy in government in 1944.


         As regards the treatment of military prisoners, Lord Russell has shown that every single provision of the 2nd Hague Convention of 1907, which Japan had signed and never repudiated, was seriously contravened. Also, a perverted form of the ancient code of Bushido, inculcated into every Japanese soldier, regarded defeat and surrender as ignominious. The Japanese therefore had an attitude of utter contempt towards Allied soldiers who had surrendered. "They had forfeited all right for consideration."


         What then was the official attitude of the Japanese Government towards the treatment of civilian internees? The records of communications between Argentine (the protecting power for Britain in World War II) and Britain, and between Switzerland and the United States clearly indicate that the Japanese Government formally declared that it would adhere to the provisions of the Geneva Convention of 1929, and apply them also to civilian internees.


         It was in February 1942, when the wholesale internment of British and American civilians in the Far East was just commencing, that the question was raised as to whether Japan, though not having signed any international conventions, would nevertheless observe their provisions. On 2 February 1942 a telegram was sent from Buenos Aires to the British Foreign Office which stated:"




         This did not however specifically cover the situation regarding civilian prisoners. But on 14 February 1942 this was clarified by the Japanese Legation at Berne which made this commitment:"




         Acceptance of this commitment would involve adhering to the following clauses in the Convention which would be especially relevant to the civilian camps:


― Article Ten. "Prisoners of War shall be lodged in buildings or huts which afford all possible safeguards as regards hygiene and salubrity. The premises must be entirely free from damp, and adequately heated and lighted. All precautions shall be taken against the danger of fire. As regards dormitories, their total area, minimum air space, fittings and bedding material, the conditions shall be the same as the depot troops of the detaining power."


         We have seen that the internment camps in China and Hong Kong were seriously overcrowded, and that the buildings on the whole were in extremely bad condition. Dr. D. van Velden states,


  In order to facilitate being watched, camps were concentrated as much as possible, as a result of which they became more and more crowded ... In many cases this reduced living and sleeping accommodation of internees to a width of 20 inches per person.


― Article Eleven. "The food ration of Prisoners of War shall be equivalent in quantity and quality to that of the depot troops. Prisoners shall also be afforded the means of preparing for themselves such additional articles of food as they may possess. Sufficient drinking water shall be supplied to them."


         In describing the individual camps it has been made clear that inadequacy of food was the major problem. Dr. van Velden says in this regard:


  After 1943 official rations were not equal to those of the Japanese depot troops, as prescribed by the Prisoners-of-War Convention and the Japanese Prisoners of War Regulations. They were much lower, having a value of 1400 - 1600 calories. Owing to 10 - 20% underweight and bad quality, the real value of these rations in many cases was no more than 900 - 1200 calories, being much lower than those supplied to the prisoners of war ... Nowhere had war conditions, shortages of food and transport caused such scarcity and want as to justify to any extent conditions prevailing in the camps. After the Japanese capitulation sufficient supplies could immediately be sent to the internees.


He goes on to say:


  The higher military and naval authorities in Tokyo and the army commanders probably never had any accurate knowledge of conditions prevailing in the camps. They themselves had given their sanction, however, to rations that were far too low and to bad housing, having taken no notice of the resulting rise in mortality. The great majority of diseases and deaths after 1943 were the result of polydeficiency, caused by insufficient and poor food rations.


         It must also be borne in mind that in the last year of the war the Japanese themselves were acutely short of food.


         Our conclusion must be that, though the Japanese Government had not signed any international conventions, they did undertake to observe them both in respect of military and civilian prisoners of war, but in fact fell far short in fulfilling such commitments.


End of Chapter.

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