October 1988, TORONTO

To: Dr. David Michell

From: Mary Taylor Previte, 351 Kings Highway East, Haddonfield, NJ 08033


         Forty former prison mates converged on Toronto late in October 1988, for a reunion of prisoners from Weihsien Concentration Camp. Drawn by the magnet of memories, they come from Canada and the United States, from Australia, and Singapore.


         Patriarchs of the camp were there -- Mrs. Cora Hanna and Mr. Roy Seaman -- both in their 90s. Chefoo school teachers and students and one from the camp's Salvation Army contingent were there -- some with their spouses and children to learn more of their family history. Some brought scraps of rescue parachutes, treasured sketches drawn by Chefoo School teachers, Gordon Martin and Eileen Bazire. Photographs and newspaper clippings. Marjorie Harrison Jackson brought her prisoner badge. The reunion was a celebration of memory, all inspired and coordinated by Dr. David Michell, author of A Boy's War, a book recently released about the Weihsien Concentration Camp.


         What do you remember after 45 years when time buffs away the rough edges?

         How, fascinating what you DON'T remember! No memories of stinking latrines. No S.O.S. -- Same Old Stew -- and hunger gnawing at your gut. No prowling Alsatian guard dogs.

         Instead, your eyes glaze with gentle wonder at the soft web of memories -- the doll chest crudely fashioned out of Red Cross-delivered Velveeta cheese boxes; the flying propellers launched from twisted string and empty wooden spools, and stringed acorn "konkers" for toys; the sugar-rich Christmas pudding gathering dust on the shelf over your bed, too rich for a hunger-cramped stomach; the trousers made of winter blankets. We discovered after 40 years you cherish mainly the tender snapshots of the soul.

         What peculiar tenderness! Joy and singing and classmates hugging. Gentle tears. Memories tumbling over memories.

         After a sumptuous Chinese feast, Edith Bell Riegler set the tone .with a lovely tribute to Chefoo teacher, Mrs. Eileen Bazire, artist, violinist, pianist, morale-builder. Mrs. Bazire was the inspiration behind the Weihsien's weekly Saturday night keep-your-chin-up entertainment, Edith recalled. When morale in camp reached rock bottom and she couldn't get anyone to entertain, Mrs. Bazire borrowed high heeled shoes, a long, chiffon evening gown -- with only a half-length slip available, Edith recalled. "She sailed down the aisle as a grande madame and romped all over that keyboard in a concert that brought the audience to its feet. She brought the house down. Elegance and Beethoven, indeed, beneath barbed wire!

         Around the memory circle, Jackie "Skinny Bones Banana” Graham dragged us back to current events classes -- and angry Japanese guards rummaging through the camp to find a radio they insisted the prisoners had to have. How else could we know the news? "Well, the camp did have a radio," Jackie told us. You could tell he knew. "I guess I had earned a bad-boy reputation in the camp. I'd scale the forbidden wall and raid the Japanese vegetable gardens to trade for cigarettes." This was Jackie's super secret, delicious memory, told for the first time publicly after 43 years. "One of the camp bachelors -- they called him 'Lucky' -- recruited me--daredevil -- for some kind of secret, to trade a blown out radio tube from the camp's secret radio for a good one in a radio inside one of the buildings over the wall in the Japanese compound." After forty years we began getting the picture: clandestine maps and diagrams, practice sessions for a twelve year old spy, cover-up. Through the blur of memories we could see a pint-size classmate, Jackie Graham, 70 lbs., not even 5 feet tall, slithering over the barrier wall. "The window in the Japanese compound was open a bit," Jackie recalled. "I pushed it open, climbed in, found the radio and switched tubes. They had even given me a bag of dust to spread around to cover my marks. Leave everything the same. 'Lucky' never told me where the prisoners' radio was. They were afraid I would talk -- threatening me never to tell even my closest friend." Jackie, who travelled half a continent to the reunion, is now retired Colonel John Graham, having served in later years in the U. S. Army paratroop unit that had liberated the Weihsien Concentration camp.

         Chefoo School student, Jimmie Harrison crossed the continent -- Salem, Oregon, to Toronto -- to swap memories. With him he carried a tiny stuffed bird, tenderly tagged and labelled with his boyish print: "Yellow-breasted bunting -- May 24, 1944." In Weihsien Concentration Camp by then, there were many meatless days. Even the gaoliang and the tu da beans ran low. The cooks were inventing the infamous bread porridge. In times like those, how do you arm yourself with hope? For Jimmie Harrison, it was his birds. "We boys would go bird watching with Hugh Hubbard." (Hubbard was a missionary, an ornithologist, and author of a book on the birds of China.) "The best bird watching was over the wall in the Japanese compound," Jimmie recalled. "So I traded English lessons with a Japanese guard who sneaked me into their quarters a lot for bird watching."

         Maida Harris Campbell recalled Jimmie Harrison's taming two glossy rooks in the square enclosure behind Kitchen Number One. " 'Jackie' and 'Billy' " Jimmy said, "were fledgings handed over the wall to me by a Chinese boy. At first I kept them in our bedroom upstairs in the hospital -- with my roommates Doug and Murray Sadler and Peter Bazire -- I taught the rooks to talk. “His taming those rooks, Maida said in reminiscing, boosted morale -- "It was a way of saying we still had control over something."

         For hours, we remembered the daily triumphs -- earthy victories over bedbugs and rats and flies. If you panic at the summer's plague of flies, you organize the schoolchildren into competing teems of fly-killers. Ohio surgeon Dr. John Taylor, o Chefoo Prep-ite in camp, fondly recalled -- with 3,500 neatly counted flies in his bottle -- winning the top prise, a can of Rose Mille paté, food sent in by the Red Cross.

         If you shudder at the rats scampering over you at night, you set up a

Rat Catching Competition with concentration camp Pied Pipers clubbing rats, trapping rats, drowning rats. Oh, glorious victory! “We caught more than a dozen in our homemade trap in the rain gutter," Jimmy Harrison recalled, " and drowned them in a bucket between my bed and Murray Sadler's.”

         Someone recalled how we adored the seven brave American paratroopers who liberated Weihsien: how we trailed them when they walked up and down the lanes, when they ate, and when they went to the latrines; how we confiscated their buttons and insignia for souvenirs; how we children would climb on their laps, and adolescent girls wished they could. And suddenly the group burst into song: "You are my Sunshine, my only Sunshine. You make me happy when skies are gray." I was a wide-eyed twelve-year-old again, dreamstruck by a sunbronzed American soldier, singing at twilight to an adoring audience. We were not in Toronto anymore, but far away on an August evening in 1945 -- listening to young American airmen singing love songs. We were newly-liberated prisoners with misty eyes singing "You Are My Sunshine" -- America's pop music from a motley choir of boney internees, newly bedecked in G. I. khakis.


"...You'll never know, Dear,

How Much I love you.

Please don't take my Sunshine away "


         And then ,we were on our feet, drawn to this circle by a common bond, singing the familiar Chefoo song, "Lord of all power and might, who art the author and giver of all good things..." From beside me, I felt Marjorie Harrison Jackson's arm slip round me -- Marjorie, my Weihsien roommate, maker of coalballs with me, co-stoker with me of our dormitory's potbelly stove. A lump clogged my throat and the tears coursed warm on my cheeks.

         It was a lasting gift our teachers gave us, preserving our childhood -- and faith -- in the midst of that bloody war. Forty million people died before that madness ended, thousands in death marches, thousands more in grisly concentration camps. Yet in a tiny, walled compound shadowed by Japan's Rising Sun, brave teachers and parents taught faith and joy to captive children. Toronto was a time of remembering -- and saying thank you.


Those who attended were


George G. Bell

Jack Bell

Kenneth Bell

Mary Bell Boomer

Maida Harris Campbell

(Dr. Roy Campbell)

Enid Graham Fischer

John (Jackie) Graham Grant

Hanna Grace Harris

Jim Harrison

Marjorie Harrison Jackson

Mabel Andrews Johnston

Dorothy Andrews Kerlin

Rhona McCoppen

Dr. David Michell

Mary Taylor Previte

Ted Quelch

Edith Bell Reigler

(Robert Riegler)

Agnes Roswell

Irene Rouse

(Herbert Rowe)

Grace Seaman

Roy Seaman

Ronald Slade

Dr.(and Mrs)James Hudson Taylor

Dr.(and Mrs)John H. Taylor

Hakon Torjesen

Dr. Dickson Vinden

Hugh Welbourn

Roxie Hanna Wilson

Jack Fitzwilliam

(Elmore Boomer)

(Bernice Quelch)

(Joan Michell)

(Cora Hanna)

(George McCoppen)

(Nancy Bell)

(Cathy Campbell)

Isabel Taylor

(Gwen Bell)

(Margery Vinden)

(John Roswell)

(Alice Fitzwilliam)

Doris Seaman