A DRAMATIC ESCAPE FROM THE CAMP - AND IT'S CONSEQUENCES WITH THE ALLIED VICTORY COMING –
On 9 June, 1944, fourteen months before the end of the war, Bill Tipton and Arthur Hummel escaped, after many months of planning and of communication with Chinese guerrillas not far from the camp.
Here is a letter from Wang Yu Ming dated 7 June, 1944, two days before their escape
June 7th, 1944.
TO MEET YOUR REPRESENTATIVES
[ i.e. Tipton and Hummel] To all British & Americans, and other Friends -
P.O.W. Camp, Lotaoyuan, Weihsien.
With reference to your letter of the 30th May. In your letter you stated that "you propose, with the approval of our Commander (Wang Yumin) to send at least one British and one American representative to our headquarters to discuss this matter". I have the same reported to our General Commander and agree your arrangement. Now we are ready to welcome (meet) your representatives at the fixed point Liukiamutien (a big cemetery surrounded with brick wall just about 2 Ii north-west from your camp, and in the cemetery a lot of trees (Chinese call pei shu), you can see from Lotaoyuan).
I put three armed guards to meet you at the main entrance of the cemetery - they all wearing civilian cloth, and some more armed soldiers far behind them to protect you. At a front of the cemetery (3 men) you will see a small white flag which mark "Welcome American and British representatives" for you easily to recognize. The leader of the guide named Chang Pei chuan. Please arrange to leave the camp in the night of 9th June (from 8 p.m. to 12.00 midnight. If you have no chance to get out we will wait for you on the following night.
Can you bring out a typewriter (portable) with you? As my typewriter and all my other things has been destroyed by shell fire and bomb. If you could borrow a good fountain pen and pocket watch (which keeps good time) so much the better, and I will return the same after I get back from Chungking. Bring out some thin papers as well, as I can't get it in the country town and hsien cities.
After you get out I have to set out on my long journey right away, as I have to go go round from Nanking, Shanghai, Hangchow, Changshan etc. The other ways cannot get through.
Please answer without any fail. After I left my wife will keep connection with you. Kaoliang growing up is the time for you all to leave the camp. Keep patient. I leave for Chungking to arrange the air transport for you.
Your loving friend,
WANG YLI MIN.
You will see from the above letter that Wang Yu min gave careful instructions on where to meet on the proposed night of escape. There would be three armed guards to meet them, waving a white flag. They asked the two men to bring a typewriter.
THE ACTUAL ESCAPE ON 9 JUNE, 1944 and PREPARATIONS FOR THE END...
Tipton and Hummel slipped into the watchtower at the corner of the sports field, and through it, over the electrified wires with the help of fellow internees, while the Japanese sentry fresh on duty was doing his ten minute tour of inspection. A small group of Chinese were waiting for them, as arranged, at a cemetery two miles from the camp. Walking, travelling by wheelbarrow and bicycles, they reached the headquarters of General Wang Yumin and his guerrillas less than a hundred miles to the north east of Weihsien Camp.
Here they remained until the end of the war. They sent a lot of information about the camp to Chongqing, and obtained funds and medical supplies for the internees. They also kept in regular touch with the camp through a Chinese carpenter, who went in regularly as a labourer. The messages were written in fine silk, and folded into a small pellet, which the workman stuffed up his nose. This strategy defied the most exacting body searches. The messages were written in a special code in case they fell into the wrong hands. Sometimes they were spat out near a camp toilet where Fr. Raymond J. de Jaegher was already waiting.
The basis of this feverish and clandestine correspondence was partly due to the increasing shortage of food and medicines, but even more importantly to the fear that when the war ended the Japanese might slaughter the camp inmates, or the internees might be caught in dangerous crossfire between competing bands of guerrillas.
Here is a selection of letters which were smuggled into camp with the purpose of making plans about the end of the war and ensuring that the internees were kept in safety.
In the following letter Wang Shao wen stated that his purpose was "to save you all out from Ledaoyuan [Courtyard of the Happy Way] and then send you back to your country". He asked for statistics of the numbers of men, women and children, and for a sketch map of the area around the camp.
No 6 Area, Changyi Area, 3rd May, 1944.
To all British & American Friends & Others,
P.O.W. Camp, Lotaoyuan, Weihsien.
This serves to inform you that first of all I have to introduce myself to you. I am one of the first class interpreters in the Chinese Labour Corps, B.E.F., France. Upon my return to China I joined the A.P.O., Tsinanfu Area for more than ten years. Recently I left my last service in K.M.A. Tsinan. I came to No.6 Area Changyi just a couple of months ago. The first thing I decided with the Commander and the Asst. Commander is to arrange to save you all out from Lotaoyuan, and then send you back to your own country.
Please note that from here to Chungking it is rather difficult to go right thru, as the Jap soldiers are all blocked up the ways. So we have to arrange to send you all back by air. In this connection, we have to send a few special men (and I myself) to Chungking to connect the matter and request the Central Government, American and British Consulate Generals to arrange to send down some big aeroplanes for the transportation. So therefore before we save you all out from Lotaoyuan we have a lot of things to do, as the aerodrome built etc. for the planes to land. However, after everything settle up and then we will let you all know beforehand. Kindly believe us that we are easily to save you all out as we have over 60,000 soldiers staying in Changyi Area.
There are several things we want to know, please let us know.
(1) Total number of persons in Lotaoyuan (including ladies and children) ?
(2) How many American friends (including ladies and children) ?
(3) How many British friends (including ladies and children) ?
(4) Others (ladies and children)?
Please make a rough sketch of Lotaoyuan and number of persons which are living in each of the houses.
The best way to do is for you to write a letter to our Commander Wang Shang chih and Asst. Wang Yu min to save you all out from the War Prison Compound, and then you will all sign on the letter. Kindly write out a rough copy and then I will type it out for you. We need four copies - 1 for Central Government, 1 for British Consulate General, I for American Consulate General, and 1 for ourself.
As I have never been to Weihsien before, so we request Miss Yang Jui Ian to find one of her friends who can get into this compound to handing in and out of our letters. Now I am living in one of the hotel for your early replies.
Enclosed herewith an official letter from the Commander Wang Shang chih (Keep secret)
Wishing you all have a good luck. Please keep patient for the time being. We may act till the kaoliang crops grow up. Wait! Wait!
Yours very truly,
WANG SHAO WEN.
Beleagured British and Americans
Greetings to all. The dwarf islanders, who as brigands and robbers have upset the order of the world, and whose brutality my countrymen have first felt, as war and calamity spread widely and human sacrifice became cruel beyond any comparison in human history, without taking account of virtue and measuring their strength, dared to make enemies of your countries, so that you have met with great misfortune, and have been robbed of your livelihood and happiness.
We can well imagine that your life in Hades must reach the limit of inhuman cruelty. As I write this, I tear the roots of my hair.
The Allies are now in the Pacific, in South East Asia and on the mainland of China, where they have attacked with great success. I beg of you to let your spirits rise.
My division at the present moment is able to release you, snatching you from the tiger's mouth. But the territory we control is small and restricted. I cannot guarantee your safety for a long period.
If you will request your consuls to send aeroplanes after your release to pick you up, and take you away to the rear, then my division can certainly save you. Regarding this matter, I am asking Miss Wang Juilan to find some way of getting into touch with you, and to make arrangements.
I respectfully hope that you will be able to carry this out, and send you all my good wishes,
Wang Shang chih, 33rd year of the Republic, fifth month, fourth day.
Letter to Weihsien Camp from Commander
Wang Shang chih dated 4 May, 1944
In the above letter from COMMANDER WANG SHANG CHI DATED 4 MAY, 1944, Wang tried to identify himself with the sufferings of the internees. "We can well imagine that your life in Hades must reach the limit of inhuman cruelty. As I write this, I tear the roots of my hair." He sought to bring encouragement to the camp leaders as the war is in the favour of the Allies. He would like to use his division of soldiers to "snatch the internees from the tiger's mouth". They on their part must enlist the help of their consuls to send aeroplanes to evacuate them. He would gladly give his assistance.
Wang Shao wen, who wrote the earlier letter dated 3 May, 1944, sent two more letters to the camp dated 31 May. He acknowledges that he has now heard from the Camp Committee.
The numbers we want to know 1,520 etc. was duly received.
I am sorry that when I got back to our headquarters was just the time we are fighting with Japs' troops. The result we killed over 700 of them. This caused me cannot get back right away.
When you go out from Lotaoyuan (till the kaoliang crops grow up) we cannot keep you in country so long. Therefore we have to arrange the air transport with the British and American authorities in Chungking. So it is necessary for you to type 2 separate letters* to your consuls in Chungking (4 copies each with thin papers in single space and sign by both of your Consuls will do - that means easily to carry)
This suggestion, it is really put by me, so I request you to write a letter to our Commander Wang Yu min. Please have those letters (pass) hand out as soon as possible, as I have to take those letters with me when I leave for Chungking to arrange the air transport
On our part here everything ready for you all. I cannot tell you more about it. Please note that when the time you hear our shouting, that's the time for you to get out. I decided to leave for Chungking in the beginning of the coming month.
As the planes' landing ground we already starting work. Frank W. Price will help me in this connection (Chungking)
Letter handing in and out from the same point (over wall), and by the same man as well. The sooner the better.
Please have the figures which you passed out 10 days ago put in the letters as well.
Your loving friend,
WANG SHAO WEN.
Weihsien, 31/ 5/ 44.
Awaiting your letter to start my journey. God will help us.
To all American & British, and other Friends –
Dear Messrs Ti, T'ien & Lee,
In reply to your letter of 30th instant, contents of which has been clearly noted with interest. And I will have the same report to our Commander Wang Yu min on the morrow.. And will be back again in a few days later.
Before I came to Weihsien we have a meeting held which is about all necessary work we should be done. The result we could everything on our part, except the air transport. So therefore we have to request the heads of you to write letters for us to arrange air transport with the British and American Consuls easier. After everything arranged and settled at Chungking, I have to lead a few planes to come back first (show them where to land, and night or day signals to put etc.) At the same time will ask a couple of the British and American officers to come here first to see the airodrum built, and will ask Mr. Frank W. Price to come too.
We have radio station at our headquarters Hsiao Ho Tze (shifted from Sunchen after recent air raid). When they got to our headquarters and ask them to report our present conditions, it is far better than we report ourselves. This trip to and fro it will take two and a half months at least.
So I still ask you to write the letter for us to prove it. (Letter pass through the usual man). I will come back to fetch it. The sooner the better. Time not permit us to delay. As two more months the kaoliang crops will growing up by then.
Please keep patient to wait 2 more months. Now we have to catch the A.M. train to get back. So good-bye.
WANG SHAO WEN.
- - - - - - - - - - - - -
This correspondence has been brought into and out of camp through a cesspool coolie. In the above two letters Wang Shao wen is asking for some letters to be written by the Camp Committee which he can take to the British and American authorities in Chungking.
The following letter dated 3 June 1944 is the first record we have of the Weihsien Camp Committee's reaction to Wang Shao wen's rescue plan. They thank Wang for his interest and sympathy in their "unfortunate position", but tactfully state "we cannot at present recommend your plan to our Consuls in Chungking".
LETTER FROM CAMP COMMITTEE TO WANG SHAO WEN
June 3, 1944.
Dear Mr. Wang,
We received your letter of May 31st., and note that you propose to report to
Commander Wang Yu min on our letter of May 10th, and we await your reply with interest.
Once again we wish to express our most sincere appreciation of the interest and sympathy that both you and Commander Wang are showing in our unfortunate position here and we feel that it deeply reflects the true spirit of the Allied Nations in the struggle against our mutual enemy.
We have given careful thought to the plan put forward in your letters, and whilst the idea of our being rescued from our present plight and being transported to Chungking by plane is a very brilliant scheme and one that appeals to all, we realise that there are certain circumstances and conditions here in Lo Tao Yuan with which you may not be familiar, but which make - in our opinion - the successful operation of this plan doubtful. Therefore, with the limited knowledge that we have regarding this plan we feel, much as we appreciate your kindness and concern for our welfare, that we cannot at present recommend your plan to our Consuls in Chungking.
It seems to us essential that we have an opportunity of discussing the details of the plan from every point of view before we can write to our Consuls. The lives and safety of a great many people are involved, and we feel it unwise to make any hasty decision without a face to face discussion.
There are also other plans that we have in mind by which both you and Commander Wang can be of the greatest help to us - particularly if you yourself are still willing to proceed to Chungking on our behalf, and for this reason we are most anxious that you arrange for our representatives to meet both Commander Wang and yourself in order that we can give you every possible co-operation, and so enable our joint efforts to be directed along the most practical channels.
As we realise that you have our interests at heart we feel sure that you will do all you can to assist us in this matter, and we on our part are most anxious to take advantage of this opportunity, because we feel that with your help a great deal can be accomplished towards securing the safety and relieving the suffering of our fellow internees here.
Trusting that we may have a favourable reply from you in the near future, and expressing our most sincere thanks,
WEIHSIEN CAMP COMMITTEE
The "camp representatives" referred to were Laurance Tipton and Arthur Hummel, who were planning to escape six days after this. In the year which followed these two men worked closely with this pro-Chungking unit in ensuring the continued safety of the internees.
The following letter, dated 14 July, is from Captain John M. Birch, a missionary working behind the lines with the American Air Corps.
LETTER FROM JOHN M. BIRCH TO HUMMEL AND TIPTON -
14 July, 1945
Dear Messrs Hummel and Tipton,
Your letters to Capt. Glass safely received. Since Glass has left this area and I have returned, the letters were delivered to me.
For the past several days we have been attempting radio contact with your man. So far we have been rewarded with one short period of two-way communications, and your station faded out before that was finished. I fear that your present equipment will prove too weak to carry much communication.
There is, however, another means of sending messages to us by radio. Our mutual acquaintance will explain this. In the meantime, we will continue to call you on the times and frequencies you suggested. These do not interfere greatly with our work.
Your letter to W.B. Christian has been forwarded to Chungking by radio. So far we have heard nothing from there, except that Mr. Christian has gone to the States, leaving his work in the hands of others.
In the event we make fair radio contact, request you forward us any useful information on Japanese installations, strength, intentions, etc. at your convenience.
Best wishes for your success and safety.
JOHN M. BIRCH,
Captain, Air Corps A.U.S.
In the above letter John Birch arranged with the two escapees regarding the time and means of communicating by radio. He also asked for information about Japanese movements and strength.
In the next letter dated 22 July, 1945, Tipton writes to a Chinese business friend in Tsingtao for financial assistance. He is aware that the war could be ending soon, and he wanted to ensure that the Weihsien Camp had sufficient funds with which to survive.
He therefore arranged a loan with this friend, and requests that the funds be given to Swiss representative Egger for the benefit of the internees.
LETTER FROM HUMMEL & TIPTON TO A CHINESE BUSINESS MAN
July 22nd, 1945.
Owing to the difficulty we are having in transferring funds from here to Tsingtao for the use of our friends in Weihsien, I have approached an old business friend, and requested him to advance cash in Tsingtao for this purpose.
As a convenience to him we shall be greatly obliged if you will receive these funds and pass them on to Mr. Egger. These funds will be in the form of a loan to my company in FRB dollars, repayable in U.S. currency after the conclusion of hostilities. I have requested a first payment of FRB $ one million to be paid before the end of August.
Further sums required and the rate of exchange will be matters to be decided upon by yourself (if you will be good enough to assist in this matter), Mr. Egger and my friend. I am enclosing eight receipts, duly signed and chopped. Please fill in the amount of FRB dollars received and the rate of exchange agreed upon, and have same initialled by yourself, Egger, and chopped by bearer of funds, who will take delivery of receipt.
Please advise Egger that he may use this arrangement at his discretion, and that everything must be done to help our friends in Weihsien that is possible, and I hope my friend will be able to supply sufficient funds for this purpose.
Please advise him that we would like a brief monthly report confirming receipt of funds, and information as to how they are being spent together with any suggestions or requests that he may have to make. If this report be left with the Camp Committee in Weihsien we will arrange for collection.
We much appreciate the co-operation that you have so readily given in the past, and we hope you will continue to be in a position to help our mutual friends.
With kindest regards,
ARTHUR HUMMEL L. TIPTON.
Things are now moving fast with the end of the war now in sight.
On 12 August Hummel and Tipton write to the Camp Committee, advising them that Japan has surrendered unconditionally on 10 August.
LETTER FROM TIPTON & HUMMEL TO WEIHSIEN CAMP COMMITTEE
12 August, 1945.
To McLaren, Howard, Holton, de Jaegher,
Chungking with Allied help attacked Yenan on July 21. Russia declared war on Japan on August 6. Japan surrendered unconditionally to China, England and America on August 10. They are probably still fighting the Russians.
We are endeavouring to contact the Governor of Shantung, who is near Weihsien, to provide for your food, protection from Reds etc. If you are approached by representatives from ... co-operate with them. They are all interested in your survival.
The Reds occupy large areas both north and south of the Railway, and are attacking both Japanese and Chinese.
Until either the Allies land in Tsingtao or Chungking troops arrive from the west, the military situation will remain very unsettled. Therefore under no circumstances allow anyone to run away from the camp.
For the time we will be unable to go to the Camp, but will be doing what can be done for your welfare.
Please reply thru usual channels,
Tipton and Hummel.
The above letter is overtaken by events during the next few days. For on
17 August 1945 American parachutists come down outside Weihsien camp.
The following letter consists of instructions from the camp to the two escapees. Roy Tchoo informs Hummel and Tipton about the arrival of American airmen, and advises the two men to return to camp as soon as possible.
LETTER FROM ROY TCHOO TO TIPTON AND HUMMEL
1.30 p.m. August 17, 1945.
Dear Laurie & Arthur,
McLaren instructs me to inform you that seven U.S. paratroops landed outside the camp and are now inside. They are here purely for humanitarian reasons, and have not taken over the camp.
They are to gather information on local conditions, esp. camp conditions, which they are to report back to their H.Q.
The situation within the camp is that the guards will continue to man the walls, reinforced by the internees' own police force. The authority within the camp has been turned over to the Camp Committee white the Japs are responsible for the wall. The gate is in our hands.
Several groups of supposed Chungking forces have tried to contact us, but have been told nothing except that we will appreciate their protection.
The Weihsien City Magistrate sent a Pao-an-tui representative to meet the paratroop chief, Major Staiger, and was told to maintain order in the city, and to protect the camp outside the perimeter, but not to approach the walls for fear of any mistaken identity question.
McLaren says you two should get inside the camp as soon as possible and if possible your unit should try to protect us. If you come alone you will be admitted, but any Chinese coming will be stopped at the gate and interviewed by de Jaegher or myself.
If your unit comes, first send one or two in plain clothes to inform us, and we will inform the Pao-an-tui in turn that you are coming in. Otherwise there will be bloodshed.
We have sufficient food for a few days, but that matter will probably be under the care of Major Staiger. Pastor Hwang was in with a supposed Chungking unit, calling itself the representatives of the Third Independent Brigade, situated north of here. No statement has been issued to them, pending your arrival.
The paratroopers landed here shortly after ten this morning, and are now having lunch. The time is now 1.30 p.m. August 17, 1945.
If you send Chinese ahead of you, ask for McLaren, myself or de Jaegher, and give them a written chit in English.
See you soon,
ROY V. TCHOO.
(click on the pictures)