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David Michell, ...

Chefoo group arriving in Tsingtao after release from camp.

REMEMBER? World War II officially ended 45 years ago on this date. The story that begins on page 2 tells of a youthful prisoner of war who is now reaching out to his former captors.



Today, as Canadian Director of OMF in Toronto, Michell's ministry reaches around the globe to wherever Japanese and other Asians have settled. Such an outreach is perhaps not extraordinary, but it is somewhat surprising - considering the fact that as a youth David Michell was held a prisoner by the Japanese.

The faith which has enabled Michell to invest in the lives of those who had once been his captors was actually gained during four years spent as a youthful prisoner of the Japanese in China during World War II.

Michell started life in China in 1933, when he was born to Australians Walter and Reba Michell, workers with the China Inland Mission, forerunner of OMF. At the age of six, David was sent to Chefoo School, a CIM institution established on the Yellow Sea for children of missionaries and other English-speaking people in China. Thus began a six-year separation from his parents.

It was at Chefoo that Michell first trusted Christ as his Saviour. But the seed of that faith was planted earlier. "I can remember still," he says, “a baptism at my parents' first mission station when I was four. I was impressed that Chinese Christians were singing and weeping with joy over their salvation."

Three years later, at a beach mission for children at Chefoo, David realized he needed to have a personal trust in Christ. "I understood that my sin grieved God. I was ready to accept Jesus," he remembers.

It was the summer following the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor. War had been declared, and the school was operating under the close surveillance of Japanese troops. In November 1942 David and his schoolmates were transferred by the Japanese to Temple Hill Presbyterian Compound, two miles inland.

A year later, David, his older sister Joyce, and other school mates were shipped to Weihsien. There they began a two-year confinement in a prisoner-of-war camp that held 1,400 internees, about 500 of them children.

Through the years food grew scarce and clothing became threadbare. The constant presence of sometimes menacing guards was a continual threat to normal childhood activities. Young as he was, David could perceive the difference between his teachers, who lived with the hope of heaven, and his captors, who did not know that joy.

But Michell counts his time as a child POW as one of spiritual growth. "I saw missionaries really putting their faith into practice in the stress of those times and under the threat of death," he recalls. It was well-understood by the prisoners that the occupying Japanese were under orders to kill their prisoners and commit suicide rather than be taken captive by Allied forces.

"I didn't see myself as having suffered," Michell insists. "Rather, I had a sense of dependence on the trustworthiness of God in the most horrendous of settings." Indeed, the Lord intervened for young David in significant ways during his years as a prisoner.

At Temple Hill, the Japanese officer in charge, a Major Kosaka, proved to be a kindly man. Despite his imposing gold braid and ever present sword, he liked to interact with the children. One day he pulled a New Testament out of his pocket, to the surprise of the boys and girls around him. "We knew he was one of us," Michell says, recalling his amazement.

Living courageously in spite of circumstances came from the example of 1924 Olympic gold medallist and fellow prisoner Eric Liddell. A worker with the London Missionary Society, Liddell was quartered in a room above that occupied by David and several other boys. He attempted to maintain the prisoners' health and morale by coaching athletics in the prison compound.

"Eric was everybody's hero," Michell relates. "He supplied the emotional needs of the youngsters who were under pressure in the prison atmosphere. He put a stamp on our characters and imparted values which I treasure in my life as an adult."

Liddell died of a brain tumor at the prison camp six months before the war ended. He is buried just outside the camp.

Michell well remembers the days seven American soldiers parachuted from the sky, shortly after two atomic bombs were dropped on Japan. Several older boys carried the paratroopers into the camp on their shoulders, and the Japanese to everyone's relief laid down their weapons without resistance.

As soon after rescue as transportation could be arranged, 12-yearold David was returned to his parents' home in Australia. While readjusting to life with his parents after years of separation, David admits to periods of rebellion in his early teens. But at the age of 16, along with his sister Joyce, Michell dedicated his life to missionary service.

His entrance into a ministry was not immediate. Instead, following high school and college, David took a position teaching Latin and English in a country high school in the Australian bush. "There were kangaroos, rabbits, emus, and big lizards all around," he remembers.

His students were mainly white farm youngsters, but also included a few aborigines from the Outback.

It was in this setting that Michell gained his first experience in preaching, as a supply minister in rural churches. He also began a Christian boys' club, leading some of the members to faith in Christ.

Remembering his pledge to missionary service, Michell travelled to England to study for the ministry at London Bible College and London University. His contacts with Japanese in the London area prompted a desire to reach out to Asians. As a child, he had seen firsthand the need for God's love to reach the people of the Orient.

David's return to Australia was via free passage on a ship bearing 50 youths being sent there by the Big Brother Movement. Michell had signed on as their chaplain. Once "down under," David followed his family to New Zealand, where his father had been appointed home director of OMF. For six months he taught at a Christian college.

In 1960 Michell went to Singapore for OMF orientation. There he met Joan Petrie, from Alberta, and fell in love. After engagement in Singapore, the pair went to Japan, where they were married.

David and Joan served 10 years in Japan, the homeland of his former captors, working most of the time with students. David taught English in Japanese universities and served for several years as an Inter-Varsity worker on college campuses, on loan from OMF. The Michells' four children were all born in Japan.

A furlough in Western Canada and an illness in Joan's family kept the Michells there for a year, where David served as an OMF representative. They then returned to New Zealand, where David was asked to stay for a time and work on college campuses.

In 1974 David was named Canadian Director of OMF, the position he now holds, and the Michells moved to Toronto. David believes that his early cross-cultural experiences, both within and outside Weihsien prison, have given him a broader perspective of the world and its problems and needs.

It has also given him acceptance in the Asian community. Recently he spoke at a retreat for youth from around the world, including China and Japan. When he related his background, the understanding of his message improved dramatically, he discovered. David Michell has vivid memories of his imprisonment by the Japanese. But he holds only love in his heart for them and for all the people of the world.


The dramatic World War II rescue of Weihsien prison camp, in Japanese controlled China, is remembered by inmate David Michell, who was 12 at the time. He was one of a number of children, separated from their parents, who were in the camp.


By David J. Michell

In the bitter days of 1945, food was becoming more scarce and our clothes reaching the point of being more "skin bare" than threadbare. The strain of prison camp life was telling on many people. There were signs of this too among the Japanese. While they didn't say anything publicly, we were beginning to sense that the tide of war was turning against them. Rumors were rife that in the event of defeat, the Japanese had orders never to surrender but to first kill all prisoners and then themselves.

"Man's extremity is God's opportunity" was amply illustrated in Weihsien. While there were those who cursed God and saw the whole of their camp existence as a hell sized hiatus in their lives, there were others who said, "I thank God for Weihsien Camp," and "I came to know a lot more about myself and other people."

Some could even say, "I came to know Christ in Weihsien Camp."

Friday, August 17 started ordinarily enough. The work squads were going about their usual duties in the kitchens, at the ash heaps, or other places. The morning sun seemed to be beckoning us as it filtered through the ornate corner windows of the church. “Let's try it one more time," our singing teacher said, with a hint of resignation. I was trying hard to hit the high notes but the weekly spoonful of crushed eggshells (for calcium), coaxed down my throat by the teacher that morning, turned my efforts into a sound little better than a growl.

We were droning our best, when all at once everything was drowned out by a deafening roar right over our heads. Above the din we heard frantic shouts of "American plane! American plane! It's heading straight for us."

We dashed outside and were caught in a frenzied flow of able bodied inmates pouring out of the little shacks and crowded rooms onto the athletic field. We all ran to join the swelling throng already gazing raptly skyward, hearts pounding uncontrollably. Could it be that our three years of captivity were about to end?

As the huge B-24 came down lower, we could see people inside and then its name, "The Armored Angel." Slowly, slowly the plane started upward again, moving away from the camp. Was it going to leave us after all?

Then, to the piercing shrieks and wild cries of everyone, seven Gls parachuted down, floating out of the sky like saviors from another world.

Not even the guards with their bayonets drawn as they stood inline could block our headlong stampede. Some of us children, barefoot and dressed only in shorts, were first down the cinder road to the main gate. As we surged through the gates with spirits bursting for freedom from the years of imprisonment, the guards fell away to the sides.

In no time the parachutists were hoisted up by the prisoners onto the older boys' shoulders, besieged by adoring girls and wide-eyed children. One Gl's remark was long remembered: "I wouldn't change places with Clark Gable for all the tea in China."

We children tagged along, shouting and cheering as we tugged the billowing folds of parachutes along the ground, bringing up the rear. What a triumphal procession we were! No ticker-tape parade could ever have matched it.

As the procession came nearer the camp, the camp band struck up various Allied national anthems. Loud and clear the notes rang out above the din, and Americans, British, Chinese, and others joined in singing the songs of victory.

As we neared the gates, tension grew. But nothing happened. Exuberant spirits won the day as we pressed into the camp, where pandemonium had broken loose.

The leader of the parachutists, Major Stanley Staiger, pushed through the crowd into the guardhouse with both his pistols drawn to confront the commandant, who must have known the war was over. He and the whole garrison surrendered without resistance.

In a master stroke of face-saving, the Americans handed back the role of security of the camp to the Japanese. After all, what could seven GIs do? Major Staiger explained that they had come only to assess the situation and make arrangements to evacuate the critically ill and the elderly.

Some years later, General Wedemeyer, who had been in charge of the rescue of foreign prisoners in China, said that in his view the rescue attempt by the seven was a "suicide mission." The military intentions of Japan included killing all Allied captives.

Sunday, August 19 was set apart for thanksgiving services. Tears flowed and hearts overflowed with gratitude to God that the end had come at last and in a manner that had given us such a powerful object lesson that the meek shall inherit the earth.

Excerpted from A Boy's War by David J. Michell. ©1988
Overseas Missionary Fellowship and Dr. David J. Michell

A boy’s war: the story of a PoW.

Friday August 16, 1985.
Mr. Michell is Canadian director of the ' Overseas Missionary Fellowship.

THE MIDSUMMER sun seemed to beckon as it filtered through the corner windows of our prison camp church. "Let's try it one more time," the singing teacher said, with a hint of resignation. A group of us younger boys were droning our best when everything was drowned out by a deafening roar over our heads. Above the din we heard frantic shouts: "American plane! American plane!"

We dashed outside end were caught in a frenzied flow of inmates from their dingy shacks and crowded rooms onto the camp field. We joined a throng gazing skyward, hearts pounding wildly.

Could it be, at last, that my three years of captivity with 1,400 other prisoners under the Japanese in Weihsien Concentration Camp were about to end? It was Aug. 17, 1945 - 40 years ago tomorrow; the Japanese had quit fighting three days earlier and the war was over. From the age of 6 to 12 I had not seen my parents, not since all 150 or so boys, girls and teachers at the boarding school I attended, Chefoo, bad been interned by the Japanese as enemy nationals. I didn't even know if my parents, who were missionaries, were still in China. (They were not; from a part of the country not overrun by the Japanese they managed to reach Australia.)

The plane had turned and was coming in very low, just sweeping above the lookout towers and the high walls with their electrified and barbed wire. Hysteria was at fever pitch; some ran to and fro in panic, others were frozen to the ground, their upturned faces magnetized by the huge B-24. As the plane came lower we could see men inside and then its name, The Flying Angel. We wondered if the Japanese soldiers would shoot it down. Slowly the plane circled higher, moving away from the camp. "Oh no, it couldn't leave us," someone wailed. Then suddenly, to the wild cries of the prisoners, seven U.S. soldiers parachuted down, floating out of the sky like saviors from another world.

The forbidding grey walls and massive wooden gates instantly lost their terror. Not even the guards with their bayonets drawn could block our headlong stampede. Some of us children, running bare foot, were first down the cinder road to the main gate. We hesitated as we neared the soldiers, but the shouts and cheers behind us and the hope of deliverance took away our fear. The guards fell away to the sides as we surged through the gates.

The stronger men reached the Americans first and faced drawn pistols - the GIs thought they might be met by Japanese soldiers. In no time, however, the liberators were hoisted onto the prisoners' shoulders, surrounded by adoring girls and wide-eyed children. "I wouldn't change places with Clark Gable for all the world," remarked one GI.

We tagged along behind, shouting and cheering as we tugged the billowing folds of the parachutes along the ground. There were tense moments as we neared the gates, but nothing happened. Inside the camp, pandemonium had broken loose. .he Japanese surrendered quietly and Major Stanley Staiger and his men started evacuation proceedings for the critically ill and elderly prisoners.

In the next few weeks many more military personnel arrived. Medical supplies, food and clothing were showered down on us by parachute from the bomb racks of B-29s. The heavens opened with blessings we will never forget. Much of the food was new to us. I had no idea what ketchup was. I found it a bit thick to drink but loved it. Chewing gum was hard to swallow but I kept getting it down until some body told me, "You don't eat it, you just keep on chewing." Our stomachs were in turmoil but who could be ill at such a time? We heard of some people in the camp hospital who, when they heard the Americans had landed, jumped out of bed and out the windows, never to return.

By late September, 1945, the American forces organized our travel from the camp and down the coast on a troopship, USS Geneva. We were battered by the tail end of a typhoon but managed to reach Hong Kong, where the British army cared for us. Two weeks later I was aboard HMS Reaper, a converted aircraft carrier, bound for Australia. The crew was kindness itself to us wartime orphans, who were finding it hard to cope with running water, money, stores, new sights and open spaces.

As we came in to dock at Sydney, we must have been a comic sight in our many-sizes-too-big GI clothes. Peering down from the giddy height of the flight deck, we scanned the wharf, desperately hoping for a glimmer of recognition. Someone on the pier standing beside my dad pointed out my sister and me, and once the gangplank was down, an unforgettable reunion took place. The years of separation were over.

Many memories have faded, but not those of my heroes, among whom were my teachers in the prison camp. Caring for hundreds of boys and girls must have given them many scares. Once some of us went to watch after hearing that Chinese guerrilla units were attacking. We watched the Japanese garrison defend the camp. Hand-grenades were flying and wounded soldiers were being carried in on stretchers right under our noses as we hid behind the walls of the camp church.

My earliest hero in the war was Major Kosaka, the Japanese Commandant of Temple Hill, our first prison camp. Unlike the others, he treated us with respect. He had a kind face and talked to us in English. Sometimes after roll call he would let us pull out his sword and swish it around in the air. Major Kosaka must have missed his own children. One time, with only a small group of us around him and no soldiers in sight, he reached into the top pocket of his uniform and brought out a little black-covered booklet. He showed it to us - it was an English New Testament.

After 10 months in Temple Hill Camp, we were shipped in the hold of a cargo boat down the coast and then by train and truck, reaching Weihsien Concentration Camp in September, 1943. In all, 1,400 people were crowded into 61 buildings in an area 150 yards by 200 yards.

My other three heroes were from Weihsien Camp. They were Hummel and Tipton, and Eric Liddell. Arthur Hummel Jr. (now the U.S. Ambassador to China) and Laurence Tipton, a businessman, escaped from the camp in June, 1944, and devised a way of getting the war news to us.

Many internees were losing hope and news that would give the truth about the war was urgent. Hummel and Tipton had made contact with Chinese soldiers outside through the help of a Chinese coolie who came into the camp each day to empty the cesspools. He was a good choice, because the Japanese guards gave him a wide berth as he slopped his way in and out of camp with cesspool buckets swinging from the pole across his shoulder.

On a night when the conditions were right, Hummel and Tipton, dressed in black, tight-fitting Chinese clothes that had been smuggled in, crept into one of the searchlight towers by the camp wall while a fellow internee distracted the Japanese guard. Manoeuvring past the electrified wire and coils of barbed wire, passing the graves outside the walls, they rendezvoused with Chinese soldiers. After some weeks of living in caves, they got hold of a radio and travelled back to the region of the prison camp.

From their hiding place they dispatched news into the camp by writing it in code on a tiny piece of silk and rolling it up tightly in a bit of rubber. This was given to the cesspool coolie, who would push the pellet up his nose. At a certain place in the camp, he would blow his nose, discharging the little pellet undetected. A Catholic priest would pick up the capsule, decipher the news and secretly circulate it. In this way we all knew when Germany had surrendered and when the war ended, but we had no idea how the news was reaching us.

Also in Weihsien Camp was Eric Liddell, hero of the film Chariots of Fire. When our school first arrived, someone said to, me, "Do you know who that is coming up the camp road?" "No!" I said, as I saw a strong, athletic-looking man in baggy shorts down to his knees and a shirt made of curtain material. "That's Eric Liddell, the Olympic gold medallist who wouldn't run on a Sunday."

That is how I first met the athlete who had refused to run in the 100 metres in the 1924 Olympic Games in Paris, but who later won a gold medal and created a world record in the 400 metres. Here he was, 20 years later in his early forties, in our prison camp. He was a Congregational missionary and was taken captive like the rest of us enemy nationals.

Eric Liddell helped organize athletic meets. Despite the weakening physical condition of people as the war dragged on, the spirit of competition and camaraderie in sports was good for us. Young and old watched with pride, basking in the aura of Olympic glory, as Eric Liddell ran in the race for veterans. He also helped many internees by teaching and tutoring, and he shared the work load of the older people, the weak and the ill.

Despite the squalor, the open cesspools, the rats, flies and disease, life had a pretty normal routine. Ours was a world in microcosm where the conditions brought out the best and the worst in people.

One of my most vivid recollections is of talking with Eric Liddell the day he died. That morning he was walking slowly under the trees near the camp hospital beside the open space where he had taught us children to play basketball and rounders. As usual he was smiling. We knew nothing of the pain he was hiding from a brain tumor that was to take his life that evening. Scotland's greatest athlete reached the tape in his final race on Feb. 21, 1945. He was buried in a camp cemetery. He died just six months before the war ended, a soul serene amid the sorrows and sufferings of war. His last words were, "It is complete surrender."

Weihsien Concentration Camp is today the Second Middle School near Weifang in Shandong Province, North China. I will be there tomorrow to present a plaque and commemorate our liberation exactly 40 years ago. I want to look into the sky where the B-24 and the parachutes appeared, to pause beside the place where Eric Liddell lies buried, to live again with my heroes and give thanks for faith and freedom.