Two days after the end of World War II was
the most exciting day of my life. On 17 August 1945, seven American
paratroopers landed just outside Weihsien, the Japanese Concentration Camp in
which I had spent the last two or three years of my life. I was eleven years
old. It was about in the morning and we rushed out past our Japanese guards, still
standing there with their rifles and bayonets, and the officers with their long
samurai swords hanging from their belts and almost touching the ground. They
were confused and indecisive. They were still in charge, but the war was over
and they knew that. So they stood, ambivalent, watching us rush joyously past.
We welcomed the seven servicemen as heroes
and brought them into camp, where they quickly took control and set out the
boundaries for the Japanese and us. The excitement was coupled with new
experiences and general anticipation. We were going home.
In the next few days more American bombers
flew over and dropped hundreds of parachutes of food and other necessities.
These planes had come from Xi’an in Western China,
one of the Americans’ main airports in “Free China” We leapt from being beggars
whose diet had been not much more than bread and water, to being millionaires,
feasting on chocolate and peaches and meat, even though it mostly came out of
the ubiquitous khaki American army tins and packets. I smoked my first
cigarette, became sick with too many good things too quickly, saw the first
drunken European I had ever seen, and broke my arm chasing one of the American
heroes around the camp.
Meanwhile arrangements were being made to
get everyone home. For the majority of the former internees, this meant getting
them on to a train to the coastal city of Qingdao, from where they would be catching ships back to their home
countries. But for me and the four Taylor children and
David Allen, “home” was in Western China where our parents were still living in what had been “Free China”
during the War. So, about three or four weeks after the end of the War, the six
of us were bundled on to an American transport plane carrying used parachutes
back to Xi’an. There were no seats for passengers, so
we lolled around on top of these piles of soft parachute silk.
When we arrived in Xi’an we were taken to billets at the American barracks where we stayed
for a couple of days. We had more new experiences here which generated effects
that are with me still. I was given a tube of toothpaste. Up to this time I
only remember using soap to brush my teeth. Even now, brushing my teeth with
real toothpaste is an evocative experience. They had Coca Cola on tap, and I
loved it. Still do. In the evenings we were taken to their outdoor picture
theatre, where we sat on canvas director’s chairs and I watched cartoons for
the first time. Today I still love to watch cartoons, especially the simpler
Mickey Mouse type of cartoon.
The four Taylor children
were picked up from here by their parents and taken to their mission station.
My parents should have been notified that I was here and picked me up also, but
this didn’t happen. My parents only lived in South Shaanxi, the same
province in which Xi’an was
situated, about two days travel by truck over fairly primitive roads. But they
were still waiting to be told where I was.
My mother writes that they were waiting
very impatiently, and finally received a letter from Chongqing saying that a circular had been sent out the day before, explaining
to parents what was happening to their children. They never received that circular.
Then they received a letter from a friend in Xi’an which said, “I am sorry I missed seeing your Raymond when he passed
through here. Some of our folks went out to the airport, but I couldn’t go.” If
I had “passed through” Xi’an, then
where was I, they wondered.
Finally another missionary friend wrote to
them saying, “There was great excitement last night when the four Taylor children
walked in. Your Raymond would have been with them, but he has been taken on to Kunming with a
fractured wrist.” Kunming was in the south of China,
1300 kilometres from Xi’an as the
crow flies, but much, much further by road.
I flew from Xi’an to Kunming in a bomber called “The Homesick Angel”. Before getting on board,
the navigator gave me a small block of chocolate, but unfortunately I became
airsick on the trip and, because I had been offered a pull down seat just
behind the pilots and opposite the navigator, he ended up with that chocolate
and more, over the front of him. I thought he took it very well, and seemed to
hold no grudge towards me.
At Kunming I was taken
to the local mission home belonging to my parents’ missionary society, the
China Inland Mission. Here I stayed the night, and my memory of that stay is of
being placed in a wing of the building which seemed to be a long way from
everyone else. I got up after they had put me to bed and walked out on to a
sort of indoor verandah and could see a few adults
having a cuppa and talking up the other end. They glanced at me, but nothing more, and I eventually went back into this room and slept
alone for the rest of the night. I was not used to being alone as I had lived
in boarding school dormitories for the last six years or so.
At this stage my parents received a
telegram from the missionary in charge at Kunming saying,
“Raymond here safe and well. Will send on to Hanzhong or Xi’an as soon as transport is available.” Transport became available almost immediately, once more per kind
favour of the American airforce, and I was returned
to Xi’an on another bomber, minus my trunk of precious belongings, which I
never saw again. The only thing I remember being in that trunk was a piece of
brick which I had souvenired as a reminder of
Weihsien. Looking back now I think the rest of the contents probably consisted
of worn out clothing and maybe some old exercise books and not much else. At
the time I felt the loss deeply, but kept it to myself.
Back in Xi’an I was left at the airport and there seemed to be no one there to
pick me up. A Chinese nurse attached to the army was at the airport and saw me
but did not realize who I was until she arrived back in Hanzhong
where my mother met her at the Sunday service. Hearing that she had been in Xi’an the day before, my mother asked her jokingly, “You didn’t happen to
see a small boy of about 11 with his arm in a sling anywhere at the airport in Xi’an, did you?” “As a matter of fact, there was a boy there fitting that
description, but I didn’t know who he was.” Fortunately for me there happened
to be a friend of my parents from another mission at the airport who saw me
wandering around and asked me who I was. When he discovered that I was the son
of his missionary friends, he took me to his home to stay until my father could
come and pick me up.
After they heard of my arrival in Xi’an again, and after a misunderstanding with an American major who they
had hoped would bring me back from Xi’an to Hanzhong by air, my father set off by
road to Xi’an. This involved catching a bus from Hanzhong
to a place called Baoji where
the nearest station was situated on the railway to Xi’an. The “bus” was actually a tray top truck on which everyone’s
luggage was stacked and then the passengers rode on top. At Baoji he met by chance a British convoy and discovered that he had gone
to school with the major in charge. He explained his situation to the major and
arranged with him to wait for a particular train back from Xi’an so that he could give us a lift back to Hanzhong.
The reunion with my father was far from
world shattering. I was in bed when he arrived and he came in to the room to
meet me. My reaction was to duck under the bedclothes and hide myself from him.
I have often wondered what the cause of this burst of shyness was.
We caught the train to Baoji, where we made our way off the train and out of the station for our
rendezvous with the British major and his convoy. They were nowhere to be seen,
and when my father enquired, he was told that they had waited until most people
were off the train and, because we had been delayed coming out of the station,
they thought we were not on board and had left to go on their journey south
We left the station dejectedly and made our
way around to find somewhere to have breakfast. But amazingly, as we turned a
corner, there was a jeep with a British flag flying on the front. My father
asked the driver if he was connected with the major and his convoy, and found
that he was indeed part of that convoy. He had taken a wrong turning and was
now on his way to catch up with the rest of the convoy.
The three of us set off down the mountain
road, heading in the right direction for home. Instead of a tasty Chinese
breakfast from a wayside stall, we ate British army rations from a tin as we
drove along. Rounding a corner on the road which was cut out of a steep
hillside, we suddenly saw the rest of the convoy ahead of us. There had been a
landslide and they were trying to clear a track around it. This done we were on
our way again and by late that afternoon the convoy was making its way through
the outskirts of Hanzhong. I walked up the path to
the mission home and was greeted with great rejoicing by my mother and youngest
brother and a little sister I had never seen. My other brother came home from a
boarding school in India some weeks later.
So I was home and we were a family again.
Or were we? My mother writes about this meeting, “There was Raymond, a big
eleven year old walking up the path. What a reunion after five long years. But
where was my little six year old whom I knew so well?
I felt as if I had two boys, one whom I knew and understood, and one whom I
hardly knew at all.”
End of Window 4.
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