THE B29’s WITH THEIR WELCOME SUPPLIES.
The next few days were full of surprises. A few of us decided we would walk into the City of Weishien. What a change it was to walk along a country road for miles in a straight direction. For years we had walked around and around our camp, we knew every turn and nothing new ever came into view. Now it was all new we had been driven in trucks, when we had first arrived. Weishien (now called Weifang) was no show piece but everything seemed worth looking at. The Japanese were nowhere to be seen. Walking through the ancient city gates. We made our way to the market square which had all kinds of Chinese wares. Our eyes soon lighted on all the American goodies that had come out of Red Cross parcels. Obviously the Japanese had made a good thing trading off the thousands of Red Cross parcels which never reached us. We should have been angry but rather we turned it all into a great joke that the tradesman had paid the Red Cross for our parcels! The Chinese love a joke and laughed with us. We didn’t have much money between us but we managed to buy some sugar which for us was a great luxury. This ended up being made into boiled sweets, another unheard of luxury.
One of the American servicemen had been given the grand title of “Entertainment
Officer” He soon set up a system of loud speakers through out the camp.
Army discipline had taught him to get up at the break of day, so in order to
give us new verve and enjoyment and brighten up our miserable lives, our weary
sleep was suddenly shattered by the strain of an American voice crooning out.
“Oh what a beautiful morning, Oh what a beautiful day. I’ve got
a wonderful feeling, everything is coming my way !!” We had come to like
our silence. With every room crammed with sleeping bodies. Music from “Oklahoma,”
piped into our monotonous routine was not our idea of welcoming freedom. The
young American soldier who had invaded our slumber was perplexed to find that
he was not on our wave length. The piped in music & songs were not only
all new to our ears, but jarring on our nerves. Four long years of confinement
had had its affect on us. Apart from arranging movies and dances etc. A reading
room had been set up with papers and magazines dating back four years. None
of them were out of date for us. It was extraordinary to read about Rommel and
the Dessert Rats. The Invasion of Italy and the D day landings. The astonishing
B 29s and the dropping of the Atom bombs on Hiroshima & Nagasaki. The horrors
involving the Jews and the holocaust, and the Thailand railway, made our internment
like a holiday camp. Sixty years later and I’m still trying to catch up
with this imponderable back log of what happened during those four years. There
was constantly the lack of news much closer to my heart, news of my loved ones.
The silence of four years still hadn’t been broken.
BAD NEWS FOR NEIL
Somebody came to me and said “Pa Bruce wants to see you.” (P.A.Bruce. was the Head Master of The Chefoo School.) Suddenly all kinds of thoughts began rushing through my head. It must be word from my parents! I knocked on his door only to be met by a very sober looking face. “Stephen, I would like you to tell Neil that both his brothers, air force pilots, have been killed in action. I think Neil would find it easier hearing it first from you.” Neil and I had grown up together and were working on the same kitchen shift. Philosophically I went looking for Neil. “What did Pa Bruce want you for he asked with a wry smile?” “I’m afraid its bad news, very bad. He wanted me to tell you, both Ian & Gordon were killed in action. There were no other details. I’m awfully sorry.” We later both went to over to the a little room that was piled high with letters for us prisoners, but had never been delivered because there was nobody to censor them. The Japanese claimed they hadn’t the personnel efficient in English to censor the mail. After rummaging around for some time with not a letter of interest we both gave up.
It wasn’t long before the B 29s again appeared above our camp. They were loaded with two 44 gallon drums welded together to make a long cylinder packed full of everything from the US Army canteens. The planes had flown over from Okinawa. The cylinders were dropped by parachute. And came down in the fields over a two mile area. It was often a race to get to them before the Chinese, who were out to get their share of the loot. It was terrifying to have these heavy drums often breaking away from the parachute and crashing down, already we had a Chinese youth who had been hit. One such drum came crashing down about 20 yards from where I was standing. I rushed over to see and was horrified as I looked into the small crater with a mangled and crumpled heap of metal and tin. Slowly oozing out and covering everything was blood, I stooped down to look more closely and began to chuckle as I realized the drum had been packed with cans of tomato soup and ketchup, things we had not seen for years! All these goods had to be hauled into our assembly hall. A friend of mine had to chase off a young Chinese man who had grabbed a bottle of chocolate coated vitamins. As he ran off he was stuffing handfuls of vitamins into his mouth.
STILL IN OUR CAGE BUT LIFE WAS GETTING BETTER
The following morning turning up for duty at the kitchen, we sat down to discuss the menu for the day. What a change, now it was a matter of what not to have on the menu. Real coffee and tea even milk and sugar to go with it, not just one cup but as many as we wanted. There was jam and honey and real butter to go on our dry bread. Incongruously the line of internees each stood with his bashed up tin can as a plate and cup. In a few more days everybody men and women had changed their rags for smart looking American GI uniforms with caps.. Wearing army boots and socks was quite an adjustment . As soon as the warmer weather had arrived I discarded Eric’s running shoes. We all went barefoot and thought nothing of it. When we had first run out into the kaoliang fields. I found myself stopping to pull out the three pronged grass seeds which even brought blood. However, we still had to return to our dingy rooms and to our dirty beds. Not that we ever thought of them as dingy. I felt quite hurt when a young American G.I. looked into our room and referred to it as a hovel! We had grown so use to everything and had nowhere else to go. However our conversation had changed our new obsession was when we would finally get out of our prison. Unfortunately the Chinese communist guerrillas had their own agenda and continued to blow up the railway.
All this time my thoughts were engrossed with where my parents were and if I could get to them. An announcement was made that nobody could fly into inland China unless the American’s had a request from somebody authorizing such a flight.