It was on March 29, 1943 --- I was 4 and a half years old. When we arrived, the people of our convoy were lined up along the walls of the future base-ball field. I remember that we were anxiously waiting for the first roll-call --- just on this spot. There were swings and a jungle-jim on the playground. A few days later the Japanese had them taken away. I then realised: all was not well in this world.
"My" tree, full of catkins that first spring. Sometimes, looking up, there was a flash of golden oriole wings, and looking west, I watched the sun set way beyond the wall. Once, a mushroom grew on it's trunk. Mr Churchill ATE it, Daddy didn't dare!
That this was Block-22, where we lived. Zandy played the accordion on his doorstep next to ours. My best friend was Francis deJongh, my age and next door neighbour. Mr. Shadick was surrounded by Chinese books. Mr Churchill wrung a chicken's neck, he said he was going to EAT it! Margaret had curly-russet hair ---
When Mama became very fat with my sister-to-be Marylou, she sat down here with a big hat to shade her from the summer sun, and chopped vegetables at a table outside Kitchen No.1, with a lot of other ladies.
One day in my wanderings, I met my Daddy pumping water. He was almost bare, and his skin was very wet.
Mornings I sometimes wandered into the bakery, a favourite place with a yummy smell, and if I thought that no one was looking, I could put my finger into the huge vat full of dough and lick my finger clean. (Today, I'm sure the bakers looked the other way!)
The trees in Lover's Lane were full of magpies. I remember being with a bunch of kids running after wild geese flying south, very high in the sky in their autumn "V" formations. We yelled "geese! geese!" frantically only to find ourselves stopped by some silly wall. No way out. Just up, up and AWAY.
Market Square was a permanent playground for marbles, knife throwing, rope-jumping, follow-the-leader, hopscotch = nothing as precious as a heavy flat stone! I don't remember playing with India-rubber balls.
My heroine was Dolly, a lady who played base-ball with the men! And of course I remember Eric Liddell, on game-days. We little kids trailed him around, the bigger kids had all kinds of races, the men played tug-of-war.
A young Japanese guard with his bayonet kept watch right here. His duty was to stop anyone from straying into this out-of-bounds lane. Our bunch of kids must have taunted him, --- he went mad with his bayonet. We were very frightened.
I remember: a B-29 flying ever so low in the fields with that never forgotten rumbling roar. People were talking about flying angels, well no, --- the wings weren't right, --- it was a bird --- but was it a bird? Could a feathery bird become a silver angel? I remember feeling a bit funny and quite scared. Of course, just a little later my friends and I were running around yelling: Plane! Plane!
This is where my little brother Leopold often played with Billy, same age, real daredevils! As time went by they grew quite wild, no one minded too much, they couldn't go very far off as the walls kept them "in" --- till liberation day when the gates opened wide and let them "out"! The men had to bring them back by the scruff of the neck, but I bet they had a good taste of being finally free!
When I went through my "begging" stage, I begged sugar from the Catholic Fathers. They were very kind and patient. I most remember a very ancient Father, he sat in the sun, small and withered, all wrinkles and smiles, with a black Chinese cap on his head and with a long, very long and pointed white beard. He looked at me in wonder. I was very sorry when almost all the Fathers left.
In the seventies she wasn't married, she was very close to her brother Frans who wasn't married either at that time, she had a job in psychology and social work, (thanks to Weihsien experiences I suppose).
I very much loved the de Jongh family in Weihsien, Frans was my age, and I too have splendid memories, above all of mrs de Jongh who kept her family together with such art and grace, and FED them all every noon and evening, God knows how she did it ,and what she fed them! but they had to be present, they all said grace, and relished what they ate! My first pangs of jealousy were felt at just those precise moments!!!
Mr de Jongh was a stamp collector, I suppose he had to leave all behind, so in camp he collected cigarette boxes and match boxes and put their cardboard pictures in homemade albums, I remember them being all so beautifully arranged!
Mrs de Jongh and Mummy had bought plenty of soap to camp, and Daddy had a whole bottle of precious glycerine (for our throat-sores, mixed with a drop of iodine) so we spent an afternoon making soap bubbles, glycerine to make the bubbles last, I don't remember how we made the pipes, (paper?) but I very well remember the frothy bowl into which we plunged our pipes, then blew ever so softly to get the bubbles going, growing, glowing, ah all those colours! till they were gently set free and up they went... well the sky was blue, the air very warm so they floated higher still than the acacia trees, we couldn't even see them burst so high up they were, I remember thinking they're so beautiful they don't even have to go over the Wall!
Two years after our arrival in camp, it must have been in March 1945, all the cesspools were brimming over ! It was then decided to excavate a new one next to the men’s toilets, at the far end of the playground between block 23 and block 15 .
Almost every day Chinese coolies came over, and dug.
Sometime later the large round pit was about 6 ft deep, and one day the workers were absent. So the bigger boys jumped in and had a marvellous time trying to get out. The kids had a go too, and were pulled out by the bigger ones.
Then a daring 4 year old jumped in, unhurt, but of course couldn’t get out ! We all sat in a circle round the rim and had the laugh of our lives, the kid was running round in circles at the bottom of the pit, crying and yelling his head off !
All of a sudden I realised : hey, that’s my baby brother Leopold ! So I went back and fetched Dad (block 22) who came and saved him.
I don’t remember what happened later, was the pit ever finished ? Anyway we were starving hungry, and were liberated in August 1945.
Another map of the Camp:
Japanese watchtowers: ... added one watchtower between blocks 5 and 4. Not mentioned or omitted in Father Verhoeven's original map of the camp.
Pits & Cess Pools: I remember the cess pools in the "Market Square Park" which were in front of where we lived: Block 22. Looking at Block-23, the ladies' WC were on the left and the men's WC on the right. Also, the extra "cess pool" was dug near the men's WC in 1944. Cesspool Kelley must have fallen into one of those pools!
Blocks 23, 24 and 35 were for the Sisters, the single women and the young girls.
The little construction between blocs 30 and 31 was requisitioned by the Japanese guards. Disrespectful prisoners were usually "disciplined" in there!
Block-26 was occupied by the Japanese guards. It was their "office".
Block-24: The basement contained four classrooms. The building was two stories high and contained the ladies' dormitory as well as the "White Elephant Exchange" bureau.
Block-25: The basement was "Kitchen III." The upperfloor was used as: 1) a music hall, (Saturday dances) ... 2) classrooms, ... 3) living room etc. ...
Block 25A: was out of bounds for us. It must have been used as a kitchen store.
Block-6: was called the "Peabody Building" and was directly adjacent to the Sports Field.
Block-61-The Shaddyside Hospital: was - of course - a Hospital. It was a three-storey building with a basement. Above, were the men's rooms and dormitories. I remember that the kindergarten schoolroom was on the ground floor. The diet kitchen was in the basement.
Blocks-57 and 50: were two-storey buildings.
Block-56: was the priests' shack ... also a two-storey building.