Speech by Mrs. Estelle Cowley (nee Cliff) at Memorial Ceremony, Weifang, 17 August 1995



         Respected Mr. Li Huixin, Vice-Chairman of Weifang People's Congress, Madam Wang Xioujuan, Vice-Mayor of Weifang People's Government, Ladies and Gentlemen, Boys and Girls, we are honoured to have you with us for this special occasion.

         We have come here today to celebrate an event which took place here half a century ago and which was destined to change the lives of us all, Westerners from across the sea and Chinese people living in this area. We have come thousands of miles from four continents to this place which, for us, is sacred ground.


         We are only a few, but we represent approximately 2000 people who, in the years 1942 to 1945, were imprisoned in this place by the Japanese. They were the Western businessmen, teachers and missionaries and their families from the whole of North China, including the cities of Beijing and Tianjin. Many of the men had already sent their wives and children to their home countries. Many were Roman Catholic priests and nuns. Many were children whose parents were working in Free China.

         We also represent, in a sense, about one thousand alumni of the Chefoo School, a British school founded at Yantai in 1881 for the children of foreigners. The whole school was moved here from Yantai in 1943 - about 100 of us, scholars and teachers. Three of us who are present here today wrote our Oxford University School Leaving Certificate examinations here, two of us while American aeroplanes were flying overhead dropping food parcels by parachute almost exactly 50 years ago.


         We have come here today to give thanks for our preservation at that time and to the present day. We know now that, if Japan had not been forced to surrender when she did, the Allies, including China, would have launched an invasion on Japan; this invasion would have been greater than the Normandy landings in June 1944. We knew then that, if those landings had taken place, our guards had orders to kill all their prisoners in order to release the soldiers to fight at the front.


         We have come here today to honour our dead. One of them was Eric Liddell whose memorial we see before us. We buried our beloved "Uncle Eric" here in early 1945. He helped all of us as children to play sports in order to raise our spirits and strengthen our bodies. Thirty years later, he became known all over the world through the film "Chariots of Fire" telling of his Olympic Gold Medal in 1924. He died in the hospital here of a brain tumour a few months before the war ended and, when he was gone, it took six men to replace him in all the work he was doing.


         Another of those who died here was our friend and fellow scholar, Brian Thompson, who was electrocuted accidentally before our own eyes exactly fifty one years ago while we stood in line for our twice daily roll call. The electric cable to the corner guard-tower behind the hospital was drooping over our heads and he touched it. It was not insulated and so he was killed.


         We have come, today, to honour all those who died in the Second World War defending the world from oppression. Millions of soldiers and civilians died in the struggle. Some of us, both British and Chinese, lost close relatives. We honour all those in the Allied Forces, including the millions of Chinese, who died to free us from the forces of oppression seeking to rule the whole world.


         We have come here today to honour our camp committee, headed by Mr. McLaren, the chairman, and Mr. Lawless who was in charge of our discipline and who lost his own wife here from typhoid fever. They organised us so that each person had a job to do to help the camp community. Besides my schoolwork, I washed the laundry in the basement at the hospital. The boys pumped water for hours every day. Our teachers worked at night in the bakery. Every prisoner worked very hard to keep the camp clean and to prepare the food.


         We have come here to honour those, mainly the Roman Catholic priests and the Chinese farmers outside the walls, who bought and sold eggs and vegetables over the electric fence at night to supplement our meagre diet; the eggs went to the little children and the hospital patients, and all we school-children received were the ground-up eggshells, a teaspoonful every week, to make our bones strong! One of the priests, Father Scanlan, was put into solitary confinement when he was caught, and one of the Chinese sellers was electrocuted on the barbed-wire fence.

         We honour the International Red Cross who frequently sent us wonderful food parcels. It was not their fault that we received them only twice in the three years we were prisoners. They helped us to write 25-word letters every month to our families outside. It was not their fault that only one or two of these reached their destination. We honour the Swiss Red Cross Representative, Mr. Egger, who smuggled extra soap supplies to us under the seat of his car when he came to visit from Qingdao.

         We have come here to honour the two men who escaped over the wall, Lawrence Tipton and Arthur Hummel who later became the United States Ambassador in Beijing. Instead of getting freedom for themselves, they stayed outside our camp with the Chinese guerrillas in the countryside. Together they helped us to keep in touch with the Allied troops who were bringing supplies to the Chinese army from India over the Himalayan mountains to Chengdu.


         We honour the brave Chinese labourers who came in every day with their buckets to empty our cesspools. Hidden in their mouths they brought messages which they spat on the ground at the feet of our contact man, even though they were searched by the Japanese guards.


         We honour the brave party of seven American parachutists under Major Staiger who came on August 17th 1945, 50 years ago today, and jumped from an aeroplane and landed in the gaoliang fields just over there. They could easily have been shot while they floated down from the sky. One of them was an Old Boy from our own school, Jimmy Moore, who had volunteered for the mission to free his old school.


         Even among the Japanese there were some good people. We honour our Japanese guards, especially Commandant Kosaka who was over us in our first prison in Yantai and who was always courteous and kind. We have heard dreadful reports of atrocities committed in other prison camps and we consider ourselves very fortunate that, here, there was no ill-treatment of prisoners. Conditions were hard, especially in the last very cold winter of 1944-1945 when the temperature here dropped below -20 degrees Celsius. We made coal-balls from coal dust and mud with our frozen hands. But we were always aware that conditions were even worse for our Chinese friends outside our walls.


         We honour our teachers and parents who left the comfort of the home countries and came to work as missionaries in China, not for profit but for love of the Chinese people. This compound, the school and the hospital were also founded and built by missionaries. Those who worked here were Americans. One of the teachers who taught here at this school in Weifang before the Japanese war was Dr. John Hayes, also a Chefoo boy. He was imprisoned here with his old parents, and his father, Dr. Watson Hayes, died during that time. A famous man, Henry Luce, founder of Time magazine, was born here in this compound of missionary parents.


         As soon as the sailing ships from the West were able to sail further than Indonesia and reached the shores of China at the end of the 18th century, the British began to take an interest in the Chinese people. My great-great grandparents were so concerned that they hoped that one day they would have a son who would come to China. When their son, Hudson Taylor, was a young man, he studied to be a doctor and came out to China in 1853 during the Taiping rebellion. He was one of the first missionaries. His son, Herbert Taylor, was a prisoner here aged over 80 years old.


         My great grandfather, the brother-in-law of Hudson Taylor, lived in England and spent his whole life fighting against the opium trade. He wrote letters to every member of the British government telling them to stop the shameful trade. Finally the work he and his friends were doing succeeded. The British government passed a law to stop the sale of opium in China just before my great grandfather died in 1911, the year of the Revolution.

         Five of his children came to China. My grandfather worked in Shanxi and Hubei and he is buried in Shanghai. His widow, my grandmother, Alice Broomhall, was also interned here aged over 80. My mother was born in Hankou. My father came out to China from England in 1921. They worked in Shanxi and Henan and were still working there during the Japanese War. My brother and I were born in Yantai and, together with these friends, were caught by the Japanese occupation and were separated from our parents for six years - from 1939 to 1945.

         Our friends here have similar stories. Our parents were missionaries and loved the Chinese people. We spoke the Chinese language fluently when we were little children but, unfortunately, through our separation from the people as we grew up, we have forgotten most of it. Because we suffered the same hardships as the Chinese people in the war, we feel even closer to them.


         We thank you for coming today to join us in our celebration of our release from captivity 50 years ago today. We remember this place so well and all the old buildings hold memories for us, some good and some bad. We know your old people have these memories too. Some will remember the aeroplanes coming over and dropping the food parcels. Some will remember us.


         We wish your community, the school and the hospital good progress in the future years. We trust that every child educated here will live a life of honour and responsibility to his family and his country. We watch the progress of China with great interest and wish her everything good in her future.