"It is a general human weakness to allow things, uncertain and unknown, to set us up in hope, or plunge us into fear."
THE WEIHSIEN CHORUS
"Oh the joys of Weihsien! Oh the Weihsien day!
Good old Weihsien, tra-la-la-la-la-la-la!
We rise in the dark, and light the fires with coal that's really rocks,
We carry the water, collect the porridge, and empty the garbage box.
They cry 'pu hsing' at everything, we smile and shout ‘hooray'.
We'll live to see another year, and another Christmas Day.
Now we've come to the end of the song, and we hope it won't be long
Until we leave this Weihsien Camp-in that we can't be wrong.
So let's decide before we go that we will always strive
To whistle and sing a merry song in ."
(Author unknown. Tune: Solomon Levi)
CHRISTMAS 1944 was now upon us. News from parents had for most families become sparse and spasmodic.
during 1944 we had been given Red Cross letter forms to complete. With the
issuing of these was a long list of prohibited matter ― the weather, camp
activities, food and so on. The Japanese during the years following
The maximum length of the communication was twenty-five words, and the contents had to be straightforward with no double meanings.
As we sat in front of those official forms struggling to decide what we could write without infringing any of the regulations framed about their wording, many of us decided that the only thing that mattered was that our parents should receive a piece of paper on which was our handwriting; the contents were immaterial. Just to receive that form meant that we were alive, however little it gave of personal news, so we took every opportunity to complete them. Later we were to learn that the Japanese censorship in the guardroom could not keep pace with hundreds of internees writing letters, and therefore proportionately few reached their destinations.
Christmas was celebrated with meagre rations and few festivities, except singing which could not be rationed. During that year there had been periods when flour was our only stock in trade, and the menu had shown little variation from bread, bread porridge, bread pudding and bread-anything-else. There had been brighter periods when the slate outside Kitchen I had read "millet porridge, black tea, bread" for breakfast, "stew, black tea and bread" for lunch, and "soup, black tea and bread" for supper.
Supplies were now lower than they had ever been, and spirits were following the same graph. The temperature too was unbearably low. Snow and frost were everywhere, with little coal dust from which to make our briquettes to burn in our stoves.
"Can God furnish a table in the wilderness?" asked the Psalmist of old.
One snowy day in January 1945, when I was working in greasy overalls over a kua (cauldron) in Kitchen I, a tall American nicknamed Skipper came running in and said, "Have a look at what's coming in at the front gate!"
moment later we were standing on
were 1500 internees in Weihsien Camp one big box each! There was wild
excitement at the prospect of having some good nutritious food and the
possibility of enjoying delicacies we had not tasted for years. Since our
arrival in "Courtyard of the
But most excitement and surprises in this war period seemed inevitably to have their anticlimaxes, and this was no exception. Soon afterwards a notice appeared on the camp notice-boards announcing curtly that the distribution of parcels had been cancelled, as consideration was being given as to whether the donors intended them to go solely to the two hundred Americans in Weihsien.
Two weeks of arguing and dissension among the American community followed, the majority of them being adamant that the boxes should be shared with all. A few families, in spite of their missionary status, spoke loudly about the "morality" of ensuring that the parcels were given to those for whom they were intended.
the local Japanese authorities, perplexed at civilised Westerners haggling in
this manner, consulted their headquarters for instructions on how to distribute
the boxes. The decision from
Soon a fresh date was fixed for the distribution of the parcels. We queued up at the church and then each struggled to his digs with a heavy cardboard box, three feet by one foot by one-and-a-half feet. Sitting at our beds, we eagerly ripped the boxes open. In each were four small sections, each with powdered milk, cigarettes, tinned butter, spam, cheese, concentrated chocolate, sugar, coffee, jam, salmon and raisins.
Tea could now be drunk with milk and sugar. Bread, our staple, diet, could now be eaten with butter and cheese or jam. Cigarettes could be traded with smokers for further items of food. The long list of items lent themselves to all kinds of recipes and combinations.
If these welcome supplies were used to supplement the official camp rations from the kitchen, and used in careful instalments, we could enjoy nutritious and tasty meals for at least four months to come.
Social calls became popular. At roll-call we made dates to visit each other to try the latest menus and recipes. The White Elephant swung into action again, and as we cooked over the hot cauldrons in Kitchen 1 we would overhear the latest exchange rates for Red Cross food: one packet of cigarettes could be bartered for two bars of chocolate, two tins of spam for one of coffee, and so on, according to the law of supply and demand.
The arrival of these supplies definitely saved the day for our community. Scrounging and quarrelling about rations and perquisites subsided as every family worked out its own method of spreading the food over as long a time as possible. Physical hunger and exhaustion were less acute, and with this the general morale was clearly lifted.
1945 we became more and more convinced that the war was turning in our favour
Whispers in the camp indicated that Hummel and Tipton, who had escaped eight months previously, were about a hundred miles away in one of the many pockets of resistance against the Japanese, and that from there they were in touch by radio with Allied leaders in Chungking.
cesspool coolies, who entered the front gate of the camp daily, were carefully searched
by the Japanese guards who frequently hit them with their fists or with the
butts of their rifles. One of these coolies came to the camp with news direct
from Hummel and Tipton. The guards would search him carefully from head to
foot, as with the others, and allow him through. Walking down
From this source word soon got around Weihsien that the Allies were on the initiative in Europe; that Britain and America had invaded France and were pushing the Nazis eastward while the Russian army was rolling southward and westward.
A subsequent instalment of news told of V.E. Day. The Germans had surrendered to Eisenhower and Montgomery. This welcome news had little direct effect on our daily lives, except for one incident which happened soon afterwards.
this time I had moved back from the top floor of the hospital to a bachelor
dormitory of Block 23, and was once again a roll-call warden. In the centre of
this attractive building was the tower and bell which had been used in earlier
days to call the
In the middle of a night in May 1945 we awoke rubbing our eyes. The Block 23 bell was ringing. We sat up in bed and speculated anxiously as to why the bell should be ringing at that unearthly hour. Was the Japanese war now over as well as the European one? Was there some kind of emergency?
Outside we could hear the heavy boots of guards, and shouts of anger in Japanese. Then a member of the Discipline Committee came in and said that everyone had to line up for roll-call outside in his or her usual group. Had some more fellow internees escaped?
As a roll-call warden for Blocks 23 and 24 I went to all the bachelor and spinster dormitories in the two blocks, passing on the instructions. I passed the message on to the Mother Superior at the other end of Block 23 ― a number of American nuns in her room were sleeping under mosquito nets.
We lined up outside, not very wide awake. The Japanese guard counted us with a pistol in his hand, pointing at each person as he was counted. His manner was abrupt. We could hear shouting and orders being given out at some of the other roll-call groups.
we tumbled back into bed the explanation for the crisis reached us. Months
before V.E. Day one man had "dared" another that, as soon as the war
source of information about the war was a pro-Japanese English newspaper,
the community at Weihsien was an executive businessman named Jackson from
End of Chapter.