Stephen A. Metcalf’s
Memoirs. (Jan 1999)
A number of people have asked me if I have written down my life story. Others have urged me to write it. Three things have motivated me to put something down on paper. Firstly my father’s life has never been written. Several times I have wondered if I shouldn’t document it myself. But I’ve always floundered at the logistics of doing the research. A lot of my own story is still in my memory, although it’s not as clear as it used to be. Secondly, I would love to have had my father’s life story to read, not only for myself but as a record for my children. Perhaps there will come a time when they would like to peruse my own recollections. Thirdly I owe it to God to give Him the glory for His mercy and grace in my own life.
[click on the pictures]
This account begins in 1928 in the little Lisu village of Taku (Now Dao-Gu) high in the mountains near Yuanmou City on the southern most bend of the Yangtze River in Yunnan province in South West China.
All day rumours had been abroad that a large band of marauding
bandits (Army deserters) were likely to raid the village. Many of the villagers
had already headed off into the deep wooded gullies to hide. Eddie & Bessie
with their four year old daughter Ruth and tiny baby Stephen thought they would
wait and see. Suddenly the still evening was broken by the sound of gun shots
announcing the arrival of the outlaws. The missionary couple began to run for
the refuge of the wooded gully. Eddie carried little Stephen while a Lisu young
man carried Ruth. However, when shots barely missing them flew over their heads,
they stopped and surrendered to the bandits. The young man with Ruth fled off
into the woods. Eddie was tied up to a tree and they began to beat him with
bamboo rods. Fortunately the bandit boss turned up and shouted at the men to
stop. “Why are you beating him?” He asked. “He was running
away,” they replied.” “He is not a bad man but a good man,
we only want him as a hostage,” he replied. Then they led him away. Bessie
stood on the veranda of her looted house and watched as house after house in
the village went up in flames. As the bandits went off the village people came
rushing back and started putting out the fires. It was a long long night for
Bessie. At the break of day the young man carrying Ruth returned. She had been
crying, somebody had given her a lump of malt toffee which had stuck fast in
her black curly hair. In the mean time father had to put up with his hands tied
behind his back and hurried along all day as the brigands fled from the authorities.
One man had taken a fancy to one of Bessie’s pink night gowns and was
wearing it over his clothes. Eddie, who found it hilariously entertaining, explained
to some of them what it was. He then took it off. It was more than two weeks
before Eddie escaped and slowly made his way back to them. Just after sunset
there had been a disturbance with a loud bang. The man guarding Eddie had run
over to have a look Eddie saw his chance in the gathering gloom and seeing a
high bank with shrubs on it made a dash and jumped over the top only to find
the bank fell away steeply on the other side. He found himself falling and slithering
down then finally being pinned between the fork of a small tree. For nearly
half an hour he heard men searching for him. To add to the intense situation
he found the light of the rising moon began to expose his body. He had heard
one man come quite near and felt that he was waiting for him to move. Then a
bugle blew and he could hear the men going off into the night. Finally the silence
was broken by a man who sprang up only about 20 yards from him, and dashed off.
Exhausted, he extricated himself from the tree and freeing his hands slowly
made his way down through the undergrowth into the valley where he could hear
the noise of a river. Not sure of where he was he began to follow the course
of the river. Finally in the early morning he came to a village. From where
he got help to get home. Nine years prior to this event, he had been carried
off by bandits with his fellow worker Mr Gowman. That time they were both able
to escape. Another time he was captured and managed to convince the outlaws
that if they let him go the Government troops would give up their pursuit. Over
the years one of the bandit chiefs and several of his henchmen had been treated
by Eddie, for gun shot wounds. It was a time when several hundred of these lawless
soldiers, plundered the villages in these vast mountains.
THE METCALF’S FAMILY HISTORY
I was born on October the 23rd 1927 in Kunming the capital of Yunnan Province, South West China. When I was born, my father was translating the 6th chapter of the book of Acts hence I was given the name Stephen. Father was born in Harborn in Birmingham on March the 3rd 1879. He was the third son of Samuel Metcalf, who was a jeweller. His wife’s family name was Skinner. They also ran a grocery store. His eldest brother John went deaf at the age of twelve, as a result of measles. He took up accountancy and later in life had his own Chartered Accountant’s business. The second brother Joe took over the family business, which also ran a fruit kiosk at the central New Street Railway Station in Birmingham. He kept the business going until the Second World War, when overwork and stress caused his untimely death. My sister Ruth and I were to live with them after graduation. George Edgar Metcalf, the third son, was my father. He was followed by Arnold the youngest who subsequently joined the Wesleyan Methodist ministry.
One Sunday afternoon when the three brothers were in their late teens they were out for a walk and were drawn by a crowd listening to Rev. Luke Wiseman preaching at an open air meeting. The family was nominally Baptist, but their conversions that day led to the three brothers becoming stalwarts of the Birmingham Central Wesleyan (Methodist) Mission. Where they all became local preachers. John who was deaf, felt more comfortable with the liturgy of the Church of England. He outlived them all and lived to be ninety-eight. When he was 59years old he got his first hearing aid and took his driver’s test. He also became one of the treasurers of St John’s Harborn.
My Father, who was always called “Eddie”, took
up an apprenticeship in tailoring. He eventually opened his own small business
in Oxford. Even later in life when he was in China he could cut out and make
a suit for himself. With the turn of the century the Churches in England were
stirred and shocked as the reports came through from China of the Boxer uprising
with 300 missionary martyrs and terrible stories of persecution among the Chinese
Christians. Eddie was not a little challenged by the dedication of these young
martyrs, and by the plight of the unevangelized millions in China. Much to his
family and friends surprise he offered to the China Inland Mission to go to
China as a missionary. His learned minister Dr Luke Wiseman, who was a great
admirer of Hudson Taylor, who had just died, was very hesitant to recommend
Eddie for work in China feeling the hurdle of studying Chinese would be too
difficult for his young tailor friend. When he confronted Eddie with this problem.
Eddie answered him with great conviction saying. “Surely if God had called
him, God would equip him to do the work to which he was called.” Quoting
God's words to Moses in Exodus chapter 3. at the burning bush. "Who gave
man his mouth? Who makes him deaf or mute? Is it not I the Lord? Now go; I will
help you speak and teach you what to say." Eddie had been a diligent student
of Greek and Hebrew and Bible subjects in the local preacher’s classes.
After his initial training at the CIM training home. Also some time doing basic medical studies at the Mildmay hospital. He sailed for China in September 1906 and with his usual dedication gave himself to mastering Chinese. Shortly before he sailed for China, God set His seal on his ministry in an extraordinary way. He was in the middle of preaching at the Birmingham Central Mission when suddenly the Holy Spirit came down upon the congregation, people fell to their knees crying and seeking for mercy from God. Years later the same thing happened in the mountains of South West China. Upon arriving in Shanghai he went straight to the CIM language school at Nanjing. Just before he graduated, someone who had been at the language school was visiting Birmingham and Luke Wiseman, concerned as to how Eddie was doing, made enquiries about him. “Don’t worry about him, came the reply, he and Mathews the Australian are neck to neck away out at the top of their year.” Mathews later became the author of “The Standard Chinese Dictionary”. Just at that time an urgent appeal had come from South West China for someone to join in the pioneer work among the ethnic tribes who were responding to the Gospel in large numbers. In he town of Wuding, Yunnan. Arthur G. Nicholls an Australian from Adelaide was inundated with seekers from seven tribes. He was following up the work started by Sam Pollard a Wesleyan from the UK, who was living in Zhao tong North Yunnan but had given up his work among the Chinese to work among the Miao tribe in Kweichow. The CIM leadership designated Eddie to this work. Due to the difficulties of travel he took nine months travelling by boat, horse and walking. All the time he kept up studying Chinese and telling the gospel to anyone who would listen to him.
EDDIE METCALF PIONEERING AMONG THE TRIBES.
When he arrived in Yunnan Province he went to the tribal area
away up in the mountains. Arthur Nicholls asked him to take on three tribes.
The Eastern Lisu, the Laga and the Yunnan’s Thai. While getting a smattering
of these languages, Lisu became his life’s work. In those early years
there was great comradeship and help from Sam Pollard, who devised the Pollard
script which father adapted to the Lisu language.
The Porteous’s and Arthur Nicholls also used the Pollard script. Father saw thousands of these simple, illiterate people turn to the Lord. He had to start from scratch listening and writing down every word he heard checking it against the Chinese as Chinese was the trade language only spoken by a few Lisu.
Among the earlier converts was a deaf and dumb man, who came forward to be baptised. My father was perplexed by this case, as the man was illiterate like all the converts. The Christians soon remonstrated with my father that if he wasn’t ready for baptism none of them were, for the transformation in his life was amazing and he was more zealous than any of them in exhorting people to come to the meetings. My father asked what they meant. Why they said, “He goes around telling people to come to church. He points at the sun and signs that after it has passed over 7 times, they must go and hear the white man with a big nose teach the book. He used to be a drunkard, a womaniser and adulterer, a thief, and a deceiver, but since becoming a Christian he lives an exemplary life working very hard and always helping people.” Later, when the first hymns and the catechism and Bible portions were translated, he quickly taught himself to read and write. My father realized he could lip-read. This had a profound effect on my fathers thinking. Years later when I went to Japan it also affected my presentation to the Japanese, realising that the Japanese, who were almost 100% literate, did not need to be scholars to read and understand the classical Japanese Bible as many Japanese pastors expected. Paul points out in 1 Corinthians Chapter 2, verse 14. “Only those who have the Holy Spirit within them can understand what the Holy Spirit means. Others just can’t take it in.”
Eddie had only one very short visit to England after eleven years in China. This was during World War One. The ship had to dodge the German U boats. There was great excitement on board when a very large chimpanzee which was being taken to a zoo escaped and climbed the rigging. He was finally starved into being recaptured. A few years after his return to Yunnan, Eddie met Bessie Donnelly a young missionary from Australia. (Her grandfather had emigrated during the potato famine from Belfast Northern Ireland and her grandmother who was a Reid emigrated from The Shetland Isles. Her father Henry James Donnelly and mother were florists in North Adelaide.) They were married in Kunming on the 19th of January 1921; which was my mother’s 30th birthday. My father was then 41 with steel grey hair. They had only just set up home in Taku village when they had everything plundered by brigands. After being ransacked three times they decided they would in future live as simply as they could.
STEVE METCALF’S EARLIEST MEMORIES.
My earliest memories come from those great wooded mountains, ablaze with a patchwork of multicoloured rhododendrons. At night the silence was only broken by the howl of wolves. There was no running water or electricity, no shops just a monthly market. I was the only child in the village that was not betrothed to be married. Every house had a coffin, in which usually grain was stored. Also every house had its grave stone in preparation for the inevitable. (These customs are still maintained.) The fact that I spoke English at home and Lisu to all my friends never crossed my mind as anything but normal. Everyday sick people would line up outside fathers dispensary. It was a sorry sight particularly the lepers. I had a morbid curiosity in watching men have a tooth pulled. Of course there was no anaesthetic. In spite of my father’s busy life, every day before the dispensary opened we would meet as a family and young as I was we would read the Bible and pray and commit ourselves into Gods hands for another day.
Father not only had to travel alone, riding his mountain pony up and down the vast mountains from village to village preaching the gospel. He was always hearing of new Lisu villages which he had never visited. Invariably he would make it a priority to take the gospel to that village also. He also had the ongoing task to translate the Scriptures and write hymns. He played a concertina and trumpet to accompany the singing. He opened a school to teach the people to read and write Lisu (The Pollard script) also Chinese. He later opened a Bible School to teach the native evangelists and pastors. In his latter years he did get younger missionaries to help. But for the first 12 years he largely worked on his own.
One day when I was five years old. I jumped down a terrace and fell on a stone slab breaking my arm. This resulted in a week’s trip being carried on a man’s back in a basket. The Methodist Missionary Hospital in Kunming did a great job in setting my arm. Trips to Kunming, the capital of Yunnan province were rare. On the way we sometimes called in to see some other missionary family and very occasionally we had visitors come to us. Two visitors I remember well were J.O. Frazer and Mr Gibb. It was a very isolated world for the missionaries. Although as a child I never thought that way. I have since come to realize children accept their lot in life.
My sister Ruth who was four years older than me went off to
boarding school when she was seven. Every year she would come home for Christmas.
Christmas was not only a great time for our little family. But it was the big
festival for the Lisu Christians who would come from far and wide. Some two
thousand would gather and sing and pray and testify to Gods transforming power
in their lives. I used to be intrigued with the church offerings which were
made up of all kinds of produce. Live chickens, goats and pigs were tethered
outside the church. I well remember all these little groups sitting around fires,
singing hymns and carols in full harmony and how this singing would go on and
on into the small hours of the morning. The echo of their voices would reverberate
through those huge mountain ranges. Only thirty years before there was the drunken
revelry of the superstitious demon dances. But the Redeemer Himself had visited
and transformed these people into a people of God. Now they would meet for the
great Christian festivals of Christmas, Easter and Harvest Thanksgiving.
I WILL FEAR NO EVIL.
Those early years of my life were mainly spent playing with my Lisu friends. Sometimes I would go up on the mountain slopes with them where they would be tending their goats. Goat’s milk and butter and cheese were one of our staple foods. We grew our own vegetables. Mother would bake our bread. Daily I would go up to the stream which was the village water supply. It was a little mountain stream which had been diverted to supply the needs of the village of some sixty households. Often in the evenings we would follow the stream up the mountain to its source. Picking the beautiful wild flowers. Yunnan is semi-tropical, but because of the elevation, about 7000 feet it is like perennial spring. There was a great silence out on the wooded mountain side. One evening we were late in returning and as the dark shadows began to creep in I began to express my fears of the dark and the evil spirits lurking in the shadows. This was met with a very angry response from my father, saying that God ruled this world with love and Satan ruled the hearts of men with fear and superstition. This unexpected reaction from my father came because when he first arrived in Yunnan these simple mountain tribes people’s lives were driven by superstitious terror. Those who had not become Christians still lived in animistic fear and my father realised that I had become influenced by them. As we walked home we repeated the words of the 23rd psalm.
“ Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death yet will I fear no evil.”
1934 OFF TO BOARDING SCHOOL
When I was seven we packed up and made the long trek to first take me to boarding school and then for father and mother to go on to England for a well earned furlough after eleven years. First came a week of riding on a horse or walking. We stayed each night in a smoky inn; this finally brought us to the city of Kunming. The China Inland Mission had a small transit home with about ten rooms for guests. The British consul had an office in this remote city. From here we travelled for three days by steam train to the port of Haiphong in what is now Vietnam. Every night the train would stop and we would put up in a small French Hotel and catch the train again the next morning. In Haiphong, The Christian and Missionary Alliance was always very welcoming and would put us up until we could catch a ship for Hong Kong. These little coastal ships of around 1000 tons were a great fascination to a little boy who had grown up in the wilds of the great mountain ranges. For three days to see little else but sea was unbelievable. There was also the churned up wake and the fascination of the florescent crest of waves at night. Then to steam into Hongkong harbour was a great adventure. Ships from all over the world flying their flags, also destroyers and cruisers all helped to clutter this magnificent harbour. We stayed in a Christian guest house for the next few days and waited to catch our ship to Shanghai.
What a contrast it was to next travel on the great Italian liner “The Conte Verdi.” This was a floating palace to me with its countless decks and labyrinth of corridors and stair cases. Our little cabin down in the economy class seemed like a little treasure cove in this floating city. The morning before sailing, my mother took me up the peak tram to visit friends in the Matilda Hospital on the Peak of Hongkong. The panoramic view of Hong Kong harbour with all kinds of shipping and the glistening white shape of the “Conte Verdi” standing out so clear is still a picture in my mind. Years later when my own son was living up on the peak and we were visiting with them as I looked down on the scores of towering sky-scrapers. These early memories would rush into my mind. On our return to the ship, we almost missed boarding, for as we approached the great ship was loosing its moorings. The last gang plank was being pulled up. My mother had inadvertently become confused about the sailing time. The booming horn on the ship was signalling its departure. My father leaning out from a lower deck down the ship was an expression of worry. My mother had to jump across, while I was handed over to a crew member. It is an event that remains vividly in my mind. The next two days are now just a blur of hitherto unknown luxury. Bands and orchestras playing, sumptuous meals in a great dining room with hundreds of fellow passengers. After two days at sea, the great ship docked in Shanghai where we went to stay for a few weeks at the CIM headquarters. This was another world of discovery for me, going to the dentist for the first time, and eating muscatel grapes, and Eskimo pies. In fact almost everything was a first, whether lifts or escalators or trams and even busses. Rickshaws were still the cheapest form of travel. Another three days on a small coastal ship finally brought us to our destination in the port of Chefoo (Yantai) on the Shantung peninsular. Also we had a very happy reunion with my sister Ruth. For the next six weeks we lived in the large CIM guest home and I had my first introduction to school.
It was a great trial to say goodbye to my parents as they were going on home leave for a year to England. Both of them were in very poor health needing surgery and treatment. Mother had been swept off her horse by a low hanging branch of a tree. This injury finally led to her having osteoarthritis in her upper spinal cord. My father while in the UK had had to have large chunks of tissue cut out as they were riddled with crawling maggots. As they climbed into their rickshaws and slowly vanished down the road to catch their ship. I little realized that I wouldn’t see them for another year. This parting from my parents was the first and was to be repeated time and time again, it was something I never got used to. It also started a weekly correspondence. My parents in all our years of absence never failed to write. In 1942 when I went into the Japanese Internment Camp. A friend of mine and I had a small bonfire where I burnt six years of letters about 350 in all.
FIRST CHRISTMAS AWAY FROM HOME AND THE PIRACY
Two memories of this first year at school stand out. The first was that of the old Prep School, which was a very dilapidated old building, was replaced by an up to date new building. We children had all the trauma and fun of moving everything we could carry over to the new building. The old building had stood on top of a low hill which gave us a commanding view of the sandy beach and the bay with the ships coming in and out of the harbour. The new building was just back from the sea front with excellent views of the bay from our upstairs dormitory windows. The second memory is of the winter holidays when 90% of the students went home and just a few of us were left. The staff made it a very memorable Christmas for us. I still have memories of the holidays with snow and tobogganing. These memories were eclipsed by the news of the rest of the students returning from their holidays having been pirated. The ship was turned around and repainted. The British navy was combing the seas searching for it. All of this got world news headlines! It was finally located off a small island near Hongkong. The Chinese pirates had word that it was carrying a large consignment of new banknotes from the mint. However the banknotes had still to be endorsed and were useless. The pirates got more than they bargained for with two hundred foreign children aboard. When the British navy approached they fled for their lives. Our schoolmates finally arrived back at school with extraordinary stories of bravery and dodging bullets etc. These unfortunate children who were not only pirated, but had missed three weeks of school into the bargain, were definitely the heroes.
COMING TO TERMS WITH BOARDING SCHOOL.
Boarding School for me was a “love, hate” experience.
Although most of the time I enjoyed myself. Unfortunately, I seldom excelled
in my studies and the only report I remember was “He is very good on the
whole” I used to wonder which “hole” There always seemed to
be something missing. My mind used to dwell on those great mountain ranges.
My Lisu friends the Lisu people who had made my world. Nobody around me spoke
the Lisu language or sang in parts like they did. And then I used to think of
my parents, where were they? It was lonely to not have them around. On Sundays
all dressed up in my Sunday best, I used to walk a couple of miles to church
in a long line with my sister. Church itself used to go over my head. Few of
the speakers communicated well with us children, who made up most of the congregation.
In retrospect, the long walk with my sister weekly and the daily lunch hour
at school with her did help me to bond with her and so strengthen the family
link. Weekly we had the two letters from home, as my father would write alternate
weeks to my mother. My mother was an imaginative and brilliant letter writer.
Most of our letters from them took about a month or more, from the UK Its incredible,
to think that in the years after they returned to China, all the mail to and
from them would be sent by a courier to the nearest Post Office which was in
Yuanmou city, a days journey from Taku where they lived. There were several
occasions, when they came down with serious sicknesses like Typhoid and Typhus
and Dengue Fever. We only got word of these events once the crisis days were
over and they were on the road to recovery.
MR BOSSHEART’S RELEASE. FATHER’S BROKEN LEG
In 1935 Mr Alfred Bossheart was finally released by the Communists from “The Long March” He was left sick and dying in Fumin City near Kunming and my father and Mr Porteous rallied to find him. The book “The Restraining Hand” tells the story. My mother’s six page letter was the first detailed account to reach the school. My letter was read out with great emotion then I took it over to share with the Hayman family. Mr Hayman who had been taken with Mr Bosshart was recovering from his ordeal having been released six months earlier. They were all staying in the old Prep School having been reunited with their father. As a child I used to get malaria, with its recurring high fevers and shivering bouts. The quinine tablets which were the usual treatment always remain in my mind as the bitterest medicine there is.
One long letter from my mother in 1938 wrote of how father
had been out on his horse to visit several Lisu villages where he spent time
with the villagers teaching the Bible. On his way home, as he was going up a
very steep and rugged slope, he dismounted from his horse and caught his foot
in the stirrup. Not only was it a very nasty and heavy fall but he brought the
horse down on top of him. In terrible pain he realized he had broken the bones
in his leg in two places, and not only chipped his ankle but had dislocated
it. With a prayer and a superhuman effort he managed to click his ankle back
into its socket and then fell unconscious. As he regained consciousness he became
aware of a Lisu traveller who was standing by his horse wondering what to do.
My father was well known in these parts. He slung my father across the horse
holding his leg which my father had instructed him to bandage up with sticks
as splints. As they struggled uphill to go to Taku they met a couple of men,
one of whom rushed off up the mountains to get help, finally a group of strong
men turned up and carried him into Taku village, where my distressed mother
was able to put him to bed with some pain killers. After ten days they carried
him up and down the mountains, on a stretcher the five days journey to Kunming,
where the Methodist Missionary Hospital set the leg. When we went home for Christmas
he was hobbling around with a stick and his leg had been set crookedly. Later
a specialist doctor arrived from America and he had to break and reset his leg.
He miraculously recovered with only a slight limp. Unfortunately he lost the
spring in his ankle going downhill.
FATHER’S BIBLE TRANSLATION WORK.
After this accident he took it as guidance from the Lord that his life should change. For he was then coming up to 60 years old and rather than travelling around the villages he gave himself to translating the scriptures and other study booklets. He always did this with meticulous care, spending much time on details. For years he had sought for a word in the Lisu language for “Glory”. He prayed much about this and one evening as he and some of his Lisu colleagues stood admiring the beauty of a sunset. One of them used a poetic word which meant the “The Gold of Heaven.” In an instant he knew he had his word for “glory” It embraces light, beauty, heaven and gold. Psaalm 19. verse 1. states “The heavens declare the glory of God.” As he said later “Jesus would have used it.” Another word he had given much thought to was the word “comforter” the “paraclete” One day he overheard a lady say “My Grandmother has died and I am going to help my daughter….turn the corner more easily” This was obviously the word for “paraclyte.” In 1951 working with a team of church leaders he finished the manuscript and they made a copy lest one be lost. In his journey out of China he time and again had the manuscript taken from him by the Communists but always handed back. So miraculously they took it safely over the boarder into Hong Kong. Where they saw it through the press. Dozens of copies were posted into China and also into Burma. But none of them reached their destination. The spare copy was hidden then lost in the long years of persecution. In 1999 my sister Ruth sent father’s copy with Irene Neville into China. He had written notes and corrections in it. This remains the only copy, apart from copies in some of the large libraries.
The many weekly letters from my parents continued to feed us with what was going on and we used to read them over and over again. North China was free of the tropical diseases. We would sleep with mosquito nets in the summer. We also used to wear flannel tummy bands; they were referred to as cholera belts! This was to keep us from getting upset tummies.
THE JAPANESE INVASION OF CHINA.
All kinds of sporting events captured my free time at school and gave me the confidence I needed to offset my lack of academic success. September l938 was a big change in my life when I moved up to High School. It was also a year of change when the Japanese army took control over Chefoo City. The year before, they had invaded China. Fortunately for us the rich Chinese in the city bribed the Government troops to withdraw and the Japanese army walked in unopposed. I still remember that day as it was the school cross country run, I was competing for second place and as we came into the last half mile we found ourselves running around the little formations of Japanese soldiers marching in to occupy the city. We now lived in Japanese Colonial China with little change. Pupils at the school who lived in Manchuria, Korea and areas of conflict had horrific accounts of massacres, imprisonment of church pastors and tortures. The other complicating factor was, China had its own civil war with the communist armies. Every so often there would be a skirmish, usually at night, with the guerrilla forces, which came down to attack the Japanese. My own sympathy was with the Chinese majority who hated the Japanese, but tried to coexist with their captors. They knew that to resist brought about shocking atrocities. However most of those years I lived in peace with little to upset the daily routine.
TRAVELLING HOME FOR CHRISTMAS.
Travelling home for Christmas was a real adventure for us. We left school before the end of term, there were about fifteen of us some were very young. Our first leg of the journey was three days on the little coastal ship, after making two stops this brought us to Shanghai. After a couple of nights at the CIM headquarters, we boarded another coastal freighter, which again called in at a couple of ports where we loaded on cargo. I well remember the pigs trussed up in baskets, squealing loudly as they were bundled onto the decks or down the hold. Those that died en route were slung overboard. There were no animal rights in action those days. When we arrived in Hong Kong we stayed in a Christian guest house, where there was the usual evening reading and prayer. The gentleman leading the prayer had been talking to the Curwin Smith’s children and so he prayed a fervent prayer for the Smiths working among the Ammonites in French Indo China. (Now Vietnam.) It should have been the Anamese. This set off a irrepressible wave of giggling.
As soon as we arrived in Kowloon Hong Kong we made a trek down Nathan Road to the Dairy Farm where we spent our precious pocket money buying an Eskimo-Pie Ice-cream, a luxury unheard of elsewhere. A day or so later we boarded the SS Canton, a tiny French ship only seven hundred tons, which buffeted its way through the South China sea stopping at a couple of ports to unload cargo. In Pakhoi (Now Beihai) we had the horrific experience of having the Japanese planes fly over and rake all the Chinese fishing junks with gun fire. The distressed Chinese fishermen were swarming everywhere how many were killed I don’t know. This tragic scene about 200 yards from where our ship was moored, was the only time I witnessed the horrors of war, that went on for 8 years. We used to gorge our way through the menus making the best of five star feasts. The French trained chefs seemed to delight in our insatiable appetites. My mother used to recount how she admonished Ruth saying. “You have already had fried eggs, you mustn’t order scrambled eggs.” To which Ruth replied “It’s alright mummy the menu says eggs to order. You just ask the waiter and he brings it to you!” We used to run all over the decks playing hide and seek. One time two of us had squeezed in behind a life boat and a cupboard which had slats to let the wind blow through. Suddenly a couple of the slats caved in and we found ourselves looking into a cupboard of tropical fruit etc. We soon began to pull out choice fruits, when suddenly shouts from one of the crew up the mast set the alarm and all the fruit had to be returned uneaten. In later years this proved a very apt children’s talk. There is always somebody up above who sees what we are doing!
THE ORDEAL IN HANOI AND HOW GOD ANSWERED PRAYER.
We finally tied up in Haiphong harbour in French Indo China (Vietnam) where the parents of the Curwin Smiths were waiting on key side for their own three children and to help us on our way. We then journeyed on to Hanoi by train to get visa’s to go into China As we drove through the beautiful boulevards of Haiphong suddenly the driver had to slam on his breaks, while he narrowly missed a woman streaking across the road. These superstitious people believed that if they got across safely, the evil spirit that was following and tormenting them would be run over. We finally arrived in Hanoi at midnight, ending up in front of “Le Grand Hotel” where we were told there were no rooms. Here we were sitting on our suitcases in the street with nowhere to go. Miss Daisy Kemp who was our escort and was the CIM missionary nurse for Yunnan had a dilemma on her hands. Small as we were, we were resorting to prayer. Just then a high society lady, who had travelled on the ship with us, came walking up to the hotel to turn in for the night. Astonished she said “Here are all my children from the ship, what you are doing here in the street at this time of night?” We explained our plight and she walked into the hotel and spoke to the manageress. There were a few men sitting around in the lobby, She made an appeal asking who would give up their rooms for this party of children. Some of these rich men gave up their rooms and the manager soon got the staff to make up beds on the floor in a back door lobby. The next day she moved us all over to an annex.
We then all filed out, walking along the streets of Hanoi in the sweltering heat looking for the Chinese Consulate to get visa’s to enter China. Suddenly my sister and I recognized the Bible Society’s shop front. We had been there before, where the Chinese Bible Society representative was able to translate in Chinese for Miss Kemp. Who was struggling in French with the help of some of older girls using their school French. Because of the war with Japan and China. It was another two days before we were issued with the visas to travel into China. We had to stay another two nights in Hanoi. The manager asked us to put on a concert for the English speaking guests. I have forgotten all that we did only that I was the stage manager and ended up with a pocket full of keys which I had to post back to the hotel from Kunming!
Miss Kemp still had to face the problem of having to pay the hotel bill. She had to resort to asking us for our precious pocket money. In an act of kindness the manager tore the bill in half asking only for the expense of the annex. With our pocket money she was just able to pay this. The Bible society man loaned the money for our train fares. We still had three days by train ahead of us staying in small hotels overnight. After the first night we had to get up at daybreak to board the train, only to find one of our number was missing. Two of us ran back to the hotel to find Joe Cook had crawled back into bed again and was fast asleep. Incredible as it may seem the train waited while we all got back on the train. At midday the next day three of our fathers had travelled down to meet us halfway and a few hours later we pulled into Kunming station so ending a remarkable trip that lives on in my memory.
OUR BRIEF CHRISTMAS AT DAO-GU.
The next morning we had to get all packed up, with horses and baggage porters. We set off for the next five days of our long trek home. It was no easy trek, climbing very steep mountain paths and having to wade across rivers and mountain streams. After two weeks of quality time at home, we had to turn around for the lonely journey back to school. Our Lisu friends loaded us up with gifts. One family the night before had given us fresh honey in the comb. My mother put it in jars, however, when we reached Kunming she felt the risk of it being broken and sticking up everything was too great, and gave it to the housekeeper in the CIM home. This distressed the two of us, who felt it had been given to us. When we got our first letters from home after returning to school, my mother’s grief and heartache over what she had done took up almost half the letter. We had long forgotten our upset emotions, which were more than eclipsed by the sorrow of parting with our loved ones. I still remember shedding tears as I joined my friends on deck waving goodbye to their parents in Haiphong, Hong Kong and Shanghai. I found such partings deeply emotional. That year at the beginning of 1938. I little realized that it would be 7 years before I would see my father again and it was going to be 8 years for my sister!
EAR-ACHE & A BOKEN METATARSEL
There was any number of incidents that went with life in a boarding School. I spent three weeks in the summer holidays lying in the sick bay with a temperature and an agonizing earache. Finally I went into the school hospital and the Dr gave me an anaesthetic and lanced it. I woke up some hours later not only with a huge bandage around my head but my pillow and sheets were dripping with the most vile stench of puss. It kept coming away for three days. Following this I was always cautious about diving down to the ocean bed after the sea had become muddied after rain. Diving was something I took naturally to together with gymnastics. I was to carry off the school prizes for both a few years later. One year, on the night before the gymnastics display I was showing off in my bed room doing a handstand on the bar at the end of my bed. I swung down and inadvertently hit my foot against the rungs at the other end of the bed unfortunately breaking a metatarsal in my foot. I had a sleepless night with the pain. And missed all sports events for the next seven weeks. I became so adapt on my crutches I could do handstands on them and jump around with both feet off the ground.
STUCK IN A DRAIN.
Another frightening experience I had was when Brian Thompson, who had been a good friend since I started school called me one day and showed me a storm drain outlet about 10 inches wide and 18 inches high. He immediately began to crawl in. I followed him wriggling along on my tummy. After about ten yards he said he was stuck and I had to pull his feet as I wriggled out. We got out and then went to the middle of the playing field and found a round concrete lid to the drain and managed to remove it peering down we could see the opening to the drain. He was much taller and bigger than I was and challenged me to try and attempt to get through. I wriggled along calling back to him until I began to see some light coming from the opening but then I got stuck. I began to feel a sense of panic as I couldn’t move backwards or forwards. After what seemed like an eternity I managed some movement to wriggle back and after an exhausting effort with the help of others I extricated myself from the drain. I was shaking all over. A group of admiring friends were standing there showing their relief at my reappearance from such a foolhardy attempt. Extraordinarily, after fifty years of almost having forgotten the incident, I woke up suddenly having had a flashback of the tense moments in the drain. Now in these years of retirement from time to time these disturbing flashbacks reoccur. Brian was always a daredevil. In the science lab if the teacher said something was poison he was sure to taste some! Years later in the Japanese prison camp he jumped up and swung a bare electric power line leading to one of the search lights. Usually the power was turned off in the day; another boy had touched it and warned that it was alive. It had been raining and he was barefoot. His hand closed on the line and he took the electric power right through his now rigid body. There in front of me and many others with one horrific gasp I watched helpless, as the life drained out of him. He was only sixteen. In the enquiry that followed the Japanese pronounced that it was a typical case of suicide for a boy of sixteen. Years later in Japan I realised it was much easier for the Japanese to pronounce such a statement, which to us at the time was outrageous.
STUCK UP A PAGODA.
One Sunday afternoon in winter seven of us went for a hike in the hills. It was freezing weather and we had to keep going to keep warm. After spending some time trying to crack the ice in a quarry with large stones. We then headed up the hill to a small pagoda. There were no steps inside to climb up to the top but people had chiselled out crude cracks to stick ones fingers and toes in. It was a risky climb of about 14 feet or more but by helping each other we all managed to make it to the top. The freezing wind was whistling through the upper reaches of the pagoda. However the view we had was soon forgotten with the desire to get down and out of the wind. We sent our tallest down first so that he could help others in their decent. Unfortunately his hands were so cold he couldn’t leave go of the top. Two of us did make it down but the others even after tying jackets together to make a rope failed to make a decent. Finally in desperation they asked us to get help. We rushed all the way back to the school, about six miles. In the distance we could hear the receding cries of our companions shouting, “Bring the toilet ladder,” a ladder that was stored there to climb up and fix the cistern. When we got to the school we rushed to the toilets. Just then a young joker came strolling out singing a parody from a hymn. “I’ve tried the broken cistern Lord, but ah the waters failed.” He told us the ladder was missing. So I went to the master on duty, who got a rope and set out with us to rescue the “miserable offenders” as he called them. My friend said he was too tired to attempt the hike back so stayed behind. It was all I could do to keep up with our burly schoolmaster. As we finally approached the pagoda all was silence. They had obviously got down and we had not crossed tracks with them on the way. When finally exhausted and we were approaching the school we spotted them up ahead. A Chinese farmer had come walking into view and to their cries for help and with the aid of a rake had managed to extricate them from their dilemma. I had counted myself a hero until I was told that we all had to write a 200 word essay on how to avoid doing foolhardy things!
THE CHOIR BOY.
Soon after I moved up to senior school I took up piano lessons. After three months I was eliminated as not showing that type of musical ability. I also joined the choir as a boy soprano. Shortly before my voice broke, the choir rendered Strainers Crucifixion. I was soon able to memorize all the words. I little realized at the time what a profound effect this was going to have on my spiritual and religious life. Some of the words became foundation stones that gave me the passion and beliefs that I have held dear all these years. The haunting line “Could you not watch with me for one brief hour?” has subconsciously done so much for my prayer life through my long years of Christian service.
MY SISTER’S GRADUATION AND TRIP TO AUSTRALIA.
In the summer of 1941 my mother, who was not well, came all the way from Yunnan to see my sister graduate and send her on her way. Since the war in Europe had made life very difficult in the UK, my parents decided to send Ruth to Adelaide in South Australia with her friend Betty Nicholls. My mother who was from Adelaide had no relatives able to care for Ruth. However, her bosom friend, Ruth Hartley said she would care for Ruth. During world war one, Ruth Hartley had felt called to go to China as a missionary. However, she was not accepted due to poor health. Her mother decided that they would pay for my mother, then Bessie Donnelly, to study at Angus College and also to support her as a missionary. The Hartley’s continued to support her financially for all her years in China. This led to my sister spending the next four years in nurses training, with her friend Betty in Adelaide. She and Betty were on the last ship to sail out of Manila before the Japanese attacked. This event has influenced my thinking a great deal through the years regarding guidance. Proverbs 16.verse 9 says “In his heart man plans his course but the Lord determines his steps.” Our parents had planned our future to go to the UK but the war changed all those plans.
My mother and Mrs Nicholls returned to Yunnan to wait for my graduation and see how the war in Europe evolved. On the other hand, already the Japanese were holding most of China’s coastal areas and were eyeing Dutch Indonesia and Hongkong. All foreign assets in banks in occupied China had been frozen. It was only England’s preoccupation with the war in Europe that stopped them from taking any action in the Far East.
THE OUTBREAK OF WAR WITH JAPAN
On December the 8th the covert and devastating attack on Pearl Harbour by the Japanese plunged the Far East into a terrifying war. It also had a life changing affect on my own future. Almost immediately barriers were set up at the school gates and we found ourselves under house arrest. Our headmaster with numbers of foreign business men were put into solitary confinement and were questioned as spies. After some weeks, they were all allowed to return home except the head of the chamber of commerce who was slowly and painfully poisoned according to the Chinese doctor who attended to him. His ashes were returned to his wife. This was a horrible atrocity which already had been the ongoing practice in China by the Japanese military police (The dreaded “Kempeitai”) Plans were afoot to intern us and take over our school buildings. Perhaps the most shocking event came a little later when talks with Japanese Naval officers demanded that all the senior girls in the boarding school be commandeered as “comfort girls” for the Japanese Navy. The headmaster and the those present remonstrated with them all day until finally they parted saying they would consider their decision. The sad outcome was that the Japanese military press gangs in Korea went out and commandeered young Korean and Chinese girls to satisfy their lustful behaviour. This practice had already been carried out in the Japanese colonies. Koreans all spoke Japanese. Some months later we were all herded into internment camps.
I found myself sleeping in a large attic room. Thirteen of
us like sardines. One of the boys had some lung trouble and we were told to
keep away from him. I was one of the fitter and stronger boys. However it wasn’t
long before I came down with hepatitis A. It was more commonly called jaundice.
I turned yellow all over and lost all desire to eat. Day after day I lay in
bed, feeling depressed all the time. Slowly I recovered from this and once again
began to feel my old self.
A SICKNESS LEADING TO CONVERSION.
Some months later I was again very sick. This time it was a raging fever day after day. Our doctor was worried; he was unable to diagnose it. One day after the morning roll call the Japanese camp commandant came with our doctor up to the attic where I was lying, to see me. Kosaka was a real gentleman and had a sincere concern for his prisoners. He went over to the city hospital nearby with our doctor and was able to obtain some of the new sulphur drugs. These worked wonders and I was soon on the mend although desperately weak. About a week later I was still lying in bed recovering. I hade been in bed for about ten days now and as usual everybody else was doing some school work elsewhere. I had been lying on my own most of the day. The other boys only came in at night to sleep. In my boredom, I sneaked over and dug out John’s harmonica and played a few pieces on it. He had very forcefully warned me never to blow it. On the other hand he couldn’t play a tune on it and I enjoyed playing the harmonica. I had lost my own harmonica when I came into the camp. What I didn’t know at the time was that John had TB and had been warned how infectious it was. Suddenly a great sense of guilt came over me; tears of sorrow for my sins overwhelmed me. I blubbered on and on, unable to control myself. Finally I cried out to God asking for His forgiveness and salvation. What happened next was quite extraordinary, peace and joy overwhelmed me. I began to sing and thank God for His mercy to me. I must have fallen asleep exhausted, for when I woke up my friend Stan was standing beside the bed, he had been looking after me since I fell sick. He looked at me and said. “Are you alright?” I replied “Fine! Just fine! I’ve been saved! God has not only healed me but has forgiven my sins.” From his astonished look I knew this was not the answer he had expected to hear. Whatever followed I cannot recall now, but the outcome was Stan also was converted. Suddenly our tongues were loosed to talk about spiritual matters. The following Sunday we were asked to testify to God’s Salvation at the morning service.
During the following weeks there was a surge of new spiritual life spreading through many in the camp. I have always assumed that our parents who were all missionaries had been stunned by what was happening to their children. The weekly letters and news all dried up. As the book of Proverb says “Hope deferred makes the heart sick!” This had resulted in a surge of prayer from the other side of China and from overseas. God answered their prayers with spiritual blessing. The school had been promised by the British Embassy that in the event of war breaking out, the school would all be repatriated to our home countries. This had happened to the Americans. However when the repatriation ship arrived in Shanghai, the Swiss Red Cross had all kinds of excuses to explain that there were sick and old and many needy people who had first claim to repatriation. And so many of the rich and influential managed to escape while we were told our turn would come on the next ship. There never was another ship! After the war we learnt that their ship was torpedoed and sunk, although the Americans did get away.
BEGINNING TO GROW SPIRITUALLY.
Baptismal classes were started up for all those who had made a new confession of faith. Dr Glass of the Southern Baptists used to teach us. Due to the sudden relocation to the Weishien prison camp and the repatriation of Dr Glass to America. I was never to be baptised until 10 years later. During these days of spiritual growth I was able to borrow books from the many Christian missionaries who had brought their favourite biographies into camp with them. I read the life of D.L.Moody, Henry Moore house, Charles Finney, Hudson Taylor, John.G.Paton, Adoniram Judson of Burma, Generals Booth and Brengal of the Salvation Army. Each book had its profound affect on me. I used to go down into a basement full of bags and furniture to get away from everybody and spend time alone in prayer. I was seeking the blessing that so many of these men had experienced and told about. One day as I was reading something by F.B.Meyer it said. “God wants His children to ask in faith and then believe God has heard.” Its up to God when and in what manner he will answer your prayer of faith. I realized that God had already filled me with His gift and that it was the Holy Spirit working in my heart that gave me this new spiritual hunger. I also surprised myself by sitting down and after praying and reading a chapter of the Bible I would write my own commentary verse by verse. Mark, Philippians, Job and Esther were some of these books. I used to reread these notes and add to them. I never felt bold enough to share them with others except odd comments in Bible studies.
MOVING TO WEISHIEN PRISON CAMP.
Then it was announced that we were going to be shipped off to a new camp where most prisoners from North China had been incarcerated. I had an old locker box into which I put what I thought was important. The only thing of any real value to me was my stamp collection. Over 500 different Chinese stamps, as well as 3000 other stamps. I sold these before going into camp. With the money I bought some saccharine, as sugar was as scarce as hens teeth Some army trucks turned up and bundled us and our belongings onto them and trundled us down to the docks where we boarded a small ship for our next destination.. As the ship was leaving port a small launch came after us and came along side to deliver bread. This was the baker who for years had delivered bread to the school and then to the local camp, and now was making what was to be his final delivery. If he had not done this there would have been nothing to eat on the ship. What a wonderful reminder this was that God was watching over us, supplying our daily food. It was a small coastal ferry and we all lay in long lines huddled together for the overnight trip to Tsingtao. Years later in Japan I sailed on many of these small ferries, tightly packed together, lying on a straw mat with my fellow passengers. Busses took us from the dock to the station where we were packed into a train for the half day’s journey to Weishien. (Now Weifung) Again trucks took us on a very bumpy road leading outside the city and we entered a gate with the Chinese Characters “The Court of the Happy Way.” Written over it. Inside, the road was lined with the internees wondering who the next unfortunates would be. This was to be my prison for the next few years. Originally it had been an American Presbyterian Chinese High School and hospital. It had been ransacked by the war and now had been turned into a prison camp. Two thousand prisoners forming a polyglot community. There was a wall and electrified wire to keep us in what was about 150 yards by 100.
THE DRUDGERY OF LIFE IN A PRISON CAMP AS A COOK.
The next few days were to be days of discovery. Almost immediately I found myself scheduled to do an hour on one of the pumps. The camp engineers had devised two water towers. Water from the wells was pumped up to the tanks by teams of people who worked all day manning the hand pumps. Later I was designated to a kitchen shift, which had two days off then one day on. It started early about 6.00 am and ended about 7.00 pm. There were six of us on the shift. Our boss was a congenial American business man, who looked after his own interests. He had the keys to the pantry and it took me a bit of time to find out he was pilfering our sparse rations to share with his cronies, who in turn also took their “perks” to share with him. Stealing was always spoken of as “scrounging”. Coming from a missionary background these underhand goings on, caused me some concern, but as the months and years went by, my conscience was dulled by the whole ethos of the camp, which was more and more becoming each man for himself. My very close friend, who was with me on the kitchen shift used to talk about the ethics and morality that allowed someone to do what they wanted without considering the plight of us all. Being single without a wife and little children did not put the pressure on us as some of the others. While the kitchen shift was dirty, hard work, and tiring when we started, as rations became less and less the little benefits and titbits began to be very rewarding by the time we finally got our freedom.
In the earlier years in camp we used to get Soya beans and other beans, millet and sorghum. After we had ground up the sorghum we had to boil it up and it looked like chocolate pudding but was absolutely tasteless. If we didn’t grind up the sorghum we used to have to boil it for forty eight hours to make it eatable Small amounts of meat arrived from time to time, in the summer we used to have to boil it up immediately before it went rotten.. Vegetables usually arrived in huge quantities. We had to devise how to use them and make them last. Great heaps of cucumbers were a problem we ate them raw, many attributed the outbreaks of dysentery to them. We used to cook them in all manner of ways. They were causing a lot of diarrhoea. Years later I realized that the Japanese salted them down as pickles. Sweet potatoes were plentiful at times and people would boil up the skins to extract and distil an alcoholic drink. Chinese tea was boiled and re-boiled to extract the last bit of flavour. We cooked in large shallow caldrons (woks). using long wooden paddles to stir with. Our heating was coal dust which we used to bind with mud; this was of course very dirty. We used to have to dry it out into little cakes during the summer months. It used to take a lot of careful coaxing to burn. The internees built their own bakery and made their own yeast. The flour was ground on mill stones from adulterated wheat. To us it tasted great; slowly we got so use to it that we didn’t pine for something to spread on it. One or two dry slices a day was never enough. We ate out of tin cans, plates were a luxury. We never had any sugar or eggs or milk. In the kitchen we always heated up plenty of hot water which was the mainstay of whatever we were eating. It was the only way we could make the “food” go around the 600 hungry mouths we had to feed. Often while we were serving up we had to add more boiling water to make it go around.
THE TWO ESCAPEES AND THE CONSEQUENSES
After two of the internees escaped and joined up with the nationalist guerrillas in the mountains, they were able to get a wireless and send news messages to the camp. One of the Chinese sanitation coolies, who had guarded access to the camp also carried in the supplies for the Japanese guards. He would hide the messages written on silk stuffed up his nose and at the appointed place would blow the silk out into the gutter where it would be picked up by someone in the know. The news would be shared with us all as “The rumour for today.” This item would be pinned to the bulletin board. The Japanese propaganda papers which were distributed from time to time were a lot of nonsense. However one could glean certain facts from reading between the lines. The Japanese were certain we had a radio, which of course they never found! Since our news came via the Chinese coolly! Without this source of news, the future looked very gloomy. Several of the Japanese guards had told people that in the event that they would have to abandon the camp the instructions were to shoot all the prisoners. Apart from the two roll calls morning and evening, they did not trouble us much. The camp was well organized with its management committee, with a chairman and the Japanese liaised with them. Most of the trouble we had with the Japanese was due to the black market with the Chinese over the wall. Eggs, sugar, cigarettes, alcohol and even chickens came over the wall. It was a dangerous game. If you were caught, it could mean a week or two in solitary confinement. However, when one of the Chinese on the other side of the wall was caught he had his throat cut and was strung up to be a horrific example to others. We did not face many atrocities as we were not in a direct war zone, but it was the Chinese who were on the heavy end of the Japanese cruelty. The Japanese were always looking for spies. One amusing thing was, we had a guard who used to sing in his watch tower particularly at night. One of his repertoire was the hymn “What a friend we have in Jesus” He was often referred to by the prisoners as “The Christian.” Years later when I was in Japan I found it was a very popular folk song to the same tune as the hymn, all the Japanese children learnt it at school.
THE EXCESSIVE CRUELTY OF THE JAPANESE ARMY
Many people have asked me about the excessive cruelty of the
Japanese army. Manchuria was invaded in 1931, In 1937 The Japanese army reinforced
by conscripted troops from Korea and Manchuria fought a very brutal war for
four years before they attacked America. If the Chinese got their hands on a
Japanese soldier they meted out the most barbarous tortures and so vice versa.
Hence when the Japanese met up with the Americans and British it was second
nature to them to be barbarically cruel. Many of the Manchurian and Korean troops
had to show extreme violence to prove their loyalty to their Japanese officers
whom they really hated. There was little restraint on the Japanese army not
to show off their sadistic behaviour. Rape and pillaging went hand in hand with
indiscriminate carnage. The Japanese guards in our camp were mostly mild in
their behaviour. A number of them were men who had been wounded and were no
longer able to carry out heavy duty. A few were friendly. One of my friends
had a Japanese mother and was fluent in Japanese. One day he had stolen an egg
off one of the baskets that the Chinese coolie was carrying in to the guards.
To cover up what he had done he began talking to a friendly guard, when he nervously
dropped the egg which splattered all over the ground including his bare feet.
The guard began to roar with laughter not realizing where the egg had come from.
THE RUMOUR FOR THE DAY.
One day in 1944 a little note on the Bulletin Board, stated “The rumour for the day is that Germany has capitulated.” This told us what little we were to know of such a momentous victory in Europe. Some time before, another note had announced that Italy had surrendered. This was followed by 300 Italians being brought into a separate part of the Camp .There was to be no fraternizing with us. But what had happened in Europe was so far away and the logistics of Japan surrendering made us feel it would be another three years. All this time we were conscious that our meagre rations were getting less and less. Many of our stronger men and women were showing signs of plain weariness. I found more and more people asking help to carry their coal dust ration. A sports event was organised. It was a run around the camp. I joined in thinking I would manage to pull it off. But twice I stumbled in crossing a small ditch and in the end had to settle for second place. As I mulled over what had happened I realized how skinny I had become, and that I was losing the vigour which had been my hall mark in the previous years. I still was fit but not as fit as I used to be.
THE SUDDEN END TO THE WAR
On August the 15th 1945 there was another notice on the bulletin board. “The rumour for today is that the war is over. The Emperor of Japan has pronounced the cessation of fighting. A B29 plane has dropped an Atomic bomb on Hiroshima City.” The extraordinary thing was that people were betting on it. Even the detail was surprising. We had never heard of a B29 aircraft, nor an atomic bomb, and the very city, Hiroshima added to its authenticity. As the day came to a close a great crowd of prisoners gathered outside the Camp Commandants house demanding to know if the war was over. Finally the commandant came out. In faltering English he said he didn’t know if the war was over or not. And told us to go to our beds. We broke out into ridicule and laughter. In hindsight we now know that, while the Emperor had spoken. A mind boggling thing for any Japanese. Our Commandant had had no comment or command from higher up. The whole Japanese nation was stunned. During the war not even the word “peace”, much less “defeat” or “surrender” was permitted by law to be written or spoken. But now defeat had come and there wasn’t even the language to express such an event. Ten o’clock was when the electricity was turned off and the terrifying Alsatian dogs were set loose. So we went back to our beds, hoping for the best, but dreading what might be the outcome.
AN AMERICAN PLANE.
I was not on kitchen duty the next day and after breakfast, I was walking across the camp enclosure when I was startled to hear the drone of an aeroplane. It was flying quite low and began to circle around. Then it came swooping down flying directly over the camp. There it was a B24 US Air Force plane. People were euphoric to see it circling around then it came back again roaring overhead. To my astonishment, Union Jacks & the Stars and Stripes suddenly appeared from nowhere. People were crying with excitement. The plane banked off and began to climb higher and then came the extraordinary sight of seven men parachuting into the fields outside the camp. Instinctively I ran down to the gates amazed to see some people running out. Two grim faced guards stood back with their guns in their hands. They were shocked by the speed of events. The Emperor had spoken! They were men under orders but what were the orders. I nervously eyed them as I ran out into the sorghum fields. The sorghum was five or eight feet high and as we entered we were calling out at the top of our voices. “Where are you?” Suddenly almost out of nowhere a burly American GI stepped out with a revolver drawn. “Where are the Japs!” Was his excited exclamation. It never occurred to us until then that there might be a shoot out. While we tried to assure him the Japs were nowhere in sight. He said he had to head over to the left to see his officer. A minute later we came across his officer with two other men they had set up a machine gun on the top of a Chinese grave which was a mound in the field of sorghum. The young lieutenant stepped forward shaking hands with us prisoners saying “I’m Lieutenant James Moore formerly of the Chefoo Schools. Is PA Bruce here?” There were exclamations of surprise. Bobby had been a senior in the school a few years ahead of my sister. Then he quickly asked “What can you tell me about where the Japs are; and what are they doing?” Suddenly the reality of what had happened dawned on us, Here were seven very brave men who had risked their lives and parachuted down to enter our camp. The wireless operator was setting up his gear to contact the plane. The officer continued. “Do you know that the Emperor of Japan has declared the war over? We are a liberation team and have come to take over from the Japanese and to arrange for your repatriation.” Just then the plane came back to drop them further supplies and to give them some cover should they got into a skirmish. The plane came round once more and then dipped its wings and disappeared just as suddenly as it had appeared. That sudden appearance and now the disappearance of the big “liberator” will be a sight that will remain with me all my life. It had all happened in less than half an hour.
More and more faces of prisoners began to appear. The adulation and excitement was indescribable. The war was over, and here was the American Air Force parachuting in a liberation squad. They were like gods from another planet; we carried one or two of them shoulder high and headed for the camp gates. Our morale boosting brass band was blasting out patriotic tunes welcoming the American liberation force. It flashed through my mind, could all this turn nasty? There was no telling what would be waiting for us there. The camp commandant with no instructions from his superiors had decided on surrendering. And he met the American officer in the administration room laying his Samurai sword on the desk. Lieutenant Moor handed it back to him and told him he wanted the Japanese guards to remain on duty, but now they were under his command and were to guard our camp from the marauding Chinese guerrillas, belonging to Mao Tsu Dong, They had not accepted the peace.
THE LONG ORDEAL WAS OVER.
I stood there outside the gates and walked over to the little river and just took it all in. For years I had looked out over these scenes they symbolized freedom, and now I was standing on the banks of that little river trying to come to terms that it was all over. As I turned round I looked up at the third floor window, from which day after day I had gazed. We had spent months looking out and fantasizing about escape. How quickly it had all happened. As I walked back up to the gates, already crowds of Chinese had gathered. Everyone had big smiles on their faces, except the inscrutable faces of the guards. They were still standing there with their loaded guns! It was a great day for us and for the Chinese. They had faced so much in the eight years of war and Japanese domination.
I walked back into the camp, and made my way up to the kitchen. Poking my head in to ask the other shift what was on the menu to celebrate freedom. They said that there would be lots of soup and bread, and hoped to have some fruit! They had already sent people out to buy something for the evening meal. They were going to pull out all the stops. The lieutenant and his men commandeered a truck and drove off to the small airfield about five miles away, With little resistance they requisitioned it. A few hours later, an American plane flew in and landed with another larger liberation force of 22 men. They had been commissioned to go to Harbin up in Manchuria 800 miles north of us. When they landed on the airfield the Japanese were very hostile and said the war still was not over. They let them get back in their plane, sure that they would run out of fuel and crash. HQ had told them Weishien airfield was now in American hands. They barely made it to our airfield. This group had a lieutenant Major Stagger who took over with his men. They also had far more equipment, even bringing in DDT which began to put an end to the vermin that had given us so much misery over the years. They had a doctor and lots of medical supplies.