`I heard from someone who speaks Japanese that they have received orders that if the Allies set foot on Honshu or Kyushu, their home islands, we are all to be eliminated and the guards then have to fall on their swords,' Grandpa said,
with a certain relish.
'Bert, not in front of Ronald, please,' Granny said. Then turning to me, 'Do not worry, nothing like that will happen. When we win the war we will go back safe to home.'
I was not sure whether to believe
Granny or Grandpa...
This is the true story of an English boy caught up by war and then civil war in China. As I write, seventy-five years later, despite the time lapse I find
I have never really forgotten the events of those days. Yet, although always remembering vividly what happened, I did not let those memories interfere with what became a very full career, and indeed would seldom voluntarily mention the experience to anyone. Then, about thirty years ago, our four children virtually sat on me and said, `Dad, you must talk, you are history!'
Even so, I procrastinated for another quarter of a century, not thinking it worthwhile. Then one day, looking in an old suitcase, I came across a piece of parachute silk, long thought lost; written on the silk were the pencilled names of seven US military personnel. I also found my late mother's diaries, which included the names of those same seven individuals. The majority of her diaries had been written during the Second World War, on odd scraps of semi-transparent air-mail paper, both sides covered in pencil and margins full of even more writing. These documents confirmed my recollections and also furnished the precise dates of key events, whereas my own memories had parameters defined, for
example, by such vagaries as '... early in the second year...' or '... the summer of the last year...' This information has now enabled me to really tell my story, which concerns living in a foreign country, enduring the privations of a Japanese prison camp during the Second World War, and then being caught up in the midst of a civil war in the Far East.
My wife has been an author and writer for over forty years and her encouragement provided the final impetus in my putting pen to paper. Weihsien Camp in China's Shandong Province is a place of which some readers may have heard: Eric Liddell, the missionary teacher and 1924 Olympic gold medallist, immortalised in the film Chariots of Fire, died in February 1945 whilst interned there. I was nine years old when I entered that camp, where I was to spend over two and a half years as a `guest' of the Japanese Emperor. But that is only part of the story. The tale then moves on to Tianjin, a city of two million at the time of which I write. Although not one of the original treaty ports, as agreed between China and Britain in the last half of the 19th century as reparations after the `Opium Wars', Tianjin mushroomed enormously after it achieved that status, which it held for over eighty years (1858 until 1944). It has now swelled to 12 million and its factories and warehouses spread to the coast at Dagu. But then it was home.
Whilst this is my story, I have included background facts of life immediately before, at the time, and up to near the end of the Korean War. Life was so different to what it is now as I write, in the first quarter of the 21S` century. I hope I do not offend by using what may now be considered politically incorrect words or phrases, but the term `politically correct' had not even entered into English vocabulary in the 1930s to 1950s, the timeframe of this book, and I write as I have recalled matters, describing them in the idiom and usage of contemporary English. I hope that the additional background information will give some clarity and understanding to the reader.
As for my children, who urged me to write this memoir, I must apologise to them, and to my ten grandchildren, that I did not tell them in person some of the details of this convoluted story.
—Ronald William `Ron' Bridge MBE AFC FRAeS FRIN, Sussex, February 2019