Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Ford of Heaven residents in Japanese prison camp

After Pearl Harbor, I was separated from Tai-tai (our mother), Tony and Betty. They were put in Weihsien camp in Shantung Province. I was down in Shanghai in Pootung camp, then moved to Lunghwa (of Empire of the Sun fame). In January 1944 the Japanese moved me up north to Weihsien.

As I proceeded through the camp's main gate, my heart leapt to my throat. There in a cluster of internees stood Tai-tai. A shabby smock hung from her shoulders. Her dark auburn hair, now streaked with gray, was tied in a bun. Her cheekbones protruded, but her eyes shone with the fierce look of determination I knew so well.

As I was led to the guardhouse to be searched, she shouted out: "You're all skin and bones. Never mind, we'll fatten you up."

On my second day in Weihsien, I discovered that Tai-tai had no bucket. Because all our drinking water, toilet water, laundry water had to be pumped up by hand, a bucket was an inmate's most prized possession. For two years, Tai-tai had managed with an enamel wash basin, but managed to carry water in it from the pump to her hut without spilling too much.

In my job as a stoker in Tientsin Kitchen which catered to 900 inmates from that city, I started at 3:00 am to get the fires going in the huge cauldrons so that the gruel would be cooked in time for breakfast. The cooks came on at 6:00 am. Alone in the kitchen I stared at the row of shining buckets all there for the taking. To me it was perks, fair and square. At 5:00 am I deposited a bucket outside her hut.

As luck would have it, the bucket sprang a leak and Tai-tai took it to the camp tinsmith, George Cox, for repair. George, who happened to spot "TK" tooled into its base, mentioned that to that fine TGS Science master Mr Foxlee in the hearing of Peter Lawless, Chief of Police in Tientsin's British Concession, now head of Camp Discipline.

When word spread through the camp that an investigation was under way for the theft of the bucket, Tai-tai crashed into the Discipline office and delivered such a tongue lashing to the poor beleaguered police chief, who knew very well from old of her fiery spirit and sagacity as a fighter that he thought twice about laying charges.

George, an old family friend, was so dismayed by the trouble he caused, presented Tai-tai with a shiny new bucket with her name tooled into the base.

The drawing above, by Jeremy Power of North Vancouver BC, shows Tientsin internees lining up for breakfast.

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