Deirdre Fee's illustration of the "West Kitchen" at Lunghwa.
Remembers Lunghwa CAC
By Dani Garavelli
Sunday Times - London
(Copyright Times Newspapers Ltd, 2001)
Sixty years on, Scottish children who spent the second world war in Japanese camps are still trying to come to terms with their stolen childhoods, writes Dani Garavelli.
On December 7, 1941, as Hawaii woke to the dawn raid on Pearl Harbor, the Japanese imperial forces were also staging a display of firepower on the Bund, Shanghai’s famous riverfront. The scale of the attack was smaller, but its impact on the Europeans - the businessmen, policemen and their families who lived in this swarming, decadent, multicultural edge of the empire - could scarcely have been greater.
Within hours, ranks of Japanese soldiers, their bayonets raised to their chests, were marching up the main street of the British concession. It was the Japanese army’s second attempt to take Shanghai, which was split between the colonial powers of Britain, France and America. This time it succeeded.
For the children who witnessed the occupation, the day felt strange and exciting. There was no feeling of doom, no sense that this was the start of something terrifying and horrible. They were playing a tiny part in the end of the empire, but had no idea this day would change their lives.
Now, the Scots who lived through the fall of Shanghai are ready to talk about their experiences. Valerie Kinghorn, then Tulloch, lives in Ballater, Aberdeenshire. She was seven when she watched the soldiers parade through the Shanghai streets, after she was dragged by her brother, Ian, to catch a glimpse of what they considered a fantastic spectacle.
Barely six months later, they were interned in Lunghwa [LongHua in Pinyin, now a suburb - Lawrence] camp, made famous by JG Ballard in his novel Empire of the Sun. It was a former college on the outskirts of Shanghai, built on reclaimed slurry.
Kinghorn made the journey by lorry, bumping along the road to the camp on top of her suitcase, with Ian, her parents and younger sister Yvonne. Sixty years on, she does not recall being upset by the upheaval.
“I don’t remember being frightened,” she says. “Most children are very resilient: they feel safe so long as their parents are around to protect them.”
At Lunghwa, the family moved into a room in the block nearest the guards’ bungalows. Next door was Ronald Calder, a Scottish boy just days younger than Kinghorn. Calder, whose father managed an electricity company, was to become her playmate and confidant for the duration of the war. They played cards and marbles to relieve the monotony of camp life.
Kinghorn’s mother was seriously ill and shortly after they arrived at Lunghwa she was sent off to hospital. “We were allowed out to visit her only three or four times, I think whenever the Japanese guards thought she might be going to die,” she recalls. “We missed her terribly, not only on an emotional, but also a practical level. She was good at knitting and sewing. Life would have been much easier if she had been in there with us.”
Home comforts were scarce in the camp. Drinking water was rationed and prisoners ate rice, vegetables, soya and bread, with weevils and worms for protein. “My father made my mother take them out. I would shout: ‘Can I have those, please?’ Since then I have eaten whatever is put in front of me,” says Calder.
Kinghorn’s parents, like all the adults in Lunghwa, were used to a luxurious colonial life. They had servants and nannies to run their homes. Now they had to learn how to cook with limited rations, clean, and care for their children. Dysentery, malaria, sprue (a gastric illness) and beriberi were rife and medicine was limited.
“Almost everyone who had diabetes died, because of the poor quality of insulin” says Calder, who suffered from dysentery as a child. “Every time you got an illness it spread and there was never a chance to get well again.”
There was sporadic violence too. Civilians held in Shanghai and Singapore were treated better than the British soldiers and families incarcerated in Java and Sumatra, but the threat was always there. Roll calls were particularly tense.
Yet, while camp life was tough on the adults, the children adjusted to the weevils and the guards and turned it into an adventure. “We would dare each other to run out the front gates of the camp, cross the road and run back in again,” Calder says. “I became a very good thief, too. Once, I got caught stealing food from the homes of one of the guards and was shooed away by his wife.”
As it became clear they were in for a long haul, the adults did their best to give the children a normal life. They set up schools, held baseball and football matches, and pooled books to make small libraries. They raised their spirits with upbeat shows, staged in the dining halls. “One woman even started a Brownie pack,” Kinghorn says.
“She was the Brown Owl and she embroidered little badges for us to earn. We did things like gardening and hostessing and I really enjoyed it.”
Further up the Yangtze River, at Yangzhou, 16-year-old Ella Clark, the daughter of a customs officer from Edinburgh, was experiencing similar highs and lows.
Like Calder and Kinghorn, she enjoyed small pleasures: the sound of records being played on a gramophone sent by the Red Cross and whispered stories shared in her dormitory after lights out. But it was hardly a happy childhood.
Clark had been at a business college in Shanghai when the Japanese struck Pearl Harbor. She heard the attack on the Shanghai waterfront from her family’s home in the Customs House. The Clarks were forced out almost immediately, taking up residence in a cramped church hall with 40 other families.
The men measured out the available space then used sheets to divide it into even sections. For the indulged child of a colonial civil servant, it was something of a shock. “We had a wonderful lifestyle before the war,” Clark admits. “We never had to go shopping or carrying. Our drinking water came in great big bottles on a stand, and when we were finished we just phoned for another. We had an amah who would look after us while my mother went out to meet her friends. [Not much has changed then, life is still the same for expat children in Shanghai - Lawrence]
We weren’t as bad as some children, who would ring for their amah to pass them a book from a cupboard right beside them. But my mother, who was born in Malaya, wouldn’t have known how to boil a kettle.”
A few months after arriving, Clark’s father had a stomach haemorrhage. Blood transfusions were not available in the camp and he spent months in bed recovering. “When he finally emerged he had changed so much everyone thought a new inmate had been brought in.”
Clark herself was temporarily paralysed when a needle got stuck inside her leg after an injection. “I just fell as I was walking down the corridor one day and found I could no longer move my leg,” she says.
Rumours and gossip were the currency of the camps, creating friction among the adults, fuelling their fears that executions were imminent. When Clark was moved from Yangzhou to Chapei - a camp nearer to Shanghai - her father told her to walk rather than ride in a lorry because he believed, wrongly, that the old and the sick were going to be killed.
As time went on, the guards’ behaviour became more erratic, and it became clear that the allies were gaining the upper hand. For the children, the first portents of change came from the skies. After V-J Day, August 15, 1945, Kinghorn recalls brightly coloured parachutes dropping food parcels at their feet.
Clark knew it was all over when she went to the laundry room one morning and all the guards had gone. She rushed back up to tell the others, but they had heard it all before. Finally some of them ventured out to Shanghai to find out what was going on.
In the months that followed, as the internees gradually left the camps, their old lives had gone for ever. Most travelled back to Scotland, but for the children, this was traumatic in itself.
There was no opportunity for them to talk about their experiences. Nobody wanted to know: the war in Europe had finished six months earlier. The news reels had carried no footage from the Far East. “Scotland wasn’t really our country,” says Kinghorn. “We had trouble understanding the currency and the accent and we found the traffic very frightening.”
Clark spent three months in the Western General in Edinburgh. “That was a good thing for me because it meant I was sharing a room again. When we finally got our own house, we moved all the beds into one room because we felt more comfortable that way.”
Almost six decades on, Calder and Kinghorn see each other frequently. The legacy of their incarceration shows in little ways. Both have minute handwriting, born of trying to cram as many words as possible on to tiny scraps of paper. They hoard. It possibly had some influence on Kinghorn’s choice of profession - she became a dietician.
Read the other recollections:
Rachel Bosebury Beck,
Oliver & Sue Hall