Pillaton WI Report - September 2012

Childhood Internment in Shanghai

The well attended meeting began with a riot of laughter and chat as members gathered after the long summer break. Liz, our president was forced to shout at the meeting, to gain order as the tinkling of the order bell was drowned in the deluge of greeting.

The meeting proceeded with the usual business, signing of past minutes, talk of items from County News and the circulation of the menu for the next, harvest supper, meeting.

The speaker was Ann Moxley who spoke of her experiences of childhood internment in Shanghai under the Japanese from 1937-1945.

Usually experiences in our childhood stay deeply impressed within us, more vivid than more mundane experiences of the present day, so it was with our speaker. Ann was a tall, unassuming lady who spoke of her experiences at close quarters with an enemy, expanding her vivid childhood reality and placing it in the context of the historical upheaval.

A child of missionary parents and grandfather, who first went to China in 1887, where she and her siblings were born and it was obviously a country she had a great affinity for. Ann and her family seemed to have to survive the constant turbulence of warring factions, the upheaval of fleeing evacuees, flood, lightning strikes and the final internment in Linghua camp in Shanghai. Shanghai in those days was totally different, no skyscrapers, just marshy countryside!

Ann illustrated her talk with family photos, hand drawn maps of the camp, paintings and drawings done by the inmates and some official photos of the buildings the prisoners were housed in.We were told of her family's arrival at the camp on a number 22 bus, where the amalgamation of the former cavalry barracks and a school were to house 2,000 inmates. The new life was made endurable by the usual British efficiency that emerges at the most difficult of times. Ann's architect father was billeting officer, not an enviable task. Water was brackish and had to be boiled (to make it drinkable) at a special charcoal burning hut called Waterloo. Crops were grown to supplement the meagre rations, as hunger was always a problem. The prisoners became good at adapting to survive keeping chickens, pigs and goats, though the milk demanded by the Japanese guards had pee added, so they rejected it. The windowless and tin roofed buildings were very cold in the winter and, with a grossly inadequate diet, life must have been very difficult.

Education was not neglected as the camp was home to experts on all subjects who gave talks, and taught the children too. There was no paper except the inside of tinned food labels, but so excellent was the teaching that children got their school certificates and were later accepted for university.

The end of the war was marked by the Instrument of Surrender, followed by the liberation of the camp by the Americans, before finally returning to Britain on the RMS Arana, where a letter was read out from the king.

The talk was littered throughout with little anecdotes and points of note, to bring history to life. It was an indelible experience for Ann who was interned at nine and released at twelve and a half years old. Ann has retained contact with her fellow inmates, with a reunion on the HMS Belfast in 2005 and she said she would like to return to China some day.

Jan Simms

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Last updated: 18 September 2012 Contact Us