CHINA – July 2, 1945
To: God Knows When
(Hand written on vellum at Linhai, China about mid-July 1945, unedited and copied by typewriter sometime 1948 -1950, recopied by computer, still unedited September 1996)
When I was shot down that sunny Monday afternoon it was something of a shock. Yet as I parachuted down from that blue sky under that canopy of whitest silk I could not help but admire the sunlight on the green hills. As the muddy waters of the bay closed over me the beauty was gone and I knew that first of all I must not drown. By dropping various things like a pistol and canteen I became free enough to rise above the water and inflate my rubber boat. At first the shock and horror of the situation overwhelmed me as I realized that except for the open sea I was about 150 miles inside the Japanese lines. Soon the humor of the situation presented itself to me and I laughed as I realized that no matter what happened to me there I was drifting idly in the China Sea miles away from all my friends and there was not one damn thing I could do about it.
Soon some Navy planes dropped me emergency supplies which I gathered aboard. Then as I looked over the situation I realized it was not quite as bad as I had thought. If I could paddle to that point of land about 2 miles away and wade there before the various junks which seemed to be bearing down on me I might be able to escape into the hills. I reached a mile off shore when suddenly my heart sank as a junk appeared out of a small cove. Again there was nothing I could do. The junk, however, that was coming was full of friendly faces and I suddenly realized l was being rescued by Chinese fishermen. I nearly sang for joy. When I was aboard they gave me clean dry clothes which were infested with only a minimum of lice.
I waved farewell to the Navy planes and began to take stock of my wounds. I found that the worst one was a bad gash on the right shinbone. Then the flesh was scraped off the rear of the leg. I also had a cut on my lip. Soon I had these wounds all patched up with the emergency equipment. Then I began to relax and enjoy the scenery. I found that none of my Chinese friends spoke English, by means of the sign language I conveyed the message that Later on in the afternoon I thought rescue planes would be after me. This turned out to be a vain hope and soon some Japanese craft appeared on the horizon so we put in to shore and my friends hid me in a cornfield along with all the equipment. We had a meal of fîsh and rice aboard the Junk, but I was commencing to get hungry again. one of the peasant’s wife brought me some green tea (which I learned to like) and a red fruit that looked something like a strawberry and tasted like a raspberry. I slept upon one of their straw mats laid across a bed, which is the custom in China. After a night of considerable scratching I awoke the next morning to look for some rescue planes which I still believed would come. I was again disappointed however and after another Japanese scare with hiding in the comfield once more I decided to put my trust in my Chinese friends and myself.
So that afternoon I was moved by chair off thorough the hills to the home of a guerrilla leader. If you have never ridden by chair (the common method of travel in China) you have missed something. You sit like some Oriental Potentate in a wicker bamboo chair, which is carried by means of poles by two coolies. It was a fascinating trip riding over the mountains from one green fertile valley of rice to another. It was like traveling from one miniature Shanghai La to another.
First would come the narrow winding trail through the rice paddies then the slow steep ascent of the hills accompanied by the painting of the coolies and sometimes the weird chanting of the coolies. Then we would break over the pass and look down into another green and golden little valley. We traveled like this for some time until we reached the home of the guerrilla leader. There we were entertained and slept. The next morning we were off once more. We reached a village where I exchanged my tattered coolie clothes for some Chinese shirt and shorts that were very comfortable.
Then we proceeded down a meandering valley (still by chair) to the home of the magistrate in the foothills. There I picked up my interpreter, valet, guide, and friend. His name was Mr. Fu. He looked to be about 16 and I found out he was 28.It was the most fortunate meeting for me on the whole trip. He had admirable patience to ofßet my impatience and a wide tolerance of my faults as seen through Chinese eyes. He led me to another small village where I met Big Stoop. I called him Big Stoop because he reminded me of a character in the comics. He was a tall Chinese with a perpetual big grin, which showed the gold tooth he sported in the front of his mouth. He had the features of an American Indian, but he never stopped grinning. He regarded everything as a huge joke.
The next day it was decided that we should board a junk. First of all they had to send a sampan up a narrow river to pick us up. lt turned out that the sampan was not large enough to hold our troupe which by this time consisted of a small band of guerrilla troops, a few government clerks and even two women but there they were and there was nothing I could do about it.
Finally they moved the junk into the small creek and it promptly ran aground. Then with much chattering and gesticulating we finally managed to move our party in shifts onto the junk. With considerable jabbering and grunting we managed to loosen the junk and proceed down the channel. By this time it was getting dark and beginning to rain. Shortly it was pitch black and we had lost the channel. After running aground several times two of the coolies decided to leave the boat and set out with their long poles to search for the channel. At length one of them found it and we proceeded on our way again. After running aground several times more we finally reached the deeper water of the bay and hoisted our ragged old sail. I settled back to get some sleep and managed to forget the rain which was falling in a light mist.
However, I soon found out that the boat leaked and every 30 minutes we had to move so that a small boy who looked like a monkey in the darkness could bail out the ship. This precluded much sleep so we spent a damp and thoroughly miserable night huddled in a corner of the junk, only shifting from time to time to allow for bailing. The next day the sun rose bright and clear, the rain was gone and the world was brilliant.
We breakfasted on rice and some spongy rice cakes which tasted of fish and were slightly waterlogged. As we proceeded up a long gulf it was evident that there were many Jap motor boats out patrolling this morning. I was if informed that if they sighted a suspicious looking junk they fired across the bow. I looked at our
j.tnk with a look of dark suspicion and was about to ask what happened after the shot. Suddenly a shot rang out and I had a hasty debate to decide whether to grab one of the guns from a guerrilla as they did not look very prepossessing or to jump over the side. I decided to wait and it was just as well for it turned out to be another boat and not ours at which the Japs had fired. We proceeded on our course slowly and painfully and had only one more Jap scare. This time we moved into a small cove and pretended that we were fishing while we waited for the tide to change. This ruse worked and we were not molested. At this point I learned that if the Japs stopped us we would move into shore and make for the hills. This made me feel much better and I forgot about the Japs. I told my interpreter who could not swim not to worry for I was not going to lose him no matter what. Then I went to sleep. Finally we moved up a small creek and I awoke before we docked.
We climbed out and set out on foot with my little band of intrepid guerrillas leading the way. They were five in number, four with moldy looking rifles and one with a prehistoric species of Tommy gun. We padded our way single file along the narrow path and finally came to the home of a magistrate of another Chiang. There we spent the night.
After bathing, being shaved by a Chinese barber and having my leg looked after by a Chinese doctor sat down to the evening meal. We ate out in the courtyard under the fading light of day. I was given the seat of honor facing the door. They toasted me in the usual Chinese custom by draining
the small cup of sour wine and showing the empty bottom. I in turn toasted my host and hostess. I felt quite relaxed for by this time I was getting quite used to eating with chopsticks. Also under the guidance of the excellent Mr. Fu I was learning the Chinese customs and was beginning to enjoy the great variety of foods all eaten with chopsticks out of common bowls.
I found the magistrate and his wife quite pleasant. It turned out that she spoke a little English. She informed me she was a Christian. I waited for her to elaborate but with that statement she was done. I vouchsafed that I also was a Christian, but went no farther. I found out later from Mr. Fu that outside of the Buddhists and Confucianists in China there are Catholics and Christians – an interesting distinction. I also learned the great majority of Chinese people much like our own people pay little attention to the teachings of Buddha or Confucius. Nor do they pay much attention to the teachings of Christ. This, however, is by no means peculiar to the Chinese.
The more well to do Chinese are thoroughly courteous kind and well meaning. Outside of this they lived their lives quietly and in moderation. I spent many evenings talking to Mr. Fu who is also a Christian of sorts by vinue of having attended a Christian university in Shanghai I found that everyone who attends the Christian University is automatically a Christian. In addition Mr. Fu was very conscious of China and her problems.
He was very proud of the fact that China had a history of more than 4000 years. I was daily becoming aware of the conviction that in 4000 years China had not progressed one day either physically, mentally, or morally. If they had there was not much evidence of it.
Mr. Fu was very sympathetic towards the underfed, poor, hard working coolies who earned for their labors something like 15 cents per day. They were truly to be pitied for they were a snarled and diseased lot. They apparently had no idea of bettering their fate and surely no one else would better it for them. So they suffered in patience and toil which has been the lot of the Chinese peasant for 4000 years. Some of the sons of the better farmers occasionally go off to schools and it is for the most part considered a waste of time and money to follow up the occupation of their parents. From farming they turn to becoming government clerks, businessmen, or teachers.
There is an occasional son who attends the college of agriculture. However, this trickle is very small and the son never thinks of returning to the land to improve and practice scientific farming. Indeed it is very doubtful he would be listened to by the peasants. So it seems that the lot of the peasants will not be improved and that they will continue to toil in ignorance though hardly in bliss. They will continue their crude irrigation methods of turning their ancient waterwheels by hand, by foot, or by occasional use of water buffalo.
The peasants, however, lived in a comparative heaven of cleanliness and pleasure when contrasted with the lot of the villagers. The villagers lived in indescribable squalor and dirtiness that is beyond the imagination. I had thought some of the villages of Egypt and Calabrian ltaly the lowest in degradation and stench. However, nothing comes near a comparison of the miserable Chinese villages. It would be impossible to catalog the diseases of the inhabitants. Malaria was very prevalent in season, elephantiasis, blindness, scrofula of the hair, all manner of skin diseases were so numerous in the streets that the very air seemed full of infection. The stench of stale food, fried meats, and uncovered latrines filled the atmosphere. I could not help but envy the birds and beast of the field. Yet the Chinese people want no change. They expect suffering and sorrow. It is the outlet for their emotions if not their only emotion. Many times have I seen the women of a family weeping and wailing, beating their wizened breasts and tearing their hair over some death in the family, possibly some infant who did not reach his normal life expectancy of nine years.
Mr. Fu was also interested in government and politics. I had noticed the local offices did not look as if they had been constructed for that purpose. In fact most of them seemed to be in old and decrepit temples. I was informed that only since the war had there been any local government offices. In 4000 years there had never been any means of communications between the central government (if any) and the people, except possibly in rare cases through the feudal lords. All this is amazing to a citizen of an infant country only a bit over 300 years old.
I visited several Buddhist and Confucianist monasteries, nunneries, and temples. There the picture was much brighter. They were usually out of the villages, often on a hill at the end of a long cool walk under the shade of the bamboo trees. The temples were neat and clean, the courtyards swept and the latrines secluded and sometimes even covered. The priests were courteous and kind and always served the weak green tea, which I liked, but it was always served so hot, that it was impossible to drink it. The Chinese did though with no signs of burning lips and scalded throats. The tea was often served in teapots without cups and I soon learned to drink from the spout once the tea had cooled. Then we would go out to look at the figures of the gods. These were in most cases enclosed by glass and some I was told were over 1000 years old. I also discovered that in practically every temple I was the first foreigner to visit it, in many cases for over 1000 years. This was a strange feeling. The figures of the gods were without exception were fat and ugly by our own standards even though some of them represented beauty and truth. It would seem that even the gods ate the rice, which is responsible for the potbellies of China. They had many gods of war and punishment, which were carved in darker wood and were very fearsome.
These were to terrorize sons who did not hold constantly in sacred memory the tombs or shrines of their fathers and other ancestors. Most of the figures were painted in garish red or green with gilt crowns and bodies. Many of them wore swastikas on their breasts. I found that some of them represented famous Chinese personages who had been deified.
So many days and evenings passed and I learned much from Fu. Now we had traveled better than 50 miles and for the most part were without serious danger of being apprehended by the Japanese troops. I was becoming more anxious day by day to press on to the American office still some 100 miles away.I was becoming annoyed by the indifference of the people to their fate, by the gaping curiosity of the village children, and of the many banquets and incessant highly colored phrases of praise and admiration of their American friend. These courteous and often apologetic phrases were unreal behind bland Oriental smiles with much bowing and showing of teeth. They were always translated by Mr. Fu who finally came around to saying after listening to a 1O-minute speech, “They offer the customary apologies for humbleness of their house and the food which is not worthy of so honored a guest.” I was growing sick of this and slowly receiving the impression that it was all false surface courtesy, simply the tradition of centuries. It reminded me of some cases of southern hospitality I had received. Fu partially confirmed my suspicions for upon question he told me that even if a Chinese host was most desirous of ridding himself of a guest he would press the caller urgently to stay on for a few more days. I must confess, however, in all fairness to my Chinese hosts that they did seem glad to meet and entertain me.
And so our little procession passed slowly on. Riding by chair through part of the lowlands and walking through the hilly country. Fu always answered my questions patiently and elaborated if he thought it necessary. I began to notice that our pace was slowing down. Sometimes we only covered six miles a day when we should have been making thirty. We were more or less out of danger from Jap troops now except for occasional patrols. I was becoming impatient to get to the American office at Linhai.
When I pressed Fu for the reason for our many delays, He said, “You see you are a great hero. Each time we stop you have to be entertained, thus even the noon day meal lasts upwards of two hours. As soon as you leave word is passed along to the next village by the primitive telephone and they are waiting for you and will not let you pass without at least some tea and cakes.”
At this point I became tired of this incessant hospitality and of consistently fostering good will between those two great and powerful allies America and China. However, I realized that the road had to be paved for any fliers who might follow me. I gritted my teeth then opened my mouth in a wide smile extolling the praise of the brave Chinese troops, the greatness of our cause, the doom of the Japanese Empire, and the solidarity which China and America would present for world peace.
‘We passed through one small village where we took lunch. There was no telephone there and the people were not prepared. The village leader took us into his house. He told us how the rice crop the year before had been very bad, how the people were on the verge of famine, and that he was afraid he had no suitable fare. Fu explained this to me and said it was all true, the village was very poor. I told him we had better pass on without lunch for it would not be right to take from people who had so little. He told me we could not do this as our host would be terribly offended and advised that we accept what they offered.
About a half hour later coolies came in bearing some squash soup and some boiled eggs. It was simple and wonderful. I enjoyed that meal more than all the banquets I had received in China. It was the best they had and they gave it willingly.Fu brought out some soggy rice cakes, which we were still carrying, but they were becoming green with mold and I could not eat them. The village leader refused to take the money I offered him and could not be pressed to accept.
That evening we came to a village where we were led to the home of a schoolteacher. He was nothing but a youth with an effeminate air, a weak chin, and the manners of an adolescent. But his wife was the most beautiful Chinese girl I had ever seen. Most of the Chinese women were indescribably filthy, deformed, and diseased. Even the cleaner ones usually sported running sores, or at best greasy hair, which smelled of fish and fried pork.
This girl was beautiful. Her hair was soft and black and she wore it bobbed in European fashion. Her skin was soft and pure, brown with the imperceptible yellowish tint peculiar to the Orientals. There was just a suggestion of red in her cheeks and her lips were soft and sweet. Her dress was the usual Chinese dress, which hung loosely from her shoulders to ankles with a slit up the side to make walking easier. Even it could not hide the beauty and grace of her body. But it was her eyes that revealed her spirit and her soul. They revealed how much she loved her Chinese husband and how much she respected him. Her eyes were brown as all Chinese, they crinkled at the corners and were always smiling. When she smiled at me I had the impression she was so pleased to have me there she could hardly contain herself. Then she would look at her husband with such love and affection that I felt envy for that strange looking man.
I began to press Fu to make better time for us. He obligingly speeded up our schedule as much as he could without being discourteous. We began to travel earlier and farther each day. Fu and I walked most of the way now to speed up the pace.
One day we were walking through the hills winding our way slowly up a mountain path. It ran beside a brook running down a gorge. Even the mountain streams of China are of that muddy clay color. Coming down the trail was another chair carried by two coolies. In it was riding Chinese who looked like a student or possibly the well to do son of some merchant. As we came abreast my two coolies began to jabber excitedly. Soon the coolies on the opposite chair began. We had no sooner passed each other than both processions stopped. I asked Fu for the reason. He told me that my coolies had conceived the idea changing places with the other coolies, thus each pair would be going back to their own home. This sounded logical to me, but I could not understand how my coolies had fostered such a brilliant plan. I looked at them with new respect while our little band of soldiers leaned wearily on their guns and watched. The jabbering continued and soon the man in the other chair got out. I assumed we were going to change chairs so I started to rise. However, I saw my coolies coming back, one gesticulating and jabbering wildly at the other, with sudden stops to turn and look back at the other chair. The second coolie was remonstrating and protesting wildly.
Fu in anticipation of my request told me the story. Although the coolies wanted to exchange, one of mine insisted that inasmuch as I was walking, while the Chinaman was riding, they should receive extra pay for transferring. This, the other coolies were not willing to do so the opportunist in my ranks decided to call the whole thing off. This enraged my other coolie who wanted to go back under any terms. The first one apparently had the stronger will and they returned to my chair. I promptly climbed aboard and rode for the rest of the day. The torrent of abuse which my disgruntled employee heaped on his coworker’s head almost translated itself.
That evening we arrived at the home of the magistrate of La-Men. There I was able to bathe and be shaved. Mr. Fu excitedly instructed the Chinese barber to be gentle and not to scrape my face to the texture of rare roast beef, which the last barber had done. Then dressed in clean clothes and constantly being fanned by two servants with fans, I had my leg attended to by an excellent Chinese doctor. Then we sat down to the evening meal. As usual it consisted of a large variety of foods and Chinese delicacies. It was the largest banquet I had yet received. That night I was introduced to the quaint but lethal Chinese custom of drinking the guest under the table. This was begun with a vengeance by the magistrate toasting me draining the cup with a gulp and showing it empty around the table. I replied by rising toasting the magistrate and then sat down to commence eating. Before I could begin the secretary arose and drank my health. In return I arose and drank to the secretary’s health. When I spied an under-secretary starting to rise and drink my health I realized this could not go on for long for I was not accustomed to the sour bitter wine of the country. I arose quickly and proposed a health to everyone at the table. They all drank courteously. I gazed at Fu appealingly so he rose and proposed a toast to China and America that great combination. We all drank. I realized that even if we all matched drink for drink I would probably be snowed under. I could see they had no intention of matching drink for drink. After some other member arose and drank my health I stafied to speak to Fu to tell him I would have to cease and desist. About this time the magistrate told me through his interpreter that his wife was ill and regretted that she was not there to drink my health but had sent in her stead her daughter who would substitute. As I arose on my unsteady legs a slightly over colored but beautifully dressed child approached me and courteously but somewhat sullenly I thought, drank my health. The game continued. My head was spinning and my senses were reeling. I realized that retreat was the only course. I arose, pleaded a violent headache and headed for my room. Before I could reach it I became extremely ill. Soon, however, I was helped to my bed where I passed out in sweet oblivion. I awoke in the middle of the night with a throbbing headache, and intolerable thirst, and a curse for China and the Chinese on my lips. Nor could I return to sleep so I spent the remainder of the night battling mosquitoes and thinking extremely dark thoughts of the Chinese. With sadistic pleasure I contemplated the sweebress of my revenge if I should ever get that magistrate in a whiskey drinking bout.
Morning eame beautiful and sunny as it always does in China. It would be a hot day. I knew that Linhai was 120Li or 40 miles away with one large mountain in between. This was 30 Li more than the coolies were accustomed to travel in a day, but I resolved I would eat with Americans that evening if I had to kill every member in my train to do it. I found that I was still to ill to eat breakfast, but I drank a cup of sweetish substitute coffee. At 8:00 A.M. after we had our pictures taken and with much smiling and protestations of eternal friendship we left.
That was a bad day. I did not realize it at the time but I was beginning to show the symptoms of malaria which I had contracted two and a half years ago in Nigeria and had suffered again the previous year. I was resolved to make the best possible time so I walked most of the morning. It was hot and sultry. Just before noon we reached the mountains. It was a hot, tiring, and tortuous trail to the top and the descent was as bad if not worse. At each step I thought my knees would buckle and that I would tumble to the ground.
We managed to cross the mountain and reach a village where we had planned to eat. The village was poor and horribly filthy. I decided to press on but I was so tired and sick I could walk no further so I rode gratefully in the chair. The road was easy now, it moved down broad, flat, and winding valleys. ‘We paused for a final rest when we had only 10 Li remaining to travel. It was getting dusk so I decided once more to walk and try and reach the city of Linhai before dark. We moved on and soon I could see two pagodas rising on a hill in the distance. I knew we were approaching our destination so I upped my pace a notch. We strode on and finally reached the city. I hardly noticed the filth and squalor of the population and when I reached the cool confines of the American Headquarters and next Captain Cox I was so tired I could only manage to say “Thank God an American.”
Major Robert Allard