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15 October 2014
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Ann Moxley - nee - March
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01 November 2005

This story has been written onto the BBC People's War site by CSV Storygatherer Lucy Thomas - U3A Callington - on behalf of Ann Moxley - nee March. They fully understand the terms and conditions of the site.



My name is Ann March and I was born in 1933 in Shanghai. My father was an architect and had come out to China in 1920. My mother had been born out in Szechuan, the daughter of missionary parents, my grandfather having gone to China first in 1885.

I was a schoolgirl aged nearly ten when the American base at Pearl Harbour was bombed by the Japanese and the Second World War started for us in Shanghai. That morning the warship, HMS Petrel, was bombed and sunk at her moorings. I was woken up by the gunfire and said to my father, “What an earth was that? It sounds like guns, or perhaps it was people banging tin trays”. He said “Don’t be silly, go to sleep.” Of course, he knew perfectly well what had happened as he was in the Shanghai Volunteer Corps and he had to rush off and see to it. So, that was the beginning.

Soon after that, the International Settlement and the French Concession, where we lived, were full of Japanese troops and I used to have to go to school each morning, not being quite sure whether my parents, either or both of them, would still be there when I got back in the evening. The Japanese were going round in large trucks picking up people, apparently at random, from their offices, their homes and off the streets, and then taking them off to work camps, or sometimes prison. I had terrible nightmares about this — I didn’t know when I might see my parents again.

School was heavily controlled by the Japanese guards. We were inspected every day by a soldier with a pistol and a sword which clanked at his side as he walked along and he would come into each classroom and we’d have to stand up and bow and then he would move on to the next classroom. They very much controlled what we were taught. We were not allowed to be taught anything about England — its history, its geography or anything else — so we learnt a lot about world geography, the sun, the moon and solar systems.

In the evenings and weekends, and whenever we could, we cycled (cars had had to be handed in) out to our garden at Hungjao, just outside the heavily guarded city limits barrier on the railway line. We grew a lot of vegetables because, in fact, food was very, very short in Shanghai. A lot of the Chinese themselves were trying to smuggle rice and other foodstuffs in, sometimes sewn in their padded clothes, ie padding their clothes with rice. The Japanese used bayonets to slit people, including young children, up the front and sometimes blood came out and sometimes rice.

We also, of course, had quite a tough life in Shanghai because the city was full of refugees from abroad and from the surrounding countryside, who had fled from the fighting in their cities and homes. There were lots of fires, from bombing and overcrowding, and the dead were laid out on the pavements for two days, for identification. Shanghai flooded very often and you never knew whether you were going to fall down through an open manhole cover into the contaminated water, if you had to cross the road. Altogether it was a fairly dangerous place, with increasing lawlessness, robberies, attacks and a corrupt police force in many areas.

But in spite of all the difficulties, life went on and I was very happy with swimming, school, brownies, birthday parties, friends’ visits, climbing the mulberry tree in our garden, the crunching of cicada skins when you gripped a branch which was out of sight — or even worse, came eye to eye with the shell right in front of your nose. And the radio programme which always started “Jello, jello, jello …”. I mourned my lovely dog which had to be put down just before Pearl Harbour, because we had been booked to leave Shanghai for Australia at Christmas 1941.

I also have memories of exploring a bombed out building (no barricade) and I was fascinated to see what was left there. It must have been the infant architect in me — none of my friends were interested. My parents never knew about that of course. I would have been in trouble if they had known because these ruins were very unsafe.


Being interned was actually, for me, a huge relief. I was to be locked in a room with both my parents and my brother, and I was delighted. We didn’t know what would happen next, but at least we would be together when it did.

When we first went into the camp, Lunghua Civil Assembly situated about 8 miles out in the countryside, we were taken by bus and we were all tagged with luggage labels with our names. We were welcomed by the Japanese Commandant, who told us he hoped we would be happy there and regard it as our home. If we tried to escape we would be shot. Then we had to find our luggage and the trunks and beds which had gone ahead of us the day before, and finally to a hut — well there were actually six huts, three for men and three for women, and there must have been about eighty people in each hut — 500 people in all at that time. There was only enough room to get between every two beds, not between each bed, and down across the bottom. It was very crowded. As the buildings, which were to be our final accommodation, were repaired and became available, we were moved into a small room where there was supposed to be enough room for five beds. We were lucky because though we were only a family of four, my brother, John, was so young (four) that we were allowed to have our own room. But four beds really took up all the space. The room was 13’ x 11’ and we lived, ate and slept together in that space.

There was enough room for a trunk under the window which we could sit on for meals, a small table, a camp chair and my bed which left very little play space. During the winters, the temperatures hardly came up to freezing - there was no heating — so then we would have to play indoors and there was no space to play. The beds were on top of trunks, so we had to be very organized about knowing what was in each trunk, as it was such a performance to open them. One bed didn’t have a trunk underneath it so that we could play under that, and we could play on top of them if our parents allowed us to. During the summer, of course, we were outside, playing mainly hopscotch, ball games, skipping games, and climbing such trees as we could find and exploring the ruins before they were later reduced to heaps of rubble.

Early on, when the ruins were still actually recognizable buildings rather than a pile of rubble, I can remember very well and being chased by some friends playing ‘tag’ through there and I jumped from one level to another. A large snake was coiled up asleep and I didn’t see it until I had launched myself. I just managed to get my legs apart in time to miss landing on it, and then ran like a bat out of hell screaming at my friends not to follow because I was terrified it was going to follow me or wake up, but it didn’t.


One of my first jobs in the camp was to look after the commandant’s terrapins. Mr Hayashi had been a consul in Britain before the war so he was actually a very nice man. He allowed me, or asked me, to look after his terrapins, which were swimming around in a very large Chinese cong — a sort of earthenware bath. I got very worried about them swimming all the time so I tried to build up a platform for them to sun themselves on and, of course, completely forgot that once they were up on my platform, they could easily get over the edge. One day, when I came in to feed them, they had all gone and the guard was called out and searched for them and not a single one was found. I think probably someone had caught them and eaten them and I quite thought I was going to be shot, but he was very sweet about it and let me off.


The camp occupied buildings which had been the Shanghai Middle School. The campus was some eighty acres and it had been a Chinese boarding school - and then occupied by a cavalry regiment of the Chinese Army before they were forced out by the Japanese. Before they left, they blew up a number of buildings. The most damaged buildings were in one group which formed part of the total perimeter of the camp. There was an inner wire, which was the one which was the most heavily guarded, which only surrounded the buildings in which people were actually living. Later on, there was a third wire added inside there, around the buildings themselves.

Only school children were allowed out into the outer area, which we called the “new territories”, and of course the school staff. I was a goatherd in the camp. Everybody in the camp had to do a job and one of my jobs was a goatherd. We used to take the goats out there and feed them on the grass and keep an eye on them and when we got a chance we used to play games with each other. We would take it in turns to dare each other to crawl out under the wire and pick up a stone or a twig — something identified beforehand and then rush back with it before we were shot. I don’t honestly think the Japanese guards would have shot us because we were just kids but you could never tell. We also swam naked in the creeks and did all kinds of things that my parents would have been quite horrified about if they had known.


The school was used by all the children in the camp and we had marvellous teachers. They were missionaries and professors of all kinds in all sorts of specialties and lots of teachers. It was a tremendously good school. It had to go on in buildings which had no windows, sometimes holes in the roof and no desks, except what we would make, and chairs. There were very simple blackboards and almost no chalk, pens and pencils. We had writing paper which was made out of wrappers of tins - they were peeled off and flattened - and also cigarette packets were opened up and flattened and very, very few books of any sort. We were taught brilliantly and we had to remember it and that actually did us all a power of good...


Water was a big problem in the camp and food, too, of course, but drinking water had to be brought in by cart from Shanghai because the water had been left brackish by a fault in a well and it was really not fit for anything except WCs and maybe washing floors. So we were rationed as to water and we had to collect it, boiling, and carry it 200 yards, from water points called Waterloo and Dew Drop Inn, where it had been boiled in very large congs over coke fires.

During the winter, the steam rising from the congs would cause kind of rainbows of ice over the heads of the people who were ladling it out. We had to queue up to collect it every day — twice a day — in whatever receptacles we could: thermos flasks, mugs, and jugs, anything that you could find.

Washing water had to be taken from the ponds. There were at least two in the camp and it was brought from the ponds by bucket. Men had to carry two buckets of cold water to get one bucket of hot, women had to take one bucket of cold to get one bucket of hot and children and the elderly just took what they could carry. This had been boiled up, tadpoles, pondweed and all, so you had to sort of strain it before you could use it for washing and it wasn’t clean after all that. Washing was scrubbed on concrete, using soap and scrubbing brushes, and, if you had one, a galvanized wash board in the sink — shared by twenty-four families, and no privacy.

Food was in terribly short supply. It was quite awful. We started every day with congee and green tea. Congee is boiled rice, boiled to a kind of mush. It had a purple colour and it was absolutely full of weevils. You couldn’t actually eat a spoonful of it without eating the weevils in it too, because there were just too many of them to pick out.

At lunchtime we had what was called ‘sos’ — ‘same old stew’ — which was a kind of watery vegetable soup really, with sometimes a few bits of very grey scraggy meat, which we were told were greyhounds, and sometimes the odd fish head. In fact, the vegetables were mostly market refuse too and were pretty awful.

Then in the evenings we had congee again, or cracked wheat with weevils and little grey worms or grubs. Sometimes, if we were lucky, we were given a kind of red cattle cake and again, green tea. The food we were given was boiled up in the communal kitchens. When the bugle sounded “come to the cookhouse door”, people with young families were allowed to have theirs taken on carts in great big iron sort of buckets to the blocks in which they were living. We then had to collect our rations from downstairs. People who were there on their own, or young marrieds without children had to go to the dining rooms and have it there.

Food supplies got less and less. Of course, Shanghai was starving too, and we got down eventually to one meal a day for the last six months, ie 300 calories per day each. One of my friends I know weighed 40 lbs when he was an eleven year old. I don’t know what my weight was but my father must have lost nearly half his weight I think and he wasn’t a big man to start with. So, we were all very skinny, but actually surprisingly healthy because an American nutritionist, (before Americans were sent on POW exchanges), had told us that we should grow Soya bean. We were given soya bean milk, the 6 — 14 years olds, which we were forced to drink. It was quite awful — a sort of pale-greenish colour. It was just mashed soya beans really. But I must say it did apparently keep us healthy — full of vitamins, and with no fats we were really quite healthy — if thin.


The 5 year olds and under had goats’ milk. The goats’ milk came from a herd of goats which had been given to us by the Italian Ambassador’s wife. We older children looked after those at the ‘farm’. When they were first milked the guards had come along and insisted that they should take the milk, which meant that the youngest children would not have had any. So, our man in charge of the goats pee’d into it, then gave it to the Japanese and they took it off. They came back saying that they didn’t like it — not surprisingly, I think they’d been really sick — and so it was available for us to use. We were rather pleased about that.

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