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15 October 2014
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Growing Vegetables in a Japanese Internment Campicon for Recommended story

by owend1

Contributed by 
owend1
People in story: 
William Davidson
Location of story: 
China
Background to story: 
Civilian
Article ID: 
A1949989
Contributed on: 
02 November 2003

My father was a Merchant Navy officer who was captured and interned by the Japanese at the outbreak of hostilities.The following is a verbatim copy of a letter written to my grandmother by a fellow (American) internee, after his own repatriation to the U.S.

April 25/44
Dear Mrs Davidson,

I am truly sorry that I have been so lax in getting this letter to you, but I am sure, it is better to have this late news of your son now than not at all. You may already have had news from other repatriates that have come back to this country on the last trip of the GRIPSHOLM from China. However it was your son's sincerest wish that I drop you a line after my arrival home, and let you know that he is in the best of health, and his spirits high. I was in the POOTUNG camp (Shanghai) all the time with him right up until the day we left on the repatriation ship Sept. 19/43.

I don't know whether you know or not, but at the time hostilities broke with the Japanese, he was up at ECHANG. He along with many others were then brought down at a later date to SHANGHAI where they were told that they would be put on a repatriation ship and sent home. However on the trip down from ECHANG, they were delayed quite some time at HANCOW which in the end proved too much of a delay and when they arrived in SHANGHAI, the repatriation ship had left. This was the one and only that took out Britishers.

Ther is no forced labour in camp, but "Smiler" (he was nicknamed this due to the pleasant smile he always had) - kept himself occupied by being the chief "cracked-wheat" cooker in the camp. We all got a bowl of cracked wheat at eight in the morning, so Smiler volunteered to get up at six and have this ready for the boys by eight - made enough for 1800 men! As a hobby he had quite a famous vegetable garden and so was able to supplement his diet fairly well during that season - such as corn on the cob (which I don't think the English really eat) excellent tomatoes and simply loads of them to which he was very generous to the other internees, beets, lettuce, and even spuds - with this work early in the morning and gardening on the side, he says "it does keep his mind occupied." He naturally misses you and all his dear friends at home, and hopes that the day of freedom won't be far away. It is such a pity that a swell fellow like "Smiler" has to be going through such an ordeal, but he has got what it takes and I know he will come out of it all right. I personally had a close friendship in "Smiler" and all the more remarkable as I did not know him until we met in camp. I sincerely hope to be in his country again soon. I don't know whether you are hearing from him or not, but the situation is that each internee is allowed only one letter a month, and this is very doubtful whether they actually go - of course some do go through, and the average time takes six months each way. Actually the whole twenty months I was interned my people never had one of my letters. I had 18 months in HONG KONG wher I was at the time hostilities broke out, and was then transferred to SHANGHAI where I spent another 8 months. Needless to say, thank goodness I am out now.

I would appreciate it, if you would drop me a line as I am interested to know if this will have been received, also if you have had any news from "Smiler". However do not write me before the first week in June because at that time I may be in England, in which case I will endeavour to contact you through John Swire and Co. At the present time I am due to leave for India via England sometime in May, but at the same time I am trying to get this put back until the end of August. In which case I will contact you on my way through. Hope this little bit of news has been a pleasant surprise and will look forward to hearing from you if you don't see me by June - In any case my mail will always be forwarded.

Sincerely yours
(sgd) Harry A. Greenwood

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