IN 1940, WHEN THE UNIT was still not a year old, the claims of the Far East were becoming increasingly insistent.
Before the first main party of reinforcements for the Middle East had left England in July 1941, before the first clinic had been opened in Syria, over a year before the section arrived in Ethiopia, four members of the Unit had landed in Rangoon. A vast new field was open, and the challenge of China's suffering millions evoked from the Unit a wholehearted response. There was never any difficulty in finding volunteers for China. And internally the China Convoy, with members drawn from many nations, provided an invaluable opportunity for demonstrating international co-operation in the relief of human need.
In the summer of 1942 the threat of Japanese raids took a smaller section to Calcutta. No serious raids developed, but flood and famine supervened. The Unit was faced with urgent and exacting demands. Here too, collaboration with American Friends enhanced the value of what work was done.
So immense was the need in China and India that the efforts of less than two hundred men and women over four or five years were in some ways little more than a gesture of goodwill. But they were a gesture, and that in a field in which the sowing of goodwill and understanding were of paramount importance.
TOWARDS THE END OF 1945 the Unit's quarters at the Middlesex Hospital were filling up with men who had completed their period of service overseas. At meal-times they would drift together in small groups, some to remind each other yet again of a funny incident in Tripoli or Bari, some to talk of Gondar and Hadama, others of Calcutta or Beirut. But there was no group that clung together so persistently as the "China boys." Abroad, they had looked forward like all the rest to the joys of homecoming. Once home, they longed to be back in China; a few in fact went back. They could not settle down again; there was something about China that held them in its grip.
Some of their reasons were understandable. In China they felt that there was need of them. Such was the shortage of trained and reliable personnel that any job which they could do would have no one else to do it. In England there were a thousand who could do their job just as well or better. So they wanted to return.
But that was not the whole story. In 1941 and 1942 they had found it difficult enough to catch the spirit, the tempo, the harmony of the East. There were poverty and squalor and disease, graft and corruption and everything from which, with their Western upbringing, they recoiled. The Chinese were unco-operative and carried the qualities of mute patience and long-suffering to aggravating lengths. But gradually China asserted herself. Poverty and squalor and corruption were still there, but there was also a growing and ineluctable fascination which all of them experienced in greater or lesser measure and from which some could find no escape.
Nowhere did a section of the Unit experience such difficulty in finding its feet, nowhere come so near to disintegration in its early days. Its plans were thrown awry by disasters not of its making, and one does not come to appreciate China in a day nor to realize that the whole world must not be judged by Western standards.
But once the corner was turned there was no section which attained so much character and coherence, so much sympathy and integration with the life of the country in which it served. No wonder that when they returned home to England its members spent many a nostalgic evening talking of Paoshan and Pichieh, of charcoal burners and mule-borne medical expeditions and roadside fan tiens.
IN THE SUMMER OF 1940 the door had been closed on Unit service in Europe. In the Far East the war had already dragged on for three years, and inevitably the minds of many members turned to the possibility of work in China. In July Dr. H. Gordon Thompson, who was at the time General Secretary of the British Fund for the Relief of Distress in China, was approached to see if there was any chance of transferring to China the men who were then marooned in Sweden. This Fund was already lending support to a British Relief Unit for Central China, a small body of men who were helping the International Red Cross Committee for Central China in the transport of medical supplies from Kweiyang to outlying hospitals. As far as the men in Sweden were concerned, the idea was impracticable, but a cable was sent on 21st August to the Chinese Red Cross and the International Red Cross Committee enquiring whether an ambulance convoy of ten to twenty ambulances and other vehicles would be acceptable in China. The reply welcomed assistance; there followed a cabled discussion as to the form which the assistance should take, what vehicles would be most suitable, what the likely costs would be.
There were several bodies in London with irons in the China fire; to ensure co-ordination a Joint China Committee was set up under the chairmanship of Dr. Gordon Thompson "for the purpose of directing the policy of the F.A.U. and the British Relief Unit ".
Within the Unit there was growing enthusiasm, and in November Peter Tennant was appointed Commandant for an enterprise which would now brook no obstacle. He forthwith proceeded to interview more than a hundred and fifty members who had volunteered, some because they felt a keen interest in China, others simply because they wanted to go abroad. Peter worked on the basis that it was not enough to want to go overseas ; there must be a concern for China in particular. Each member was further interviewed by an "old China hand" from the Joint China Committee; the result was that the volunteers were soon whittled down to forty, the number eventually agreed upon.
There were men and there was enthusiasm, but so far there was no money. The project was bound to be an expensive one. Eyes turned across the Atlantic, and early in January 1941 Christopher Sharman, who was at the time responsible for Unit work overseas, sailed for America to negotiate the raising of funds.
In faith that his efforts would meet with success, a party of forty assembled at Manor Farm at the end of February. Six of them had already spent six weeks at Oxford where they were given an intensive course in Chinese by Professor E. R. Hughes. For the Camp the London School of Oriental Studies offered to send two whole-time teachers, Dr. Walter Simon and Mr. Hsiao Ch'ien, to live at Northfield and direct the Chinese studies. The offer was gratefully accepted. Language, mechanics, escapades on the battered "China Ford", Chinese diseases and the usual occupations of orderly work and gym kept them busy for a month. By the end of the month some of them could express in Mandarin, "I write characters on the blackboard."
At the end of March Peter Tennant, Selby Clewer, the Quartermaster, Henry Rodwell and Theo Willis set off for Rangoon as an advance party. Two or three days from port they were attacked by a German plane. The ship was set on fire and just managed to stagger back to a Scottish beach. On 1st May they tried again. Early in July they reached Rangoon.
For the rest there was a long period of waiting ahead---the fate which befell most Unit parties which wanted to go overseas in 1941 and 1942. The Highgate Youth Hostel; study for some at the London School of Oriental Studies, for others mechanics and driving and further experience in hospitals ; then further training at the Vauxhall works in Luton, the Ford works in Dagenham, Messrs. Perkins' diesel works at Peterborough. A second party got away, to travel by America and the Pacific. Then more delay; more mechanics and hospital work, and for a time a section on the land near Bromsgrove working as foremen for gangs of Birmingham boys---a season of rain and gloom.
The Unit at home was beginning to feel that the China boys were like the poor and would be always with it. But hopes were further raised in mid-August when six more sailed. Disconsolate, the rest returned to Northfield.
They had not much longer to wait. By the middle of October they had all left in small parties, the seventh and final group under Duncan Wood, the Training Officer, on a troopship bound for Singapore.
Meanwhile Christopher Sharman had been warmly received by the American Friends Service Committee. It was the first beginning of what was to become the happiest of working partnerships between the Unit and A.F.S.C. Enough money was raised from private donors to purchase ten ambulances, a mobile workshop for repairs, an operating theatre truck and mobile X-ray plant. They were shipped in due course direct to Rangoon.
But far more was to come. At the time seven American organizations interested in collecting money for relief in China were co-operating to form a joint board to be known as United China Relief. Funds were to be pooled and the money allocated to various relief organizations in the field. Five million dollars was the target for the first year. After some discussion the A.F.S.C. agreed to join United China Relief; the projected work of the F.A.U. was accepted as a practicable scheme that deserved support. Henceforth, until late in the war, U.C.R. funds paid, through the A.F.S.C. were to be the chief source of income for the China Convoy.
But that was not all that came from the other side of the Atlantic. The Joint China Committee had been exercised about the leadership of the Convoy in the field. There was no one in the Unit who had the requisite knowledge of China, and experience of China the Committee regarded as essential. Away in Toronto was a surgeon known to some members of the Committee who was reputed to speak Chinese like a native and to know China like the palm of his hand. Auden and Isherwood had met Dr. Robert B. McClure in the spring of 1938. "McClure", they said, "was a stalwart, sandy, bullet-headed Canadian Scot, with the energy of a whirlwind and the high spirits of a sixteen-year-old boy. He wore a leather blouse, riding breeches and knee boots with straps. Born in China, educated in Canada, he had earned his college fees by working as a stevedore and a barber . . . ."[W. H. Auden and Christopher Isherwood---Journey to a War (Faber & Faber), page 77.] Whirlwind, so the Unit was to find, was just the word.
In late April a cable had reached Bob McClure from London inviting him to take charge of the Convoy. Four days later he replied that he was "agreeable to command or assist" and that his passage to Hong Kong was already booked. That was that; he was to command, with Peter Tennant as his Second Officer.
Christopher Sharman secured the services of Gordon Keith, a Canadian accountant, and Henry Louderbough, an American surgeon. They sailed later and arrived in Rangoon in October. The China Convoy was destined to become by far the most international Unit section overseas ; it was already laying the foundations.
Finally, to complete the tale of preliminary negotiations, in June the British Foreign Office had indicated its willingness to make a grant-in-aid of £50,000 to the British Fund for the Relief of Distress in China for the work of the F.A.U. It was a gesture of support for China, primarily for the military medical services. The announcement caused considerable uneasiness to American Friends, for they wondered how far the acceptance of British Government funds would mean British Government control; moreover, the A.F.S.C. was at the time very "civilian"-minded. At last a satisfactory basis was evolved for accepting help from British and American sources. The details of budget allocations for the next five years constitute a story too technical and tedious to be retold here. More energy was probably expended in letters and cables and meetings and visits to straighten out the China section's finances than on any other piece of Unit administration, particularly when, later on, the spiral of inflation made budgeting ahead a matter of little more than guesswork. It was the main reason for Tom Tanner's visit to America in the winter of 1941.
When the advance party left England in March, it went in faith ; when the last of the forty departed in the autumn, financial support was assured. But the real story of the China Convoy was not one of complicated and soul-destroying negotiations. It is high time for us to see what was happening in Rangoon.
THE FIRST FOUR ARRIVED in Rangoon on 2nd July. Rangoon was the gateway into China. For China no longer meant the prosperous Eastern seaboard with its large ports open to the world's merchandise. The China that was still free consisted of the relatively backward provinces inland, to the north and south and west, where Chungking, Chengtu, Kweiyang, Kunming had usurped the place once occupied by more illustrious names like Shanghai, Peiping, Hankow, Canton. The front door to the East had been barricaded by the enemy; the back door had been hastily opened to Rangoon. From Rangoon the railway led up country through Mandalay to Lashio, the railhead, the beginning of the Burma Road.
A month later Peter Tennant, Henry Rodwell and Theo Willis were together in Lashio, "a boom-town of mushroom growth. From here the Burma Road coiled over the mountains to Kunming and the markets of China. Lorry drivers and merchants, Shans, Burmese, Bengalis, Sikhs, Chinese---all these and more in their own colours made the town a cosmopolitan's paradise. Building was going on everywhere. Wood and bamboo shacks roofed with corrugated iron from Britain, India or Japan. And everyone was making money out of the traffic pouring along the road."
Peter was on his way to Chungking to meet Bob McClure, who was flying there from Hong Kong. The other two went off to Kweiyang, Headquarters of the International Red Cross Committee, the town where the Unit hoped to set up its own Headquarters. Selby Clewer remained in Rangoon.
Bob and Peter met, and the next few days in Chungking, punctuated by constant air-raids, were busy ones. They met the people who had a finger in the pie of relief and transport, and the British Ambassador called a conference. An "Ambassador's Committee" was set up to control the spending of British relief funds in China; this Committee functioned for a time and then died a natural death. As for the Unit's work, it was becoming increasingly clear that except for the five doctors the most useful function would be the transport of medical supplies and petrol.
There were four organizations in the field collecting and distributing imported medical supplies---the Army Medical Administration, the Chinese Red Cross, the National Health Administration, an organization with similar functions to the Ministry of Health in Great Britain, and the International Red Cross Committee, which changed its name, but not its initials, to International Relief Committee. Recently an agreement had been reached whereby the I.R.C. would undertake the medical transport work of the N.H.A.
Now it was agreed that the F.A.U. should be affiliated to the I.R.C. and take over its fleet, garage, equipment and transport commitments; in return the I.R.C. would pay all operating expenses, and the Executive Yuan, the Executive arm of the Chinese Government, would pay correspondingly all expenses incurred in the haulage of supplies undertaken in the name of the N.H.A. The small British Relief Unit ceased to exist; of its six members, the brothers Llewelyn and Owen Evans and Wil Jenkins joined the F.A.U.
From the earliest days of planning, the Convoy had been anxious to bring Chinese into the work. It was decided to make contact with the Presidents of the different Universities in Chengtu in an attempt to secure the services of Christian Chinese students. In Chengtu Peter Tennant was well received, so that on Peter's return to Kweiyang, Theo Willis went to Chegtu to recruit Chinese members.
The Unit's first office was the godown, or warehouse, of the I.R.C. in Kweiyang, in an ancestral temple down a shady cobbled alley off one of the main streets. On 7th October the vanguard of the second party reached Kweiyang. An old hotel was disinfested for the training quarters of the Chinese recruits, of whom eight arrived as the first of many who were to come over the next few years. With them was Sherman March, an American who had been studying in Chengtu; his long acquaintance with Chinese students made him a tower of strength.
And so the stage was set. But the next few weeks in Kweiyang were unhappy ones. There was uncertainty and raggedness, some of it inevitable and inherent in a difficult situation. No one knew for long where anyone else might be; he might be anywhere on the road between Kweiyang and Rangoon, where Unit parties were still dribbling in, the fifth and sixth arriving on 14th December. About the fate of the seventh party, bound for Singapore, there was growing uneasiness, for six days before Great Britain had declared war on Japan.
But they turned up, having got away from Singapore before the Japanese entered the fortress. They were more fortunate than one new member. On the Unit's arrival in Kweiyang, Llew and Owen Evans had been sent to Hong Kong on medical advice for a much needed holiday. Llew got away just before the Japanese arrived. Owen spent the rest of the war in internment. For about nine months he was allowed liberty and was engaged in relief and Red Cross work, including the organization of a home for destitute Chinese. Then he was interned in the Stanley Camp until, on the fall of Japan, he was released. He insisted on remaining in Hong Kong for relief work for many months.
It was not only men that were arriving in Rangoon. Trucks were coming in, some for the Unit, more for the Chinese Red Cross and other bodies. As Unit men disembarked, convoys were formed and were dispatched up to Lashio and beyond. One convoy carried 12 tons of quinine, the whole cargo being worth £200,000, to Kunming. So members raw from driving on British metalled roads made their first acquaintance with Mandalay and Maymyo and the Gokteik Gorge. "If the roads in China itself", wrote one member, "really are worse than any we have yet seen, we certainly are in for something." Soon they saw what they were in for; they crossed the border and pushed on across the Salween and Mekong gorges to Kunming.
Late in October the Unit's own ambulances had arrived from America. They turned out to be too wide and too long for the Burma Road. It was an unexpected blow, but by good fortune exchange proved possible with the A.R.P. and military authorities in Rangoon. On 17th December a convoy of eight Unit trucks and two others left the city for the north, bearing a variety of passengers and cargo. "My first load out of Rangoon", wrote one member, "was three tons of Bibles for the British and Foreign Bible Society. We slept on the Bibles at night, and felt no need to say our prayers."
But we must return to Kweiyang. The unhappiness at Headquarters was increasing, and fed on growing uncertainty. The Commandant himself was not there. As soon as he heard that the second party had arrived in Rangoon, he was off down the road to meet them. It was he who organized the convoys; he himself led the first north to Lashio. On the road, as in the operating theatre, he was in his element. He could rarely sit for more than a few minutes at a desk in a poky office in Kweiyang.
But someone had to sit there and make decisions. Grievances that had so far smouldered were breaking into flame. No section of the Unit was more conscious of its democratic unity. It was partly a question of the personalities that made it up, partly of Peter Tennant's own fervent support for the Unit democracy which he had helped to build up at home and his insistence on important decisions being decisions of the group, or at least on their being made after the group had been consulted. The Joint China Committee had invited Bob to lead the Convoy with no reference to the Convoy itself. There was at the time a strong reaction---there would have been reaction had he been the Archangel Gabriel himself.
And now in Kweiyang the Spirit of Democracy was asserting itself in no uncertain fashion. There was still a hankering after ambulance work rather than transport of supplies. And who knew what fresh promises were being made in the Unit's name? What arrangements for new work were being entered into? There were huddles and meetings and righteous indignation, and life became a very serious business. Already an informal group had been meeting calling itself the Executive Committee and provided some safety valve, but without the Commandant's ratification nothing could be done. The only thing to do was to send out a squad to bring him in. It found Bob in Lashio.
4th January 1942 saw the return to Kweiyang, and the next few days were used to clear the air.
"A number of grouses were got off a number of chests. For a time it seemed impossible to fit such an energetic go-ahead man into a Unit democracy which was made up on the whole of Quakerly and 'rather timid' people." But no democracy can go far unless it can fit the whirlwind in somewhere. "The air became clearer once the people had said their say ; and to the lasting credit of the Unit and of Bob, neither gave the other up and both decided to stick together---perhaps on a sounder basis now that confidences and grievances had been aired."
A few months later, Bob wrote to London:
"There is a great desire in the Unit, easily understood too in a group of thinking men, for 'democratic control'. I'm all for it. I believe in it myself. It is a fine line indeed, however dividing from 'lack of firm leadership' It just cannot be had both ways. Now with the boys hard at work there is less discontent and in fact considerable control does have to be kept in the hands of a few people for the sake of efficiency. We seem to have struck a happy medium now."
In Kweiyang a Convoy administration was formed. The Executive was to control the Unit and could function in the absence of its chairman. Confidence was expressed in Bob as Commandant, Peter Tennant as his Adjutant. Duncan Wood as "Group Leader," Selby Clewer as Quartermaster, Peter Rowlands as Manager of Garages, and Gordon Keith as Finance Officer. Later, after a period of training, Tod Lawry was to become Transport Officer.
There were early headaches for the new Committee, none so aggravating as that of return cargoes. In China no truck could afford to return empty from a delivery of medical supplies. In December the Control Board had asked the Unit to haul munitions, and a good deal of convincing had to be done in Chungking before the request was withdrawn. For the Unit's purpose was as yet hardly understood. After Singapore, its work was too easily interpreted as British Government propaganda to bolster up its dwindling prestige. A diary records, "The idea of only taking this job on for two years becomes more and more absurd. It will take us nearly a year from the time of leaving England to get into full operation." And it was right.
But some sort of return cargoes of a non-military nature had to be carried. The dilemma arose from the fact that as protected personnel under the Geneva Convention Unit members were not free to use their vehicles for other than medical purposes. The solution was that men actually engaged on transport work should give up Red Cross protection; they were authorized to hand in their cards and brassards to the British Embassy. Return cargoes became the rule.
AND NOW THE JOB began. Members scattered to their various fields of work. Of the doctors, Quentin Boyd and Hank Louderbough, after helping for a few weeks an over-worked mission doctor, went to Klan in Kiangsi for further surgical experience in a Chinese hospital ; Terry Darling was seconded to the Canadian Mission Hospital in Chungking. Wil Jenkins took a Chinese Industrial Co-operatives Convoy to Chungking, where he remained as Unit agent, while Andy Braid, who was with him, took the convoy on to Paoki and began to teach in the Baillie School at Shuangshipu.
And convoys began to go down the road to Burma again to bring up as much petrol into China as they could carry before the Japanese got to the oil wells. On the way they dropped various members to take up special jobs---for depots would be needed on the trucking route, and in some cases new buildings at Kutsing, Paoshan, Hsiakwan.
Let us go down the road with one of them.
"It was a fine day when we pulled away from the Checking Station; and we arrived at Kunming in scheduled time, 3 days later.
"Mornings and evenings on the Kweichow and Yunnan roads have to be seen to be believed. The sun was usually rising as we pulled away, investing the mountain peaks with a natural golden halo that defies description.
"From Anshun, the first night's stop, to Huang Kuo Shu, with its massive waterfall, down the wicked twenty-four bends beyond Annan, skidding and sliding through mud and slush to P'u An, past a couple of wrecked Internationals fifty feet below the surface of the road, and then from Pingyi into Kutsing over a high windy plateau where the road was smooth and the convoy began to straggle out with the increased speed. Bumping and lurching over the potholes that mar the last 50 kilometres, we made our way into Kunming.
"Kunming is a lazy town, and by the time it began to stir in the warmth of its beautiful dawn---it is spring all the year round in Kunming---we were already miles down towards Burma. Our spirits were high. This was no ordinary convoy, no routine haulage of supplies. There was an element of uncertainty, of insecurity about it ; it was a race against time and the Japanese advance.
"We are now in the grip of the worst road in the world. With windscreens and doors rattling loud enough over such a surface to drown all other noises and make conversation impossible, we keep an average speed of some 15 miles per hour, with a 150 to 200 yards interval separating the trucks.
"We reach Hsiakwan in the evening. The range of mountains towering 14,000 feet above sea level, high over Tali, are said to mark the south-eastern extremity of the Himalayas; certainly the wind that whistles off these snow-capped peaks might well have come straight from Everest. Next day we carry on down the valley, and past the fort that guards the only western approach to Hsiakwan. Up this valley generations ago came Marco Polo ; and during the thirteenth century Kubla Khan's troops are said to have manned this very fort and enabled Hsiakwan to withstand a thirty-two years' siege. Through more dust, up the wooded slopes of Yangpi; one last look back to the Tali mountains, then down we rattle to the Mekong river. Paoshan is a day and a half's run from Hsiakwan; and here we pause to fix up a broken spring.
"On the first day out we meet an F.A.U. convoy on its way up from Rangoon to Kweiyang. The Japanese are closing in on Rangoon. On the docks there is a large quantity of medical supplies, and trucks are urgently needed to get them away. We decide to drive straight through to Lashio and get in touch with the Unit agent in Rangoon. The road takes us down to the Salween river; it is a 5,000 ft. drop to the bridge and the same distance to climb up to the pass on the other side. The surface now is worse than ever, composed of roughly-hewn stones and bricks planted by hand, which slow down the speed of the convoy to an exasperating crawl. The view, when you get a chance to see it, is magnificent; range after range of mountains break into the sky on every side, while down below winds the blue Salween river, at the bottom of a sheer drop of some 2,000 feet. A mistake here means a plunge to oblivion, a rearing, plunging, rolling death that would last for half a minute till the wreckage came to rest at the foot of the abyss.
"From Lungling onwards we make up for lost time, and on the last day's run into Lashio we do about 200 miles in twelve hours.
"In the warm apathy of the Lashio climate it was difficult to realize what was happening in south Burma. Here life flowed peacefully on; we bargained with the orange-woman in the bazaar to the sleepy delight of the loungers under the coloured awnings. The cloudless serenity of the sky gave no hint of the explosive hell that was to rain out of it six weeks later.
"The following day we tore down to Rangoon with the throttle pushed flat down on the floor-boards. Most of the road is dead flat, through intermittent patches of cultivated and desert-scrub country. I think that convoy of ours still holds the record for the Lashio-Rangoon run---606 miles in twenty-six hours.
"At Rangoon we lost no time in making our way down through a deserted city to the docks, loaded up all the medical supplies and truck spares we could carry, some of which belonged to us, and some which didn't---and left again for Lashio."
For every member in Burma the task was the same---rushing supplies from Rangoon to Lashio before the Japanese closed in on the port. Forces were strengthened by the arrival in the middle of February of the first group of reinforcements sent from England; they sailed into Rangoon from Calcutta in a wretched little China coaster in what must have been about the last convoy to enter the port. The Unit's own X-ray, surgery and workshop trucks which had followed the ambulances from America had just been unloaded, assembled and driven up to Lashio.
"It seemed that out of sheer cussedness every ship on the dock had unloaded a little hit on every wharf and then someone had come along and stuck cases and cases of perfumes and pickles on top of the whole lot."
Feverishly the work was rushed forward in that second half of February; supplies were shuttled up the road, spare parts and engines and tyres salvaged from wrecked trucks that lined the way. At Lashio the Unit had its godown and office; the only trucks that passed south were loaded with crack Chinese troops. Fresh British and American and Indian forces were reported to have entered Rangoon. Some thought that it might still be held. But there was clearly no more shipping entering the port. On the evening of 26th February a further party of five reinforcements arrived by air from India, leaving behind in Calcutta Bob Savery to help Robin Eden, who had already been installed as agent in an office which before many weeks were out was to provide the China section's chief contact with the outside world.
By the end of the month Rangoon was on the point of falling and all Unit men had left it. But the docks were still full of medical and mechanical supplies. On the 28th a council of war was held in Lashio, and a party of seven men was selected from the eager volunteers, and down they went once more to Rangoon to see what could be saved. On the night of 2nd March they reached the port, which was in a state of semi-siege.
There they got permission to take and load as many trucks as they could manage before the town was finally fired by the military. They set to work, and by the evening of the 5th had five trucks running, in addition to the two they had brought down. Two or three had no cabs and more than one body was loose. But five could move if petrol could be got. On the next afternoon the trucks rolled out of the city as part of the Army H.Q. Ordnance Convoy and took the Prome, or Western, road---the other had already fallen to the Japanese---to Lashio.
"We were finally held up about 21 miles out of the town while a battle went on a few miles ahead. We had to stay there that night, and I think we were shielded from Japanese bombing mainly by the terrific cloud of smoke which was caused by the destruction of Rangoon. Next morning, following a drive by tanks and infantry, we went on slowly with lots more transport up the road . . . . Eventually we found ourselves in a spot where the remains of the tanks, armoured cars, holes in the road and other signs of the times indicated that there had been a battle. We later learned that the Japs were being held back only 200 yards on either side of the road at that point ..."
With the loss of one truck they reached Prome and Mandalay and Lashio. During that month of February the Unit had salvaged over £120,000 worth of supplies from Rangoon.
The next concern was petrol. In the oil-fields south of Mandalay there was as much free petrol as their trucks could carry. There was a rush to Paoshan for empty drums, then back through Lashio to Mandalay, and the oil-wells at Yenangyaung. Then back to Mandalay and Lashio. And there they waited.
They were not anxious to leave Burma. Its colour and gaiety contrasted with all that they had seen so far of China, and it was obviously in Burma that they were going to be needed for the next few weeks. There were strong rumours that the F.A.U. was hoping to form an ambulance section to work with the Chinese 5th Army which was then fighting in Burma.
The rumours were true. Conversations had been going on in Kweiyang, and by the middle of March it had been decided to put a mobile team into operation on the Burma front. Peter Tennant set off, for Lashio to conduct preliminary negotiations. For it was in Lashio that the vital decisions were being made.
IT WOULD BE IMPOSSIBLE to follow in detail the moves and counter moves of the next few weeks. No sooner had one plan been made than it was superseded. But out of the confusion certain episodes stand out. On his way down the road to Burma Peter fell in with the convoy, led by Robert Arthur, which was just beginning the urgent task of clearing out to China the supplies which had been piled into Lashjo. It was a fight against time. The drivers slogged night and day in a concentrated effort to get the drugs hauled. And with every wave of traffic that passed them on the road came fresh and more alarming rumours. Mandalay had been bombed. Mandalay had been more heavily bombed. Mandalay was gutted and unrecognizable. And still the Chinese army poured down the road into Burma and still they carried on with their haulage.
When Peter got to Lashio he found that the Unit already had eight men and six trucks, with Bill Brough in charge, working on the Taungoo front. The American surgeon, Dr. Gordon Seagrave of the American Baptist Mission, who had before the war built a hospital at Namkham in Upper Burma, had made himself available for mobile surgical work with the Chinese 5th Army.
"It was an hour after dawn when we arrived at Pyinmana. We discovered the Seagrave Unit just beginning work ; I remember thinking that they should have been up earlier than this, but when I was told that Seagrave had not finished operations until 4 a.m. that day it was hardly surprising that he should not be hard at work at 7 a.m. Wounded who had already been treated were lying on every available bed in the building and the rest were on the floor, on the steps, on the little stone path to the main door---in fact just wherever shade could be found. A further truck-load had just arrived, and we had nowhere to put them while the theatre was being prepared."
The Unit's main job was to bring he wounded to the hospital from the Divisional Clearing Station. Seagrave's comment on the team in his book, Burma Surgeon, was: "Friends are the funniest Englishmen I ever met. They pick those blood-covered patients up in their arms as if they were sweet and lovely. Every Chinese seems to them to have been named 'George.' The Friends themselves don't seem to have any last names; they are teaching the nurses to call them 'Bill' and 'Eric' and 'Martin'. The girls get a great kick out of calling white men by their first names." The "girls" were the Burmese nurses, an amazing group who stood the pace to the end. First aid, driving, servicing, theatre, evacuation-all this went on behind the Chinese front as it slowly retreated. By mid-April they were at Kume, on the 26th at Sagaing, twelve miles from General Stilwell's new H.Q. at Shwebo. And here they were met by Peter Tennant and another Unit team, led by Dr. Handley Laycock.
This was the mobile team which had been planned in Kweiyang. It had left on 4th April and moved down towards the Burma front. It slipped over the frontier and down to Lashio.
"In Lashio we heard that a Japanese drive northwards was seriously threatening the road to Mandalay. We still had time to get through, but we realized that the road would almost certainly be cut behind us . . . . Being keener on going forward than back, we decided to take only our supply lorry and to send our valuable equipment back towards China. In the early hours of Sunday morning we drove down to Maymyo. Shortly after this the Japanese reached the road and spread along it. . .
"Maymyo we found deserted . . . . We went on the same day through the ruins of Mandalay, and then across the great Ava bridge, blown up a few days later, which took us to Sagaing, on the west side of the Irrawaddy.. The town was pretty well deserted, and there was no buying or selling. Soon after we had left Sagaing next morning we saw it being bombed and partly set on fire. .
"We moved that day to near Shwebo, and so fell in with Major Seagrave and his Surgical Unit. . ."
In the meantime, Peter Tennant had returned to Kweiyang for consultation, to put the urgent needs of Burma to the Executive, though it meant curtailment of their transport commitments inside China. He then hastened back to Lashio. But Lashio he found deserted. He had arrived just in time to take part in the retreat.
Within a day or two the retreat had become a rout. The only way of escape open was over the hills to Assam.
Handley Laycock's party, now attached to the British Forces, reported to Kinu, a few miles north of Shwebo. No sooner had they arrived than the bombers appeared. A steady stream of casualties began to come in. A dozen or so operations, and then the retreat began.
Over jungle roads, through dry and sandy water-ways in which vehicles sank and had to be abandoned, they made their way to Kalewa on the Chindwin river. At Kalewa they found a lot of casualties.
"We borrowed an old Ford lorry, and kept both this and our Chevrolet working hard at the big task of carrying wounded and civilian evacuees on the way towards India and peace. Everything was in a strangely tense and unnatural state. There were no shops, no normal living conditions. The only people we saw were Army units and the great tragic hordes of refugees . . . . They were a pathetic sight, and when one had so packed one's lorry that it was physically impossible to wedge in anyone else, old men and women and mothers with babies literally knelt down on the ground to implore us to help them on their long and weary march. In one camp where we spent a few days, a baby was born---its mother went on next morning."
The retreat continued. Tamu, over the Chin Hills, Imphal---and they were in India. From here, in consequence of air-raids, the civil population had largely fled; many bodies were lying about in the streets. The Unit turned to grave-digging. And thence they made their way to Calcutta.
The group with Seagrave took part in a retreat of which many have already written.
"We parked the trucks in a square and gathered round while General Stilwell sorted us out into groups. We were about a hundred strong and the food situation was not going to be at all rosy. He told us to pool all our food, appointed a man to look after it, and warned us that if anyone was caught with food which had not been properly issued to him he could take a walk by himself.
"We unloaded the trucks, sorted out what we could carry, and turned sadly away to the nearest village. We had been driving hard without enough to eat and drink and with no sleep, so most people found it rather hard going. It was the middle of the day, too, and very hot.
"For several days now we got up at four so as to be away at dawn. We would walk till 11.30 or 12.30 and halt. . . . At 4.30 we would go and march for another two or three hours.
"On the first morning three people cracked up . . . . Someone made a bamboo raft for all three, and Ken, Eric, Martin and Tom offered to drag it all afternoon. The river was an infuriating one. In some places it didn't reach to your knees ; in others it was over your head without warning. The shallow places were the worst because if the raft stuck it was the very devil to dislodge. When it was dark we had to have one, two or three men wading ahead with torches. .
"Next day I found it a struggle to keep up with the column. Four hours' sleep was not enough after the exhaustion of the day before. The sand got into our shoes and filed the skin away. I gradually fell behind and began to feel that it could not be so bad after all if I ran into a party of Japs ; but I realized this was foolish and hitched up my mind and went on. .
"The following day brought us to a wider river and we all decided to go down it on rafts to save our feet. We spent five hours erecting shelters of leaves on our three rafts and embarked at eleven in the morning . . . . Next day was a red-letter day. An aeroplane flew upstream, had a good look at us, and then went back and forwards dropping food and cigarettes on the bank. I don't know whether I had been more anxious than I'd realized about our situation or whether hunger made my emotions more easily affected, but there I was, feeling an awful fool, leaning up against one of the centre-posts while everyone else whooped with joy waved to the plane, took photographs of it, and plunged into the water to retrieve the food.
"On Wednesday, 13th May, we crossed the Chindwin river in long narrow boats hollowed out of tree trunks . . . . We were getting into the Naga Hills now . . . . We crossed the first watershed and had a fine view of the hills towards India in front of us and the plain we had left behind.
"After two more days we were met by coolies sent by the Indian Government to carry our gear, and as the rains were threatening the General pushed on past the next camp to a Naga village."
There remained one further group---that left behind in Lashio when Handley Laycock's team passed through, which had already left when Peter Tennant found the place deserted.
The question of 'going down to the front' became ridiculous because the front was coming up to us. For two or three days we had an amazing variety of evacuees joining us from Mandalay and Maymyo. .
"There was so much bustle and confusion that Edna, our hen, had a job to find a quiet spot to lay her egg. She eventually did the deed amongst the car spares between the tow chains and the tyres. Wonk, our pup, hardly knew which ankle to bite next. As the hubbub was at its height we received orders from the local authorities to evacuate because the Japs were only about forty miles away. We moved, fifty miles up the road towards China.
"We then heard that the bridges between Lashio and Mandalay had been blown up, thus cutting off our surgical team and ambulance drivers, and that the Japs had reached Lashio ; it was time for us to move again. .
"Nearing the lower part of the Salween gorge one had to pass under an overhanging rock. My charge, the mobile operating theatre, being about the biggest thing on the Burma Road, simply would not pass under it. Apparently when it came down from China the roof had just been scraped by this rock, but as there had been a lot of trouble with burst tyres, thicker ones had been fitted at Lashio. There we were, completely blocking the Burma Road for an enormous quantity of panicky traffic. Providentially I saw some coolies repairing the road and I persuaded them to climb on my roof and smash at the offending rock. After an anxious half hour they succeeded in making it possible for me to proceed. .
"The drive through Paoshan that night was an unpleasant experience. Gaunt remains of houses were still burning, and confused survivors were wandering about the ruins of their homes or shops.
"We were rudely disturbed at 3 a.m. by the news that the Japs were hard on our heels again, having crossed the Salween. We pushed off towards Hsiakwan. Never shall I forget this part of the journey. We passed many trucks which had been overturned, the bodies of dead passengers still lying by the roadside. Trucks which had crashed over the steep sides looked like toys hundreds of feet below. Our trucks were fully loaded but we simply had to find room for a young Chinese mother who had been put off the truck she was travelling on so that her baby could be born in a rude hut by the wayside . . . . It took a whole day and night to cover the ten miles through the Mekong Gorge, a gruelling test when we had felt just about all-in before we started this stage . . . . On arriving at last at our Hsiakwan depot, Charles Swaisland took us in hand, gave us hot water to shave off our beards and wash off the coat of red dust which covered us from head to foot. . ."
Here they met the Robert Arthur convoy. All was confusion. The Unit godown was crowded with trucks and salvaged belongings. The town was full of refugees, and cholera had broken out.
For the Unit there had been one disaster---the loss of the petrol. Two hundred drums had been moved from Lashio and left inside the China border. The Arthur convoy had gone down, to move it on to Paoshan.
"It was then that General Yu Fei P'eng stepped in with his order that no fuel could be moved without a special permit. While they were waiting for permission to come through the five trucks carried on hauling medical supplies. But the petrol was lost, left in a field just off the Burma Road---about forty tons in all "
Burma had fallen and the life-line of China had been cut. Unless other routes could be discovered, the air route from India over the "Hump" to Kunming would have to bear the whole burden. There were rumours that there were other roads, caravan routes and mule tracks through the hills, and towards the end of March Stanley Mackintosh had left Kweiyang to explore. With the British Consul from Tengchung he moved down from Lungling towards Myitkyina in Upper Burma. But the Japanese got there first and the party to which he was attached had a difficult journey across the mountains back to Paoshan. Later Stanley went out to India to continue the job.
Then Ken Bennett, who had arrived in Calcutta in charge of a fresh party of reinforcements, was deputed to see what could be done about getting a mule train over the old land route north from Darjeeling through Lhasa and by way of Batang to Chengtu. It meant for him a night in a magnificent Residency in Gangtok, Sikkim, and that was about all. It was learnt in Delhi that any route through Tibet was out of the question, and the Unit was advised to use the normal Chinese National Airways services from Calcutta. So that was that.
THERE WERE NOW two teams in India, the surgical team under Handley Laycock and the ambulance men with Dr. Seagrave. On the night of 15th June Handley Laycock was at Dinjan airport ready to fly back the following day to Kunming. A phone call came through from the Assistant Director of Medical Services for Northern Assam asking him to go across to Ledo to meet 5,000 Chinese who were on their way with their sick and wounded from the great retreat.
"On arrival we saw several large tea-drying sheds being adapted for use as temporary camps. The tea leaves are dried on shelves about three feet apart. By removing alternate shelves and strengthening the remaining ones it was possible very quickly to produce sleeping accommodation for a large number of men. Then we went to the small temporary hospital for Indian soldiers, to which some sick Chinese had been taken. I shall not easily forget the condition of the Chinese ward when we arrived. . . It was only too obvious that something had to be done for the sick men who would come with the 38th Division and for all those who would fall sick during the indefinite period which the Division was likely to stay in the district. It did not take us long to decide to collect as many F.A.U. members as we could get hold of and get down to work as quickly as possible."
With the help of the Army, the local Tea Planters' Association and some Chinese students who had appeared to serve as orderlies, they started on the work of collecting patients from the three Chinese camps in the district. Furniture, cups, measures, bottles, boxes and all manner of equipment were improvised out of bamboo of various thicknesses. And thus the nursing of malaria and dysentery proceeded.
Meanwhile, six members had reached Imphal with part of the Seagrave Unit. Thence they proceeded to Gauhati and set up their hospital. Their patients included British troops, Indians and other refugees. As time went on, the number of refugees increased. Their condition was bad; shortage of food had weakened them terribly, leaving them an easy prey to malaria, dysentery and horrible sores. One out of every eight admissions died.
About the middle of July the Seagrave Unit was transferred to Ramgargh to act as a medical service to the Chinese 38th Division. Soon they had 1,300 patients, filling the wards with as many as seventy in a ward and overflowing on to the verandas. And here Handley Laycock, bringing in a trainload of Chinese wounded, found them before he returned once more to Ledo.
At Ledo scores of patients were staggering in, crippled by huge, spreading ulcers. It was obvious that it was not enough to wait for them to be carried in, for many would never reach the hospital at all. So a party left for a spot along the refugee route two days' march beyond the railhead.
"Walking along the narrow jungle paths, saturated and infested with blood-sucking leeches, I personally was bitten more than a hundred times, and I was wearing heavy army boots and gaiters. Many of the Chinese soldiers were without shoes or boots of any sort, and as they had been marching for many weeks in a debilitated state of health the appalling condition of their legs was easy to understand. .
"During these days we saw many scenes of intense horror. A man dying on this path usually remains until the rapid assaults of ants and other insects have reduced him to a skeleton. In the process he blocks the path and his presence there is exceedingly unpleasant. In some camps we found the dead and dying together, the latter too feeble to crawl away from the former. On the whole the morale of the men we met was high and they usually returned our greeting with a broad grin, and expressed embarrassingly profuse gratitude for anything that we could do to help them. . . The country through which we passed was the densest tropical rain-forest and provided a fantastic and lovely background for some of the most lurid sights I have ever seen."
It was in such conditions that work in Assam continued well into the autumn of 1942.
BURMA WAS A SHORT and gallant adventure, its danger to produce adventurers. For the Convoy it came at the wrong time, before forces could be marshalled and organized, before the administration could get a grip on what was happening. Not that while the rout was in progress anyone, least of all the armies, had much control or consciousness of direction. In the Unit, each small group had become the master of its own fate, and the sections in China and in Burma had largely fallen apart. The Kweiyang office, alive to its transport commitments inside China, was in no position to judge whether medical needs in Burma must take first place. Peter Tennant had been sent down to Burma to investigate. But when he arrived the machine was already getting out of control.
When Peter departed from Kweiyang on 16th March, he left Bob McClure and Duncan Wood "to hold an ill-assorted collection of babies". A fortnight before, Peter had produced the first number of the Unit Letter which was to become henceforth a weekly amalgam of the grave and gay, of news and speculation, and to provide a link between members of a Convoy which had already become widely scattered. The first three Letters summarized the main happenings inside China during that Burma period.
Wil Jenkins in Chungking had become Unit ambassador there at a time when the British and Americans were engaged in frantic efforts at face-saving after the twin indignities of Pearl Harbour and Singapore, and when the Unit found its own relief activities under the microscope of suspicion.
Michael Harris was seconded to the I.R.C. to help with its stores and correspondence with the hospitals. Bob McClure and Laurie Baker had started the Unit compound in Hsiakwan. Duncan Wood and Gerald Richards had made speeches in Chinese at Friends' Yearly Meeting. Hank Louderbough and Quentin Boyd had been handling chronic osteomyelitis in Kian. And Douglas Hardy, who had been detailed to master charcoal burners on his arrival in Kweiyang, had been down to Chin Ch'eng Kiang---at that time the railhead for south-east China---in one of the Sentinel charcoal-burning monsters, and, in spite of mechanical difficulties, had returned safely.
In Kunming Sydney Lomax was assembling on to old Ford chassis the first of five Hercules Diesel engines which had been sent from America. Plans were also being formulated for the conversion of half a dozen trucks to charcoal.
There had been some indecision over new buildings at Kutsing. For months contractors had been squabbling over rates and the plans for the buildings were altered and amended times without number. Andy Braid was in the far north-working with the Chinese Industrial Co-operatives as a teacher at the Baillie School in Shuangshipu. A month or two later Peter Townsend was to go up to Paoki to work with the same organization, while Eric Chirgwin, after one journey over the road, sought a more peaceful field of activity and went to teach English at the Army Medical College in Anshun.
Then came the organization of Handley Laycock's surgical team, which followed Peter Tennant down to Burma. The team was to be the first of two; in all thirty men were to be engaged on the new medical projects, the rest to remain on the job of transport. The story of the second team, too late for Burma, will be told presently.
And now Kweiyang waited uneasily for news. At last it came, and it was reassuring. The men were safe. Some were in Paoshan with the X-ray and theatre trucks and workshop, and some smaller trucks; the others were in Assam.
The Burma episode was over. The future lay in China itself, and to plan it hard thinking and hard work were necessary. Singly or in small groups the men from India flew in over the Hump to Kunming, all except one or two who fell under the spell of Dr. Seagrave and resigned from the Unit in order to continue work with him. By the late autumn the whole section was back in China. By the autumn too the pattern of work for the future had been set, a pattern which, with many later modifications and many new ideas, persisted to the end. The two strands in the pattern were to be Transport and Mobile Medical Teams.
Meanwhile, the Convoy had been stunned by its first losses. Within two days of each other, two men had died. Already the tensions and rush of the early months had taken their toll of Unit health; many never got adjusted to the food and the life on the road and the constant risk of picking up disease.
John Briggs was taken ill in Kutsing, where he was supervising Unit building. At first it did not seem serious; it was perhaps influenza, perhaps malaria. He got worse; Quentin Boyd arrived to see him, but on 9th June he died. That afternoon the others made a steam sterilizer of empty 50-gallon petrol drums and began to sterilize their clothes and bedding. For John had died of typhus.
He was carried to Kunming and there buried in the Foreign Cemetery.
Further up the road towards Kweiyang, Douglas Hardy was driving a Sentinel charcoal-burner when he fell ill. He was rushed to the hospital at Anshun. On the 11th he too died, of dysentery and typhus. He was buried among the queer shaped hills around the city.
John was twenty-seven, Douglas twenty-two. Their loss, like every loss within a Unit section, shook their colleagues. One wrote,
"It has brought us face to face with realities ; with the risks we take, sometimes carelessly, with our health ; with the worth of steady hard work; and with the depth of our own comradeship. At memorial services held in Kweiyang, Kunming and Kutsing we have bound ourselves to uphold the ideals which we know these two had at heart."
It was always the depth of comradeship that made such losses hard to bear.
ELEVEN TRUCKS HAD been lost in Burma. But that was nothing compared with the loss of the main source of liquid fuel. For the Transport Section it was the dawn of a new era. Henceforth it was to become a grim and earnest struggle to keep trucks on the road by every contraption and resource which human ingenuity could devise. The age of petrol and plentiful spare parts was over ; the age of the charcoal-burner, of clothes, skin and hair ingrained with charcoal dust, had arrived.
The immediate task in the early summer of 1942 was to haul 160 tons of National Health Administration supplies from Kunming to the Government godowns in Chungking as rapidly as possible; for Kunming was not an impossible goal for the Japanese, and air attacks were already an established part of its life. For this "main-route" haulage and for the subsidiary task of distribution from the godowns to the hospitals that needed the supplies, the Unit had thirty trucks, eleven belonging to the I.R.C., ten to the Executive Yuan; the remaining nine were its own. Eight more might he available by purchase in Chungking. Of the thirty, five were Hercules Diesels, of which "one was on the road, a second about ready, and the next three in a very nebulous state", while three were Sentinels which already ran on charcoal gas. The urgent job was the conversion of the petrol-driven trucks to charcoal.
It was the garage and yard of the Methodist Mission in Kunming that had the honour of inaugurating the new epoch. There, as early as April, the first conversion had been made. Fittingly enough, after a trial run, the Transport Director, the Manager of Garages and two others were commissioned to bring the vehicles to Kweiyang. On the second day the Manager spent twelve hours trying to get the engine started, and retired to bed with cold. The others eventually brought it through to Kweiyang, but could not claim to have enjoyed the journey.
The plan agreed in June was that supplies brought from Kunming to Kutsing should be taken the four hundred and fifty mile journey north to Luhsien on the Yangtse by weekly convoy; thence they would go by river transport to Chungking. The first trucks used on this route were the new charcoal-burners, but it proved too strenuous for them. The first convoy took six weeks to reach Chengtu beyond Luhsien, and the crews of the second convoy were badly mauled by bandits when they broke down in open country. So the Diesels took over this route, the main route for F.A.U. haulage for the next few months. The charcoal trucks were relegated to the short distance from Kunming to Kutsing, while others based on Chengtu drove south to Luhsien to collect loads for the hospitals and Universities in the Szechwan basin. An occasional truck would go down what remained of the Burma Road south-west of Kunming to supply the medical team at Paoshan or Hsiakwan. From Kweiyang, where the old I.R.C. garage became the depot where major repairs and the training of mechanics were carried out, supplies were sent down to Chin Ch'eng Kiang, the railhead for Liuchow and Changsha and the south-east, where a lone Unit charcoal-driven truck operated by Sherman March, having with him for company only his Chinese mechanic, plied for many months.
That was the pattern, the ideal to be aimed at, and it covered most of Free China. It was from time to time changed and modified; a journey scheduled for a day might take a fortnight, for charcoal-burners were highly temperamental, their performance always unpredictable. But the drivers prided themselves on getting their trucks through. It was a job as tough as any which the Unit undertook in any part of the world, and through it the Transport Section acquired a character, a stamp that was unmistakable. Within the larger Convoy, it formed a comradeship of its own.
No section of the Unit was more prolific in its literary output than the China Convoy. So let the life of the road be described by those who experienced it. There was, for instance, that main route to Luhsien.
"The road to Luhsien was outstanding among roads in Free China. From Rangoon to the Russian border the highest point encountered was on this stretch, a bleak and rocky pass, 10,000 feet above sea level in the Kweichow Hills, which the Chinese had named the Hill that Claws to Heaven. In summer it was a thrill to make the summit, and to gaze through clear, blue-domed skies into the limitless distance, over range beyond range of shrub-covered, inhospitable hills; in winter the icy mists wrapped the pass in a swirling pall that made the short days dark and the road a menace. Apart from a short distance at each end of the route, near Kutsing and near Luhsien, it ran through hills and valleys and gorges every mile of the way, its bumping track writhing tortuously through the magnificent wooded hills of Yunnan, across a corner of rugged Kweichow and down to the green paddy fields of Szechwan.
"At 10,000 feet the world takes on a new beauty. No wonder the Greeks pictured the gods as dwelling in Olympus."
That was when the Hercules Diesels were running well. A charcoal-burner would not always inspire thoughts of the gods in Olympus:
"During the night it started to rain. It continued for the whole day. During the afternoon carriers brought down from the hills the charcoal we had ordered the evening before. They unloaded it into a corner of the courtyard where we could break it into pieces without getting soaked by the downpour which seemed as if it would go on for ever. The manager became less and less friendly the more mess we made.
"We got soaked good and proper while we were filling the hoppers and cleaning the filters. News came through that a bridge on the road had been washed down, and that the road was impassable."
In the morning they would set off early.
"As we gulp our mien, our ears are assailed by one of the most characteristic noises of war-time China---a noise which, in after years, will sound in the memory of transport men with mingled repugnance and nostalgia. It will conjure up on one hand all the sweat and toil, the grime and discomfort of life on the road; on the other the fine freedom of these days, the camaraderie, and the stark beauty of those wild uplands.
"The sound comes from every truck along the street, and is accompanied by an outpouring of thick grey smoke from the top of every hopper. How to describe that sound ? It is a moaning, a sobbing thing, and its source is the forced-draught blower attached to the tuyère of every charcoal-burner. The street is full of grey smoke and a sad wail and figures turning the handles which work these blowers. For half an hour this irritating business goes on till the fire glows white under the hoppers. Suddenly, down the street, one engine roars into life and in a few minutes a truck pulls out with extra passengers perched all over the cargo. For a while the moaning is drowned while the truck stutters uncertainly out of the town and on to the National Highway.
"It is our turn next. The passengers climb on to the cab top. The mechanic swings her. The engine bites half-heartedly, and then dies out like a giant sucking his teeth. Another swing, and thunder shakes the street. A few minutes' acceleration by the driver to draw the fire, a shout of 'O.K. up top ?' and we lumber forward. It is the beginning of a new day on the road."
Characteristic of the charcoal-burners was their method of climbing the hill.
"The technique employed for coaxing them up-hill was something never seen in the Western world---we learnt it from the Chinese---and it is symbolical of the determination with which they overcame their difficulties and their deficiencies in equipment throughout the war. Each driver had a Chinese boy sitting with him in the cab, who had a triangular wooden block with a handle resting at his feet. On the slightest gradient the gear-shift would start moving down the box, and when the really steep parts came, and the truck was in bottom gear and about to give out on its last feeble rev., the boy would leap out with the block in his hand and place it neatly behind the rear wheels as the truck came to a stop, thus preventing it from running backwards. The driver, meanwhile, contrived to keep the engine alive, and when he had worked up enough revs., would let the clutch in gently, moving the truck forward a few yards, until the engine died again, when the boy would insert the block behind the wheel a second time ; this was kept up repeatedly, until the truck staggered on to a piece less steep, when the boy would spring into the cab until the next time it gave out. On some of the long fifteen-mile climbs from a river-bed to hill-tops above, such as were encountered on all the routes covered, this method might mean the best part of a day, but while it ensured the delivery of the drugs it justified itself."
At every mission station, at humble road-menders' huts, the Unit enjoyed warm hospitality, but nowhere were they more at home than with the Sisters at Pichieh between Kutsing and Luhsien.
"I had always been sceptical of the way the men on the Luhsien road had spoken of the Sisters at Pichieh. It was impossible that such paragons could exist. But now I can endorse their every statement. I too have fallen under the spell of this German Protestant Sisterhood with their hair mid-parted and tightly drawn back to a bun, their ruddy shiny cheeks and noses, their uniform-like dresses with white collars, their ample Teutonic figures.
"Wherein lies their spell ? Can it be their hospitality, the way they bustle about appearing in next to no time with hot water, soap and towellings, and then bustlingly withdraw to appear again at just the right moment to bustle you into the dining room, where, after a sung grace as often as not ('Those who don't sing won't get any pudding,' says Sister Margarete, but doesn't mean it), you sit down to the meal of your life ? Yes, their hospitality is something surely, enough to turn into a horrid threat the text of St. Augustine they have hung up in their dining room:
'Who loves another's name to stain
He must not dine with me again.'
Is it the music?---the way the piano-accordion is thrust into George Parsons' arms as he crosses the threshold by Sister Margarete with the command, 'Play,' or in the way Sister Johanna nearly falls off the seat as she jumps up and down while George blares out some blatant Strauss ? Does it lie in the German Hymnary in which one can find those wonderful hymns like 'O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden,' or is the spell wholly contained in that hymn the four Sisters were too shy to sing before us, and so let us hear from another room? An open door and the clear voices coming through to us as we sat in the lamplit room ? Ah --- there was a spell there certainly, a spell more potent, but not the one I mean.
"Does it come bubbling out of them in their fun? In the way Sister Johanna can hardly speak for laughing when she tells how their Church members, having been given gifts of underclothing by the Sisters, came in them to Church ; 'And it was the Lord's Supper . . . . And there was that man in combinations. . . And that woman in a --- with embroidery at the neck, short sleeves and only reaching down to here !' Or to see Sister Johanna taking off everyone in the room---Ted Cadbury's walk, Parry's smile, and so on ? . . . Their sense of fun, perhaps---but on second thoughts, no.
"Does it lie in the way they have taken our chaps to their hearts, treating them with simple warm kindness, thinking of them, providing for them in all sorts of little thoughtful ways, praying for them? They are a people with a Faith, and simple enough, and perhaps clear-sighted enough to let it issue out just in sheer kindness. I know it sounds trite as I say it---we have come to believe that kindness is 'not enough', and I suppose we'll go on believing that, but in spite of it we will bow down before the shrine these Sisters worship at---when we think of them."
It was only forty miles from Pichieh that Tom Thompson and Ron Chapman had their encounter with bandits. They had broken down two miles from a village and walked there to get their evening meal.
"On their way back to the truck after supper they were accosted by six men armed with what they took to be sticks. They brushed them aside, and were walking on towards the truck when something made Tom look round, just in time to duck and put up his arm to protect his head from a terrific downward blow. The weapons were swords, and the blow went halfway through Tom's forearm. As defensive weapons they had only heir water-bottles, but they wielded these to such good effect that the bandits eventually ran off. Tom got a nasty cut on his other arm, and Ron had a pretty deep gash in his left arm. They had to spend the night in a roadmender's hut, and got a lift to Pichieh the next day. Tom's wound was right through the ulna and had cut two arteries, so he lost a good deal of blood; it was a good thing they had had first aid training and knew their pressure points."
Needless to say, after treatment by a surgeon, they convalesced with the Sisters at Pichieh.
At the main centres the Unit had its own agent and its garage. The main garage, at Kweiyang, had been taken over from the I.R.C. At Luhsien Francis Merton organized the agency and had a garage on the south bank of the river to service the trucks, while in Chungking Wil Jenkins maintained close contact with the Government departments and relief bodies for whom the haulage was done. Henry Rodwell was installed at Chengtu, and Ted Cadbury followed Charles Swaisland at Hsiakwan. Kutsing was in the summer of 1942 outstripping Kweiyang in importance, as it lay at the junction of the Unit's main routes. The buildings which John Briggs had superintended before his death were nearing completion. In the garage the mobile workshop had been set up, and in the compound further trucks were being converted to charcoal. Kweiyang was still to remain the best centre for major repairs and overhauls, and it was here that Liew Evans had his training school for Chinese mechanics, through which gradually the Unit accumulated a pool of personnel for transport work.
But in August the growing importance of Kutsing was recognized; the headquarters staff moved there from Kweiyang. The move rapidly justified itself.
"It was the first time that Unit H.Q. was so situated that it was in close touch with developments in our medical work and also with transport activities. There was more opportunity for intellectual and athletic recreations. And there was a regular Sunday Meeting, with a mid-week service on Wednesday evenings. The newly-built hostel provided greater privacy, comfort and cleanliness than most of us had yet experienced in China. Because of the group living here and the companionship, because mail from home accumulated here, because here we and our trucks prepared for the next trip, Kutsing took on the aspect of home. It was always the end of the road."
It was the job of the men in the office to work out the cargoes and the costs---bodies for whom haulage was done were charged bare running costs on a basis of kilometre-tons---the job of the men in the garages by skill, ingenuity and improvisation to keep the trucks on the road for their vital cargoes. Spare parts were to become increasingly difficult to obtain. The time was to come when a mechanic would go to almost any length to secure a part he needed. One method was "cannibalization "---the breaking up of a truck that had finished its useful life to provide parts for keeping the others going. And what the garage men could do is shown by a biography of one truck. It is the epitome of transport work in China.
"Some six months ago a Hercules engine, new, was given to us by the Chinese Army, and a 1938 Ford chassis, old, very old, came with the engine. The engine was fitted into the chassis, a wooden cab was built by our carpenters, a steel body was salvaged from a wreck abandoned in the retreat from Burma, and with General Motor Corporation wings and Chevrolet headlamps another truck was ready to take the road to Luhsien.
"On its maiden trip the truck was turned over. It was repaired and went on again. On its next trip, while stopped by the side of the road for refuelling, it was hit by a Chinese Army lorry which drove straight into the front of the truck. The offside front engine mounting was cracked. No. 41 was brought home, the engine mounting electrically welded, and other repairs completed.
"On its next trip, which was its first up the Luhsien road, the fuel transfer pump packed up under the strain and the journey was abandoned. On its return trip to Kutsing the engine seized and it was eventually towed home by a charcoal-burner.
"The engine was inspected for damage, two valves and two piston rings were broken, and the head of one piston was badly chewed up. We had no Hercules spares and could buy none. Accordingly, two Thorneycroft valves were turned down to size and two Mercedes rings fitted. No. 41 started up the Luhsien road again.
"On this trip the water pump cracked after ice formation. This was replaced with a locally made brass casting. The truck continued. A day later the wishbone dropped off. This was replaced and No. 41 again went on its way.
"By the time the truck reached Luhsien, the prop. shaft was rubbing on its casing and had burnt a large hole through which the oil was leaking. It was removed, straightened and replaced. The truck made the return trip back to Kutsing without any trouble apart from one broken rear spring. Usually trucks break at least two springs a trip on this run.
"After three days in the Kutsing garage the truck had been checked over and was sent out 60 kilos for a load of timber, charcoal and quartermaster's stores. Twelve kilos from home on the return trip the truck skidded off the road on a muddy surface, went down a fifteen foot embankment, rolled over one and a half times and came to rest in a paddy field. Six hundred and fifty eggs were scrambled in the cab. Next morning, with thirty men and a quantity of rope the truck was righted, the timber was laid across the field, the gear box refilled, the batteries charged, and No. 41 drove home under its own power.
"The offside front engine mounting was rewelded, a steel Lend-Lease Chevrolet cab replaced the smashed wooden one, a hood, wings, headlamps and front grille from a G.M.C. 10-wheeler, and a dashboard from a Dodge were fitted, and in a week No. 41 again went to Luhsien. Two round trips totalling 3,000 kilos were completed without any major troubles. On its next trip, No. 41 went right through to Chungking. In Chungking we then had no garage. The engine was removed in the main street and the clutch lining changed. No. 41 returned to Kutsing via Kweiyang and Yuanling. The engine was then completely stripped, one of the Thorneycroft valves replaced by a new Hercules spare-part of a small consignment flown to the F.A.U. from India during June after having waited in India for six months for air priority---and the truck was again ready for the road.
"On its next round trip to Luhsien, the studs holding the offside rear axle half-shaft to the wheel, sheared. The sheared ends were removed on the road with a hammer and a small chisel and Studebaker studs were used instead. Subsequently the truck went off the road into a ditch twice and after descending a mountain for three quarters of an hour, on another occasion, the brakes failed near the bottom and No. 41 crashed into the back of No. 43. The radiator was slightly damaged but was repaired as well as possible. Thereafter for 500 kilos the driver had to stop every 5 kilos for more water.
"On its next trip between Kweiyang and Chungking it failed to negotiate a landslide, slipped off the road, rolled down into a ravine and landed on its back in a stream with wheels in the air. No one was badly hurt. To get the truck back on the road it had to be taken to pieces, engine, body, cab, axles, wheels and springs. These were carried separately to the road, the truck was reassembled, and after ten days the journey continued to Chungking.
"No. 41 has parts from eight makes. No. 41 is one of our best trucks."
Such was the background of the constant traffic through all kinds of weather, over all kinds of road, to ensure that the hospitals were not without their supplies. The reward, if reward were needed, sometimes came dramatically, as when Gordon Keith got down to Foochow, the last of China's ports to be closed by the Japanese, to find that "a patient comatose with relapsing fever was treated with the stuff out of his boxes as fast as they could be opened".
THE FIRST MOBILE Surgical Team under Handley Laycock had left Kweiyang for Burma early in April 1942. On arrival in Lashio, when its members realized that the road would be cut behind them, they left the mobile theatre and X-ray trucks to be driven back into China by the members who retreated up the Burma Road. Meanwhile in Kweiyang a second surgical team of eight was formed, Hank Louderbough and Quentin Boyd being recalled from their work with the New Life Medical Corps in Kian to lead it. It was too late for Burma, but the front was becoming stabilized on the Salween, and here with the special trucks it set to work among the Chinese troops. Quentin Boyd had an attack of dysentery and got no farther than Kunming; his place was eventually taken by Terry Darling, who flew in from India in July. Of the other six members of the team two were Chinese.
They were installed in the field hospital of the 71st Army at Paoshan along with teams from the Chinese Red Cross and from Dr. Wesley May's New Life Medical Corps. The front was quiet, largely because of the summer rain and malaria, and the most pressing need was the combating of a serious outbreak of cholera, which involved wholesale inoculations of soldiers and civilians.
"We picked the busiest spot, borrowed a table . . . and proceeded to spread out an imposing array of syringes, needles, cholera vaccine, alcohol and cotton wool. A crowd immediately gathered once we had done our first case we were kept hard at it until we had used up our supplies. Every type of person clamoured for attention . . . young women, old women, tough coolies with arms all bone and muscles, soldiers, venerable greybeards and hosts of small children brought by their mothers.
"The hospital buildings were still in course of construction. There was not a window in the hospital and the floor had not been laid in one building, so boards were laid. We ransacked the deserted buildings in the town for hospital furnishings, and now we have no patients sleeping on the floor, although we have had to supplement the wooden beds with planks across trestles. In the operating theatre we put cheese-cloth across the window frames, transferred the operating table from our mobile surgery, fitted a sterile water system made from petrol tanks, copper-tubing and taps easily salvaged from the damaged and abandoned trucks in the district. Jack Skeel made a stand for the operating lamp, and a Mayo table ; cupboards, tables and racks were also obtained. Our instruments were sterilized over a charcoal fire. We arranged rooms for storing supplies of drugs, laboratory and O.P.D. and it was soon found necessary to build a delousing station, in which all patients are deloused upon admittance.
"Two meals a day are served, consisting of rice and one vegetable (usually potatoes or greens), and a meat ration is issued once a week. The normal healthy soldier is hardened to such a diet, but many of the cases we get urgently need more nourishment. We soon appreciated this fact and a diet kitchen was founded.. . . In spite of our efforts the death rate is still appallingly high; malnutrition, chronic dysentery and tuberculosis are our chief enemies, although our own team deals with surgical cases exclusively.
"One of our biggest problems has been to try to instil into the orderlies some sense of hospital hygiene, but so far we have not completely succeeded. Pyjamas are issued to the patients when they are admitted, but they are so afraid of having their uniform stolen if they change, that they just put. on the pyjamas as an additional suit of clothes. We do not force them to change now that the weather is cold. They are glad of this extra covering; they even wear their caps in bed and come into the operating theatre with them still on."
Early in August Bob McClure arrived on a visit, and with Dr. Wesley May, Hank Louderbough and a Chinese nurse, carried out an investigation of the health conditions of the troops on the Salween front. They tramped seventy miles on foot up the gorge and then over rough country and ridges of about 3,000 feet right up to the front, examining men in the various battalions and treating surgical cases under very primitive conditions.
At the end of July two men were sent down from Kweiyang to investigate the need for similar work on the south-east front. The first Surgical Team was being flown back from India and was ready for more work. After consultation with the British Army Aid Group and the Chinese authorities, they brought back the report that a Commando raid was being planned on Hong Kong island in December, and that a team would be welcomed. Consequently a team of seven moved down to Waichow, fifty miles north-east of Hong Kong. Though Japanese control did not extend to it, the town was subjected to constant air-raids and received a steady stream of refugees in the last stages of exhaustion. Guerilla fighting was always going on not far away.
They began work in a hospital, where they were kept busy by air-raid casualties and refugees. The raid on Hong Kong never took place, but the team remained in Waichow until April 1943, working with the Chinese Army and running an out-patients department for civilians. Trips were made into guerilla country with Chinese troops.
Supplies were sent to them from Kweiyang by truck to the railhead, then by train to Kukong, and thence by river-boat and mule to Waichow. Hard work and poor food took their toll of the section's health.
Already from the work of the medical teams certain lessons were appearing, most obvious perhaps that near the front no distinction could be made in problems of health between soldiers and civilians. In January 1943 Bob McClure wrote in a report:
"The tendency is for ordinary practitioners to move back into the large cities where life is easier and where there is a more lucrative practice as well as being away from danger. Whether this tendency is extreme or mild there always remains, it would seem, a sort of no man's land near the front where normal civilian medical services have been removed. Since these are the conditions it is within this no man's land that medical services are most needed. Our experience in China indicates that it is frequently in this area, with soldiers coming in from one side and refugees from the other, that epidemics are easily started and most difficult to control. High prices and scarcity of food make diseases of a medical nature most common. In fact, the invading enemy very often stops for some medical reason, as he did in both Burma and S.W. China because he hit a malarial section during the rainy season. The no man's land in this case is a belt some 100-150 miles wide, running along what is probably the most malarial section on earth. With the military activity there are also many surgical cases in this belt. It would seem, therefore, that wherever such war conditions exist, there is a tremendous field of service in both medicine, surgery and public health.
"A mobile team that finds itself in these conditions should try to be sufficiently flexible to tackle any of the services that it felt capable of dealing with, and not be too sticky about being a strictly surgical or medical team."
It was that flexibility which Unit teams were to strive increasingly to attain.
GRADUALLY THE CONVOY was finding its job. The colour and excitement of Burma were gone, but the life and work of the Unit were becoming ordered. In a country the size of China, with the vastness of its needs, dissipation of effort had at all costs to be avoided. The decision had to be taken what the job was to be, and once taken it had to be observed as a matter of grinding routine, whether in a hospital or on the road.
Already in the winter of 1941/42, when Tom Tanner was in Philadelphia, the value of a joint visit to China by him and John Rich, who carried the responsibility in the A.F.S.C. office for the work in China, had been discussed. As 1942 advanced and the Burma incident threw the Convoy off its balance, as finances became more complicated and the slowness of communications did not help, as mutual confidence suffered between London and Philadelphia and China, it grew more obvious that a visit was imperative and urgent. It was not until November, however, that Tom left England, accompanied by Peter Hume. They were never to reach China; in December they were lost at sea.
John Rich proceeded with his plans, and was already in China when, in June 1943, Brandon Cadbury and, in July, Ralph Barlow arrived. In fact, he had reached Kutsing two months before the Convoy's Staff Meeting at the end of May. This Staff Meeting was a turning point in the Convoy's history. The members themselves faced up to those features of their corporate life and work with which they were most dissatisfied, so that the three-cornered conference held at the end of July and in early August, with Ralph Barlow in the chair, had the ground already prepared for it. It was those two meetings which re-established confidence and set the Convoy clearly on its course.
In establishing a Staff Meeting the Convoy was reproducing in China the pattern of the home administration. The great distances which representatives had to cover in order to attend made it impossible to hold it more than twice a year. But when it was held it lasted for two or three days, and was a major event. Men separated by vast distances, who would otherwise not have seen each other from their time of arrival in China to their departure, came together and discussed at length and in detail their future policy. The Newsletter recorded arrivals in Kutsing for Staff Meeting. as would the Society columns in a newspaper record the movements of the great. "Kutsing Hostel is full to overflowing. The stage is set for our second Staff Meeting in China. I was able to obtain pre-Staff Meeting statements from Bob McClure, Peter Tennant, John Rich. . ."
There were eight statements in all, and their contents were illuminating, for they revealed the problems and dissatisfactions which the meeting would have to face. The dangers always inherent in a Unit which relied on an ideal of personal responsibility in place of sanctions, which tried to combine clear direction with democratic control, were still too prominent and were complicated by the difficulties of personal contact and personal control. "Inadequate sense of direction", "excessive individualism", "too much self-determination in the allocation of jobs", "lack of discipline in small things and lack of thoughtfulness for others"---such were some of the criticisms. And what was the aim? The establishment of a "truly democratic community, in which any individual might say after Staff Meeting, 'I disagree with the policy you have adopted, but I respect your judgment and will carry out what you have decided to do.'" It was all surprisingly reminiscent of the struggle at home two years before to attain a democracy that worked.
There was another anxiety. Although "general relations were very much improved, although there had been an improvement in Chinese speaking and in living close to the Chinese people ", the Convoy was still felt to be too much a foreign organization superimposed upon the life of China. It was working too much for the Chinese, not sufficiently with the Chinese and, if necessary, under them.
The solution would be as much a matter of changed attitude as of changed machinery. There was indeed some change in machinery. The old Executive Committee was abolished, together with the offices of Commandant and Adjutant. In its place was set up a Council of four, consisting of a Chairman, Personnel Officer, Executive Secretary and one other. In this Council would be vested responsibility for the conduct of the Convoy between Staff Meetings.
Leonard Tomkinson, the Friends Service Council worker who, in the Convoy's early days, had been asked to be its Liaison Officer because of his long experience of China, was now invited to become the Council's Chairman, and was seconded to the Unit for this purpose by the F.S.C. Duncan Wood was Personnel Officer, Ken Bennett Executive Secretary; the fourth member was Wil Jenkins, the representative in Chungking. Bob McClure became full-time Director of the Unit's growing medical work, and Peter Tennant Field Inspector.
The medical work was growing, and it was here that closer integration with Chinese organizations was most immediately practicable. Negotiations were already in progress with the Chinese Red Cross, which had been reorganized largely through the influence of Dr. Robert Lim with whom the Unit had worked in Burma. The general plan was this. The C.R.C was to operate twenty-four surgical teams to work with the Chinese Army in south-west Yunnan. Three of these teams would be foreign, two entirely drawn from the F.A.U., the third a joint team of the British Red Cross Society, which was operating a hospital unit in Changsha, and the F.A.U. To provide the personnel the two teams at Paoshan and Waichow were withdrawn.
As significant as any decision taken by Staff Meeting was the presence of John Rich. For it represented Philadelphia's growing interest and acceptance of responsibility for the Convoy's work.
Six months before, at its first Staff Meeting, the Convoy had suggested that seventy Americans should be sent out to double the convoy's size and to establish it on an international basis in a country in which there was not a little strain and playing for position between the two Anglo-Saxon nations. In Philadelphia the suggestion was taken up with enthusiasm, tempered with the knowledge that its execution was not going to be so easy. For in the United States the registered conscientious objector was not free to join an organization like the F.A.U. that would take him overseas. He might, if he were lucky, join a body like the A.F.S.C. before he was registered and be allowed to go overseas in a different category; once placed in the category of registered conscientious objectors he had only one fate in store for him---service in a Civilian Public Service Camp engaged in public works of varying usefulness, possibly on detached service in a hospital or as a "guinea pig" for medical research. And there he would remain for the rest of the war, eating his heart out as he thought of the more strenuous service he might be giving in the relief of suffering overseas.
It was thought that if anything would secure their release a request from China for American participation would do so. A campaign was started, reinforced by strong words of recommendation from Chinese leaders and senior officers of the American Army who had seen the Unit's work in China. The President himself was approached and gave his agreement. But the plan was defeated at the last by a hard core of opposition in Congress which managed to slip into an Army Appropriations Bill a rider, the effect of which was to make overseas service for C.P.S. men impossible. Of eight men who had actually left the country, seven had to return when they reached South Africa. And in spite of all efforts to have it rescinded, the rider stood until the end of the war. No C.P.S. man joined the Convoy.
But it did not mean that there was no American participation.
American pacifists who managed, for one reason or another, to avoid C.P.S. camp came to China as full members of the F.A.U., not in as large numbers as would otherwise have been possible, but enough to make the American contribution to the work an appreciable and a growing one. Before the end of the year, out of the Convoy's total membership of a hundred, there were seventeen Americans. And the Convoy always realized that, while the F.A.U. was a wartime body, the A.F.S.C. was a permanent one. For any post-war development of the work they would have to look to Philadelphia.
So most of all in China did there develop the close association with the A.F.S.C. which became one of the Unit's most valuable developments, an association fostered by visits of Unit members to the States and of Americans to Britain, by constant correspondence and exchange of plans, and later by joint work in India and in Europe. In the field, the quality of American personnel was such that any misgivings felt in anticipation of their coming were very soon dispelled.
"It ought to be easy when we have so much in common, but it would be foolish to deny the differences. Anglo-American co-operation has not been easy even in the small world of the China Convoy and it has probably demanded more sacrifices from the Americans than from the British, but we can claim that the degree of integration achieved is one of our successes. It is perhaps significant that it is not always easy nowadays to remember off-hand which members come from the western and which from the eastern shores of the Atlantic."
On the last day of July, the Conference chaired by Ralph Barlow began its work. It reviewed in detail the Convoy's administration and programme of work ; it suggested that a senior American should in due course be sent out, if a suitable one could be found, to become the Chairman and keep an eye on possible post-war developments; it set up a "Board of Validation," an advisory panel of Chinese, British and Americans resident in China, to guide the Convoy on matters of policy (it was on his way to a meeting of the Board in Chungking a few months later that P. C. Hsu, a well-known Chinese pacifist, was tragically killed) ; and it approved in principle that women nurses and secretaries should be sent out. In fact, the "American administrator," the subject of innumerable letters and cables, was not installed until 1946.
The first phase of the Convoy's work was the Burma episode; the second was the period of settling down, up to the spring of 1943; the third phase, the period of confidence and maturity, was now beginning. The administrative arrangements now made remained, with slight modifications, to the end. Leonard Tomkinson handed the chairmanship over in February 1944 to Duncan Wood, who remained until November, when he was succeeded by Colin Bell. Ken Bennett was followed by Jack Goss and in due course by Brandon Cadbury.
Thus the Convoy, subject to the final authority of London and Philadelphia, achieved virtual autonomy in regulating its own affairs. Self-consciously democratic to the end, conscious too of its Christian purpose and unity to a pitch of idealism which no other section of the Unit achieved and which made it all the more self-critical for failure, anxious to reach a more real sympathy with the Chinese with whom it worked, it secured increasingly their confidence.
Among themselves members established the only full and universally applied system of income pooling within the Unit. Other sections tried it for a time; small groups within sections achieved it; but in China every penny which a member received, whether from private sources or the Unit's Members' Assistance Fund, went into "Pool" from which each member drew the same amount of pocket money. The China Pool was an institution jealously guarded to the end, and it symbolized an ideal of community which the Convoy, with a mixture of success and failure, strove always to uphold.
The Far East, continued
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