THE PERIOD WHICH BEGAN with the Staff Meeting of May 1943 developed the medical work and transport, while numbers in the Convoy crept up with the arrival of small groups from England, smaller groups from America and the addition of more Chinese members. But before going on to the main activities, it would be well to notice some solitary jobs done by individual members.
Any appreciation of the achievements of the Chinese Industrial Co-operatives in planning productive relief and reconstruction for the sixty million refugees who escaped from the Japanese occupation of the coastal provinces would be outside the scope of this account of F.A.U. work in China. But with the C.I.C. some members found their field of service. No one did more to inspire the C.I.C. in its finest efforts than the founder, the New Zealander, Rewi Alley, who lived in a furnished cave in the hills above Shuangshipu. Here Bob Newell helped in the production of grey iron in the making of machinery, setting up a blast furnace in the wilderness where remarkable feats of makeshift were necessary. Peter Townsend, as already mentioned, went to work as English Secretary in a C.I.C. office in Paoki, and Andy Braid taught in the Baillie School, a technical training school for refugee boys, at Shuangshipu. Andy's bagpipes were invaluable in winning confidence and keeping spirits high in the early months. These members perhaps came nearer than any other members of, the Convoy to sharing day by day and hour by hour the life and interests of the ordinary Chinese.
In the winter of 1942 there was a disastrous flood in P'ing Min on the Yellow River. Through the C.I.C. a call came to the Unit for help, and Eric Westwood and Wang An Min went up. Their first job was vaccination against smallpox. Equipped with syringes and vaccine they travelled from village to village, hut to hut and cave to cave, vaccinating over 80 per cent. of the population. They then turned to the treatment of multitudinous ailments. "Our work was elementary, but when mud is placed in an abscess and left for weeks, and a child's blisters are wrapped in mud until the feet turn gangrenous, our knowledge was of some use to them."
When Bob McClure and Peter Tennant visited P'ing Min in March 1943 they were deeply impressed by the energy with which the local officials had organized recovery and resettlement.
Further work in haulage and distribution was done for the C.I.C. in the spring and summer of 1943 in dealing with the flood of famine refugees and orphans who poured into Paoki from Honan.
The reader has already been introduced to the Pichieh Sisters. In the hills twenty miles south of Pichieh was the small village of Salach'i, and here Laurie Baker was to start work which, when the war was over, inspired him to join the Mission to Lepers for his life's work. Let him tell the story.
"Over thirty years ago Sisters of the Friedenshort Deaconess Mission came to Kweichow from Germany. Sister Margarete Welzel soon found herself concerned about the sufferings of the lepers in the district round about her and from her dispensary in Pichieh did what she could for them. It soon became apparent that as much as medical treatment they needed protection and a refuge.
"A small plot of land and a house were obtained near the wood and plaster village of Salach'i. Very quickly the house was full with thirty lepers. Then the new motor road was built about four years ago and it had to go right through the middle of the site and the building.
"A new and larger site was found . . . . Now there are three cottages for the men, a chapel, a granary, a cowshed, a small house for the very bad helpless cases, and a cottage and kitchen in their own compound for the women. The numbers grew steadily and at last more money came so that a house for the workers could be built. Unfortunately, however, as this was nearing completion, international affairs were the cause of keeping the Sisters interned in Pichieh, and for well over a year Sister Margarete was unable to visit the lepers."
At the end of 1942 Laurie Baker was released by the Unit for the work.
"1943 has seen the slow struggle against rising prices, transport and supply problems, re-establishing the medical and the farming work of the Home. There are now seventy-two lepers to be looked after and most of them are fairly advanced and complicated cases.
"But in spite of all our difficulties and problems we have much to be thankful for. We have come safely through several crises and we have been spared the fate of our neighbours from bandits, cholera and typhus. We are indeed thankful to God for His love and care for us. We are meeting daily for worship in the little chapel. Many of our new members have become Christians---nine have been baptized this August.
"Perhaps the most remarkable thing of all about Salach'i is the amazing atmosphere of cheerfulness and joy among us, such a large family living together in peace and harmony, all helping one another---spinning, knitting, basket and sandal making, gardening, learning to read---besides all the communal farming work, the cooking, and the cleaning.
"And so this little community in the wild hills of Kweichow carries on from day to day, each leper regaining his faith in himself, in his fellow man and God-learning that His love is perhaps even stronger when toes and fingers have gone."
FROM THE SUMMER of 1943 transport work continued in the tradition already set. While the distribution haulage, like capillaries bearing the life-blood to all parts of the body, continued to deliver supplies to outlying hospitals, the main artery---the main route haulage---was changed. It had been decided at the May Staff Meeting that the route north from Kutsing through Pichieh to Luhsien for river transport to Chungking should be abandoned. Instead, the trucks followed the more easterly route through Kweiyang and north to Chungking, thus taking the drugs all the way by road. The Luhsien road had been found from experience to impose too heavy a burden of wear and tear on the vehicles. Chengtu and Luhsien were closed down as Unit centres, and the equipment was transferred to Chungking, where Wilson Ch'en, one of the Chinese members, had been busy preparing a garage on the south bank.
The road to Chungking through Kweiyang had been traversed by Unit trucks intermittently since the first convoy drove up from Rangoon in the autumn of 1941, but there had been no regular Unit convoy along it. It was older than the Luhsien road; it ran through equally mountainous country, but there were more towns and dwellings along it, making it less lonely to travel and easier if a vehicle broke down. It was the section containing the vicious twenty-four bends and the P'an Kiang gorge, and the waterfall in Huang Kuo Shu, which was reputedly a rival in height to Niagara. Beyond Kweiyang, as one travelled north to Chungking, the country was less wild, and contained larger towns and cities, lying in rich rice valleys.
Concentration on one main route produced results in haulage figures. In December 1942 the number of kilometre-tons (weight multiplied by distance) of medical supplies carried was 21,000; in July 1943 it was 33,771; in March 1944, 50,000, and by the end of the year even higher.
It was not until the Japanese push towards Kweiyang late in 1944 threatened the road that the old route to Luhsien was once more resumed, only to be given up again when the danger passed.
Spare parts and tyres were becoming an increasingly difficult problem. Llew Evans had flown out to India in the summer of 1943 to arrange for some to be brought in, and negotiations were started in Chungking which brought an improvement by producing some of the spares which entered China under Lease-Lend. But it was always a precarious business, and the transport work depended very largely on the work of the men at the desk who overcame innumerable difficulties in securing spares, fuel and lubricants. Not until the end of 1944, when through the N.H.A. the Unit was given a monthly allocation of air-freight space from India, was the position really eased.
No account of the Unit's transport work would be complete without reference to the longest journeys of all, the trips to the oil wells in Suchow on the edge of the Gobi desert. Here petrol, of a low octane rating and in small quantities, but still petrol, was to be found. And petrol was invaluable for starting the charcoal burners and for work on the steeper hills. The first convoy, with Robert Arthur in charge of a crew of Chinese members and employees, left Kweiyang in January 1943. They were to deliver medical supplies to Paoki and Sian and as far north at Lanchow, and then drive on along, the Old Silk Road, past the Great Wall, across the fringes of the Gobi Desert, and to the oasis city of Suchow. The journey of over 3,000 miles was accomplished in three and a half months, and without one broken spring.
Later trips were not so fortunate. The second was in the summer, and experienced great difficulties through the heavy summer rains, which that year washed away parts of the road north of Shuangshipu. Farther north, they were forced to unload the trucks time and again, in order to drive them through the numerous difficult detours built to circumvent the road blockages. Away in the desert they had the misfortune to cause one of the Governor of Chingai's trucks to shoot off the road and overturn ; this created a somewhat embarrassing situation for the convoy leader as the Governor's henchmen made exorbitant demands for compensation, but after much talking, into the night, they were persuaded into accepting, on the verdict of a middle man, a sum which the Unit thought not too unreasonable.
And there were further convoys, which met conditions as bad, or worse. But the drivers returned to Kutsing with drums full of invaluable fuel and with the glory of so many Marco Polos upon them.
THE FLEXIBLE AND HIGHLY mobile team which Bob McClure, now Director of the Unit's medical work, envisaged, was to consist of about eight people, of whom two should be doctors and two nurses. There should be an administrator to take all responsibility from the doctors and leave them free for medical work; a laboratory technician who would also be a dispenser; a quartermaster, preferably a Chinese member, to look after food supplies, accommodation and other minor worries; and a capable handyman-technician who could turn his hand to X-ray equipment or any vehicles the team might have. Such teams might be working in hilly, forested, roadless country, and so equipment should be light yet comprehensive. Instruments, a portable X-ray plant and small generator, the essentials for a laboratory, sterilizers and autoclaves were indispensable.
In the wilder parts of Yunnan a team would be lucky if it could use trucks. Often the best means of transport would be strong wooden cases loaded on mules and moved from one location to the next over caravan routes and rough tracks.
In practice Unit teams were to approximate to this pattern. They became small self-contained groups of Americans, British and Chinese living off the country, sleeping in barracks, hospitals, temples, private houses, tents, always ready for a sudden call to move off to the next place.
The three teams formed under the scheme adopted by the Staff Meeting of May 1943 for work under the Chinese Red Cross, one with the help of the British Red Cross Unit, were to operate behind the Chinese forces in Yunnan that were facing the Japanese on the Salween front in readiness for the drive into Burma. In fact, the offensive did not begin until April 1944, and the three teams had some months of waiting, filled in with medical work before military activity began. M.T.3 was in Hsiakwan, already familiar to the Unit, M.T.4 towards Yenshan on the Indo-China border, and the mixed M.T.5 for a time in Tsiao Chien, which they reached on horseback after a grim ride in pouring rain along ravines, precipices and watercourses. Here the hospital consisted of three temples, "two used as wards and one as administrative centre---and all still used as temples. The wards have some very fearsome deities in them, and it has been found necessary to cover them up for the sake of the peace of mind of some of the. patients."
A New Life Movement team, which handed the premises over to them, had set up a laboratory and diet kitchen and had maintained a high standard of cleanliness throughout the hospital. The work was mainly surgical ; there was a predominance of ulcers due largely to the paucity of Army diet. In the medical ward were typhus, relapsing fever, malignant malaria, hookworm, dysentery and other diseases. A delousing plant which the team set up was in great demand by the troops. That was the beginning of M.T.5's work.
It was while working with this team in Tengch'uan that Dr. Donald Hankey, of the British Red Cross, died of typhus in January 1944. To the F.A.U. the losing of so close a friend was no less a blow than the loss of one of its own members.
M.T.4 settled in Yenshan in July, and worked with the First Chinese Army Group in the 72nd Field Hospital. They occupied buildings in a large compound which had been used as barracks for several thousand men. It was agreed with the Army that one of the wards should be for the treatment of civilian in-patients. Health examinations were made in the local school and an outpatients' department opened; public health work was extended to the surrounding countryside ; lectures were given by the American doctor and team leader, Ernest Evans, through an interpreter, to the Chinese officers on maintaining the health of their men; and a delousing plant was set up.
After a few months the team moved to Mangtze near the Red River which flows south through Yunnan to Indo-China, and continued similar work, but was broken up in March 1944, before the Burma offensive began.
M.T.3 set up in an Intermediate Hospital at Hsiakwan, where it co-operated with teams of the Chinese Red Cross and New Life Movement. The Unit team concentrated on surgical work under trying conditions, during which five members went down with typhus. But they had been inoculated against it and all recovered. With some changes in its composition the team moved to Yung Ping farther down the road near the Mekong Gorge, and in May 1944 took to the hills with the armies moving forward, its equipment being borne on mules through semi-jungle country. Its members were often operating well into the night by the light of small oil-lamps and flashlights. With them they had two Chinese nurses, who kept up with the team under the greatest difficulty. "The food situation is very bad, consisting of rice twice a day and occasionally a little ham . . . . The weather too has been bad, day after day of solid rain . . . . Quentin and Arthur Yao were sent up with an advanced regiment that had no medical services at all . . . ." In August they were outside Tengchung, the last important Chinese outpost on the old road into northern Burma. It was this team that drew forth a citation from the American Army: "The zeal and energy which they put into their work under extremely dangerous conditions, never complaining of their own hardships, with practically no rations and very little equipment or clothing, won the wholehearted respect of the Chinese and American personnel serving with them."
An extract from one of the team's reports will give the best impression of its work:
"Our operating theatre was an old cabin of a place where a log fire burned in one corner and beside it a Yunnanese villager squatted on his heels, smoked his pipe, poked an occasional stick into the embers and carried on a conversation with the old woman who owned the place. Nearby lay two patients on the straw, one with a dressed head wound and the other our abdominal man. A soldier brought hot water and washed the place around the wound and as soon as he was lifted on the table Doris and Margaret began the anæsthetic. Quentin and John donned their gowns and masks and in the light of torches and a blazing fire it began. Curious faces peered from outside while the rain rattled on the leaves of nearby trees and splattered on the roof. One is conscious only of two pairs of hands moving methodically in the bright ring of torchlight, of instruments appearing and disappearing, the click of hæmostats, and the snip of scissors. Slowly the great gap in the stomach began to close as the needle worked its way along the edges of the flesh. Quentin says the last words of the performance, 'That does it,' and everyone loosens up; now we don't have to hurry so much."
At Paoshan in April 1944, when the campaign was being fought in the hills, a new M.T.5, consisting entirely of F.A.U. members, the British Red Cross workers being needed elsewhere, was established and ran a hospital in huts four miles from the town, itself living in tents close by. It was an Intermediate Hospital which received the heavy flow of casualties from the front.
"Each truck is met by an admission officer, one or other members of the team, who is responsible for going through the casualties looking for three kinds of wounds and complications---gas gangrene, hæmorrhage and abdominal. These are dealt with immediately, and after operation are put into some of the fifty-six surgical beds for which alone the F.A.U. is responsible. The other cases are passed into the large admission wards which are looked after in a desultory manner by Chinese orderlies. The next morning the F.A.U. doctor and the admission officer of the previous day or night go through the cases in these admission wards, sorting out the theatre cases for the day---taking from the casualties there the broken femurs, the brain and chest cases for the theatre and for admission to the F.A.U. wards. They take as many such cases as they can, bearing in mind the bed capacity available. If there is room, some arm casualties may be taken in as well. And every day, as it becomes possible to pass some of the recovered patients farther towards the rear, Unit doctors comb the admission wards for fresh patients to occupy their beds."
A section of M.T.5 went forward.
"Team 5's forward team should be over the river by this time. John Perry says that the main team is getting along fine with the new additions in personnel. Rita is running the 40-bed surgical ward; Connie and Ron are theatre 'sisters'; Derek Cox is the anæsthetist and X-ray man; and Alan McBain has the odious job of delousing. Derek also does the quartermastering. This makes it possible for John Perry and Eric Waddington to keep two operating tables going the whole day, and John says that they are learning their surgery so fast they can hardly keep up with themselves.
"Living arrangements are still very poor. The food situation is better than it was although prices are fantastic.
"The medical supply position is good; and with a daily admission of over sixty, large quantities of supplies are used. The cases are, of course, practically all surgical---ten days old on the average. They come in by ambulance in the morning and generally by stretcher and horse cart in the afternoon. Half of them are sent on to Yung Ping and Hsiakwan within 24 hours of arrival, that is, after they have been temporarily patched up."
By June 1944 four women members from England---Margaret Briggs, Connie Bull, Elaine Conyers and Rita Dangerfield---had arrived in China. "Women for China" had been as much, and as long, a matter of controversy as the original admission of women into the Unit. At last for the opposition the game was up. Elaine was to be Secretary in the Kutsing office, the other three to be nurses in the teams. When they took their place alongside the rest, they too faced the same hardships and gave invaluable service.
All the work so far described was carried out in conjunction with the Chinese Red Cross, and dealt with a mixture of military and civilian cases. In the wilds of Southern Yunnan two teams outside the Red Cross orbit were established at the request of the Yunnan Provincial Health Authorities, to deal mainly with civilian health problems. In April 1944 M.T.6 went to Mohei, between the Red River and the Mekong, a journey of eleven days by mule. Hospitably received by the local people, to whom white men were great curiosities, they proceeded to treat the usual run of Yunnanese diseases, of which malaria was at Mohei by far the most prevalent.
In July the American doctor, Arthur Barr, left Pat Rawlence in charge of M.T.6 and took two Chinese nurses and John McMahon with him across the Mekong to Fuhai, towards the Burma border. The work of this team, M.T.7, went on until the spring of 1945, being mainly concerned with the needs of troops in the area. A feature of the work was the experiment which Sheila Iu carried on with special diets, producing from the local foodstuffs a wide variety of nutritious foods which made a great deal of difference to the progress of her patients.
And there were other projects---the brief precautionary expedition to follow up Alan McBain's discovery of bubonic plague, the work of the fifteen men who went south to meet wounded and weary French troops fighting a rearguard action out of Indo-China into Yunnan, and many more. Nor must one forget, as a piece of precautionary work, Henry Rodwell's magnum opus, the delousing station constructed with much labour and ingenuity for Chinese soldiers at Tsuyung.
M.T.3 was last noticed near Tengchung; outside the breached and broken walls the team remained for five weeks while the city was being besieged. When at the end of August the city finally fell, with hardly a Japanese left alive, the team was among the first to enter the scene of utter devastation and to plan for a new hospital in Tengchung. It ended its work with the C.R.C. and opened a new phase for the Unit in China, that of rehabilitation.
"Tengchung up to its occupation by the Japanese two years ago was a very wealthy city, acting as the entreport for all goods coming into south-west China from Burma and India; the entire population has a much wider horizon than in any city in China of comparable size. The coming of the Japanese drove out 75 per cent. of the population, and the occupation was unusually harsh because the Japanese knew that they could not hold it indefinitely. Re-occupation by Chinese troops was a tremendous task in which every house was a strong point and casualties were high; the entire garrison fought it out until the last man was killed. The result was the complete ruin of the city ; there is literally not one square foot of roofing left; walls are broken down, ditches and wells filled in, and the corpses of hundreds of men and horses lie in shallow graves which produce a terrible stench ; the vultures circling over the city are gorged. There are still Chinese wounded in the valley and the nearest equipped field hospital is over the hills. The pass there is 12,500 feet high and it is a long four days up and down mountain passes through jungle where there is no food except what you bring with you. The F.A.U. team already working in the valley, M.T.3, are in the process of taking up rehabilitation work in Tengchung; we are sending them heavy equipment such as X-ray and a power plant, and the hospital is already working; local authorities have commandeered the necessary buildings in the suburbs. The local guild are as able and wide-visioned as we could hope to meet. The basis of the hospital is that in such an area all treatment is free ; wealthy people who can afford to pay will be assessed by the local committee."
To Tengchung a new team, M.T.8, drawn from other teams, was sent. Just outside the walls of the city they took over a spacious Confucian temple. The centre courtyard became the scene of great activity as carpenters and masons set to work to renovate and adapt. Quickly the hospital filled up, at first largely with victims of the mines and ammunition that lay scattered around in the town, and then with patients suffering from all the maladies of Yunnan.
Early in 1946 the Unit was still working in Tengchung. Then a visitor to the hospital wrote:
"During the past four or five months the hospital has changed from a rather rough and ready condition to that of a really spick and span establishment. A new wing has been added containing a better O.P.D., with three examining rooms, business office, laundry, workshop, patient bath and admission room, staff showers and servants' living quarters, and the whole hospital has been electrified. A separate building has been repaired for a nurses' residence, and the Nurses' Training School has got properly under way. In addition to the extensions mentioned, the whole hospital has been overhauled. The usual out-patient facilities have been augmented with separate clinics for eye, V.D. and maternity, and more recently three clinics a week have been started for the benefit of soldiers, who average an attendance of thirty per clinic. A public health programme has been initiated, which includes the setting up of a room in the hospital showing collections of fleas, lice, bacteria slides and blood smears, intestinal parasites, and pictorial representations of the activities of the itch-mite. In this room a class has been held for Army nurses, who have been taught the simple care of wounds, the treatment of scabies and delousing. Several expeditions to neighbouring villages have been made with a view to starting something in the nature of a local dispensary. . ."
Tengchung was the Unit's first experiment in hospital rehabilitation work in China, and when the C.R.C. teams were withdrawn M.T.8 remained behind to carry on.
In the spring of 1945 the work with the C.R.C. in Yunnan was virtually at an end, for the armies were moving eastwards and massing in their positions in Kweichow for a drive which it was hoped would carry them to Canton and the liberation of Hong Kong. Medical teams were reformed. As the Japanese moved back, the F.A.U. had the same opportunity as they had in Tengchung to enter vacated hospitals in the towns and re-organize the medical services. Nantan in Kwangsi was the first of the cities to be entered, and a little later the once prosperous city of Liuchow. The work here was carried out as part of the programme of the Chinese National Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (C.N.R.R.A.)----the Chinese wing of U.N.R.R.A.---which was now taking the field. Here the Unit remained for a few months before the end of the Japanese war, when most personnel in this area were withdrawn for rest and recuperation. But in November a new team, M.T.14, with Glyn Hughes in charge, went forward to Hankow to take over the large Methodist Mission Hospital, which it continued to administer until the Mission could again take it over; from this hospital as a base the Hankow Union Hospital was to be rehabilitated on behalf of the London Missionary Society. The Japanese, who had been in occupation of the buildings, stayed on for a time alongside the Unit team.
To end this story of the Unit's medical work, there was nearest home of all the Huei Tien Hospital in Kutsing. Founded by the Church Missionary Society, it was being operated entirely by Chinese staff when the Unit came to Kutsing. From February 1942 Sydney Bailey had been in charge of its medical store, and early in 1943 Quentin Boyd, then in Kutsing, began to attend the clinic and to take a share in the surgical work. Since the autumn of 1942 the Unit had borne the cost of six beds and the maintenance of poor patients in them, as a memorial to John Briggs; in May 1944 it assumed complete responsibility for the work of the hospital for a temporary period of two months. Unit doctors and nurses took it over, and with the assistance of other members in Kutsing made it a regular and important field of Unit work.
Not only was the hospital a field of service near to hand. It was a great boon to have it in Kutsing to provide for new members an introduction to medical work in China. While still living at the hostel they saw the limitations of a Chinese hospital and the way in which they could be overcome---sterilizing equipment made from old petrol drums, theatre lights from truck headlamps, traction pins from pieces of bicycle or other bits of cast off metal.
In July 1944 the Unit agreed to accept responsibility for the administration and finance of the hospital for two years. Numerous innovations and improvements were introduced; the men in the garage in Kutsing proved their ingenuity in making items of equipment which were lacking. And the work itself, though often monotonous as hospital work can be, continued to provide as valuable a field of service as any in China for a group which came to be known as M.T.10.
Quentin Boyd was the first Unit doctor to arrive in China. He worked with the teams in Yunnan, and was one of those who walked from the road at Yung Ping to the gates of Tengchung. His health was not good, and at Paoshan in early August he was taken seriously ill. He was flown out over the Hump and died in Calcutta on 15th August 1944. "The type of community I look for ", he wrote a little over a month before he died, "is a group of people sharing their material, cultural and spiritual resources, fully committed to God and to one another in their common aim of carrying out His will in every sphere of life, without reservation or compromise." For that ideal Quentin gave his life.
FOR TWO YEARS AFTER the move from Kweiyang, Headquarters remained at Kutsing. And then, late in September 1944, came another move. Chungking was the capital of wartime China; there were established the Government offices and the headquarters of most of the bodies with which the Unit had to deal. Wil Jenkins, as Unit representative there, had played the diplomat for two and a half years, but the case for a move of the whole Headquarters staff was becoming increasingly strong. For months the arguments for and against another move were weighed in the balance. At length the case seemed irresistible, and the move was made. Cheng Yang Kai, in the centre of the city, became the office and the hostel for the Headquarters' staff. This L-shaped building, standing in its own compound, was erected by the Unit, and the Transport staff's Cockloft in Kutsing, reached by an almost vertical ladder, gave way to a more palatial office. But the name was retained for old time's sake. The advantages of the move soon showed themselves, though the atmosphere of the Yangtze basin was a poor exchange for the clear and bracing highlands of Yunnan.
Of all the problems with which the Convoy's officers had to grapple, finance remained to the end the most intractable. The U.C.R. budget was renewed year by year, and the British grant-in-aid continued to help with the medical programme at a level of about £30,000 a year until the end of the war. It seemed a great deal of money, far more than the Unit was handling in any other part of the world. But all the time inflation raised comparative prices in China by ten per cent. per month. Soon accounts were being worked out in terms of millions of Chinese national dollars, and it seemed that the process would have no end. And until the end of April 1943 the exchange rate was pegged firmly at 80 dollars to the pound sterling irrespective of the spiral of inflation. Thereafter concessions were made to relief bodies, at first hardly keeping pace with the spiral, until in the autumn of 1944 a sliding scale was introduced which, for the first time, reflected with some degree of accuracy the purchasing power of sterling in terms of the national currency.
In 1944 the budget was handsomely supplemented from a third source. Early in that year Bob McClure visited his native Canada. The result was an offer from the Canadian Red Cross of 500,000 Canadian dollars for the Unit's work. The subsequent history of the grant was a chequered one, and in the event the sum was cut by half; but it came at a time when financial worries were even more acute than usual, and saved the day. But it did not lessen complications when the triangle of responsibility for China became a square.
Just as American money was followed by American personnel, so early in 1945 twenty Canadians joined the Convoy. Selected by the Canadian Friends Service Committee in Toronto and trained in Philadelphia with the help of Peter Tennant and Ken Bennett, who followed Peter in America as representative from China, their coming accentuated the international basis of the work. Later in the year seven men arrived in China from New Zealand, sponsored by Friends in that country and again with financial backing. Interest had been aroused in Australia and New Zealand by a visit from Wil Jenkins the previous winter. And all the time there was a trickle of British members, and the occasional American, as additions to the Convoy's strength or replacements for men who were repatriated. By the beginning of 1946 the Convoy numbered 139 members---18 Americans, 26 Chinese, 71 British, 18 Canadians and 6 New Zealanders. Of these 18 were women---1 American, 10 Chinese, 6 British and 1 Canadian.
In January 1945 the Convoy suffered its fourth casualty. Clement White had arrived from America only six months before, but already he had so established himself in the eyes of his colleagues that at Staff Meeting in November, he was appointed Deputy Chairman of the Council. His quiet strength, clear vision and profound devotion to the Convoy's ideal of service based on international teamwork had marked him out for leadership, but it was not to be. Two months later in Kunming he met with what should have been no more than a minor mishap; but it was a head injury and he died within three days without having recovered consciousness. To the Council which had been set up with new officers, to the Convoy and to the Unit his loss was a cruel blow.
IN THE SPRING OF 1943 Horace Alexander, then leader of the F.A.U. section in Calcutta, visited China for the Yearly Meeting of the Society of Friends in Szechuan. Friends had been at work in China for sixty years, working devotedly as doctors, teachers and evangelists, individually or in small groups. Two years later, lecturing in America, Horace Alexander said:
"The picture to-day, after sixty years, is disappointing . . . . The Society of Friends as it is to be seen in west China to-day, is still an alien growth with no roots in the soil . . . . And then comes the Friends Ambulance Unit, followed by the American Friends Service Committee ---a hundred young western men and a handful of women, giving their services to China for the period of the war, striving in a number of ways to fill in the great vacuum of medical skill for the soldiers and civilians of China.
"Some of the fundamentalist missionaries in China have described the F.A.U. as a sub-Christian organization. Some of the 'progressive ' missionaries declare that, on the contrary, the F.A.U. is demonstrating new techniques of Christian action. If the main purpose of a Christian organization in China ought to be proselyte-making, then the F.A.U. is certainly either a sub-Christian or a super-Christian organization. Yet its members seem to be more sure than are members of the F.A.U. in some other parts of the world that they have a Christian motive . . . . Will this great undertaking, then, just withdraw in another year or two, leaving no sign?"
That was the question. And it was a question which the Convoy had early on begun to ask itself. Hauling medical supplies, performing operations and treatments on the wounded and sick---they were vital undertakings, but was there more than that ?
If the work was to be followed up into the post-war world, the future lay with the permanent A.F.S.C., not with the temporary F.A.U. And so the balance of responsibility began to shift from London to Philadelphia, as the balance in India shifted to the British F.S.C. And when the decision was made that the F.A.U. was going to wind up its commitments overseas by June 1946, the A.F.S.C. came forward to take the lead. Meanwhile, copious letters and a ferment of ideas passed for months between China and Philadelphia and London in an attempt to work out what the pattern of peacetime service in China would be.
The answer could only come with time. Time only would show whether the momentum of five years' service in the war could be carried forward to the peace.
Meanwhile, whereas the more remote future was still hidden, the immediate need was clear. The Convoy, having worked for China through the period of darkness and destruction, had long set its heart on helping too, when the time came, in the work of reconstruction. The work in the hospital at Tengchung was more than a routine piece of medical service; it was rebuilding what had been destroyed, salvaging from the devastation of war, as pacifists should be concerned to do, whatever was going to help China to find her feet again.
And so it was that from the latter half of 1945 onwards the emphasis was increasingly on reconstruction.
Tengchung, Nantan, Liuchow, Hankow have already been mentioned. While medical work was being carried out in the province of Kwangsi with C.N.R.R.A., a haulage programme was undertaken in the same area to carry food and seed rice from Hunan into the distressed areas for distribution, and to transport large groups of refugees down to Liuchow and Yuanling. The fleet of battered and time-worn trucks had been revitalized by the addition of twenty Canadian Dodges which ran on petrol or alcohol. The days of charcoal were by no means over, but life was already becoming a great deal easier.
In the summer of 1945, the area around Tating in western Kweichow was smitten with famine, and here Parry Jones, Jack Chen and George Wright began work with the American Advisory Committee and remained for some months.
All these projects were meeting an obvious and urgent need, but the Convoy was in the mood to be more ambitious. Rather than disperse its resources in separate teams in many different places, it felt that its most useful contribution to national reconstruction would be made by a concentration on all the essential social services of a single large area. The Staff Meeting of September 1945, coming a month after the end of the war, decided that the area should be in the province of Honan.
"Honan presents the severest problem of war-caused distress. Large sections of the province have been devastated by fighting. Important towns are in ruins, railways destroyed, agriculture neglected. Floods, droughts and locusts have added to the toll of war. At a junction of rivers, roads and railways, it lies in the path of millions of refugees returning to their homes from the north-west."
The city of Chengchow was selected as the base, lying just to the west of the junction of the new and old beds of the Yellow River. In October 1945 Bob McClure led a small spearhead team into Honan to survey the prospects; an "area project" had long been an ambition of the Convoy---to have medical work as the core and a number of ancillary schemes, medical, mechanical and relief, branching out over a relatively small region, so that all the Convoy's resources and skill and experience could be co-ordinated in a cohesive programme.
The survey soon showed that hospital work alone might well absorb all that the Convoy could contribute. Some nine hospitals were discovered to be in need of assistance; they had to be rehabilitated, staff would have to be provided, and all required transport for the haulage of grain, coal and other necessities. But the first task was to organize the projected relief, and by the end of the year a Honan Relief Committee was in operation composed of representatives of the various missionary and other interested bodies in order to direct all relief effort into one channel. The F.A.U. provided the Secretary and Treasurer of the Committee from the beginning, and later a high proportion of its membership.
Medical Team 16 moved into Chengchow and established itself in the Hwa Mei Hospital. It started with twelve beds, but during the winter more were added and gradually the work was built up. Another team moved into Changte Hospital, two hundred miles to the north of Chengchow, and plans were made for repairing and re-opening other hospitals in the province. Meanwhile, thought was given to industrial rehabilitation on a basis of co-operatives, by the loaning of money for the purchase of animals, seed and machinery. In all, eight separate schemes were put in hand covering medical, agricultural and educational work. Plans were drawn up for the care and control of refugees all over the province; they involved the establishment of ten transit camps with medical services, and five industrial holding camps where refugees would be held for longer periods and provided with work if flood and war damage made it impossible for them to reach their destination.
In February 1946, when Staff Meeting again came together, it was obvious that the balance of the whole Convoy was shifting increasingly to the north. Chungking had been a wartime capital, and the war was over; it seemed sensible that Headquarters should follow the work. So in March Headquarters were moved to Chengchow. Kutsing, once the hub of the Transport work, now became isolated ; its glory was departed and, in April, the garage there was closed and its trucks and equipment moved to the north.
That Staff Meeting of February 1946 reflected too the impending transfer to Philadelphia of the responsibility for the Convoy's work. An American member, Griffith Levering, succeeded Colin Bell as Chairman, and of the remaining nine members of the Council, only three were British. But many British members remained, and others went out to join them---several of them men who during the war had served in other theatres. One of them was Louis (Pip) Rivett, whose wartime service was with the Hadfield Spears Hospital. After the war he went out to China, and in the autumn of 1946 died there of infantile paralysis.
In April 1946 the Honan International Relief Committee, as it was now called, held its second quarterly meeting, and was able to allocate thirty-five million Chinese national dollars for medical work, for a Yellow River welfare team, water purification and distribution, a soup kitchen and anti-cholera work in the flood city of Chouchiakou, flour distribution and the encouragement of co-operative projects which involved the building up of rural textile and agricultural processing industries centred round a small community workshop.
Work in the north brought the Unit for the first time into contact with Communist-held territory. Unit trucks carried medicine and food to starving civilians in the city of Yungnien, which was under siege by the Communist armies, at the same time delivering medical supplies to the Communist Headquarters at Hantan. Already, in January, a truck convoy had left Chungking for Yenan, the Communist capital, taking drugs and supplies to the International Peace Hospitals. They were the first outside trucks to enter Chinese Communist territory since 1940. And in May 1946 Bob McClure led a small survey party into Communist territory north of Chengchow, country which was specially familiar to him; he found his old hospital at Huaiking completely wrecked.
When the control finally passed from London to Philadelphia, the work in Honan was coming into full swing, and there was every indication that its continuance under new auspices, but with no appreciable change of personnel or administration or emphasis on the spot, would provide the Convoy with a task as exacting and satisfying as any which it had been called upon to undertake.
IN THE VAST OCEAN of China's need, anything which a hundred men and women in five years could help to meet was but the smallest drop. And it was well for the Unit to remember that; for the grace of humility comes to a Westerner in the East only by long and patient cultivation, especially if he be young and enthusiastic and anxious to "see results". Indeed, a lack of humility was sometimes a source of criticism of the Unit from other Westerners in China.
In terms of statistics, of kilometre-tons hauled and patients cured, results had obviously been seen. The Unit, during those five years of war, was the only voluntary concern in China, whether Chinese or foreign, that was hauling medical supplies to meet civilian needs, and evidence is not lacking that this work alone meant to a large number of hospitals and medical institutions the difference between effective working and no work at all, to thousands of suffering patients the difference between life and death. As for the medical teams, there was little danger that, as might their counterparts with the British Army, they would feel themselves superfluous. Sometimes the question was cynically asked by others, "Where life is so cheap, what difference does it make in the long run whether a few hundreds are saved or not ? Why stop to pick up the one soldier you happen to pass where he has fallen in his tracks at the wayside, when thousands more are dying with no one to notice them?" The answer was not a matter for argument; it lay between each man and his own conscience.
Measurable results there were. The more intangible results were much more difficult to assess. They depended on what the Chinese thought, and the Chinese do not easily give their thoughts away. At first the work was regarded too often for the Convoy's liking as a bit of British Government propaganda, yet another "magnificent contribution to the allied cause ". And superficially one khaki uniform was much the same as another; for most members could still manage to put together a Red Cross uniform for special occasions, though long months with no replenishments of stock meant that they normally had to wear anything they could pick up. A repatriate flying out to India on his way home left his kit behind for others and departed as near to naked as modesty and the temperature over the Hump would allow.
But gradually the Convoy's anxiety to identify itself with the Chinese people became more noticeable. The vehicles of the allied armies rushed past on petrol, or rather gasolene; military needs demanded that they should. The charcoal-burner that chugged along behind it seemed more at home in the country, more Chinese, for it was what the Chinese haulier had to use. And when night came or the truck broke down, the driver would make his way to the nearest roadman's hut and stretch himself in his sleeping bag on the earthen floor. The medical teams in Yunnan, often at a distance of many days even from the poor amenities of Kutsing or Paoshan, would eat the same food, share the same lodging as the Chinese among whom they worked. On the road and in the wilds behind the Salween front members came very close to the land that was really China, the China that remained while invaders came and went.
On the members themselves the effect in time began to show itself. A few turned away revolted by such misery and suffering. But the majority succumbed to the spell of China, and saw gradually unfolding before their eyes a living civilization with a fundamental sense of values that put to shame those of many Europeans. It was still very easy, too easy, to play the superior Westerner even in relation to Chinese members of the Convoy, and there were many failures as well as some success.
What impression the Unit's pacifism made it is impossible to gauge. The Chinese peasant has a more deep-rooted hatred of war and militarism than his European counterpart. All he wants is to be left in peace to till his bit of land. But Christian pacifism in the Western sense was meaningless to him. A few Chinese members shared the Convoy's views, but the majority came in as associate, rather than full, members of the Unit. Of pacifism in action, work in China provided unexpected and searching tests. Members had to decide what were the essentials to which they had to cling, what the refinements of a too squeamish conscience which could be jettisoned. And on at least three or four occasions members who had often toyed with the problem in theory at home had to make up their minds, and that quickly, what is the pacifist's correct reaction to an attempt on his life.
In their discussions at Staff Meeting, in their literary outpourings on flimsy yellow rice paper, that could barely stand the mail journey back to England, members often, perhaps too often, tried to assess failure and achievement. Theirs was not the final word. At a Pacific Conference, held late in the war, a distinguished Chinese speaker made it clear that China would want to weigh up carefully what foreign organizations she did and did not want to help her with her reconstruction. And as the example of organizations which China warmly welcomed, he cited the Friends Ambulance Unit.
"I ADMIRE YOUR WORK and spirit, but you have attempted the impossible. You have tried to remain disinterested in a situation that will not tolerate neutrality. If I have a bully on my back I must shake him off before I can begin to be reconciled to him. In India to-day no one can avoid being political; the one thing you must do is to come off the fence."
That was one way of looking at it. It was the comment of an Indian Nationalist three years after a section of the F.A.U. had arrived in Bengal in the summer of 1942. It will be for the reader to judge whether he agrees with him. Not every Nationalist, not Mahatma Gandhi himself, to judge by the warmth of his welcome and support, agreed.
It is an axiom of relief work that the worker must not take sides in a political struggle. Whatever his own political convictions, while on the work of relief he is called to a different task. Convictions, of course, he must have, which show themselves not only in a general attitude but in judgments on particular issues. But as a relief worker his business is to alleviate suffering ; he must work for anyone who is in need; he must welcome co-operation from anyone who is genuinely anxious to meet the need. "With no distinction of class, colour or creed" may be easier to state than to achieve; but only by its achievement can material relief become a possible instrument of reconciliation. When relief becomes a tool of politics---and it can be the most potent of political weapons-its virtue has gone.
On matters of relief policy the worker will speak out. Sometimes in the face of monstrous injustice he may feel it his business to commit himself politically, the righting of the basic evil being considered more important than the alleviation of immediate need. To decide when his duty lies that way is perhaps the most difficult issue which any relief worker has to face.
In fact, disinterested service does not mean a vapid neutrality. A man remains disinterested if he has no personal ambition for gain or prestige at stake. In the relief of suffering he can attempt to work with both sides and for both sides, and from his position as an intermediary to effect some measure of reconciliation.
It was in that spirit of disinterested service that a section of the Unit went out to India. If ever there was a situation in which political tension and bitterness might be argued to make such service an impossible ideal, it was in Bengal in the latter half of 1942. But that made the attempt, and any success achieved, all the more worth while.
ON 8TH DECEMBER, 1941, Great Britain and the United States found themselves at war with Japan. Christmas Day saw the fall of Hong Kong, February of Singapore, March of Rangoon. With Burma and Malaya in enemy hands, Calcutta and the whole eastern seaboard of India came into the front line. In London, in September 1940, the Unit had rallied its forces hastily and improvised. But by the end of 1941 improvisation had bred a considerable body of experience and technical knowledge. There seemed every reason why experience gained in England should be placed at the disposal of the cities of Bengal and Madras.
The moving spirit was Richard Symonds. He had been in charge of Unit work in shelters in London from September 1940 onwards. Before the end of 1941 the possibility of work in India had already been discussed on the Executive Committee. Friends in India were consulted ; their replies were not encouraging and there was delay, but the exploration continued. When Sir Stafford Cripps flew to India in March 1942, a member of his staff took the matter up with the Viceroy, who consulted the Governor of Bengal. This was followed up by a cable from London which offered a team of four men and two women, and ended with the words "Sole object of members is relief of suffering and distress in accordance with Quaker principles." Two days later the reply of the Viceroy was sent through the India Office. It "gratefully accepted the offer on the conditions proposed ".
It was indeed a bold move on the part of any relief organization to enter the cockpit of India in 1942. No organization, however ingenuous in its intention to give disinterested service, could proceed to work in a vacuum regardless of the political struggle. The very act of going out under Government auspices, though independently, might mean immediate estrangement from a large section of Nationalist opinion.
Plans were carefully made. The strains and stresses of India had been a concern of the Society of Friends for many years, and by none was the concern more strongly felt than by Horace Alexander, who was at the time on the staff of Woodbrooke, the Quaker College in Selly Oak. He knew India, he was a personal friend of Mahatma Gandhi and other Indian leaders, and he as much as anyone would be able to give to the Section the guidance which it needed. Contrary to precedent, for the Unit normally found its leaders from among its own members, he was invited to join the six already selected, and to lead the section. Richard Symonds, as Executive Officer, would be his deputy, and provide the technical leadership required. In London a special India Committee with experience or interest in Indian affairs was set up to assist the Unit Council and Executive Committee.
Horace Alexander and Richard Symonds left early in May 1942 and reached India in the middle of June. Shortly after them, five others left---Pamela Bankart, Jean Cottle, Glan Davies, Ken Griffin, Brian Groves---to arrive in Bengal on the first day of August. All had been selected individually for their experience in various aspects of A.R.P. From the Unit's point of view the India section was exceptional; it was the normal policy to provide for overseas work carefully assorted teams in which the older and more experienced members would provide the leadership for younger and less mature workers. For India only experienced relief workers were selected, any of whom would be capable of doing an individual job.
On arrival in India Horace Alexander and Richard Symonds visited British and Indian Friends at the Friends Service Council station in Itarsi in the Central Provinces. They were helpful and encouraging. Individual Friends, notably of the Indians Ranjit Chetsingh, were to prove invaluable advisers for the Unit's work.
So far arrangements had been made almost entirely through the Government, and it was essential to establish good relations with the other side without delay. So they went off to Sevagram for two days as the personal guests of Mr. Gandhi. He gave them his unqualified blessing. Although the cry everywhere was "Quit India," the Unit's arrival at the time, if its members came in a spirit of service, was especially welcome, and he hoped that they would be able to investigate stories that reached him of great hardship among the peasants in the country districts of South Bengal in consequence of security measures taken by the military. This blessing and the publicity given to the Unit by the paper Harijian quickly overcame opposition.
They went on to New Delhi, where they conferred with the Viceroy's secretary and the Civil Defence Department; it was here that they were advised to establish their work in Bengal.
On 4th July they reached Calcutta. Calcutta was expecting the Japanese. Many residents had left the city and there was increasing political unrest. Two measures of the Defence Department in particular had caused dissatisfaction, the "denial" policy and the "boat denial" policy. In the coastal areas all rice in excess of local requirements was to be bought up by the Government at fixed prices, and most of the country boats which could carry more than ten people---the main transport in the coastal areas---were impounded for fear of assisting the Japanese. Around the coast, too, areas were cleared for aerodromes and the peasants displaced. An attempt was made by the Government to see that the measures caused as little hardship as possible;, compensation was paid and a proportion of the boats were to be released when needed again for moving the rice crops. But there was undoubtedly some hardship, and in a province which snatched at anything to make political capital of it, the measures became a burning issue.
So, when they arrived in the stifling and humid heat of Calcutta in mid-summer, the outlook was not a promising one. One of the first people they met was Alec Horsfield, who had gone out from England to join the China Convoy. As an architect with knowledge of the architectural requirements of shelters gained in Birmingham and Coventry, he had been held up in Calcutta to join the India section. He had already visited some Government First-Aid Posts, and for the rest of the month the three continued visiting Government First-Aid Posts and A.R.P. depots and got in touch with the University authorities and student representatives. Contact was made early on with Sir John Herbert, the Governor, who was always interested and well-informed about the Unit's plans and work.
London, at the beginning, had been difficult enough. The prospect of heavy raids on Calcutta was an even less attractive one.
"Bengal had had very little time to organize effective A.R.P. services. The Japanese successes in Malaya suddenly startled the authorities into a discovery that India was threatened by attack from the east. Calcutta is largely built of ramshackle huts that would collapse if a 500 lb. high explosive bomb dropped within half a mile. The owners of strongly-built houses in the crowded quarters were in many cases quite unwilling to turn their strongpoints into public shelters, where beggars and lepers might crowd in . . . . The city is quite flat and is built on a swamp, the water-level being barely six feet below the surface. Large underground shelters were therefore out of the question. Slit trenches, dug during the dry season, were mostly waterlogged in July and August, and small boys were to be seen trying to fish in them. Some oval-shaped public surface shelters were being erected, at a pace which would have allowed room for the whole population after ten years . . . . The great majority of women, being still in purdah, would probably refuse to leave their houses at all unless women wardens came to fetch them---and there were no women wardens, or very few.
"Fire-watching had hardly been organized, and it seemed quite certain that if the Japanese dropped incendiaries on some of the warehouses along the Hooghly river, or indeed in some of the bazaar areas, fires would start which would blaze away merrily for days."
First-Aid Posts had been established, together with Relief Centres which could receive bombed out civilians and provide special accommodation for women and children. But apart from a small percentage of higher officials, the services were staffed by lower middle class unemployed who could learn their duties by rote but had little idea of what a real raid would be like.
On the other hand, there was a large number of potential trainees. Among the thousands of University students there were many who seemed keen on some kind of A.R.P. service so long as it was not labelled "Government". In particular, there was an organization called the Bengal Civil Protection Committee, which had been started by Congress but was organically distinct. It had already done some work, but found difficulty in getting equipment.
Everywhere the need was apparent, and everywhere there was a welcome for the Unit.
"Our reception and the co-operation we get from Indian voluntary societies is quite remarkable. When it is known that we are not connected with the Government and that we have met and respected prominent Indian figures, we are received always with embarrassing confidence. At the same time, in the Bengal Government our relations have been most friendly, as with British officials also, who are always anxious to hear what we have to say on most technical subjects."
Even before the five members of the first party had arrived in Bengal on the 1st August, a cable was sent off to London asking for reinforcements. London preferred to bide its time until the first party had shown what it could do. A few weeks later the request was remade, and arrangements were put in hand. At last, in February 1943, Clement Alexandre, Leslie Cross, Stephen Lee and Jim Simmonds arrived, to be followed in April and May by Evelyn Rogers, Eleanor Sawdon and Margaret Smethurst. But for the winter of 1942 the original eight had to carry on.
Their work in Civil Defence was widely varied. Ken Griffin co-operated with the Medical Section of the Bengal Civil Protection Committee and its chairman, Dr. K. S. Ray. The Committee staffed more than twenty First-Aid Posts in Calcutta, and had organized a medical mission which did valuable work among the refugees who came through from Burma to Assam. The main work which the B.C.P.C. developed was a road service of mobile dispensaries, six in all, which in the event of raids would station themselves along the evacuation routes; to each would be attached a doctor and three or four assistants. One dispensary was transferred from the Friends' Hospital at Itarsi for the period of the emergency. A grant was made from the Government of Bengal; Ken Griffin and Richard Symonds served on the Executive Committee of the Medical Section of the B.C.P.C., and the work occupied Ken all his time until the end of January 1943.
Glan Davies lectured to staffs at First-Aid Posts and gave special attention to the training of students. He visited A.R.P. depots, hospitals and First-Aid Posts in and around Calcutta, while Jean Cottle, the one trained nurse in the party, also started inspections of First-Aid Posts in Calcutta from the medical point of view. Alec Horsfield became involved in shelter policy and the development of relief and feeding centres. His report on the Relief of Persons Rendered Homeless by Air Attack became a standard work and was published and widely circulated by the Government. From October onwards he became Deputy Relief Control Officer, and as such had an office away from Unit headquarters with Brian Groves, whose job it was to develop the post-raid Information Services---the function of which in England had been covered by the Citizens' Advice Bureaux.
Previously the only information service available for harassed .and anxious people was provided by the police stations, and relations with the police in Bengal were such that few would make use of them. There were long negotiations, because the effectiveness of any information centres that would be set up would depend entirely on the absence of any political taint. Nor was it easy to publicise them. Newspaper and other advertisements would not reach the mass of the people, who were illiterate ; so loudspeakers and other devices were used in the slums, or bustees, of Calcutta to make them known.
Pamela Bankart concerned herself with work among women. If women had been needed in the Relief Section in England, they were doubly needed in Bengal. Purdah was still widely observed; it meant that women were secluded and could only be approached by women workers, of whom there were hardly any in the A.R.P. services. The more intelligent and emancipated women and girls were politically minded and anxious to help, but unable to do so through any Government services. Pamela therefore organized the Women's Emergency Volunteers, comprising most of the nonofficial women's organizations in Calcutta. She enrolled women and girls who were prepared to be attached to First-Aid Posts, Relief Centres and Information Bureaux, in order to help their fellow-women during and after raids. Not all senior British women in Calcutta approved of her efforts; but their disapproval was in direct contrast to the warm support which came from Lady Mary Herbert.
Richard Symonds became Adviser to the Commander of House Fire Parties, and was for a short time Adviser on Shelter Policy, while Horace Alexander had the wider responsibility of making contacts and new friendships and steering the boat through troubled waters. Soon files wrapped in red tape began to find their way into the office at 1 Upper Wood Street, into which the Unit had moved on 1st September.
Calcutta had become a base for the China section, and there was, of course, close contact between the two sections, the Calcutta Agent of the China Convoy occupying an office in Upper Wood Street. And now a further member of the China Convoy was annexed; Robert Savery, instead of going to China, had helped to organize and build camps for the thousands of Indian refugees from Burma who had poured into Manipur State at and around Imphal. He had spent some time in Calcutta in October, and in December became officially attached to the section. He was asked by the refugee officers in Manipur to return; this he did after a period in Calcutta, during which he indulged in bouts of dysentery and malaria. After a few more months in Manipur, during which he was for a time in charge of all refugee camps in the State, he had to return to Calcutta in the spring of 1943 on health grounds.
Meanwhile, the end of December 1942 had brought a test for the A.R.P. services. There was a short series of night raids with some hundreds of casualties. The Information Service dealt with inquiries; the B.C.P.C. teams went out on the Burdwan road, where thousands of non-Bengali workers from Calcutta were trudging along with handcarts or bullock-carts and buffaloes and with packs on their heads. The raids showed that the first-aid workers and the fire parties worked well, but there was an inadequacy of shelter accommodation, and fire-watching was far from what it should be. Renewed efforts were made to speed things up before the January full moon, when heavier raids were expected. Delays and vested interests made progress very difficult.
Throughout the autumn the political situation had deteriorated. In July the Congress Working Committee's resolution demanding the immediate establishment of a National Government and threatening civil disobedience if their demands were not met was published in the press. The spirit of it was so opposed to the assurances which Mahatma Gandhi had given in his conversation with Horace Alexander and Richard Symonds three weeks before that Horace again went to see him, but, after the first interview, he was discouraged by New Delhi. Then, on Sunday, 9th August, the news came that as soon as the All-India Congress Committee had endorsed the resolution, the Mahatma and the Congress Working Committee had been arrested in Bombay.
There were widespread disturbances. Like everyone else', members of the Unit were gravely concerned, although their work was not seriously affected. Their relations with the Government were never disturbed, while prominent Indians were from time to time entertained at Upper Wood Street. When Mahatma Gandhi began his three-week fast, Horace Alexander felt that as a gesture of personal friendship at least one Englishman ought to see him. The matter was discussed at length by the section, and it was at last agreed that it would be right for him to do so. It was a measure of the feeling in the country that discussion was necessary at all as to whether it would be the right thing to do. Horace saw him, and stayed in Poona until the end of the fast. Thereafter there was no public contact with leading figures until Mrs. Pandit, the President of the All-India Women's Conference, was invited to stay at Upper Wood Street in September 1943.
Civil Defence provided a steady job, though continued concentration on it might have become a monotonous and depressing business if raids were no worse than those of December 1942. After a few months the Unit might well have withdrawn, but there was no need to do so. In fact, its real job in India was just beginning.
A HUNDRED MILES beyond Calcutta the Hooghly river, on which the city stands, flows out into the sea. On the left bank of the estuary lies the district of 24-Parganas, on the right Midnapore with its two sub-divisions of Tamluk and Contai. Midnapore was a centre of nationalist elements, and the Calcutta disturbances of September had been reproduced there in a much more violent form. It was an area which the Japanese might well choose for a landing.
Some members of the section in Calcutta spent the evening of 15th October 1942 at a house a mile away from Upper Wood Street. There had been a high wind all day; towards evening it increased, and a deluge of rain flooded the streets in a few minutes. During the night gusts of over one hundred and ten miles an hour were recorded. By the following day calm had returned, but great trees were blown down everywhere ; there were one or two fatal casualties. It was a stormy night, but storms in Bengal are not infrequent.
It was not until a few days later that the full horror of that night became known. Rumours began to trickle through of disaster at the river's mouth ; tidal waves had broken over the banks, mainly on the southern side, for a distance of seven miles. Hundreds of square miles of country were flooded to a depth of six or eight feet. An American member who was going through to China spoke of miles of telegraph wires and poles laid flat, the railway line being strewn with the carcasses of goats and cattle, while people were clinging to the roofs of ruined huts above the flood.
On that night of elemental terror, in Midnapore 14,500 people were killed, and a thousand across the river in 24-Parganas. Nearly 200,000 cattle had been destroyed and many thousands of village huts and larger buildings wrecked. The sea had flooded in over fields of rice that were just ripening in one of the richest areas of India. Not only was the crop ruined but the ground was spoilt by saline deposits. Almost all who were not drowned lost their houses, together with the stores of food and clothing or anything else which they had. Wells were fouled by salt and carcasses.
On 22nd October, Horace Alexander and Richard Symonds were in conference with a member of the Bengal Civil Service when the secretary of the Revenue Department, Mr. B. R. Sen, told them of the cyclone. He asked whether the Unit could help and send some members down the following day. There was hurried consultation in the passage and it was agreed that Jean Coule should be released for fourteen days to carry out inoculations against cholera and to help with any other health work needed. Cholera was the great fear. Alec Horsfield was also to go, and Richard Symonds for a brief period to survey the need.
The first requirement was Bengali help in an area in which any Englishman would be suspect; it was therefore arranged that they should be accompanied by four members of the B.C.P.C., two doctors and two assistants. For their part, the B.C.P.C. could not have entered an area in which rioting and incendiarism were taking place on a large scale, without the Unit's accepting responsibility for them.
The first relief party had gone to Contai, the sub-division nearest the coast. The Unit, which was the second relief party to go, was destined for Tamluk.
"Down the Hooghly river, on the 24th, we sailed. The launch towed three lighters of food supplies. Our objective was the Tamluk sub-division of Midnapore, and that evening we arrived. The floods had receded from the land, but for strength of tide we could not get ashore. We sought a safe anchorage; there was none. Throughout the night and half the following day the hours unfolded a grim struggle between dragging anchors and hidden sands, flat-out engines and swirling tides . . . . At noon the sub-divisional officer came aboard. Birds, perched on the rumps of drowned cows, drifted by. Impatient and weary we landed as the second darkness fell. Our base was Mahishadal, at the palace of the Rajah. Thence we journeyed by canal in a man-hauled country boat. We held our noses through the stench of rotting carcasses. The Palace guesthouse stood blue in a setting of stately palms, water-lilied pools and the moon's full light. By dim oil lamp we met officials we could hardly see, had a midnight meal, and sank into undisturbed silence.
"This part of Bengal can be likened to a worn net of tiny mesh. The spaces are water, the threads narrow, crazy, muddy paths submerging and reappearing, the knots a multitude of mud and thatch villages, now wrecked under a confusion of palms. Our two teams parted, one for the coast, far out of touch. We, an Indian doctor, Jean and I, got busy with the refugees within the Palace grounds. We inoculated all, men, women and babies. We worked amongst lepers. Success was empty, for always came the pitiful cry, 'Why save us from cholera yet let us die for food?' The supplies we had brought were for a wide field. They had to be divided and transhipped.
"We set off for the villages, long walks in the sun through stinking mud and water. As we approached people melted away. But gradually they came to trust us. From dwelling to dwelling we walked and waded, inoculated, walked, waded and inoculated again. Dogs and jackals howled and fought over putrid flesh and bone, packs of baboons bounced angrily through the bamboos.
"Cholera broke out on a minor scale. In the wreckage of homes, by day and night, by electric torch and clay lamps as old as civilization itself, the struggle between life and death went on. Glucose and saline, collapsed veins and clotting blood, mosquitoes and cramp, hope and helplessness, that was the tale. The cholera demon spread fear and the people fought back in the only way they knew. To our weapons of syringe and flask they added eerie processions in the dark, the discords of conch-shell, cymbal and drum, and the call of prayer."
The process of food distribution was pitifully slow, and the Unit soon realized that there was an urgent need for milk, especially for the children. Arrangements were improvised for the sending of milk powder, and canteens were opened in the villages. Pamela Bankart and some Bengali girls went down, and soon the canteen system was extended. Children from a large village or group of villages would gather at a central spot where the powdered milk, would be mixed in water boiled locally and they made to drink it on the spot. The work was financed originally by newspaper articles, and soon the Unit was feeding a modest total of 500 children each day. Great help was afforded by the military, particularly with transport and distribution.
Relief was constantly hampered by politics.
"Our position is a peculiarly delicate one. On the one side we have to guarantee the bona fides of Indian fellow workers whom the authorities might not very willingly have accepted except as our colleagues at the same time, it has given us an opportunity of achieving a co-operation between official and unofficial agencies of the very kind that we visualized before we left England, and in a situation of exceptional tension and complexity. Beyond this, our reports are apparently accepted as authoritative and disinterested."
In Calcutta voluntary efforts were instituted to raise funds, and a committee was formed representing nearly thirty bodies, including the F.A.U. Meanwhile, the Unit could not forget its A.R.P. commitments. The Japanese were still expected to try invasion, and only those workers could be sent down to Midnapore who could be spared for a time from Calcutta. Glan Davies was in due course sent down to take charge.
Soon the Unit was urged by the authorities to extend the distribution of milk over the whole of Contai and Tamluk. With its resources this was impossible, but in response to an urgent appeal, it was agreed to move from Tamluk to Contai, which was the centre of the worst hit district of all. The work in Tamluk was taken over by other voluntary societies, especially the Ramakrishna Mission, with the Unit continuing responsibility for supplying the powdered milk. So, at the end of December Glan Davies began to organize distribution from Contai, where he remained in charge for six months, being later joined by Jim Simmonds and by Sudhir Ghosh, who had known Friends in England and now attached himself to the section, with which he remained until the spring of 1944. Some weeks after Glan's arrival, a new plan was adopted to ensure a wider distribution. Instead of the infants drinking milk on the spot, it was distributed to the mothers with instructions how to prepare it. Soon the Unit was supplying an eight-ounce drink a day to between three and four thousand children.
"Before a ticket authorizing a family to receive a dole of milk is issued the child has to be produced for inspection. Sometimes children are carried three to four miles to the centre and back---a necessary hardship which we must in the first instance impose. But when once seen, examined and declared a genuine bona fide baby, we do not ask to see it on subsequent dole days, when the production of the ticket is sufficient for a refill of powder."
In Calcutta the regular supply of milk powder was a constant source of anxiety. Agitated messages would come to Upper Wood Street from Contai that stocks were running low. At first supplies came from firms in Calcutta, the names of which were supplied by the Government, but gradually Government itself took steps to co-ordinate and purchased milk, which it handed over to the Unit for distribution. The Governor set up a fund which was available to help those societies which had taken on more work than they could themselves finance. The fund had two sub-committees, one for finance, one to represent the workers of the organizations which were actually operating in the field ; the Unit was represented on both.
South of Midnapore lies the small and poor province of Orissa, the northern part of which, North Balasore, had also suffered badly. In September 1943 Horace Alexander and Richard Symonds had visited Cuttack, the capital of Orissa, and contacts made at that time with the Servants of India Society and other voluntary bodies were now followed up. Visits were paid by Horace Alexander and Leslie Cross during the spring, and although the Unit was not able to send down any workers, it transferred to the Servants of India Society some of the funds which were sent out to it from England. Contact was maintained for a few months, until the Unit became so occupied in Bengal that close touch was no longer possible with North Balasore.
Work in Midnapore went on throughout the winter. Then it became the policy of Government to close down food distribution gradually during February and March. Pressure from voluntary societies in the field induced them to carry on, but it was hoped that after April the survivors would have earned enough by work on the dykes or other Government relief projects to keep themselves and their families until the new rice crop was reaped at the end of the year. Loans were made for rebuilding houses, for buying cattle and ploughs and seed rice, but soon it became clear that the scheme was not going according to plan. During April and May the Unit, still engaged on milk distribution, could see that, while the children were being kept alive, the parents were starving.
Meanwhile the Unit had been planning a babies' hospital to cater for the worst victims. With the arrival of the reinforcements it looked as if four or five members would be available in Contai throughout the summer. There was prospect of help from Government funds, and there was useful work ahead. But unfortunately dysentery took charge. The low standard of food and the bad living conditions in Contai, in addition to the strain of the winter, had told on the section, and all who tried to work there in the heat of May and June had to return to Calcutta. At last, when the summer came, the scheme had to be handed over to the Government. But that was not the end of the Unit's work in Contai.
A GREAT NATUAL disaster and the destitution which it caused provided the more spectacular need. But the Japanese were still on the threshold of India and the section could never forget that its primary job was the preparation of the Civil Defence Services. When Horace Alexander called on him before leaving India and handing over the leadership of the section to Richard Symonds in August 1943, the Governor, while warmly approving the work done on flood relief, hoped that the section would not let its A.R.P. commitments suffer.
The Information Service initiated by Brian Groves grew until it had fifty-one offices in all, not only in Calcutta but in Howrah and 24-Parganas, where Leslie Cross worked in the summer of 1943. After the initial mistrust of anything new, the number of inquiries trebled from month to month. The service had proved its worth even in the minor raids of December. Gradually during the spring the nature of the inquiries began to change. Food and clothes became the main topics, for they were becoming the primary concern of practically everyone.
The Women's Emergency Volunteers were also diverted to work in connection with the distribution of food, especially rice, when queues at the food shops became enormous. Groups were held too in the bustees, with talks and lantern slides and films, to keep up interest. But it was always a problem to know what direction such work should take among the depressed women of the Calcutta slums.
A visit by Richard Symonds and Pamela Bankart to Dacca in the spring of 1943 was followed up by Clement Alexandre and Stephen Lee. Dacca was the largest town of East Bengal, and had a large and congested bazaar The two became A.R.P. advisers, Stephen being mainly concerned with the training of the casualty services (he had himself learnt something of Indian methods at a training course in Bombay, which he attended as soon as he arrived in India), and Clem devoting himself to Relief Centres, fire parties and the Information Services.
In April 1943, Ken Griffin went north to Assam to visit Bob Savery in Manipur State; Bob was at the time engaged on the reconditioning of camps, the buildings of which were set on low beaten mud plinths built on a bamboo framework, with walls of split bamboo, mud and cow dung. As a result of this visit Ken himself and Stephen Lee went north in June to Assam to act as A.R.P. Advisers. Jim Simmonds took over from Ken Griffin in October, and the work went on until May 1944.
They were concerned with four towns in the Brahmaputra Valley, which were centres for oil supplies and military bases. They had already had some hit-and-run raids. The Unit's work consisted of evolving training schemes and exercises for A.R.P. personnel, providing an office organization, and a simple post-raid information service. In addition, there was work around the actual air-fields. Large air-fields and fighter strips had been cut out of the jungle. When raids came the thousands of coolies who worked on them and lived in the villages around would bolt into the jungle and hope for the best. There had as a result been several casualties already. Now stretcher parties were organized; the coolies were with great difficulty taught to dig themselves slit trenches ; there were collecting posts at convenient spots, and attention was paid to transport and equipment and personnel.
AS THE SPRING OF 1943 advanced, it became increasingly obvious that the plans made to. wind up flood relief were based on serious miscalculations. Officials in the mofussil, the area of Bengal outside Calcutta, were already, in private conversation, using the ominous word "famine ". The cyclone, the failure of the rice crop, the military situation, the difficulties of import and transport, and the loss of Burma, all had something to do with it. Prices began to soar. Rice from being rupees a maund soon cost 30 or 35. The peasants were holding on to what supplies they had in view of the general insecurity, and there was no doubt that many merchants in Calcutta were holding back supplies in order to force the prices higher. In fact, the Bengal Famine of 1943/44 had begun. "It stands out as a great calamity ", said the Woodhead Report later, "even in an age all too familiar with human suffering and death on a tragic scale. Between one and two million people died as a result of the famine and the outbreaks of epidemic disease associated with it. There was a moral and social breakdown as well as an administrative one."
The worst affected among the population were the inhabitants of the rural districts such as Midnapore, where the crops had failed; those from the jute-growing districts, such as Dacca, who were dependent on imports for their food supplies ; landless labourers in the mofussil and casual labourers in Calcutta.
At the end of June, Miss Gompertz, a German refugee and member of the International Fellowship of Reconciliation, who had been an occasional visitor to Upper Wood Street, came to ask for the Unit's co-operation in an effort to establish a feeding centre for small children at a Bengal Social Service League centre in one of the larger bustees. She had selected twelve undernourished children and was providing for them one meal a day, their mothers helping to cook and paying one pice a day, which was a quarter of the actual cost. She was anxious to extend the scheme. The Unit agreed to help with supplies of food, and with voluntary help; and Pamela Bankart, with the help of the Women's Emergency Volunteers, got to work. Contributions were received from one or two wealthy Indians. Soon the number of children being fed rose to 100; two other canteens were opened in July, and a fourth in August. Meanwhile other voluntary societies were beginning to take the field; the Unit was only one of many.
In July famine was more than a word whispered as a threatening prospect. The multitudes flocking into Calcutta told their own tale. Queues of thousands stood outside the food shops day after day; they slept on the pavements at the end of July and in early August, when the rains were at their heaviest. In August an average of one hundred a day were taken to hospital suffering from starvation; twenty-five to thirty a day died. Of those picked up and removed to hospital, a large percentage gave some village in Midnapore as their place of origin. They were predominantly women and children; the men had mostly remained in the villages to tend the crops. Many of the women and children, kept alive by the canteens, found themselves widows and orphans when later they returned to their villages.
For the rest of 1943 the famine raged. With inadequate supplies too late to prevent hundreds of thousands of people who were chronically semi-starved from dying of famine, Government and an array of voluntary societies set to work in earnest. The canteens and the doles of rice in Calcutta had attracted the villagers by the thousands from the surrounding countryside. It now became official policy to open centres outside the city to draw the villagers away.
For the next few months the Unit's efforts were directed in three main ways. It organized its own canteens and steadily added to their number throughout the autumn and winter; it took part in a scheme of milk distribution through the Indian Red Cross; and is undertook work officially on behalf of the Bengal Government.
To take the last first. The Government's Relief Control Office was responsible for the feeding, through free kitchens, of all destitutes in Calcutta, and for the distribution throughout the province of clothing and blankets purchased by a Central Relief Fund. Alec Horsfield and John Burtt, who arrived in India with his wife in August, had a full job in the office as well as inspecting Government canteens and voluntary kitchens; Alec, in addition, became secretary of the Central Relief Fund.
The extension of the Civil Defence Information Office to handle food and clothing problems has already been mentioned. Brian Groves and Leslie Cross worked in the office throughout the famine, assisting with registration for rationing, with price control and with "mass observation" surveys which provided material on which the Government could base its food policy.
The Indian Red Cross, in the autumn of 1943, established its own scheme for milk distribution. It began with an appeal by Lady Linlithgow for contributions in India in cash and kind; the first contribution was a gift of 200 tons of condensed milk released by the Army. At a conference held in Calcutta on 6th September, at which the Unit was represented, it was decided to allocate 1,200 tins a day through the existing canteens, and in addition 480 tins a day to six of the worst hit districts. The milk was intended for undernourished mothers and small infants.
The Red Cross scheme was to have two full-time officers, of whom one was a member of the Unit, Margaret Smethurst. Rapidly the organization grew. Sometimes its administration was combined with Unit canteens, as it was, for instance, by Mary Burtt in Howrah. Here she had 110 Red Cross canteens which fed 10,000 mothers and infants daily. In all, 100,000 a day came to be fed by the Red Cross in Bengal.
Finally there were the Unit's own canteens, in which it concentrated on children between three and twelve years of age. Thus it did not clash with the Red Cross scheme. The children were selected carefully according to need. In consultation with nutritional experts, a standard meal with a high dahl (lentil) and vegetable content was worked out ; it was varied, on different days of the week, with meat, fish and eggs. The use wherever possible of premises lent by Indian voluntary organizations or children's clinics reduced costs to a minimum.
The canteens were organized by local committees which provided voluntary workers for day to day operations. In September there were five such canteens in Calcutta, and two in 24-Parganas. Sujata Davies came in to help Pamela Bankart, who, in addition to being secretary of the Unit canteens, had become joint secretary of the Bengal Women's Food Committee. Mary Burtt, who had gone down to Howrah as Red Cross milk organizer, later assumed responsibility for the F.A.TJ. canteens as well. The move to the villages to draw destitutes away from Calcutta meant that by the spring of 5944 there were twenty-four Unit canteens in 24-Parganas, twelve in Howrah, twenty-four in Dacca, and five in Burdwan, feeding in all 6,700 children. The Dacca canteens were started in January by Arthur Moore, who had been editor of the Calcutta Statesman and now came in to work for a time with the Unit.
For months these and other Unit members moved around from village to village, by car, bicycle, or on foot, along crazy tracks between the paddy-fields, to supervise existing canteens or open new ones, in each of which every day over a hundred lean and brown-skinned children would squat down crosslegged on the ground to receive their "standard meal ".
Food was not the only requirement. As the cold of winter came on, clothes became as great a necessity. The Unit spent £6,000 on clothes and blankets made of hessian stuffed with cotton, and these were issued through canteens in Calcutta and the mofussil. In November 1943 garments and blankets were issued to 7,000 children, 2,500 women and 1,800 men.
In one area the Unit was covering very familiar ground. Clem Alexandre and Sudhir Ghosh were still in Contai feeding 3,500 infants and supervising two free kitchens.
Field work and the attempt to stimulate Government and other agencies went hand in hand; much of the work was concerned with policy; members pressed for the appointment of a Relief Commissioner to co-ordinate relief in the whole of Bengal, for a system of special famine relief hospitals throughout the province, and for the re-introduction of the rice dole in Contai. They had a hand in the scheme for the evacuation of destitutes in Calcutta. The interest of other voluntary societies was enlisted in specific types of relief, and the supplies were negotiated for them at preferential rates. Indeed many other societies, mainly Indian, worked closely with the Unit and helped with personnel or funds.
A later visitor to the section wrote:
"The section was in the nature of a guerilla force, a character which gave it maximum flexibility and enabled it to make a contribution to famine relief out of all proportion to its numbers. I would not minimize the value of the work undertaken and sponsored directly by the Unit, but it does appear that some of the by-products of our work were especially important. The present network of Famine Relief Hospitals may owe its existence in part to pressure from Unit members as a result of their observation of conditions in the field. Such pressure might not have borne any fruit had it been made by people who were not themselves actively engaged in relief work. The two aspects of the work, direct field work and the stimulation of Government and other organizations, have gone hand in hand."
It was a vital function of a voluntary society, and, though less spectacular than direct relief, its results were more far-reaching.
The Unit's funds for work carried on in its own name were derived from many sources. Much of the work which it undertook in other parts of the world was financed by the bodies for whom the work was done. But in India care had been taken not to draw too much from Government, for Government funds, even if they did not mean Government control, would at least arouse suspicion of Government control. The section had originally drawn £2,500 in London from the Lord Mayor's Relief Fund, the Bengal Government paid Rs. 1,000 a month, and the Government of India paid the passages of the six reinforcements who arrived in the spring of 1943. This meant that 40 per cent. of the expenses came from Government sources; beyond this it was not safe to go. There were contributions from Indian industrialists, many with Nationalist leanings, and from other sources in India itself. When the flood came the Society of Friends in England sent £500 through Meeting for Sufferings; in those days it was a case of "he gives twice who gives quickly". There were regular transfers from F.A.U. General Funds, and when the famine arrived the Unit inaugurated an appeal through the press in England with the help of the Save the Children Fund. It was taken up vigorously by the News Chronicle and produced over £15,000 There were contributions from the Indian Relief Committee in England, from Australian Friends, and in India from the Bengal Relief Committee and from the Hindustan Times Relief Fund.
Last, but far from least, came the American Friends Service Committee. In the summer of 1943 John Rich passed through India on his return from a visit to the China section. On his recommendation a donation was immediately sent from America, and in January 1944 20,000 cases of milk arrived. This was only the first trickle of financial help and supplies which developed into a large stream. James Vail was in the early summer of 1944 sent out as A.F.S.C. Commissioner to India to see what could be done. On his recommendation American funds became available for the canteens; regular supplies of milk arrived, together with multi-vitamin tablets, atebrin for malaria, sulfa drugs for cholera and dysentery and pneumonia. The tablets were counted by the million and were distributed through over 200 agencies, mainly canteens and schools.
As important as the supplies were personnel to administer what came to be called "The American Drug Programme". Eric Johnson and John Scott. Everton arrived, and later Dr. Allen Longshore, an American who was already a member of the F.A.U. in China. Others, British and American, on loan from China, helped for short periods. F.A.U. and A.F.S.C. did not at this stage become one organization as they had done in China. The A.F.S.C. had become the official channel for all American relief supplies for India, and the American name had to be kept, but there was the closest collaboration, and in practice the two sections worked together from the same Headquarters.
It was largely American resources which made possible the extension of the work to South India. On the south-west coast of India, 1,500 miles from Calcutta, lie Travancore, Cochin and Malabar. They had been largely dependent on supplies of rice from Burma and were said to be second only to Bengal in distress. In June 1944 Leslie Cross was sent down to Travancore, and shortly afterwards Christopher Taylor, who had recently arrived from England where he had been Chairman of Friends Relief Service, followed him to Malabar. With supplies of tinned milk from the A.F.S.C. and powdered skimmed milk from the Government of India canteens were started. Multi-vitamin tablets added to their value. In Travancore, under a local committee, four hundred canteens were opened, which ran on the Bengal pattern.
In Malabar too 335 canteens were started. Christopher Taylor, when he moved to Bengal to succeed Richard Symonds as leader of the section, was succeeded by John Burtt, who was in turn followed by Adrian Mayer. Distribution was organized by lorry, by boat, by train, either direct to the centres or to larger depots from which the milk was collected by the centre organizers. Nearly two-thirds of the centres were in schools or were organized by the Servants of India Society, or the Catholic or Basel Missions. The remainder were run by local committees and involved a large measure of co-operative effort and public spirit. In one village Hindus and Moslems both wanted supplies of milk but neither group would attend a centre run by the other. In the end both agreed to ask the headmaster of a school for outcastes to organize a canteen on neutral ground to which all children would go.
DIRECT RELIEF WENT on, and in some cases it was expanded. In December 1944 there were ninety-five Unit canteens still open. But during 1945 the need was rapidly diminishing. In July there were forty-eight canteens, in October thirty-six. Not that India, land of the "dumb semi-starved millions", is ever free from distress and poverty of a type which the western world cannot comprehend; but the problems were becoming the basic centuries-old needs of India, outside the scope of emergency relief. When, in the summer of 1945, the A.F.S.C. took steps to institute a new fund, American Relief to India, it was clear that the funds would be needed not for drugs intended for emergency relief but for medical, equipment and supplies for hospitals and for the rehabilitation of famine victims.
Rehabilitation of famine victims---that was now the main task.
Early in 1944, when the famine was beginning to abate, the Unit had noted the demoralizing effects of free kitchens and, with other voluntary societies, had urged the Government to plan on a large scale test relief works, on drainage, embankments, roads and land reclamation, and to set up immediately rehabilitation centres for the victims. Who the chief sufferers were could be seen from a small survey done by Sudhir Ghosh in Contai town as early as September He talked with 537 beggars in the streets. Of these only 4 per cent. were professional beggars; the remaining 96 per cent. had become destitute in the last twelve months. The great majority were women and children; of the women, 36 per cent. had been deserted by husband or father; 29 per cent. had lost husband or father in the cyclone; while of 33 per cent. husband or father had subsequently died by starvation or malaria.
As in Britain the Unit had started model shelters and Rest Centres to show what could be done, so now in the spring of 1944 it instituted three rehabilitation centres, one at Mahisagot near Contai, attached to a destitute home, and two in 24-Parganas---at Falta and Bashirhat, twenty-five miles south-west and forty miles north-east of Calcutta respectively. A fourth started in Balisai was closed and work was concentrated on the other three. At each centre were about forty-five families, mainly widows and young children; they lived at home but spent the day at the centres, where they were given a small wage and a balanced midday meal.
"The women bring their children, who play beside them while they work. F.A.U. workers and the Indians work together as equals and friends, and the whole atmosphere of the centres is relaxed and cheerful, a marked contrast to the destitute homes in which many persons without any means of support are herded."
The primary work of the centres was weaving, and the resident supervisors were qualified weaving-masters. Looms were assembled, raw materials bought, and work began. Soon spinning, matmaking, pottery and vegetable gardening were also undertaken. On an average a two-months' period was allowed for training, at the end of which time the workers moved off basic rates to piece rates. The proceeds from the sales of their products covered the cost of raw materials and the workers' wages. In October 1945 the centre at Mahisagot alone produced over 2,600 yards of material.
Regular meetings of workers were held to encourage full co-operation. Discussion ranged over a wide field---the trading position, the monthly accounts, hours of labour, medical arrangements, rehousing. Thrift was encouraged and practised through a savings bank at each centre. At the end of 1945 the centres were re-organized on a co-operative basis to give the centre working committees complete control over their operations.
At the village of Hatiberya a scheme of village reconstruction was designed; huts were rebuilt, land holdings consolidated, payment of debts facilitated, community buildings constructed, water-tanks cleaned out, wells drilled, a playground made, and a medical service established. A year later it was gratifying to read the report, "All new houses in Hatiberya have stood the test of abnormally heavy rains and minor floods and are none the worse for the ordeal." In Contai, too, alongside the continued scheme of milk distribution, two doctors who became temporary members of the section ran an emergency hospital, and Barbara Hartland was responsible for a children's hospital built of brick, fulfilling the Unit's plan which had to be reluctantly abandoned in the early summer of 1943.
The work was not all in Contai. At Chittagong, where Llewelyn and Evelyn Evans had gone to open children's canteens, a boat-building yard was organized. The fishermen had long since spent the money which they had received in compensation for the impounding of their boats. Now, under a scheme initiated by the Unit and taken up by the Government, they were given loans to enable them to buy new boats. Dug-outs were floated down from the forests and completed in the boat-yard. The insides were smoothed with an adze and "the finishing process included subjecting the dug-outs to heat from fires built alongside; by means of weights and rigging a boat that was as narrow as thirty inches could be widened to four or five feet". The boat-yard employed sixteen carpenters and their staff, and in a few months supplied several hundred boats.
In Dacca and adjoining districts Clem Alexandre started a scheme to help the destitute Rishis, the basketmakers and the weavers, and the fishermen.
"The work began as a set of scattered canteens to supplement the meals of children. We passed from this to trying to deal with the causes of the parents' failure to feed them, and found ourselves dealing with boats, raw materials and cash loans to artisans, and finally facing round to the future opportunities and problems of these people."
Soon the Unit became involved, with the help of local people, in eight schools, two cane training workshops, the provision of loans and raw materials from Unit and Government funds, and the organization of the Dacca Weavers' Co-operative Industrial Union, which had a total membership of 10,000.
A small agricultural co-operative scheme was started near Bashirhat by Sujata Davies early in 1945, again to demonstrate what could be done to improve the standard of living by pooling resources. Twenty-five farmers agreed to consolidate fifty-two strips of land and to farm them in common. Better seeds were bought and co-operative marketing arranged. As much responsibility as possible was put on to the farmers' own committee. Only time would show whether such a scheme could survive without outside assistance. Similarly a fisherman's co-operative, involving thirty villages and over 3,000 people, was organized in the same region.
Orphans were one of the worst legacies of the famine. As the worst stages passed, it was found that there were still many destitute children who required more than single meal a day. The Government tried to tackle the problem and John Burtt, on his return from Malabar, became a Zonal Officer for Orphanages under the Education Department of Bengal. But the Unit felt that it had a special responsibility for those children whom it had been feeding, and a survey was made of all still needing help. As a result, four children's homes were opened under the direction of Mary Burtt, each providing for between forty and fifty children. In addition to care and maintenance, the homes provided primary education, which included gardening, sewing, carpentry, spinning and canework. A Bengal Village Homes Committee was established to represent relief organizations and private individuals in taking responsibility for the homes.
Finally, further work was undertaken with the Indian Red Cross. The Milk Distribution Scheme was taken over from Margaret Smethurst by Kathleen Cross, who, with Ruth Lee, had arrived in December 1944. Leslie Cross was seconded to the I.R.C. to extend its operations and encourage its interest in civilian relief. Hundreds of new members were enrolled and new branches started in his first few months of work. Local branches became responsible for building maternity and child welfare centres, and a training scheme was inaugurated for nursing staffs in the famine relief hospitals. In connection with this work the Unit sent out in the late autumn of 1945 Joan Court, another nurse, to help with the training.
In such ways did the balance of work in Bengal shift from the direct distribution of relief to schemes of rehabilitation. But interest in emergency work was not altogether lost. The Unit was called on to help with the feeding and evacuation of the victims of a tidal wave which broke through a river embankment at Port Canning in October 1944. In April and May 1945, during an outbreak of cholera in Calcutta, members gave over 22,000 inoculations in co-operation with the All Bengal Students' Association.
"I AM MOST ANXIOUS", wrote a member of the section in Bengal, "that the impression should not be given that work in India is a glamorous affair and that India is an arena in which rapid successes can be attained. That would only make us ridiculous in the eyes of those who know India. Work in India, work which will effect some permanent improvement in the persons or social institutions of the people, is a long and often heartbreaking affair. In particular there is danger that we may confuse the material scope of our work with the depth of influence which it has.
"We are a few foreigners set down to do the best we can in a country which we understand very imperfectly. We are helped by the fact that Europeans have had a disproportionate amount of power and are more likely than ordinary Indians to have access to the people who matter. We also gain by the fact that our status is voluntary, and that we are contrasted in the minds of Indians with what the average European out here is supposed to be like. Nevertheless by no means all other Europeans out here conform to that pattern, and many of them on any estimate amount to far more than we do.
"Indians care far more than we do for the spirit shown in the work, even if it is inefficient and unsuccessful. So many people fed or treated at a clinic, so much practical good done, is usually the accepted touchstone among us. The success and failure of the Unit in India are bound up chiefly with the way in which members have done their work and behaved against a background which someone not acquainted with India cannot understand. What success we have achieved lies not in the fact that we have done a lot, nor in fact that at a public or organized level we have effected any reconciliation between Government, Congress or Moslems, but rather in the fact that we have tried to treat individual men and jobs fairly, and in our approach to people to ignore as far as possible the fact that they belonged to this or that side, and look on them as ordinary human beings."
Good-will had been won, but the Unit was not in a position to carry on indefinitely. As in many other countries, so in Bengal, the Unit learnt by experience the simple truth that one thing leads to another; an emergency body must decide where it is going to stop. During 1944 the section gave much thought to its future; the problem became intensified in 1945. Withdrawal would mean that the experiments in rehabilitation would be left half finished, but to finish them and through them to be drawn further into the life of India would require a body with a much longer expectation of life than the F.A.U.
Some members, partly for personal reasons, partly because they felt that the emergency job was done, accepted posts under the Government. A voluntary worker sets out to stimulate by example the official services ; sometimes the response is an invitation to join the official services and help to improve them from inside. Then the decision must be made whether it is right to remain in the position of the freelance or to accept further responsibilities with the chances which it may provide of influencing policy on a far larger scale. In Bengal Richard Symonds was loaned on deputation to the Government as Special Officer for Relief and Rehabilitation. After six months he accepted the post of Deputy Director of the Department. He was followed into Government posts by Glan Davies and Pamela Bankart.
That was the answer of individuals, but the natural successor to the Unit's work was the Society of Friends. Friends, as already stated, were interested in India ; their work at Itarsi was the legacy of voluntary relief carried out in the Central Provinces in 1899 and 1900. The Society watched with growing interest the Unit's work in a new field.
The permanent work of British Friends overseas is the concern of the Friends Service Council, and in the summer of 1943, when it was known that Horace Alexander was returning home, John and Mary Burtt had been sent out jointly by the F.A.U. and F.S.C. in the hope that they might help to follow up the Unit's work in the Society's name. They arrived just in time for the famine and, like the rest of the section, threw themselves into emergency relief.
Between the wars, in various European capitals, "Quaker Centres" had been established with considerable success. Part hostel, part club, such a centre set out through discussion groups, talks, Meetings for Worship and social and welfare work to become a growing point of Quaker influence. A Centre had already been set up in Delhi. There was every reason why a similar one should be instituted in Calcutta to follow up friendships and contacts made by the Unit and to continue certain pieces of rehabilitation work in the villages.
Moreover, American Friends had entered the field. The A.F.S.C. combined for American Friends all the various aspects of overseas work ; it co-operated with the F.A.U. in emergency relief as easily as with the F.S.C. over more permanent work.
So, on 1st November 1945, the work of the section in Bengal became a joint responsibility of the F.S.C. and A.F.S.C. Harry Abrahamson, who with his wife and further American members had been sent out, became Section Leader, while Horace Alexander, who had spent the summer in America to enlist the interest and support of American Friends and others in the cause and needs of India, returned on behalf of the F.S.C. for further conciliation work. Members of the F.A.U. itself were not immediately withdrawn; they remained seconded to the new organization to finish the particular pieces of work on which individually they were engaged.
The war was over, and with it the threat to India from the east. No one was sorry that the visitations against which it was the Unit's original business to provide had not materialized ; in retrospect, all the hours and days and months spent on A.R.P. might seem particularly futile, but without that work the rapid entry into flood and famine relief would never have been possible. Not only was the section already on the spot, but much of the machinery of A.R.P. could be adapted to relief, notably the information services and the women's organizations. Besides, the section was known and had won the confidence of officials and others whose business it was to organize relief.
The tempo of emergency work in the first stage had made difficult the cultivation of closer friendships and deeper understanding in the more leisurely atmosphere of a Quaker Centre, difficult too the accomplishment of what sooner or later must be accomplished if the section had a right to remain in India---the transferring of responsibility and the direction of the work increasingly to Indians. Indians had been associated with the work from the beginning, and there were Indian members of the section. But the work during the first stage was essentially an Anglo-American venture with some Indians attached to it. That was not a criticism, for it was inevitable; it was how it had all begun.
Through its work on rehabilitation the Unit had started on the next stage, which under the F.S.C. and the A.F.S.C. would concern itself increasingly with the development of Indian leadership. The conversion of a foreign organization into an indigenous one is never easy ; it is the final achievement of successful colonization in the political sphere and of missionary effort in the sphere of the Church. It would be the only justification for carrying on beyond the period of emergency.
But even if there were no "next stage", the first three years had justified themselves: thousands of lives had been saved, some permanent improvement effected in the social services of Bengal, the seeds of friendship and understanding sown, in however uncertain and impermanent a way.
Hospitals and Training in Britain
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