Talk Report: 2019-02-13

Wednesday February 13th.

Walford Gillison.
“Tales of an English Schoolboy in War-Torn China”

This talk was indeed very well supported, as expected, when our very own U3A member, Walford, described his own experiences as a child prisoner of the Japanese. In fact we didn’t have enough space for everyone!
We learnt what it was like for Walford to be in a prisoner of war at the hands of the Japanese in 1942 post the Pearl Harbour invasion of the US naval base in Honolulu, Hawaii, which resulted in the internment of allied nationals in Eastern China.
What a different life for those who were subjected to a forced daily routine compared to our lives today——reveille at 6.30, roll call 8.30, tiffin, evening meal, evening roll call, and lights out at 9.0pm.
Under the Geneva convention the captors were responsible for providing food for prisoners. Although bread made from weevil-infested grain was a common part of their diet, and all water needed to be boiled. Thankfully parcel supplements sent by the International Red Cross and the Swiss Consulate helped to supplement their poor inadequate diet.
As you may expect focus on survival, mind and body, was uppermost. News of the outside world was a necessity, camp concerts, participation in sport and games and how the War was progressing all helped to keep the prisoners focused. Occasionally newspapers provided this vital news.
Medical problems such as prickly heat, chilblains, depression, malaria, dysentery, malnutrition and appendicitis were not uncommon. A hospital in the prison grounds must have been a huge benefit for those who became ill.
There were positive outcomes——corpulent businessmen lost weight, alcoholics dried out.
From a personal perspective, Walford’s experience was an excellent preparation for life in a post war boarding school in England, luxurious by comparison. Education of a high standard surprisingly was achieved by the children in the camp, many eventually able to attain university entrance. Even more amazing when using the outer wrappers from tinned food as exam papers.
Walford learnt to let the ‘grown-ups’ do the worrying, after food, your friends were important, keep busy and don’t show your captors you are afraid.
His talk was a stimulating experience and soon we hope, it will be in a book.
Thank you so much Walford for giving up your time.