The China Years
edited by Raymond Cook


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Letter of 19th November 1938 from Liuyang

We are both well and safe, but we have had a ghastly time. A week past Thursday, November 10th, Liuyang was raided and half the town has been destroyed. It was terrible beyond description. Eighteen planes came about 12 am. Some flew over the city bombing and machine-gunning as they went, some bombed the little town across the river and some flew low over our houses – people who saw from the other side said they looked as though they were touching the roofs – but we were spared. We had two big Union Jacks out and evidently they regarded them. The noise of the low flying and power-diving machines, the ‘rat tat’ of the machine-guns and the terrible explosions of the bombs was a nightmare. Although none fell anywhere near us we could feel the earth and the whole place shaking and some of our window panes were broken. Immediately flames shot up in the air from all over the city and the place was black with smoke.

Cliff, Mr Ma, our boy and I seized our medicine bags and immediately ran over to the city to the church where some other members of the ‘Rescue Party’ were already on the spot… It was terrible, the roar of the flames, the smell of dust from the fallen houses and everywhere smoke, people pouring out of the city, women crying and everyone so terrified. Our rescue party was the first on the spot, but one or two others, including some members of the military, followed.

Everywhere people were calling for help. Some were just torn to pieces, many were dead, others had terrible wounds, which we bound up as quickly as we could and carried them to places of safety, for all the time the fires were spreading and we were working against time. Some people were buried under the ruins of houses. It would have taken an hour or two to get them out and all the time the fires were closing in. They had to be left. It was all a nightmare. Finally the fire got so near we had to leave the main street and go down to the riverside. All who could had gone down to the riverside or across the river.

We were beseeched to help here, to help there, to bandage this person, to care for that. Then in the midst of it the cry came that the planes were coming back. The terror and the panic were terrible. The police came and urged us to go. They were very brave. They stood their posts everywhere. The fire was travelling along the riverside street as well, so finally we took with us one or two people who could walk with a bit of help and crossed back over the river and continued our work among the folk on the other side. There were wounded people everywhere. One of the military hospitals had been hit by a bomb, one closed its doors and everyone fled, the other took in patients until they could take no more. The Health Centre was absolutely full and still there were people to be cared for. We brought six bad cases to the school. Since we have added another six as well as crowds of out-patients for dressings. Later some more came from the Health Centre.

The fire raged unchecked all day and night. Almost half of the city has gone. People fled into the nearby countryside and by night hardly anyone was left in the city. Many of our members came over here until they could make arrangements to go to relations in the country. Along with the terror of the raid has come the alarm that the Japs are very near. Shops are all closed and most people have taken their stocks into the country. There is nothing to be bought. And now, more than a week after, there are still charred bodies lying about and they are still digging people out of the ruins.

Mr Ma was formerly an army doctor – that does not mean very much – but he knew how to tackle some of the wounds and Cliff and I have learnt quickly. At first we were very short of medicines, but we have got some since. At first someone had to be on duty day and night. We were working from early morning until ten or eleven at night, then Cliff went on duty until someone could relieve him. But gradually, as it has been possible to send people to their homes we have done so, and now we have only four cases left. The poor folk have had such a shock they want to go into the country where it is safer. When they hear the sound of aeroplanes they are just terrified.

Mr Ma left for the country to make arrangements for his family about five days ago, so Cliff and I are the entire hospital staff. I won’t harrow you with details of the terrible wounds we have seen and dealt with. We hardly dare think of all the suffering that is going on around us. The military hospital, which received a lot of the wounded, two days afterwards got orders to leave for Kiangsi. So they sent their cases back to their homes and departed. The Health Centre about three days afterwards got a rumour that the Japs were almost here and the staff fled and left their patients unattended. Some of them have now returned and the Centre is functioning again. The Health Centre doctor, Dr Hu, was away when the raid happened. He came back two days afterwards.

It has all been terrible, but in the midst of it we are deeply thankful that we have all been spared… We had all grown so used to the air alarms and aeroplanes that we had grown careless, but last Wednesday night Cliff was very uneasy and the next morning we decided we must really be more careful. After breakfast we went round the various families and urged them all to take shelter in the cellar if the ‘approaching near’ signal went. No one was keen, but we were so urgent that they agreed and that was the morning of the raid. If they had been walking about as usual they might have been shot down by the machine-guns.

I hardly need to say that now when we hear the sound of aeroplanes we take cover! It seems contrary to reason that we should again be bombed, but we take no risks. Our cellar is at the end of the house under the verandah. We are having it strengthened with sand bags, which are incidentally an excellent precaution against incendiary bombs.

This week we have sent all the women and children away into the country and have only two old women here, one of whom does the washing. Otherwise there is Tien Ni and one other man, and an ancient of about seventy. Tien Ni has been a treasure. He does not help down at the hospital, but helps keep us supplied with boiling water etc, and makes us especially nice meals. ‘Keeps our strength up,’ he says and tells us off when we don’t come for them. He is always cheerful and ready for anything.

For nearly a fortnight we have had no news of the outside world. Changsha was burnt about a week ago, but we hear it has not yet fallen. All the bridges are being blown up along the motor road. But we feel that nothing can be worse than what we have experienced, and I think we will be rather glad when the Japanese do come and life becomes a bit more normal again. It is depressing to live by the side of a dead city.

I would not worry about us being bombed again, there is hardly anything left to bomb, just a few empty streets…

Be comforted we are both safe and well and in the Lord’s hands. We are longing for letters and news.