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Betty Barr: a witness to wartime history


24 August 2020 | By veripadmin | Xinhua News

  • Betty Barr displays old photos

    Betty Barr displays old photos during an interview with Xinhua at her home in Shanghai, April 14, 2020.

F

or Betty Barr, an 87-year-old retired teacher from Shanghai International Studies University, the wartime experience 75 years ago is ingrained in her memory and too hard to forget.

"Some Hollywood movies showed scenes in Shanghai during World War II but, on the whole, they were far removed from reality. I personally experienced life in Longhua Camp after the outbreak of the Pacific War, and witnessed the end of the war 75 years ago," she recalled at her home in Shanghai.

Seventy-five years later, one of Barr's deepest impressions was the blue sky she saw above one day. In April 1945, American planes wrote V-shaped marks in the sky to inform internees in Shanghai of the Allied victory in Europe, she said.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Barr and her husband, George Wang, mostly stayed at home. On one occasion, they gave an online lecture on World War II to teenagers in New York City, sharing their own stories.

Barr holds the view that history should be remembered to avoid the repetition of such disasters in the future. As the occasion approaches for the 75th anniversary of the victory in the Chinese People's War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression and the World Anti-Fascist War, which falls on Sept. 3, Barr shared more details of her experiences from 1943 to 1945.

Born in 1933 in Shanghai, Barr is the daughter of a Scottish missionary teacher father and an American mother who came to Shanghai in 1924 and 1930 respectively. In 1937, when the Japanese army initiated the Lugouqiao Incident, she and her family were safe in Dallas, Texas, but they returned to Shanghai in 1938.

In 1943, the Japanese invaders decided to move the British and American expatriates in Shanghai to the so-called Civil Assembly Centers. Longhua Camp was one of them, and Betty Barr lived there for over 800 days.

"I have a secret that I have never told anyone before. In the camp, my mother hid a sharp cooking knife under my dolls' bed. She did not think the Japanese would look there for that forbidden object," Barr said.

On April 10, 1943, two days after her tenth birthday, Barr stood in the lane watching her parents, by order of the Japanese authorities, paste two long, white pieces of paper diagonally across the door of their home.

After that, Barr and her whole family set off for the Longhua Civil Assembly Center, first by pedicab and then by bus. It had formerly been the site of a famous Shanghai school, and is now the campus of Shanghai High School. In the camp, she was no longer Betty Barr, just a number - 22/228.

"Not having any idea of how long we would be 'in', we took as many cans of food as we could," she said. "There were also books and games and, most important of all to me, my dolls and even a dolls' bed."

Food shortages, cold, diseases, and "camp rules" affected every detainee. Unfortunately, both Barr and her father contracted malaria.

Her mother kept a notebook in which she listed 1,033 "camp rules".

"Our first concern was food. We, who had sat in our dining rooms waiting for our cooks to serve us, now had to line up in the communal dining rooms, holding out our enamel plates, bowls, and mugs for the meager rations, which were carefully doled out to us," Barr's mother wrote in her diary.

Barr can still remember the summer of 1943 when a typhoon swept the camp. All the internees living in wooden huts had to take refuge in the assembly hall on the morning after the typhoon.

Hot water was also a scarce resource in the camp. "On certain days, a ration of hot water for washing was available, and my father would carry four buckets full of hot water for us. When there was no hot water, and not even any cold water in the taps for washing, my mother used rainwater, which she had collected," she said.

According to Betty Barr, the real beginning of the end was in November 1944. For the first time, some American planes flew low over the camp and bombed the nearby Longhua Airfield.

Then came the winter of 1944-1945. It was an extremely cold winter, and lasted almost a full three months, she said.

Clothes became a problem, especially for growing children. "A good friend of mine, who was a few months older than me and taller, passed on her clothes to me. After I wore them for one year, we gave them back for her younger sister to wear," she recalled.

In February 1945, Red Cross parcels arrived from Britain. Most of them, however, were in poor condition, which was not surprising since they had been sent from London in June 1942, almost three years before.

The final moment came on August 15, 1945, when Japan announced surrender without condition. "The Swiss took over the camp at noon after it was confirmed that the war was over. Great jubilation," Barr's mother wrote in her diary.

World War II devastated Europe, Asia, and Africa. Bloodshed and bombardment crossed four oceans. More than 20 million square kilometers of land and two billion people were plunged into the inferno of war.

Today, 75 years have passed since Betty Barr looked up and saw the "V" signs in the sky. She lost her childhood because of the war.

Now she can enjoy a happy life in times of peace. But those who were deprived of their lives by the war have forever lost the opportunity to grow old.

"I dream of peace all over the world, and I hope children can live in a land of harmony and joy," she said.

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SISU News Center, Office of Communications and Public Affairs

Tel : +86 (21) 3537 2378

Email : news@shisu.edu.cn

Address :550 Dalian Road (W), Shanghai 200083, China

Further Reading