6 Jul 1944, Chronology of Events Related to Stanley Civilian Internment Camp
In Stanley heavy July rain has been soaking the internees but at least providing some relief from the summer heat.
In rural Devon a former internee is preparing her thoughts for a 1.30 talk.
The setting could hardly be more different to Stanley Camp: the Dartington Hall Estate is set in unspoiled countryside close to the historic town of Totnes. The founders, Leonard and Dorothy Elmhirst, two wealthy idealists, are engaging in a campaign to regenerate the depressed rural economy with craft and agricultural activities, while making contributions to the theory and practise of education (in 1944 Dartington Hall is one of Britian's best known 'progressive' schools) and providing a centre for intellectual discussion and artistic pursuits (musical organiser is Holst's daughter Imogen).
Today's speaker is Gwendoline Priestwood (on Sunday it'll be the distinguished potter Benard Leach). She's billed as 'the first British woman to escape from Camp Stanley' and her title is 'I Was Tojo's Prisoner.'
As she waits to stand up, there can be little doubt her mind is returning to the early days in camp, days of fear and frustration, of uncertain rations and the hard struggle to build up a basic infrastructure to allow life to go on.
She must also be thinking of her escape with policeman Walter 'Tommy' Thompson, wriggling through the wire and making slow and dangerous progress and heading up the Tai Tam Road on the perilous journey out of Hong Kong, of the moment when a Japanese soldier was called away moments before discovering the pair hiding in an empty house, of her determination to die rather than be recaptured.
Thompson's rather nearer to Stanley now, working with the Special Operations Executive in southern China.
Yet even here, in the heart of one of Britain's most rural counties, she's not far from the war. Thirty miles down the road is the cathedral city of Exeter, its historic centre ripped to bits in 1942 by one of the 'Baedeker' raids, which also left 156 dead and over 500 injured. Even closer is Plymouth, home of the Royal Navy's Devonport Dockyards, and by coincidence she's speaking four years to the day after the city was first bombed. Raids have continued, the most recent being in May, and over 1000 civilians have been killed.
And although it's still being kept strictly secret, hundreds of American troops based at Slapton Sands, less than 15 miles from Dartington, lost their lives a couple of momth's before today's talk in a double tragedy as they prepared for the D Day landings - an unknown number killed by 'friendly fire', at least 749 in a German E-Boat attack.
On the Dartington Estate itself, there's a dormitory full of evacuee children, and more than one opinion about the war: there's a strong pacifist current here, and a number of conscientious objectors.
The fight to defeat the Axis, the greatest co-ordinated effort in human history, is never far away on July 6 1944, and, at 1.30 pm today a woman who risked everything to get back into the struggle, stands up to take part in it.
Escape: Gwen Priestwood, Through Japanese Barbed-Wire, 1944, passim