Sunday, 3 January 2010

NanAo, December 27

Sunday 27th

Our hotel is right on the beach, and though the weather is overcast, the shape of Ping Chau can be made out not far away. After breakfast, we go by bus to Shell Beach, the next cove along. Here we're to meet a man in his nineties, who was a witness to the MTBs' landing in 1941. He says that 2 boats landed at Shell Beach, and 3 further along the coast, at the present day harbor, where we go next. In this photo, Donald and the elderly witness are pointing in the direction from which the MTBs arrived. There's much debate among this witness, the son of the head of the East River Column and the son of Chan's bodyguard, Yeung Chuen, about the events of 1941. They say that NanAo people at first thought that the MTBs were Japanese, and were ready with guns to fire at them, but that the boats raised white flags and were then welcomed as allies. Contrary to accounts that we've read, they deny that the Japanese took reprisals against the village for their help in sheltering the escape party. They say that the villagers exploded the wrecks of the MTBs (which our men had scuttled in shallow water) so that no traces could be seen. Much later, when the beach was concreted over to create the harbor in the 1950s, all remaining wreckage was sold for scrap and nothing remains now.

At the back of the village, we take an hour's walk into the hills through pretty orchards of star fruit and lychees. We're not sure that this trail was on the men's route, but it gives us a good idea of the terrain they encountered on heading inland. We have half an hour to explore the back streets and dried sea food market behind NanAo's waterfront - there aren't many old buildings left, and most of the newer ones are pretty dismal. On the edge of the village, there's some fancier new construction underway.

The weather is getting colder and windier so, instead of a picnic in the park, we take our packed lunches back to the hotel and eat at tables on the terrace. It's the worst packed lunch ever - Wonderbread sandwich with layers of fried egg, mystery meat and fish paste, small cookies, an apple, water and a can of Coke. At least we can get coffee from the barman. But we have a fascinating afternoon. Our buses take us up to Wangmu Temple, a few miles above NanAo. On December 26, 1941 the men had holed up for the day 2-3 miles inland from the coast in the sheltered village of Wong Mi Chi, then retraced their steps to NanAo and walked north along the coast and then inland through the evening hours, reaching Wangmu Temple. Colin McEwan said in his diary: "...we reached a large village where we had our first sight of guerrilla organisation - the temple taken over and the floor laid with straw - hot tea ready...."
The ancient Buddhist temple is on a beautiful, steep hillside, and its 'altar' is under a huge slab of granite. There's a well-worn stone floor in the central area, where we can imagine our fathers getting a few hours' sleep on the straw.

Our next stop is Dapeng Fortress, which was a naval base in the nineteenth century, and during World War II the headquarters of Leung Wing Yuen's guerrillas. In the mixed-up politics of wartime China, Leung, a bandit with Communist leanings, had at one time served under Chan, a Nationalist. Whatever the politics, he and his men were essential guides for the escape party, escorting them 80 miles inland to Waichow, and securing food and shelter along the way. The Naval Commander, Montague, said in his official report: "Owing to the masterly scouting of Mr. Leung's guerrillas we had crossed the Tam Shui-Shao - To Kok road without being detected by the Japanese" (this crossing into Free China would occur on 27th).

Dapeng Fortress today is a warren of old shop houses, grain stores and the compounds of wealthier Chinese - partly restored, but with much more work to be done to save the historic site. In one house, a calligrapher writes Roxie's name in Chinese:

We return to the hotel in the late afternoon. By now it's raining, and the hotel is chilly, but we've had a good day. Warwick interviews me for his documentary (most of the interviews were done earlier in England), and we all have dinner in the hotel dining room.

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