An Hour with Desmond Power.

In July of 2012 I met with Lunghua Civilian Assembly Centre internee Desmond Power at his home in Vancouver, Canada. Desmond was born in Tientsin, Hopei Province, China, in 1923, and by 1937 Desmond and his family were caught up in the Japanese invasion of China. By 1942 Desmond had missed all his chances to leave China via Shanghai, and like so many other "foreign devils", he was collected and interned at a number of Japanese civilian camps, including Lunghua.

Desmond has no memory of JG Ballard -- nor any memories of any of the 500 or so children at Lunghua -- and his recollections of his brief time at the camp take up just 10 pages of his autobiography, Little Foreign Devil. In it, Desmond reports he was at Lunghua in the Fall of 1943, a time of relative plenty in the camp, and was transferred to an even better camp in January of 1944. While at Lunghua he worked in a unit which salvaged damaged bricks from areas where the former school had been bombed; he played guitar in the Lunghua camp band; and his major exploit was a daring 1943 Christmas night raid on the Japanese commandant's prize roosters.

What I wanted to learn from Desmond was how daily life generally got on at Lunghua, and by daily life I mean how it really was. Above is a map of Lunghua drawn by a youthful Irene Duguid, and below is another Lunghua map given to me by Desmond... a map I've not seen before. Click on them for a large pdf file.

As for daily life in the camp, Desmond reports it was basic human nature, perhaps more than usual. Ballard reports the set props of society were stripped away, and one assumes a less formal living arrangement was made among the 2,000 residents crammed into what JG estimated was a square mile of camp. Most troublesome was theft, as valuables couldn't be locked up. People not from your dorm were regarded with suspicion, kids weren't welcome in the singles areas, and you watched out for your neighbour. For most of the day the adults toiled at an assigned job and the camp's kids went to school. While Desmond's work detail was not onerous -- chipping old mortar off bricks -- refusal to work could get you tossed into internee's "prison", run by the camp's form of government. And, hormones being hormones, Desmond reports Lunghua had a healthy level of sexual activity. His work crew found their damaged bricks in areas of the camp known as "the ruins" -- literally the school buildings demolished by Japanese bombers in the early days of the Sino-Japanese war. In these ruins they came across many "love nests" -- protected areas hidden in the rubble and used by internees for clandestine trysts. Their popularity might be an indication of the camp's influence on the psyches of the younger internees. On the maps, these ruins are in two places: between G Block and the three long barracks, called A, B, and C Huts, and between Waterloo and D Block.

As a 19-year-old, Desmond is highly attracted to Lunghua's harem of young women, none of whom seem out of reach, given his glowing accounts of their friendly attitudes. As might be expected, the British class system was still in effect, but the lack of proper social stage props and a certain freedom from class repression meant inroads could be made if you stood out in the crowd. As Desmond reveals in his book, his popularity from being a member of the camp band, "was my in. I hobnobbed with Lunghua society. And that was saying something, for Lunghua was largely a British camp, a microcosm of the multi-layered colonial world with all layers represented, from the down-at-heel "local" boys to the tetrarchs of Hunjoa Road. Ironically, in peacetime, such casual mixing would simply have not been on."

One can't help but speculate on how this liberated social structure affected the young Jim Ballard. Shanghai is usually portrayed as a brutal, uncaring place of commerce and violence within which young Jim lived his refined, cocooned, and somewhat singular family life. At Lunghua, in G Block, he basically had to wander through these "ruins" to get to the assembly hall, dining room, water station, soccer pitch. If he was innocent at 13 one can't imagine him that way at 15, given the relatively unsupervised lives of Lunghua children. And their parents.

Here are some new photos Desmond shared with me:

Here's a photo of the Lunghua soccer pitch taken from the roof of E Block.

This is a photo of a Lunghua soccer game, circa 1943, taken by the Japanese from the roof of F Block. Note the lack of vegetation on the land surrounding the camp. Lunghua airbase is in the distance between E Block and the water tower.

The dining hall with its stage and piano.

This is a photo of the F Block internees celebrating on the building's roof on the night the war ended. While everyone looks reasonably well-dressed and nourished, Desmond reports many internees suffered from gastrointestinal illnesses during the final years of the war.