With profuse thanks to the kind fates that ordained the change, I find myself settling comfortably to a new life at Bowen Road Hospital. The completeness of the transformation from Sham Shui Po, where every aspect reminds one of captivity, to this is almost unbelievable. Situated halfway up the peak and affording a magnificent view of the harbour and mainland, the hospital tends to impart a feeling of convalescence rather than one of restriction, A very helpful feature in this regard is the fact that the surrounding wire is, in most cases, almost invisible due to screening trees and shrubs; something that is a most welcome contrast after our bleak wire-encircled expanse of sand on the mainland. Of course all is not perfect here, as we have found out in the matter of food. For some reason or other, supplies are not forthcoming in anything approaching the Sham Shui Po manner so we find that little things like having to get used to rice dust for dinner every evening, must be taken in stride. The men here are, generally speaking, looking very fit indeed due, I think, to the healthy combination of spring beds, mattresses, white sheets, the pleasant surrounding and the cool-bracing air. Extras in the way of thiamin and yeast daily and vitamin “A” caramels every second day no doubt contribute their share but I’m convinced the determining factor is psychological. Since my arrival here my system has refused to co-operate with the result that – though I’m continually racked with cramps – tests taken all register negative. I’m rather hoping the disease will manifest itself shortly as I should hate to have anyone think I “swung the lead” as an officer to get a Bowen Road berth. I look forward to some good reading as the library is supposed to be quite good. I’ve already completed my first book and today embarked on a second – Lawrence’s “Seven Pillars of Wisdom”.
A further snag came to light when the air raid sirens blew yesterday afternoon. During all raids, patients must remain in their wards till the “all clear” goes. Unfortunately, shutters are closed so we miss any excitement that comes.
October 21 1943 – (Thursday)
My first week of hospitalization has become a thing of the past and I find that, instead of losing my enthusiasm, I am becoming more convinced than ever that my future destinies should be linked with those of Hong Kong. No doubt the beauties available in these new surroundings are swaying my judgement, but I feel that, however it is to be worked, I must contrive to get out here after all this is over. I’m fairly satisfied that if I can get my “better-half” over here for a look-see, she too will fall in love with the place. I miss no opportunities to quiz the “natives” and the consensus of my efforts is that I don’t think I’d be making a mistake in having a “go” at it. The climate, which is one of the main drawbacks, would not, I think seriously affect us as the family should be in pretty fair shape. I can visualize one possible source of dissatisfaction with the question of “What does friend wife do to fill the long hours of the day?” Cheapness of labour usually results in the lady of the house having little or nothing to do in the way of work, with the result that boredom and its attendant evils is something of a problem. Sport may be the answer as I understand all ages and sexes have their games. Admirable bathing beaches abound to say nothing of the pools available at the private clubs. Boating is very cheap and numerous islands and bays of great beauty are within easy reach. The island has two golf courses, nine holes, one of which is very flat and looks most uninviting. However, a super-duper course situated some twenty miles out in the territories is available, if one has the money and position. Softball, football, rugger, hockey (field), volleyball, tennis, bowls and fishing are also available to those so inclined. Taken all in all, it lacks very little and looks like a good set-up – but then, so did the “Garden of Eden”. I’m still quite determined to explore all the possibilities.
I’ve been undergoing treatment for five days in the form of entero-vioform tablets (six daily) and daily washouts and enemas, the latter not serving to diminish one’s appetite. I am getting a good rest however, and though my weight is down to 151 pounds, I’m still feeling damned fit. I’m bunking in a semi-private ward which I share with a Naval chap, Reg Wood by name, quite a decent chap too, so that I’m really quite comfortable. Reg has been plagued with “amoebic” for some eighteen months and, though he has just completed a course like mine, he still seems to be “unsettled”.
We’ve had a couple of deaths since my arrival, one Canadian and two Imperials, one of the latter who had the room next to us was a full Colonel in the R.A.M.C. One or two of our chaps are on the D.I. list but it is hoped they’ll pull through. I am personally interested in one chap, an Indian and formerly of my platoon. Poor Sandy has just about everything wrong with him that there is available and, through a sickness that has lasted months, he has maintained a cheerfulness that puts to shame anything I’ve seen yet. Sheer “guts” is evidently about all that’s kept Sandy going for the past month or so. On arriving here, I sent word down to him that, though I was to be isolated for two weeks, I’d be down to see him as soon as the treatments were finished. Sandy promptly sent up word that he’d probably be able to get up to see me first, this from a person bloated to some sixty pounds overweight who, even though some 38 ounces of fluid are drained from him daily, has sores break out on his body which allow the liquid to ooze out. Talking to the ward master of Sandy’s ward he tells me that the orderlies all claim he’s the most cheerful bed patient in the hospital. Hats off to you, Sandy!
The hospital is particularly fortunate in having some remarkable and efficient men on its staff. The O.C., Colonel Bowie is a King’s Physician and has done some remarkable work here that his colleagues claim will merit considerable attention in medical circles after the war. The results of his works are evident in the next ward where a Major Carter, suffering from a contraction of the esophagus – which prevents food from entering the stomach – has, for months, been fed through a tube through the stomach wall and is able to be up and about, to all intents and purposes perfectly normal. Major Harrison too is alleged to be very capable and is considered one of the best M.O.’s in the British Army. Major Anderson, a surgeon, has some remarkable operations to his credit and is claimed to have done almost miraculous work. Too bad people of such capabilities are handicapped by lack of proper facilities.
I recall reading the book, “Yang and Yin” in North Point and the meaning of the two symbols was given – though in vague fashion. Today, reading “Test Tubes and Dragon Scales”, I came across a more comprehensive interpretation which I quote. “Permeating all Chinese beliefs and creeds was the old animistic religion that bestowed a spirit on each and every element of nature; sky, wind, rain, thunder, earth, rivers, trees, plants, animals and man. The spirit of man was composed of a positive and a negative influence call YANG and YIN. Yang was the male principle – active, creative, progressive, its symbols are the heavens, sun light, warmth, youth and strength. Yin, the female, was passive and at the same time, destructive, symbolized by earth, moon, shade, winter, cold, old age and weakness. The action of each of these on the other explained the diversities in human beings and influenced individuals and fates and fortunes.” I believe this oriental business is getting me. My tastes in reading seem to be veering to those works dealing with things Eastern. Certainly there’s something that possesses a terrible fascination for me, either in the people and their queer customs or in the country and climate itself. I wonder if it will pass off when I again come in contact with civilization? So much remains to be worked out, dependant on how I find things at the conclusion of this war business, that I’m almost consumed with impatience waiting for termination of it and the opportunity to get “cracking”. Maybe these two years have given me a spot of “wire fever”?? I was just wondering last night how this enforced estrangement is going to affect the future equilibrium of the Corrigan household. If my memory serves me, I believe most of us have the tendency in separations involving those very close to us to be very leniently disposed when it comes to weighing the good or evil qualities of the persons affected. Unfortunately, this somewhat biased “judgement” will sometimes have the effect of endowing the departed with virtues rather in excessive proportions to those possessed by the poor individual. Human nature being what it is, the first contacts – after reunion – are liable to be a bit unsettling. I can envision the shock awaiting my children when they discover their “old man’, whom the wife’s propaganda efforts have labeled “an officer and a gent”, turns out to be a crabby old “so and so” who raises cain when noises are made in the house and who refuses them money for candy and shows in order to have his daily “whiskey and soda”. Oh well, no doubt post-war planning boards have already discussed this important aspect and have a solution ready.
My unkind remarks about the food seem to lack substantiation as the scales record an increase in weight of four and a half pounds in the week just passed. These days I have an intense craving for thick, juicy onion sandwiches. Munching boiled rice day in and day out has its bad points and one periodically experiences the desire to sink their teeth into something crisp and juicy. Guess the day will come though.
October 26 – (Tuesday)
Strangely enough on this day in which I made the above entry re my domestic affairs, I am the lucky recipient of my first letter from my wife which, though dated May 1stof last year, is none the less most welcome. I think if my better-half could see the joy occasioned by the sight of her handwriting she’d be demanding an increase in her allowance. It is grand though to see the family settled in a house and that “elder sister” is pursuing her musical studies. I had hoped some photos of the family might be enclosed but – maybe they’ll be in the next one. --- My cup is full. ---
October 27 – (Wednesday)
What a toll Mrs. C’s letter took on my mental processes last night. I emerged this morning a mental wreck after having spent hours and hours at home, in spirit, having accomplished during my short stay the amazing feats of first – building a new house, second – completely repairing and renovating mother’s house, and lastly – completely reorganizing the postal service of Swift Current. I was still resisting Morpheous when faint streaks of grey were becoming apparent in the eastern sky.
Another death occurred today, a chap name Haines who, by the way, has a son in Sham Shui Po.
November 3 – (Wednesday)
Once again, as these things have a habit of doing, this birth date of mine thrusts its way into the present. Thirty-two years of age (?) and, once again, I suppose it is the inevitable response to the admission of the passing of time, I am confronted with the yearly urge to weigh the evidences of my stewardship to determine whether or not I have made the most of those years granted to me. This task, if I am to maintain any degree of indifferent frankness, seldom affords me any great pleasure, since I must admit that any accomplishments which I believe should merit an entry on the credit side of the ledger are, more often than not, overshadowed by negative entries on the other. Continued tests of this kind and their adverse results aren’t at all conducive to over-confidence in one’s self, but I placate myself with the thought that it’s largely a matter of the valuation one places on things. Perhaps other kind souls may be more kindly in their judgement of me. I hope so. So – for want of something better to do I embark herewith. I suppose one should, for reasons of clarity, subdivide an all-embracing subject like this, so we’ll start our retrospective effort with the mental side:
Unfortunately, no amount of wishful thinking will serve to gloss over the fact that mentally I’m woefully underdeveloped. Never more than in my present unenviable predicament has this fact been brought home. Due to the peculiar circumstances attendant to our little war out here, we are constantly in contact with men of very high educational standard - a thing which accentuates our mental short comings. My ideas, speech and general knowledge are so obviously juvenile by comparison that I’m afraid to make observations of any kind. I have lived to regret, as have thousands before me, that I didn’t take advantage of the educational facilities placed before me in earlier life. I regret also not having profited, in the years after these facilities were beyond my reach, by intelligent reading as a means of improving my mind. Now to my regret, I find that, though I plow through material which I believe my limited development will absorb, I find that the abstinence of years has dulled my powers of concentration and retention. I insert here the hope that on reading this poor effort some five years hence, I may console myself with the thought that I have worked, and am still working, in the effort to bring my mind up if not to par, then at least to bogey.
Physically speaking, I suppose I can consider myself more fortunate. Having been endowed, through no effort of mine, with what might be loosely termed a better than average physique, I can be truly thankful that, with one or two very minor exceptions, it has served me faithfully and well through the years. One might wonder just where the physical side enters a discussion of this kind and, under normal circumstances, I would share this wonder. Events of the past two years, however, have somewhat altered the position it would formerly have allotted to things physical. At such times as we have experienced, when good health was the exception rather than the rule, I have had cause to be most thankful that my body was sufficiently robust to take things as they came. In addition to that, I modestly insert claims on my fellow man for services which could not have been rendered had I not enjoyed a certain degree of physical fitness. Another angle that must not be neglected in connection with the physical side is that of the satisfaction and its mental effect that can be obtained from a decently coordinated physique. Certain degrees of prowess in fields of sport, etc. in which one indulges have a compensating effect and this no doubt has a great deal to do in creating a stability which would be impossible under circumstances of this kind, where the mental deficiencies are so painfully evident. I have no doubt that I will derive more satisfaction from the knowledge that, at a time when life and death hung in the balance, my body responded in such a manner as to enable me to write much like this, than I could ever obtain from the results of any real mental effort.
The next division of this noble treatise might embrace the social and financial aspects – inasmuch as they’re almost synonymous, at least in the eyes of most people. Judgement in this particular field is apt to be a trifle difficult due to the fact that individual senses of values seem to be at great variance. Taking first the financial side, I must admit that though I’ve managed to keep my family reasonably well-fed and clothed and contrived to collect a few of the minor luxuries such as a car, radio and the necessary quota of unpaid bills, I still haven’t much to offer them in the way of security. Of course we can’t all be Henry Fords, but after having spent some fifteen years working, one should have things sufficiently under control to have enabled them to look forward to a future at least comparatively secure. This is something which present circumstances do not offer, hence my desire to change my “locale”. The passage of time doesn’t exactly facilitate my chances of improving my employment so one can see the added desire to see this thing all done with. I must digress a bit here and set down for posterity an almost fool-proof thrift plan which I recommend for weak-minded people like myself, having participated in the benefits of this remarkable scheme for some two years. This plan, the success of which can be vouched for by thousands of participants in this colony alone, will enable anyone desirous of putting aside a certain amount of their income to do so, providing of course that they are ready to exercise a sufficient degree of will-power – which may be necessary at times to abide by the rules. Judged from afar, this Scotchman’s Utopia might be, at first glance, considered something on the harsh side, but, when one reviews the benefits derived, the methods used seem of minor consideration. Not only is the “co-operator” enabled to put aside some money, but he is also presented with a hitherto unthought of valuation of numerous minor items which used to raise his cost of living. The rules of this enlightened society are simple and, under proper supervision, such as we enjoy here, we find that having once committed ourselves, every effort is made to assist our determination to avoid the pitfalls and scenes of that “other life”. Some trepidation might be felt by those who may believe themselves to be insufficiently strong-willed to put themselves off the use of such needless luxuries as liquor, rich foods, tobacco, etc. in one fell swoop. Let me assure the victim – I mean the patient – who doubts that, providing he enters quite cheerfully into the spirit of things and firmly resolves to put behind him the temptations of the flesh, he will have no difficulty adhering to the general rules which govern the plan. Of utmost importance in the new venture is the choosing of the location for the proposed retreat and the acquiring of proper attendants, who must be in full sympathy with the plan, to attend to one’s daily needs. Having done all this, nothing remains but the final step and in this the intended must steel his mind, firmly resolving that – once having made the plunge – no amount of persuasion will swerve him from this task. Next comes the matter of diet. As a staple, any coarse grain that will lend itself to easy cooking and handling may be recommended, nutritional values are of secondary importance and need play no part in the choice. After giving the food question much thought, our little group decided on rice but any of the other grains such as wheat, oats, etc., will suffice since the main idea is to provide bulk with no particular regard to taste. I may state here that tastes are satisfied (?) by the addition – when cooking – of the greens of any weeds, plants or grasses which may abound in the locality. Cooking utensils may be obtained at practically no cost by mobilizing any gas drums, boilers or old bath tubs that may be lying about. The manner of cooking is simplicity in itself and an all-embracing recipe can be given in a few words. Merely take a moderate portion of the grain, mix with a sufficient quantity of water to ensure sloppiness and then bring to a boil. Greens may be boiled separately or with the grain, but care must be taken that they be boiled sufficiently to remove any vestiges of taste or flavour. Due to the usual economy of eating utensils, tin cans of adequate dimensions are usually scarce, it has been found that the issue can be cut to a very meager quantity per person – a point which is a great help from an economical point of view. It was our experience that if, when first commencing the course, no food at all be given for the first day or so, tremendous enthusiasm can be aroused for the new diet and, by serving only twice daily for the few following weeks, its popularity may be definitely assured. It can be easily seen – after this brief outline – that rigid observance of the diet and the discouragement by proper supervision, of efforts to obtain forbidden luxuries may strongly influence anyone so minded, to set aside almost any portion of their income, particularly if people at the other end have had the foresight to stop said income. Now – let me see, where was I before that last wide and wild splurge crept in? Ah yes. That rather stuffy “true confession” business. I think, having achieved my original intention of passing a bit of time, that the rest of the painful nonsense that I’ve put to paper since my incarceration, I wonder sometimes whether in later years I’ll have the stomach to wade through such trash. (?) Who knows?
November 11 – (Thursday)
And so we come to another anniversary of the termination of that other Great War. Thoughts of the seeds of hate sown by the announcement of the treaty articles at its conclusion makes one wonder what kind of a mess the politicians will make of things when they try to unravel the maze of complications that are bound to follow this present struggle. Having noted how deep-seated individual greed can be, in some of the wretched experiences we’ve undergone, I’m inclined to be somewhat pessimistic when I see the degree of magnanimity and good common sense that will be required of those unfortunate gentlemen upon whose shoulders will fall the task of drawing up terms of settlement. Poor human nature – in spite of the marvels of our science and the much vaunted advancement of our civilization – we still remain subject to our instincts. I’m afraid our next armistice will attract its crowd of human vultures just as did the last. Funny the moods one falls into. My present one is the result of a very mild argument of early this afternoon into which the breach between the English and the Canadian first crept, then boldly strode forth. Putting the date over this entry, I couldn’t help wondering how statesmen – though they had the most noble intentions – can deal, as they will have to deal after this war, with the lives and lands of millions, whose thought and speech are beyond their understanding, when there exists now within our own family of nations – all of the mother tongue – such a degree of ignorance and misunderstanding. Even without having to consider the political side, it would seem a pretty grim task. Oh well – I suppose if I had sufficient brains to evolve the proper solutions, I wouldn’t be here.
I had hoped by this date to be out in the clear again but fate, in the form of a slight relapse, decreed otherwise. My innards really went to work with a vengeance shortly after the conclusion of my first course, with the result that I start a second on Tuesday. For some reason this attack seems much heftier than the last two – at least in regard to physical discomfort – and I feel that I’ve established a sympathetic bond, through something of a mutual suffering, with a woman in the initial throes of labour pains. I have changed the manner of treatment for this session and am now taking E.B.I. capsules instead of the enemas, a policy which has my wholehearted endorsement. One does become tender and inclined to be touchy even with the most gentle of care. One of the chaps who came over in the same draft with me and who was a fellow sufferer at Sham Shui Po, Mr. Burns, died yesterday morning. Poor chap, he should never have been mixed up in this thing at all. Such a thing is war.
Something of a surprise draft was called Tuesday which resulted in twenty-nine patients going out and approximately fifteen coming in. Major Brown, R.A.M.C., who was my M.O. when I had malaria in camp, was the only officer to arrive.
Reports from camp indicate life much as usual and McCarthy sends word that I must be back by Christmas, as he has a couple of bottles of saki lined up. I guess a couple of slugs of that would give these old dysentery bugs something to think about.
Nothing of any importance has developed around here except that it has turned quite chilly today. The developments of the moon are once again bringing those beautiful nights that I’ve mentioned.
Reg just related that signs of B. & M., the catch words of our little fraternity, are again appearing, so it would seem that he too is due for another course. In spite of the beds and scenery, I’m just a little homesick for the cheery companionship of the camp, and of course the grub there. Hope I can make it by Christmas.
Just as a point of interest – or is it – Wendy Barry the film star – was born in one of the houses situated on the summit of the hill directly behind the hospital and overlooking the area. Not that it makes much difference, but I thought I’d mention it.
November 18 – (Thursday)
Another week slides by and takes with it some of that lovely weather of which I boasted about earlier. The thermometer registers a mere 56 degrees above, but I’m sure that the Canadian equivalent of the cold I’m feeling would have the mercury well below zero. What price living in Hong Kong now? Still just as enthusiastic as ever strangely enough! Reg and I had further speech on this subject this afternoon from the warm sanctuary of our beds and I’m quite convinced – unless some mechanical feature makes them unsuitable – that our Canadian system of hot air heating is the answer to the inconvenience of both cold and damp periods here. As near as I can gather, January, February and March are about the only periods of the year when the combination of both cold and damp would necessitate a system such as ours, but I have found, from bitter experience, that there are countless other days through November and December in which a little dry heat wouldn’t be entirely out of place. We spoke also this afternoon on the social problem which newcomers like myself would have to face. Assuming the Corrigans to be average (?) in this connection, Reg assures me that, through the medium of golf and various sports in which Mrs. C. and I would naturally indulge, we would be in a good position to look over and choose friends whom we would regard as intimate if we so desired. Evidently everyone here indulges in sport and almost everyone also indulges in the club life that goes with it. We assumed that I might land something in the Post Office and, working on that assumption, figured what clubs etc. I would become a member of. As you can imagine, being British, the place fairly stinks with class consciousness, but of course, all that would be high enough over us to give us little concern. If Reg’s representation can be taken as a true picture, I’m reasonably certain that – as a family – we could have a grand time of it here. “Start packin’ there Mrs. C. Your old man’s headin’ East.” Again as with all my dreams, I must await developments. No wonder I get impatient.
November 22 – (Monday)
I commence this week filled with the hope that my second course of treatment just completed, will have succeeded in quieting, temporarily at least, my arch-enemy – the amoeba. The cold spell mentioned in the last entry still persists, though I must admit avoiding most of it through a rather rough session with my “complaint”, which necessitated my staying in bed. Today being weighing-in day, I checked my avoirdupois this morning and found myself to be 147 ½ pounds. Not too good, though I still feel fine. This latest figure makes almost an even fifty pounds that Hong Kong has cost me to date, which indicates a lot of overtime work in the future to make it up. I’m still not complaining, physically though, there’s plenty left on the old frame yet. I’m still consumed with the terrible impatience and, to us here, the march of world events seems a snail’s pace. I’m rather perturbed when I contemplate the harmful effects which the incessant day-dreaming and the fruitless, unfulfilled planning in which we indulge, is liable to have. Surely it must do something to one’s mental processes when the same series of frustrated plans and half-formed ideas continually come and go through the mind. Every night, prior to sleep, I find myself transported home mentally, there to do and undo thousands of situations, always different yet always the same, and because they lack anything solid that can be used as a foundation, I’m inevitably left in a confused state of mental exhaustion. Unfortunately, present physical deficiencies prevent the normal emotional outlet, athletics, so that I’m looking forward most eagerly to the day when I’m considered fit for exercise. Maybe the term “wire-fever” isn’t quite the gag I pretended it was. Perhaps a good binge of saki might not be as stupid as it looks about now.
We lost another of our lads this morning, chap named LaPlante of Indian-French extraction. He too came over in the same draft as I from the dysentery hospital at camp. I seem to be something of a jinx for these fellows.
November 30 – (Tuesday)
Again we stand on the thresh-hold of the Christmas month. Strangely enough we think this one also will be the last. I commenced another course of treatment last night, for reasons of precaution more than anything else, I think, so any hopes I entertained for making the next draft to camp are shattered. Life remains pleasant, if at times a bit monotonous, but then one can’t expect too much. I’ve been indulging in considerable day-dreaming about home lately, and I presume the cold here has been responsible. I find myself thinking rather wistfully of the comforts of a Canadian living room in wintertime. Immense living rooms, whose only means of warmth is a fireplace, somehow lack the homey appeal of our overheated, comfortable, though smaller quarters at home. Try as I may, I can’t seem able to picture myself getting used to spending a nice quiet evening at home during the cold months, under the circumstances as they exist here. Maybe that explains the necessity for the Englishman’s whiskey and soda.
I’ve been reading – and enjoying – Pierre Von Paassens, “Days of Our Years”, and I must say that it’s illuminating if nothing else. I haven’t finished yet so I can’t definitely tell just where the author’s religious statements are leading to, but I must say he’s particularly anti-Catholic and most particularly anti-Jesuit in his view points. As yet, he has done little more than attack the established system and has not committed himself on his personal doctrines, if any. After reading several of his outbursts against religion, a night or two ago, I wondered within myself just how I might answer any of my children if suddenly asked by them to give an honest opinion of my religious viewpoints. Assuming my questioner to be wholly sincere in her query and that it was prompted by something more than plain curiosity I must admit I would have considerable difficulty in coherently satisfying a question of that nature, chiefly because I’m not just sure how I should be classified in a religious sense. Nominally, of course, I’m Roman Catholic, but I’m afraid that I hold the heretical viewpoint that the R.C. church as it exists today, and the R.C. doctrine as laid down by the founders of our church are not one and the same thing. Such a vague, illogical-appearing statement as that certainly needs a bit of explanation and, though I doubt that I can at the moment produce evidences that cause me to think such a thing, I will nevertheless have a go at it. In the first place, the big disparity between the doctrine of the R.C.’s and the church itself is that, as I see it, the latter does not practice what she preaches. Admitting that all those histories which the average Canadian student is liable to have studied are liable to be biased against Catholicism, we must admit a certain percentage of truth in their statements of the part played by the church in world affairs, since such a time as it was sufficiently strong to be counted on as a factor in world politics. There seems no question that, in the past, the history of the church has been associated too much with oppression, suppression and intrigues, both internal and external for an organization whose duty it was to spread the word of God. Of course, all this might be said to have been of the past and therefore not applicable to the present body of the church. I would agree with this view if there did not exist what to me are quite definite policies which are a result of, and in some cases the continuation of, those practices which finally resulted in the Reformation. To mention one or two points I might bring in the “fear” method in which the ignorance of the people, the peasant class particularly, was capitalized on in the propagation of faith. To me, the “Hell’s fire and brimstone” theory has been pounced on by the church and used in ways and for far different purposes than that intended by Christ in His teachings. Even admitting that a certain amount of “persuasion” of this type was needed in the earlier troubled times, I cannot see the justification of a continuance of the method in these comparatively enlightened times – yet Italy and other European countries as well as our own French Quebec are almost medieval in their religion, with the church continually bemoaning the loss of her “territory” in regions that have refused to remain stagnant. Surely Christ’s religion ought to be able to withstand the onslaught of learning? I think it can. Would it not be better to lose the “faith” of those whose religion is dominated by a personal fear of the hereafter and gain, by a change of tactics, the faith of those who have seen the reasonableness of Christ’s teachings? I am firmly convinced also that the Church has used this fear complex of the ignorant classes to further herself in matters other than spiritual. I refer to the material gains as represented by the enormous wealth of churches, real estate, etc. which the church controls throughout the world. Naturally an organization of the size and scope of the Roman church is bound to possess immense wealth, religion is like that, however it seems to me too much of a coincidence when I note that the material affluence of the church seems more pronounced in countries where an illiterate peasantry predominates. Again I cite Italy, Quebec and Spain as examples. Is it coincidence that, to mention one country specifically, a country like Italy, where the population is almost solidly Catholic and where there are more churches per square foot than anywhere else, also possesses a poorer, more ignorant class of peasantry than most European countries? Somewhere along the way, the Italian church seems to have dropped Christ’s exhortation to take care of the poor. Granted that some of these conditions arise from economical problems such as most European countries have to face, still to me there seems no justification for an environment which permits richly ornamented churches and well-fed clergy to be surrounded by evidences of poverty and squalor amongst the less fortunate. As a tourist in some of the European countries I was enabled to get a rather hasty, and therefore sketchy, impression of conditions in some of those countries, but I must admit that as a nominal Catholic, I was ashamed to note that Italy was quite outstanding in regard to the numbers of its poor and the great gap separating them from their more fortunate brethren in a country like Canada. Another item in the same vein, closer to home, can be noted in some of our different parishes. Take any parish in the West and compare its church with the church of any Irish or English dominated parish in the same numerical strength and I’ll wager the farmer will have a church building far richer and gaudier that his English or Irish counter part. Is it because the former are better Catholics? I don’t think so. I might even go so far as to venture the suggestion that there is more true faithand less hypocrisy amongst the latter than amongst the former. Reading back over the above I see that I’ve actually done nothing as far as answering the original question put to me is concerned. I can see too that my efforts to portray my feelings regarding the church seem beclouded by somewhat unproved generalizations. This latter fault is, I suppose, the result of having to fall back on evidence seen, heard or read, which has given me a hazy mental picture upon which I base my deductions, rather than concrete examples which in themselves would be more explanatory. I have, no doubt, been building up subconscious prejudice through the years which, though intelligible enough in my mind, is rather difficult to express. One might ask, since I seem to think the governing body of the church to be at fault, how I might suggest remedying the situation. In the first place, a good clean-up amongst the clergy might be in order. I believe that the domination of the Vatican by Italian, French and Spanish cliques in its church positions, should be abolished. I do not say that these men are corrupt, but I do think that the fact that they have risen to power in a system that has permitted what I might term “vices” to flourish, should preclude them from “control” of such an international body as the Universal Church. A tolerant, wide-awake administration that would brook no infractions from its junior clergy and which would take as its religious standard the exampleset by Christ would, I believe, bring about a spiritual revolution which would shake all Christendom. I confess that Beverley Nicols, in his book “The Fool Hath Said”, expresses an opinion with which I agree wholeheartedly. His contention is that Christianity, as a group, should abandon the type of religion which they practicetoday and substitute instead a religious philosophy based on the “examples” practiced by Christ himself – rather than the somewhat muddled interpretations of Christ’s teachings which have been handed down and distorted to suit the needs of the various churches and which serve as their doctrinal founts. What better medium for the propagandizing of this modern Renaissance than the universal church? And now – to revert to that innocent question that started this wandering epistle. Assuming the questioner to believe in a Supreme Being, I would ask him or her to look the religions over and see which of them is going to give the maximum spiritual consolation. Personally, Catholic doctrine seems to me to contain more substance than the doctrines of any other religions. If a doctrine is decided upon, then I would suggest that considerable thought be given to those things which one would be asked to believe. The Catholic Church insists that its doctrine be “swallowed whole” as it were, but here I disagree. Granted that there are some articles in Catholic doctrine which must ever remain a mystery and therefore must be either accepted or denied, I don’t believe that because the laws of the Catholic Church state definitely that we mustaccept all articles of faith as laid down by that body, were our incredulity to be strained we should believe blindly. If one should entertain any doubts at all would it not be better to openly doubt than to encourage any degree of hypocrisy? The very fact that the church itself is forced periodically to alter portions of its doctrines to suit a world that becomes more enlightened and progressive in thought would seem to indicate that “blind acceptance” is a fallacy. Of course, one must guard against the possibility of allowing personal weaknesses of character to sway one’s judgement of what is going to be accepted. I quite realize that some of the laws of the Catholic Church are made almost severe because it was recognized that it was most necessary when dealing with such a complicated piece of machinery as human nature. And so, if my advice were asked, I would suggest to my youngster that he, or she, embrace the Catholic faith because I believe, in spite of the organizational faults, that the faith has more to offer than that of any other. I would suggest that, rather than make a point of obeying the laws of the church as laws, that he or she pattern their ideas after those of some of our westernized religious organizations such as the Jesuits, with special attention and emphasis on tolerance. Of course, whatever religion as such one wishes to embrace is of little importance after all – most of us are sufficiently acquainted with Christ’s life on earth to be able to fashion – from the example He set us - a moral and social code which if lived up to would allow us to reach the same goal. Summed up, my advice might read like this. Study the religions and extract from them the best they have to offer, read the life of Christ and from this combination evolve a set of ideals. Then – live up to them.
December 12 – (Sunday)
The fact that it’s Sunday night and I haven’t much to do to kill time, prompts this effort. Life goes on much the same, seemingly quite oblivious to the fact that I search fruitlessly for something of interest to pep up this dull effort. I have finished my third course of treatment for my little complaint but whether this last has been successful remains to be seen. Strangely enough, as with the first two, this course was marked near its conclusion by a sudden spurt of renewed activity which may or may not indicate failure. I hope it to be nothing more serious than a slight chill.
Alarcon, who came over with a case of suspected stomach ulcers, was permitted to give us an hour’s piano recital last evening, which was much appreciated by the patients. He spent the early part of the evening tonight in the room here, discussing the possibilities of earning a livelihood in Canada after the war. After pointing out all the advantages which he might enjoy if he decided to make his abode there, I found myself wondering why – if we have so much to offer - I should be contemplating the Far East as a possible field of endeavour for myself. Such are the powers of salesmanship. While I have been making grandiose, if futile, plans for a future here, I have not abandoned the idea of exploiting any and all possibilities of a job at home. I quite intend to explore every opportunity possible to change my occupation and still remain in Canada because I realize that – though this colony has much to offer in the matter of beauty, comfort and entertainment, still there remains that unsettled, unsatisfied feeling of non-permanence – something which is lacking, just beyond our grasp. In other words, the complete fulfillment of our simple pleasures such as I’ve experienced at home. I may be wrong in this regard, but so it seems to me. Maybe the ever-present chill in the atmosphere is having the effect of swaying my judgement, however, as I say, I’m looking at all angles before taking any steps.
I’m enjoying a book by Taylor Caldwell titled “Dynasty of Death” which deals with the foundation and subsequent building up of a munitions-making dynasty through the years from the expansion period of American industry, around 1850s, to the present. From the little that I’ve read on the subject previously, it would seem to me that the book presents an almost parallel history to that of an American family, whose name I can’t for the life of me recall, which at present flourishes in the States. In spite of the difficulty of keeping track of the numberless brothers and sisters, fathers, sons and mothers, aunts, uncles and cousins of the two prolific families around which the story winds, I find it most interesting. – I think I am gradually beginning to get something of real enjoyment out of reading, though I must admit my powers of retention don’t seem to have sharpened any. Perhaps a change of diet will assist later on. I certainly mean to utilize spare time to better advantage in the future with a reasonably sensible program of reading.
It’s rather a shame that I am unable to send a photo of myself home about now. Last week, by general order throughout the hospital, everyone had their hair clipped off. A group photo would make a “crime gallery” line-up look like a “Promising Film Stars of the Future” assembly. Nature certainly had her wits about her when she decided to array our pates in soft garments. I’m not sure as yet whether my profile most resembles Donald Duck or Ferdinand the Bull. That gag about “taking me home to scare the children” actually has some substance in it.
Another of the chaps who came over in my draft succumbed to T.B. a couple of days ago. How I wish this would all finish.
December 13 – (Monday)
My weekly weight check-up reveals another pound and a half gone west. My fighting trim is now 146. Before sleep last night, I was pestered with thoughts of eating huge breakfasts, consisting chiefly of delicious sandwiches of tender liver and bacon. When I think of my former lackadaisical manner of eating, I could scream.
December 18 – (Saturday)
Just a week today and we’ll be celebrating another Christmas. This particular feast is going to mean much more to me in the future than it ever did in the past. I believe a subconscious desire to find some new employment that doesn’t rob me of the opportunity to properly celebrate this event is one of the prime reasons for my desire of a change. Extra hours entailed during the Christmas season were never, in themselves, a hardship, but I always begrudged any time spent at the office on Christmas and New Year’s Day. I’ve made up my mind that – regardless of future developments – I’m going to have one really free, happy Christmas! Next year??
I’ve received another set-back in my struggle with the demon amoeba. A stool test taken day before yesterday reveals things to be still in a positive state, with the result that last night saw me commencing my fourth course of treatment, this time consisting of entero-vioform tablets, wash-outs and yatren enemas. Any hopes I entertained of getting back to camp in the near future have been shelved – indefinitely.
Today is Alla’s birthday, but circumstances forbade anything of a celebration. He’s more or less made up his mind to see Canada after this so we spent the morning figuring costs of living, etc.
While Christmas celebrations for the hospital seem to be out of the question this year, we will – if rumours are correct – at least eat well on that date. Prices prevailing on the outside prevent any sumptuous repast but a few extras such as coffee, meat patties and Christmas pudding are reputed to be on the bill of fare. Heaven knows we can stand it.
My reading material for the week indicates a trend towards leftish political thought as I gallantly plow through Joseph Freeman’s, “An American Testament”, in which he describes his evolution through socialism, Marxism, communism, etc. I can be expected to break out at any moment in vicious condemnation of the exploitation of the proletariat by the wicked, imperialistic capitalist bourgeoisie. The result so far has not been too entertaining but it does present the other side of the picture.
December 25 – (Saturday)
The big day has arrived at last and we all fervently pray that it will be the last in our present circumstances. For some reason or other, the real Christmas spirit is not as apparent to me this year as it was last. Perhaps last year set too high a standard upon which to base my judgements, I don’t know. Certainly that “something” is missing. In reality, we have much more cause to be optimistic this year and, generally speaking, we are not surrounded by the generalized pain and suffering such as we were experiencing a year ago. I think perhaps my disappointment in this year’s celebrations may be due to the fact that last Christmas I felt that I was a contributor to the general feeling of good will that prevailed, due to my musical efforts, while this year I must sit back and do nothing. How true is the saying that “It is better to give than to receive.” I popped out early this morning and sneaked down to have a moment with “Sandy” before the M.O.’s were likely to appear on the scene. What an amazing example of pure grit and determination this fellow displays. It was a treat to see how happy and cheerful he could be after what he has come through. Christmas naturally brings to our minds – more than ordinarily – the children to whom the day means so much. Last night I tried to visualize the preparations and general excitement which would be evident amongst my family as the tree was being trimmed for the big day. How stupid I was not to have taken more advantage of opportunities to enjoy my children more in the past, opportunities which, unfortunately will not come my way again. I will feel these years have not been wasted if I will have learned on my return to master my patience and become a more successful father. However, I do hope that Gladys, Paddy and Shelagh are enjoying the best of everything today. Next year? – Who knows? –
Our main source of satisfaction must necessarily be derived from our old friend food and we look forward to being filled for two meals, at least. Breakfast was the usual ground rice with an issue of a spoonful of sugar to help it down – but we hear of big things to come for dinner and supper. Having partaken of little else but ground rice, a half issue of plain rice and the juice of greens since my arrival two and a half months ago, it can be imagined that something in the way of a stew will be much appreciated. I will set out the menu in detail at the close of the day.
I just found out today that a young chap who sleeps on the verandah just outside our door, Corbett by name, is distantly related to Glen Corbett at home. Formerly of Welwyn, Sask., he now calls Winnipeg home.
I wonder how Mac, Johnnie, Black and company are making out over in camp today. My thoughts also wander homeward as I conjecture on the doings of Bob, Rooney, George Dunlop, Frank Allen and the Post Office staff, etc. One of the biggest curses of this existence is the lack of news of parents, families and friends.
December 26 – (Sunday) – Boxing Day
And so we pass another Christmas. In one respect, at least I must admit it was a success. I managed to get filled with food. Dinner at noon brought us fried fish, rice and meat and vegetable stew with a six ounce bun (instead of the usual four ounces) plus two ounces of apple butter, to round off the corners. Supper proved a tasty meal with a meat patty and rice pudding, with milk and sugar. As I say, for once I was filled. It was amusing to discover how little over and above our usual quota of food we were able to assimilate. Believe it or not, at both meals I had the greatest difficulty putting away my full portion. Most of us who have been entertaining ourselves the last year or so with visions of the mounds of food we would attack on our release, now realize we’ll have to go into quite serious training before we’ll be in condition to attack a full course meal.
December 31 – (Saturday)
Once again, we stand on the threshold of a New Year, one which we hope will see an end to this unproductive method of putting in time. Without seeming unduly optimistic, I think it is almost safe to predict that the coming year will bring the finale of this orgy of death and destruction in which we’re embroiled. Local newspaper reports indicate the imminence of crucial stages in both eastern and western theatres of war and to us it would seem that, when the decisive phases are actually entered into, the forces unleashed will be so powerful as to preclude – because of economic exhaustion – the possibility of their lasting for any great length of time. In the west, the Russians, though slowed down considerably, seem able to extend their front in their relentless drive against the German invaders. Eventually, if news reports of colossal losses of men and material are correct, the natural economic and manpower reserves of Russia are bound to manifest themselves as the decisive factors. Germany, in the meantime, has been and is being subjected to such aerial destruction as the world has never before seen, and though the leaders claim its effect on morale and industry to be negligible, I’m inclined to believe that something of the opposite view must be almost inevitable. Added to this pressure on the Russian and home-fronts is the much spoken of projected second front in Europe. Germany’s outlook for next year must be dark indeed with the bulk of anti-Axis power poised on the Balkan spring-board and signs of unrest and discontent becoming evident in the Occupied countries. In the Pacific area, the paper records the gradual extension of the Yank front as a result of the recent landings in New Guinea and New Britain sector. The day is getting closer when a decisive naval battle involving the grand fleets of both sides is inevitable, probably in the north Pacific sector. All these factors would seem to indicate that the stage is being set for the last titanic effort to bring things to their conclusion.
Aside from the actual war, I must say that this past year has been one of great improvement over 1942 for we prisoners. Health in general showed noticeable improvement as our systems adapted themselves to their new fare and we were particularly fortunate that no disease of epidemic proportions had to be overcome. Having settled themselves both physically and mentally into their new environment, the majority of the men emerge from 1943 with high hopes of freedom and all that it means being – “just around the corner”.
I have just finished my quarterly postcard home, this time to Grandma Hart. I wonder how many – if any – I’ve clicked on so far. Some of the lads received mail from home a couple of weeks ago that was written as recently as November, 1942.
The hour of bed draws nigh and with it the last of my enema course. I do hope my “bug” takes its leave with old “43”. My last mental effort of the year is a silent prayer that 1944 will indeed prove a happy and prosperous New Year, not only for us here but for the world in general.