By Sarah Hilary
To me, the Red Cross will always be linked to my mother’s memory of her first taste of bread and butter, as a little girl held prisoner by the Japanese. She remembers vividly the tiny square of bread and the tinned butter which was “the most delicious thing I’d ever tasted”.
My mother was one of thirty-three children interned at Batu Lintang, a Japanese PoW in North Borneo during WW II. Throughout four years of captivity, the children were held prisoner with their mothers, their fathers in a separate camp; the children rarely saw them.
The photograph shown here was taken by the Japanese propaganda network, Domei News, in the spring of 1944. Within months of the photograph being taken, my mother was gravely ill with pneumonia. My grandmother tried to bargain with the prison guards for medicine, but it wasn’t until the Red Cross dropped supplies that she was able to exchange her engagement ring for the antibiotics that saved my mother’s life.
Reading accounts from other prisoners at Batu Lintang, it is clear that the hope of a Red Cross drop sustained many of those held in captivity during the extended period of the war in the Far East. A fellow child internee recalls the miraculous sight of “The huge metal tubes descending by parachute, with the food and medicine.”
I cannot think of the Red Cross without being grateful for the part they played in my mother’s survival. And the part they continue to play in the survival of others around the world.
Sarah Hilary is the winner of the Sense Creative Writing Award 2010 and the Fish Criminally Short Histories Prize 2008. A column about the wartime experiences of her mother, who was a child internee of the Japanese, was published in Foto8 Magazine and subsequently in the Bristol Review of Books. Sarah is currently working on a crime novel. Her agent is Jane Gregory.
This guest post was contributed by the author to Writers for the Red Cross. Writers for the Red Cross is a month-long celebration that brings writers, readers, editors, literary agents and independent bookstores together to raise funds and awareness for the Red Cross during Red Cross Month.