Thomas and Evelina were married at a time when neither of them was interned in Stanley Camp: Evelina because she was a neutral Portuguese and Thomas because he’d been kept outside to bake for the hospitals. But by the time of their first anniversary they’d been sent to join the rest of the Allied civilians in Stanley, and their friends in Camp commissioned this plaque, which was presented on the big day:
On June 29, 1967 Thomas and Evelina celebrated their Silver Wedding anniversary. There was a gathering of family and friends, who enjoyed drinks and confectionery (baked by Thomas, of course) in the back garden of their bungalow in Windsor.
Thomas had designed this bungalow himself, incorporating some of the principles of the Feng Shui he’d learnt in Hong Kong:
The toast was proposed by their old friend Tommy Waller (internee 2116), who, at the key moment in a polished speech, pointed to the plaque and said,
‘It’s not like Tommy and Lena, it’s got a split in it’.
Thomas had been getting more and drunk as the day wore on. He was always a drinker, but this was one of those rare occasions when he was out of control, and he felt compelled to interrupt the speaker with some incoherent remarks on an aspect of Camp life that he considered highly pertinent to the matter in hand. He seemed ready to volunteer several more observations, when Evelina, thinking of that split, interrupted the interrupter:
‘There will be one if you don’t be quiet,’ she said, with the full support of all those present.
This didn’t mar the good-humour of the occasion; the post-war Thomas was generally a gentle, unaggressive man, and he remained so when drunk. He kept his historical commentary for later, and Mr. Waller, who was almost certainly one of those who commissioned and presented the plaque back in 1943, was allowed to finish without further interruption.
His older son, Brian, was sixteen at the time and a ferocious baby-boomer radical, who had to be bribed by his grandmother to behave half-way decently at such gatherings. He looked on with cold contempt at what seemed one huge provocation: family, adults and the war were quite enough to put up with, without the antics of a drunken father!
Officially Brian was in full 1960s revolt against anything that had to do with the past. But underneath something else was going on.
Thomas and Evelina, like many other former internees, had decided to say very little about their wartime experiences to their children. It was a compassionate and correct decision – they didn’t want to burden the next generation with their own suffering, and I don’t believe that ‘opening up’ and ‘sharing’ would have been helpful in most cases, although that was later to become the orthodox recommendation for those dealing with the after-shocks of extreme trauma.
But such an experience doesn’t just disappear when it’s not given voice.
The story of the war was passed on in every movement and every word; it made itself heard when Thomas and Evelina got up in the morning, followed them during the day waiting for any chance to be told, and was sent resonating round the bedroom as they drifted off at night. (Brian was a fearful little boy who wouldn’t sleep on his own for much of his early childhood.)
This ‘story-telling’ was not, of course, a conveying of events but of the experience of those events, and as he grew up Brian experienced his parent’s experiences. This was his own experience, in no way identical with Thomas’s and Evelina’s (which were not themselves the same in 1967 as in 1943 because of the perpetual re-making of memory in the process of living) but its origins lay nevertheless in the events of those four desperate years in Hong Kong.
And one day, Brian knew somewhere on the fringes of his consciousness, he would have to revisit his childhood experiences of his parents’ time in the French Hospital and Stanley. And he knew that such a ‘revisiting’ would require every resource of body and mind he could muster.
As that bright day in the early summer of 1967 unfolded he was looking for clues, for anything that would help him understand the thoughts and feelings of that first anniversary on June 29, 1943. Later he was to learn just how dark that day must have been.
One of the Bungalows in Stanley camp