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Brenda tells of her early years in World War II internment camp in China

By Alan Hendry

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Brenda Herrick with Susie the rag doll, which she received in a Japanese-run internment camp in China during World War II. Picture: Alan Hendry
Brenda Herrick with Susie the rag doll, which she received in a Japanese-run internment camp in China during World War II. Picture: Alan Hendry

A Caithness woman has been recalling how she spent part of her early childhood in a Japanese-run internment camp in China.

Some 80 years on, Brenda Herrick still has a rag doll called Susie that she received as a Christmas present while she and her family were being held in the Weihsien camp during World War II.

Brenda tells her story in a new interview for Wick Voices, the online oral history project of the Wick Society.

"Susie was a little rag doll I was given in camp and I've kept her ever since," says Brenda, who has lived in Caithness for more than 20 years and recently moved from Castletown to Wick.

"I've moved 20 times in my life and Susie has always come with me. She survived the time in camp and the journey home and ever since I've just always kept her."

Brenda spent a few years at Weihsien with her brother Brian and their parents, the Rev Maurice Garton and his wife Elsie Serena.

Maurice was doing Christian missionary work in Peking (now Beijing) when the Japanese took the city.

"We all lived in one little hut, so it wasn't easy," Brenda says in the recording. "And my mother used to say one of the worst jobs was cleaning out the latrines, because she was a bishop's daughter and used to quite a civilised life with servants.

"I was too young to worry about it but one of the Japanese guards used to take me for walks, apparently.

"We just lived there until the end of the war and then the Americans came in to release us. The American planes were flying over dropping food and it was in big crates and their aim wasn't always very good, and I think one of them went through the roof of our hut!

"But eventually we were released and we went to Hong Kong and then we were put on a ship home.

Eric Liddell, the missionary and Olympic athlete whose story was told in the film Chariots of Fire, was in Weihsien at the same time and taught children there as well as organising youth sports. He died in the camp a few months before it was liberated.

Brenda talks about her admiration for Liddell's stance in refusing to run on a Sunday. "He was a great Christian, almost more than he was a great athlete," she says.

She later met one of Liddell's daughters, Patricia, at Freswick Castle.

Brenda (81) is known locally as a campaigner with Caithness Windfarm Information Forum, opposing large-scale wind farms.

“It's all about money," she says in the interview. "They make so much money out of wind farms. The wind farms are paid so much to switch off, for instance, which is just ridiculous.

“And of course the government now overrules all the local opinion. It doesn't matter what communities say, or what the councils say, the government takes the decision and they just consent them. And they don't care how much damage they're doing to the environment.

“We're always told to preserve peat and yet they're digging up masses of peat to build wind farms.

“And it ruins the look of the place. Caithness was known for its big skies. Now you can't look anywhere without seeing wind turbines – and they make people ill.”

Recordings for Wick Voices are freely accessible on the Wick Society's website at www.wickheritage.org/voices.php

There are 363 oral history interviews in the collection, with more being added regularly.

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