Gong Gong says

This is a posthumous blog of our father's (Lim Kok Ann) life. When our father passed away on 8 March 2003, he left behind an unpublished autobiography. We'd like to celebrate his life by sharing his autobiography through this blog.

"I have dredged these anecdotes from memory just to pass the time; if they amuse my grandchildren their purpose will have been served; if they provide any instruction, it will be a happy coincidence; that they are disjointed is probably to be expected.

Aurora was the name of my grandfather’s house in Kulangsu.   Amoy, where I spent the first five or six years of my life.   I still have vivid memories of events that took place when I was barely three years old.

Lim Kok Ann
October 1996"

Monday, September 22, 2008

3:3 Japanese B Encephalitis.

Hale had been Senior Lecturer in the London University College Hospital Medical School where he had been doing research on influenza. He intended to continue working on viruses and immediately found a good line when he visited the Institute of Medical Research (IMR) in Kuala Lumpur shortly after he came to Singapore. The US Army maintained a research unit in the IMR studying matters of interest to the US Army which covers just about everything. At that time the US Army was interested in Japanese B encephalitis* because its headquarters was in Tokyo and the Japanese health authorities were concerned by epidemics of the disease in Japanese children.

* Encephalitis means inflammation of the brain and is also known as brain fever. It is a disease due to destruction of brain cells resulting in loss of muscular co—ordination and mental ability, and occasionally causing coma and death. The condition was first described in adults and occurred all the year round. When cases were identified in Japan they were found to occur mainly in summer, and in children. At first described as summer encephalitis, the disease was named Japanese encephalitis B to distinguish it from Japanese encephalitis A, the other form which had also been recognized. Japanese scientists did not like the association of the disease with Japan because they had found evidence of the same disease in other Asian countries but they were out-voted in the scientific committee that named viruses. Indeed, while the virus of Japanese B encephalitis has been recovered from animals and from humans, the causative agent of encephalitis A has not been discovered.

The start given us was indirect. Some race-horses recently imported from Australia at great cost had taken ill with symptoms of encephalitis, fever and muscular in coordination (they were staggering a bit). Blood tests showed that the horses had developed antibodies to Japanese B virus and it was assumed that the horses had got infected when they arrived in Malaya for the disease was not prevalent in Australia. It was known that pigs in Japan could be infected by Japanese Boon Keng encephalitis so it was possible for horses in Malaya to be infected, if the virus was present there. A horrible thought: if horses can be infected, why not humans? Hale decided to pursue this question.

An economical way of growing viruses was to use chick embryos or rather, fertilized hen eggs, as is done with influenza virus, but Jap B virus (for convenience we shall use this abbreviation for “Japanese encephaltis B virus”) could not be grown in eggs, we had to use mice. Hale got some mice from Kuala Lumpur and very soon we were breeding white mice, not only in the laboratory, but also at home where my children made pets of them, especially when we stained them different colours. In the laboratory, the mice were kept in rooms that were mosquito screened, to prevent stray mosquitoes infecting our mice, or to prevent them biting our infected mice and getting out again. We grew Jap B virus from seed virus given us and confirmed that the serum of horses that had recovered from encephalitis was able to neutralize (prevent) the infectivity of Jap B virus in mice. A control test with normal horse serum (from newly arrived horses), showed that this was unable to neutralize the virus. We were in the business!

The question whether the disease was prevalent in Singapore was easily answered. Tests on blood samples from Singapore children showing signs of brain fever showed that they often developed antibodies against Jap B virus, a sure sign that they had the disease. -Though we had no fatal cases at first, some patients had severe brain damage and were unable to do anything for themselves after the acute stage. Now, how did the children get infected with a virus last of whichwe heard of was infecting race-horses? How Japanese children get Japanese encephalitis gave us a clue. Japanese encephalitis in Japan was spread by mosquitoes that got the virus from pigs that got the virus from mosquitoes that had bitten other infected animals or humans. The mosquito responsible was named Culex tritaeniorrhyncus (meaning, mosquito with three horns, markings on the head of the mosquito). As is well-known, the female of the species is the deadlier. Female Culicine mosquitoes need a blood meal before they lay eggs. When they bite an animal with virusin the blood they also pick up the virus which then multiplies in the mosquito and finally finds its way to its salivary glands. A blood-sucking mosquito feeds by inserting its needle-like feeding tube into the skin to find a capillary. Before use, the needle is lubricated with some saliva thus passing on the virus. All this had been worked out before in Japan; the question was how to make use of the knowledge. With the help of the veterinary department we found some cattle-sheds in Pasir Panjang not far from where the Tiger BaIrn Gardens are now located. We could have looked at some piggeries elsewhere on the island, but Hale thought we should test our methods first at a convenient site, just off the West Coast Road. We were lucky.

Our assistants went on field work in the mornings, using butterfly nets made with mosquito netting, beating about the bushes adjoining the cattle-shed and behind the door in the shed, anywhere dark where mosquitoes might be resting after their nightly feasting. The mosquitoes were sorted out by our colleagues in the Parasitology Department who picked out the C.tritaeniorrhyncus for us. My job was to grind up the mosquitoes and to inject the clarified suspension into baby mice. Ouch! You might say, and indeed it was a brutal thing to do, but have you ever seen a child lying immobile in a bed like a vegetable because his brain was destroyed? That, also, is not nice, and our work was to try to understand how it happened.

We watched the mice daily, morning and evening, turning them over gently to see if they wriggled normally. Soon I was able to recognize the twitching that was the early sign of encephalitis in the mice, and which was followed by paralysis and death. To prove that what had affected the mice was Jap B virus we made an extract of their brains and treated some of the suspension with anti-serum for Jap B virus. We then injected the treated and untreated brain suspensions into suckling mice.. The untreated brain suspension killed inoculated mice with typical signs of encephalitis whereas mice inoculated with treated (neutralized) brain suspension were spared. The neutralization test definitely identified the virus we had isolated. There was Jap B virus about the place and somehow Singapore children were getting infected by it.

It is axiomatic in science that one question leads to another, for truth lies at the bottom of a well the depth of which we do not know. The study of how a disease spreads is called epidemiology, the ultimate aim of which is prevention. We needed to know how many children get Japanese encephalitis each year and if there is any seasonal distribution. This was easily determined: the Paediatric wards in the General Hospital right next door was admitting encephalitis cases, proven by blood tests to be due to Jap B virus, all the year round. We needed to know where the mosquitoes get the virus from in the first place, for mosquitoes do not transmit the virus to each other. Quite often, a disease agent persists in humans or animals over long periods, perhaps without any sign of its presence, and by some means is transmitted to the patients with whom we are concerned. From our knowledge of the Japanese scene, we guessed that pigs, of which there were far more than cattle in Singapore at that time, should be the reservoir for Jap B virus. But this was hard to prove because the virus stays only a day or two in the blood of an infected pig, and how to catch a pig red-handed, so to speak, would be a problem, so we did the next best thing and that was to show that Singapore pigs could be infected by mosquitoes that carried Jap B virus and that mosquitoes could be infected by feeding on infected pigs.

With great ingenuity Hale converted an outhouse in the medical faculty grounds to a piggery and made it mosquito proof, with screened double doors. The Veterinary Department helped us buy a pregnant sow and I became a pig farmer for a while. One technical problem had to be overcome: there were two grades of non-academic staff, technicians and servants; the latter did all the dirty work such as cleaning and looking after our experimental animals. I knew that our Malay servants could not handle pigs but I was a little surprised to learn that Indians (Hindus) also considered pigs unclean so it was left to our sole Chinese servant to feed our pig and clean the pig sty. To encourage him in his work I would visit the pig(s) often and help him hose down the place. Our problems were intensified when the piglings were born for they were our experimental subjects and my assistant had to hold the little beast while I injected it or took a blood sample. This part of the experiment was not without hazards for the procedure was to make a small cut in the pig’s ear and collect the blood in a test-tube. More often than not, the pig would twitch its ear out of my hand when it felt the knife and the blood that came out went all over the place. We did wear gloves and protective gowns, but it was no joking matter and all in the trade.

Our experiments showed that piglings at birth were protected by maternal antibodies, but after six months the antibodies had waned and they could be infected by injection of Jap B virus by allowing infected mosquitoes to bite them. The injected virus multiplied in the animal and could be detected in its blood, and antibodies for Jap B virus developed afterwards. This knowledge was purely academic, however, because it did not lead to any practical way of preventing children from getting Japanese encephalitis. It was useless to advise people to keep away from piggeries where infected mosquitoes might be found, for the wind might carry an infected mosquito far from its feeding site. Vaccination was not a solution because the vaccine developed by the Japanese was not without harmful side-effects and they used it only in anticipation of a summer out-break. Japanese encephalitis in Singapore was endemic, occurring all the year round.
Ultimately, the problem solved itself when for environmental reasons, the Singapore government phased out pig farms and removed a large potential animal reservoir for Jap B virus, and the disease is now scarce.

3:2 Department of Bacteriology

What I should do with myself I had also not thought out clearly. I had the vague notion I was waiting to hear from Chong Eu how I could get to China to join him, but the word finally came in a way that I cannot recall, that I should put everything on hold. The China business was off. It was something I was not sorry to hear, for I was beginning to realize that taking Rosie and my children to China would make a big change in their lives, very likely, for the worse. I therefore put my mind to the question of how to make a living. I had found, somewhat to my surprise, that my father’s household in River Valley Road was still intact, apart from his own demise. When my father died, my grandfather had told Sai Soo that she could stay in the house for as long as she wished and to take care of my father’s children, all eight of them (Ee-Lay, Ee-Jin, Margaret, Robert, Edward, Grace, George and Lucy though Ee-Lay and Ee-Jin had married before my return). Sai Soo, in fact, had prepared a room for me and my family, so that I could bring my bride “home” if I wished. Sai Soo said, however, it would be natural for Rosie to want to stay with her mother, hinting that she took no offence at my staying with my in-laws, rather than at home. She also said she had some friends who were prepared to set me up in business as a doctor, something I had not thought of for I had other ideas.

Did I want to be a doctor? To make healing a business? I did not think so. I put on a tie and went to the College of Medicine in College Road (near the General Hospital) to make inquiries. Directed to the Department of Bacteriology, I met Dr. N.K. Sen, the acting head, who asked me why I wanted to take a teaching job, and why in Bacteriology. He asked if I knew that government doctors were resigning to go into private practice and he was curious why I was swimming against the tide. I told him I was not interested in private practice and had intended all along to go into teaching and research. Did he have a place for me.? “Yes,” he said, “when can you start?” “Tomorrow,” I said boldly.

Tomorrow turned out to be some weeks later after I had my X-rays and medical check-ups. On August 1, 1947, I was appointed to the staff of the King Edward VII College of Medicine as Curator of the Keith Museum and Tutor in Bacteriology. I thought that I had joined the government services, but this was a misconception. The College of Medicine was a kind of Statutory Board and governed by a Council in the domain of the Governor of the Straits Settlements. Its employees were not pensionable, but contributed to a Provident Fund. Government departments, however, were in the domain of the Colonial Secretary who was responsible to the Colonial Office in London. The distinction was that “government servants” could appeal to the Secretary for the Colonies in London, whereas “council servants” could go no higher than the Governor in Singapore. A difference the subtlety of which escaped me, but whichwas often a matter of prestige among my contemporaries.

My post was the only suitable one available and was actually on the establishment of the Department of Pathology, a government department where the Keith (Pathology) Museum belonged, but the appointee had been seconded to the College of Medicine Department of Bacteriology as there was not enough museum work to do. In fact, the Keith Museum was dormant when I was appointed. Teaching had been suspended under the Japanese administration and the museum specimens had been put in storage. I was not encouraged to revive the museum, but directed to concentrate on bacteriology.

Dr. Sen was a Bengali, recruited from the Calcutta School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine that was modelled after the London institution of the same name. In fact, Dr. Sen had been trained in the London School, receiving the Diploma of Bacteriology there. His opinion was that one did not start to learn bacteriology until one had taken the London course, and urged that I should do so. The head of the department was Professor Young who was on leave when I turned up, and whom I saw only fleetingly when he returned for a brief visit before retiring on medical grounds. He had been interned by the Japanese during the occupation and when the British returned to Singapore had done a great job to restore the College of Medicine. That done, he was going home for good. Dr. Sen had not been interned, being regarded by the Japanese as a friendly non-combatant. During the war, Dr. Sen was occupied making vaccines and anti-sera and now hewas taking over from Professor Young.

The first batch of students whom I was to teach had been in first year medicine when the Japanese came and were allowed to resume their studies when the British came back. They had just passed the First Professional Examination in Anatomy and Physiology and were to start studying medicine on patients as well as Bacteriology, Materia Medica and Pathology. Many of them were from Malaya and stayed in the FMS Hostel nearby. To my surprise, one of the students was my former class-mate in the Queen’s Scholarship class, Choo Jim Eng, and through him I got to know many of his class-mates including Chee Phui Hung, an out-spoken student leader fromPenang who did not mind telling the Principal of the Medical College (with respect, of course) how he could do his work better.
I had to go back to school, as it were, to learn what I had to teach. I did not give any lectures at first, only served as demonstrator in the practical classes to show students what to do, often having learned it only recently. In my first year I did not give any lectures at all, only sat in on Dr. Sen’s lectures and braced myself for the day I had to do it on my own. My time in the laboratory was spent learning how to prepare class specimens and doing serological tests. I learned to my surprise that hospital specimens were examined by the Pathology Department whose bacteriologist was Dr. Da Silva. These were so-called routine specimens that were not the concern of a teaching department such as ours. A curious dichotomy. Dr. Sen did do some tests on blood specimens sent in by private practitioners; in the main they were tests for what we now call “socially transmitted diseases, ” the results of which were confidential!

One day Dr. Sen, now Professor Sen, went to see his doctor because he had been having a persistent pain in the middle of his back, just under his left shoulder blade. The doctor referred Dr. Sen to a cardiac specialist who told him he probably had a narrowing of his coronary arteries, to take three months complete rest and come back for re-examination. No angiograms (radiographs of coronary arteries) in those days, else the diagnosis could have been made within a few days. So Professor Sen went off and left me in total charge as acting head, but when he returned, the specialist told him his condition had not improved and could probably worsen. Professor Sen then decided to resign and return to India to adopt a stress-less life style. My acting headship was thereupon extended while the University* advertised for a new professor. In due course, James H. Hale was appointed, first as Senior Lecturer, then as Professor to replace Professor Sen as head of the Department of Bacteriology, and things took a new turn.

* In 1949 the King Edward VII College of Medicine became the Medicine Faculty, and the former Raffles College became the Faculties of Arts and Science, of the University of Malaya.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

3:1 Return to Singapore
The British Military Administration had taken charge from the Japanese occupation forces and left its mark on us by overprinting the old stamps with the initials B.M.A. Before the war Malaya was divided into three administrative territories. There were, firstly, the Crown Colonies, Singapore, Penang and Province Wellesley, Malacca, Dingdings (on the Perak Coast) and Labuan (adjacent to Sarawak in Borneo). Then there were the Federated Malay States, Negri Sembilan& Selangor, Pahang and Perak, and the Non-Federated (what else?) Malay States, Johore, Kelantan, Trengganu, Kedah and Perlis. When the British came to Malaya they treated the rulers of the Malay States with the same approach as they did in Africa. The Paramount Chief (a colonial term) in charge was recognized as the ruler, or sultan (a Moslem term) or raja (an Indian term). He had the protection of the British troops so long as he accepted the advice of the British Resident. It was generally the British policy not to interfere with native customs and natives, including the Indian and Chinese immigrants, were considered subjects of the raja. For convenience, wherever it could be managed, the local administrations followed a common plan, and in the case of the Federated Malay States, such joint action had taken the form of common laws and regulations. The Sultan of Johore, however, had a mind of his own and resisted any encroachment on his authority by the British Resident. He refused to have any of the federation business and was allowed to go his own way along with some other sultans. When the BMA gave way to civilian administration in 1948, the Federation of Malaya was created, comprising the former Malay states, federated or not, Penang and Malacca, but excluding Singapore which remained a Crown Colony. After a brief union with the Federation of Malaysia that included Sarawak and North Borneo, Singapore gained her independence as the Republic of Singapore in 1965.

I had not given much thought as to where we should live when we got to Singapore, and Rosie had assumed that we would live with her mother in Oberon, her home. We found that beside ourselves, there was the family of Rosie’s sister Betty to keep us company. Betty’s husband was Lim Koon Teck, a lawyer, and he had a son, Han Cheng, a daughter Cheng Kim, also known a Shirley, and an adopted daughter, Penelope Cheng Sim. Rosie’s mother, whom my children called Amak (grandmother, in nonya patois), thus had a large household to manage: the Lim Koon Tecks were five, the Lim Kok Anns were four, making ten altogether, including herself.

Su Min
I was conferred the degree of MB,ChB on July 24, 1946, on which day, by a coincidence Rosie had her second baby, a son Su Min. In the circumstances, it can be understood that the event was unplanned, but what was more unplanned was that she had to have the baby at home. We had made arrangements for a second visit to the nursing home where Sing Po was born, but when the time neared for Rosie to be delivered, it was learned that Sing Po had measles. It was our practice to leave Sing Po in her pram on the side-walk outside our apartment, to get a bit of sun and fresh-air. Many of the neighbourhood children would stop by her pram and chat with her and most likely, one of them had passed measles to her. The nursing home could not admit the mother of a child with measles so Rosie spent a couple of days cleaning out our spare bed-room scrubbing every corner twice on her hands and knees.

Dr. Little who had delivered Sing Po, also delivered Su Min for whom we had a name ready. The literal meaning of Su was “to exhort” or “to save” and the meaning of “Min” was “people” and Su Mm could be taken to mean “a saviour of his people”, brave words! The pun was that “Su” was also the Chinese word for “Scot” as in Scotland. Thus we had two children, one of whom reminded us of our home, and the other of o home-from-home. Truly, Xiao Qian had given us two great names. Prophetic, too, was another usage of “Su”, for the same word is used in the name “Jesus”, and “Su Min” was indeed an appropriate name for one who became a pillar of the Singapore Wesley Methodist Church! Thus was fulfilled for Su Min the Christian prayer that Christ should dwell in us.

The spare bed-room that I glibly mentioned above came about because Chong Eu had graduated and had gone away for his housemanship postings, after which he left for Chungking by the Burmah Road to work for my Uncle Robert, and to serve the land of his ancestors. It was our understanding too, that when I had finished my studies, I would follow him, although the plan was made before Sing Po was born and had not been reviewed. I discussed the idea with Rosie a few times, and she never dampened my enthusiasm in any way, so I took it for granted that she agreed.

Before Su Min was born I had enrolled in a Chess Tournament scheduled for Nottingham, hoping that the timing would be right. I think the baby was a bit late coming and I had forgotten about going to Nottingham when Rosie said that I should go. I hesitated about leaving Rosie just two weeks after the baby was born, but she insisted that she would be all right. So, after making a stock of chicken aspic for her, off I went to Nottingham. I was to be away just over a week, but after three days, Rosie phoned me in the students’ hostel where I was staying, and a wonder it was she could find me. Her tale of woe was that Sing Po and Su Min both had whooping cough; Su Min was hospitalized and she had to be with him; could I come home and look after Sing Po? No question! I packed hastily and took the next train back to Edinburgh.

Very likely, one of the neighbourhood kids had passed whooping cough to Sing Po and she had brought it into the house. At barely three weeks of age, whooping cough was no fun for Su Min whom the doctor promptly put into intensive care in the infectious diseases hospital. Best thing for the baby they said was mother’s milk. Would Mrs. Lim like to continue nursing, and at three hourly intervals? There was no accommodation in the hospital for mothers, so Rosie put an advertisement in the newspapers which promptly got her a bed in a home near the hospital. She could only stay there at night, though, and day-time, she had to commute from Sciennes Road. Some kind soul lent us a bicycle and Rosie would cycle to the hospital to give Su Min his rations, then cycle home for a quick snack and nap, then off again to the hospital. A small problem was that Rosie was not very good at cycling and the route was a bit up-hill and down-hill. She could not trust herself to make right-hand turns against any on-coming traffic, so she had to get off and walk round the corner. Getting off the bicycle was another problem and more often than not, getting off meant applying the brakes and falling off. Rosie was covered with bruises and abrasions before long. Her exertions could not have been helpful to her milk production and it was a wonder that Su Min got enough antibodies to help him over the critical period and I think he had supplementary feeds of milk formula. I don’t recall how long he was in hospital, but by and by both babies recovered and we brought Su Mm back to Sciennes Road.

As winter was approaching, I thought it high time I should return home. We had learned by letters from Singapore that my father and my mother both had died, he in Singapore, and she in China. Rosie’s mother, however, was already back in Singapore. There had been no news from Chong Eu, so I thought the best thing to do was to return to Singapore and await events. When I wrote to the Colonial office to ask them for a passage home, I tentatively asked also if I could apply for a job in the Malayan Medical Service. I was told that to do this, I should have to get back to Singapore first. I learned later that the Colonial Office did recruit doctors for the Colonial Medical Service, but only from among their own people. “Natives” such as I got recruited locally into the Malayan Medical Service.

It was in the spring of 1947 that we got our passages on a troopship that was formerly a P&O liner. We spent some time in London awaiting departure and stayed with Rosie’s brother Eu Jin who had qualified in architecture in Perth and was on some post-graduate studies. To my surprise, my old friend Ong Swee Keng was sharing Eu Jin’s apartment. Swee Keng had been teaching school, but was now studying law. As we had a little time, we parked the children with a child-care place named “Universal Aunts” and went to Pans to see what we could see. We climbed the Eifel Tower, of course, and saw the famous show at the Bal Tabarin night club. The Cyrano de Bergerac by Rostand in the original French at the Comedie Francais was most interesting because we had just seen the English version in London. Cyrano’s despairing cry “Too late, too late!” at the end of Act 2 lives vividly in my memory.
There were separate quarters for men and women on the troopship and Rosie took our babies with her. To give her some relief, I would take Su Min in his pram on deck, once we had left the Bay of Biscay. Poor boy, he had not yet learned to walk, having been confined to his carry-cot or pram in the past few months. Eight men shared my cabin, my companions being Singaporeans and Malaysians who had been to London to attend the Victory Parade, something I had not heard of. What I did not realize until much later, was that some of them were members of the Malayan People’s Anti-Japanese Army that had fought in the Malayan jungles against the Japanese, and later returned to the jungle to fight against the British. For all I know, Chin Peng might have been one of them. They made no move to make friends with me and I was too engrossed with my family to try to get to know them.

2:11 Wartime Edinburgh

Our life in war-time Britain was actually quite easy. We lived in a working class area and though food was rationed, the butcher with whom we registered could not dispose of the more expensive cuts that he was allocated. Thus, we regularly got joints for roasting far in excess of our rations. Having a child in the family entitled us to free orange juice and cod-liver oil, as well as extra milk rations. Pictures of chubby Sing Po (later known as Stella) then showed that we did very well on British war-time rationing. Our land-lady Mrs. Rutherford got very fond of Sing Po and helped us by taking the baby for walks, showing her off to her friends. Mr. Rutherford, her husband was a Master Printer in Nelsons the publishers. He gave me a set of Shakespeare’s plays that he had helped to make and I read a great deal of Shakespeare that I would not have otherwise, including Titus Andronicus, a most harrowing tale. This was how I got to read all his historical plays, from King John to Henry VIII. I also got books from “Readers’ Union”, a Book of the Month Club, the most memorable of which was “Captain Hornblower” by C.S. Forrester.

Editor’s note: These small handsome volumes of Shakespeare’s plays, with purple marbled end- covers and leather back bindings, were part of my father’s library for half a century, but disintegrated ( like grandfather’s clock ) in the years after his death. 7 years after this period, my father handed me the dark-red volume of “Captain Hornblower” only 7 years after the period he describes, to share this great adventure story with me; it became a most loved book of mine and to this day I can almost recite parts of it by heart.

I passed my third year medical examinations with some difficulty. Materia Medica involved a lot of memory work on appropriate dosages and I had to take a re-examination before I got the subject sorted out. The fourth year was even more difficult, involving Pathology and Public Health which I passed after a re-examination. It could be that some of the time I spent playing bridge and billiards in the Students’ Union should have been better spent with my books. My failing Public Health disturbed Rosie no end, for it was on Public Health that her Uncle Charlie’s career as a medical student had foundered and she feared it could be my fate too. For the fifth year examinations, our Finals, I tried to pull myself together, but perhaps it was a little late in the day and I flunked all three subjects, Medicine, Surgery and Midwifery. Whereas the earlier examinations were taken at the end of the academic year and the re-examinations in the vacation before the next academic year began, the Finals and their Re-examinations were taken at six-monthly intervals. Though I burned the mid-night oil, I had too much back-log to make up and- could only pass Surgery and Midwifery in the re-examinations. To prepare myself for the re-examination in Medicine, I took a junior houseman posting in a district hospital, living in, and the additional experience probably did the trick for I completed my medical studies in June 1946.

Meanwhile, first the war in Europe ended, then the war against Japan. I was too busy with my own little affairs to pay attention to the tremendous events of the time, how the Allies invaded Normandy, and how the Americans ended the war with the atom bomb, and opened the window on Armageddon.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

2:10 The Battle of Britain

After the German Army had over-run Poland in the autumn of 1939, Hitler made a non- aggression pact with the Soviet Union, sharing Poland with them. Hitler had hoped that the Western powers would make peace and allow him time to consolidate his domination over the Central European countries, but the British followed up their declaration of war by sending an Expedition to France. Typical of the British attitude then was a popular song on BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) Radio. “We’re going to hang our washing on the Siegfried Line”. The latter was the German system of fortifications on the German-Franco facing the Maginot Line constructed by the French after World War I and meant to prevent a German invasion across the border.

In the spring of 1940 the German Army struck, by-passing the Maginot Line and going through Holland and Belgium, and driving the British forces before them to the beaches of Dunkirk where they were evacuated amidst scenes of great heroism. Over several days, the British took more than 300,000 men off the beaches. Little boats of all kinds, pleasure craft, fishing boats, life-saving boats, were summoned from the south English ports and fishing villages and towed across the English Channel to Dunkirk where the retreating soldiers patiently waited. The weary soldiers would wade out in the low tide, waist deep and more, carrying their rifles to the end, and finally, before climbing into the boats, remove the firing pins and throw them away, before dropping their rifles in the sea. The boats then carried them to ships waiting off-shore, then returned to the beaches again.

Meanwhile, the German Luftwaffe (Air Force) flew up and down the beaches bombing the ships and machine-gunning the soldiers and little boats. Light British naval craft sailed up and down the Channel trying to protect the soldiers with their anti-aircraft fire, British fighter planes based in South England flew non-stop sorties to try to drive off the German fighter bombers. Many died on the beaches, rescuers and rescued, but the bulk of the British Expeditionary force was saved though all their weapons were left behind.

General Montgomery commanded the rear-guard that held off the German Army while the beaches were evacuated. The naval commander of the rescuers knew that Montgomery was a religious man, so he sent him a message of encouragement to the effect that surely God will rescue him. In reply, Montgomery signalled, “But if not”. Montgomery had quoted a biblical passage in Daniel Ch 3, v:17-18: “But if not ... we will not worship the golden image.” Montgomery meant that even if he was captured by the Germans he would not accept the German myth of racial superiority and their pagan beliefs. Montgomery was taken off before the Germans broke through the rear-guard.

Note: “But if Not” --
Shedrach, Meshach and Abednego were three Jews in captivity in Babylon. When Nebuchadnezzar, the King, made a great image of gold and commanded all his people to worship the god upon penalty of death by fire, the three Jews would not do so. Nebuchadnessar said to them, ‘I have the power to throw you in the furnace and who is that God that shall deliver you out of my hands?’ Daniel, Ch.3 v. 17 (King James Version) gives their reply: ‘If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thy hand, 0 king. But if not, be it known, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image you have set up..’ Nebuchadnezzar had the three Jews thrown in the furnace, but they were not harmed, so Nebuchadnezzar called them out and decreed that anyone who said anything against the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abenego should be cut into little pieces, ‘for no other God can deliver after this sort.’

The German Army had prepared a fleet of vessels for the invasion of England, and many thought that if the Gemans had followed through their victory over the British Expeditionary Force the German army would have over-run England. It was at this desperate time that Winston Churchill made his famous speech of defiance that ended with the words:

“We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds; we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.”

It is unlikely that Hitler was put off by these words. Hitler had decided that the invasion should follow German mastery in the skies over Britain and sought to destroy the RAF by drawing them into battles with the German bomber fleets. But Hitler miscalculated somewhat. The British air commanders had held back the larger part of their fighter airplanes in Northern England for th defence of Britain and had refused to engage them in the skies over Dunkirk. This policy paid off when the Germans started to bomb air-fields in southern England by daylight. Now the tactical advantage was with the British for their fighters could re-fuel and re-arm near the scene of battle while the escorting German fighters could not stay in the sky too long because of fuel problems. This meant that many German bombers were unescorted on their way home after a raid and were easily picked off. Another important factor was that British airmen who were shot down could come down on land or in British coastal waters and be rescued to fight another day, but German airmen who were shot down, either ended in prisons or in watery graves. The RAF (Royal Air Force) suffered great casualties too and of them Prime Minister Winston Churchill said “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.”

Through the summer of 1940, the. German Air Force had their go at Britain with daylight bombing, and when this was found too expensive, with night-bombing. Though much of London was destroyed and a great part of Coventry in one raid, the British war-effort was unhindered. It was strange that neither the British who were actually at the receiving end, nor the Americans who came in later, appreciated that bombing of civilian populations cannot win a war.

Edinburgh was not targeted by the Germans throughout the war. The only military target nearby was the Forth Bridge which was well defended by barrage balloons. These were balloons set at various heights along the flight-path of an attacking bomber which would have to dodge the practically invisible balloon cables, besides anti-aircraft fire and defending fighter planes. The only bomb damage suffered by Edinburgh was caused by a solitary bomb jettisoned by a bomber on his way home. It was reported that a Chinese laundry was hit, but this may have been just propaganda; legend has it that a whisky storehouse was hit and fireman wept to see the blue flames from burning whiskey running into the sewers.

Bombing attacks on north Britain were launched from German-occupied Norway which was quite a long way off and not to be undertaken lightly. One massive night-raid on Clydebank, the port area of Glasgow, did substantial damage. On that night we could hear aircraft droning overhead all night because the returning bombers used the faint glow from the city of Edinburgh as a beacon to guide them home to their Norway bases. I was on stretcher duty that night and helped to receive casualties brought by ambulance from Glasgow and to push the stretcher trolleys to the surgical theatre. That was the extent of my war experience, apart from training for the Local Defence Volunteers (Home Guard) and Fire-watching at the Students’ Union.