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A photograph of Brenda Herrick

Brenda Herrick

From Weihsien to Wick: Susie the rag doll has always come with me

Born: 1941

Duration: 21m 28s

Type: Audio

Filesize: 20.0 Mb

Recorded: 24 January 2023

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About this recording

On a Christmas morning in a Japanese-run internment camp in China during World War Two, a little girl called Brenda was given her first doll. It was named Susie. Eighty years on, and now living in Wick, Brenda still has that doll. More than just a relic of childhood, Susie is a tangible link to the years Brenda spent in the Weihsien camp 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. In this recording, Brenda, who was born in the Chinese capital, describes some of the family's experiences in Weihsien.

"We all lived in one little hut, so it wasn't easy. 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.

"Susie was a little rag doll I was given in camp and I've kept her ever since. She's had a bit of a makeover at one point, because she was getting a bit shabby, but I've just always kept her. I've moved 20 times in my life and Susie has always come with me – Susie has always been there. She has gone through a few messy times but she's still here. She survived the time in camp and the journey home and ever since I've just always kept her."

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

Brenda has been in Caithness for more than 20 years, living in Bower and Castletown before moving to Wick where she is now within walking distance of her church, St John's Episcopal Church in Moray Street. "I belong to the church and I still do a lot of work for it," she says.

She is known locally as a campaigner – whether opposing large-scale wind farms in Caithness or pressing for improvements to bus services.

Brenda talks about some of her inspirational relatives. Her great-grandfather the Rev William Salter Price founded a town for freed slaves in Mombasa, while her uncle Arthur Blaxall – a priest who worked in South Africa – was thrown in jail for opposing apartheid, then promptly released after a public outcry. He was known for his ministry among blind and deaf people.

Brenda's mother wrote a book called 70 Years Remembered, and in this extract she recalled the day Brenda received her doll:

"We spent two Christmases in camp and whether by coincidence or purpose each Christmas evening the lights in the camp failed, so the evening was spent with home-made glimmers, but we were able to accept these small irritations and managed to keep some festive spirit by joining with neighbours and thinking of when we would all be free. As usual the Salvation Army were on top form and came round to all the alleys with their band and cheering us with the familiar carols. They and many others worked hard to see that the children all had a present on Christmas morning and Brenda received her first doll in camp which she still has, a rag one but much loved."


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