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Harriston author tells story of life in Second World War internment camp


Harriston author tells story of life in Second World War internment camp

by Jaime Myslik

HARRISTON - Harriston-based author Margaret Blair, 81, recently published a new edition of her book Gudao, Lone Islet, the War Years in Shanghai.

The memoir tells the story of Blair’s early life and the events in Shanghai and the Far East before, during and after the Second World War.

When the war began Blair’s Scottish-born father tried to escape with his family to Australia.

However, he was a detective with the Shanghai police service and his superiors told him he was “too senior to leave,” Blair said.

He was promised his family would be evacuated, but that didn’t happen.

When she was almost six years old, Blair, her brother and her mother were forced into Yu Yuen Road, a Japanese internment camp, during the Second World War.

She was almost 10 years old when she was released after being moved to a second camp close to munitions factories.

“Towards the end we were down to 300 calories a day ... of food and luckily the Red Cross came in and gave us a bit more to see us through,” Blair said.

For the full four years, the family was separated from Blair’s father.

“My father was arrested as being dangerous to the Japanese,” she said.

“There were over 300 people of different kinds who were arrested on Nov. 5 before we went into the camps and they were taken to a camp ...

“This was a camp run by the Japanese secret police.”

Upon their release Blair said her parents discouraged them from talking about what happened.

“They felt we should not sort of upset ourselves thinking back, you know,” she said. “We should go forward and get on with our lives.

“We had lost everything and went back to Britain, but we should go forward and get on with our lives and I think it was a very good plan at that point.

“But it was always sort of lurking around in the back of my mind and when I was in my 50s and 60s I began to think, ‘You know I really have to know more about this.’”

For five years Blair sorted through her own memories, made phone calls, talked to knowledgeable family friends and did background research. In 2007 she published her first edition.

“The reason it was published in 2007 was I wasn’t really ready but my brother was very ill and there was a chance that his leg might have to be amputated,” she said. “It wasn’t, but ... I didn’t know that so I had to get on with it and so I brought out two other just bits added to it ... more information and the latest one is brought out this year.”

Blair said Gudao, Lone Islet, the War Years in Shanghai is appropriate for anyone with an interest in Shanghai, especially Shanghai in the 1930s.

“It was very leading edge place,” she said. “It was the first place, first city in the world to use traffic lights for instance.

“It was exceedingly modern.”

She also said the book is appropriate for people with a connection to the Second World War.

“There are people who have either been in the war themselves ... or their relatives who want to know about it, but they haven’t written anything - but I have,” she said.

“Somebody from Australia said, ‘You’ve answered a whole lot of questions that we’ve had for ages.’”

More information about Blair and the new edition of her book visit at


September 1, 2017


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