Letters from China 1937

The excerpts below were written by Rev. Andrew Allison a couple of months before the Japanese army invaded Nanking (current day Nanjing). Rev. Allison (a distant relative of mine by marriage) and his wife lived near Nanjing and Shanghai in Kiangyin (current day Jiangyin) as missionaries prior to WWII. My mom recently discovered 5 of his letters spanning from 1935-1939. Two of his letters were written in 1937 and describe some of the circumstances leading up to the Nanjing invasion.

The invasion has rightly been called the “Rape of Nanjing” and is known as one of the darkest events of the 20th century because of the brutality of the Japanese soldiers. The missionaries evacuated to houseboats on the river mere days before the Japanese fought their way through to Nanjing after the fall of Shanghai. The map posted above was hand drawn by Rev. Allison and included in one of the letters.

Kiangyin, Kiangsu, China

Oct. 2, 1937

“You may have heard that there is war in China. There is.

Thousands of soldiers have been pouring through Kiangyin towards the Sandlands these two or three days; and the best cotton in China is standing unheeded in the fields among empty houses. The sweetest Christian of the whole little flock out there has fled with her children to relatives a few miles farther back, crying to the God of the widow and the fatherless. And all I can do is to go over the list of saints out there by name, and pray that the trial may not be beyond what they can bear, and that it may work in them after all the peace-able fruit of righteousness and holiness.

Since Sept. 19 there has been no day . . . when somewhere about the environs of Kiangyin there has not been the deadly whine of enemy planes, the roar of anti-aircraft guns with the following rocket-like pop in mid-air . . . the slightly sickening bump of of bombs, the spiteful rattle of machine guns, and the consciousness that somebody somewhere was getting terribly frightened and perhaps horribly hurt or killed.” 

Kiangyin, Kiangsu, China 

Nov. 1, 1937

“. . . it is evident that people have to go on living, and that the alarm of the first sounds of war must die down to an almost sub-conscious level until something really happens — or if something happens, for it looks to me as if the chance of Japanese troops getting landed anywhere near here into such a labyrinth of land and water man-traps as are spread out everywhere along the river, is not very bright . . . .”

The Japanese invaded Nanjing about a month after this letter was written. After the invasion, the missionaries used houseboats as a makeshift refugee camp for survivors. Later, they moved into an abandoned school building to start a clinic (which was bombed shortly after they abandoned it). A year passed and after short descriptions of a cholera outbreak, tending wounded civilians, and dialoguing with Japanese officers, Rev. Allison said, “You perceive that war and exile are the outstanding background for 1938. May it be otherwise for 1939, God willing.”

Needless to say, the war was far from over and they were eventually forced to evacuate completely. I’m not sure what they did during WWII, but Rev. Allison and his wife were two of only four missionaries that returned to Jiangyin after the war. And the rest, as they say, is history.