This Saturday sees the 75th anniversary of VJ Day – the surrender of Imperial Japan and the effective end of WWII. Army@TheVirtualFringe commemorates the anniversary with a streaming of part of Bill Aitchison’s play about life for Hong Kong citizens and Commonwealth troops interned during the brutal Japanese occupation. In this blog Bill explains the origins of a play that gives insights into a largely forgotten history.
This year was set to see our third trip from Hong Kong to the UK to perform It Won’t Be Long Now on stage at Army@TheFringe but that will have to wait for the time being. Instead we will be streaming a version as part of the online Army@TheVirtualFringe.
Waiting is indeed one of the themes of this piece which is based on the history of Hong Kong under Japanese occupation during the war.
The show tells a relatively forgotten war history, one that I myself was only dimly aware of until researching it. For different reasons, none of the major parties involved, the British, Japanese and Chinese have any great desire to recall this troubled time so it has been allowed to slowly fade. Only, it seems, in Hong Kong where there is a renewed desire to preserve local history and maintain a distinct identity, is there a sense of this story being important.
The show is a two-hander, I play allied POWs and Indy Lee tells the story of ordinary Hong Kongers on the other side of the wire. While the squalid conditions in the camps were obviously harsh and the fatalities many, life on the outside was a bitter struggle too. Indy goes into the complexities and brutalities of occupation and also shares the story of a Japanese priest who showed great courage in smuggling medicine into the camps.
When I started to look into it by reading the POW’s first-hand accounts of prison-camp life, I realised there were many incredibly powerful stories. When up against it, these men were resourceful, disciplined and got through it with a constant stream of humour.
I’m from a military family myself, my father was Royal Corps of Transport, so these stories sparked a lot of memories of my own, memories which proved really useful when it came to writing dialogue and playing some of the roles.
It was sobering to learn there were a great many men who did not make it through; conditions were squalid, disease was rife, food woefully insufficient and forced labour took its toll. Yet in the face if this they preserved their humanity and their waiting did come to an end.
While our theatres remain closed and we concentrate on the battle to contain and eliminate Covid-19, these stories of endurance and optimism are worth remembering. They show us that our beliefs make a difference, that we are stronger when we work together and that we can learn valuable lessons from this experience.
I sincerely wish, it won’t be long now, and that next year we’ll be able to have a festival once again.
- It Won’t Be Long Now is being streamed on Army@TheVirtualFringe channels on Saturday, 15 August at 2pm – it’s free to watch click here for details https://www.armyatthefringe.org.