I was delighted to read John Joyce’s fascinating article ‘Eastern Saga’, in the November 2016 issue of Sea Breezes, in response to mine, ‘Eastern Ranger and the Red Guards’ (April 2016 issue).
When I wrote, “With the passing of time, the real story of the Eastern Moon incident will probably never be told”, it was certainly wishful thinking on my part. John’s unique story is most welcome, with his valuable insider account of the frightening and traumatic experiences that he and his fellow officers suffered at the hands of the fanatical Red Guards. Although John has taken me to task on a few things I wrote, my article wasn’t an attempt to write an authoritative account of what had occurred on Eastern Moon, as I certainly didn’t have the full facts, as he has rightly pointed out. It was written in good faith from an outsider’s point of view, looking in, based on the information I had at the time. It’s not my intention to vigorously defend myself on the points that John had raised, other than to mention that I didn’t take a political line, as John suggested, nor did I supposedly share the belief that the Eastern Moon officers were to blame for what happened in Shanghai.
John mentioned that I did not identify my source of information, when in fact at the end of my article it was stated under References: Indo-China Steam Navigation – Ships Nostalgia. The only other source that was available to me was what I had heard about through shipboard discussions. The Company certainly didn’t divulge anything of note and it was possible that some of the rumours had gathered a life of their own, as time went on. It has to be remembered that as mentioned in my article, the Eastern Ranger’s chief officer, 3rd officer and chief engineer transferred to Eastern Moon in Shanghai, in order for the vessel to sail and rejoined our ship in Hong Kong. Also a fellow captive of John’s, second engineer Bruce Auld, later transferred to Eastern Ranger as chief engineer. From the impression I gained from those officers, Eastern Moon’s crew were extremely militant compared to Eastern Ranger’s. I therefore found it hard to believe that they weren’t complicit, in assisting the Red Guards, or as part of the ‘cheer squad’, at the time when John and his fellow officers were dragged ashore.
John also questioned the alleged running down of a Chinese fishing boat by Eastern Moon, prior arrival Shanghai, mentioned in my article and that it simply didn’t occur. Which was fair enough and I do apologise to John for it. My only explanation is that it was one of the things I had clearly remembered with the passing of the years, so I decided to include it. After all, I thought of my own ‘near misses’ on a few occasions and just how easy such incidents as that could happen. John was certainly on the mark though, when he mentioned about the carefully orchestrated plan by the Chinese authorities, to use Eastern Moon for political and propaganda purposes.
Guy Searls, a correspondent for overseas media then based in Hong Kong, reported in the Melbourne newspaper The Age, on 24th Aug, 1967, the following, How Chairman Mao Rules the Waves; this is part of what he wrote:
In Peking, Chairman Mao is honoured in both slogan and song as the “great helmsman”. At one time this was considered a figure of speech – a tribute to Mao and his thoughts as to the guide of the ship of state. More recently, the Chinese have been giving the title a literal interpretation. Mao’s thoughts are to be used to rule the waves. The great helmsman is to guide all ships in all ports, regardless of registration and nationality, and woe to those who disagree. The campaign of this Chinese Neptune is a three-pronged affair. One part involves foreign ships visiting Chinese ports; another concerns ships at sea. The third guides Chinese ships travelling to foreign ports. Foreign vessels calling at Chinese ports have felt the most violent brunt of Peking’s effort to put the great helmsman in charge. Seamen aboard these ships are expected to pay obsequious homage to Chairman Mao, to honour his portrait as that of a deity, and to wear badges bearing his portrait. Merchant marine captains are to allow their ships to be turned into floating propaganda exhibits, plastered with Mao slogans and quotations and antiforeign declarations. Those who refuse are sometimes beaten and imprisoned. Their ships are held up and Red Guards swarm aboard with red paint to smear on the propaganda. The Red Guards even feel that foreign seamen should rejoice at seeing their own countries condemned and denounced in these painted pronouncements. British ships have encountered more trouble than any other nationality. To list a few – five officers of the British vessel Eastern Moon were imprisoned in Shanghai for various periods following an alleged incident to Chairman Mao. Two members of the Lord Gladstone were arrested in Dairen on similar charges. An officer of the British freighter Riley spent 18 days in solitary confinement in the same port following another such incident.
Mao was the one pulling the strings with the Red Guards, during this period of chaos and social upheaval. Jung Chang and John Halliday in their brilliant book, MAO - The Unknown Story, in the chapter on The Great Purge (1966-67), the year being 1966, wrote the following:
On 5 August, in a Peking girl’s school packed with high official’s children (which Mao’s two daughters had attended); the first known death by torture took place. The headmistress, a fifty year old mother of four, was kicked and trampled by the girls, and boiling water was poured on her. She was ordered to carry heavy bricks back and forth; as she stumbled past, she was thrashed with leather army belts with brass buckles, with wooden sticks studded with nails. She soon collapsed and died. Afterwards, leading activists reported to the new authority. They were not told to stop – which meant carry on.
A more explicit incitement to violence soon came from Mao himself. On 18 August, dressed in army uniform for the first time since 1949, he stood on Tiananmen Gate to review hundreds of thousands of Red Guards. This was when the Red Guards were written about in the national press and introduced to the nation and the world. A leading perpetrator of atrocities in the girl’s school where the headmistress had just been killed was signal honour of putting a Red Guard armband on Mao. The dialogue that follows was made public: Chairman Mao asked her: “What’s your name?” She said “Song Bin-bin.” Chairman Mao asked: “Is it the ‘Bin’ as in “Educated and Gentle”?’ She said: “Yes.” Chairman Mao said: “Be violent!”
It was certainly very commendable of John, to put his side of the story, as he no doubt relived those painful memories of the past, by doing so.