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Three Miracles by Hazel Barker

Three Miracles

Hazel Barker

In 1944 Japanese forces occupy Burma, my father is jobless and Mum has sold all her jewellery to buy food. We are starving.

Dad’s non-Christian relatives are wealthy merchants. Despite the war they live comfortably, often enticing us to abandon our Christian faith by promising delicious meals and ice cream for dessert if we convert to Islam. With quivering limbs, we children listen, swallow hard and lick our lips. Already our legs and bellies are swollen with beri-beri. My eldest brother, Rupert, also shivers and shakes with bouts of malaria.

Although sorely tempted by their offers, we don’t abandon our faith. Mum is adamant she would rather die than give up her faith. She instils in us the strength to bear our sufferings and to believe that the Lord will come to our aid.

Our plight worsens when our young sister Rose burns with fever and her body breaks out in spots. We can’t afford a doctor, so Dad calls in a herbalist. He tells Mum to lick the rash on Rose’s face, especially around her eyes, to prevent sores and loss of sight. Then he orders them to remain isolated from the rest of us, as smallpox is highly contagious.

Mum follows all instructions.

The period of waiting wears on: long and monotonous. The hint of death drives me to despair. I creep to my bed like a wounded animal in its cave. My stomach growls. I hold my distended belly. My legs feel too weak to carry me. Sleep remains my only solace. Time drags on. I don’t see Dad except at nights. Perhaps he remains with his relatives during the day and has his meals with them.

Even though we haven’t abandoned our faith, every evening the relatives bring something for us to eat. I am only eight and am at home, almost alone, because I was kept at home for fear the Japanese would capture me for their brothels. Rupert is too ill to accompany Dad or to eat and Mum refuses to have a bite. She is praying in her room. I wait until my brother, Bertie, returns home from his wanderings. He shares the food between us and we eat in silence. Then he relates his exploits.

Bertie keeps me going during the terrible period when I live in fear of death. I’d always been fond of him, but from then on, he remained a rock I clung to.

As the weeks drag on, in an attempt to re-take the country from Japanese forces, Allied bombing increases in intensity. Dad and the boys dug a trench in the back yard, and every night when the sirens scream, Lancasters rumble overhead. We rise from our beds and race into the air-raid shelter. Mum and little Rose can’t shelter with us in the trench until the danger of contagion passes, so Mum grabs her and crawls beneath the bed whenever the sirens sound their shrill warning.

I huddle in fear and pray for them.

Late one night, bombers fly over in force. They come in waves, breaking the silence like rolls of thunder. The earth trembles from the roar of anti-aircraft guns and the crump of bombs, dislodging dirt from the sides of the trench.

Amid the noise and confusion I hear a dull thud from the direction of the house. I expect a blast to follow, and picture a bomb falling on my mother and Rose as they crouch beneath the bed. I imagine them buried below a pile of rubble and long to rush indoors to save them.

But no explosion follows.

I half-rise to my feet.

Bertie cries, ‘An unexploded bomb must have fallen on our house.’

Hands on the damp earthen sides, we feel our way and scramble out of the trench, now filled with dust and smoke.

Mum runs through the haze towards us with Rose in her arms. Tears streak down her dust-covered face like snail tracks. ‘The house is on fire,’ she screams, above the drone of the planes, explosion of bombs and pounding of anti-aircraft guns.

The full moon lights our way until we reach the house and race up the stairs. An odour, which I learn later is cordite, assails my nostrils. Flames leap and roar in the boys’ bedroom.

Mum stops me before I enter. She hands my sister to me. ‘God will protect you, Hazel, and not let you catch small-pox from Rose. Look after her. I’m going to help put out the fire.’

I extend my arms, and the toddler nestles there, looking angelic with her eyes shut. Fresh scars, from which scabs have already fallen, pit her face. To prevent her from scratching, Mum has tightly secured her hands. Rose is swathed in a soft, white sheet like a shroud, with only her face visible. I hold her close and enter the room. The incendiary bomb sizzles, letting out blue sparks and orange flames. The heat from the blaze warms my skinny limbs. Smoke stings my eyes. I sneeze.

The boys drench their beds with water and Mum and Dad douse the incendiary bomb with sand. Finally, the fire is extinguished.

I squeeze my little sister, happy that she and Mum have escaped injury.

Next morning Mum beckons us. ‘Sit down and let me tell you what happened last night.’

Her eyes glisten as she talks. ‘Last night, while the bombs rained down, Rose sang Father, We Thank Thee for the Night. Her eyes were shut as she trilled out the hymn. I placed my hand on her forehead. Her temperature had dropped. I knew the crisis had passed.

‘My heart beating wildly, I fell to my knees and said, “Thank you, God, for saving my child.”’

She shakes her head and goes on. ‘If my faith had wavered when I witnessed the family sick and starving, this sign from Heaven only served to strengthen me. I got up, my trust in the Lord restored. As the bombs exploded, I held Rose to my breast and hid in the bomb-shelter we’d made beneath the dining table. I used my body as a shield, and prayed as the planes roared above. The house shuddered with the vibration from their engines. A bomb whistled down. I heard a thud followed by a sizzling, like a fire, from the boys’ room. Still holding on to Rose, I rushed towards the sound. An incendiary bomb had burst into flames between the boys’ beds.’

Mum clasps her hands and looks heavenwards.

I grip the arms of my chair and gasp. Surely the Lord had performed three miracles for us that night. Not only had he saved my sister’s life from a deadly disease, but he had prevented my brothers’ death by ensuring they were in the trench before the bomb landed, and saved my mother and sister from the bomb too.

I thank God, grateful we hadn’t succumbed to the temptation to abandon Him for the sake of a full stomach and ice cream for dessert!

 

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Interview by Nene Davies, author

heaven tempers the wind coverInterview by Nene Davies on 5th August 2016. Reproduced by kind permission of the author.

See http://www.nenedavies.com – NeneDaviesBlogs

Published

Congratulations Hazel, on the recent publication of your memoir. Tell us a little about it!

My idyllic childhood is torn apart by the bombing of Rangoon, just prior to Christmas 1941. Mum convinces me I’m off on a marvellous holiday as we flee the city – leaving my precious dolls behind.

The Japanese armies overrun Burma, forcing us to flee from one refuge to another. My father has worked for the British government and initially relies on the official refugee policy. My mother fears for us – especially my older brothers who take daring opportunities to harass the Japanese.

The story tells of our travails during the darkest days of enemy occupation. Threaded with light, shot through with hope, it recounts my hard-won passage from innocence to maturity.

Past

I know you to be a lover of history. What is it about stories from the past that fascinates you?

My love of stories from the past originated from an early age. My mother often spoke to us of her life as a child. She was a great story teller and it all seemed a very long time ago to me. At school, English and History were my two favourite subjects. I loved studying about kings and battles fought and won. Later on, at the university, I majored in history.

I think the old adage that history repeats itself is quite true. We should learn from past mistakes. When we know a person’s or a country’s past, we begin to understand them better. To understand is to forgive. Then perhaps we can forgive others, learn to tolerate differences in others and live in peace with them.

Personal

What would be your advice for new authors who want to write a memoir?

My advice to new writers who want to write a memoir is: ask questions about your past. Question your parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts, brothers and sisters. Write notes on all they say – their happiest days and their saddest ones. Gather as much information as you can from them before they pass away. Look at old family photos to trigger your memory. Finally, read books on memoir writing before your start.

I regret not having read ‘how to write’ books before I commenced. One of the most useful books to read is Kathy Stewart’s Writing Memoir. Tips from an Editor on writing life stories. Had I read this book previous to writing my memoir, it would have saved me hours of hard work.

Preference

What are you favourite types of books to read?

My favourite genres are memoirs and historical novels, especially books set in World War Two. Perhaps because I was a little child during the war and like to compare my life to others. Some fared even worse than I did, while others didn’t even realise that a war was on. To most children who grew up during the war, it proved an unforgettable time and left its mark on them.

Preparation

Do you enjoy the research aspect of writing about people and events from the past?

I find research an enjoyable and exciting part of writing. It is thrilling to discover something new on the subject of my research. Some authors delegate the researching to others, but I neither have the money nor the inclination to do so.

Plans

What’s next?

My next move is to polish Book Two of my memoirs and my historical novel The Soprano. Meanwhile, I’m awaiting publication of my historical novel. Chocolate Soldier. The Story of a Conchie, which is due to be published in September.

My book, Heaven Tempers the Wind. Story of a War Child may be bought on line or better still, signed copies may be obtained at my book launch on the 9th of September.

 

For more information, please visit my blog on: https://hazelmbarker.wordpress.com/

www.armourbooks.com.au

www.wombatbooks.com.au

www.rhizapress.com.au

www.novelladistribution.com.au

http://hazelmbarker.wixsite.com/author

 

 

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Review of Heaven Tempers the Wind

Hazel Barker was a four-year-old living in Rangoon when the Japanese invaded in 1941. Until that time her father worked for the British establishment and the family was relatively well-to-do, but that all changed on Hazel’s birthday with the onset of bombing, causing the family to flee to Mandalay, then north again, until the invading Japanese army caught up with them. For the next four years the family’s fight for survival became ever-more desperate as the family savings dwindled to almost nothing and they were forced to live on the charity of relatives in the area of Mandalay.

The background of Hazel’s family is told incrementally; an Anglo-Indian mother, Burmese father, her two elder brothers, Rupert and Bertie, her elder sister, Jane, and the infants Rose and mentally-handicapped Herman. We are told of the tribulations suffered by her mother at the hands of her father who could be violent, and who, as the years progressed, became ever more isolated from his kin. This is doubly confronting when money is spent on liquor while the rest of the family are starving.

We learn of the bravery of Hazel’s brothers in the face of the enemy, of religious conflict between a Christian mother and her children pitted against a Muslim father and his relatives, of beriberi that afflicted all the children, of malaria that nearly claimed the life of her brother, Rupert, and of the death of her sister, Jane, following a vaccination given by the Japanese.

Adding to the story are insights gleaned from Hazel’s research into the war in Burma and from interviews with others who witnessed the invasion, or were involved in military action against the Japanese.

This is a compelling tale of courage, love and endurance, told largely from the perspective of a child. The book passes the critical test of compelling the reader to keep turning the page. After the Japanese were forced out of Burma Hazel’s father regains employment with the British and the family is required to return to Rangoon from the relative comfort of Mandalay. But at the close of the book the living conditions are desolate and only a sense of duty, or powerlessness, binds mother to father. What becomes of Hazel’s parents and siblings? How did she come to end up in Australia? This is all revealed in her next book, yet to be read by me. I look forward to it.

Review by Martin Line, retired academic and author of several publications in various disciplines.heaven tempers the wind cover

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Merrill’s Mauraders

Golden Pagoda

Merrill’s Marauders had been officially designated as 5307th Composite Unit (provisional) with a code name Galahad. They were trained in long-range penetration tactics under Wingate, commander of the Chindits. General Stilwell appointed Brigadier General Frank Merrill to command them. American correspondents dubbed the unit Merrill’s Marauders.

Each battalion contained two Japanese-American soldiers, who were invaluable when fighting at close quarters with Japanese troops. They used tactics similar to the Chindits. On 7 February 1944, wearing green outfits, green under-clothing, green handkerchiefs and green matches for complete concealment in the jungle, the Marauders marched through the Hukawng Valley under the command of Brigadier General Frank Merrill. They marched down the Ledo Road that linked Ledo in India through to the Burma Road, and on to Yunnan in China. American engineers who had chiselled a track through swamps and mountains from late 1943 for twenty-seven months had constructed the road. It is one of the most forgotten routes today.

The Marauders were used as Stilwell’s Shock troops to slash the hamstrings of the Japanese armies in Burma. After engaging in fierce battles for three months, they were badly in need of rest and recuperation, but Stilwell pressed them on, commanding Merrill to take Myitkyina. Handicapped by the monsoons, disease and exhaustion, they suffered from malaria, black water fever, typhus and dysentery. Victims of dysentery resorted to cutting a hole in the seat of their pants to avoid unnecessary time loss when their bowels moved.

Merrill collapsed when they reached Myitkyina airfield.

After the Mauraders captured the airfield, enabling American and Chinese reinforcements to be flown in, Stilwell was compelled to withdraw them from the frontline trenches at Myitkyina.

Heaven Tempers the Wind. Story of a War Child by Hazel Barker

 

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The Chindits

The Chindits were an International Force that included servicemen from British and Indian Brigades, Burma Rifles, Hong Kong Volunteers, Gurkhas and West Africans. In 1942, when the Japanese invaded Burma, the British War Office offered the services of Lieutenant-Colonel Orde Wingate, DSO, to General Wavell, Commander-in-Chief India. Wingate had successfully carried out guerrilla operations in Palestine and Abyssinia. He was a relative of Lawrence of Arabia, to whom he bore a strong resemblance.

There were two Chindit expeditions into Burma, the first in February 1943, and the second in March 1944. Of the three thousand men who entered Burma in 1943, only two thousand one hundred and eighty-two returned. Of these only six hundred were fit for further active service, but the two Chindit expeditions had diverted six to eight Japanese divisions from other operations.Chindit badge

Chindit Badge

These brave men took part in the offensive to re-gain Burma in 1945.

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The Brave Men who recaptured Burma

Heaven Tempers the Wind. Story of a War Child by Hazel Barker will appeal to both sexes. Lovers of war stories will be interested in learning of the American Volunteer Group, the Chindits and Merrill’s Mauraders. In the next few days I’ll be writing a few notes on these brave men who helped re-capture Burma from the Japanese in 1945.

The American Volunteer Group was officially employed by a private military contractor, the Central Aircraft Manufacturing Company. Although called a volunteer group, they were the highest paid combat fliers, their monthly salary being no less than $600, while pilots in the American Armed services were receiving no more than $170 per month. Besides their monthly salary, pilots received $600 for every Japanese plane shot down. The 1st and 2nd squadrons were assigned to both ends of the Burma Road, and based at Kunming, in China. The 3rd squadron was based at Mingaladon airport, a few miles out of Rangoon. AVG fighter planes were painted with a large shark on the front. The pilots were the only Allied pilots trained in Japanese combat tactics. They fought against odds of more than five zeros to one P40. During the first two raids over Rangoon, on 23 and 25 December 1941, the AVG had only 14 planes at Mingaladon, but they shot down 36 Japanese planes with a loss of only two AVG fliers.

Between 23 December 1941 and the beginning of March 1942, they flew the oldest model P40, the Tomahawk, shooting down well over a hundred Japanese planes.IMG_1699

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BOOK ONE OF MY MEMOIRS

Book One of my memoirs Heaven Tempers the Wind. Story of a War Child will be in print by September. The title is taken from Psalm 6: 2.

In Charles Kingsley’s book Hereward the Wake, the protagonist Hereward says, “They say heaven tempers the wind to the shorn lamb, but it tempers it too, sometimes, to the hobbled ass.”

heaven tempers the wind cover

 

Heaven Tempers the Wind. Story of a War Child tells the story of a Eurasian family caught up in the Japanese occupation of Burma during World War Two. Much of the family story is told from the point of view of the fourth child. It depicts their flight from invading forces, and gives vivid accounts of the war.

The narrative follows the family from a comfortable life under British colonial rule, to the invasion of a foreign power which renders them homeless, sick and starving. The story concludes with the end of war.

Heaven Tempers the Wind is a story of suffering which never fails in its universal appeal. The resonances then, are twofold: firstly, the conflict is one that is familiar in the Australian collective memory; secondly, another less obvious appeal lies in the retelling of some of the history of contemporary Burma, in particular the part played by Aung San (father of Aung San Suu Kyi). Readers familiar with contemporary politics would be interested in the history preceding it.

The popularity of personal war stories is widespread. Within the context of a familiar war, Heaven Tempers the Wind tells an unfamiliar story that will also be of interest to readers who still live with memories of the war in Asia. Part of Australia’s national mythology is defined by war, and particularly potent are those stories of war that involve suffering. Gallipoli is evocative, not because it is a place of victory, but for the opposite reason.

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