Once Upon a Time
'Margaret Helen Brown'
an Autobiography Part 2

by Bob Johnston

March 20, 2016


Once Upon a Time

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(Margaret Brown, a missionary to China, grew up in Bruce County.)

In January 1939, I travelled by boat to Haiphong, then by train up through what is now called Vietnam (North) crossed the great mountain range the pass is over 10, 000 feet---to Kuming, capital of Yunnan province in S.W. China, to open a depot where our books could be mailed into far West China. A few months later the Japanese took over Indo-China and this route was closed---the Chinese for defense, tore up the railway on their side of the border.

While on furlough in 1941 and studying for my PhD in Union Theological College, New York, the Pearl Harbor incident occurred, entirely cutting off both Shanghai and Hong Kong from any contact with “Free China” in the far West. In that vast area of China there was no literature or magazines for children. Urgent calls came for me to return at the end of my furlough in 1942. But how? I left Toronto for China on eight hours notice. I took six months and five days to get to Chengtu, travelling to New York, then New Orleans, where I got on a Chilean boat which went through the Panama Canal and down the west coast of South America, disembarking at Valparaiso, Chile.

Then I went by train over the Andes and across Argentina to Buenos Aires where a dock strike kept me for five weeks. I then sailed on a tiny Argentine freighter to Capetown and Durban. There, I managed to get on a British troop ship---it had 5,000 troops and only 13 civilians on board. We travelled in a convoy of 31 ships to Bombay, escorted by two dreadnaughts and five destroyers. I then crossed India by train to Calcutta and arrived with Dengue fever. I was five weeks there during the worst of the Bengal famine and finally flew “The Hump” at night—the Japanese had shot down two civilian planes two weeks before. We had to fly for two-and-a-half hours over Japanese-occupied areas of Burma.  

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From Chungking I flew to Chengtu where we had a large mission. The big American air base was near and we had a number of bombing attacks at night. I had to start “Happy Childhood” all over again but had two of the most exciting years. Because there was no other literature for children, the Government Schools took great interest and sales soared.

Japan’s surrender came upon us almost unawares. I was lucky to get back to Shanghai in November to restart my work because the RAF gave me a free ride. I left for furlough in August 1948 and in the following May, the Communists established their “People’s Republic” in Peking. I left Hong Kong for Canada in 1956. Because of my literature work I was invited to become a member-at-large of the Women’s Inter-Church Council of Canada where I served until my retirement in 1968.


Condensed by Bob Johnston from an article in the 1971 Yearbook of the Bruce County Historical Society

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Sunday, March 20, 2016