by Grace Bedford
I went out to China in 1921 with what was then the Methodist Church (it later became the United Church). After I finished my Nurse’s training in Winnipeg in 1920, I decided I wanted to go to a place where I was really needed. In September 1921 we sailed from Vancouver to Shanghai, where there was a mission home run by the English. Anybody who had to stay over in Shanghai to get equipped for the trips overland stayed at this mission home. Small parties were formed to travel overland. Each party had to arrange for what they called an overseer who in turn would hire coolies – some as carriers – some as cooks, etc. Everything had to be carried in baskets swung over the shoulders: and we in turn travelled by Sedan chairs – each one had to be carried by three so-called chair-coolies, two at the front end and one at the back. I was scheduled to go to Chengdu in the province of Sishwan [Sichuan] and I think it us (there were eight people in my party) six or seven days to get there.
I think we travelled about thirty miles a day, we often got out and walked quite a lot as we needed the exercise – it gave the coolies a bit of a rest and we could get along faster that way. Sometimes we would stop in a village inn for the night and the coolies would unpack the baskets and set up the camp beds in the inn, and they would use the equipment for meals – we had our own food with us. They used the fires in the village to cook the meals. If we stopped at a missionary station for the night, we were entertained at the missionaries’ homes, but we would always, always supply our own food materials.
At Chendu there was a Union University established by American, Canadian and English missionary societies. There was a campus outside the city with facilities for a language school, provided by a retired American missionary. We learned the language all during that winter until the next summer. As the summers are very hot, we went to the hills, where the mission had summer homes. We arranged to have a private teacher there and studied every day with this teacher. The entire first year was spent on learning the language.
The second year we went out into one of the stations but still kept a teacher / interpreter with us. We gradually got into whatever department we were trained for. I stayed with a nurse in charge of the hospital, keeping house for the two of us and gradually working my way into the routine of the hospital. The third I finally was sent to a station of my own where I stayed for two years. Then I was asked to take over as a matron of the school for all the missionaries’ and foreigners’ children out on the campus of the university at Chendu. The former matron of this school had to go home quite suddenly and there was no-one else to take her place. There were about fifty kids in the school of which about thirty or so were boarders from different stations all over the province. The matron’s job was to look after the so-called “home” part of the school – keeping house for all the kids and their teachers. The teachers came out on a three-year term and as they taught in English weren’t instructed in the Chinese language at all. I had to act as sort of a middle man for them with the Chinese. The boarding children would stay for one term and someone would escort them back home for the holidays. It was my task to outfit them with food, see that they had a cook, carrier, etc., everything that they needed on their journey back and forth. There wasn’t much sickness for me to nurse except malaria. There was quite a lot of malaria in China in those years. I had a very bad case of malaria myself, prior to my coming to the school. I was on and off for about six months,, I would just get over one attack of what the Chinese call “hot-cold” which is really a form of the shakes, and another would come back. At times the “hot-cold” would be so bad you’d shake the bed. At one time I had a special malignant-type attack and they said I’d probably not get over it, but I did. Anyhow, it was very weakening.
During my time as matron at the school the revolution was just starting in China. The people were rising up against the rotten form of government that they had. The government was just War-lords taking over areas, taxing the people and not doing anything for them. They just wanted to support their military. The people were rising at that time and blaming the foreigners. To a certain extent they were right because the British and the French warships on the Yangtse River weren’t doing anything for the Chinese people. They were just there to protect trade.
So the people were rising against their difficulties and it became rather dangerous for us. This was 1927. When one of the missionary’s wives was killed in the street by a Chinese fanatic the consulate decided that for the time being we would have to go home until things settled down. Again we formed small parties and I left with one of the first ones.
It took us 10 days or so on a small boat down to a small river to get down to the Yangtse River where we boarded a steamer for Shanghai. We had to change steamers two or three times. The steamers were under British military and they escorted us from one steamer to another.
We had to change steamers because of the swift currents requiring smaller steamers, and as we came down the river we took bigger steamers where there wasn’t so much current.
When we reached Shanghai some of us went right across to Vancouver, others, and I was among those others, decided to go around the other way to Europe first.
The day after Christmas I left Shanghai on a steamer that took us down via Manila and India through the Suez Canal to Italy.
From Italy we went by train to France, Belgium and Holland and then to London, England. By that time some of the girls I was traveling with didn’t have much money left because they spent more than they expected to. So we decided to take a third class tourist ticket from Southampton to New York. We went on a great big ship right down into the bowels. It was a pretty rough journey but it was only for nine days, so it wasn’t too bad. In New York everybody separated and went to different places.
I went home to Winnipeg, this was in May 1928, and somehow or other I never got to go back to China, even though I intended to.