Thursday, October 8, 2015

CHP-160-Jack Jones and the FAU China Convoy 1945-1951

Click on this link to hear a podcast by Laslo Montgomery of the 'China History Podcast' telling the story of A TRUE FRIEND TO CHINA and of the FAU China Convoy, as is explained in my following blog post.

CHP-160-Jack Jones and the FAU China Convoy 1945-1951

Monday, October 5, 2015


Exactly seventy years ago today Jack Jones first landed in Kunming, to work with the Friends Ambulance Unit distributing medical aid throughout vast areas of China.

And today Laszlo Montgomery has uploaded a story about Jack and the FAU to his CHINA HISTORY PODCAST which google will swiftly find for you, thus telling the world this important story that time has all but forgotten.

Nearly 400 men and women from the UK, the USA, Canada and New Zealand volunteered several years of their lives to live and work in China at a difficult time, an example of humanitarian service that wasn't insignificant and is well worth remembering.

My new book can be bought in the USA from,in Hong Kong from St John's Cathedral, in China from Earnshaw Books and from me by mail on enquiry to

It is a great adventure story with many sub-plots and twists and I hope you will enjoy it and learn something from it.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015


Fleda Jones, the young African American in this photo is not longer of this world. She has recently died in her mid-nineties.

The picture looks relatively recent but in fact it was taken in 1949 outside the North Point Relief Camp in Hong Kong and is of Friends Ambulance Unit workers waiting to fly into Chungking. The story is told in my book, A TRUE FRIEND TO CHINA, in which Fleda as the lab technician in Jack Jones' peoples' clinic played an important role.

What courage it must have taken for a young woman to travel alone to Hong Kong and to plunge into the vast unknown of China, facing civil war and the communist takeover, risking her life in harsh conditions in the hope of helping people and saving lives. She made an exceptional contribution but as the book will tell you her presence there led to dramatic and far-reaching consequences. This blog will not spoil the story which reads better than fiction and which strangely was later translated into fiction. Novelists always write from experience and Jack Jones as author drew on this tumultuous time in Chungking in writing his best-selling novel, A WOMAN OF BANGKOK.

About three years ago I tried tracing Fleda Jones in her home country, the USA. All I had was an address for her in the sixties. Miraculously she was still there and I managed to get her phone number. We had a long and warm chat on the phone and this personal contact meant a lot to me though I leaned little from her. She was 'busy busy' and still learning Chinese, ever optimistic in her tenth decade.

Subsequent attempts at contact failed so I sent in the sleuths. A good friend was in New York and he most generously went out of his way to visit her apartment block. but the news was not good. It seems that not so long after I had spoken to her she was taken ill and hospitalised. When she died a memorial service was held but there were no relatives which seems sad. After a life-time of medical service she had friends but they knew little about her except that she was strong and resilient, a 'tough broad'.

So finally a line is drawn under one more of Jack's co-workers in Chungking. Remarkably though, Dorothy Reuman (on left of picture) is still in close contact with me and living in West Hartford, Connecticut, while Howell Jones, standing at the back has just sent me a Facebook friends request from his home in Newfoundland.

What remarkable survivors these Friends Ambulance Unit China Convoy people were. They didn't need my book to make them somehow immortal.

Friday, September 11, 2015

"How He Brought the Good News from Hicks to Gwent"**

If I were to say that A TRUE FRIEND TO CHINA is a best-seller the lie detectors would ping loudly. In the US alone, quite a small country, sixty five copies have already sold off, which isn't bad. However, virtually all sales are to FAU families, specialist sinophiles and personal friends that I embarrass into buying one from me. Perhaps not surprisingly though, almost none go to casual readers I don't know.

But there is one striking exception, a sale to a guy I know as 'notstevejones'. This was the moniker by which he emailed me from Thailand, telling me that he had read the 'Jack Reynolds' novel of 1956, A WOMAN OF BANGKOK, and that he was smitten by it. He just couldn't wait to read my new book and to learn more about his namelysakely pseudonymous Jack Jones who had written a book so long ago that still fizzed with life and relevance.

He was shortly returning from Bangkok to his usual domicile in South Wales and, unable to await the delay in sending the book by mail, could he please drive up from there to meet me somewhere in Hampshire to get a copy more urgently. Thus at the earliest possible moment he leaped on his classic Triumph motorcycle and roared east for many hours. I leaped into my equally (almost as) fast MG and pounded at least six miles west where we breathlessly met at a rainy bikers cafe.

Definitely notstevejones and mysterious, he remained Stig-like in leathers and helmet. I thrust the book into his hands, (not one of the rare unsigned editions), and the cameras flashed. He expressed himself to be truly grateful and I felt genuinely humbled that someone should value my efforts so highly.

You may think this is all a spoof but it isn't. Five years researching a book like this is a lonely business. When published the earth doesn't move and there is a resounding silence. However, just occasionally, like last weekend, somebody really goes out of their way to tell me how much they value what I have done and I appreciate this more that I can possibly say.

Thanks notsteve! It was a real pleasure meeting you and may there be many more like you.

** 'How they brought the good news from Ghent to Aix' is a poem by Robert Browning about a crazy journey that was shoved down my throat at school. It seemed vaguely appropriate for the title above.

Monday, August 31, 2015

VJ Day and Jack Jones

The war in the Far East was won in 1945 by China in alliance with the western nations. Having been invaded by the Japanese in 1937, an invasion that began WWII, China suffered about 30 million casualties. The suffering caused was truly horrific and China was in a state of great distress, even tough the victor.

On 2nd September 1945 the Japanese signed the formal surrender on board the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay. On 3rd September Jack Jones sailed from Liverpool for China by way of India and a rough flight by DC3 over the Himalayas into Kunming in Yunnan province. Thus began his own personal saga, a story of a young man in turmoil finding himself in life, as is told through his own words in my new book, A TRUE FRIEND TO CHINA.

The war had thus been won and Jack and the Friends Ambulance Unit were there to win the peace. History shows that this was to be a long run thing and far, far more difficult, though today China is stable and once more an ally, open to trade and a fundamental part of the international community. Jack would be very proud and thankful for the achievements of a China that he so loved.

UK and the rest of the world, by mail from

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

An Illustration Too Late

My new book, "Jack Jones - A TRUE FRIEND TO CHINA" is available in north America from, in Hong Kong from the St John's Cathedral Bookstore, in China from Earnshaw Books, in London from the Friends Centre in the Euston Road and otherwise can be mailed to you worldwide on enquiry to me at

Researching the book has been an unending saga and even after its recent publication more finds come pouring in. Below is a new discovery, a drawing by Jack Jones that was intended to illustrate the long article in Chapter 5 which describes a performance put on by Jack's driver and amateur impresario, Chang Min Sang. One of the acts in the show was 'Mrs CMS' herself, who Jack admired most openly, disporting herself on a unicycle.

Now I'll just have to reprint the book to include these delightful 'new' pictures!

More of them appear in the blog post below.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Jones the Jotter-Holy Grail Surfaces in Seattle

In researching a book such as A TRUE FRIEND TO CHINA one longs for a holy grail to be discovered, and preferably before it goes to print. Even so, I'm not complaining about a major find that has just fallen into my lap.

Conciseness as an author was never one of Jack's virtues and sometimes he writes at length. He often loved his drivers' wives, especially 'Mrs CMS' and she is accorded a long newsletter article that appears in my book as Chapter 5. It tells how dashing driver Chan Ming San and his lovely wife put on a public performance in the next village that is open to the public and intends to make money. Jack and his friends join the crowd and watch.

This chapter is no less than seventeen pages long, though there is hardly a dud sentence. But could I find any illustrations to break up the mass of text? I have no photos of Mrs CMS and have no idea what she looked like as the drivers' wives only seem to have been photographed in wedding pictures. So we know her by words alone, though there are plenty of these and nice ones too.

But now, out of the blue, a treasure trove of images has surfaced in Seattle.

In Chapter 7. Jack writes extensive letters to Spencer Coxe at the China Desk in Philadelphia about plans for the Transport Unit's closure. He also sends Spencer several articles about China that Spencer is trying to get published in the USA. Now, sixty five years later, Spencer Coxe's son in Seattle has sent me scans of nine pictures drawn or jotted by Jack intended to illustrate these stories. Three of them seem to be of Mrs CMS and her theatrical show and would perfectly illustrate Chapter 5.

A newly discovered Leonardo, a Titian, a Constable... they would have nothing on this. Not one but a hoard of unknown and undocumented Jack Joneses.

I knew Jack was artist as well as writer and a photo of him drawing appears at page ix of the book, and this and another of his pictures are at page 320. But the new pictures have progressed to new heights and are full of life and energy and I love them.

One is of a bearded Jack feasting at a table while his Chinese friends around him, including some nice looking women, drink and play 'the finger game'. It has a wonderful feel to it.

As you have all bought the book with a bald and unillustrated Chapter 5., let me now show you three of these 'new' pictures with an extract of Jack's text that they should have illuminated.

First of all, could this be Mrs.CMS? I think it is.

And this is how Jack describes her...

... "By this time I had got to know Mrs. CMS well. There were three reasons for this, all connected with our clinic. First of all she had a cough, which she said was TB and I said was too many cigarettes. Then her younger daughter, a tiny child as pretty as a doll, had a persistent eruption of sores on her legs and back which I always was treating. Thirdly, Mrs. CMS recently had a severe attack of mastitis, during which I had been in constant attendance. (See FAU News letter No. ??? for an interesting and authoritative account of this case.) [The question marks in the brackets are in the original Chronicle.] I appreciated Mrs. CMS warmly. She had a grace of carriage which is not often attained by Chinese women; with her dark brown skin, her strangely sleepy eyes, her large un-Chinese mouth, she seemed more like a Balinese woman than a daughter of Han. Often I imagined her sweeping onto the opera stage in gorgeous stately garments, her eyes asleep in a face painted to a dead-white mask, her slim agile hands garnished with rings and long false fingernails and contorted in the preposterous but pleasing gestures of the stylised dance. I longed to see her on the stage. And the first time I was invited to do so I went expecting to be dumbfounded by her grace and beauty."

The first part of the show was dancing... but which one is MRS CMS?

This is what Jack thought of the dancing...

"Progams at CMS theatres always are divided into three parts, like Gaul. First, Les Girls, dancing and singing as a troupe, in solos, in duets, in trios, and in a variety of fetching costumes, all industriously sown on the FAU treadle sowing machine we still keep in “Jeanette’s room”. (Mrs. CMS, that amazing woman, makes all the costumes, too.)
Reluctantly I must admit that she comes nearer to a Baranova than a Schiaparelli. [Irina Baranova, 1919-2008, was a Russian ballet dancer and Elsa Schiaparelli, 1890-1972, an Italian fashion designer.] Some of her ideas are really rather weird: for instance, why was her sister looking extra-ordinarily pretty in spangled blouse and ballerina skirt allowed to appear in shorts that were too, too Chinese, (and moreover had one leg red and the other black?)
After Les Girls, drama. Finally as climax, the Thrills – the tight rope or trick cycling or conjuring tricks. The ritual is fixed inexorably like that of High Mass and woe betide any innovator who dared meddle with the tradition.
Of the three parts of the program, the part I liked best is the second part, the drama. The first part is just crude; frankly, it brings home to you the fact that the antics of chorus girls are merely exhibitionist and therefore obscene; they turn their bodies about like trumpets to catch the light, forgetting that a trumpet is not beautiful in itself but only becomes so when it is used by an artist to express his emotions in music. Even Mrs. CMS herself, if she did but know, is a more pleasing object to the eye as she crouches over the washtub in an old sack of a blue gown than when she turns and twists her body to catch the light, even though her twists and turns are done with a considerable and saving grace. For over her washtub she is expressing something (albeit unconsciously) – her concern for the family perhaps; but dancing on the stage she doesn’t know what she is supposed to be doing. She is not interpreting the music, because she could go through the same routine without any music at all; she isn’t doing it to amuse herself, because obviously she is bored; she has no idea of arousing concupiscent ideas in men’s minds, because she is too Chinese and therefore essentially modest. As far as I can see she just dances because it is the thing to do. It’s part of the game."

The next part of the show involves a performance with a bicycle...

And this is the verbal account of the trick cyclist in the book...

"His is an apparently normal bike with two wheels, but when he stands in the middle of the stage and swings it around him with one hand on the saddle, he can make the front wheel and handlebars rotate like a top. Then he vaults into the saddle. He does one lap of the fifteen foot square stage in that conventional attitude, but that is all. For the next five minutes he rides the bike in every conceivable manner except the orthodox one. Impossible to describe his agility. To anyone familiar with Chinese cyclists he appears to be a miracle. (It will be recalled that in the Olympic games the Chinese cyclist was so amazed at completing the course without mishap that he fell off after crossing the line for no reason whatever, unless it was sheer surprise, and was carried off unconscious on a stretcher, and never heard of again). For five minutes this hero continues to give as polished an exhibition of trick riding as I have ever seen, even at the Finsbury Park Empire, where I used to have a regular sixpennorth of the gallery on Saturday nights in the winter, and saw all the marvels of my age in the early thirties. The audience watches spellbound. Like Americans I think the Chinese are always more readily bewitched by virtuosity than by art. But the climax is still to come.
Enter the cyclist’s two wives bearing three ordinary fan-t’ien stools apiece. They pile them up in two piles close together, one pile being at right angles to the other. (“I see some reckless foolishness is about to be indulged in,” says Peter.) When the two piles have passed certain tests of their rigidity the two wives squat down beside them to hold them steady.
It is instructive to see them, the big swaggering wife who plays the handsome bully on the stage and in real life, the little sullen rather pretty wife whom one has often heard sobbing her heart out for hours on end, thus combining to assist their lord and master to put on his great piece de resistance. Soon he lifts his bicycle and stands it on the two piles of stools, which are placed like a capital T, which is towards the audience. Balancing it carefully, he stands on one pedal. He maintains his balance by allowing the front wheel to move an inch or two to the right or left; if it went much further it would run off the stool altogether and he would come down in a fine tangle of bike and stools, probably maiming the small wife in the process. (One feels that the bigger one would have the good luck to get out of the way).
Now slowly he lowers himself to a squatting position on the pedal and with infinite difficulty, the front wheel jerking backwards and forwards along the top of the front stool, he begins to thrust his head under the cross-bar. It is an awful struggle to get his head through, a struggle which holds all watchers breathless. The small wife has dropped her head on the thin arms with which she is holding the front pile of stools steady; it looks as if she is praying, praying that the trick will succeed. At last his head is through; cautiously one hand comes off the handlebars, follows his head through the frame, reaches blindly up for the handlebar again. The hand gropes and jerks foolishly; people begin to laugh, but there is anxiety in their laughter; the front wheel moves dangerously far to one side and back again.
Suddenly the hand closes on what it seeks. It is easier now. The rest of his body follows through the frame; then one leg arrives and is placed on the pedal; then at last the other leg, and he strikes a triumphant pose, standing on one leg on the far side of the bike from which he started. There is a light spatter of applause which in China amounts to an ovation. One hopes that he will descend from his perch satisfied, and rest on his laurels. But he hasn’t finished yet. He intends to subject our nerves to an even more violent strain.
Carefully he lowers himself to a squatting position on one pedal again and begins to repeat the trick backwards. The sweat is pouring from his face. He has an even fiercer struggle to get his head under the cross-bar. The gropings of his hand are more prolonged and almost frantic; the bike wobbles so violently that he comes within an inch of disaster; his hand is raised jerkily again and again like that of a drowning man. There is something ludicrous about that fumbling, desperate though it is; impressive; and one sympathizes with the laughter, though unable to join in. Suddenly he has snatched what he was seeking. The trick is as good as over. With a sinuous movement he snakes the rest of his body through the frame and strikes an Eros pose on one pedal again. There is nothing stagey about his smile; he is genuinely pleased with his achievement. “That is all for tonight, please come again”, he cries, and then he leaps lightly to the stage, catching the bike as it falls after him. The three-course meal has been served: part one, Les Girls; part two, the play; part three, the thrill. The show is over."

I told you it was long, but at least there are now some illustrations. I guess it means I'm going to have to do a second printing of the book including the lost sketches.

Am I too, as well as Jack, qualifying as a 'heroic nobody'.

Sunday, May 3, 2015


A massive shipment of my books has just arrived on my doorstep from Shanghai and were they heavy! So I now want to relieve the weight on my front room floor and am keen to send you one. If you email me at I will happily tell you the cost.

In London you can get a copy at the Friends Centre Bookshop in the Euston Road and in the US at Pendle Hill, Philadelphia and on

I'm not a Quaker myself though have recently become their advocate. One thing I admire about them is that though the Friends Ambulance Unit was a Quaker foundation the only qualification to join was to be a pacifist and only a minority were actually Quakers. That tolerant and inclusive approach is unusual and admirable.

Similarly in Jack's writings in A TRUE FRIEND TO CHINA there is hardly a mention by him of the Quakers and they were absolutely not pushing bibles. Jimmy, on John Peter's shoulder is described as not being 'a good Quakerly monkey' and Jack describes getting agreement on a particular question as being, 'as difficult as deciding whether to open a window at a Quaker Meeting'.

The book isn't about a missionary project taking religion to the Chinese. It's just a story of young lads out in China at a hellish time in history just trying to make a difference.

It's all there in the book and it's about time the story was told.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015


My good news is that A TRUE FRIEND TO CHINA is now available in the USA at Quaker Books at Pendle Hill, Philadelphia and for online sales at

It's also available in China from and in Hong Kong at St John's Cathedral Bookstore.

It's taking a little longer for the books to arrive in UK by air freight from Shanghai but contact me at and I will be able to send you copies. About 30 copies have been sold already so it's looking promising. It's cheap at the price if you account for 400 large format pages and 500 photos of China in the forties, but it is a big book!

I'm keeping my fingers crossed and every sale counts.

It really is a great story of an international project taking medical relief to China in the dark days of the nineteen forties, going as unpaid volunteers putting their pacifist principles into practice and not seeking political or commercial advantage.

They worked as truck drivers and medics on an equal basis with their Chinese co-workers in a way that was pretty unique at the time. Jack's the one with the beard and he wrote all the FAU newsletter articles that are the basis for the book. He was a great writer and very funny.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015


Having spent so long tracing the life and work of Jack Jones and his time in China with the Friends Ambulance Unit, it was inevitable that I should go to find the Burma Road. This extraordinary engineering feat dug by hand to give China a lifeline to import supplies when occupied and blockaded by the Japanese. All too soon it was closed when Burma fell to the Japanese but it was the FAU's first point of entry to China as they fled from the invading forces. It remains a major route today, though in many places it is a multi-lane highway and in others it has been bypassed and has almost totally disappeared. Unless of course you are in the know! Our aim was to find it and we were travelling with the right people.

Kunming, our base, is a lovely city and staying by Green Lake Park there were things that Jack and his friends who flew in from India in the forties would have found familiar.

There are signs of prosperity here and in the countryside where the old and new coexist.

We found hidden threads of the Burma Road that wandered up into the enormity of the mountains where we marvelled at how the men of the FAU coaxed over-loaded trucks powered by charcoal gas across such impossible distances.

The vastness of the scenery and the variety of its colours was sometimes overwhelming, often abstract in its beauty.

Nothing could prepare one though for the gorge of the Salween River, China's grand canyon. For FAU trucks dropping down thousands of feet into the malarial heat of the gorge, there must have been a sense of panic that the wheezing trucks that constantly broke down would never be able to crawl up the other side. Sometimes it took days and even today we drove for what seemed hours only to be a mile or two further on, though several thousand feet higher.

As the FAU trucks fled into China in front of the Japanese invasion on descending to the Salween their mobile workshop truck got stuck under an overhanging rock, making the panicked traffic even more jammed than before. Nobody knew when they would be attacked from the air or even if the Japanese forces would appear behind them and wreak havoc. Today it all seems so peaceful and it is hard to grasp the true horror of those terrible times. We had a comfortable daily itinerary with rooms booked and guaranteed flights home. They had nothing, no news, no certainty and twelve of them never came home.

The tiny villages where they stayed, often sleeping in their trucks to avoid the risk of tics and typhus fever, are now substantial towns with every modern facility. They would be totally amazed and proud too of the remarkable progress that China has made. We enjoyed nothing but warm and polite openness when we were there a few weeks ago, something that echoes the affection for the Chinese people that was felt in the forties and which was a major element of the positive motivation of the FAU members working there.

Lieuwe and Xu Ying of Tiny Adventures Tours were wonderful hosts and I now want to do the whole trip all over again.

Friday, January 16, 2015


After five years of research on the Friends Ambulance Unit 'China Convoy' we're so nearly there.

Earnshaw Books in Shanghai have finalised the cover, we have agonised through fifteen drafts of digital proofs, tweaking and editing incessantly, and now it's time for the printers to produce a mock-up of the book for final approval.

In March I am flying to Yunnan, China and with other FAU friends will take a tour of the Burma Road and some of the places that Jack Jones and his men worked in the forties. Then on to Hong Kong and on March 27th I will be giving a talk to the Royal Asiatic Society about the 'China Convoy'. If all goes well a parcel of books will meet me there and I'll be able to show them off and sell them at the talk.

It's going to be a large format book, lavishly illustrated and with a unit cost for printing of about £15 it had better be good.

Wow! I can't wait.