20 SEPTEMBER 1963, Page 6

Sunday on Quemoy


, QUEMOY ISLAND ISS WANG. twenty-one, and Miss Chu, twenty, are two pretty Chinese girls who, as part of their daily work, live, work and sleep in a tunnel. This tunnel is part of the vast under- ground defence complex on the offshore island of Quemoy, a couple of miles east of the Red China mainland.

The Misses Wang and Chu. whose voices are ever soft, gentle and low, alternate twelve hours a day speaking into a microphone located in their small tunnel studio. Their voices are amplified and then carried over loudspeakers located around Quemoy or, as the Chinese call it, Kinmen. When the winds flow west, enemy soldiers on nearby Communist-held islands and even further can hear them reading news bulletins, propaganda messages or announcing musical compositions played over the public address system.

Both young girls gave their surnames—as common as Smith or Jones in Britain or the US— but for reasons of security declined to give their full names. They are originally mainlanders— Miss Wang is from Shantung and Miss Chu from Chekiang, Chiang Kai-shek's native province, she said 'proudly—and they still have relatives back in China proper. They were not the only ones reluctant to give their names. A young captain commanding a battery of 155-mm. artillery said his name was Wang. The island's deputy com- mander is Major-General Wang, his superior is Lieut.-Gen. Ma and the colonel in charge of intelligence had a last name which he mumbled -and I couldn't catch.

When I arrived at the- studio in the Tiger Barracks one Sunday morning, Miss Wang had already completed her twelve-hour stint. She had spent the night and early morning calling upon the enemy soldiers some 8,000 feet away to rise up against the Communists and Chairman Mao. She had the latest news and announced jazz numbers played by American combos. Included in the programme is lots of twist music.

Miss Chu had just awakened and was ready for breakfast. In an hour she would be at the micro- phone pleading with her- audience, in Fukien dialect as well as Mandarin, to come over. The girls are civilian employees of the Ministry of National Defence on Taiwan who have volun- teered for the jobs because the pay is rather better than the average Taiwan wage, though the social life is more restricted. They share a monk's cell bedroom which Miss Chu, rather embarrassed at my request, declined to let me enter. She had just risen and the room was a mess, she said in smiling apology.

Everything about Quemoy has this same air of naturalness and normalcy these days. The last Communist barrage fired in anger was in June, 1960. Infuriated at President Eisenhower's visit to Taiwan, the Communists in two days dumped almost 175,000 rounds on Quemoy and the smaller Nationalist-held islands in the area. Now- adays, the Communist shells which are lobbed over----on odd days, as part of Mao's self-imposed 'cease-fire'—contain only propaganda leaflets. Whatever the surface appearance of bucolic calm, a tour of the underground installations makes one thing clear: this island, perhaps Asia's version of West Berlin, can only be taken by treachery from within. A frontal assault would mean a frightful toll of the invaders. Fourteen years ago, the Communists tried an amphibious invasion with 20,000 men ; it was a slaughter. In July, 1950, they tried it again with 400 men, probably to test out the island defences; again disaster. From August 23 to October 6, 1958, Communist-held islands which surround Quemoy on three sides began an artillery bombardment which averaged 10,000 rounds a day. These Red military failures happened when Quemoy was far less prepared than it is today.

My travels in recent years have taught me that maps lie. Nothing ever looks like a map. Quemoy is a case in point. Political ideas of lay people are formed unconsciously by the newspaper map alongside the story. Regardless of projection or proportion, Quemoy always looks like a tiny blip of nothing, a speck in a vast ocean, and it seems almost natural to ask why all the bother about it with the Communists when it causes so much difficulty.

I cannot argue about cartographic literalness but to try to visualise and understand Quemoy in this fashion is like a civilian trying to under- stand an aircraft-carrier by looking at the ship's diagram. If anything, Quemoy is a sixty-two- square-mile 'submarine' and everything military which can possibly be below the surface is. Machine-guns, anti-tank guns, the big 155s are encased in solid rock. It is an island of holes, big holes, little holes, man-made caverns and caves, and should make speleologists ecstatic.

Mount Taiwu, in central Quemoy, rises 863 feet above sea-level. Wandering about its tunnels, some wide enough for two jeeps or one big lorry, and seeing its different levels is like wandering around a London Underground arcade. There are kitchens to feed troops and officers, barracks, flushing toilet, map-rooms, operating-rooms, briefing-rooms and a just-completed 1,500-seat movie theatre which could become a hospital if necessary. Solid steel doors of mammoth pro- portions can close every entrance when the alarm sounds, a precaution to ensure that exploding bombs couldn't rob this underground of its oxygen.

I lunched with the senior officers in a large mess-hall underground and then was driven by jeep on a wide road which went straight up the mountain. Here was another entrance, camouflaged with netting. This is called the Com- manding General's tunnel. We began descending flights of stairs,, carved out of the natural rock and covered with a layer of cement. I counted thirty landings—I am asked not to say how many steps per landing—and I thought of the deep underground station at Knightsbridge as a fair comparison with the depth of the general's tunnel. It is in the intestines of this mountain that the seventy-five-year-old President Chiang lives when he visits his island fastness. At Ma Shan,. or Horse Island, the island's most northerly point and about 7,000 feet from the Communist-held island of Chaio-yu, I wanted to step outside the barbed-wire enclosure and climb the heiihts for some photographs. For- bidden Why? Because all of it is mined. Within the enclosure were a battery of 50-calibre Brownings on heavy tripods, their gun-barrels poked out of square peepholes carved out of the solid rock. Upon the knolls were 18-inch and 20-inch searchlights. The rooms where the men lived and slept reminded me of the sets in .lourney's End or other First World War vintage dramas with their little tables, bedstead double- deckers, all dark and gloomy.

My next visit was' to an emplacement of 155-mm. guns. The grounds at this stronghold seemed more like a miniature park, since there were flowers and skilfully clipped low circular bushes, -a charming example of topiary art. Within were the guns, each with a metal tag stating it had been manufactured at the US Rock Island Arsenal. Captain Wang, who had .been reading a Chinese translation of The Longest Day, said he commanded four companies of eighteen men each and that they were on three- minute alert. Some miles away at 'High Ground 61' was another underground garrison to man several batteries of 57-mm. anti-tank guns. These looked upon a beach strewn with barbed- wire fencing. In the water,- invisible to the eye, were several acres of `dragon's teeth.' pointed bars of steel to rip the bottom out of amphibious craft.

In all these underground strongpoints I saw innumerable rooms in which, I was told, are enough food, clothing, ammunition, tools, medi- cines, replacement parts, everything necessary to withstand a long siege and to make each garri- son self-sufficient. When I asked about drinking water at 'High Ground 6I,' I was shown an underground well dug into the wall of a tunnel with a rate of replenishment sufficient for drink- ing, cooking and washing. The damp smell and the dripping from the roof of the fluorescent- lighted officers' mess was ample testimony to the presence of water. My last stop was at a couple of buildings devoted to 'psychological warfare' exhibits. As we drove by, I noticed dozens of long, red-painted metallic cylinders stacked lengthwise on the ground like logs. They contained hydrogen gas for the Nationalist balloons which are released each day to float along the prevailing westerlies. Their usual cargo is leaflets. Some balloons, however, carry water-. proof packets containing toothbrush and tooth- paste, cigarettes and matches, a bar of soap and a handkerchief. Every one of these items has some propaganda imprinted somewhere. Even within the bar of toilet soap is a small, coiled leaflet which becomes visible as the soap is used up.

Even the innocent fish are part of the war. The Nationalists net the fish and stuff them, like Strasbourg geese, with leaflets. Then they are cast upon the water and when the mainland fisher- men catch them and gut them—lo! a leaflet. Another trick is to forge copies of Communist newspapers for mainland distribution. I saw a copy of the People's Daily, which I was told is an exact replica of a- current issue from news- print to headline and body type. But the stories are slightly altered, a phrase here, a paragraph there. If a sentence refers to Chairman Mao as the Great Father, it is changed to read, 'Great Betrayer.' The Communists send leaflets, too, and food. Tins of fish have imprinted on the metal inside a message describing the delights of being a prisoner-of-war or of repudiating the notion that Red China confiscates property and peasant lands. There were tins of sweet lichees and tea, the labels in Chinese and English which read, 'Chinese National Foodstuffs Export Corp., Kwangsi.' A label on a tin of mandarin oranges was in Chinese and also Russian, which read, 'Mandarenoviye KoMpot, Marks Velikaya Stena,' a leftover no doubt from the days of the 'grand alliance.'

But Quemoy—the nineteen Matsu islets are about 125 miles to the north and are used as take-off points for guerrilla operations on the mainland—is more than military. Living on the island are almost 50,000 natives. (How many troops there are is a secret.) The islanders are visible beneficiaries of a land reform and re- afforestation programme which has transformed this once barren, windswept waste into a garden of sweet potatoes, wheat, water-melon, onions, peanuts, soybeans, corn and sorghum. Fifteen years ago there were but a handful of domestic animals. Today one can see cows, bulls, horses grazing on green fields and pigs rooting around the barnyards. The island population—civilian and military—is about three-quarters self-suffi- cient as far as food is concerned.

Amidst all this greenery, it is difficult to believe that this island, like Taiwan 175 miles away, is still engaged in what President Chiang calls 'a civil war.' The peasantry looked like peasantry; soldiers wandered along the roads, saluting as we drove by; the day was hot and humid and not a cloud hung in the sky. The guns were silent and, from behind in the caves, did not look particularly menacing. From what I could see of the mainland through field-glasses, Com- munism didn't seem much of a threat; nothing was moving. It was Sunday in Quemoy and I recalled reading somewhere that its ancient name was Hsienchou, or 'fairyland.' I had my notes of what I had seen on and under this fairyland, but I also knew that I had seen very little of the sophisticated weaponry and material which must be around somewhere. Like it or not, Chiang's island bastion is a mighty force—hardly a beleaguered garrison—which stands in the way of any eastward thrust, just like Okinawa and the Seventh Fleet.

As I. drove around Quemoy, I thought of the campaign once led in the US by Adlai Stevenson that the offshore islands should be surrendered as the price of peace with Peking. I had then considerable doubt that ,handing over Quemoy and Matsu would be helpful to world peace in the Communist-declared era of 'wars of national liberation.' Having seen Quemoy, my doubts are as solid as the tunnel walls of Mount Taiwu. It may be fanciful conjecture, but perhaps these days not even Mr. Khrushchev would be very vehement about Nationalist surrender of the off- shore islands to his rival pope. After all, Presi- dent Chiang told me in late August that when his armies return to the mainland it would be a 'con- tinuation of the civil war, not a declaration of war against Russian Communism.'