Thursday, July 25

Arrival at Tientsin .. The Gates to Hell

Past the burning forts at Taku, the USS Solace slid from the Yellow sea into the Bohai basin and found her berth amongst the dozens of gunboats and warships clogging the harbour. With little but rumours of murder and slaughter to inform us, it was with a terrible sense of foreboding that we disembarked.
       For a description to capture that moment, I could only have likened it to walking into the depths of Hades itself. The overpowering stench was more revolting than any I had suffered, even in the fetid swamps of Kumassi; and was matched in intensity only by the visual horrors before us. There was hardly a building standing and a pall of thick smoke hung everywhere, giving an acrid, ugly taste to the very air that we breathed. Thousands of people milled aimlessly from ruin to ruin; or squatted, expressionless, like dumb animals unaware that they were about to be slaughtered.
       Everywhere was chaos. Putrid corpses lay rotting in the streets, while women and children ran in terror from the carnage around them or stood huddled, almost comatose, in abject groups. Side-by-side, soldiers and civilians together were bent on a rampage of open looting, interrupted only by sporadic gunfire as before my eyes, people were shot for carrying some minor cudgel or knife in a pointless attempt to protect themselves.
       The madness of this devilish vista was compounded by the vision of a solitary family still grasping for a finger-hold on normality as they sat together eating the scraps of a meal in the ruin of their destroyed home.
       As we moved to quarters in the military compound, I knew that tomorrow I must locate somebody, somewhere in this place who could un-clutter and re-paint the horrendous pictures now filling my mind with the sharpness and clarity that comes from fact rather than the nightmares of imagination ...

The Ruins of Tientsin City

The Women and Children of Tientsin

Seeking Normality Amongst the Madness

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