Thursday, 16 June 2011

Summer Heat in Old Shanghai

Shanghai – Paris of the East – what a picture those words conjure up in the mind. I had the very good fortune to visit Shanghai very briefly a couple of years ago and I was hoping against hope that some of the Shanghai of yesteryears survived. It took a lot of searching for but I did find manage to find a wonderful coffee shop hidden deep within the old Hongkong Shanghai Bank building on The Bund. It was decorated in 1920s style and for a few moments, as I sipped my coffee on its veranda, I thought that I might be back in old Shanghai.

The summer of 1900 proved to be oppressively hot and humid and proved too much for some of the Old China Hands. Mr. David BRAND, born in Glasgow in 1845, had journeyed to China in the late 1860s and later became the Head Partner in the firm of Brand Bros. He was much respected in the community and was affectionately called “Dahvid”. He was described as being “witty and ready with a keen shrewd Scotch humour that made him a most sought after companion”. Heat and fever caught up with Mr. Brand and he passed away at 1am on Monday 23 July at his home on The Bund.

The funeral took place at The New Cemetery, Bubbling Well Road at 6pm the same day and the hearse and coffin were covered in beautiful floral wreaths and crosses. Half the Settlement turned out to pay their respects.

Little did anyone know at that time but events later in the 20th. century were to spell disaster for that lovely cemetery. In the early 1950s it was announced that all the graves were to be exhumed and moved to a new cemetery at Dazang on the outskirts of the city. Anyone wishing to arrange for the re-interment of their family members elsewhere were to make their own arrangements. The British Government did what it could and arranged for notices to appear in the major English and Scottish newspapers. A few families did manage to get the remains of their loved ones moved to Hong Kong and the imports started early in 1954. Hong Kong Burial Registers show that the cremated ashes of Mr. D. Brand (and his son Mr. R.A. Brand) were imported into HK from Shanghai under Removal Permit No. 8. They were re-interred in Section 16G of the Colonial Cemetery in grave number 10869 on 3rd. March 1954. No service was held on this occasion. During the month another 15 sets of ashes came in from Shanghai and were re-interred in the Hong Kong Cemetery.

These were the lucky ones. The graves of those souls who had no-one to arrange for their safe removal to Hong Kong – or back to the UK – were exhumed and moved to Dazang. If their headstones happened to show that they had been members of the military then the inscriptions were defaced to remove all reference to their units, ranks, service numbers and dates of death. The cemetery at Dazang has now been “lost”. Historians and researchers in Shanghai have been unable to determine where it was sited – all that they can say is that it no longer exists. Section 16G at the Hong Kong Cemetery is therefore a very special place as in my mind it represents all those who were previously buried in the Foreign Cemeteries of Old Shanghai.