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Ford of Heaven ─ the French Connection.

In my Scribd article, Brian’s Real Upbringing in the Ford of Heaven, which appeared in
the June 27 posting of http://despower.blogspot.com , I assured readers that our grand-
father, George D’Arc, was English, not French, and that on his death he was not buried
ignominiously as a black sheep in Tientsin’s French cemetery, but with full honours after
solemn requiem mass in Canton Road cemetery in the British Concession.

My revelations were not meant to imply that George held feelings of


antipathy towards the French. After all, his father Lambert D’Arc was
Parisian French before he became a UK citizen. Furthermore, the French
Concession played a major role in his life in Tientsin. He banked at
Banque de l’Indochine on rue de France, he worshipped at the church on
rue St Louis, and at the outbreak of World War One, after his wife had
retrieved their daughter Grace from the German convent in Tsingtao, he
placed her in St Joseph’s High School on rue Sabouraud, which at that
time was run by the French Lazarist Sisters of Mercy. He never was
in the French army as stated in Brian’s book, but he was proud to fight
alongside the Infanterie de la Marine when he served as a volunteer
with the British Frontier Rifles during the Boxer uprising.

The French victory parade after the Boxer siege of the concessions had been lifted.

Like our grandfather, we four Power boys knew the French Concession well. Never mind
the renowned Kiesslings Restaurant in the ex-German Concession or the Min Yuan ath-
letic park designed by Eric Liddell in the British Concession or the SAI Forum Hai Alai
courts in the Italian Concession, for pleasure and excitement the French Concession was
to the place to be. What thrills shot through us on Quatorze Juillet when we joined the
jam-packed throng, nearly all Chinese, in Place Clemenceau where the air reverberated
with the rapid beat of the drums and piercing trumpet calls as the formation of infantry
eight abreast marched past in perfect step and then the column of diminutive yellow-
brown Annamites in conical brass helmets (forty years later they were called Vietnamese)
scowling fiercely enough for the crowd to draw back. And what a grand finale, the thun-
derous, dazzling fireworks that filled the sky with a million brilliant lights!

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Map of the French Concession (only major roads shown)

A quick glance at the map will tell you it was wedged in by the Hai Ho (river) and the
Japanese, and British Concessions. On closer look you will see that it not only controlled
a strategic bend of the river but also the south end of International Bridge that opened
to allow traffic to and from the sea at Taku (see below). For residents of the British and
ex-German Concessions that bridge was their only link to Tientsin East Railway Station,
a main stop on the Peking Mukden Line that ran on to Peitaiho, Chinwangtao, Shanhai-
kuan, Mukden, Harbin, and Manchuli where it connected with the Trans-Siberian Rail-
way and Europe.

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When Japan’s modern army invaded China in 1937, it quickly overcame the poorly
armed Chinese troops, who in accordance with the terms of the Boxer Protocol were
forbidden to be stationed within 40 miles of Tientsin. After a fierce battle with the coura-
geous paramilitary Peace Preservation Corps at Tientsin East Station, the Japanese ad-
vanced to the north end of International Bridge. The French 16ème Regiment d’Infanterie
Coloniale faced them at the south end. The stand-off ended when the Japanese let it be
known that they had no intention of ever invading the French or British Concessions
(“ever” to them meaning four short years i.e. when the calendar hit December 8 1941).

Of course, no such defences were ever needed between the French and British Conces-
sions. One could move from one to the other without restriction. The road, acting as a
demarcation line between the two concessions, stretching from Quai de France (below
left) to Hsi Kai Cathedral (below right) had two names: rue St Louis and Bristow Road.
The north side of the road was under French jurisdiction, the south side under British.

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The French Concession’s 400 acre size might be only half that of its British counterpart,
and its foreign residents of a thousand only half the number of those in the British Con-
cession, yet the 50,000 Chinese who chose to live on the French side of the demarcation
line well exceeded the 33,000 on the British side.

Could it be that the Chinese preferred


French to British rule? They might have
been amused at the informal way the
French army trained its buglers (see on
the left). Certainly, the atmosphere in the
concession was more colorful and lively.
There was the ever crowded Bazaar, the
huge emporium that sold everything under
the sun and in which conjurers performed
alongside talking mynah birds and cocka-
toos and where rooms with trick mirrors changed your shape comically and outlandishly,
and where there were floors for Chinese opera, and for games of chance, and for exhibi-
tions of naughty pictures and even naughtier sculptures that would bring blushes to the
most hardened jack tar.

Shanghailanders well might boast of their famed


Sun Ya restaurant on Nanking Road, yet those who
knew both it and the Pei An Li (which foreigners
called the Pioneer) in Tientsin’s French Concession
would tell you that dishes served by the latter were
eminently superior, its hot green pepper chicken
(lazi ji) unequalled anywhere in China. Back in
1904, a Monsieur Funel claimed that his Hotel
Cafe Restaurant de la Maison Dor produced the

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only French cuisine in Tientsin. By the 1930s he would have lost that distinction, for by
then there was the Hotel Moderne on rue Consulat and Imperial Hotel on rue de France as
well as the popular Hapell’s Grill, Cafe Riche, Rose Marie, Karatzas, and Restaurant de
France.

To see a film show in the British Conces-


sion’s three movie theatres, the Grand, the
Empire, or the Capital cost us a whopping
30cts. We could get into the Kwang Ming
and Hsin Hsin on rue du Marechal Foche
and the Star on rue Favier for only a dime.
Those cinemas in the French Concession only
showed re-runs, but what did we care when
our weekly pocket money ran only to a dollar.

The French Park, one of our favourite haunts, was perfectly circular in shape giving it a
pleasing architectural attraction even to our young eye. Others must have thought so too.
Here is a group of well behaved youngsters from the junior grades of Tientsin American
School on an outing to the park posing at the park’s statue of Joan of Arc.

I’m afraid our visits to the park were not so innocent. The real draw for us was its walk-
ways; they were covered with small round pebbles just the right size for our catapults. It
took only minutes for our pockets to be bulging with replenished ammunition.

Even if our pockets had not been weighted down, we would not have run wild in games
of Tag or Kick the Can as we did in Victoria Park. There was the aura of church yard
about the place. We well knew that the Saint Joan monument was a memorial to the dead
of World War I and that it had been consecrated by none other than the Supreme Com-
mander Allied forces, Marechal Joffre. And I needed no reminding of that bit of family
legend claiming that our lineage was connected to the French saint’s.

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Here is Marechal Joffre when he honoured Tientsin with a visit in March 1922.

To mark the occasion, the French Municipality erected a triumphal arch.

And they gussied up the park with pennants and flowers for his consecration ceremony.

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Only a block and a half from French Park stood the stately Saint Louis College where
all four of us Power boys first went to school. It was often referred to as the “French
School”, which was a misnomer, for it was run by the multinational Order of Marists,
based in Rome, its teaching Brothers being French, Irish, German, Portuguese, and its
syllabus set in English in accordance with the requirements of Cambridge University for
its Overseas School Certificate examinations.

Here is the school photograph taken in October 1933, two years after our mother removed
all four of us following the expulsion of our oldest brother Patrick.

The school excelled in sports. Through the 30s, its soccer team, encouraged and trained
by the Brothers, never lost to any other school. The photo below is of the scratch team of
Brothers that challenged a scratch team of students to a game of soccer seven.

On the far right is Brother Nestor who officiated at the match. Standing from the left are
Br ?, Br Vincent, Br Claude, Br Aloysius, ?, Surjenko, Rosario, and Karnal. Kneeling are
Br?, Br Andrew, Br Conrad, Chunehan, Kwan, and Bikul.

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At the pool, the school’s Irish student Francis Phillips held the all-schools record for one
length free style. At track, old boy Dimitry Tomashevsky was North China’s 100 yards
champ, while Butch Mesheriakoff had the 440 yards sown up.

On Sports Day 1933 Emile Prosperi breaks the tape in the 440 yards. Ten years later,
boys line up for the 100 yards dash. Sievka Orlow is on the far right Bikul in the centre.

As for true French schools, there were two of them, École


municipale française, run by the Marist Brothers, out at
Hsi Kai on the concession’s western perimeter, and École
française on rue du Consulat which operated under the
auspices of the French Municipal Council. It so happened
that the latter gave me cause for sadness. My good pal
Dicky Dyott was removed by his parents from the British
school he and I attended and placed in that school. He
told me he was sorry we had to split, but I knew his new
school held advantages for him. He had a fascination for
engines, steam engines, ships’engines, car engines. At
lunch break he would slip around the corner to Garage
Central where he was allowed to watch Renaults being
serviced.

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St Joseph’s High School on rue Sabouraud, originally run by the Sisters of Mercy, was
taken over in 1915 by the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary. As with St Louis College, its
curriculum prepared girls for Cambridge University Overseas School Certificate Exami-
nations.

I suppose, because they were only rarely seen in public, St Joseph’s boarders were said
to be Tientsin’s loveliest girls. And that partly went for the day scholars as well, for they
too were seldom seen. Even for the week each year in early December when the Cam-
bridge Overseas exams were held at the assembly hall of Tientsin Grammar School, the
St Joseph’s candidates were closely escorted into the school by a cluster of nuns some
of whom acted officially as invigilators and unofficially as protector of morals, guard-
ing against untoward communication with their charges. But the walling off of the St
Joseph’s girls was not total. We knew of two day scholars, Constance and Joan Gherardie,
Americans, lovely to look at, for sure. They had joined our mother’s church choir and
came to our home for rehearsals. It took the greatest willpower to refrain from stealing
glances at them during the repeated renditions of Tantum Ergo and Ave Verum.

There was never the chance for conversation either at our place or up in the choir loft at
church. Good thing too, for my heart would have stopped had one of them addressed me.
But the time came when for several weeks running I was repeatedly addressed by a Gh-
erardie, and having to reply looking her straight in the face. But it was neither Constance
nor Joan, it was their mother (also Constance).

Tientsin Amateur Dramatic Club had received permission to perform Broadway’s smash
hit Life With Father. At the audition, Mrs Constance Gherardie was selected to play the
part of Vinnie, and I the part of her eldest son, Clarence. The performance was to be put
on at Cercle Français on rue de France in the French Concession.

On opening night, just before the curtain parted, Mrs Gherardie stole a look at the audi-
ence, then immediately turned away, bursting into tears. Stage fright? I too felt compelled
to steal a look, and there in the front row, not four feet away, gazing right at me, were
those two lovelies, Constance and Joan. How I panicked!

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The gracious consent given by the Directors of Cercle Français to Tientsin Amateur Dra-
matic Club to perform Life With Father was no isolated event. Year after year, TADC had
been allowed put on plays at that same fine facility. In 1939, they performed Children to
Bless You, a comedy by Sheila Donisthorpe. A photo of the cast is shown below. Though
they were amateurs, and remained so, one or two of the Club’s performers rose to profes-
sional ranks. One of them, Freda Fairchild, sister of Nancy (in the photo with the wire
haired terrier), was concurrently starring in C.B.Cochrane’s Revue at London’s West End.

Yes, Tientsin’s British residents owed much to Cercle Français. And not only for the fine
stage facilities, but also for many a charity ball, soirée, and tombola night.

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The rotating British garrison was also much indebted to the French. Whether it be the
Loyals, East Yorks, Royal Scots, Argyles, Border Regiment, Queens, Worcesters, or Lan-
cashire Fusiliers, their Sunday church parades (Anglican) were celebrated with pomp and
ceremony with full band and drums leading the formal march from their barracks on York
Road down to Meadows Road, Victoria Road, and the Gordon Hall. But not so, the regi-
ments’ Roman Catholics. They marched the short distance to the Convent Chapel in the
Sisters of Mercy hospital complex on rue St Louis in the French Concession. On regular
Sundays it was parade in, hear low mass, parade out. In the photos below the occasion is
rather more special. The photo on the left shows Lancashire Fusiliers acting as guard of
honour to the Bishop of Tientsin as he enters the convent chapel. The one on the right is
of his Most Reverend officiating at high mass following which he is to anoint several of
the fusiliers with oil, confirming them into the Catholic faith.

We should not end without mentioning the special connection that the Tientsin-born hero
Eric Liddell had with the French Concession. After winning his Gold Medal at the 1924
Olympics in Paris, he decided to dedicate his life to mission work. On receiving his sci-
ence degree at Edinburgh University, he took up the appointment of Science Master at the
mission run Tientsin Anglo Chinese College (shown below) situated at 84 rue de Takou
where he gave of his full for the next 12 years, a period that spanned more than a quarter
of his short life.

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