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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 , I assured readers that our grandfather, 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 athletic 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 yellowbrown 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 thunderous, dazzling fireworks that filled the sky with a million brilliant lights!


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, Shanhaikuan, Mukden, Harbin, and Manchuli where it connected with the Trans-Siberian Railway and Europe.


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 courageous paramilitary Peace Preservation Corps at Tientsin East Station, the Japanese advanced 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 Concessions. 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.


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 Concession, 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 cockatoos 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 exhibitions 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


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 Concession’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 walkways; 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 Commander 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. 5

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. 6

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. 7

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.


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 Examinations. 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 Cambridge 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, guarding 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 Gherardie, 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 audience, 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!


The gracious consent given by the Directors of Cercle Français to Tientsin Amateur Dramatic 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 professional 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.


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 Lancashire 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 regiments’ 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 science 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.