A cold day in Shanghai

“It was December 7th for you, December 8th for us,” Virginia McCutcheon says of the day war broke out in the Pacific in 1941. The following is an excerpt from interviews with filmmaker P.H. Wells in June, 2012. 

VM: The Japanese cruisers and navy were all around Shanghai, and they started to shoot the guns up. We all ran onto the rooftops of every house to watch them because we thought, my God, what’s happening?

Virginia McCutcheon recalls the taking of Shanghai. Photo by PH Wells © 2012 First Straw Films
Virginia McCutcheon recalls the taking of Shanghai.
Photo by PH Wells © 2012 First Straw Films

It suddenly came over all the radios that America, that Pearl Harbor had been bombed. You know, all the navy, the British and American navy ships, were all in the harbor. They sank one of the British ships right on the Bund there. And we watched the whole thing.

PHW: So what was life like from then on?

VM: We were all pretty confident that, oh, this was just going to be one of these [incidents], you know, they’re not going to do anything to us way out here in China. And then we saw all this stuff going on, and they were battling the Chinese who were trying to stop them from coming into the city. And suddenly, before we knew it, there were the Japanese guards pouring over the bridges, saying, “Get away!” It was all such a shock. We didn’t know what was happening. So they all took over command on all the bridges, and took control of Shanghai.

PHW: Did you feel you were personally in danger?

VM: The shells were going over my house, you know, and some shrapnel came flying into one of the rooms I was sitting in, right into the wall, a big piece of hot shrapnel came through the window. And they were just firing into Shanghai, gradually trying to break in. And we were trying to stop them, of course, but that was a losing battle. So then, then everything happened. The Japanese troops were roaring up and down the Bund and all the streets and getting drunk, and shouting and laughing and holding bottles of beer in their hand. “We’ve won,” you know. “We’ve taken Shanghai.”


© 2012 First Straw Films

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