Interned as a child in World War II, Samara Thomson has perspective on our life in isolation

Samara Thomson has lived in Lapstone for 60 years. But as a child in Hong Kong she was held prisoner for almost four years in an internment camp after the British colony fell to the Japanese in 1941.

Mrs Thomson, 83, contacted the Gazette after thinking her childhood experience could provide perspective for children - and adults - living in temporary isolation and lockdown today. "I have watched the changed conditions and the behaviour of some people and thought that some need to be aware that life today is the best it can be, compared to others in the world," she said.

In 2017, Mrs Thomson gave an Anzac Day address to western Sydney primary school children. The following is an edited excerpt of her talk:

"I was only little in 1941, and just like you, I lived with my Mum and Dad in a nice home with a housekeeper and a cook and even a nanny to look after me and my brother. They were called amahs. I had just started going to school.

"I was happy and thought my life would always be the same, but one day it all changed and my homeland was attacked. Suddenly there were planes flying above our houses and bombs dropping over Hong Kong. The enemy captured the colony and I was taken with all the other British and European people in Hong Kong and put into a prison camp; a place that had barbed wire to keep us from escaping. Girls and boys, all those hundreds of people like my family, were held captive for four years...

"I don't expect you to be able to imagine what war can take away from you because it is unimaginable. It took away my home and everything my family owned. It separated my extended family; like my aunties and uncles, cousins and grandparents...

"In the camp we were given very little food; mainly rice and only sometimes a few pieces of protein; meat of some kind. People tried to grow sweet potatoes and tomatoes in the hard soil... [There was ] no electricity; no running water. No television; no toothpaste. Can you imagine cleaning your teeth with charcoal? But it was better than nothing. Oh yes - and no toilet paper. I'll leave that to your imagination. No toys. No birthday presents except what were made from bits of wood and scraps of material

"One Christmas my Mum made me a doll. With the help of some friends, she had scrounged around and found scraps of material and thread. Dorothy has been with me ever since [the doll is now part of a museum in Hong Kong]...

"I have to tell you though; that although it was a terrible time, especially for the grown-ups, because they didn't know what would happen or if we would survive; children adjust quickly to conditions and we made our own fun. We got into mischief and a lot of trouble, but we made our own games, and like the grownups, we put on concerts to amuse and entertain them and ourselves.

"You will probably think it great that I didn't have to go to school, but after four years it gets boring and when I finally came to Australia, I had a lot of catching up to do. I would come last in my exams and I hated that. When I started school in Deniliquin, a little country town in New South Wales I was 10-years-old and was so lucky to have a wonderful teacher who understood how I wanted to learn and be accepted; and the first thing he made me do when I was put into his class, was to ask me to stand up in front of the other children and tell them my story.

"Believe me, I was a lot more nervous than I am today and I was almost sick with fear, but it was the turning point because like you today, they listened."

Mrs Thomson said to "take care of each other and what you have ... we are the luckiest country". And she added "it's an amazing time in history, we've all got to get through this together".