China Books

Henry F. Pringle's "Bridge House Survivor"


Henry F. Pringle, imprisoned by Japanese forces from October 1942 to August 1945, wrote Bridge House Survivor, an account of prison life under the Japanese, available and published by Earnshaw Books.

Pringle (1902-1987) was born in China of British parentage in 1902. Pringle's first language was Chinese, but he left for England at the age of 16.

He returned to China in December 1922 and worked in the British and American Tobacco Company, and finally the Shanghai Telephone Company, where he remained for over 22 years.

The book is prefaced by Pringle's daughter, F. Eileen Gray. In the Preface she says:

Notwithstanding his rehabilitation over the years, tragically, even in the last few weeks of his life, his experiences under the Japanese Kempeitai were to return to him with all their horror. My father was hospitalised once again during this time. One morning a call was placed by the medical staff on his ward to the school where I was teaching, asking me to please come immediately as my father was in deep distress and was calling for me. As I emerged from the elevator I heard his distraught voice screaming my name. When I entered the ward I found him with the sides of his bed up, his legs through the bars, shaking them frantically and calling out that the Japanese had imprisioned him again. Earlier that morning he had woken from a deep sleep, found himself in that same situation and had thrown himself over the side onto the floor, opening up his forehead. All I could do at the time, after my initial shock, was to hold and comfort him, assuring him that he was safe, that I was there and that no one could harm him any more. Those memories have never left me.

Below is an extract from Chapter III, which centers on how he was tortured for a confession that his company was involved in a "spy ring". At this point Pringle has already been taken from his office at the Shanghai Telephone Company to Bridge House prison. For other reading on Bridge House prison in Shanghai, see this Time article, Insufficient Evidence, from 1948.

Bridge House Survivor; excerpt, Chapter III: The Torturers

by Henry F. Pringle

I went to "bed" at the usual time on the night of Tuesday, October 15th, and had been
asleep a couple of hours when I felt something jabbing me in the back and woke up and saw a Japanese in civilian clothes standing outside the cell, poking me with a long piece
of bamboo and telling me to get up and come. I realized that this was "IT." They had not taken my glasses from me when I was put inside and I took the precaution of leaving these behind when I left the cell. They took me into the same Office that I had come into
at the time of my arrest and then up some stairs where there was a sort of mezzanine floor. There were cubicles all along one side and I was taken into one of these. Seated therein were seven men, all very brutal in appearance.

One of them in good English said, "Good evening Mr. Tim. Come inside and sit down. Would you like a cigarette?" and needless to say, I took one.

They offered me coffee and sandwiches, all of which I very gratefully accepted as I was very hungry despite my fear. Then the English speaking one said, "Mr. Tim, we have a few questions to ask you which we hope you will be perfectly frank in answering. We do not want to have any trouble with you and if you answer frankly, you will soon be released from this not very pleasant place, but if you are not frank with us, I am afraid that you will suffer."

I replied that as I had nothing to conceal, I was quite prepared to be perfectly frank and honest with them. They all smiled and said this was very good and that they were glad.

They produced a few scraps of paper which had been found in my desk and asked me the meaning of what was written thereon. I evidently answered to their satisfaction, as they threw the papers aside. Then they produced a map which I had had in my desk in the Office and asked me why I had the map there. I explained to them that back in 1934 right up to 1940, I had been very fond of walking in the country and had used this map during my walks. They noticed that I had put some red and blue ink marks on the map and asked me the meaning of this. My explanation to this was that they represented the Shanghai-Hangchow motor highway and that I had put those marks on when the highway was first built as I often used to motor to Hangchow. This answer also appeared to satisfy them.

The next thing they produced was a file in which there were a number of statements of accounts for the Japanese Gendarmerie, Naval and Army authorities. These were dated 1938 and represented unpaid accounts for a certain period after the conclusion of the Sino-Japanese hostilities in the Shanghai area. I explained this to them very carefully when one of them banged the desk and yelled out, "Lie!" He shouted out something in Japanese and the interpreter told me that the gentleman said that I had kept this file in my desk for the purpose of keeping a record of all official Japanese lines and that I had used this for the purpose of listening in to secret conversations. I laughed at this, as it really was ridiculous and told them quite truthfully that I only knew about ten words of Japanese and therefore how could I have listened to their conversation. The man who had shouted first then thundered out something else in Japanese at considerable length. The interpreter said that it was well known that a strong spy organization had been set up within the Telephone Company. He proceeded to reel off names saying that so and so was the Head, so and so was the Technical Man, so and so was the Russian Liaison, so and so (Koreans) were listeners in, so and so was the Chinese who obtained information from outside and that I was the second in command who arranged for all information to be
passed to the Soviet authorities.

Needless to say, I was dumb-founded at these misstatements. The whole thing was a tissue of lies and I told them so. The interpreter who informed me that his name was Jimmy then said that Mr. Jackie (pointing to the man in charge of the investigation) said that as I had asked for trouble and would not be frank, they would have to take it out of my body. To say that I was not frightened would be absolutely untrue. Frankly, I was absolutely terror-stricken and vividly recalled the shrieks of agony which I heard every night. I kept saying over and over again to them, "You are absolutely mistaken. I know nothing about these accusations and ask you to produce the person who has laid this false information against me." They ignored me completely.

All of them rose and walked out of the room with the exception of Jimmy. He, speaking very quietly told me that I could avoid all trouble by readily admitting my guilt, and that the worst that would happen to me was that of being sentenced to a few years in gaol. I replied that I could not admit to anything that was so patently false and that to do so would involve other also innocent people. For twenty minutes he tried to persuade me to confess, but I continued to deny everything. He then shrugged his shoulders and said that he could do no more to help me, and that I had to take the consequence. He told me to follow him downstairs.

When I got downstairs in the Office, I saw that they had prepared two benches side by side and were getting out ropes and various other pinioning paraphernalia. One man was testing out an electric shocking device. I was ordered to sit down at a desk and when I had done so, they placed a piece of paper and a pencil in front of me and told me that I had ten minutes to write a farewell letter to my wife, as I was going to die. My reply was, "If you murder me tonight, it is your responsibility and not mine to notify my wife."

One of them struck me savagely across the face for this, but they left the paper and pencil in front of me and started in counting off the minutes. "Nine minutes—eight—seven—six—five—four—three—two—one. It is too late. You have had your chance. Now get ready to die."

They told me to lie down on the benches but before doing so, I knelt for a moment and commended my spirit and prayed for strength. They stood by in utter silence, while I was doing this. I laid down on the bench and they proceeded to strap me down, then pulled down my trousers and bared my whole body. Then they asked me if I would speak and I replied that I had nothing to say. One of them clapped a towel over my eyes and held my head down, whilst another sprayed water over my body. Once more, they asked me to speak and I shook my head. The next thing I remember was a searing shock passing through my body as they applied an electrode to my navel and then commenced passing the other electrode over my breast, lips, throat, eyes and ears.

The agony was terrible and I shrieked with pain. My convulsions caused the benches to overturn and I was writhing on the floor still tangled up with the ropes. They quickly untied me and set up the benches again and ordered me to lie down a second time. I refused to do so and with that, five of them sprang at me and knocked me over and then lifted my body on to the benches, this time putting handcuffs around my ankles and using another two pairs, clamped these ankle cuffs down to the legs of the benches. I was then roped down so that I could not move a muscle. After these operations, they continued with the electrical torture.

They laid the electrodes on the tenderest parts of my body and I thought that I was going mad. I repeatedly tried to bash my head against the bench, but I could not knock myself out. Fortunately, I passed out, but was revived with hot coffee. They came at me again with the electrodes, but this time I had taken a firm grip of myself and was able to take it without screaming. They stopped with the electricity, but I was unable to see what they were up to next. I heard water being poured out and it flashed through my mind that I was going to get the water treatment. Suddenly, I felt one of them sit down on my stomach, and a wet towel was placed across my mouth and nose and then I felt the water being poured on it. I thrashed about, trying to dodge the stream of water but then feeling my lungs almost bursting, I began to gulp. I did not know how much water they poured into me. Every now and then, the swine who was sitting on my stomach, jumped up and down. This forced all the water up into my mouth, but being unable to expel it, I had to swallow my own vomit. Again I passed out. When I came to, the interpreter Jimmy began to shriek, "Speak, you bastard, speak!" and I gasped out, "I have nothing to say."

I felt a terrible burning sensation on one of my feet and later discovered that they had burnt my foot with cigarette butts. Then they continued the water treatment and alternated it with the electrical treatment. This went on for a total of six awful, horrible hours.

I do not remember being released, but was told later that I was brought back into the cell at half past eight in the morning. They had started their torture at two in the morning! I was thrown into the cell and as soon as the guards were gone, dear old Ali, dragged my unconscious body into a corner, and wrapped me in a blanket. For two days, I was not aware of much that was going around me. One thing I remember clearly and that was
having hallucinations. I imagined that I saw my wife, my brother and my mother looking at me through the windows and shaking their heads in sorrow. It was so vivid that I asked Ali why they were watching me. He recognized the first signs of insanity and lifting me to my feet, he slapped me across the face and said, "Don't give in, you bastard, pull yourself together." He then proceeded to walk me around and around the cell.

Night-time was horrible. The silence punctuated at times by screams made the night endless. After forty-eight hours, I began to become more myself. I found that my wrists had been gashed open by the ropes, and my left wrist was already festering. A lump had formed under my arm and I had visions of blood poisoning. A Japanese nurse passing by the cell on her way to look at a dying prisoner in another cell saw my wrists and pitied my horrible condition. She expressed concern and told me that she would return later with some medicines. She was as good as her word and her ministrations no doubt saved my arm, if not, my life. Several times during the course of the next few days, my inquisitors came to look at me and asked me how my body was. Ali had warned me never to say that you are feeling all right, always say, "I am very sick." you might get away with something that way. They left me alone for ten days, but during this period another tragedy was being enacted, Poor old Podolsky was dying.

There are currently 3 Comments for Henry F. Pringle's "Bridge House Survivor".

Comments on Henry F. Pringle's "Bridge House Survivor"


...and a wet towel was placed across my mouth and nose and then I felt the water being poured on it.

Waterboarding anyone? Back than it was at least called torture...

Oh boy that is horrific story. Seems this guy experienced enhanced interrogation tactics! Well, I bet Henry realised later that all the officials had their reasons to use these methods to protect their country. I won't blame them at all, after all, they were just following orders.

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