“In Shanghai, we lived at Number One, The Bund, in a penthouse on top of the Asiatic Petroleum Building.”
Diana leaned forward in her armchair. A widow now in her nineties, she was recalling the year when she was eighteen.
“It was the summer of 1937. The Japanese once again had infiltrated northern China in their pursuit of conquest. Chiang Kai-shek, the Chinese leader, chose to fight and take a stand against them. Shanghai was the battleground.”
August 1937. Well into a year of the Fire Ox in Chinese astrology, “a year of conflict and one in which there is no hope of success without a sustained, mindful effort.” It was the year Babes in Arms was Broadway’s biggest hit musical and The Life of Emile Zola won the Academy Award. August was the month that the German Ministry of Education ordered that all Germans who knew a second language must register with the government. It was also the month when a concentration camp was established at Buchenwald. The Duke and Duchess of Windsor put in an appearance at the Salzburg Festival and spent time entertaining Woolworth heiress Barbara Hutton and her then-husband, Count Haugwitz-Reventlow. Lou Gehrig was in his prime, Edith Wharton died, and the Spanish Civil War was in full swing.
Diana, now known to her neighbors in Bryn Mawr on Philadelphia’s Main Line as Mrs. Manuel Angulo, is a lady who still enjoys tennis and a great deal of international travel. Her childhood, however, was far more exotic than those of her neighbors. She was taken to China as an infant in 1919 when her father, Captain Charles T. Hutchins, Jr. was appointed US Naval Attaché. She grew up in Peking and later in Shanghai, where her father had become commander of the US flagship Pittsburgh. Her mother, the former Eileen Anglin, who had been presented in London to Queen Alexandra, was the daughter of the Canadian speaker of the house. The family’s life in China had been insulated, luxurious.
“Mother and I were sitting in the drawing room, attempting to enjoy a cup of tea and delicious little scones, one of our cook’s specialties,” she continued. “The flat was beautifully cool and in total summer mode: rugs and curtains in storage, straw mats on the floors, sofas and chairs slipcovered in floral patterns, and fans humming overhead. We had two little dogs–Kobe and Bebe, Japanese Spaniels–and they were there with us.
“I remember it so vividly. Mother was wearing a silk-printed dress, a Bianchini. I was in white piqué, full-skirted, with a wide red leather belt and sandals.
“It was August 14 and that day was later to be known as ‘Bloody Saturday.’ I glanced at my watch and it was almost 4:30. The little dogs were curiously fretting and restless; somehow out of character. There was a deafening explosion and I was thrown off the sofa.
“Silence. Then the screams from the Bund started.
“The servants came to us–terrified. Then there was another tremendous explosion. I thought that the Japanese had blown up the water works on the river.
“Curiously our telephone was still working and news began to filter in. In a colossal mistake, four Chinese Air Force planes, attempting to bomb the Japanese flagship Idzumo at anchor, failed, and had unleashed two bombs a few blocks from where we lived.
“But this was only the beginning.
“Similarly, these Chinese planes dropped two more bombs about twenty minutes later in the French concession, which was also a few blocks from us.
“Then the actual Japanese attack started.
“We were in shock. No one was adequately prepared. As foreigners, we had never expected an attack on our settlements. And the injuries and carnage were devastating.
“It was surreal. In less than twelve hours our world tumbled as a house of cards. We were witnesses to the presage of World War II and the downfall of colonial might.”
In 1919, when Diana had first arrived in China, this same colonial might was still very much a force with which to be reckoned, a fact of life. Her simplest childhood recollections of growing up in a well-connected expatriate American Naval family evoke the best of Somerset Maugham’s novels and short stories. Society in the community she knew, with its constantly changing international cast of visiting dignitaries, scholars, adventurers, and other kinds of nomads and wanderers, had a glamour all its own.
“I remember two special playmates vividly because their mother was a cousin of mine. George Andrews, who was more or less my age, and Kevin, his younger brother. Their father, Roy Chapman Andrews, was a celebrated archeologist, and very much involved with the Gobi Desert. In those days, he was a celebrity in the international society of Yokohama, Tokyo, Port Said, Peking, and Shanghai. Yvette, Roy’s wife, our cousin, was their mother and to me, in my young days, she was one of the most beautiful, most glamorous women that I had ever seen. She was thin, with thick, dancing brown bobbed hair. She was a Chanel lady before Chanel really came in.
“Roy Chapman Andrews was the role model for Indiana Jones. Curious, isn’t it, how the years link up in unexpected ways?”
Today, looking out at the well-planted terrace of her apartment outside Philadelphia, Diana paints a sensual picture of the landscape she knew.
“The willow trees in Peking were wonderful. They were one of the first trees to blossom, as they are here. And the white pines were famous.
“But the oleanders! The one scent that takes me back to the Peking of those days is oleander. We had a courtyard rather than a formal garden and it was filled with oleanders. And lilacs. Lilacs were very much a part of the look of our house in the spring. The old, very deep purple Persian lilac trees. And there were pomegranate trees and I remember in the borders outside the house we had nasturtiums in the spring.”
Speaking now, Diana assumes an almost scholarly expression. She raises her hand and gestures in the manner of a professor making a point.
“One must remember of course that, apart from Persia, China was really the absolute garden of the world. So much of what we take for granted today, here in America, came from China.
“I remember tiger lilies. They were glorious, bright orange with black spots. I loved them. And I loved the brilliant blue morning glories that climbed up the side of the Great Wall where we picnicked.
“Our house was always filled with an abundance of flowers and plants. There would be goldfish bowls in the garden, bowls sitting on stools. When you went away, you had a goldfish tender who came just to take care of your goldfish.”
A mention of holidays prompts further enthusiasms.
“Christmas in Peking was heaven!
“There always seemed to be snow, and it was very cold. And all those lovely houses. There were innumerable parties for children. With pantomimes. The British are great for pantomimes and in those days everything was geared toward the children at Christmas.
“I remember the British ambassador and his wife, Sir John and Lady McCleagh, gave a special party for children. We arrived–our nannies had dressed us very nicely–and we looked out at the courtyard into a garden covered with snow. It was teatime and the light was slowly fading. Then, through the living room and dining room, we could hear the faint sound of tinkling bells–the bells of the camel caravans. With coats and boots put back on, we were shepherded to the snow-covered garden as a camel approached with Santa astride. His camel bags were filled with presents.
“I always believed in Santa Claus but I believed he traveled on a camel.”
Returning to the topic of her family’s social circle, Diana recalls “an international potpourri, several close Chinese friends, daughters of diplomats and bankers. We always had the good fortune to have Chinese friends who remained friends. And who mingled with us. We were very fortunate in always being integrated with Chinese friends, and I want to stress that because when you read books about China in that period this kind of friendship is never mentioned.”
And other holidays?
“We foreigners, my family and their friends, rented temples in the hills. To put it in today’s vernacular, that was the equivalent of having a weekend house or country getaway.
“With the fall of the Empire, when the dowager empress died, the temples and monasteries were filled with eunuchs who came from the court. These eunuchs had been very much in control of the court, and the temples had been built in the fifteenth and sixteenth century for the eunuchs to enjoy in their retirement. One was even called ‘The Sanctuary for Distressed Eunuchs.’ Families like ours rented part of one of these temples and the ‘tea-money’ was given to the abbot. It was a charity in a way.
“To get there, you traveled by train up to a point, and then you traveled by pony or even sedan chair. You brought your own servants, nearly all your provisions and such. You brought your own bedding. And the army cots. Army cots were God’s gift to discomfort unless you knew how to sleep on them.
“The temples were always built with the concept of fitting into nature, so you had beautiful views.
“I also remember going to Pei-tai-ho for holidays. It was a wonderful place to go from Peking. (We’re speaking of the early 20s when I was between five and eight years old.) It took three or four days on the train–the train was called the Blue Express and was quite beautiful. But the one problem with going by train in those days was that you were really dependent on the moods of the bandits and the warlords. That’s rather important to remember. It was much akin to what we go through now.
“The bandits could be really quite horrifying. There were several very bad attacks when they took diplomats, missionaries, all kinds of people, off the train in their nighties or pajamas–whatever they were wearing at night–and took them off into the hills and held them for ransom.”
Local travel within China was not the only sort that the young Diana experienced. She was also lucky enough to experience some international journeys that included two major ocean voyages. She remembers it all with her indefatigable optimism and, as her face lights up in the re-telling, it’s easy to imagine the happy little girl she was then.
“When my father was transferred to official duties at Pearl Harbor, my first major trip was from Peking to Shanghai by train and then crossing the Pacific to Honolulu by ship.
“The journey by train was peaceful–no roving bandits or warlords to accost us. We spent a night or two in Shanghai’s then glamour-and-glitz hotel, the Astor House (Sir Victor Sassoon’s beauty, the Cathay Hotel, was not built until a few years later). Then we boarded our ship, the President Pierce of the Dollar Line–the ultimate in luxury and seaworthy comfort.
“Mother and I shared a reasonably deluxe state room with a steward and stewardess at our service. Wardrobe trunks, shoeboxes, hat boxes, dressing cases all fitted in our cabin. My father had his own stateroom. The skipper of the ship was a friend of his.
“Our first ports of call were Nagasaki and Kobe in Japan–picturesque and of a totally different culture than China. And from Japan we sailed on to Honolulu.
“I remember our arrival there, steaming into the bay, the ship’s band playing, the pilot boat alongside the ship slowly coaxing and guiding us dockside. Another band was playing on the dock. Friends and crowds gathered, waving to us and carrying the beautiful ginger and multi-flowered leis to present us. For a child it was a glorious, emotional experience.
“After two years in Honolulu, we again boarded a Dollar Line ship–the SS President Wilson–to set sail across the Pacific to Shanghai where my father would take command of the USS Pittsburgh, the flagship and Queen of the US Asiatic fleet. Steaming ahead at top speed, the crossing from the islands took about twenty-one days in 1929.
“As destiny would have it, the captain, Hank Wilson of the President Wilson, was an old friend of my father’s. As a result, I was given carte blanche to roam the ship and visit the sacrosanct captain’s bridge but only when accompanied by my father. That was no problem for I thought of my father as a friend, an affectionate and delightful companion despite an overlay of formality.
“The journey was a reasonably smooth sail and I found an assortment of playmates. One or two became my new best friends, others, with no sense of the light mischievousness I enjoyed, seemed boring. I expressed this quite vehemently to my mother and christened them ‘Puddings’–no doubt a throwback to some sinister desserts served to me in my nursery days. My mother was a bit cross with me. ‘Diana,’ she said, ‘that is not a kind remark. Your “puddings” may find you boring as well. Do remember that.’ I never did.
“As we arrived in Shanghai my father’s demeanor lightened up and there was a twinkle in his blue eyes. ‘Diana,’ he said, ‘an officer and two marines from my ship are meeting us to clear customs and immigration. Then we’ll be off and on our way to the Astor House. You’re being treated as a little princess. Lucky girl.’”
This arrival was in late spring of 1928 and there was far more turmoil in the city than would have been apparent to a nine-year-old girl. There had been a severe drought in much of the country, which resulted in widespread famine. Zhang Zuolin, the warlord president of the republic, was murdered by Japanese agents in early June.
Initially, however, life for the young Diana Hutchins was much the same as it had been. It was a little later on that she began to notice more clearly what was happening around her.
“It was as early as 1935 that the first refugees arrived. Shanghai was an open port and the city was kind to these people who had been forced out of their homelands. It welcomed the European Jews escaping Nazi persecution when none of the great democracies did. No visas or assurances of financial independence were needed.
“At that time, it was the tremendous wealth, expertise, and dedication of the great Iraqi Jewish families who dominated the city. The Sassoons, Kadoories, Hardoons, Ezras and Hayims–they were the financial empire builders of the Far East. The British–and all Shanghai Society–accepted financial advice and invitations from them with pleasure. And it was the generosity, energy and compassion of Sir Victor Sassoon, Lord Kadoorie, Ellis Hayim, and the others that were responsible for easing the plight of the refugees fleeing from Nazi Germany to Shanghai. It was the last open port to welcome these people. The largest Jewish community grew in Hongkew and it remained there until the communists arrived. It was really a ‘little Vienna,’ with cafes and shops, a Yiddish newspaper, and Yiddish plays.”
“And the war was getting closer and closer to us.
“My father died in Manila in December 1938. In February 1941, I married James Rockwell, known as “Rockie,” a Marine lieutenant, also from an old military family, whom I had met at a tea dance. We had returned to the United States but my mother remained in Shanghai. Things became more and more harrowing for her. And of course on December 7, 1941, the United States was attacked and the American ship on which she was to have left China never left. So she never got out. It was that simple.
“For the first months Rockie and I, living just outside of Baltimore, didn’t know anything. We did know that money was frozen, but we had no details about how my mother was. Shanghai was entirely under the control of the Japanese.
“We were in touch with people in the State Department and even the prime minister of Canada, McKenzie King, was involved at the behest of my aunt. But all communication was cut.
“As we later learned, all the Americans, British, and Canadians still in Shanghai, all the ‘enemies of the Japanese people,’ were interned for the first four to six months of 1942. The Japanese required that each wear an armband. Food and gasoline were practically impossible to come by.
“When we finally got the news that mother was in a camp, we were greatly relieved.
“As I understand from what she told me later, she had been in a large room, a dormitory. It was community living. All was quite primitive–the bath, where you dressed, everything. The food was certainly not luxurious, although there was a thriving black market. Since she was a much older woman, one of her duties was to watch the laundry lines because the women stole each other’s lingerie.
“Near the end of the war mother was repatriated. She was sent on a Japanese ship for three or four weeks with other internees and they went to Lourenco Marques, the capital of Mozambique, which is now called Maputo. Then she went aboard a Swedish ship and sailed to New York.
“When my mother left the camp she said goodbye to the Japanese major who was the commandant. He said, in his English, ‘Mrs. Hutchins, I think you’d better find me a job in the United States.’
“My mother told us it was less traumatic being in the camp than coming back here. In the camp she didn’t have to make any decisions, and she had never lived in the United States. It’s very hard to dislodge someone from the way of life they’ve always known.”
After the war, Diana, her husband, and their infant daughter, Alix, lived in various American cities and then, after Rockie had taken a position with an international oil company, in Venezuela–first in Caracas and then in “a quonset hut in La Salinas,” an oil camp outside of Maracaibo.
Quonset huts or not, Diana’s life continued to have a very strong element of glamour.
“I love parties,” she admits, not surprisingly. “And there was a beautiful one in Caracas when we were living there. It was after the war, about 1949, and it was a bal masque given during Carnival by the Portuguese minister and his wife, Carlos and Amelia Branquinho.
“I had a marvelous costume. The French ambassador’s wife had given me an Imperial Russian officer’s uniform–adapted, of course, for a lady. It had a black satin fitted jacket with brass buttons and trousers like jodhpurs. I wore my own riding boots which were surprisingly easy to dance in. And a lovely white Cossack-type fur hat. And gloves. And a mask.
“Rockie loved doing magic tricks and he went as a magician with a black velvet cape and a mask. He carried a crystal ball.
“Everybody in the diplomatic corps was there, even the president of Venezuela, Romulo Betancourt.”
The couple returned to the United States where Rockie joined General Electric and they lived first in Washington, then in Schenectady, and then in Philadelphia. Their daughter Alix married. Life was comfortable albeit less exotic. Alas, in April of 1965, Rockie died and his widow had to begin a new chapter for herself.
“It was a sad and lonely time,” recalls Diana. “Rockie had had a Spanish mother and was much more of a Latino than his waspy American name would imply. And I felt a little out of place alone and back in America. I went to stay with old Shanghai friends in Rome and then Paris and then London. But eventually I had to return to the United States and settled again in Philadelphia where Alix and I both had family connections.
“Curiously, about four years after I’d become a widow, I once again ran into a man, Manuel Angulo, who’d been a great friend of Rockie’s in Caracas. Manuel, or as I called him Manolo, was an American of Cuban heritage and a lawyer at the international firm of Curtis, Mallet-Prevost.
“To put it simply, we fell in love and were eventually married in New York in 1970.”
From that point, as the wife of an international lawyer, Diana’s life once again took on an international patina. The couple spent a lot of time in Paris, Rome, and Mexico City as well as traveling extensively for both business and pleasure. They were based in New York at a beautiful apartment on Gracie Square.
In 1996 Manuel Angulo died. Diana returned to the Philadelphia area to be close to her daughter, her grandchildren, and now, to her great-grandson, an infant boy named Kai whose mother is Japanese. Her life is comfortable, blessedly healthy, active, and enriched by extraordinary memories.
“You know, one of my favorite parties was in Shanghai, when I was the guest of honor. It was in celebration of my nineteenth birthday and given by the Italian navy aboard their flagship, the Bartolomeo Colleoni. An Italian duke, Duca Catalano de Gonzaga, was the commander. He was a terrific man, but we teased him and called him the Duke of Gorgonzola.
“We were probably fourteen people at dinner–a mixture of Italians, French, Americans, and a couple of British friends.
“The men wore their dress uniforms or black tie, I loved white and my dress was a lovely white chiffon draped dress, a copy of a Madame Grès. It was décolleté, not too décolleté, but décolleté in the style of the period, which has nothing to do with today’s décolleté.
“We had dinner in the admiral’s quarters and it was a meal I loved: tagliatelle verde, pheasant (you could get marvelous pheasant in China), lovely little potatoes, delicious bread. Then the salad was served, as it was always done, with cheese, as a separate course. And then you had dessert and since I happen to adore zabaglione, we had zabaglione. Then there was the toasting.
“We went to shore after dinner, to the Cathay Hotel for champagne and everybody danced.
“That was an evening I shall always remember. It is part of my heart.”