This book is dedicated to
my business partner (Dolly) Fu Yuan who still oscillates between Australia and
Also to all my Chinese
I would like to thank Marilyn Higgins, Clive Dalkins and
all the people at Zeus Publications for their friendly, helpful and competent
work resulting in the publication of this book. I would also like to thank my
editor Gail for her excellent structural editing and Julie Winzar for her fine
editing and formatting. I am also grateful to my family for their support.
The pervasive stench of human excrement assailed the
nostrils of the two men creeping through the wooded area of broad-leafed trees
and wind-tossed willows and scrub, towards the distant settlement backed by low
hills. By now, they were about three miles west of the Yangtze River, in
Zongyang County. Through the trees they glimpsed the waters of Lake Zhusi to the
south. Large high-stepping cranes and smaller water birds ambled around the
edges of the lake. The mountains cradling the town of Tongling loomed large and
hazy behind them.
Commander Daniel Stafford looked back at his
companion, Lee Drake. He nodded at him and continued edging forward, both men
crouching below the level of the scrubby undergrowth. On the plains to their
left were rice paddies and ahead was a large open field. They could make out the
large bulbs of the poppy seed pods in rows extending to the dun-coloured houses
and sheds on the far side of the field. No Chinese red-tiled roofs. Just very
plain buildings bathed in sunshine.
It was late morning on this early June day in 1946,
and the temperature was rising sharply as midday approached. Sweat was running
down Stafford’s back inside his shirt. He realised it would be like a cauldron
exposed to the sun when they crawled through the poppy field, but he could see
no other way of getting closer to the settlement. He noticed people moving
around near the sheds. As he studied them through his binoculars, Stafford
discerned that not all of them were Chinese. Three were obviously white men.
English, American or both? he wondered, unable to distinguish their features at
this distance. Putting down his binoculars, he looked around. Except for the
buzzing of insects, it was extremely quiet here, unlike the previous night.
They had sailed up the Yangtze River from Nanjing
through the night on a converted motorised junk, miraculously avoiding the
occasional sandbanks in the river. Their progress was accompanied by the crackle
of rifle fire on both sides of the river. Bandits, Kuomintang government troops
and Communist forces all shooting at one another in the dark. Except for
sporadic bursts, the shooting had died away at daybreak when they disembarked
from the vessel on the western bank of the river. The vessel was owned and
skippered by an American experienced in navigating the river, who had somehow
survived the Japanese occupation.
Stafford had an athletic build, was of medium height
and his bright blue eyes and tanned face were topped by straight, light brown
hair. He was an operative of MI6, which had sent him into Shanghai after the
surrender of the Japanese to attempt to track down a suspected conspiracy
smuggling opium out of China into the USA, Australia and the Philippines.
His colleague, Lee Drake, was also with MI6. While
his father had been British, his mother was Chinese, and so during the Japanese
occupation, he had been able to pass as a local, living in the old Chinese city
west of the Bund in Shanghai. Through various channels, he had transmitted
information on the situation in China through to London during the war without
being detected by the enemy, although he had had a number of narrow escapes. He
was thin and wiry, possessing more strength than his appearance suggested.
‘I need to get a closer look,’ Stafford muttered,
looking at Drake. ‘There’s no other alternative. I’ll have to crawl through that
damned poppy field. You feel like following me?’
Drake nodded. ‘You’ll need someone to watch your
‘Okay. So be it then. Let’s go, Lee.’ The two of them
set off on all fours into the poppy field. The sun beat down on their backs from
a cloudless sky, the foliage of the poppy plants providing little shade. Halfway
across the field, Stafford realised that if anyone was alert in the settlement
ahead, they might detect their presence via the small clouds of insects rising
out of the crops ahead of them, continually signalling their progress. Expecting
to hear a shout of alarm at any moment, Stafford was painfully aware that he and
Drake had decided to travel light and were only armed with pistols for this
A hundred yards from the small settlement and with
the sun still slightly behind them, Stafford figured there was no chance of a
light reflection from the binoculars, so he slowly brought them up to his eyes
and peered cautiously over the top of some poppy bushes. Probably, on account of
the heat, there were fewer people than previously moving around outside the
buildings. He focused on one individual, a tall, heavily built man with a ginger
beard and wearing a broad-brimmed hat, stressing something to a shorter Chinese
man who was nodding vigorously. The ginger-haired man could be heard faintly,
speaking in a sort of pidgin English, but with a marked cockney accent. Aha,
thought Stafford, I know where you’re from.
He looked back and shrugged at Drake, who was just
behind him. He wasn’t sure how he was going to get a look into these buildings
without being detected. If they stayed where they were, they would be cooked by
the blazing sun. Making up his mind that he would have to return to take a look
at the sheds in the dark, he signalled to Drake to crawl back the way they had
come. Drake nodded and set off back in the lead, crawling towards the trees at
the eastern end of the poppy field.
If anything, the crawl back was worse. The sun was
hotter, the insects seemed more numerous, sweat stung Stafford’s eyes, and his
knees were bleeding as he tried to keep as silent as possible.
Suddenly, he heard a shout behind them and the sound
of heavy boots running towards them. Looking back, he saw several men running
about 200 yards behind him. He yelled at Drake and they both leapt to their feet
and ran as fast as they could away from the pursuers.
Three shots rang out and he sensed a bullet passing
close to his head. Within 50 yards of the tree line, a bullet struck him in the
shoulder, making him stagger. Drake looked back, but Stafford shouted at him,
‘Don’t wait for me! Get away, for God’s sake.’
Drake took off and disappeared into the woods.
However, just before Stafford reached the tree line, another bullet crashed into
his back. He fell headlong onto his face, blood flowing out of his nose. ‘Bloody
hell!’ he cried just before blacking out.
* * * *
It was a balmy June afternoon in Darwin with
cloudless skies and fresh onshore breezes when the Avro Lancastrian from Dili
touched down at the airport northeast of the city. Two jeeps drove up close to
the aircraft as soon as it arrived at the terminal and two men and two women got
out. There was a cheer from the small group standing next to the vehicles as
newlyweds, Jack ‘Jacko’ and Monique O’Brien, emerged from the aircraft.
Sarah, Jacko’s half-sister, and their friends, Jamie
and Carna Munro, hugged them enthusiastically, while their radio operator and
general factotum, Garry ‘Sparky’ Speck, climbed into the aircraft in search of
‘You back. You back bikpela brother!’ cried Sarah
‘Great to see you, Sar. How are your school lessons?’
‘Aye yu, lessons good. Spik proper Ingliss now,’ she
said, then carefully asked, ‘How are you, Jacko?’
‘I’m very well, thank you,’ he replied. ‘How are you,
‘I’m very well, thank you,’ she said with careful
concentration, followed by a shriek of laughter.
‘How was the honeymoon?’ asked Jamie.
‘You shouldn’t ask such personal questions,’ scolded
Carna, winking at Monique and adding, ‘You both look well. Is Dili a nice place
to have a holiday?’
‘Yes, beautiful, but like everywhere else, still with
ruins from the war,’ replied Monique. ‘Even the lovely beaches had shipwrecks
everywhere. But we didn’t really care.’
‘I didn’t notice,’ said Jacko, winking at Jamie. ‘I
only had eyes for my lovely wife.’
Monique blushed. ‘We stayed in a lovely old
Portuguese hotel close to the beach. It was like nowhere I’ve seen before.’
‘I hope you were able to keep all the criminals under
control while I was out of town, Cap,’ Jacko said to Jamie.
‘It was hard, Jacko, but we managed,’ Jamie laughed.
Jamie and Jacko had met on the battlefield during the
Syrian campaign in the early part of the Second World War. When Jamie was
wounded, Jacko had carried him to a field hospital and later, they had worked
together in intelligence with Colonel John Cook of MI6, based in Cairo, exposing
and capturing German spies as well as successfully using false radio signals
designed to confuse Rommel’s Afrika Corps during the North Africa desert
campaign. Jacko, a well-educated half-Aboriginal of the Warramunga tribe in the
central Northern Territory, had been a non-commissioned officer during the war
and had a habit of referring to all officers as ‘Cap’. At the end of the desert
war, Jamie and Jacko had worked in intelligence together in the Pacific theatre.
Following the defeat of the Japanese, they had, with the cooperation of MI6, set
up in Darwin the northern Australia operations of the CIS, the Commonwealth
Investigations Service. Since then, they had been involved in eliminating the
operations of a number of gangs involved in criminal activities in the aftermath
of war. These operations had necessitated travel to the Philippines and Malaya
as well as to different parts of northern Australia. Jacko’s half-sister, Sarah,
a young Warramunga Aboriginal from Tennant Creek, had proved vital to some of
the operations because of her remarkable tracking and bushcraft skills. She and
Jacko were particularly close.
Jacko had originally met Monique, whose mother was
Syriac and her father French, in Cairo during the war in 1941. It was love at
first sight, but the two had not been able to start a real courtship until her
parents, the Rousseaus, had migrated from Egypt to Australia in early 1946.
After recovering all the baggage from the aeroplane,
Sparky drove one of the jeeps, with the three women happily chatting together.
Jamie and Jacko went in the other jeep with the bags.
‘I guess the girls will be pulling us to pieces in
the other jeep,’ said Jamie with a grin as he followed them towards the Darwin
Jacko nodded, chuckling. ‘As long as they put the
pieces back together again.’
‘I’ve had a message from Johnny Cook in London,’
Jamie told him. ‘It seems that MI6 has lost one of their operatives in China. He
wants us to go there.’
‘China!’ exclaimed Jacko. ‘Wow! Where in China?’
‘Johnny said it was somewhere west of Shanghai,’ said
Jamie. ‘A few hundred miles from Shanghai along the Yangtze River.’
‘Sounds mysterious,’ said Jacko. ‘Why would he want
to involve us?’
‘I’m not sure, but I’ll be talking to him on the
radio this evening,’ said Jamie. ‘We have a sched at 6 o’clock. I’m sure I’ll
get more details then.’
‘Okey dokey,’ said Jacko. ‘However, if we have to go
to China, it might not go over too well with Monique. She’s got visions of us
spending the next few weeks looking for a house.’
‘Yes, well, I’ll know more this evening,’ said Jamie.
‘Carna might not be too keen on me going to China either. Although the war has
ended, there are reports of full-scale battles between the Kuomintang
government, the communists and the many bandit gangs all over China. I don’t
know how true they are.’
‘Where there’s smoke, there’s fire, Cap.’
‘You’re probably right, Jacko.’
After Jacko and Monique had freshened up in their
room at the Hotel Darwin, they all met on the verandah of the hotel overlooking
the Esplanade and Darwin Harbour. The sun was setting in a blaze of colour
reflected off the calm waters of Darwin Harbour, stirred by a gentle breeze. By
the time Jacko had finished entertaining the others with amusing embellished
anecdotes of interesting moments in the Portuguese colony, Sparky announced that
it was 5.45 and he would warm up the radio for the schedule with Johnny Cook in
‘What is the time in London?’ asked Monique.
‘It’ll be 10 in the morning when it’s 6 o’clock
here,’ said Sparky, heading off to the room where the CIS radio was set up.
‘We’ll follow in a couple of minutes,’ Jamie said to
‘Monique, Sarah and I would love to come with you to
hear what Johnny Cook has to say and what is so interesting in China,’ said
Carna, giving Jamie a beguiling smile.
‘Okay, okay. But you’ll have to be quiet,’ said
‘You won’t even know we are there,’ replied Carna.
Sarah beamed at her.
When they had all gathered in the radio room, Sparky
twisted several dials on the large Hallicrafter radio before picking up the
microphone and starting to talk.
‘MI6 London. MI6 London. This is CIS Darwin. Come in.
After some static, a voice came through from the
other end. ‘CIS Darwin. This is MI6 London. Johnny Cook here. How are things
Down Under? Over.’
Sparky handed the microphone over to Jamie, who
replied, ‘Jamie Munro here, Johnny. Things are fine Down Under. You should come
here one day and learn to walk upside down for a while. Jacko, Monique, Carna
and Sarah are all here. What’s the news of China? Over.’
‘Hello all. Yes, China. As I mentioned before to you,
we have lost one of our operatives. His name is Daniel Stafford. We don’t know
whether he is alive or dead. We do know he was shot west of Tongling, a village
on the Yangtze River a few hundred miles from Shanghai. He was investigating a
large field of opium poppies three miles west of the river, and a small
settlement which we suspect is processing opium from the southern provinces,
Guangxi and Yunnan, as well as locally grown stuff. This is being smuggled by
boats along the Yangtze to some point near Shanghai and then shipped to the USA,
the Philippines and Australia. Over.’
‘How do you know where Stafford was shot?’ asked
‘He was with another MI6 agent, Lee Drake. He was
also shot at but managed to escape back to Shanghai. Drake’s a good man. He saw
Stafford fall. Over.’
‘Can’t the Chinese government do anything about it?’
‘We suspect the Kuomintang government, under Chiang
Kai-shek, is probably complicit in the smuggling operation,’ replied Johnny.
‘Chiang needs money for his constant battles against the CCP, the Chinese
Communist Party, and he probably gets a big kick-back from the opium sales.
Nobody can accuse the Chinese Nationalist government of being incorrupt. Over.’
‘Gonna be a bit difficult if the government’s behind
it,’ observed Jamie. ‘Over.’
‘I think it’s more like parts of the government
turning a blind eye,’ said Johnny. ‘We know the government has links with bandit
groups in the region. There are a number of foreigners involved in the opium
operation as well. Drake told us that one of them is English, Cockney. We’re
going to have to find out who else is involved and terminate it if we can.
‘Yeah. It looks like you’d have to destroy the
processing plant at that place on the Yangtze,’ said Jamie. ‘What’s the name of
the town again? Over.’
‘Yes. Tongling,’ Jamie said. ‘Then I guess if you can
round up the people who are operating the boats on the Yangtze River, you’ll
have it nailed. Over.’
‘Easier said than done,’ said Johnny. ‘But
essentially, you are correct. I’m going to need your help though. My MI6 agents
in this part of the world have their hands full with the desperate problems in
Europe as a result of the aftermath of war. Especially in eastern Europe. You
chaps are by far the best intelligence agents in the eastern hemisphere. Over.’
‘I thought the Royal Navy had gunboats on the Yangtze
River,’ said Jamie. ‘They could take care of the boats, couldn’t they? Over.’
‘That was before the war, Jamie,’ said Johnny. ‘We do
have some ships at the mouth of the Yangtze and in the Huang River, but they’re
only there to protect any British people and possessions. The US Navy has a few
ships in the Yangtze with Chinese government approval. It’s all a bit tense and
sensitive at the present time. China is now an independent country, although
it’s not always easy to know who’s in charge in the regions. Over.’
‘What would you like us to do?’ asked Jamie. ‘Over.’
‘I’d like to meet up with you and Jacko in Shanghai
in the next week. I haven’t worked out how to get you there yet,’ said Johnny.
‘The best way might be for you to fly to Manila first. Then, with the help of
our American friends, we can fly you to the Itazuke Air Base in southern Japan.
We could then have a small navy ship take you from there to Shanghai. I’ll have
to check it out and let you know. Over.’
‘What should we take to wear?’ asked Jamie. ‘Over.’
‘It’s summer and hot. Just summer gear and some long
trousers for wearing in the Shanghai hotel,’ replied Johnny. ‘Anything else?
‘The name of the Shanghai hotel? Over,’ said Jamie.
‘We’ll probably book you at the Astor House Hotel
north of the Bund. I’ll confirm later,’ said Johnny. ‘I’ll be calling your old
friend, Harry Williams of American intelligence, soon to arrange a flight for
you from Manila to Itazuke. That’s all for now. We’ll speak same time tomorrow.
Over and out.’
‘Over and out,’ repeated Jamie.
‘Astor House Hotel!’ exclaimed Jacko. ‘That sounds
‘Many of those buildings were built before the First
World War,’ said Jamie. ‘Having been involved in a recent war zone it might not
be too grand. But no matter.’
‘It sounds to me as if you’ll be leaving us girls
behind, no?’ commented Carna.
‘Reluctantly, yes,’ agreed Jamie. ‘The situation in
China is quite dangerous now, with government troops, communists and bandits in
a state of civil war.’
‘But not too dangerous for you?’ exclaimed Carna.
‘We... er... we’ll be careful,’ said Jamie.
‘We’ll move around like ghosts,’ said Jacko with a
broad smile. ‘The Chinese baddies won’t see us.’
‘Me come! Me come!’ cried Sarah.
‘You’d better stay here, Sar,’ said Jacko. ‘We’ll
call you if we need you.’
‘You need me, bikpela brother,’ said Sarah with tears
forming in her large eyes. ‘All way need me.’
‘I’ll find out, Sar,’ said Jacko with his arm around
her shoulder. ‘If we need you, we’ll call you. In the meantime, you should
continue with your schooling here in Darwin.’
With an angry look in her eyes, Sarah mumbled
something under her breath and glared at Jacko, her lower lip quivering.
‘If you are flying to Manila first, you can take
Carna and me and leave us there,’ said Monique. ‘My parents are there. Papa is
setting up a furniture factory in Cebu and a sales office in Manila. That’s if
Carna wants to join us, n’est-ce pas?’
‘Of course, I’d be very happy to join you,’ said
Carna happily. ‘You might need my Filipina skills and I’ll be closer to my Jamie
there while he chases after his baddies in China, no? But I don’t want to leave
Sarah here on her own. Is it ok if she comes with us to the Philippines and I’ll
take over her English lessons?’
‘Tank you, tank you, Car nah!’ cried Sarah. ‘You real
‘Okay. If that’s not a problem for you, Carna,’ said
‘No problem at all if you don’t mind, Jacko,’ said
Carna. ‘We’re all happy for Sarah to keep us company.’
‘She’ll be happy to be with you, Carna,’ said Jacko,
winking at Sarah.
‘Should be plenty of room on the aeroplane if MI6 is
organising it,’ said Jamie. ‘I hope you girls don’t take any risks in the
‘I know my former country better than that, you silly
man,’ Carna replied.
Jamie looked at the others and said, ‘I think we all
need a cup of tea.’