Attack on a French military post

163 Take 1. Clapstick. Interview with wife of Duong Van Khang.
Mme. Duong Van Khang:
It was such a long time ago that this happened. I have forgotten much. I will have to tell you what I can remember, if that’s alright. At that time, when I was allowed to participate in the attack on the French military post, I had to go out there to the fields and stayed there for three days.
We built a big earthen model of the post out there, complete with electric lights and everything, so that we could see what it was like. Each of us women who served as guides for our fighters had to be responsible for a certain section of the post. My job was to take the soldiers from this intersection over here straight into the post.
The men dug a foxhole for me just outside of the post so that I could take cover there while they went ahead to attack the fort. It was not until 12 p.m. that they opened fire and blew up the fort. When a section of the post collapsed, I rushed into the fort along a trench. When I came in I heard people yelling. “Here is the magistrate! Here is the magistrate!”
But the district magistrate had escaped, and the French began to shell their own fort. So the brothers said that there was no need to remain in the post, that we should withdraw to the outside and wait. And so each of us girls had to take the men home the same way we took them there. Then we went to take shelter because the artillery rounds began to come in.
But what we actually had to do was to change our clothes before going home. If we did not go home and the French came to our houses and found out that we were missing they would have us arrested and killed. They usually had us under observation. When I arrived home I found out that four members of my family and a still born baby had been killed.
My husband, Mr. Khanh here, and I had to sit in the house with the corpses. The authorities refused to let us bury the dead. We waited until noon when we attempted to bury these bodies, having already borrowed the necessary implements such as hoes, shovels and pickforks. But they still refused us permission until late that evening. So five members of my family died that day. The French came in droves to the village after the attack on the post and saw us sitting with the corpses there.
The French were extremely angry, but they did not know that we were guerrilla fighters because we had already changed our clothes. So that’s all I can remember about that attack on the military post.

Methods of transmitting secret information

Mme. Duong Van Khang:
I also worked for a long time as a contact person, gathering intelligence on the French and the military post. We had a person working inside the post. My job was to get in touch with this person and pass out any information he managed, through his skill, to obtain. This man would pass pieces of paper to me and I in turn waited until nightfall in order to sneak out of the village to give them to our guerrilla fighters.
Now it was very difficult getting in touch with our man inside the post, it was quite dangerous. We had told him that on the night that the post was attacked, we would flash a light in the direction of a certain tree three times so that he could take cover. This man is now dead. I worked with him for a long time.
He passed out to us every little bit of information on the post, how many guns, how many troops and so on. Now, whenever our guerrilla fighters on the outside had any message to give to our man inside the fort, I was also the person to pass it on. I used all kinds of tricks to make this possible. I pretended, for example, to go near the fort to cut grass.
Our man inside the fort would then yell at me and tried to chase me away. We would then have a shouting match, heaping insults on each other. In the course of pushing and shoving, we got our messages passed to each other. At other times I would go out there and yell at him, saying that he had owed me money and that he intended to cheat me of my money.
He would then come down, after a lot of insults, to pay me some for this supposed debt. He would then give me a ten piasters bill, for example, with a message fold inside it. I would then give him a five piasters bill as change. Again, there would be a message folded inside, saying, “Here, I’ll give you some change this time.” Without employing these tricks, the French would have found out and we would have all been killed.
Many times I had to pass on bundles of documents to our fighters on the outside, rolls of documents as big as my arm here. So I put the roll inside my shoulder carrying pole and pretended to go collecting excrement. In this way, I managed to slip documents to our men in the fields, even as far as Ngoc Tao.
In all these cases, I either had legitimate pretexts or had built up infrastructures there. Sometimes, in a place where I did not have any infrastructure, I would carry a bottle with messages inside saying that I was going to get some medicine. In this way, not even the village people knew.

Mass starvation under Japanese occupation

In 1945, what kind of things did you see? What it was like with all those people dead on the road?
[Interrupting] 165, take 1.
Mme. Duong Van Khang:
Now, I’ll just have to tell you what I remember as I go along. I was already here in 1944. In 1945 the French imposed particularly high taxes and heavy corvée labor on us. On top of that we were forced to plant hemp for the Japanese. Lots of people died then, lots of suffering.
Things are so much better now, thanks to the fact that we have taken back power and are having economic plans. At that time so many people died, corpses were strewn all over the road. We did not have enough wood to make coffins for them. So we wrapped the corpses up in mats or in bamboo mattings to bury them. Those people who died, some dropped dead under the trees, others on the road and still others in their own homes.
I just saw so many dead people myself. It was so miserable then. We had to eat gruel mixed with all kinds of greens. Even so, many people did not even have this to eat. So many miserable people came to our house then, and we had to share our food with them. These were relatives, neighbors or co-villagers. We just could not keep our food to ourselves.
We had bran in the house then, the kind of bran you feed pigs with, and everybody was so hungry that we had to eat it and shared it. So many people died. We just did not have enough wood to make coffins for them. We had to wrap the corpses up in mats and bamboo mattings to bury them.
As for the Japanese, they forced us to plant hemp. It was really miserable for us to have to plant hemp for them. We had to use all our ricelands to grow hemp for the Japanese. As a result, we could not produce any rice at all. We had to use all our ricelands to grow hemp. But after we harvested the hemp and carried it to the Japanese, they did not give us any rice in return for all our hardship.
So the inhabitants here were extremely miserable. They suffered so much in 1945. Small children like these here, so many of them died. They had to go around begging. But few people had any food, and so the children died. Sometimes, when a certain household still had some food, the children would be given a bowl of gruel. But most of the time they got nothing and so they starved. I saw all these myself.