The Bamboo Bracelet

“Writing The Bamboo Bracelet has been an amazing journey,” says Merilyn Brason. “I have learned so much about my mother as a woman and about myself as a first-time writer.”

About the book

The Bamboo Bracelet is the true account of one woman’s experience of surviving World War II in the Philippines.

Fresh from England, Ronny Rynd, six months pregnant, had left the suffocating heat of Manila in late November 1941 to take a holiday in the cooler mountain setting of Baguio. Her husband, Pat, remained in the capital at his job with the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank.

Days later, the Japanese invaded across the centre of the country, cutting Ronny off from Manila. What followed was years of incarceration, separation and deprivation, during which Ronny’s first child, Catherine, was born and her second, the book’s author Merilyn, was conceived after the family was reunited, though still living in the camps.

Written in narrative style and drawing on detailed notes written by Ronny after the war, Merilyn Brason’s book traces her mother’s experiences during more than 1,100 days in captivity.

Despite hunger, degradation and living in constant fear, the internees created their own functioning society with the restrictions of camp life.

Ronny fought for and won the chance to be reunited with Pat in the Manila camp. But conditions there were far worse than at Baguio. As the tide of the Pacific war turns against Japan, the situation deteriorates rapidly. Hunger, disease and the approach of fighting turn the long wait for liberation into a cruel race against time.

Merilyn Brason has lived in mainland China, Nigeria and Australia, where she worked as a radio journalist. She is now a retired psychotherapist. Her home and studio, where she paints land and seascapes, is near Stroud. The Goods Shed will hold an exhibition of her paintings in February and March 2021.

The Bamboo Bracelet is published by Matador and is available from good bookshops including Yellow Lighted‘s shops in Tetbury and Nailsworth. It’s also available from online sellers.

Writing her mother’s story

“As a child I was brought up with my parent’s story and as children do, accepted their accounts as normal. It is my mother’s perspective of history that I am telling, as Ronny always intended to write her story herself and I recall many evenings when she sat at her Chinese writing desk, positioned so that she could keep one eye on the television as she scribbled away.

“Always able to multi-task, her energy levels were impressive. She wrote copious notes and told my sister Catherine and me tales of the humour and inventiveness of her fellow prisoners, always soft-pedaling the despair. I was only to learn the full degree of the horror from the accounts of other survivors.

“Ronny never wrote her book. After she died, Catherine, who luckily for me was a hoarder, gathered the notes and stored them to be forgotten in her attic. It was only after my sister’s untimely death ten years later that I stumbled on these gems, as fresh as if my mother had just walked out of the room.

“In the moment when I decided to take up my mother’s task, I had no idea as to the enormity of the journey in front of me. I had never written a book before so took myself off to an evening class for creative writing. I started to read every book I could lay my hands on that covered this ‘forgotten’ war arena.

“The Philippines has not been covered as well as the more famous horrors of Singapore or Malaya. Researching endlessly, I struck lucky when I discovered a network of ex-internees: Maurice Francis’s ’gang’, mostly Americans or British, spread across the world, still connected with each other on the internet, clarifying memories and sharing information. They have been extraordinarily generous with their time and interest – and to my amazement some actually recalled Ronny, Pat and Catherine.

I wrote and rewrote Ronny’s story. The deeper I immersed myself, the more committed I became to telling the story of how these remarkable men and women in adversity adapted and created a society to lessen their individual pain and distress.

“There is anger, pain and humour in this story as Ronny became part of this mini world with its own structure and one solitary aim: to survive when it became evident that rescue was a distant fantasy.”

Ronny and Pat with Catherine after the Manila internment camp was liberated