Chester M. Biggs was the father of my best friend in college. His personal history got me interested in the Foreign Legations area of Beijing, China. After reading two of the books that he had written, my interest deepened even more.
He started writing to preserve what he knew about this period in history. Such books are threads that add to the tapestry of historical perspective. “Mick” sure did his part to document both his personal history, and add to scholarly work to Marine Corps history.
Reading these books will expose you to events and attitudes that shaped the first half of the 20th century. Gain some insight as to how we as Americans got where we are today, and how this history affects our relations with China and Japan.
Behind the Barbed Wire: Memoir of a World War II U.S. Marine
The first one, “Behind the Barbed Wire”, is where he specifically tells the story about his time in China and as a Japanese prisoner of war.
While the majority of the book is Chester’s telling of his time under Japanese imprisonment, the beginning of the book focuses on his 2 years in the US Marine compound in the Foreign Legation Quarter. He relates the slices of life and unusual characters as seen through the eyes of a young US Marine just stationed in a foreign land. You can also get some understanding of how the Japanese control of the area affected day-to-day life inside the Foreign Legations.
Some of Chester’s dry humor comes out as he relates his own sightseeing experiences and the day-to-day activities that such a posting brings. An excellent read and highly recommended, but I will admit that I am biased.
The United States Marines in North China, 1894-1942
His second book, “The United States Marines in North China, 1894-1942”, goes through chronological history of the United States Marine Corps’ involvement in North China.
This book of the detailed history of the Marine Corps’ beginnings in North China, its missions and purposes, its expansion, and its withdrawal from North China. It concludes with the surrender to the Japanese at the beginning of World War II.
As the vast majority of the Marines were located in Peking inside the Foreign Legation Quarter itself, there is much history revealed as to the state of the foreign legations during this period. Reading this book will help you to see some insight into the military side of the foreign legations. There is a detailed section inside the book concerning the sequence of events during the siege of the legations during the Boxer Rebellion.
When Papa Was a Boy – During the 1920’s & 1930’s
Chester’s third book, “When Papa Was a Boy – During the 1920’s & 1930’s”, has absolutely nothing to do with China. This is of humorous stories from Chester’s childhood told as short stories. Here is a perspective on the Roaring Twenties and Depression Era that you have not seen before. He gives a real taste of what Oklahoma was like during these turbulent times.
This was the time of the Dust Bowl and all the financial hardships that brought to panhandle area. Racial separation was still prevalent in this region, and created its own daily tension. But as in all hardships and pain, there are moments of laughter, humor, and insight. That is what Chester brings out in this volume.
I’m mentioning it here so that you are aware of it. If you enjoyed his dry humor in the first book, then you will enjoy these recollections from his childhood.
All three of these books are available from Amazon. If you buy through the links on the site, you help to support me to return to China and do additional research. I would like that. J
Visit +Kenny Edwards on Google+.