After rediscovering long-forgotten World War II air-raid shelters in Hualien City, six elementary-school children have produced hand-drawn maps of their locations in hopes of reviving public interest and encouraging local authorities to take steps to preserve them as historic sites.
The students, from Yichang Elementary School in Jian Township (吉安), found the 25 air-raid shelters while doing research for a history project competition held from September to last month.
The shelters were built toward the end of Japanese colonial rule for people to take refuge against US bombing raids. The US was heavily engaged in the war against Japanese forces in Japan and its Asian colonies — including Taiwan — during the latter phase of World War II.
It took about three months of research and investigation by the six students — Tsai Wei (蔡維), Ho Wei-min (何維敏), Chen Ting-yu (陳亭毓), Yeh Kuang-yu (葉冠宇), Wu Ming-han (吳明翰) and Chiu Tung-yu (邱東宇) — to find and compile information on the underground shelters.
The six undertook the investigation with enthusiasm, checking old files, going on field visits and photographing each site.
They created a “Hualien Air-Raid Shelter Survey Checklist” detailing their observations of the conditions and dimensions of each structure, taking photos and interviewing senior residents to collect information about the sites.
The project received an “Award of Excellence” in a competition on local history research by the Hualien County Bureau of Education late last month.
The students’ research shows that Hualien City still has 25 air-raid shelters, six of which are the property of the Taiwan Railways Administration (TRA).
The shelters can be found around the Hualien Railroad Culture Museum, Hualien Pine Garden (which served as the headquarters of Japanese naval officers during war), Hualien Weather Station, the Generals’ Residence Complex (residences for Japanese generals and high-ranking officers during the war), Dong Ching Temple, Keng Shen News Building, Chung Cheng Sports Complex at Hua Gang Mountain, the old Taiwan Railways Administration Hospital, the old Hualien Winery, the old Hualien City Railway Station, Feng Shing Bakery Shop and King Tang Cafe buildings downtown, among other locations.
One of the students, Ho, said most of the air-raid shelters were built by government agencies during the war for officers and staff to take cover when necessary. The remainder were built by private citizens, with wealthy families constructing underground shelters around their house using bricks and mortar, while others dug trenches for shelter.
Ho said the shelters were used to hide from US bombing raids during the war. After the war, they were used for air-raid drills, in case of an attack from communist China.
Talking about the research and interviews for the project, Tsai said they prepared the questions beforehand, and then wrote a report afterward.
He added that they had to prepare a briefing report and oral presentation to enter the competition and answer questions posed by a panel of judges.
After the rigors of the competition, he said: “We learned quite a lot from this project. Compared with taking classes in school, this is so much more fun.”
Another team member, Chiu, said: “We hope to put the project report on the Internet to share it with other people.”
“It can provide useful information for visitors who might be interested in exploring these air-raid shelters,” he said.
Chung Hui-yu, their teacher and supervisor, said the objective of the project was for students to conduct their own research, pinpoint problems and find solutions.
She said the students also found that quite a number of the shelters were in ruins, because nobody was responsible for their preservation and management.
As many of them are still TRA properties, the students visited the Hualien County Cultural Affairs Bureau, TRA offices and other agencies, suggesting that they make use of the air-raid shelters to promote “cultural tourism” in Hualien.
She added that the students had presented other ideas that the government could consider, with the group producing hand-drawn maps, “exploration route” pamphlets and postcards on the locations and travel routes to the shelters that visitors can use while taking a walking or cycling tour of the city.