70 years ago: Hong Kong's wartime diaries
- Submitted by Admin on Wed, 2011-12-28 11:29Book / Document:Date(s) of events described:Thu, 11 Dec 1941
Went into H.K. for Prison rations and to try to get some beer etc. No can.
Alarm went when I was in town & things are run very well indeed.
Began discharging Pris’rs.
Stanley heavies ((ie the 9.2" guns there)) get going PM.
- Submitted by Barbara Anslow on Thu, 2012-01-26 03:28Book / Document:Date(s) of events described:Thu, 11 Dec 1941
8.30am. - On duty in office from 7 pm last night till 7 this morning, but actually slept ((fully-dressed, on camp bed behind screen in main office where all ARP staff were)) from 4.30am to 6.45am.
No raids during night, but shells are coming over now, but so far not doing much damage.
Slept some of morning at home, and a little in afternoon, when they dropped about 17 bombs in Wanchai area, one near Football Club (about 200 yards from our flat). Amah took me downstairs to flat below ((where I sat drooping on a chair in the hall among lots of kindly Chinese neighbours)).
Later, to office and worked until about midnight when had chance to doss down. It seemed so queer, me retiring behind screen on camp bed, with Tony Cole on bed nearby, and Gillies (Police), both sleeping. I slept well after 2 am until 7 am Friday
Our office might be moving to CSO tunnel beneath Government House.
- Submitted by brian edgar on Sun, 2012-03-04 19:49Book / Document:Date(s) of events described:Thu, 11 Dec 1941
Germany and Italy declare war on America and Congress and the President respond in kind. Now the war in the Pacific and the war in Europe are one, the two sides are lined up, and the stakes could not be higher.
At midday Major-General Maltby takes the decision to abandon the Mainland. The evacuation begins in the afternoon amid scenes of chaos and terror.
Ellen Field's trying to sleep when her No. 1 Houseboy comes in and tells her the Japanese are at the end of Prince Edward Road, about three miles away. Then a friend, Leslie Coxhill, a Volunteer in the Signals section, arrives:
'My God!' he shouted at me. 'Are you still here?'
By the time she's packed it's 7 p.m. After an agonising walk in high heels with her three children and their amahs, she arrives at the waterfront to find scenes of chaos. Helped by two Canadian soldiers, she manages to get herself, her children and two amahs on to an already over-loaded motor launch:
Blacked-out Hong Kong came into harsh relief as a succession of Japanese flares, hanging in the sky like garish lanterns, lit up the whole harbour with an eerie brilliance. Every gun on Hong Kong seemed to open up simultaneously. Great spouts of water sprang up around us as bombs started to fall.
The soldiers help her and her party to safety. Later she's to remember them and decide to extend her relief to the Prisoners of War in Shamshuipo beyond her family members.
Doris Woods crosses the harbour and puts in a day's work at the bank. Leaving earlier than usual, she proceeds to the Star Ferry terminal (Victoria/Central), where she's told (wrongly) by some Canadian soldiers that the Japanese are fighting in Nathan Rd. near the Alhambra theatre and advised not to cross. Doris insists that she's going to get her sister, and crosses in an empty ferry. On arrival, she runs through the deserted streets of Tsimshatshui and calmly tells Aileen that the Japanese are close. They find a Chinese worker, one of the few around, to help them with their luggage, but when they arrive at the terminal there's no ferry. They walk along the quay to a crowded police launch, which takes them and their luggage across. Their married sister, Mrs. Winfield, is waiting for them in Victoria, and at the bank is a car which will take them to their billet on the Peak.
Their servant Ah Moi brings the Hamson family the news that many British civilians are leaving Kowloon for Hong Kong Island, while Chinese are coming from the New Territories to loot homes and businesses. They decide to leave Lion Rock and return to their home at dusk, and spend the night preparing to try to cross the harbour the next day.
Kowloon missionary John Hammond reports:
Heavy artillery fire increased late Thursday afternoon. We could see the flashes four miles away at the top of the hill leading away from Lai Chi Kok to Castle Peak.
Hammond says that all electricity is shut off by now, and the looters have already taken over the trucks, taxicabs, cars and all other forms of transport.
So quickly carrying the few things that we had with us we made our exit through the rear door, crossed the small alleyway and went upstairs to our future hideout. Our Chinese helped us and we were transferred in about ten minutes. Closing all of the outside storm shutters, that worked like venetian blinds, we lived in darkness until we were taken to the Japanese concentration camp.
The looters duly arrive:
We heard them coming down the road crying out, shouting, robbing and shooting. We had been through enough already to drive us insane, but to be suddenly thrown into this state of affairs was nearly beyond human endurance.
Nevertheless, somewhat to Robert Hammond's surprise, the women in the two families don't become 'hysterical' and never complain 'during all those long, long months of horror and trouble'.
Robin Boris Levkovich, a naturalised Briton of Russian origin, is a policeman assigned to Food Control. Senior Jardine Mattheson manager D. L. Newbigging sends him on a highly dangerous mission to try to retrieve 4,000 pounds of flour from a store in Kowloon. He manages to get across the harbour by 6 p.m., travelling in a naval launch which returns without waiting for him. While looking for Food Control, he meets Doctors Selwyn-Clarke and Fehilly who ask him to deliver supplies to Kowloon hospitals which haven't had any since the start of the fighting. Levkovich sees Selwyn-Clarke depart on 'the last ferry leaving Kowloon' while Fehilly stays on.
Levkovich finds a lorry with the ignition key still in it, and manages to locate and load stores at the Tait Wing Company opposite Whitfied Barracks. He drives past dead bodies and through bands of looters armed with revolvers and axes, reaches the Central British School, and delivers the food to the emergency hospital there. His mother and sister are nursing at this hospital, and his mother tells him that the staff have been told they must stay at their posts while they still have patients, but they've been promised evacuation with the rear guard. He has his doubts, but says nothing.
He's out of petrol, so he walks to the nearby Kowloon Hospital and, after talking to Drs. Newton and Fehilly, he's driven back to the food store in an ambulance with two members of staff to help him load. He's forced to scare off looters with a revolver he'd previously acquired from a policeman. The trip back is a 'nightmare', in the dark, through speading fires and the sound of guns.
There's great news for the breakfast tables back in Britain:
Jap attack on Hong Kong fails
Sadly there's more:
The Japanese attacking Hong Kong have suffered a reverse and a Japanese patrol has been wiped out.
“Our land forces have halted a Japanese attack, although fighting is continuing,” stated a communiqué in Hong Kong yesterday.
Chinese forces in Kwangtung Province are attacking Canton from east and west, thus relieving the Japanese pressure on Hong Kong, according to a dispatch to a Chinese language newspaper.
Maltby: Tony Banham, Not The Slightest Chance, 2003, 52
Field: Ellen Field, Twilight in Hong Kong, 1960, 22-31
Woods: John Luff, The Hidden Years, 1967, 48
Hamsons: Allana Corbin, Prisoners of the East, 2002, 74-75
Hammonds and Reitons: John B. Hammond, Bondservants of the Japanese, 1957 ed., 21-23
Levkovich: Statement, pages 1-3, (in the Ride Papers, held at the Hong Kong Heritage Project and kindly sent to me Elizabeth Ride)
Jap Attack: Daily Mirror, page 1
Note: Levkovich dates his mission as beginning on December 12. However, Dr. Newton's diary and the general course of events in Kowloon make me confident that this should be December 11.
- Submitted by brian edgar on Sat, 2012-10-13 21:59Book / Document:Date(s) of events described:Thu, 11 Dec 1941
Sgt. Hammond goes to East Point with a lorry and some coolies to collect another of our Perkins ovens which had been for repair. It is not ready and he had to leave in a hurry as the Japs were shelling the place from across the harbour.
We have had a Jap reconnaissance plane over here this morning, the gunboats in the Bay opened up with no hits. No doubt the Jap bombers will be along shortly. Some of the newly formed local Chinese Regt. have arrived as protection for the Supply Depot. A Middlesex Regt. officer and some NCOs are in charge. The Chinese have not had much training and it is debatable how they would combat trained fighters like the Japs.
The Hong Kong Volunteers are of mixed races, British, Australian, New Zealand, Dutch, Chinese, Eurasians, Indians, Malays, etc. Quite a lot are attached to the Supply Depot as drivers, clerks, storemen, etc. But some do wander about in a bit of a dream.
The Bakery is operating efficiently and turning out 14000 lbs of good bread every day. I only hope that it is getting to the men who deserve it i.e. the fighting. I get told off by a Security officer for lighting up the ovens before daylight. I told him it was either that or there would be some people short of their bread ration. I think he understood the situation.
- Submitted by Admin on Wed, 2012-11-28 15:36Book / Document:Date(s) of events described:Thu, 11 Dec 1941
((Date is a guess - no starting date given in text))
Frequent journeys to town were made by car for essential supplies and equipment for the hospital, kitchens etc. but the dangers of this narrow road often deterred truck drivers from ever making a second journey. As the Parker and Kings roads came under enemy fire conditions became worse. Telephone communications were destroyed and the water supply affected. T. Tollan, Revenue Officer was the third driver I had and his skill and coolness under fire when our car was hit on the 17th. and 18th. December were beyond praise. Pawley, an American in charge of a lorry, also deserves mention as we loaded his lorry with rice at North Point Camp when it was the actual target.
- Submitted by Admin on Tue, 2012-12-04 16:56Book / Document:Date(s) of events described:Thu, 11 Dec 1941
On Thursday afternoon (Dec. 11th) one of the men had been out to try to get some news because the radio and telephone were out of order. He came back about 5PM with the news that the British were retreating and they were evacuating Kowloon ((where we were)) and that the last boat would leave for the Hong Kong side in about 25 minutes. If we wanted to escape capture by the Japanese, we must leave at once.
Everybody went up to their rooms, gathered a few belongings and rushed to the ferry landing about 9 blocks away. There had been no shooting for several hours and all was strangely empty and quiet as we hurried along. As we passed the bus terminal, the British police and soldiers were wrecking the busses so that the Japs would not be able to use them.
We crossed in safety but the boat that left a few minutes after ours was not as lucky. The Japanese soldiers arrived before it got far enough away from the wharf and shot at them. Several people were wounded. ((Doris remembers seeing dead bodies floating in the water and that Mother tried to shield my eyes from the scene.))
We arrived on the Hongkong side safely, but it was dark which added much to our hardship. We wanted to go and find the Buuck’s but although I had the address, I did not know exactly where it was. There were no coolies from whom we could ask for help.
After walking several blocks a British police officer asked if we had a place to live. He took us all the way to the home where the Buuck family lived. They were glad to see us because we hadn’t heard from each other for two days.
A few hours later we were all in bed and we wondered what would happen next. We slept in the basement here because we felt it would be the safest place to be. The homes on Hong Kong Island are built on the mountain side facing the harbor. The Japanese put up their guns across the harbor on the water front and other places facing us, and the British guns were on the mountain behind us and some below us. During the fighting the shells came from both sides.
- Submitted by Admin on Thu, 2012-12-06 18:36Book / Document:Date(s) of events described:Thu, 11 Dec 1941
On 11th the Japanese reached Kowloon; by this time 5th Columnists were very busy sniping, and looting had already started. The looters formed themselves into bands and actually put notices on houses they had entered so that others of their gang would know it had already been sacked.
The next morning ((ie the 11th)) we took the stores out to Stanley, and on returning to Happy Valley I was informed that each HKVDC officer was appointed to some special duty such as assistant adjutant, Vehicle Park control etc etc, and my special job was OC of the ammunition column – this pleased me greatly as I knew I should be seeing a lot of what was going on as the work we were to do meant visiting the various batteries and magazines.
We got our first job that afternoon (11th) which was to go to Lyemun and draw 500 six inch shells, and put them on a lighter which was to take them across to Devils Peak where a battery had just been placed.
My column consisted of only eight lorries and I was told to only employ four and leave the others in reserve in case of an emergency job.
I selected Sergt. Gow HKVDC as my sergeant and he turned out an absolute ace. My drivers were at first Chinese but I discovered after the first night that they could not be relied on to drive in pitch darkness, and I was permitted to select drivers from the BOR. After a process of elimination I had Sgt. Gow and Ptes Longeraine (?) and Coxhill all members of HKVDC, and one Canadian RASC man. They were all excellent drivers and we used to bowl along after a few nights in pitch darkness without any trouble, but I had many mishaps and minor accidents trying various drivers of the RASC till I selected those four.
We were a happy little team, working on our own like moles and got to know each other extremely well, and I am happy to think we all survived.
To reach Lyemun it was necessary to drive along Kings Road which runs along the water front for some mile or more, then through Taikoo Dockyard and Shaukiwan village, up the Shaukiwan Hill till the military road leading up to Lyemun barracks was reached. This is a narrow concrete road cut in the side of the hill and has no parapet. At the top was a gate where passes had to be produced before admittance could be obtained, then on through the various barrack buildings and down a hill to sea level where the magazines are situated on either side of the roadway. There was another gate at which passes also had to be produced just before entering the magazine area. At the end of the road which ran right down to the sea and is at right angle to the Kowloon foreshore was a pier and a pillbox with the lighter lying alongside.
After clearing the five hundred six inch shells and loading them on the lighter we got back to Happy Valley. We were undisturbed, and the roads were untouched, but this was not to be our good fortune the next time we went to Lyemun.
On returning to Happy Valley we found a request from both Stanley and Mount Davis forts for 9.2 inch shells, with instructions that these were to be drawn from Shouson Hill magazine. Shouson Hill as I have already mentioned is on the south side of the island, so it would have appeared more practical if we had been instructed to draw the shells from Lyemun which if the Kowloon line gave, would be in full view of the Japanese.
I think this is the place to mention a few facts about the 9.2 ammunition, first there are two types, land and sea directional, the sea type being of no use against land targets as it requires a hard blow on the nose of the shell, such as the armour of a ship, to explode it; second each shell weighs 380 pounds, so takes considerable handling and the average lorry was only capable of carrying twelve shells.
I was told by the NCO in charge of Shouson Hill magazine that on the outbreak of war there were only fifteen land directional shells per gun at Stanley and Mount Davis each of which had three guns; they had a great many sea directional, he told me, something over two hundred, so there was evidently ample storage space and it would seem to be more reasonable if they had had half of each type.
Anyway it is a fact they were desperately in need of shells at both forts and the profuse thanks which I received from the officers at Stanley and Mount Davis on my arrival with the badly wanted shells was almost embarrassing.
We worked all night on this job, giving both forts four lorry loads or in other words forty eight shells, but it seemed a pity that my other four lorries had to lie idle at Happy Valley when they could have been so usefully employed.
Shouson Hill magazines are situated in more or less the heart of the island and roughly equidistant from Stanley and Mount Davis, a distance of some eight miles.
There were many road blocks made with concertina wire all of which were guarded. Later the sentries came to recognize me as I imagine I was doing more night driving than anyone else, and allowed me to pass without producing my pass, for which I frequently reprimanded them. All sentries were very alert for the first few days, but after that there was a very marked slackness.
I became proficient in negotiating the various road blocks, which were all laid out in different ways, without the sentries having to guide me through. Some had the gap on the right of the road, others on the left or in the middle and the more important ones were in the form of a zigzagging.
There was no moon till 21st and in addition to the pitch darkness we had rain on several nights; it was most trying and at time I drove by guesswork. I drove at the head of my small convoy, and had had the bumpers and wings of my car and the lorries painted white which gave a very faint indication of our position, but in spite of this we had many minor collisions.
- Submitted by Admin on Fri, 2012-12-07 19:38Book / Document:Date(s) of events described:Thu, 11 Dec 1941
Then we went through shot and shell until Thursday evening when we had just started to set the table for supper. When Mr. Pommerenke came over all excited saying that there was going to be a couple of barges, something of that sort, to evacuate a few people from Kowloon (Mr. Steiner had gotten the information) So I hurried up and drank my milk while Dad spent about two minutes throwing some various articles in a suitcase which was already mostly packed. While Mom talked to our servants because no Chinese were allowed to cross on the barge. And luckily we got across without interference from the Japs. (The barge we went in went to go about 6:30 PM and the other one went two or three hours later, but was machine gunned.)
That night we slept in the Church Guest House.
- Submitted by Admin on Wed, 2013-01-02 22:11Book / Document:Date(s) of events described:Thu, 11 Dec 1941
The day dawned in an atmosphere of foreboding.
The European police on the Island have been withdrawn from duty and sent over to Kowloon as militia. A volunteer police reserve is assisting in keeping order; but the Government's Chinese advisers reported an alarming fifth column plot to seize the Colony, and further precautions were taken. Admiral Chan Chak is the official representative in Hongkong of the Chinese Government. At the Hongkong Government's request he has organised a corps of street guards composed in part of Chinese refugee soldiery.
The position on the mainland has become hopeless, and Kowloon has had to be abandoned. The withdrawal commenced tonight, with an impressive artillery chorus providing background music. The telephone connection between Island and mainland remains unbroken. Our friends phoned us urgently and in whispers. Kowloon has become a no man's land. Bands of men, some in cars with flags flying, are appearing everywhere and boldly entering and ransacking the homes. In the foreign residential districts a few brave spirits armed with shotguns have tried to organise a resistance and to drive the marauders off, with mixed results.
- Submitted by Admin on Wed, 2014-12-03 18:07Book / Document:Date(s) of events described:Thu, 11 Dec 1941
- Submitted by Clive Hamilton on Wed, 2017-01-04 16:49Book / Document:Date(s) of events described:Thu, 11 Dec 1941
((The following text is undated:))
With my friend Carmen Hailstone, I was at my First Aid Post at the Kowloon Cricket Club attending to the wounded. Eventually, the Japanese advanced to the next street to us, a terrifying thought. Suddenly Cliff Large, 19 years old, came dashing to rescue his mother who was with us, telling us that we must get away at once to Hong Kong island. I had our car parked outside, so we all jumped in and Cliff drove us down to the ferry wharf, crashing the car as badly as he could (so it would be useless to the Japanese), before crossing over the harbour which was being bombed and strafed all the time. We reached the other side safely, where we were given refuge in Sir Lawrence Kadoorie's Office, and had refreshments. In the meantime, Sir Lawrence was arranging a post that we could go to. Finally, we were posted to St. Joseph's College where we stayed until the end of the war in Hong Kong, on 25th December. Throughout that time we were constantly bombed and shelled, and in fact received the last stick of bombs before the colony capitulated.
- Submitted by David Batchelor on Wed, 2019-05-29 14:45Book / Document:Date(s) of events described:Thu, 11 Dec 1941
7.45a.m. I can’t get any news on my wireless in the morning - I don’t know why – London just won’t come through. I slept all night – Win however rang up in the middle of the night - to say they were shelling us. Like Frank I said it was miles away and probably our guns. But one heard the whine of the shells and then a crunch. Now back to work again. So my food problem – how to feed my 4,000 coolies! So Cheerio. Billie.
HOME 6.45 p.m. Girlie - what a day! They did shell us last night and hit the Military Hospital and we’ve been shelled all day. But after really a terrible day there is one bright spot – no billettees yet. Lisa rang up and said she wanted to come here. I wasted a lot of my time trying to fix it up. I have grave doubts about it – she would boss everybody and there would be a row in no time. But she would run things well. I got Julius Ring’s permission – she is down to go to 376 – Gilmour’s (Chartered Bank) old house – Dawson there now, and I think little Mrs Rickett “living in sin”!! When I told Lisa that she’d be in one room and Frank in another - she cried off!! But I will not give up my den or our bed.
Well the news from Home - for the first time since the war began - means very little to us. Of course I would be rung up on the phone just when London started to talk about H. K. so I don’t know what was said but I am sure it was [???] – it was - I heard it at 9.30.
Kowloon is evacuated and D.O.K. what the night and tomorrow will bring us.
I sent you a cable today L_C. to be quicker and I hope it gets through soon. Sweetheart - I wonder when you get it if you will realise that I thought it might be our last communication together. But that was my feeling Darling - I have no hope of this going out tomorrow but I’ll post just it in the hope. Though how any plane can come or go when we have evacuated Kowloon I don’t know. I heard that the ship N.L. was, I think on was either sunk or captured.
But we are now in for a really tough time - I am not going to stay in little huts in the middle of Statue Square any more. I’ll move up to my Burials H.Q. in the basement of the newly built Northcote Training College and leave the damn huts to be plastered with shrapnel or blown up with H.E. Then I’ll be quite safe. For we are really in for something stiff if we don’t give in. Our local communique was equally non-committal but why not?
Well Honey I’ll run down for chow now and write on later – though one doesn’t know if it will ever get through.
I forgot to tell you - Betsy is in rather a flat spin and I may have to get rid of her. With two howitzers on Purvis’s and Alabaster’s tennis court going hell for leather now and then- she just goes “bats”. Mackenzie drove me up tonight - I am very grateful for the lift but it wasn’t all altruistic as I may tell you some time. We were just coming round the corner at Ho Tung’s house when the howitzers went off and poor old Mac. nearly had me over the hillside – he’s a wee bit nervy these days. We are none of us as young as we used to be.
Win rang up again - she has just gone to bits and I am glad she is not coming here. I gave in much against my better judgment though Lisa might have been very useful. But now I suppose she is very sorry she ever came back to H.K. and a lot of women are sorry they ever stayed. Lisa is now in 376. Well Honey I could go on writing till midnight - it gets me that way! But as you may never see this letter - I think I’d better go to sleep so long as it is quiet.
So Goodnight My Lovely Little One.
You have always been my ideal little wife and sweetheart and if I go out I hope you will get this letter and know that I love you and long for you more today than even 30 years ago.
All my love always Billie