70 years ago: Hong Kong's wartime diaries | Gwulo: Old Hong Kong

70 years ago: Hong Kong's wartime diaries

Shows diary entries from seventy-one years ago, using today's date in Hong Kong as the starting point. To see pages from earlier dates (they go back to 1 Dec 1941), choose the date below and click the 'Apply' button.
  • 12 Dec 1941. R. E. Jones Wartime diary

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    Date(s) of events described: 
    Fri, 12 Dec 1941

    Alarms off & on all day. Stanley very quiet. Prison muster down to 1418.

    Kowloon evacuated. Hundreds of Chinese shot for looting.

    Jap. position not so good. They are in Kowloon being smashed up by our heavy guns & the Chinese army are advancing through the New Territories.

    Stanley heavies made Blackie dash under the bed again.

    West Point godown fires lit up the sky tonight.

  • 12 Dec 1941, Barbara Anslow's diary

    Book / Document: 
    Date(s) of events described: 
    Fri, 12 Dec 1941

    The rumour about Jordan ((Royal Scots Band Leader)) was confirmed today - he was shot by one of our own sentries - being deaf, he apparently didn't hear the challenge.

    Mum got to Bowen Road to see Sid this morning, he is walking about now and hopes to be back with his unit within a few days.

    Mabel has joined the VADs and sleeps below the military hospital in air raid shelter.

    We have apparently abandoned Kowloon, and unless a miracle happens, are going to be shelled to bits.

    There is talk that Chinese guerillas are coming up behind the Japs and are now at Taipo, but I'm afraid to believe anything so heartening.  I can see absolutely no escape, but we didn't have to stay in Hong Kong, and at least this IS something and we are in the war with the folks at home.

    ARP HQ moving to CSO Tunnel - I'm to go tomorrow at 7 am and live in Dina House, but if shelling starts I doubt if that will last for long.

    Usual raids throughout the day. Peggy Wilson joining our office staff, also Bonnie Penney and Mrs Bird (known as 'Charles') ((both had just come from Kowloon when evacuated.)) 

    ((Because my next-day move to Dina House would leave Mum alone in the flat apart from the amahs, I asked her to consider staying at the Jockey Club hosp. in future, or going to a nearby  billet with other ANS ladies: our men folk no longer called, most people were becoming marooned at their places of duty through uncertain transport.   Mum insisted she felt quite safe with the amahs at night at present.  That night Mum and I slept in our lounge, Mum on the settee, I in an armchair.   The amah made us laugh because she insisted on putting a layer of cushions beside the settee 'in case Missie fall off.' ))

  • 12 Dec 1941, Chronology of Events Related to Stanley Civilian Internment Camp

    Date(s) of events described: 
    Fri, 12 Dec 1941

    For most people in Kowloon the night of December 11-12 is one of terror. Ruthless gangs, some of them armed, descend on private houses and anywhere else that offers the prospect of loot or 'protection money'. Six Irish Jesuits were on that side of the harbour and their history of the hostlities describes the situation vividly

    All through the night the din and pillage continued....Gangs 'worked' certain streets or districts. They went to shop after shop and house after house, breaking down the doors if they were not open, and going through every floor and every room swiftly and violently. The slightest resistance brought savage attacks that were often fatal. Ear-rings were torn away brutally; fingers were chopped off when rings did not slip off easily; and a blow with an iron bar was the most common reply to any attempt to bar an entrance. Shots were frequent during the night....None will ever know how many people died during that terrible period.

    Those in the hospitals are probably the best off - these offer few temptations to looters when so many other buildings are available. Robert Boris Levkovich is sleeping in the emergency hospital at the Central British School close to the Kowloon Hospital:

    There was dead silence around the district, and only the far-away shouts of the mobs, in Kowloon City, and occasional shots were heard.

    Father Ryan sums up:

    In the history of Kowloon no dawn was ever awaited with greater eagerness than that of Friday, December 12th.


    Early in the morning Levkovich is summoned to Kowloon Hospital by Dr. Newton. He is told to join the Rev. Wittenbach and Mr. McGowan on a trip to find petrol and to look for the Rev. Wittenbach's wife and two children. They leave about 8 a.m. but don't get far: they're set upon by a bus-load of Japanese soldiers and become part of the incident involving the Hamsons and the Hardwicks ((see below)).


    At 8 a.m. the Hamson family are joined by their friend Mrs. Hardwick and her teenage son Ronnie. They leave in their car for the ferry to Hong Kong Island, passing through a Kowloon that's become 'a ghost town'. They arrive on Nathan Road, where most of the shops have been looted, and which is full of people fleeing in cars or on foot - 'hysterical people clambered onto our car and pulled at the locked doors, trying to get in'.

    Suddenly they are surrounded by Japanese soldiers. Arthur Hansom and Ronnie Hardwick are taken aside and Arthur is beaten up. The women and children are told to go. In the confusion of the streets they lose contact with Mrs. Hardwick. Edith and her younger sister Leilah decide to try to join their mother at Kowloon Hospital. They pass sometimes limbless corpses on the way. While climbing a hill leading to the Hospital Edith is attacked by Chinese bandits, Leilah managing to get away with the children (Richard and May). Edith is rescued by the sudden appearance of a group of men, and makes it to the hospital. Leilah and the children have found Mrs. Hamson, and she comes rushing out as soon as Edith arrrives.

    Meanwhile, Arthur Hamson and young Ronnie Hardwick, now in a group that includes R. B. Levkovich, are saved from further beatings by a Japanese army doctor. The Jesuit Father Gallagher arrives, along with his associate Mr. McAsey: they've been moving around Kowloon trying, without success, to find a Japanese officer who understands Ireland's neutrality. They're taken to the Kowloon Hospital in a decrepit bus driven by an American named Wilkins, but they're told they'd be in too much danger there, so they're loaded back onto the  bus and into some private cars and taken to a building where, they are told, they will spend the night before continuing their journey to a safe place:

    The building revealed itself to be an old godown converted into a school.

    It turns out to be the Hing Wah College, and, although it's not at all safe, it's where they're going to stay.


    In the afternoon, Dorothy Geen, the Matron of Kowloon Hospital, calls the nurses together and tells them the Mainland is being evacuated, but they must stay. ((Miss Geen was to become Matron of Stanley's Tweed Bay Hospital.))


    At about 5 p.m. the Japanese begin to occupy the Hospital. That evening Dr. Newton and all the other 'European and American men and women' are told they must leave (Miss Geen and seven sisters seem to remain at the Hospital nevertheless). They are taken to join those at the Hing Wah College in Castle Peak Rd.


    Elsewhere in Kowloon, Australian Harold Bateson is shot after surrendering.


    There are dramatic events on Hong Kong Island too.


    At 2 a.m. F. W. Shaftain, Director of Criminal Intelligence in the police, meets with Triad leaders to try to talk them out of a plan to massacre all the 'whites' in Hong Kong at 3 a.m. on December 13. ((After complex negotiations, involving influential Chinese citizens, a sum of money will be paid and the plan called off. Most people won't know about these events until after the war.))


    Air Raid Precautions Warden Noel Croucher comes off duty, and has a snack at the Gloucester Hotel. While he's eating, a yachting friend asks him to take part in a 'secret mission'. He's been on duty all day - it's now past 7 p.m. - so declines on the grounds of tiredness. This decision saves his life.

    The mission was to escort the P & O tug Jeanette as it pulled a barge filled with nine tons of dynamite. Through a misunderstanding the dynamite is accidentally exploded in the harbour by shots from men of the Middlesex Regiment and all involved are killed.


    That night Aileen Woods is woken by the sound of the explosion of the Jeanette.


    So was Noel Croucher:

    I had gone along to the Chartered Bank after my meal, pulled two benches together and laid down. About eleven o' clock, I was awakened by a terrific explosion. I thought a bomb had dropped close by, but no further explosions occurred.


    The Maryknoll Fathers hear it at their mission in Stanley, which suggests that almost everyone on the island does too.


    The situation in Kowloon is dire, but there's good news on the back page of the Daily Mirror:

    Chungking radio announced last night that heavy fighting had been in progress for forty-eight hours….The Japanese had suffered heavy casualties, estimated so far at 15,000 with the Chinese forces attacking along the whole front.

    Sounds promising. And the Latest News section at the bottom of the page sounds better still:

    Chinese Cutting off Japs at Hong Kong

    General Chiang Kai Shek is personally directing large Chinese forces coming to the aid of Hong Kong.

    Chinese are cutting off the Japanese from rear and flank, and the enemy power is diminishing.


    Looting: Thomas F. Ryan, Jesuits Under Fire In The Siege Of Hong Kong, 1944, 49

    Hamsons: Allana Corbin, Prisoners of the East, 2002, 76-82

    Levkovich - silence and petrol mission: Statement, page 3 (in the Ride Papers, held at the Hong Kong Heritage project and kindly sent to me Elizabeth Ride); some details of the 'petrol mission' taken from Dr. Newton's diary, cited in Captive Christmas, 50 - he calls Levkovich 'a third person'.

    Gallagher and McAsey: Thomas F. Ryan, Jesuits Under Fire In The Siege Of Hong Kong, 1944, 65-67

    Kowloon Hospital entered, Newton: Alan Birch and Martin Cole, Captive Christmas, 1979, 50-51

    Bateson: Tony Banham, Not The Slightest Chance, 2003, 64

    Geen: Tony Banham, Not The Slightest Chance, 2003, 61

    Shaftain: Tony Banham, Not The Slightest Chance, 2003, 59

    Croucher, Woods: John Luff, The Hidden Years, 1967, 49-50

    Jeanette: Tony Banham, Not The Slightest Chance, 63.

    Note 1:

    John Luff (and Phyllis Harrop in Hong Kong Incident, 73) dates the Jeanette explosion to the night of December 11, but I have followed Tony Banham's December 12 dating. Wright-Nooth seems to put the 'monstrous explosion that shook the whole of Victoria' on the night of December 14 (Prisoner of the Turnip Heads, 53).

    Note 2:

    Captain Freddie Guest claims that he and others made up a rumour about a Chinese army marching to the relief of Hong Kong in order to cheer people up when 'about December 17' they were forced to finally release news of the sinking of the H. M. S. Repulse and H. M. S. Prince of Wales and thus crush hopes of naval relief from Singapore. However, reports in the UK press prove that the rumour pre-dated the 17th. There was a Chinese army marching towards Hong Kong, although there was never any prospect of it arriving in time to relieve the Colony. The press reports in Britain seem to have been based on real but not always accurate reports from Chungking of the movements of this army. It would, for example, have been correct to say that Chiang Kai-Shek had directed forces to come to Hong Kong's aid, not suggest that he was directing them in action.

    See Freddie Guest, Escape From The Bloodied Sun, 1957, 39 and Philip Snow, The Fall of Hong Kong, 2003, 63



  • 12 Dec 1941, Sheridan's diary of the hostilities

    Date(s) of events described: 
    Fri, 12 Dec 1941

    Today I make a trip into the Queens Road Depot with a lorry and some coolies to collect some more coke and wood for the Field ovens. I also pay a visit to my room in the Sgts. Mess to collect some underclothing. I have to leave my nice camphorwood box, filled with all sorts of items, i.e. two tennis rackets, two cameras, two albums, one grey suit white drill shirts, slacks and shorts, etc, Soon it will be looted no doubt.

    The Chinese citizens seem bewildered. No trams are running, and the only transport moving belongs to the Military. The only person left in the Supply Depot is old Ip Fak and his family, he worked for the Barrack stores.

    We load up with as much coke and wood as possible and set off for Deepwater Bay. Through Wanchai, the native district shows signs of shelling, but nothing very serious as yet. The normal teeming population of this area has disappeared off the streets. I expect a lot of them will be living in the air raid shelters. At Wong-Nei-Chong gap on the Repulse Bay road there are a series of concrete Pill boxes, these are manned by some Canadian troops. I stop and have a few minutes chat with them. They do not seem to know what’s happening and have not been here long enough to know the layout of the Island of Hong Kong.

  • 12 Dec 1941, Laura B Ziegler's wartime memories

    Date(s) of events described: 
    Fri, 12 Dec 1941

    The next day ((ie the 12th)) we barricaded ourselves the best way we could in the ground floor basement. We strapped boxes of books and trunks into the window sills and doorways. We hoped this would stop shrapnel, but we also knew there was little or no protection from a direct hit. We also nailed quilts over the windows, fastening only the top side, leaving the rest loose. This would also stop shrapnel and the concussion of a bomb if one would burst close at hand.

    We slept on the army cots which we had taken along from Cheung Chau. We never dared to undress during the war because we didn’t know when we might be asked to move on and retreat with the British army.

    During the day each one of us knew exactly where to go and what to do in case of a bombing. There was very little we could do during those winter days. It was quite dark in the basement most of the time because the windows were covered. We were not allowed to have lights of any kind so we went to bed as soon as it was dark.

    We had one side window which afforded us a little something to do. We would crowd around it for an hour or more at a time watching the shells burst on the mountain side and counting the number of explosions in an hour. We were often rudely interrupted by a bomber flying overhead on some deadly mission to bomb an object close by.

    One afternoon a supply truck was passing our place when they were spotted and a bomb was dropped. It left a deep hole in the road 50 feet behind our place, but the truck went on unhurt. A few days later a group of soldiers was repairing that road and a plane machine gunned the men. They flew so low that some of the bullets even landed on our back porch and in the houses.

  • 12 Dec 1941, A. H. Potts' wartime diary

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    Date(s) of events described: 
    Fri, 12 Dec 1941

    Susie, who still had the use of our small car was sleeping at home and going to the hospital every morning.  However, on the 12th the Army Pool was moved from Happy Valley to Shouson Hill and I was unable to keep her supplied with gasoline;  there were no public pumps operating, so not being able to use her car she found our house too far from the hospital and went to stay with her mother whose house ((Alberose)) is next door to the hospital, and Uncle Pat moved down to our neighbour’s house, just below us.  He is an old Turk named Landau who ran a very profitable restaurant business.

    Susie had the very good sense to pack up all our silverware, glassware, winter clothes etc which she took over to her mother’s place, also our new radio, otherwise we should have lost everything as I will tell you later.

    We just got back to Happy Valley at dawn on the twelfth and turned in for a few hours;  the VCC had been instructed to pack up from Happy Valley and move to Shouson Hill only leaving a skeleton of vehicles and personnel but the coolie labour which we were employing was to remain with Gidley in charge.

    We packed up after tiffin and moved out to Shouson Hill, which is named after Sir Shouson Chow who together with a number of his friends developed the hill into a residential district of some twenty odd homes before the Army had built the magazines.  

    This area had been allotted to the RASC in the event of a move to the south side of the island being necessary.

    Col. Andrews-Levinge the CRASC lived in a bungalow which was selected as our HQ and Officers Mess;  just below it and easily accessible was a very large house in which the men were quartered, and there were various other houses and bungalows where the officers slept.  I slept at Eric Grimble’s bungalow, a charming little place near the top of the hill overlooking Deepwater Bay and Aberdeen.

    That evening we drew 9.2 inch shells for Stanley from Shouson Hill magazine which was an easy job as the magazines were within half a mile of our vehicle park.  We only made one trip as Mount Davis had not asked for any more and Stanley was satisfied with the one load so we were back at Shouson Hill before midnight.

    I had just turned in and was looking forward to a good night’s rest when I was told to go to the big house where all the men were living, and order them to stand by, and be prepared for any emergency as it was thought the Japs were contemplating a landing on some of the beaches.

    We placed Lewis guns and rifles on a site which commanded the flats around Aberdeen and small groups in other strategic places but after standing to for about an hour we were told to pack up and the rest of the night passed away quietly.

  • 12 Dec 1941, Don Ady's wartime memories

    Book / Document: 
    Date(s) of events described: 
    Fri, 12 Dec 1941

    But the next morning we moved to the Saint Paul's College Hostel, just up the hill form the Church Guest House.

    We lived with the Shoops, the Rebers, the Pommerenkes, Avis Thompson, and several that you didn't know, which we didn't know before the war.

  • 12 Dec 1941, Harry Ching's wartime diary

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    Date(s) of events described: 
    Fri, 12 Dec 1941

    A day of readjustment, alerts and nuisance shelling of the Island, without much damage. The communique announcing the withdrawal from the mainland declared, "We have retired within our fortress, and from the shelter of our main defences we will hold off the enemy until the strategical situation permits of relief."

    Driving myself home at sunset I had my first taste of shell-fire. Two whistled and crashed in the Naval Dockyard as I dodged a military vehicle coming fast on the wrong side of the road. 

    We are now besieged in our fortress - but we do not feel very impregnable. The Kowloon hills have become mysterious and menacing. Normally the friendly horizon, they are now the hostile limit of our mental vision. The gates of hope have closed, and beyond them is a receding universe. Claustrophobia lays a probing finger upon us.

    The day closed in an atmosphere of tension and depression. I parked the car and removed the rotor arm as instructed. There will also be a fifth column on the Island. It is a fairly quiet night, enlivened by pistol and revolver shots as suspect prowlers are chased home; but about 11 p.m. a great explosion.

  • 12 Dec 1941, South China Morning Post

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    Date(s) of events described: 
    Fri, 12 Dec 1941
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  • 12 Dec 1941, Father Biotteau's wartime diary

    Date(s) of events described: 
    Fri, 12 Dec 1941
    ((Original text)) ((Jill Fell's translation))
    Coup de théâtre absolument imprévu. Nous apprenons avec stupeur que les Japonais sont maitres de tout Kowloon, que toutes les troupes anglaises ont été ramenées sur l’île ! Que va-t-il se passer ? Toute l’île est ainsi à portée de canon et tous les avions ennemis vont concentrer leurs attaques sur l’île. Comment l’ile pourra-t-elle se défendre et tenir ? Absolutely unexpected bombshell. We're astonished to learn that the Japanese are masters of the whole of Kowloon and that all the British troops have been brought to the island. What's going to happen? The whole island is now within artillery range and all enemy aircraft will concentrate their attacks on the island. How can the island possibly defend itself and hold out?
  • 12 Dec 1941, In Time of War

    Book / Document: 
    Date(s) of events described: 
    Fri, 12 Dec 1941

    Proceeded at dawn and steamed to C2 buoy off Aplichau. Went up to Aberdeen later & Rose & party rejoined navy spent night at China F.C. ((China Fleet Club)) Various planes seen over HK during day.

    Went up 5.45 and returning 6.30 when single bomber dropped three only bombs abreast of ship but off HK island. Set junk building yard on fire. Put out by 8.30.

    Tried to find out news of D. and Mrs Dronit  but could not get in touch with anyone. ((Other possible readings could be "Drouit" or "Drunit; but neither of these is listed in FRL1941.)) Thracian in to oil.

    Very little news of situation. Chinese divisions said to be attacking in rear.

    Cicala had bomb through aft on Wednesday but was patched.

    Sailors very happy all day camouflage painting ship.

    Good shooting at evening plane.

  • 12 Dec 1941, W J Carrie's wartime diary

    Book / Document: 
    Date(s) of events described: 
    Fri, 12 Dec 1941

    Dearest - home at last.  Before I forget - I have heard a rumour that the ship N.L. was on – I think my parcel for Christmas was bombed and sunk.  I’ll be so disappointed if that is true.

     I’ve been reading over this letter - I am tremendously glad that you too – as well as the bairns – are not here.  It is not nice to hear the whine of the shells and not know where they are going – but more later.

    People will ring up when the news is on - I’ve missed most of it but I’ll get some at 9.30.  Dora rang up – Bertie’s been hit but has got off fairly lightly.   He was sent on fire by an incendiary bomb - he has lost the two small fingers of his right hand and has been burned a bit - but not seriously on his chest.  He was somewhere near the Matilda Hospital - climbed up the hillside with his clothes aflame and got first aid there.  He is now in the Military Hospital.  If I possibly can I must go and see him.

    Today started badly - the drivers of the Peak Tram deserted last night - so I had to walk down the Peak with Harry, Megarry and Himsworth.  I haven’t felt it much so far, but I expect I’ll be stiff tomorrow.  When I got to office - I stripped to my waist – I was just soaking - and dried myself and put two towels  round my shoulders while  my office Attendant dried everything  in front of my electric fire.  So I’m O.K. - we really are toughening up.  I’ve got Roe back - I insisted - I told Purves I wouldn’t have it.  I let him off when we thought we’d be in Kowloon for quite a while yet and he could be near his wife and family.  He only got them away in time.  The trouble yesterday was not the Japanese - but Fifth Columnists – Chinese supporters of Wang Ching Wai and the Nanking puppet Government. But today we really have evacuated part of Kowloon but we keep cheery thinking that possibly it is time Chiangkai Shek’s troops have re-captured Canton and are advancing down to cut off the retreat of the Japs.  We can only hope so.  For we have to hold on to this island no matter how much bombing we get and shelling from the Kowloon Hills.  I don’t know if we can do it.  One of our shells hit the Bank Flats above Mt Austin Barracks and it was found that they were in the line of fire- so they have been demolished.  A bomb or shell fell just behind the Peak Garage and 2 in the open space at the back of Hill Crest. Our inner front door had nearly every pane cracked but nothing blown in yet.  I certainly don’t like the whine of shells coming over but we must get used to it! They have really been fairly decent – one can imagine that they are trying for a military objective.

    Well I had to stop – and have chow. I’ve had a lovely dinner – mince cake, potatoes and a lettuce – the first from my own garden – sago without milk but with strawberry jam –a little piece of toast and butter and a ”coolie” orange –what more could anybody want? But I think we’ll have much shorter rations soon - I had my “spot” tonight and I still have 1 bottle Gin and 1 ½ bottles Whiskey but I doubt I’ll get any more and cigarettes are difficult to get. The Club boys walked out today and so I had to tiffin in Gloucester and had a splendid tiffin for [?H 1.50]. Well Honey Darling – I must close down –I am tired. It would have done me a world of good – as Glover advised me to – to have had a nice warm bath whenever I got it. But I put off – I may have one yet.

                               So Goodnight Loved One. A.L.A.W.     BB

    Later   It is utterly amazing – just now it is absolutely quiet – and here in this room one could imagine that there is peace everywhere. But what it will be like an hour or so on   D.o.k..    News now on.  B.

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