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.
  • 13 Dec 1941. Daily Mirror

    Book / Document: 
    Date(s) of events described: 
    Sat, 13 Dec 1941

    Page 1:

    In Hong Kong our advanced posts have been withdrawn, but Chinese are attacking the rear flank of the Japanese there.

    Page 8, Continued from page 1:

    Hong Kong Outposts Retired

    Japanese pressure on our advanced positions at Hong Kong has caused us to withdraw in the direction of Kowloon, but this movement is from our advanced positions only.

    Chinese forces under the direct command of General Chiang Kai Shek are cutting off the Japanese from the rear and back in their attempts to take Hong Kong.

  • 13 Dec 1941. RE Jones Diary

    Book / Document: 
    Date(s) of events described: 
    Sat, 13 Dec 1941

    Very quiet this side of the Island. Prison routine as usual. Another 300 Pris’s discharged.

    The position of the Chinese Army seems to be in doubt so what the Japs are doing over at Kowloon I cannot imagine. Digging in & bringing their guns up maybe.

  • 13 Dec 1941, Barbara Anslow's diary

    Book / Document: 
    Date(s) of events described: 
    Sat, 13 Dec 1941

    Walked from home with Mum just as it was getting light, and went to office ((Mum to Jockey Club hospital.)  Much shelling by Happy Valley in night.

    Mr Puckle (Director of ARP) gave me a lift to the CSO tunnel ((beneath Government House, we entered by entrance in Lower Albert Road opposite CSO building.)).  Peggy Wilson had already arrived. ((We secretaries worked in 2 shifts - Peggy and I, then Bonnie and Charles.  Our job was to keep a log of events (mostly messages per phone calls), and also to make out identification cards for ARP people.  

    Boiling hot in tunnel, I was glad of short-sleeved jumper.   Strong smell of raw wood from the props round the  earthy walls etc..  Various Govt. departments stationed in the tunnel which had been made with sections at all angles.  An alcove just inside the entrance was I think meant to be for toilets, but these were not present - just a few chairs without seats. There may well have been toilets in other sections, but for calls of nature we ran over Lower Albert Road to the ones in the CSO building.))

    Off duty at 3pm, had meal at Parisian Grill ((my pass allowed me to eat there free of charge.)).  Bought lemonade as an excuse to stay longer when the siren sounded. Got into conversation with a stranger, Mr Robinson  of Metals Control Office.  Then went to Dina House, 2nd floor, as instructed, to get a billet, but couldn't get any satisfaction about where I was to sleep.  Phoned Olive's office and she and Topper (who was then visiting her) came and carried me off.  Had dinner with them at Gloucester, where met Eric Kennard ((Govt. clerk)) and he and one other escorted me back to Dina House where I met up with Mr G. P. Murphy and he directed me to a camp bed in a room with two ARP girls Janet Broadbridge and Lillian Hope (both from Kowloon).  Hardly slept because it was so cold, also had no nightwear as my luggage hadn't arrived.

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

    Date(s) of events described: 
    Sat, 13 Dec 1941

    Edith Hamson, her children May and Richard, her mother Mrs. Wood and her younger sister Leilah, are all at Kowloon Hospital. As the sun comes up, the first Japanese soldier appears - 'in his wake followed an army of soldiers, who began to tear the place apart':

    Screams of terror echoed through the corridors...it was apparent that they were intoxicated with a brutal rage. They set about destroying hospital equipment...I saw doctors and orderlies with bloody faces, and some of the nurses had been beaten and knocked to the floor.

    Soon the entire building is in Japanese hands and they are prisoners. The water is off, and they are given only small portions of rice and 'a few extra pieces from the hospital kitchen'. ((See note below))


    Military withdrawal from Kowloon is completed by about 8.30 a.m. Half an hour later, the Japanese, now holding the Mainland, send over a 'peace mission' asking Governor Sir Mark Young to surrender to avoid an all-out assault on the Island. Two women, Mrs. C. R. Lee, wife of a senior official, and Mrs. MacDonald, are taken across the harbour with them as hostages. Mrs. Lee brings her two dachshunds. Mrs MacDonald is pregnant and needs to get to hospital - Mrs. Lee made taking her a condition of participation.

    American writer Gwen Dew and reporter Vaughn Meissling photograph and interview the participants. They're then taken away for questioning by 'good-looking' policeman and future author George Wright-Nooth.

    The peace mission leaving Kowloon:

    1941 Peace Mission

    Gwen Dew's photograph of the mission on Hong Kong island:

    1941 Peace Mission Photograph by Gwen Dew

    Newspaper reports of the peace mission:

    1941 Peace Mission-part two
    1941 Peace Mission-part one

    The Governor rejects the peace proposals out of hand. The Japanese are not ready to land on the Island yet. While making their preparations, they attack military targets with an intensive campaign of shelling and bombing. This begins immediately with shells falling in the crowded districts of Kennedy Town and West Point. Chinese casualties are heavy, and there are too many fires for the Fire Brigade to extinguish. The devastation of whole areas depresses civilian morale.


    Jesuit Father Thomas Cooney goes to minister at the French Hospital (St. Paul's) in Causeway Bay:

    (H)e found the whole place transformed from the orderly, smoothly-running hospital which he knew, with a convent and school beside it, to a much more complicated war-time institution. The ordinary patients had been moved away to one of the buildings on the race-course in Happy Valley, and the whole hospital was taken over by the government for Chinese civilian casualties. Provision was made in the hospital proper for 300 patients.

    The hospital's under the Government-appointed Dr. Dean Smith.

    Father Cooney is welcomed by the sisters, as priests from nearby St. Margaret's haven't been able to get through to say mass for some days. He's given a room on the second floor and he 'realised with a certain amount of dismay that there was only a ceiling and a tiled floor between him and visiting areoplanes'. They don't bother him the first night, but that's the last night's untroubled rest he's to have for some time.


    Noel Croucher, passing along the seafront, notices every pane of plate glass has been broken by the Jeanette explosion.


    Arthur Morse, based in London, has been looking after the affairs of the HSBC. Today he receives a letter from Sideny Caine of the Colonial Office telling him that Vandeleur Grayburn has wired asking for an Order-in-Council to be prepared transferring the Bank's Head Office from Hong Kong to London with Morse as Acting Chief Manager. Grayburn wants this to be put into effect only if the Bank falls into enemy hands. Morse waits for further instructions, but none come, and on December 15th he will arrange to take control and on the 16th he will wire all branches to say that the Head Office is now in London and no instructions from Hong Kong should be acted on until confirmed from there. Morse has good reason to take these steps: he fears that the Bank's assets will be frozen in the United States if its Head Office falls into enemy hands.


    The Daily Mirror does its best to stay positive:

    Page 1

    In Hong Kong our advanced posts have been withdrawn, but Chinese are attacking the rear flank of the Japanese there.

     Page 8, Continued from page 1:

     Hong Kong Outposts Retired

    Japanese pressure on our advanced positions at Hong Kong has caused us to withdraw in the direction of Kowloon, but this movement is from our advanced positions only.

    Chinese forces under the direct command of General Chiang Kai Shek are cutting off the Japanese from the rear and back in their attempts to take Hong Kong.


    Hamson: Allana Corbin, Prisoners of the East, 2002, 83-85

    Peace Mission: Tony Banham, Not the Slightest Chance, 2003, 69-70

    Mrs. Lee, 'good-looking': Gwen Dew, Prisoner of the Japs, 1943, 33-35

    The Governor rejects: John Luff, The Hidden Years, 1967, 57-58

    Cooney: Thomas F. Ryan, Jesuits Under Fire In The Siege of Hong Kong, 1944, 75-76

    Croucher: John Luff, The Hidden Years, 1967, 50

    Arthur Morse: Maurice Collis, Wayfoong, 1965, 219-220

    Note: Kowloon Hospital

    Oliver Lindsay (The Lasting Honour, 1978, 61) dates the arrival of Japanese troops in the Hospital as 5 p.m. on December 12. Dr. Newton's diary account (Captive Christmas, 1979, 51 - and see yesterday's entry) is his probable source, although it seems from Newton's account that it was a Japanese doctor who arrived at 5 p.m. and the soldiers with fixed bayonets, mentioned by Lindsay, came a few hours later.

    If I have reconstructed the chronology of Allana Corbin's narrative correctly, the troops are said to enter on the fourteenth. As the description clearly begins at dawn, I've placed it on December 13 on the assumption that Mrs. Hamson became aware of the presence of the soldiers at this time because a more complete occupation of the kind she describes was taking place.

    But, as this note shows, the fear and uncertainty of the time are reflected in the confusion of the sources. Further research is obvously necessary, but it might not yield a clear and indisputable chronology.

    Note: Peace Mission

    John Luff's The Hidden Years (1967, page 57) claims that Mrs. MacDonald was 'an invalid' and she was on the launch in order to be taken to hospital. Gwen Dew (my source above) says it was a Russian woman who was pregnant. Again, it's not surprising that descriptions of these events are sometimes confused and contradictory.

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

    Date(s) of events described: 
    Sat, 13 Dec 1941

    We hear rumours that the Mainland is being evacuated and that the Royal Scots, Middlesex Regt. and the Indian Regts. are fighting a rearguard action back to Kowloon. Other rumours are that looting and rioting by Chinese agitators is taking place in the city of Kowloon. Police have opened fire to stop the looting.

    I have a very busy day, cajoling and driving the Chinese bakers to get a move on in order to keep up the bread production. I beat down and set the Aldershot ovens, as the Chinese wearing shorts find it too hot on their legs. In fact my No.2 Baker Tam Tong gets his legs burned. So I give him a pair of my Army slacks to protect his legs.

    Hammond, Tuck, and Bonner also get stuck in and do a lot of the work.

    Aldershot ovens consist of two segments of half circle metal laid end to end. They are set up in a row (in our case 15) the rear is sealed off, the sides and back are built up with turves or sandbags. A trench is dug in the front and about 1ft of soil is placed on the top to keep in the heat. Firewood is placed inside the ovens and when burnt down to the embers the bread on metal trays is set on top of the red hot embers. The front is then sealed off with a metal door and mud to keep the heat and steam in. It takes about 1 hr to bake the bread.

  • 13 - 18 Dec 1941, Laura B Ziegler's wartime memories

    Date(s) of events described: 
    Sat, 13 Dec 1941 to Thu, 18 Dec 1941

    I would go to town every other day to buy food, and Reverend Buuck would go the other days. Each family had a ration card, but we could only buy for our own family, so when I went down I could only buy for the 7 in our family and Reverend Buuck could only buy for five. In this way we had enough of the rationed foods for 7 one day and 5 the next. This was made to last the 12 of us. We would leave the house in the morning with a prayer for our own safety and also for the loved ones left behind. There would always be heavy shelling or a bombing or two while being gone. The children were always excited to see what was in the basket.

    The bombs and shells fell within 100 feet of all sides of us, plaster fell and glass broke in every room of the house. We also found pieces of shrapnel and bullets in the house but none of us were hurt. During a heavy shelling or an air raid we all had our certain places to sit, so that there would be no confusion. Our family sat in one corner of the basement and the Buucks in the other so we would not be in direct line with a window or door. Here we sat and prayed for the lord’s protection. We are certain that if we had not been protected by the Lord during these air raids and the bombardments we would not be here today.

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

    Book / Document: 
    Date(s) of events described: 
    Sat, 13 Dec 1941

    The following morning (Dec 13th) I was ordered to take some lorries to Aberdeen and await the arrival of HMS Thracian, which was bringing the rearguard over from Kowloon.  The main body had been brought over in the afternoon and night of the 12th.

    When the “Thracian” arrived I had the opportunity of talking to Brig. Wallace who expressed the greatest admiration for the Japanese soldiers.  He told me they were extremely well armed and thoroughly competent.  He estimated they were in very large numbers and that had been the deciding factor in eliminating our small force, for although their casualties had been very heavy there was always a fresh man to fill the gap, whereas our force was too small to start with and was utterly exhausted by three to four days continual fighting.  Also the complete lack of aircraft added greatly to our difficulties.

    On the night of the 13th we again went to Stanley, this time we worked all night.  The one big gun out of the three at Stanley which was able to fire landwards was firing three shells every half hour.  These guns were supposed to be extremely accurate and the gunners were confident they were inflicting considerable damage, but of course they had no air reports to help them.

  • 13 Dec 1941, Harry Ching's wartime diary

    Book / Document: 
    Date(s) of events described: 
    Sat, 13 Dec 1941

    Uneventful. The reason became clear; the enemy are in full control of the mainland and hope to have no further trouble. They sent a peace mission over, to demand unconditional surrender - or else. The party of three Japanese officers came in a Yaumati ferry launch bearing at its bows a white sheet with the words "Peace Mission". One of the aides carried a small white flag on a stick. These signals were not immediately seen, and as the launch pulled out from Holt's Wharf at Kowloon it was fired upon but not hit.

    The Governor replied that he was not prepared to enter into any conference or parley on the subject. Their demand having been rejected with formal contempt, the callers left after handshakes and salutes. There had been some muttering that in the hopeless circumstances Hongkong should never have been defended; but we are proud of our defiance. Resumption of shelling in the afternoon caused temporary suspension of the tram and bus services. The night deadly quiet.

  • 13 Dec 1941, Don Ady's wartime memories

    Book / Document: 
    Date(s) of events described: 
    Sat, 13 Dec 1941

    ((Dan wrote the following notes in 2013. The exact dates of the evacuation and hostage-taking aren't known, but should be sometime between the outbreak of war and the surrender:))

    Island Evacuees: Some Caucasians from outlying islands were evacuated soon after the war started by the police. Two former neighbors of mine remained on Cheung Chow, I suppose because they had refused to leave.

    Miss Marion Potter, age 77, British, lived across the dusty road from us off on a small headland. She was a sweet old lady, always courteous, but lived a lonely life. It was due to the 17 cats that she kept. They made such a powerful odor of scat, that it stung the eyes in the face of the sea breeze, and may as well have been a moat full of crocodiles. She was later in Stanley, at least if it was the same Potter listed in Greg Leck's book.

    Mr. McKenzie, a bit further away, an elderly man, lived alone in a stone house. He perfectly fit the stereotype of a cranky mean old miser. When I was 7 years old going on 8, he got some new boarders, Alan and Marjorie Thompson, fiery red headed twins my age, and their mother - the father was off on missionary work in China. One day Mrs. Thompson sent poor little Marjorie over to borrow a teapot.

    McKenzie, seeing opportunity knock, told her to pick up one that had a loose handle. When the handle lifted off, the pot smashed on the floor. After making a nasty scene, he tacked it, at an inflated price, on their rental bill - hard on their meager budget. No one in the village would work for him, as he had cheated them. In several cases, after some workman had conscientiously finished a job, he told lies - making up a false pretext of shoddy workmanship and refused to pay anything at all.

    Soon after the police departed Cheung Chow, this seperate pair was rounded up together by bandits demanding ransom. Fat chance of that. If McKenzie had anything buried, he would have seen them to hell before telling about it. I can see him answering all queries in as aggravating a manner as he could muster. For this they unsurprisingly killed him.

    Miss Potter however, treating them courteously, was treated with respect and was eventually released.


    When at the gathering, Laura Darnell and I and were accompanied by David Bellis on a walk about on Cheung Chau, led by a Chinese resident friend of Geoff Emerson. David had with him an old map from the land office with houses in the hill section and names of the owners - dating to the 1930's. ((See the map at http://gwulo.com/node/12725))

    I ought to have recognized 6 or 12 names, probably, but saw only one I knew - the name of the not so nice miser McKenzie.

    Ergo others I knew of there were renters, not owners. In those days Chinese were not allowed to own on that part of Cheung Chau beyond some certain stone boundary markers - a retrograde rule now long rescinded.

    I would suppose that McKenzie's nationality would be noted in the old land ownership records, if those exist at the land office. Maybe on the jurors list - though probably not so much. My information by rumor really is that the brigands who kidnapped him and Miss Potter - killed him. Probably true and plausible when I imagine his interactions with his captors - barking in their faces so to speak with no word of where he had hid his pot of gold (which probably no longer existed).

    Miss Potter had an almost regal courtesy extended to even little children such as myself in those days - probably even to brigands. It must have charmed them also and led to her release. When at the Gathering I saw her headstone at the cemetery in Stanley. It read Marion POTTER, DIED 17.8.1943 AGED 81. She was a spinster ex school teacher, I believe. She and McKenzie had not wanted to evacuate or were simply missed in 1941 when police had taken other Europeans to Hong Kong. When she was kidnapped and later went to Stanley she left 17 cats behind.

    In thinking of the place I recall we had a resident amah for awhile. She did the ironing with an interesting antiquated iron - made of cast iron. No electricity. It was hollow with a little iron door. Glowing charcoals were put inside. This made it really hot. Starch was applied in an old fashioned way with the water preventing scorching of cloth being ironed. Our amah took a mouthful and spewed it out like an atomizer in a rather uniform spray! The steam hissed out as the iron struck the damp fabric. 

  • 13 Dec 1941, South China Morning Post

    Book / Document: 
    Date(s) of events described: 
    Sat, 13 Dec 1941
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  • 13 Dec 1941, W J Carrie's wartime diary

    Book / Document: 
    Date(s) of events described: 
    Sat, 13 Dec 1941

    7.45 am   A perfectly quiet night – and so a lovely sleep. A bit stiff this morning but otherwise fine – now to my new office to organise it.

    Another very busy day but quiet – the blitz however is coming. We have really been experiencing an armistice today. I was told by W.J. that 3 Japanese Officers accompanied by 2 European women, one the wife of Rene’ Lees who is acting P.S. at Govt House and a Mrs Macdonald.  The papers say she is pregnant.  The launch bearing the party had a large banner on it with the word “Peace”.  Well I suppose they had a conference some place and I think they were just told “nothing doing”.  Sometime later the general message came through that an intensified bombardment was considered imminent. Well 6.45pm – it hasn’t come yet.  We are blessed – the first time I think I’ve ever blessed a Peak fog! – with really thick weather -  it’s clammy again - so perhaps it won’t come off.   But I saw my first casualties today.  I came up in the Peak Tram as I didn’t want to take my driver all the way up to the Peak if I could avoid it. I don’t know what caused them – shrapnel probably – in Kennedy Road just near the bridge there were two poor coolies.  We have been thrown terribly out of gear because no ordinary burials are taking place so besides “catering” for war casualties I have to bury everybody who is so inconsiderate as to die just now.  Bad taste in humour I know, L.O., but only stern realities these days – and so we have no sentiment.

    I wonder what’s coming tonight – fog stops bombing but they have accurate plans and shelling can take place in any weather.  Like Win I do not like the whine of shells.  You’ll probably never hear the one that hits you and I’m told that when you hear the whine the shell has long passed you.  As sound travels slowly. Still it isn’t nice to listen to!  I haven’t the wind up, Loved One, but I don’t want to take any risks.  If I can be completely safe - though I’d have no comfort - in the basement or first floor of Northcote Training College - why stay here just to look after the house? – and our goods.  I have offered Win to come here and have the whole place, and she has refused – ok by me!   News now on and I can’t think what the reaction will be on the English speaking population of H.K. We know where the Japanese are – right in Kowloon –everywhere - and yet London scoffs the Tokyo report that they are where they are!

    Well Honey I’ve had chow now – compradore will no longer supply anything and I am trying to see where I can get stuff now.  We should be able to draw rations but the Food Controller - though he is not just a mere civil servant - but a banker with a staff of “business men” has failed to do his stuff.  I don’t blame him in the slightest – he had an impossible task when the Military pinched every lorry he had expected to have to sort out his stores.

    Wireless out here is of course quite impossible now - the Japanese are in control in Shanghai and they are blanketing everything.

    Well  Adored    I think I must tuck down now – I’m not making up my mind tonight. I don’t want to leave 152 if it is safe and if I can have a car up and down, but I really can’t go on with this feeble sort of transport.  Goodnight Adored      Billie

  • 13 Dec 1941, My War Years. 1941-1945.

    Book / Document: 
    Date(s) of events described: 
    Sat, 13 Dec 1941

    The following day ((i.e. the 13th)) we were ordered by the Marine Department to scuttle our vessel alongside the dockyard wall, a task I had to do and which broke my heart to see such a fine vessel which had been home to me for 6 months lost in this ignominious way.

    We were offered accommodation in the European Staff Quarters of the Dockyard Company on Stanley Terrace. 

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