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.
  • 5 Jan 1942: RE Jones Diary

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    Date(s) of events described: 
    Mon, 5 Jan 1942

    Today duty. H Block. Nothing of interest. Heard 13 Jap ships sunk.

  • 5th Jan 1942. Barbara Anslow's Diary

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    Date(s) of events described: 
    Mon, 5 Jan 1942

    Most of us in Tai Koon sent to Murray Parade Ground by the Japs to register intenees.  The idea seemed to be to compile some sort of register under such headings as women, children, men, ages, nationality, occupation etc.  We were sat out in the open at trestle tables, and chairs, and each given a different category to record on printed forms. We hadn't been there very long when we were told to stop, as the job would take too long.

    A stencilled edict was passed round giving plans for internees ('internists' the Japs called us), how much food (in ounces) we would be given, what we would be allowed to do, etc. etc.  It dismayed us at first.

    Returned to Tai Koon, and from then on weren't allowed out.

    ((We ARP people seemed to be the first group to be interned in these little Chinese hotels.  In due course, most of the rest of Briish civilians were sent to similar hotels.))

  • 5 Jan 1942, Chronology of Events Related to Stanley Civilian Internment Camp

    Date(s) of events described: 
    Mon, 5 Jan 1942

    Between 1000 and 1500 civilians gather at the Murray Parade Ground.

    A number of people living in outlying areas are not present because news of the order never reached them, while others decide to risk ignoring it.


    After chaotic scenes, most of those present are marched off to low quality hotels on the waterfront where they will be kept for more than two weeks. Historian Oliver Lindsay writes:

    This 'accommodation' was chosen by the Japanese with a view to destroying what little remained of British 'face' or prestige.

    Similar thoughts seem to have gone through the minds of some people on the day. American missionary John Bechtel and his party are drawn up in front of a 'dreary-looking, red-brick, five-story structure' - the Ta Kwan (Tai Koon) Hotel.

    A 'wave of indignation' passes along the line as it's realised they're going to be confined in such a 'disreputable' building. With so many 'European-styled' hotels in town, why confine them in what most of them believe is a 'Chinese brothel'? They stumble up the 'narrow, gloomy, dirty, dusty staircase' but are told on the first floor landing there's no room and they must go higher. After finding their rooms, they're so unhappy with them they ask if they can go to a still higher storey, but they're told that all floors are the same, and on the fourth floor are Germans who've been billetted there even though they're allies of the Japanese (they have, though, been given passes so they can enter and leave freely).


    Wenzell Brown is in the South Asia Hotel:

    This had been a waterfront brothel before the war....

    The six of us were taken up the stairs and led into a room. It had no windows and there were no lights. It was about seven feet long and six feet wide and contained one bed....A trickle of water seeped into the room at one corner. I explored and found the toilets adjoined the room. The water supply had broken down long ago. Well water had been thrown into the toilets and had spread out over the floor. Already the odour was sickening, and it would get steadily worse.


    John Stericker is in Room 312 of the Tung Fong Hotel:

    (W)e drew up at a gloomy and decadent looking building that called itself a hotel. It had been part brothel, part boarding house for impoverished seamen and the employees of the chicken boats. Into this miserable hovel, devoid of all light and ordinary amenities, one hundred and fifty 'hotel guests' continued marching...four people slept on one bed seventy-two inches by thirty-six.

    At the top of the staircase was a small opening to the outer air and a railed passage led to the dirtiest water-closets it is possible to imagine. There were two of them for one hundred and fifty of us...

    On the floor below was the kitchen. This was almost as unsavoury as the lavatories. Its walls were black with soot.


    The bankers are divided into groups: those who are needed to help with the liquidation of their own banks are sent to the Sun Wah Hotel, the rest to the Nam Ping Hotel.


    Numbers: John Stericker, A Tear For The Dragon, 1958 142-143

    This 'accommodation': Oliver Lindsay, At The Going Down of the Sun, 1981, 34

    Bechtel: John Bechtel, Fetters Fall, 1945, 166-167, 169

    Brown: Wenzell Brown, Hong Kong Aftermath, 1943, 54-55

    Bankers: Frank King, History of the Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation, Volume 3, 1988, 573

    Note: How many of those who were sent to Stanley were in the hotels?

    The two weeks or so in the squalid and sometimes rat-infested hotels on the waterfront were possibly the worst part of the captivity as far as discomfort and privation went, so it's worth trying to establish roughly how many of the soon-to-be-internees experienced it.

    1) Let's start with the middle figure of Stericker's range for those on the Murray Parade Ground: 1250.

    2) As Barbara Anslow's diary shows, some people were already in hotels.

    3) On January 6 the police were added, as were a number of those who'd been sent away on the first day (see tomorrow's entry).

    4) Conditions in the Kowloon Hotel were similar to those on the waterfront, and the escaper R. B. Levkovich estimated that about 400 people ended up there, including those captured at the Repulse Bay Hotel and well-known Hong Kong 'character' Edward Gingle and his party. However, by no means all of these people were sent to Stanley, and there are much lower estimates - I think 200 would be a reasonable guess putting them all together

    5) Staff-Sergeant Sheridan's Memoir suggests that Lane, Crawford staff were taken from the Exchange Building at some point after January 9 - this suggests that the Japanese carried out 'sweeping up' operations after the bulk of those they wished to confine were already in the hotels.

    6) Many or most of the medical staff seem to have stayed in their institutions unless and until the Japanese wanted to take them over, when they were typically sent to another institution or straight into Stanley after it was set up.

    7) Groups of people on the Peak went straight into Stanley, as did most of the employees of Hong Kong University who remained on Campus. 

    8) I'm aware of a number of smaller groups who avoided the hotels and I'm sure there are many groups, large and small, I'm not aware of. One group worth mentioning is those in the North Point Camp/French Hospital - about 100 people who experienced conditions similar in some ways to those in the hotels.

    In summary: my best estimate at the moment is that between 1500 and 2000 people were in the hotels, either on the waterfront or in Kowloon. That's about 60% of the total, and a quick run through of internee memoirs on my shelves comes up with the same figure - about 60% were written by people who were in one or other of the hotels.

  • 5 Jan 1942, Laura B Ziegler's wartime memories

    Date(s) of events described: 
    Mon, 5 Jan 1942

    ((David: Although Mrs Ziegler gives the date as the 6th, all other diaries give the date the British, Americans & Dutch were sent to the hotels as the 5th, so that's the date I've used.))

    About 11:30 in the morning on January 6, the neighbor called us and told us he had just received notice that all British, Americans, and Dutch in the colony would have to be down to the park six blocks away, by noon to be interned. We were allowed to take what we could carry.

    We were glad then that we had our things ready to move. We ate the dinner the cook had ready, while we were putting on our wraps. We were glad afterward we had eaten because the Japs were unprepared to give us supper. We marched to a Chinese hotel ((the New Asia Hotel)) about two miles away from the place we had been living.

    My family was given a front porch with all the openings covered with canvas so we could not look out over the harbor. This also kept the cold winds out. The seven of us had one small room with only a davenport and chair in it. We slept on the floor.

    We shared the wash bowl in the Buuck’s room, and all 70 people on the floor shared the one bathroom. The water was turned on a few times a day for a short time. How everyone scrambled to wash before it was turned off again. The Buuck family was given the adjoining room. (Ed. There is a discrepancy here about the room)

    Some of the smaller inside rooms had no windows, but open lattice work near the ceiling to give a little air and light.

    We were crowded and could not go out except on the fire escape in the back. We could speak to our servants through the barred main entrance, but they were not allowed to come in. We asked Buuck’s cook if he would bring us a kettle of oatmeal every morning since we were given no breakfast. He did this and the guard allowed it to pass. We also asked them to bring us more of our things, but the soldiers in the place we left would not allow them to take anything.

    We were rationed rice and half spoiled meat, served in a scrub bucket, to be prepared by ourselves. We could use the stove only when the hotel servants were not using it. We had two meals a day, at noon and 5 or 6 in the evening. There was nothing to do but run up and down the steps or sit on the fire escape and look out into the dirty Chinese alley. Sometimes adults would tell a story. The doors were locked and nobody could go out.

  • 5 Jan 1942, Don Ady's wartime memories

    Book / Document: 
    Date(s) of events described: 
    Mon, 5 Jan 1942

    January 5th the Japs posted notice in town that all enemy aliens were to register at the Murray Parade Grounds, but some people didn't think that there was any thing funny in the air and just went to see what they were supposed to do and got slapped into some of the Chinese hotels, with just what they had on for the internment. And their folks or friend that were living with them during the siege didn't know where they were unless they managed smuggling letters out most likely.

    The internment in the hotels lasted from the 5th to the 22 of Jan and if we had stayed there all the time we probably would have been either dead or insane by the time repatriation came along. (We lived in the New Asian Hotel, which was the smallest and one of the best of the hotels, and was on the street and almost opposite the Sun Company.)

  • 05 Jan 1942, Eric MacNider's wartime diary

    Date(s) of events described: 
    Mon, 5 Jan 1942

    Interned at Chinese hotels. (Mee Chow, Tung Fong, Luk Hoi Tung, New Asia, Stag, Nanking, Tai Koon).

  • 05 Jan 1942, INTERNED - DECEMBER 1941

    Book / Document: 
    Date(s) of events described: 
    Mon, 5 Jan 1942

    ((The following text is undated:))

    We had to assemble in the street, carrying whatever we could, and were marched along until we came to the real Chinese area.  We then turned left down a road where the Chinese brothels were located.  As we were at the end of a long line of people, our brothel was not completely full, so that the first three floors were "business as usual".  We were crammed onto the top three floors of this dreadful old building and six of us, (Mary and her husband; Alec, my husband;Owen, Carmen, a friend called John Robertson, and myself) were put into a tiny room with a stone floor, a broken ceiling with rats looking down on us, and a Chinese wooden bed with its mattress covered in blood.  The six of us tried to wedge ourselves on the bed with legs over the side for the first night, but it was too uncomfortable, so we decided that the men would have to sleep on the floor on the mattress, while we girls, being afraid of the rats, would attempt to get what sleep we could on the bare wooden boards.  There was only one toilet for the whole floor (50 of us), and we wouldn't use it during the night, so we had to use a tin spittoon, illuminated with a torch, on the wooden bed, just above the heads of our menfolk, to relieve ourselves before going to sleep.

    We were not given any food by the Japanese for four days, but we were fortunate in the fact that Alec had a wonderful Chinese clerk in his office who came with a few tins of food for us; he most certainly risked his life.

    Occasionally a Japanese soldier would come into our room with a bayonet pointed at us, but would decide to leave us.  We were allowed to stretch our legs on the roof for half-an-hour, but then that had to stop in case the roof caved in!  We were in the brothel for about ten days.

  • 05 Jan 1942, P. O. W. and ESCAPE DIARY.

    Date(s) of events described: 
    Mon, 5 Jan 1942

    Rice for bkfst but before that Lt Sawamoto arrived with some med supplies and a lorry;  he took a fatigue party to CBS for camp beds.  I went along and had a look over the school.  It was about ½ full of patients (soldiers) malaria dysentery and other medical cases.  The Physics and Chem labs were in use as diagnostic labs.  We loaded 47 camp beds and while the party was taking them back to Sham Shui Po I asked Lt Sawamoto to take me over to Argyle St.  Conditions were very bad there.  They have about 1100 in there under care of Capt Banfill RCAMC, Dr Hargreaves and Eddy Gosano.  Drs Newton and Uttley have gone sick with dysentery.  There are 69 Indians and 13 Brit dysentery cases there and they have 43 Brit and 12 Indians in hospital – wounds and malaria etc.  They have had 6 deaths – 5 Brit (2dy hge and toxaemia – three and dysentery 2) and 1 Indian (dysentery).  They have 6 cases urgently in need of surgical attention and 12 other cases which they cannot nurse there.  They have no nursing orderlies.  Surg and med eqpt very meagre, some has been supplied from Kuong Wah but that is nearly exhausted.  Sanitation very bad.  Saw Flippance, Tamworth, RR Davies, Blaker, JF Paterson, Eric Bryden, Strellet, Sorby, Reggie Walker, etc.  Made arrangements to remove Sorby, and one other – both c [with] 2nd Hge to Kowloon Hosp – for operation at 1500.  Was not able to get nominal roll.  Banfill said Osler Thomas was shot at Shau Ki Wan.  Back to our camp.

    Had Bkfst – rice – on return about 1130.  Brigadier Peffers inspected hospital.  Started the hospital with the camp beds and put up bags over the windows.  Orderlies organised.  Issue of $5 per head for amenities.  Still large amount of trading going on over the fence.  Roads well lined with wire and troops.  Cool cloudy night with moon up about 2045.  Lt Sawamoto did not turn up this afternoon so unable to go over and help the others in Argyle St Camp. 

    All sorts of rumours in the camp about outside affairs, Manila fallen, S’pore surrounded, Wavell pushing on into Siam, British sub engaged Jap destroyer to south of H.K. etc.  Jap band coming tomorrow morning, and their sentries trying their propaganda on our men.  Their chief argument seems to be that they have already won and cannot understand why we do not realise we are beaten.

  • 05 Jan 1942, W J Carrie's wartime diary

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    Date(s) of events described: 
    Mon, 5 Jan 1942

    Time passes on. I was up at the house yesterday - still all safe. Cressall had told me it had been completely looted. I'm going to try and move things down, but I'm not sure if anywhere else will be any safer.        B.

  • 05 Jan 1942, W J Carrie's wartime diary

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    Date(s) of events described: 
    Mon, 5 Jan 1942

    ((Second entry for this date))

    Well we are all to be interned - we don't quite know when. A great many civilians with no jobs turned up at Murray Parade ground and went into several Chinese hotels but we had to send our names in through the C.S. and will stay put until we are sent away. But we have to be ready to move in about 10 minutes. So I decided today that Betsy had to go to sleep. I was so upset but I got an Inspector to do it and I am sure it was done properly. Poor Betsy - I got to like her more and more latterly - everybody liked her here - she was so good and friendly to everybody and put up with short rations like the rest of us. 
    Well - it couldn't be helped.    Goodnight L.O.      B

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