79 years ago: Hong Kong's wartime diaries
- Submitted by brian edgar on Tue, 2012-01-17 22:40Book / Document:Date(s) of events described:Wed, 5 May 1943
In January 1943 the Senate of Hong Kong University had decided to hold matriculation examinations in approved subjects. These exams begin today.
Lindsay Ride, in Clifford Matthews and Oswald Cheung (eds.), Hong Kong University During The War Years: Dispersal and Renewal, 1998, 18.
- Submitted by Admin on Sat, 2013-04-20 20:46Book / Document:Date(s) of events described:Wed, 5 May 1943
Boxing pm. Very good too. Saw Steve after.
Dutch notified that allowance has been stopped by Tokyo.
Rumour that 6 ships on way for our repatriation.
Japs lost 13 from 21 planes over Canton.
- Submitted by Admin on Tue, 2016-05-17 14:06
- Submitted by HK Bill on Thu, 2021-06-17 13:23Book / Document:Date(s) of events described:Wed, 5 May 1943
Curiously enough, after receiving these letters, I passed through a period of most frightful depression. No doubt there were numerous contributory causes, many of them more or less subconscious – such as living all this time in such unbelievably overcrowded conditions; perpetual queueing for everything – meals, hot water, bath rooms etc. – all things we have grown more or less used to but which, (I find) in spite of ‘British fortitude’, ‘Cheerfulness in adversity’ and all the other admirable maxims, do, at times, fill my soul with weariness and my heart with a great longing to be out of this place. The worsening food situation probably had something to do with it too; but as I say, curiously it was these letters that made me think more vividly of home and our families and friends, and made me begin to wonder if we should ever see them again.
Now thank God, I have recovered and am prepared again to plod along with this state of existence – I think we shall be here for about another year, as repatriation arrangements don’t appear to be getting anywhere. One cannot expect the Home Government to affect an un-favourable exchange of prisoners or assign ships which are urgently needed for other purposes, just for the sake of a small section of the community. What makes the situation so hard to bear is the uncertainty of everything – we know nothing! We don’t know, of course, how long we are to be here – if only we could look to a definite date, what a help it would be.
I have been overhearing a casual conversation in the hall of our flat, between two women:
“Hello, my Dear, how are you?”
“Oh I’m pretty well thanks, lost a bit of weight lately”.
“Have you, so have I. Aren’t you sick to death of this place? I am”.
“Yes I am too; but you know, I believe we are going to get out of it quite soon”.
“Do you really? Honestly and truly?”
“Yes I really do. I think arrangements have been finally made but the Japs are not going to tell us anything about it until just before the ships arrive – they had so much trouble about money etc. with the few Americans when they left, so they are not going to give us a chance to do the same. I heard that Anthony Eden referred, in the House the other day, to British war Prisoners in the Far East and said that 6 ships had been selected to come here and take us away”.
“Did you really? As a matter of fact I heard a ship was due to arrive here on 26th or 27th of this month to take off the Canadians and the aged and infirm”.
“Yes, I heard that too”.
“My Dear, how marvellous. So you really think we shouldn’t be here much longer?”
“Yes I really do. I think we shall be suddenly whisked off when we are least expecting it”.
“That sounds too wonderful for words! My Dear, you’ve cheered me up no end.”
“Good, I’m feeling most optimistic these days”. Well, I must go and wash these sheets”.
All the camp over, these conversations of mutual comfort and encouragement take place – and good they are, within reason, for the camp morale, though doubtless there is no truth in them whatever.
To return to my former theme: we don’t know how long we shall be here; we don’t know whether we shall get another allowance – we received at the beginning of January MY20 and a second gift of MY25 each at the beginning of March, we were then told officially the Brit Govt had paid another MY25 each (pdv £250) to Tokyo for April, so it seemed as if it were to be a monthly allowance, which was grand. Now we have been officially informed that Tokyo refuses to give us these allowances as Japanese internees in Australia are not receiving allowances – there must be some other reason behind this, for perhap the Japanese Government has not attempted to send money to their nationals in Australia because these Japanese internees are very much looked after and don’t need to have their food rations supplemented by money in order to buy more.
The popular suggestion is that the Japanese Government is trying to use the unpleasant situation here as a lever to persuade the Brit Govt to an exchange of prisoners at an exchange ratio greatly in favour of the Japs. I am inclined to think the whole thing (or the chief consideration) is due to the shipping difficulties. I don’t think the Home Govt can be worrying about the idea of keeping British subjects here and a representative of HM Government for the sake of maintaining this place as a British Colony after the war. That question would have to be settled with the other reparation questions; though some people like to quote the saying that,“Possession is nine tenths of the law”.
Another of the uncertain quantities here is the food (clothing to a lesser degree). The BCC has again made strong representations to the Japanese about the food situation.
During March Mr Hatori succeeded to the position of officer in charge of Internment Camps in HK and the New Territories, thitherto held by Mr Odah (or Otah). Mr Hatori had been an internee in an Australian camp, where he admitted quite freely to the BCC he had, with the other internees, received excellent treatment and accommodation and he was evidently taken aback by the conditions he found here. He was truly appalled by the conditions in the hospital where, it was made known to him, that the only supplies received from the Japanese during these 15 months of internment were 200 tablets of an anti-dysentry drug that had been given as a personal gift by a sympathetic Japanese doctor who had visited the hospital earlier on and realised the difficulties. Other supplies were brought in with the doctors and nurses from the British hospitals they had vacated, or which were in this hospital before the war. Dr Selwyn-Clarke had managed to send in some stuff from the French Convent Hospital etc.
This Tweed Bay Hospital is really a block of Indian Warders’ quarters which was converted into a temporary Red Cross hospital for this area just before the war. It is by no means an ideal hospital, but as it housed single men there are some big rooms – dormitories, dining rooms etc. – which make suitable wards. It has 3 stories and the nurses occupy the top floor (24 of them in one large dormitory, poor things! Night nurses, as well as day nurses.)
This plan I have drawn is not to scale and the wards are too attenuated; they should be a little wider. On the ground floor the right hand ward is divided into the office and stores. In the middle is a ward, at the left end is the operating theatre and medical stores. All the first floor is wards. The kitchen and dispensary block is one story high. One real tragedy has occurred at the hospital through lack of equipment, but of that, anon.
Mr Hatori was taken round the camp and shown the inadequate bathroom and lavatory accommodation in some of the blocks, particularly Block 10. It was also pointed out to him that except for the lavatory fittings in the Married Quarters blocks and the Bungalows, the WC’s in all the other blocks were of the native type, sunk into the floor, a type never used by Europeans normally. He asked what arrangements we had for heating our bath water in winter and was told that no-one had had a hot bath since coming into camp! This shocked Mr Hatori, for the Japanese are very particular about personal cleanliness. Later he suggested to Mr Gimson that better accommodation could be found for some of the women in town, but the C.S. decided it would be better for their health if they remained at Stanley than if they went into town where they would be shut up in Chinese hotels. But Mr Hatori said that it was not possible to extend the limits of the camp to include other buildings (Jap army regulations I suppose) though he promised that in the case of an epidemic the Prep School should be made available as an Isolation Hospital. He also promised that in future the camp rations should be supplied on a weight basis and not as hitherto, on a price basis – prices of commodities are continually rising and consequently our rations were continually falling.
Soon after this a consignment of ‘ration biscuits’ came in, enough for about 1 lb per person. These biscuits were made before the war by Lane Crawfords Ltd, as a result of research conducted by Dr Herklotts. Normally, the residue of peanuts after they had been heated and crushed by machinery for peanut oil, quickly went sour and was used only for pig and cattle food. This residue however, contained excellent food value and vitamins B and C and the anti Beri Beri vitamin, whatever vitamin that is, (Beri Beri being prevalent amongst a large rice eating population when, through poverty usually, an unbalanced diet is consumed. It starts with swelling of the legs and causes weakening of the heart and death. There were many mild cases of Beri Beri in the camp last year; both Isa and Mr Lammert had swollen ankles).
Dr Harklotts found that by using the residue straight away and mixing it with other ingredients, a very nourishing and sustaining biscuit could be produced – practically from waste products. So in HK the manufacture of these siege biscuits was started on a big scale. With the capitulation of the Colony, these stores of biscuits, along with all the other food supplies, fell to the Japanese and no doubt much of the stuff was shipped away for Jap army supplies. However, there was, apparently, one godown full of these biscuits merely stacked in sacks, as there had not been time to pack them in cases. These, even after one year, were still very hard, but most of the biscuits bore signs of the presence of little worms, weavils etc. We brushed each biscuit with an old tooth brush and then baked them again! And they taste very good. No one turns a hair at weavils and worms in flour, oats and rice etc. these days.
The other day I de-weaviled 3 desert spoon fulls of oats for porridge and for curiosity I counted the weavils. They totaled 108! That was not including the worms which, I believe amounted to about 12. The other signs of Mr Hatori’s activities on our behalf, is the increase of the flour ration again to 4.22 oz per head per day. The rice has been cut from 12 oz to 8 oz, but that was unimportant as we were getting more rice than we could eat.