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

80 years ago: Hong Kong's wartime diaries

Shows diary entries from 80 years ago, using today's date in Hong Kong as the starting point. You can have these delivered to you by email each day, click here to subscribe. Or to see pages from earlier dates (they go back to 1 Dec 1941), please choose the date below and click the 'Apply' button.
  • 8 Dec 1941. R. E. Jones Wartime diary

    Book / Document: 
    Date(s) of events described: 
    Mon, 8 Dec 1941

    I started my birthday with a war. Kowloon bombed about 8AM. No1 Police Launch bombed at 10.30AM but she got away. A.A. fire seems to be futile. Posted No91 to Marj but it will not go now. She’ll be worrying now bless her. 11 hrs duty today. Organisation terrible.

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

    Date(s) of events described: 
    Mon, 8 Dec 1941

    In the first hour after midnight the Pacific War begins: the Japanese fleet, which has been making its way towards Malaya since December 4, begins to bombard the beach defences at Khota Bharu at 00.30 a.m. and a quarter of an hour later four lines of landing craft are headed towards the beach. The Japanese air force is still half an hour away from the American base at Pearl Harbour.  An Indian force, the 3/17 Dogras, pours an intense fire on the invaders with both artillery and machine guns. These are the first shots fired against the Axis in the Pacific.

    In Hong Kong small bombs - probably planted by Chinese fifth columnists - explode during the first two hours of the morning.


    At 1.30 a.m. Japan's 2nd China Fleet and 23rs Army army are ordered to attack Hong Kong


    At 4.45 Major Charles Boxer of Military Intelligence monitors a Japanese radio broadcast announcing the attack. This is soon confirmed by a British broadcast from Singapore. The order goes out to demolish roads and bridges in the northern New Territories - Hong Kong's first acts of resistance are carried out by men from the Royal Engineers, the Puinjabis, and the Volunteers. At 5 a.m. work starts on the demolition of the Kowloon to Canton Railway, and by 5.30 the forward bridges are blown.


    At 7 a.m. Kai Tak airport is warned of an imminent raid, and the enemy aircraft arrive there at about 8 and destroy a few antiquated planes (most but not quite all of Hong Kong's air force). At 10 a.m. a Japanese ground assault from southern China begins: troops are headed for a number of points, including the defensive 'Gin Drinkers Line'. This means that the first British civilians to encounter the invading army are the relatively few in the New Territories.

    Mildred Dibden, a 34 year old missionary, is running the Fanling Babies Home, which she founded in 1936. She receives an early telephone warning and gets the 34 older children into a lorry that's sent for them. The lorry hasn't returned for the remaining 54 infants when Japanese soldiers arrive to confront Miss Dibden, her assistant Ruth Little (aged 27) and 17 Chinese nurses and amahs.

    A Japanese soldier strikes her across the face with a rifle butt when she tries to stop the rape of  a young amah. Cots are overturned and a baby is trampled to death.

    Dibben and Little are not interned and the orphanage stays open throughout the war.


    The first thing most Hong Kong civilians know about the war is that Japanese planes are attacking Kai Tak airport at about 8 o'clock in the morning.

    What happens next depends on where you live and what role you will play in the response to the attack. 


    In Kowloon, which bears the brunt of the first shelling and air attacks, Aileen Woods and her twin sister Doris are dressing for work when, at about 8 a.m., they hear planes, ack ack guns and the sounds of people running about. At first they think it's a practice, but Aileen eventually picks up a radio broadcast from Singapore saying that there they've been bombed. The sisters make for the ferry but are turned back because they don't have a pass. They return home, and listen to the radio: ZBW (Radio Hong Kong) broadcasts the usual 12.15 prayers and there's dance music between 12.30 and 1.0'clock when the radio goes dead because another raid is starting.


    Dr. Isaac Newton has been rung at 6. 25 a.m. and informed that a 'precautionary stage' has been declared, but as he's told that doesn't mean taking any action, he goes back to sleep. He hears the air raid sirens at 8 a.m. and goes quickly to the Kowloon Hospital, arriving at 8.15. The first case is in the operating theatre by 9 a.m. He's hampered by lack of staff for about an hour and a half after that, as no public vehicles are allowed to travel while the raid is on. Over the day the hospital will admit 103 casualties and perform 27 operations.


    On Hong Kong Island they're also starting to put emergency plans into operation.

    Violet May Witchell is on her way to Bowen Road Military Hospital to start a fortnight's scheduled duty as a volunteer nurse. She's walking along Pok Fu Lam Road to catch the bus when Japanese planes fly over. An army truck pulls up and gives her a lift to the hospital. She doesn't return home until after liberation in 1945.


    Thomas Edgar came to Hong Kong in April 1938 as manager of the new Lane, Crawford Bakery in Stubbs Rd, having falsified his birth certificate to seem three years older and more experienced. He's almost certainly already at work by 8 a.m.,  and begins putting into operation plans he's been making since November 1938 when he was told not to join the Volunteers but to get his bakery ready for any 'emergency'. Some time during the day he's officially appointed Deputy Supply Officer Bakeries.


    Government employee Phyllis Harrop is woken at 5.30 by the telephone and told that 'the worst had happened':

    In the course of the last few weeks I have been taken off my hospital job and told that I was required for more important work, but nothing else had been said to to me except that if and when anything happened I was to report to Police Headquarters immediately.

    She's ordered down to the shelters for the first air raid; in the afternoon she takes Andrew Gilmour of the Malayan Colonial staff to the Naval Dockyard and then drives to her Chief's house on the Peak to collect blankets and clean clothes for him - he's decided they're all sleeping in the office that night as they're too busy to go home. The last raid is at about 9.30 p.m., and they turn in on camp beds at about 11.


    The Irish Jesuits, although technically neutral and soon to be busy with their religious duties, will show themselves ready to help the defence in non-military ways.  Father O'Mara volunteers to help Billeting Headquarters. They're already having problems because it's hard to get petrol. He's at HQ (the Nippon Building, close to the Naval Dockyard, one of the main targets for shelling), waiting to take some Volunteer dependants to their billets; cars are promised:

    The people arrived, women and children and old men, but the cars did not. It was 6.15 ((p.m.)). An hour passed. It was quite dark and no one knew when an air-raid might come. (It turned out fortunately that there was no night bombing, but we did not know that then). The people sat on their luggage and waited; some of the babies cried. At 8.15 the buses arrived.

    That was billeting on the first day. It was an inauspicious beginning.


    Food Control has its problems too. Under Emergency Powers all food supplies are under government control and institutions with resident inmates - hospitals, children's homes, boarding schools etc. - are supplied from government depots, an allocation being made for each resident after forms are filled in. Members of the auxillary defence services, including Essential Workers, can eat at certain restaurants, including the Cafe Wiseman, in the Exchange Building, the Lane, Crawford headquarters in Des Voeux Rd. The poorer Chinese, many of whom now lose their day-labouring jobs, are to be fed from food kitchens. There's plenty of food in Hong Kong, but, as the civilian transport system breaks down quickly, it's hard to get it to where it's needed, as the next section indicates.


    The Redwood family are woken up by a Chinese clerk at 6.30 a.m. Barbara's told to be at the ARP office at 7. Soon after they hear the air raid sirens and are now certain what's happening. Olive hurries off to the Food Control Office and Mabel to her Army job. Mrs. Redwood eventually takes up her post at the emergency hospital in the Happy Valley Jockey Club. Before the end of the day the problems faced right from the start by the wartime administrators have become clear to her:

    The Food Control Department had long since made plans for emergency feeding, and godowns (warehouses) all over the Colony were well stocked with food, but the suddenness of the attack and consequent congestion on the roads caused delays in deliveries. Eventually some sacks of rice arrived, but by the time we managed to get it cooked and distributed, the time was seven in the evening.


    But not everyone has an assigned role in the defence.

    Quaker missionary William Sewell has just been reunited with his wife Mary and their three young children (two girls and a boy). They are with friends at a house at the foot of the Peak, getting ready to fly to Free China. As they are only passing through, they have no role in the long-prepared plans for the defence of the colony. The Sewells' task is to comfort and care for their children.


    In the UK the headlines are of course about Pearl Harbour. But The Daily Mirror does offer this snippet on its last page:

    The Governor of Hong Kong issued a proclamation calling out volunteers.

    That was yesterday. Today those Volunteers have started to go into action.


    Times of early events in Hong Kong Tony Banham, Not the Slightest Chance, 2003, 26-28; The Battle of Hong Kong 1941: A Spatial History Project at https://digital.lib.hkbu.edu.hk/1941hkbattle/en/map.html

    Dibden and Little: Susanna Hoe, The Private Life of Old Hong Kong, 1991, 275; see also http://brianedgar.wordpress.com/2013/07/29/mildred-dibden/

    Woods: John Luff, The Hidden Years, 1967, 39

    Newton: Alan Birch and Martin Cole, Captive Christmas, 1979, 7; 17

    Witchell: Lady May Ride, in Sally Blyth and Ian Wotherspoon, Hong Kong Remembers, 1996, 11

    Edgar: Article in British Baker, September 13, 1946, viewable at http://brianedgar.wordpress.com/2011/10/18/thomas-edgar-some-documentation/

    Harrop: Phyllis Harrop, Hong Kong Incident, 1943, 67-68

    Father O'Mara: Thomas F. Ryan, Jesuits Under Fire In The Siege Of Hong Kong, 1944, 16

    Food Control: G. B. Endacott and Alan Birch, Hong Kong Eclipse, 1978, 111; Cafe Wiseman - Wenzell Brown, Hong Kong Aftermath, 1943, 24

    Redwood family: Mabel Winifred Redwood, It Was Like This, 2001, 71

    Sewell family: William Sewell, Strange Harmony, 1948, 11-14


  • 8 Dec 1941, Barbara Anslow's diary

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    Date(s) of events described: 
    Mon, 8 Dec 1941

    Was raked out of bed this am at 6.30 - to be at office at 7am. ((My office, ARP HQ, was only about 300 yards away, a Chinese messenger brought me a handwritten note from my boss asking me to get to the office by 7am.    Not know why, but fearing the worst - we'd been on alert for the past few days - I hurried off)). When I got there Mr Bevan, Deputy Director of ARP, said war had been declared between Britain/America against Japan. ((I had charge of a number of files labelled 'Bring up in an emergency' - so I duly brought them up!)) Just after 8 o'clock air raid sirens sounded ((The sirens were activated from our offices)).

    About 10.30 all clear went, it was said 1 bomb had been dropped in Shamshuipo (Kowloon) causing many casualties.

    At 1.30pm sirens went again; quite a lot of AA fire.  I saw 3 planes high up, being chased away to Lyemun.

    It's hardly worth writing diary because I can't visualise us ever getting out of this, but I want to try to believe in a future.

    Kai Tak has been bombed and I'm thinking of Arthur and Sid.

    Mabel is at CSO ((Colonial Secretary's Office)).  ((She had first reported this morning to her Army Office, but was told no females allowed in Fortress HQ now, so she went to CSO and offered her typing services there.))

    Mum nursing at Jockey Club hospital.   I'm home now until 7pm.  Scared and gloomy.  I'm sure we'll have raids every night  and day, and the night much worse than in the day. Tony Cole is coming here ((to our flat)) to eat ((he lived in Kowloon.))

    Barbara Anslow's diary for 8 Dec, 1941


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

    Date(s) of events described: 
    Mon, 8 Dec 1941

    ((Note: Today’s entry describes the start of hostilities and the setting up of a Field Bakery on the golf course at Deepwater Bay.))

     My room mate is called at 4.30a.m. so I get up and dress and report to the Bakery. Pte. Campbell the clerk on duty tells me that a state of emergency exists and that we are to carry out the dispersal order as soon as the transport arrives. I go and fetch Sgt. Hammond ((James Hammond, another Master Baker)) out of bed. I contact the Transport Officer, Major Dewar about our transport and coolies, he says he will do his best to get them to us. Meanwhile Hammond and I with some of the Chinese bakers decide to start getting the (Priority A) bakery equipment out of the store. However, the keys are held by an officer who lives over in Kowloon. So I decide to break the lock in order to enter the store. Meanwhile some coolies turn up and we put them to work carrying the stores down some very narrow awkward steps outside the store. A few lorries turn up about 6.40a.m. and we commence to load. About 7a.m. we notice some planes over Kai Tak Air Force base and thought this was rather unusual as we knew there were only three RAF planes. Then the AA guns opened up on Stonecutters Island. We could see the white puffs of the shells in amongst the plumes, as well as hearing the explosions of bombs. We now realised they were Japanese bombers attacking Kai Tak aerodrome. The coolies now started to panic and I got Hammond to shut the Depot gates and stand guard with his rifle. We kept them working hard to load the first three lorries.

    I leave for Deepwater Bay with the first three lorries and some coolies. Pte. Edwards is left to see the remainder of the equipment is loaded, whilst Sgt. Hammond goes to the Naval Dockyard with a lorry and some coolies to collect a Perkins oven which had been in for repair. On arrival at Deepwater Bay whilst some of the coolies unload the lorries, I set others to work building the 1st 10 Aldershot ovens. It seems a shame to dig up the nice green turf on the green in front of the clubhouse. There are no golfers about now. Good progress is made as I use the verandah as my Bakery with all the dough troughs set out in a convenient way.

    The Hong Kong Volunteer Defence force have been mobilised. Sgt. Jan ((actually Ernest)) Tuck and Cpl. Bonner ((Ernest Tuck and Horace Bonner had previously been attached to the RASC Bakery as part of their HKVDC duties)) report to me and are a great help. Both can speak a fair amount of Chinese. We get the ten ovens erected and fired before dark, also one Perkins coke oven was erected on the verandah. We use army blankets to black out the verandah. It is quite spacious with good room to work, dough making and moulding. The front of the Perkins oven rests on the parapet of the verandah. I am hoping to be able to erect two more the same way. The Aldershot ovens are about 15 yds away from the verandah. We have a good supply of wood and I see no reason why we should not be able to keep the supply of bread to all the troops. We manage to grab some food during the day as best as we can. The coolies have to be given some rice and bread. We keep working until midnight then get down to sleep on the verandah.

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

    Date(s) of events described: 
    Mon, 8 Dec 1941

    It was 8:30 am on Monday, December 8th 1941. ((Because of the International Date Line, this was Dec. 7 in the United States.)) We were about ready to go down for breakfast. While we were waiting, Laurence and Laura Lou went out on the small veranda overlooking the city. While here we saw and heard a group of airplanes approaching.

    The rest of the family came out and watched 21 of them flying in perfect formation toward the airport. We had heard that a group of British fighter planes was expected to arrive in the colony. We took it for granted that they were British planes. We changed our minds, however, when the air raid sirens began to blow and we heard bombs exploding in the distance. We knew then that they were not British planes but Japanese raiders.

    We rushed downstairs and found everyone excited and talking at once. The radio was reporting the bombing of Hong Kong Airport by Japanese planes, destroying or damaging all planes on the field. Minutes later we heard the report of the attack on Pearl Harbor and that the United States and Britain had declared war on Japan. All shopping was stopped at once. Here we were stranded at a place only 15 or 20 miles away from a large Japanese army. A Canadian troop ship had arrived a few days before with reinforcements for the British, but their equipment wasn't due to arrive until the 10th of December. The Japanese had an air force and the British didn’t have a single fighter plane in the colony.

    Most of the next three days and nights were spent in the ground floor basement where the manager had fixed a room for us. It was low and dark, so there was nothing to do but sit around on the trunks and boxes stored there and wait for the all clear, while the Japanese were bombing different buildings or ships anchored in the harbor. Our hotel was only a block from the water’s edge so we got plenty of noise and concussion. The big guns and exploding shells made the most frightening noises.

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

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    Date(s) of events described: 
    Mon, 8 Dec 1941

    According to Police reports there wasn’t any movement across the border the whole of Sunday and all that night but at dawn on Monday (Dec 8th) what everyone had hoped was only a phantom had become a grim reality.

    For days our detectives had been bringing back news from across the border to the effect that a large concentration of troops was on the move from Canton by forced marches, including infantry, cavalry, tanks and artillery, but either our authorities were too indolent or did not wish to believe, for no preparations were put in hand.

    An officer who frequently visited the Japanese post at Shumchun always reported that the small garrison stationed there was very friendly and in fact had suggested fixing up some baseball and football matches with our men when they camped at Lo Wu which is just across the river from Shumchun, on our side of the border.

    In consequence, nothing was done to prepare for any emergency – shells for the big 9.2 guns at Stanley and Mount Davis were left lying in the magazines at Shouson Hill and Lyemun.  Shouson Hill is some eight miles distant from these two batteries but at least was more favourably situated than Lyemun which in addition to being more than ten miles distant was built on either side of a roadway running at right angles to the Kowloon shore, less than half a mile across the harbour.  Shouson Hill magazines had been hastily constructed during the past two years when the threat of Hongkong being attacked from the mainland became evident and was completed some six months before the outbreak of hostilities here.  However, the bulk of the 9.2 shells were still stored at Lyemun.  Considering the 9.2 guns at Stanley and Mount Davis are fixtures it is difficult to understand why magazines were not built adjoining the batteries, and this is also applicable in the case of many of the 6 inch batteries whose shells were also stored in Lyemun, Shouson Hill, and Belchers magazines whilst all the cartridges for these 6 inch shells were stored at Kennedy Magazine which is opposite the Ordnance Depot next to the Naval Yard and therefore subject to early attention from bombers.  Nothing was done regarding distributing the shells and cartridges, prior to the outbreak of hostilities on December 8th.  Why?

    The food situation in Hongkong was excellent;  at least nine months’ stocks were safely stored in godowns which had been hastily constructed all over the island during the past year.  

    Air raid precautions were nearly complete, many tunnels having been constructed and other shelters erected.

    Many communal kitchens and other feeding arrangements were ready and all sorts of services such as road repairing, and water and gas main repairing had been organized, and in addition there were the Land Transport Service, Food & Rice Control and Special Police all organized and functioning, in fact it appeared at the outbreak of hostilities that we were well organized and except for the distribution of shells everything looked set for any emergency.

    The police warned certain people at Fanling early on Monday morning, including Cox who immediately went off in his car and collected Uncle Pat, but instead of being able to bring away all their clothes and other belongings, as would have been the case if they had taken my warning on Sunday, they were only able to pack a suitcase hastily.  The Japanese arrived at Fanling at 8 a.m. that morning.

    An old house contractor whom I was employing to repair “The Hunter’s Arms” for the approaching season told me, when I saw him around 28th Dec, that he had been caught out at Fanling when the Japanese arrived but had in no way been molested.  He said there had been a steady stream of infantry, cavalry, tanks and artillery passing through Fanling for over a week, but beyond helping themselves to all the food and drink which they found, no damage had been done.

    The first blow was when the few planes we had, based at Kaitak, were destroyed by a well-planned raid early on Monday morning;  the only plane which escaped damage being an old school machine which was so slow, she could not go up in daylight against the fast machines which the Japanese employed.

    For the first few days there was the utmost confusion.  All cars and lorries were roped in and sent to the Vehicle Collecting Centre (VCC) at Caroline Hill which was in charge of the Land Transport Service who distributed them to the various services, Army, ARP, Food Control, Rice Control etc etc.

    The Army Pool was at Happy Valley race course, which provided admirable accommodations for the 12th Coy RASC to which our ASC Co HKVDC was attached on the outbreak of war.

    Early on Monday morning we moved down to H.V. from Murray Parade ground, where we had spent Sunday night having mobilized that afternoon.

    The office was in the secretary’s room and overflowed into the sales room;  the men slept in the parimutuel building and had the jockey room with its numerous baths and other appointments at their disposal and the officers were luxuriously housed in the private luncheon boxes, each of which has its own lavatory.

    I selected the box of the chairman (Hon Mr. T. E. Pearce) who was most unfortunately killed at the Hongkong Electric installation at North Point which he was guarding with his company of volunteers – all men in their sixties and never intended to be left in the front line.  However, that was the position in which they found themselves on the morning of 19th Dec, the troops who were supposed to be in front of them having mysteriously disappeared.  “Tam” Pearce will be an irreplaceable loss to the Jockey Club of which he was chairman and clerk of the course for many years.  There were other old men also killed at North Point including Sir Edward Des Voeux – a great pal of Uncle Pat’s for he also lived at Fanling, and an old banker broker named Rodgers – both these men were over seventy.

    On arrival at Happy Valley I and Capt Blaker (HKVDC) went off to the VCC at Caroline Hill and put in a request for as many lorries and cars as could be spared.  These we dispatched as quickly as possible to our pool at the Valley where guides from the various army units were waiting to snap them up.

    Now instead of registering the lorry or car and then having it parked in the centre of the course and the driver then being instructed as to where and when he eat [change to ‘ate’?], where he slept and where he should report (transport office) if called for duty, issuing him with blanket etc etc, nothing was done except take a note of the number and turn the lorry into the centre before going on a job.

    So after completing a job, many drivers returned to find there was no food and no blankets for them and consequently were much disgruntled and in many cases returned to their homes either taking their lorry with them or taking the ignition key, and returned or not the next morning according to how bloody minded they felt and there were many in that state of mind for the Chinese love their food and many had returned to Happy Valley late in the evening having already missed their morning meal and were told the evening chow was finished.

    After the first few days an excellent chap named Gidley (?) was put in charge of the coolies and drivers, he housed and fed them in the racecourse stables and lived there with them – he arranged that if a man was to be away during chow time that some biscuits and a tin of meat was given to them before leaving;  however he was too late as during the first few days many lorries were lost through deliberate sabotage, which was undoubtedly largely due to the treatment meted out to the drivers.

    In any case it was a mistake to employ Chinese drivers as it has been estimated there were over forty thousand fifth columnists.

    I have never seen such wanton wrecking of cars and lorries which would not have happened if British drivers (a thing which had been recommended by many including myself, to the powers that be) had been employed.  Lorries were found with distributor heads, carburators, coils and other parts missing, flat tyres, empty gas tanks, stoved in radiators etc.

    Towards then end of the war, there was hardly a sound lorry on the road and nearly all the damage was sabotage.  The drivers were always difficult to find and frequently had mislaid their key so that when lorries were needed in a hurry there was often considerable delay;  all this could have been avoided by having a board in the transport office on which all ignition keys should have been hung.

  • 8 Dec 1941, Don Ady's wartime memories

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    Date(s) of events described: 
    Mon, 8 Dec 1941

    Now I guess I'll start telling you about the siege. In Hong Kong it broke out on Monday and the fighting began about 8 AM. But hardly anybody knew it. I was going to school on a bus. And after we had gone a few blocks, the driver stopped to listen to something, then he went on and repeated it twice, but the second time somebody got up and jumped off the bus. And soon the rest followed. I was sort of scared, because I didn't know what on earth had happened. So I asked one of the schoolboys if he knew what had happened, and he said "the Japs have come!" (Although there were quite a lot of kids in their teens, I didn't know any. In fact I don't think I ever saw anybody I knew personally!) At the time we were living on which is located at the end of Blendheim Ave which is the little street which if you are looking across the street from the Phillips House is on the left side. And at the end is Minden Ave. And at the other end of it, on the same side as Phillips House. Upstairs in the right flat, and our address was No. 1. Minden Ave.

    And now I guess I'll go back to the bus. Well, we happened to be just opposite the Majestic Theater, and I ran all the way home! Mom and Dad told me the boy must have been mistaken, because they thought it must be a practice air raid. But Mom was teaching on the Hong Kong side, and she couldn't get across on the Star Ferry because it wasn't running. About ten o'clock they started shelling, so we knew that the Japs had really come.

  • 8 Dec 1941, Harry Ching's wartime diary

    Book / Document: 
    Date(s) of events described: 
    Mon, 8 Dec 1941

    Very early this morning the telephone rang. Bill O'Neill, Reuter's Hongkong manager, a lovable, happy Irishman. "The balloon's gone up," he said quietly. "They'll be here for breakfast."

    I heard the youngsters moving in their room. I called to them, "No school to-day." Then I telephoned the Headmistress and told her the bad news. "Yes'" she replied resignedly, "Perhaps they had better not come to school to-day. I suppose things will be a little disorganised for a while."

    The invaders came for breakfast as Bill had predicted, and we had our first air-raid alarm. I drove myself to work as usual. Explosions and big smoke across the Harbour at Kai Tak. People hurried purposefully about. They were shopping - and I realised that the hoarders were busy. More alarming, such shops as had opened were closing again; the shutters going up everywhere. I telephoned my wife and she rushed to a department store, where she managed to get some tinned stuff, including a small case of Australian beef.

    Shell-fire drew us to the office windows in Wyndham Street, to gape at half a dozen planes high over the west end of the Harbour, gleaming yellow in the pale sun. Our first thrilling sight of puffs of flack. It wasn't very accurate, didn’t go high enough and, though one plane turned away, the intruders were not incommoded. No defending fighter planes went up - there was none.

    Nerves were tightening. People from Kowloon crowded the ferries to Hongkong, and the evening communique warned, "Members of the public are advised that it is safer on the Kowloon peninsula and that congestion in the crowded streets of Hongkong will inevitably lead to unnecessary casualties." Police were posted to the ferry wharf, and permits to cross became necessary.

    A complete black-out tonight. A night unexpectedly quiet.

  • 8 Dec 1941, War Diary of the Hong Kong Police

    Date(s) of events described: 
    Mon, 8 Dec 1941
    60.Cheung Chau13.00Final evacuation took place. Police families and pro-party ((sic. probably "property")) were evacuated from Cheung Chau by Nos.1 and 3 Cruising launches. All European residents, about 6, had previously been warned by typewritten notices (dictated by telephone to Officer in charge by Senior Superintendent of Police Kowloon the previous day). Miss Potter and her brother-in-law, a Mr. MacKenzie, refused to go, others were brought into Hong Kong by No.1 Launch which left half an hour after No3, having carried out preliminary evacuation of Tai O first. Fifty civilians were taken on board No.3, comprising Chinese Fire Brigade workers, and also 2 Fire Engines. Both launches were dive bombed and machine gunned by Japanese planes. No.1 Launch in West Lamma Channel and No.3 Launch off Un Kok, Lamma Island, without effect. Fire was returned by police. Police personnel proceeded over to Hong Kong.
  • 08 - 17 Dec 1941, Events at the Repulse Bay Hotel

    Date(s) of events described: 
    Mon, 8 Dec 1941 to Wed, 17 Dec 1941

    [...] other members of the foreign staff were called up for A.R.P. duties on December 8th, and Mr. Leung Fat, the Chinese Number One, was mobilised as a Police Reservist.  This left me very much understaffed, but I fortunately received the assistance and co-operation of the guests living in the Hotel, who were all most anxious to help in any way possible.  I would particularly mention in that connection the invaluable assistance of Mr. J.H. Marsman, Mr. G.C. Dankworth and Mr. R. Wilson, who amongst other activities arranged the very satisfactory air raid shelter in the deep storm water nullah, thus alleviating the anxiety of mothers with young children when the bombing commenced.

             The two Bamboo Lounges were turned into a sick bay with Sister Mosey in charge, ably assisted by Mr. and Mrs. E.M. Raymond, and Mrs. R.L. Longworth - one can say that they worked a 24 hour day under most difficult conditions.

             The Hotel was completely full - in some cases guests were "doubling up" in rooms.  We held large provision stocks in cold storage to chamber capacity, and also increased stocks over normal of dry goods.  Extra supplies of rice were also stocked to meet the feeding requirements for our Chinese Staff.

             During the first few days of the hostilities the ration truck from town maintained its usual schedule, but soon disruption took place due to the state of the roads and military requirements;  further it became difficult to obtain transportation from the Government Food Control Department which had requisitioned all the Company's ration trucks.

     Laundry work after the commencement of hostilities was carried out on the premises by the Hotel amahs, as deliveries from the Steam Laundry Company ceased after the second day of the war.  I am indebted to Mrs. Logan, the Housekeeper, for her excellent organisation and co-operation in carrying out many extra duties which made possible the smooth working attained.

             In addition to the guests of the Hotel, we housed, on requisition, in the Bar and Drawing Room, about 120 A.T.S. Drivers (Chinese) and accommodated three of its foreign officers and a Chinese clerk in the New Wing.

             During the period I also supplied food to large numbers of British Troops who were operating in the neighbourhood - as often their own rations failed to reach them.

             Five members of the Army Signals Corps took up quarters in the building as soon as hostilities reached the neighbourhood of the Hotel.  They ran a line to room 109 which remained as their headquarters until the Hotel was vacated by the British military personnel.

  • 08 Dec 1941, Father Biotteau's wartime diary

    Date(s) of events described: 
    Mon, 8 Dec 1941
    ((Original text)) ((Jill Fell's translation))

    La nouvelle se répand le matin que « c ‘est la guerre » c’est-à-dire que le Japon aurait déclaré la guerre à l’Angleterre. Mais le journal d’hier soir était plutôt rassurant. Aussi, j’ai peine à y croire.

    Je cherche une marchande de journaux. Ca y est ! Le HongKong Telegraph porte en gros titre : « Hong Kong at war. First visits of enemy planes ». Tout en lisant avidement les nouvelles, je me mets en quête d’un taxi pour rentrer à la maison. Il n’y en a nulle part : ils sont tous réquisitionnés. Je croise à tous les pas, des volontaires en armes qui rejoignent en hâte leur dépôt.

    [le journal] que j’ai lu tout le long du chemin, raconte que l’aérodrome de Kai Tak a été bombardé ce matin, ainsi que Honolulu. Toute l’armée américaine est mobilisée. Les Japonais débarquent sur le territoire de Siam. A Hong Kong, toutes les écoles sont fermées.

    The news is spreading this morning that “it’s war”, that’s to say that Japan has declared war on England. But yesterday evening’s news was reassuring. Moreover I can hardly believe it.

    I look for a newspaper vendor. It’s true! The Hong Kong Telegraph carries the headline: “Hong Kong at war. First visits of enemy planes”. At the same time as eagerly reading the news, I start looking for a taxi to get back home. There isn’t one anywhere: they’ve all been requisitioned. At each step I meet army volunteers hurrying to return to their depots.

    [The newspaper] that I’ve been reading all the way says that Kai Tak aerodrome was bombed this morning, and Honolulu too. The whole American army has been mobilized. The Japanese have landed in Siam. In Hong Kong all the schools are closed.

  • 08 Dec 1941, INTERNED - DECEMBER 1941

    Book / Document: 
    Date(s) of events described: 
    Mon, 8 Dec 1941

    At 5:30am on Monday, the 8th December, my husband, who was the Hong Kong Airport Manager at that time, was 'phoned informing him that war with Japan was imminent, and that he was to go to the airport at once.

    At 7am the Japanese bombed the airport which I could see from our flat, and I felt there and then that I must be a widow, for I could not visualise anyone escaping death in that terrible bombing.  But my husband did survive and stayed there until the Japanese took Kowloon.  (The mainland part of Hong Kong).   He then went over to the island of Hong Kong, where he gave his services to the Auxiliary Transport Service, where he was constantly bombed and shelled.

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

    Book / Document: 
    Date(s) of events described: 
    Mon, 8 Dec 1941


    What a day I’ve had- my back’s broken!  And my feet ache but I have got things going.

    I sent off a letter today but D.O.K. [devil only knows] when it will reach you - I’m so glad I got my parcel off – it would go on the same ship as N.L. is on.  I do so hope it will arrive safely – there is a wee extra [?HK10 Straits] in my letter today for Ian.  I don’t know when that will arrive - it will just equalise things with Joy.  But you mustn’t worry now darling if you don’t get letters - I’ll send a wire soon - I didn’t try to send one today - it seemed rather futile and perhaps a little unpatriotic for the wires are clogged with official messages. But I will send one soon.

    I am going to start a diary  - on this paper – and will send it to you when I can but it will be just  be dry  stuff so I will keep it separate from my letter.

    We had [?L.G.] this afternoon  - just the swearing in of the C.S. [Colonial Secretary] and a few nice words from H.E. [His Excellency] about the war.  I had a talk with Gimson - he hasn’t changed much, and I think is rather nice.

    I have just heard that they have landed at [?Singora] and also perhaps in Borneo.  Here we had another raid at 1.30, and the planes sailed back and forward - they were really only on reconnaissance – not a shell went near them and they were quite low.  I hope our guns shoot a bit better soon, and that we will get a few planes to meet them in fair combat.

    Wireless is on “The Very Thought of You” – means everything – the longing Dear for you – my love.

    Well Darling- anyway I am thankful now that you are not in H.K. – at least the bairns – you and I would face anything together but then Darling we couldn’t be together all the time and you would worry more than ever. And you’ve had casualties in Singapore too. The only ones reported to me so far are 28 Chinese in Singapore. I have heard lots of stories but no reports have come through yet. The telephone system has of course been chaos all day. But I have manned most of my posts. I have had lots of good assistants – Sedgwick, Naismith, Teesdale and now Barnett – they made marvellous plans but went off and left me with the plans and no staff to carry them out. I’m 50% short but I called on my Clerks to fill the gap until I can recruit additional staff. They are as splendid crowd and not a man fell out – all they ask for was steel helmets – I promised them at once and being friendly with Puckle – Ian B??’s successor – I got them at once. But there are no “conveniences” in the Tunnels yet and I got a frantic message this morning to open up the Pen shelters which we had had to lock up to prevent them from being used as latrines! I have 6,000 buckets on order and 1,000 large containers for “wee wee” but none have been delivered yet and my order went in a month ago.

    Oh Darling it is grim but we must try and see the humour of things or one would go “bats”.  I was making a joke today (I’ve been told that 17 persons will be billeted on me) that when I went home tonight I expected to find 17 blondes all ready!!  I had told Julius Ring that I was partial to blondes!!  None have arrived so far!  I think you can trust your ‘old man’- anyway tonight if they had been here I am definitely too tired!!  I hope, Loved One, you will laugh with me over this – one must just joke on.

    I think they will have a smack at us tonight - there is a moon – at least after midnight, and if they don’t try to smash the power station at North Point - then I’ll be surprised.  But really on the Peak we are absolutely safe except from a mistake.

    Da - the phone went there – its been going every 5 minutes or so, but this was Ralston.  He was all alone - would I come over?  I said – No - I can’t leave my phone.  Could he come over?  Of course I said Yes - so he was here - till after 8.   Amah came here with the books - a bit worried - I said she could bring up as many of her relations as she liked.  So long as they kept quiet and didn’t show any lights at night.  I think Amah will look after that.  Have packed up a lot of stuff and I’ll do a lot more tomorrow before I go to office.  I’ve gone right off this diary idea – best forget the rude realities when they come along - I’ve told Amah not to be afraid - for it does no good. So too Darling – keep smiling.  I adore you as I have always for more than 30 years.

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

    Book / Document: 
    Date(s) of events described: 
    Mon, 8 Dec 1941

    In December 1938 I arrived in Hong Kong to join the floating staff of the China Navigation Co as Second Engineer Officer and was employed on the general China Coast trade going to Tientsin in the North and as far as Bangkok in the South. On the Northern runs we were frequently harassed by the Japanese Army and Navy for it must be remembered that there was a state of war between China and Japan since 1937. Due to this there was a shortage of rice in Shanghai and elsewhere so our ship the S S "Soochow" of 2,000 tons burden was engaged on a run to Rangoon for full cargoes of rice for the people of North China calling in at Singapore and Hong Kong for bunkers, water and general supplies.

    So it was that we sailed into Hong Kong harbour at 6 AM on the morning of December 8, 1941 having obviously sailed through the Japanese fleet the previous evening without detection only to be told that England was at war with Japan and therefore we had to proceed to Holt's Wharf and unload our cargo. We had brought up from Singapore a new Colonial Secretary for Hong Kong whose name was Gimson and who had repeatedly told us that there would be no war in the Far East. The bombing of Kai Tak airport and other parts of Hong Kong at 7 AM that morning proved how wrong he was.

  • 08 Dec 1941, The Diary of Mrs Grace Smith

    Date(s) of events described: 
    Mon, 8 Dec 1941 to Sat, 24 Jan 1942
    pages 3-4 cropped.jpg
    First entry

    [Right page] Mrs Grace… Left my home… Dec 8th when… broke out…sent up…Peak…on the 12th …

    Stayed there…Jan. 24th…was then [sent to (?)] Stanley… Chan [was sent (?)] away in… so I was [left]… all alone…

  • 08 Dec 1941, Colin McEwan Diary

    Book / Document: 
    Date(s) of events described: 
    Mon, 8 Dec 1941

    ((There appear to be 10 pages missing from the original document.))

    …..Emotions varied from a certain not unpleasant excitement to a sober realisation that HK was now being invested ((invaded?)) and, looking back now, I personally, am thankful that I did not then realise how futile were our expectations of weeks and months of warfare. 

    ((It is possible that this introduction to the only  extant version was compiled from the missing pages by Pop, but I doubt it, as he talks of “during the morning” when all the other events are headed up with a date – I assume it is December 8th, Monday, when the Japanese invaded HK from across the New Territories.))

     During the morning, while awaiting the arrival of the rest of our group, Teesdale and I went over the Reservoir to the Royal Scots position to borrow .45 ammunition, and, since this entailed some cooperation with the Quartermaster, we passed the time having a pleasant beer with Capt. Jones, sitting by the roadside with all of us trying to realise that we really were at war and not engaged in some large scale exercise – a feeling which persisted with me up to the time Kowloon was evacuated. To collect this ammunition I had to climb up and have my first, and providentially my last, visit to the ill fated Shing Mun redoubt – that warren of M.G. nests and tunnels which only 36 hours later was to prove not a warren but a snare for the company occupying it including our host Jones.

    On arrival back at the bungalow we found the complete unit there (with the exception of Mike ((Mike Kendall, head of SOE then)). Parsons, Gardner, Day, Corneck, Teesdale, Holmes ((later Sir Ronald, Secretary for Chinese Affairs Post-War)), myself, and Thompson ((later Sir Robert, formerly HK Police, later a Counter-guerrilla Experts in Malaya during the Communist Insurgency Post-war)) who had just left Macao in time and arrived in HK along with the first bombing raid. Tiffin over, we started in on the removal of stores – already packed – to No.2. On the way up, just as we started on the slope to Half Hour Pass the crump of shell fire sounded ahead of us. Our own guns were ranging and there was nothing for it but to retrace our steps, sweating and swearing since, unused as we were to shell fire so near us, on the whistle of a shell, down we went and, having loads of some 50 lbs. on our backs, our going down was painful. However, up the trail we went and, having parked our loads, returned to the Bungalow with thoughts of food and bed – just on dusk.

    Our hopes were rudely shattered. There was Mike with the news that the Japanese had crossed the border, were passing over Laffans plane, and were already on the two main roads and so out we had to get again. Thompson had gone into town for our portable transmitter and the period of waiting for him in the darkened bungalow was, I think, the ((‘earliest’ crossed out, replaced with what looks like ‘earnest')) period of the HK war. Now the blackout meant something and the meal eaten in half light, while Mike gave out final instructions, was in keeping with the setting: - the radio giving us the news of the various points, apart from HK, which were being attacked, the circle of faces round the table without the usual laughter which I associated with that group, and the fuller realisation that our training had been only in time. With Bob back, we set out in pitch darkness – a perfect night for the job and soon instead of the low voices all we could hear was the slither of feet and only with difficulty could we distinguish the figure in front. This was not to last however, and by our first halt, we were moving in that peculiar half light of HK. The trip up is one that none of us will readily forget; at first reasonable going, the trail developed into the typical rocky path of Chinese hillside – falls were frequent – we were sweating with full equipment and packs – one could imagine sounds and see movements where there were none and the last 300 yards saw legs becoming weary and packs which had been heaved up easily now cut into shoulders and backs. 

    Personally I was feeling pretty done but everyone else seemed to be plodding on and so I plodded too, comforting myself with the thought that they were all feeling as bad as me. To complete the picture, rain was falling and, on getting to the position, Day and I had an hour’s sleep on the open rock before things were ready and that night, or rather during what was left of it, we slept in the magazine, head on box of gelignite and feet among Bren ammo, and slept well. Just before dinner Wattie Gardner said “Well, this is a far cry from Minishant” and once as I woke in the night to hear the water outside and feel the explosives against my ribs, I thought just what a “far cry” it was.

  • 08 Dec 1941, Major John Monro MC RA diary of the Battle of Hong Kong

    Date(s) of events described: 
    Mon, 8 Dec 1941

    About 6:00am on Monday 8th I was woken up, called to the telephone and told that war was imminent with Japan.  By the time I got to H.Q. we were at war.  About 8:00am the first Japanese bombers came over.  They did a lot of damage at the Aerodrome, destroying 7 C.N.A.C. planes, The Clipper, most of the RAF planes and the two Walruses.  They were unopposed.  The volunteer A.A. platoon had drawn no ammunition, I suppose because the day before was a Sunday.  The gunboat supposed to be in the seaplane anchorage was being used for something else.  The Japs made rapid progress down the Taipo Road, and by the evening we were back in Shatin.  H.Q. were gravely disappointed with the Stanley guns.  They have shot too big a line, boasted that they could get almost to Taipo, in actual fact they can only reach about 1500 yards beyond Shatin Station.  We were unable to answer several calls for fire as the targets have been out of range.

    All the demolitions were successful though we were asked to shoot at the Brothers Point “blow” as the slide had been checked by a retaining wall.  Mt. Davis fired five rounds but with what effect we could not tell.

  • 08 Dec 1941, Lt. L D KILBEE HKRNVR WAR DIARY Dec 1941

    Date(s) of events described: 
    Mon, 8 Dec 1941

    The enemy attacked at dawn. I was awakened by the sharp ringing  of the telephone, and on answering heard the familiar voice of the duty officer, telling me to report to base at earliest opportunity.

    After a hurried breakfast I kissed Evelyn and our darling Dorothy goodbye and left the house as if nothing unusual had taken place. I thought it was the best way. Walking from the lower tram station to Blake Pier, the quiet of early morning was rudely shattered by the screech of the air raid sirens fol1owed shortly by the drone of enemy planes and the crump of bombs as they exploded somewhere on the Kowloon side.                 

    The roar of the planes continued as they dived on Kai Tak Aerodrome.

    The staccato "rat-a-tat" of their machine guns and cannon echoed and re-echoed in the surrounding hills. Away to the north I saw several planes, finally losing sight of them as they disappeared over in the direction of Tai Mo Shan. (I heard later the enemy had 'shot up' the aerodrome, destroying the few obsolete planes we had there).

    Al1 harbour craft had stopped and there was no cutter to take me across the harbour, however, after much haggling I succeeded in persuading

    a walla-walla to take me to our base.

    Reported to the C.O. and given orders to proceed to the new base   at Aberdeen when ready.

    My crew were in good form and worked like Trojans all morning.

    Had tiffin in the boat.

    As Flotilla Navigation Officer I collected all charts, instruments, and A.F.O.'s Notices to Mariners and took them with me to Aberdeen, arriving there at 1530 hours after an uneventful trip. (These were deposited in the M.T.B. office in the Aberdeen Industrial School being subsequently destroyed together with certain confidential books on receipt of orders at a later date).

    Aberdeen was an amazing sight, not the usual picturesque scene   of native fishing craft - instead a bedlam of auxiliary war craft from Gunboats down to Naval launches and cutters, all packed like sardines.

    A perfect target for enemy aircraft!

    Hardly had these thoughts left my mind when the air raid warning sounded. At once cast off and made straight for a snug berth on the north shore of Lamma.

    Spotted three enemy aircraft bearing Red 45, distance 2 miles height 3000 feet. Ordered crew to action stations. One plane detached  from the formation and dived on us. At 1500 feet gave the order to "fire" and for a few seconds let him have all we had. At 800 feet he banked sharply and pulling out of his dive disappeared into  a cloud. It was all over in a matter of seconds.

    We had five Lewis guns, blazing away and if we didn't wing him, we probably put a few holes into the blighter. Returned to base When the “all clear" came through by W/T. No damage at Aberdeen.

    Spent the evening looking around the base and checking up our various berths, fueling places etc.

    At sunset moved out to sea with No. 10, leader of our Sub-division, and took up position as striking force. Set deck and W/T watches for the night. no alarms during the night and returned to base at dawn.

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