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Hong Kong-Newsprint-HK News-19420131-002

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Hong Kong-Newsprint-HK News-19420131-002

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Date picture taken (may be approximate): 
Saturday, January 31, 1942

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SIEGE OF HONGKONG IN BRIEF SURVEY

British Journalist Praises Conduct And Valour Of Japanese

Tokyo. Jan. 18 (Domei).—The fair conduct and good discipline of Japanese troops who occupied Hongkong, coupled with their bravery in battle, are not merely admitted, but are stressed in an article titled “A Brief History of the Capture of Hongkong” by George Giffen, formerly editor of the Hongkong Telegraph, which was originally intended for publication in the Daily Telegraph, London, and the Toronto Star, Canada, which papers he represented

The author of the article was taken into custody by the Japanese authorities after the fall of Hongkong and at present he is in an internment camp. Consequently the manuscript will never reach its intended destination, but instead, it was obtained exclusively by the Domei Bureau in Hongkong and forwarded to the Tokyo head office.

Throughout the mail story of some 2,500 words, it is noteworthy that virtually no trace can be found of any thoughts of bitterness on the part of the writer toward the Japanese forces.

If disappointment, rather than expressions of acrimony, is to be discerned in the interesting article, there is ample evidence that these thoughts were inspired by the empty assurances of the British authorities, the disheartening news of the collapse of British defense, lack of preparation, ineffective resistance and, not the least, the pledges of the Chungking regime to come to the aid of Britain.

Biggest News Story

Opening the article, the author says, “It was on the morning of December 8—the first on which I was to take over complete editorship of the Hongkong Telegraph — that the biggest news story of the Colony, and possibly of the world, broke with unannounced clangour on a tense population. The telephone bell summoned me at 6.30 a.m. with the news that Japan had viciously attacked Britain and America in their Far Eastern possessions. Hawaii, the Philippines and Malaya had been struck; a blow on Hongkong was impending.

“I dressed hastily and went to the office. At about 8 a.m. I heard the macabre wail of the air raid alarms, popularly called alerts as a sop to public morale. I did not know quite what to do as the Chinese staff was working below and my duty was to bring out paper as well as to protect them. Fortunately the Chinese, habituated by constant rehearsals to the sound, took little notice. The news had not caught up to them, and until it actually affected them, they were ready to receive the worst tidings with calm."

Only Three Hits

Describing the same evening, the writer says: ‘That night, and for several nights thereafter, we slept safely in our beds. During the day we saw the Japanese dive-bombers pass at will over the Colony. During the whole 18-day siege not more than three hits on Japanese aircraft were claimed by our forces. In one case an enemy plane was forced to dive into the harbour and the pilot paddled his way to safety in a rubber canoe which he inflated on contact with the water.

“The story of the departure from Kowloon,” the writer says, “was not so planned and orderly as the communiques indicated. There was a badly timed withdrawal of the Police, which precipitated an outbreak of fifth columnists and rascals and before the evening looting was rife and fires could be seen on the mainland from this island.

“It was known that the main body of the Japanese was not in Kowloon, but was still in the New Territories. They had apparently turned one of our wings and hastened our planned retirement from the mainland.”

In another part of the story, the journalist says “The Chinese officials through the radio appealed to their compatriots to assist the British authorities in all ways and to tell the truth, the Chinese did pull with the Government magnificently on the whole.

“It was rather discouraging for them, however, to keep reading of our successful retreats and not to see our guns bring down a plane or indeed cause any molestation to the Japanese aircraft.

“Later, however, there were reports, confirmed by our military, of three allied bombers escorted by six fighters, operating over the mainland against the enemy. However, few people saw these and the veracity of the report, the identity of the planes, their base or purpose were never ascertained."

Increased Pressure

A few days later: “The enemy rapidly increased his pressure and after an abortive assault on the waterfront of the very city, he was engaging our thinly strung forces in a line from North Point—well in the thickly populated waterfront area— across the island to Repulse Bay.

“Meanwhile there was savage fighting on the other side of the island at Aberdeen and Stanley Peninsula, which was cut off. The naval auxiliary vessels were ordered to be sunk, but there was a rumour that two of them escaped. The naval volunteers had been under continual dive-bombing for several days.

“The Japanese proved bold and skilful aviators and there was no wanton bliz of non-military targets. Even the attempt to frighten the city ino surrender after the North Point landing, when seventy bombs were dropped over the city, resulted in little damage and a few casualties.

Last Message

“The last message from the Governor, Sir Mark Young, to the people was issued on December 19. It read: ‘Counter-measures against Japanese landing parties continue in operation. The time has come to advance against the enemy. The eyes of the Empire are upon you. Be strong, be resolute and do your duty.’

“For the next two or three days we continued to receive reports of the approach of the Chinese. Although most of the European population placed little hope in relief from this or any source and knew by now that the colony would fall, they remained calm and undisturbed.

“Our men coming in from the front only a couple of miles away for a day's rest, said that the Japanese fought well and were excellent soldiers. They climbed the steep hills like ants going up wall. Casualties were mounting alarmingly. Centers of essential services had to move constantly as the Japanese approached.

Electricity Fails

“Food stocks were being burned and looted. Electricity had ceased and this knocked out of action many of the restaurants upon which the public depended. It took time for the Chinese to replace electricity with their chatties or native cooking pots.

“Water was now being obtained from wells which had long been forgotten. All water and milk had to be boiled and the public was warned that refuse could not be collected and must be burned. However, it continued to collect in the streets and an intolerable stench pervaded some areas. If it had been summer there would certainly have been an epidemic.”

After the Japanese occupation of Hongkong, all the European and native troops were disarmed and the police were permitted to patrol the streets only with batons.

"On New Year’s Eve, the first batch of Volunteers and Regulars marched down from the barracks to which they had been confined, to embark by launch and ferry for the mainland for internment.

Cheers For Band

“The men,” says the article, “were well and cheerful. They carried all their personal kit. Staff officers humping their own kits or pulling it along on improvised carriers, grinned and joked with the men. All burst into applause and cries of "encore" when a smart Japanese band played them off. Friends were allowed to lean on the railings in which the men were grouped and to talk freely with them.”

The concluding section of the article says: “it is now a week since the surrender and Hongkong has been in a state of peaceful chaos ever since. There has been a lot of looting of unimportant things like tinned goods and furniture for firewood. This has been by the Chinese.

“The Japanese Army, which must number thirty thousand, has behaved remarkably well. A Japanese newspaper is now appearing here in English. It sticks to the old line of the Co-prosperity Sphere, but deletes from its translations from the Chinese original the most humilitating references to Europeans.

Unenviable Job

"The Governor having gone over to the Japanese Headquarters to make himself prisoner of war, has ceased to have anything to do with the administration. And the Colonial Secretary, Mr Gimson, who arrived two days before the war started, has had an unenviable job.

“The Japanese victory parade was held without incident. So was a funeral service. The New Year celebrations of the victorious Army passed off without incident.

“The foreign population was perhaps even more apprehensive of the Japanese occupation than the Chinese, whom the Japanese are making attempts to consolidate. However, no cases of brutality or violence have occurred and the foreign population mingles at will with the thousands who mill daily along the city’s streets and many foreigners have visited their homes on the Peak and out lying places without molestation.”

Hi David,

Thank you for letting me know about this latest addition to your excellent web site and I welcome the opportunity to comment on the article attributed to my father, George Giffen.

I discussed many aspects of Stanley with my father before he died in 2006, but this article never came up. It is possible that it slipped from his mind.

May I make some comments on the feature both as a journalist and as a son?

First, it is clear that the Japanese used this article for propaganda purposes -- the self-serving headline speaks for itself. Since this is self-evident, it is likely that, even if George had included critical comments about the Japanese, they would have been edited out.

Secondly, let us not forget that the biggest fear of people living in Hong Kong at the time was that there would be a repeat of the Rape of Nanking – the world-publicized rape and massacre of hundreds of thousands of civilians that had occurred barely four years earlier. I suspect the Japanese put out propaganda to show the world that Hong Kong was not another Nanking.

Thirdly, George was encamped in his newspaper offices during the fighting, communications were severely hampered, and he did his best under difficult circumstances. The Japanese did indeed behave cruelly in places such as the Jockey Club in Happy Valley, the Repulse Bay Hotel and St. Stephen’s College in Stanley, but it is not clear how much George would have known of these terrible events at the time of his report. Moreover, ghastly though these incidents were, they were isolated and did not compare remotely with the systematic rampage in Nanking.

For all its lack of completeness – the saying that journalism is the first draft of history comes to mind -- the article nonetheless comes across as pretty fair-minded. This indeed reflected my father’s personal honesty and his professional abilities as a journalist throughout a lengthy career in UK, Hong Kong and Canada. For example, despite suffering from beri-beri during three years and eight months of internment, George bore no resentment against his captors and was fond of pointing out that Stanley internment camp had offered him a chance to study German and Russian.

Best wishes,

Ian Gill