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The next day (17th) I was informed I was to have a rest and would change places with Capt. Davis who was in charge of the vehicle park.  Capt. Davis seemed somewhat put out and as I knew the ropes and had been working with my little team throughout, I asked Major Dewer’s ((probably A J Dewar)) permission to carry on to which he agreed.

I was still sleeping at Grimble’s bungalow at Shouson Hill for although my column were sleeping by day at Happy Valley, I found it more convenient to return to the south side where I could discuss things with Major Dewer during the day and return to Happy Valley in the evening and pick up my column before proceeding to Lyemun.

I left for Happy Valley again that evening, this time leaving Mr Bones behind, picked up my crew at the Valley and set off for Lyemun again.

Nothing exciting happened;  there was a huge fire burning at the foot of Shaukiwan Hill which clearly lit up the Lyemun road. Kings Road had been shelled again, and there were several fires in Shaukiwan village.

As I was leading the way up Shaukiwan Hill with a load of six inch shells for Mount Parker, I was run into by a lorry coming down the road.  It knocked my transmission shaft back and completely locked the car.  Fortunately I escaped with a bruised forehead and knees.  The driver of the lorry on ascertaining I was alright, backed up, turned round and went off in the opposite direction.  I finished the night on my leading lorry and turned in with the boys at dawn when we got back to Happy Valley.

Met Olive, she said Mr. Cole had been killed at Aberdeen.  ((Not Tony Cole of ARP staff, but George Cole, a Naval Dockyard colleague of my Dad's)).

On way back to Macdonnell Road, a great crater had been made directly across it.  The only damage to Peggy's flat was a window pane broken, and the bathroom door broken off, but that was the end of the electric light and the water and telephone.  Gas had been turned off previously when a fire threatened the gas mains.

At dusk Peg and I stood on verandah and watched the Japs shelling the Naval Dockyard - the flag was at half-mast for Mr Cole and others.

Chan Shui, Chinese, Male, age about 50 years, Carpenter, Taikoo Dockyard, ((was killed at the refugee camp above Quarry Bay by Japanese shelling.)) 

Edith Hamson and her family, with others at the Kowloon Hospital, are ordered to gather in the hallway. They are told they are to be sent to the YMCA. As they listen to the guard, an unknown man slips a note from her husband Arthur into her hand. Later in the day the prisoners gather in small groups waiting to be taken to their new internment facility; a young doctor passes Mrs. Hamson another note.

The Hamsons cram into the back of a lorry - there are about 30 people there in all. They drive through a Kowloon with rubble strewing the streets, buildings covered in grey dust and Japanese flags hanging from every pole. The streets are deserted apart from the corpses. They are taken to the YMCA, where they are shown to a filthy dormitory with few amenities - but at least they have a small bunk bed each.

 

On the Island the day begins with the heaviest raid on Victoria/Central so far. The planes concentrate on the crowded Chinese districts, and as they leave the artillery opens up.

During a lull in the bombing, the Japanese send another peace mission,.They warn that if the terms are rejected the bombardment of Victoria will become more intensive and less discriminating. Sir Mark Young, acting on instructions from London which tell him that every day Hong Kong holds out will be of great value to the Allied war effort, declines to surrender and tells the Japanese 'he is not prepared to receive any further communication on the subject.'

Hong Kong’s off the Daily Mirror’s front page for today, but on page 2 the columnist William Connor (‘Cassandra’) finally comes up with a piece of uplift that’s totally realistic and, as you would expect from his nom de plume, prophetic:

Big Things

BIG things have happened since the first of the month. Big husky events as bold and as tough as the fall of France.

But whether the news is labelled Tokio, Borneo, Singapore, Guam, Oahu, Manila or Hong Kong—it is all secondary to what has taken place in Russia.

There, the greatest war machine of all time has stopped.

And Hitler didn’t put the brake on either.

Sources:

Hamsons: Allana Corbin, Prisoners of the East, 2002, 94-97

Bombing, shelling, peace mission: John Luff, The Hidden Years, 1967, 64-66

Feeling that the contact with the Shataukok guerrillas was now hopeless and after discussion with the C.P., Mike decided to contact the official Chinese Gov’t. representative S.K. Yee and this morning we paid him a visit to ascertain if he had established contact with any of the supposed advance guerrillas who were attacking Shumchun and Shataukok. Although a man had been sent no reply had come back yet but with this in mind Mike had arranged for the transport of the guns and ammo to Aberdeen – now naval H.Q. for transport by fast launch  to Shataukok. In the evening we reported to the Harbour office to meet our crew and again were held up by the Army refusing to vouchsafe us a passage from Wanchai to the V.R.C. Naturally they were worried over a possible repetition of the explosion on the 12th, but chances had to be taken and we felt that a guarantee of ½ hour was a fairly small request. However, it was refused and again it was postponed until such time as another launch in the central area was ready.

A domestic problem presented itself. With my sister's family of six, our household already numbered fifteen. Now my wife's sister-in-law telephoned. Her district (Tai Hang) has been heavily shelled and she and her son wished to join us. We agreed; but a large party of her neighbours came too, and our flat is crowded, with a total of about thirty people. They sleep where they can, in the hall and on the stairs; but they have brought their own food and give no trouble.

The authorities had hoped to induce the homeless and the displaced to disperse into the Island's rural districts, where they would be safer. But people prefer to keep close to the nerve centre and to the Government. There, they assume, food supply and police protection will be better. The Central district would probably be the last place to be lost and looted. Anyway, there is no transport. Accordingly, in the Central district, people are now living in the arcades and corridors of the large office buildings. They seem to lack all sense of sanitation. The hotels are also crowded with displaced residents and with the nervous who have left their homes to be as close as possible to the conventionally safe centre of this unprecedented typhoon.

In the air raid shelters similar conditions obtain. From the beginning hundreds of Chinese, mostly poor, had taken up residence in the tunnels, preferring of course to squat near the entrances. There are no sanitary conveniences and the shelters have quickly become filthy; the authorities daily send squads of coolies to cleanse and disinfect them and the big office arcades.

Breakfast this morning was eaten to the thunder and rattle of a heavy bombardment, directed mostly at the Central district. The Hongkong and Shanghai Bank was hit, also the Gloucester Hotel

The shelling paused again while the Japanese sent over their second peace mission. Announcement: "The Governor received to-day a letter from the Japanese military and naval authorities repeating the suggestion that he should enter into negotiations for surrender. The Governor informed the Japanese authorities in reply that he was not prepared to receive any further communications on the subject."

Took over the "French" on orders from my C.O. and S.N.O.A. Fueled, checked engines and had her all ready.

Received orders during the night to be ready to proceed to Round Island at 0900 hours to embark Capt. and Salvage party from "Thracian"   (it was decided after yesterday's bombing to move her out of the dock) which had been beached there. Carried out this order successfully returning to base.

Rest of day spent in office. When at base took over duties as Base M.T.B. Officer. This entailed routine work in the office, together with liaison between Captains, E.O., Com. Gun T, Dockyard personnel etc. Did not enjoy it but at least kept me busy. Surprising  the amount of work. Enemy activity and shelling on the Northern side of the island increasing.

Slept in boat.

So ended a comparatively quiet day. Thank God for a good night's rest. Also found time for a shower.

As we seem to be running low in firewood and coke, I obtain a lorry and some coolies and make a trip into the Queens Road Supply Depot. I drive the lorry myself. What a contrast from a week ago. Plenty of signs of bombing and shelling. Damaged buildings, wrecked cars and lorries everywhere. The tramline wires are strewn across the road. Some dead bodies lie about on the roadways and not a living soul in sight. On reaching the Supply Depot I find it has been shelled. Ip Fak ((He worked for the Barrack Stores at the RASC Queen’s Rd. Depot.)) and his family are gone, there is a big shell hole in the roof of his little house. There is no one in charge of the place now. The stores are wide open, one with hundreds of bottles or rum still there. I have no interest or time to take a bottle. The coolies are frightened and are liable to bolt at any moment. A few shells explode nearby, so I get them loading wood and coke as fast as possible. Then I drive like hell for Deepwater Bay. At Wong-Nei-Chong Gap I stop and speak to the Canadian troops. They want to know what is happening towards the City of Victoria. I tell them what I can about it. They are all fine looking young fellows and have no idea what it is going to be like if the Japs land on the Island. They tell me that they had been stationed in Bermuda before coming to Hong Kong.

Dearest – another day with a nasty blitz in the morning and then another peace offer. The HK Bank was hit twice – one shell going into the office next to the one used by Septic but he wasn’t there. They have moved Medical H.Q. again. Another hit a room in Gloucester next to one used by the Rings but they weren’t there either – they hit the clock too. But the damage is infinitesimal. They have undoubtedly got up some bigger guns however and we expect some heavy shelling tonight or early tomorrow morning. I run along to the C.S.O. - in a tunnel every morning, hand in my report, and I’ve usually some other things to do and then back here. That is the only time I’m out - though today with the armistice on again I went in at teatime or so and also (I nearly forgot) ran up to the house just before tiffin. It is just the same and Feltham says he can do nothing just now. But as there is a curfew order on and the A.R.P. wardens and Police regularly patrol the Peak there is little chance of anything being stolen. At any rate we just have to risk it – the place might be bombed to bits some day, or go on fire. I can’t get our stuff down now.

When I was in the C.S.O. tunnel - the blitz started – dive bombing and so forth - and twice the tunnel seemed to shudder and once a hot blast swept in. I stayed there for nearly an hour until the bombing stopped and the gunfire shifted.

Beddow of the Education Dept. was killed yesterday - at Leighton Hill. They had all been warned not to go out on the lawn in front which was in constant observation from Kowloon - he was killed about 3 and there was a bit of a schemozzle because I didn’t get the report till 6.40 and I refused to send out my men to collect his body until dawn today. The military backed me up.

Well I’ve had nice chow today – perhaps we’ll get down that “[?bow] window” before it’s all over. There is a paragraph in the papers tonight which we feel rather applies to us. viz: ((There follows a small, pasted in, newspaper cutting)) 

“It is preferable to lose outlying possessions, however rich, than the heart of the entire East Asia military system, and the Allies should be willing to gamble heavily for the defence of Singapore.”

Unless the Chinese can relieve us and I doubt very much if they can – we need not expect relief from Singapore for many a long day. But we’ll stick it out. So Cheerio Darling. All my love. B.

Planes over & bombarding at dawn. 2 A.A. guns N.W. of Prison.

Japs truce 11AM to 4.15PM to give us time to give in. Gov. told them where to step off.

Waterfront & Central catching it badly.

Lights began to flicker during the evening.

Matilda Hospital 17th December to 4th January 1942

Christopher and I arrived at the Matilda at 7.30 in the morning on a cold, grey day with all our possessions in a bundle and one basket. Lise Huttemeier and her baby were with us. I was desperate for shelter – at any minute the shelling and raiding might begin. I went in, there was no-one about. At last I met Mrs Lee who told me I must see Dr Montgomery. I saw him and told him our plight. “Who told you there’s a crèche here?” he said. “Mrs Valentine” I answered. “Yes, but it’s only for babies,” he said. “The mothers are away nursing, doing their duty.” “My friend and I are willing to work, willing to help with the other babies, or in the hospital if we can stay. I am a nursing mother and we are both Volunteers’ wives and entitled to rations.” “But this is a hospital and not…” he began. “God Almighty, Dr Montgomery,” I cried, “we are at war, we have been shelled from our houses and have nowhere to go. It is your duty to give us shelter.” “I will take the nursing mother and baby,” he said. “The other mother can leave her child here.” “I accept gratefully for myself,” I said, “but my friend will not leave her baby.”

Poor Lise, she went with Iris and Raeder [Reidar Johannessen] and lived in Captain Svarrne’s packed house. I don’t know where she went after the surrender, but that house was looted properly, I took a tiny bottle of Haliverol myself and the floors were covered with nappies so they must have needed to get out in a hurry. I never saw her again which was bad luck on her, as in the bundle was a baby’s blanket of hers, her nightdress and three baby pants. I am very grateful for these things but I truly didn’t mean to keep them. It comes of collecting in the dark.

I was taken down into maternity and was greeted by screaming. I cannot forget what I saw. It was under the hospital in the cellars of which the only windows were blacked out save for one door. Beds and sleeping chairs piled with luggage lined the chief passage, two cots were in the dim light by a poor breakfast table with a dirty cloth. Several girls stood about in thick coats for the damp was terrible. I was shown a camp bed and a space in the passage where I could park Christopher. I cannot describe the dirt, the dark and the cold damp.

Everyone crowded round me for news. I told them of the scuttled ships, the Tamar’s mast just showing, the APC burning, the shelling. Of course I talked too much, I was overwrought and excited but it did no harm. However, up came Mrs Owen, very bossy in charge: “Don’t stand about gossiping, there’s plenty to do. And you’re here, Mrs Potter, to look after your baby. You’ve done more harm in the ten minutes you’ve been here than all the rest of the war.”

After one night I couldn’t bear the cold and draught in the passage. There was only the room where the washing was hung, not blacked out, so we could never have a light, and I moved in there. It was still damp and smelled of wet clothing, but it was private and not draughty. I can see the then Miss Ferguson going round at night now, with her shaded torch, like the Lady with the Lamp.

Now we felt the water shortage properly. We had to scrounge for two cups full to wash our babies and the napkin water was used over and over again till it stank. The amahs were still here, unpleasant, know-all women with no-one in charge of them. Mrs Owen set them (and us) all by the ears. Two of the children whose mothers were elsewhere had dysentery.

We were the step-children of the hospital. We had the worst and least food, no consideration, no expert care. I lost 10 pounds in the fortnight I was in the Matilda. We were on very short rations, and as there was no supervision of the kitchen, it was badly cooked. Had I thought of anywhere else I could easily have gone, I should have gone. But anywhere else I should have been a nuisance, so I bore it.

The damp and cold were appalling. I took Christopher on my back into the sun as often as I could when there was no warning and no shelling.

And then the military put a gun about a hundred yards away from our end of the hospital!