19 Mar 1942, Chronology of Events Related to Stanley Civilian Internment Camp | Gwulo: Old Hong Kong

19 Mar 1942, Chronology of Events Related to Stanley Civilian Internment Camp

Date(s) of events described: 
Thu, 19 Mar 1942

The night of March 19 is one of the most dramatic in the history of Stanley: seven people in two separate groups begin their successful escapes from a Camp in which security is still relatively lax.

Gwen Priestwood, who drove a food supply lorry during the fighting, and the policeman W. P. Thompson wriggle through the barbed wire and strike north by land up the Tai Tam Gap Road. After many adventures, including almost being caught by a Japanese patrol while resting in an empty house, they fall in with communist guerrillas. Priestwood continues to Chungking (Chongqing), wartime capital of Free China, while Thompson decides to stay in the New Territories to help organise guerilla warfare. (Priestwood describes his arrival in Chungking just before she leaves, but this may be to deceive the Japanese).

Priestwood carries with her a full list of the British internees (but not the Dutch or American).

A few hours later an Anglo-American party of five cut their way through the barbed-wire. The leader is Israel Epstein, a Marxist journalist who's been living in Stanley under an alias because of his anti-Japanese writing, and is desperate to escape before he's uncovered. With him are the English radical Elsie Fairfax-Cholmondeley (later his wife), F. W. Wright (also English, a fluent Cantonese speaker with knowledge of the local waters), and the Americans Parker Van Ness (a seaman working as a mechanic at Kai Tak airport) and Ray O' Neil (who also had nautical experience).

This party commandeer an upturned boat on the beach - Van Ness had previously judged it seaworthy and hidden supplies nearby. Unable to steer, they head towards Lamma Island, but find its shores too rocky to land. They nearly nearly collide with a large junk without any lights, and spot Japanese pillboxes as they're about to make a dawn landing on Cheung Chau. The appearance of a Japanese patrol boat eventually forces them to land on Lantau Island. They pull the boat into some bushes and collapse into an exhausted sleep.

They wake to find themselves surrounded by a ring of fishermen. They are brought the only food these people have - sweet potatoes boiled in water. There is a reward for handing-over of escapees to the Japanese, but the fishermen hide them for two nights in a small gully while planning their escape.


Gwen Priestwood, Through Japanese Barbed Wire, 1944, 62 onwards

Israel Epstein, My China Eye, 2005, 146-149

Note: Priestwood and Elsie Fairfax-Cholmondeley had been part of a group which planned but failed to escape before actual internment took place.