John Charter's wartime journal

Submitted by Admin on Tue, 02/28/2012 - 16:48

John's son Anthony has generously given the text of his father's journal to be made available here on Gwulo. Anthony has also published the journal in printed form as the book "The First Shall Be Last". The book version is an expanded copy, adding photographs, additional background information, and text from his mother Yvonne's memoir that add her experiences of these events. The book can be ordered from Amazon:

Here is an extract from the book's preface, where Anthony introduces his father's journal:

John’s journal was written when in Stanley Civilian Internment Camp where John and Yvonne Charter were imprisoned by the Japanese for three years and eight months.

Sadly, I never read my father’s journal fully until after he died aged 77, (25th October 1989), not because he did not want me to read it, but because the journal was written in such a tight manner, as paper was in short supply in Stanley Camp, that when he ran out of space, he wrote all around the margins, backwards and upside down, so that I thought it would be almost impossible to follow! However, my friend Bill Lake, a Hong Kong war period historian, decided he would take on the task of typing the whole journal out, and unravelling the sequence, which has, for the first time enabled me to read it comprehensively. I am very grateful to Bill for his painstaking work transcribing my father's journal, for without his dogged determination it would never have seen the light of day.

Book type
Diary / Memoir
Dates of events covered by this document

Sample pages

Civilian Internment Camp, Stanley, Hong Kong.

I had intended to start this diary on 16th June 1939 when I set sail on the SS Canton from King George V Dock on my way to Hong Kong. So much has happened in my life during the last 2 ½ years, however, that I have never been able to find time enough to start a diary – or perhaps I have been too lazy. Now however, I am in the British Internment Camp in Hong Kong, a prisoner of the Japanese, and though there is at present much work to be…

This diary cannot keep to dates. I must go back and write an account of the brief war here; and then later, a year old account of our wedding; and later still a somewhat hazy account of the two delightful weeks I spent in Ceylon with Mother and Father. At present my manual labour (supervising and bricklaying for our new communal kitchen) keeps me very busy during the day, and as we are blacked out and it gets dark at about 7:30, there is at present little time left for writing a diary.

What a thrill! As I was working today I heard the sound of an electric bell, and running into the building I found the electric current had been switched on! For the last week the Japanese have ordered a practice blackout and we hope that will officially end tomorrow; then we shall be able to have electric light – for the first time since the power station was put out of order in mid December.