The weather has been quite pleasant of late, thank God. It has been warmer and quite sunny on some days. This means we are able to sit outside a little more and so avoid being herded together quite so much in our one room.
The unfortunate bachelors who were quartered in the St Stephens Prep School were informed that they had to vacate their premises and move to the ‘Indian Quarters’, another block which had previously housed the Indian warders and which has now been vacated by the Indians.
This is the second time that some of these unfortunate men have had to move, for some occupied rooms in these ‘Married Quarters’ to start with and were asked to transfer to the Prep School which was reserved for single men, or men whose families were not in Hong Kong. I helped carry over some of their medical supplies for them. The cause of this transfer is that the Japanese have moved out (as far as I can make out) all Consular officials, except, one would imagine, the Consular officials of their allies – German, Italian etc. These officers are to be housed in the Prep School. This would appear to be quite contrary to International Law. I believe Consular officials need be given 24 hours notice only to clear out of a place, but they must be given safe conduct to a neutral country – and this the Japanese could not offer I presume, or else they must be treated like ordinary civilians. However, a gang of Chinese workmen were busy building up a wall of these hollow concrete blocks (embedded in mortar) round the edge of the garden. This I presume, is so the Japanese can claim that they are not housed behind barbed wire and therefore not being treated as prisoners.
Last Tuesday Yvonne and I helped Mr Wilmer bring Mrs Wilmer back from the hospital to the small Amah’s room that had been allotted to Mr Wilmer. He was able to get a ground floor room, which was essential as Mrs Wilmer had been in hospital because of her heart. She had spent 6 weeks there and it was nice to feel she was so much better, in spite of the poor food. Mr Wilmer and I carried her downstairs and put her on a stretcher trolley and wheeled her up to her new home.
I wish Yvonne and I had an Amah’s room to ourselves; it would be lovely. The Fortescues had one on this floor offered to them when Gilmore had to vacate it and go to the Prep School (soon after we arrived here). But they hesitated because of Adrian, and in the meantime the Revd and Mrs Sandbach moved in,
“For the night only”, as Mr Sandbach said.
Once in, however, it has proved impossible to move them and we found relationships with them becoming a trifle strained, so we dropped the subject and are making do with our one crowded room.
On February 25th we held a General Election for a Camp Council. The election rules were briefly as follows:-
Eight candidates were Block Representatives, elected from and by their blocks; the 8 candidates had to receive at least ten nominations, and the remaining six were General Representatives elected by all blocks. These nominators had to be residents from at least 3 different blocks or sections of the community – i.e. Married Quarters, Police Block, Bachelors, the Bungalows; St Stephens and Indian Quarters. The committee was to consist of 14 members. The Chairman and Vice-Chairman were to be elected by the community from the successful candidates and not selected by the candidates themselves. This would be an even more democratic form of election than in the British Commons, where the PM is elected by the successful party and not the nation.
We here hope that Neilson will be elected Chairman. Wylie (of the South China Morning Post) seems to be the other likely candidate though results (now coming in) give Neilson a lead. Neilson is a New Zealander who has spent some time amongst Americans in the Philippines and has something of their hustle and ‘go getter’ characteristics which makes him (in my opinion) a good man for the job. He is a Mining Engineer here in HK, head of Neilson and Co.
The election results are:
- Chairman - Neilson (General): Vice Chairman - Wylie (General): Members of Committee:- Sandbach (Blocks 4 + 5 ): Seth (Blocks 2 + 3) - Light and Power: Marker ( Blocks 12 + 13 ) - Medical: Alton ( Blocks 14 + 15 ): Stericker (General) - Religion and education: Pennefather-Evans (Block 10) - watch committee: Witham (Bungalows) - Billeting: Newbegging (Prep School) - Canteen: Gillespie (General) - Labour: Roberts (General): King (Blocks 8 + 9) - Finance: Sheldon (General) - Legal: M.F. Kay - Hon. Secretary.
On the previous day the Japanese Gendarmes had asked the British Police block for volunteers to load lorries with cases of tinned foods stored in the British Military food godowns, situated within the boundaries of this camp. I believe only one small godown was for Military food stores (the one I subsequently worked at) and the other two big ones (and two more outside the camp boundaries) were built by the HK Government for civil requirements.
At first there was a feeling of indignation against the police for consenting to do what amounted to coolie work; but when it was subsequently discovered that these European ‘coolies’ had rather a good day and had been allowed to open tins of milk, jam, bully beef etc. and eat plenty of food, in addition to being given a packet of biscuits and two tins of food at knocking off time, there was a rush for volunteers the next day. Labourers of all kinds (including Tim and myself) did not report for ordinary duties but legged it to the road opposite the godowns, where already, scores of men had turned up to await the arrival of the lorries and the selection of labourers.
Actually, a certain number of men had been selected the previous evening - so many from each community or block - (a total of 40 was required) but that did not prevent scores of other hopefuls turning up! The gendarme officers arrived and called for “20 big men” to line up. The rush that followed was really disgusting – the police being the worst. Men literally shoved and scrambled up the bank in their efforts to be amongst the selected 20, and the Chinese supervisors and Japanese gendarmes were borne backwards under the pressure. I do not stand to judge people, for I frankly own that I went only with the hope of being chosen to work in order that I should manage to scrounge as much food as possible; but I must say that morning I felt ashamed of my fellow countrymen. What an exhibition to make!
Most of us stood by and watched the rush – the American contingent of previously selected men was exemplary in its behaviour; not one of them tried to join the scrum, due chiefly I think, to the example and restraining effect of the leader of their squad. However, in poor defence of the British, it must be said that the Americans (many of whom had no real wartime duties) had managed to bring into the camp much more money and tinned food per head than the British, and had probably not suffered the same pangs of hunger that many of the British had since the time of internment, and had not quite the same incentive to scrap for work.
However, to continue, another batch of 20 men were asked to line up in the road – in fact we were already standing in a line – and the Chinese supervisor counted out 20 quite irrespective of whether or not they were standing in the line of officially selected men or not. I thought my luck was in for I was amongst the second batch. However, a Japanese officer counted out 20 again, and as he started counting from further down the line, I was just not included in his count. This second squad was marched 200 or 300 yards down the road to the small Military godown. The rest of us hung around for some time to see if any more men were required and then started to move away. Before going, I decided I would walk to the small godown to see how things were there and I found this second squad of men still lined up waiting to go into the godown. I had caught up with Terrence Feltham and Fraser and we decided just to tack ourselves onto the back of the queue and see what happened: four more men did the same thing behind us!
At 9:30 punctually the lorries arrived, being furiously driven and swaying all over the road in a most dangerous way. The queue started filing in and each one of us was given an official Japanese arm band. There must have been some 30 of these bands for everyone in the queue received one and Tim, who strolled along just then, came in and asked for one too and was given it. The work consisted of carrying the cases of tinned food (which were not particularly heavy) outside to the lorries. When these were filled, we piled the cases by the edge of the road. After working for 20 or 30 minutes we knocked off for ten minutes (by order of the Japanese officer) and the Japanese raised no objections to our opening tins of things!
It was simply superb. I made an awful mistake, for I punched two holes in a tin of ‘Evaporated Milk’ which was sweetened and would normally be diluted with an equivalent amount of water, and I drank the whole tinful. By the time I reached the end of the tin my poor stomach – for so long unaccustomed to anything at all rich – showed signs of revolt! However, I shared a 12 oz tin of bully beef with another chap and then, alas, I felt I could eat no more. Others were eating tins of jam as well!
Then we worked for another 20 minutes, by the end of which time there were so many cases piled by the road that we were told to stop again. One little gendarme very kindly presented me with a cigarette which I smoked with great relish, though unfortunately I did not feel like eating anything except a biscuit from a tin someone had opened. People were pocketing tins of goods quite openly and the gendarmes seemed to turn quite a blind eye to it.
Marjorie and Vera had by then strolled down to our godown and Tim and I pocketed some tins and took them out to them. I gave two to Bridget but later an officer took them away from her. Lunch for the working party consisted of two packets of siege biscuits (about 8 or 10 biscuits) with as much margarine as you wanted. I had gone back to our block at tiffin time and ate my ordinary small helping of rice with lettuce stew and a little gravy: this my stomach could manage more easily than condensed milk! Then I returned and ate a couple of biscuits that were left over.
There wasn’t very much work during the afternoon, chiefly because of the shortage of lorries; but the Japanese got hold of two of the youngest Europeans and set them to boiling water in the adjacent kitchen and diluting tins of ‘Carnation’ milk. We all had several glasses or mugs of this most excellent beverage and I felt much fitter and stronger on the following day. By then I was able to eat some more and I had some Kraft cheese and later a little bully beef. I only wished Yvonne could have been with me to have a good tuck in too.
I took away two tins of jam for Minnie (Maudie Minnhinick) and by the time I had given them to her and returned I found work had ceased, that the chaps had given up their official armbands and had each been presented with two packets of biscuits (four per packet) and a tin of corned beef and a tin of bully-beef. I thought I should prefer to keep my arm band in the hope of getting another job on the following day, as there was still stacks of food to be removed and so I did not return to the godown.
Well, Tim and Vera and I were able to get quite a few things for our own community chest. But the number of tins that had unofficially left the godown was so great that the Japanese decided to employ Chinese labour for the rest of the work! I suppose they were more honest! Actually, I cannot imagine why the Japanese did not stop the scrounging if they did not mean it to happen: it was proceeding most blatantly and none of the gendarmes seemed to mind. Perhaps we all looked thin and hungry and they felt sorry.
It transpired that a night or two later some members of the Police were caught, by the gendarmerie, looting one of the godowns. Apparently the Japanese handed over Moss, the chief offender to be tried by Sheldon, the senior HK Magistrate (and allegedly the only one of the four that survived the war. That means Lowry is killed………a very sad loss; both Y and I liked him very much). The others were released on condition that the Hon. C.P. Mr Pennefather-Evans recovered from the looters, and returned to the Japanese, all the stolen goods. This he was eventually able to do. One hardly blames these men for stealing food when our rations are so very small. I shall, in the future and in normal life, take a very lenient view when I hear cases of starving or badly fed people stealing food.
One day, one of the Police, Sergeant Walsh, who had been working in the garden attached to the block of St Stephens which the police occupy, felt a bit dizzy and so knocked off work and walked back to the block. He got no further than the verandah when he collapsed completely and died before anyone could render assistance. It was a tragic case of an undernourished man who overtaxed what little strength he had. Really if we are here for any length of time on this slow starvation diet there will be more such cases and an epidemic of anything will kill us off like flies. The funeral service was held on the lawn outside our block of flats and many people attended: the European police turned out in procession.