John Charter's wartime journal: View pages | Gwulo: Old Hong Kong

John Charter's wartime journal: View 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 done about the camp it appears that I shall have a considerable amount of leisure for writing a diary if we remain here for any length of time.

This is a propitious day for my first entry, for today Yvonne and I celebrate our first wedding anniversary – in a prison camp!  What celebrations we had planned! And how different are the circumstances in which we find ourselves! But we have greatly enjoyed our day. Miss Buckland called at our room and presented us with a 2 ounce block of chocolate as a present – a really generous gift in view of the fact that chocolate is almost unobtainable these days, especially for prisoners. We divided the packet into eight little squares and shared it amongst the eight occupants of the room.
Yvonne had the day off duty and after a morning’s shift of bricklaying I was allowed the afternoon off. Mrs Minhinnick came to our abode after lunch and after sitting and talking for an hour or two, we returned to her quarters in ‘Bartons Bungalow’. She really was a dear. She had carefully saved a box of Nestles Chocolates and a bottle of gin especially for the occasion, bringing both with her from the Kowloon Hotel where she had spent the first two weeks of internment. She mixed some gimlets in a bottle and with this, the chocolate and three cups we set off and found a secluded little spot overlooking Stanley (Chinese) Village and the sea. Y and I had contributed 10 of our precious remaining cigarettes and we really had a marvellous wedding anniversary treat. The spirit of a grand celebration was there alright. If only Capt. Min had been there, the party would have been complete. We talked of our families in all the varying parts of the globe, and wondered how they were faring and hoped they were not worrying unduly about us.

We talked of our brief war experiences and thanked God that so far all of us had survived, albeit with some narrow shaves. Round about us were the sad little mounds of soldiers’ graves with their names painted on the little wooden crosses, many alas, bearing the names of friends of ours in the HK Volunteers; some with the soldiers’ steel helmets  suspended from the cross. It is very sad to meet here the young widows of our friends who gave their lives: Ann Miner; Peggy Van Leuven; Nora Potter; Sheila Mackinlay; and Miss Black and Alison; these being amongst the better known of our friends and acquaintancies.

The chow today was a great disappointment: firstly the bread ration did not arrive so we went without our one slice of bread per day; secondly, the meat delivered for the day was quite bad and unfit for human consumption, so the rations issued amounted to one ladle full of rice (boiled) and a small cup full of vegetable stew or soup. This twice a day, often amounts to our food supply and is quite inadequate, though there are signs of improvement in the food situation.

This evening, by way of celebration, and also to help fill our aching voids, we opened a tin of bully beef – 12 ounces amongst 11 people! But it tasted very good. Our scanty supply of tinned goods is very low and we only open a tin on special occasions.

It has been a happy day and it is good that Yvonne and I are together. Had I been in the HK Volunteers instead of Essential Services, Y and I would now be in separate camps. It was very sweet of Maudie Min to think of us as she did. She is saving the remaining half bottle of gin for the day she and Capt. Min are re-united. May that be soon.

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.

The weather has suddenly become very much colder. The thermometer at St Stephens School registered 36’ F (2.2C) which seems almost too low to be accurate, but with insufficient food and no heating whatsoever, added to the fact that HK summers considerably thin one’s blood, conditions are certainly rather miserable at present.

We hear an important announcement affecting the European community is to be made on 15th February, Sunday. Everyone is full of conjecture as to what this order will be; the most popular theory being that we will be allowed back to our homes. We wonder if this would be to our advantage as the price of food now is exorbitant and so far we have heard no news of being able to withdraw any money from the banks. Here we do get some food, even though it is only half as much as we could eat.

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.

Yes; we can use the electric light tonight! What joy! Today we have had a good day – in spite of the cold!  For our evening meal we had rice, a little piece of stewed steak, any amount of stewed cabbage with a little tomato and to crown all a small pasty each of minced meat fried in pastry. It is the first time I have felt really comfortably full since I have been here. Let’s hope this is the beginning of better things.

It is really awful how one’s life seems to revolve round food these days. It makes one more mindful of the poor wretches who live perpetually at starvation’s door. I wonder if, when things return to normal we shall remember these lessons or whether we shall forget all in the general scramble for recovery. 

I was nearly frozen today, bricklaying in the open in a chilling north wind. This is exceptionally cold for Hong Kong.

The first death in camp occurred today. A Mr Shepherd died of dysentery. I fear that with our low vitality and terribly crowded living conditions, diseases will spread rapidly in the hot weather. Flies are a menace even now when the sun shines for a little while. The hospital which holds 85 patients already has 65! Not too good.

I forgot to mention Marjorie Fortescue’s birthday. As a birthday treat, Tim arose early and fried the one tin of tinned bacon that he had brought. The nine of us had breakfast this morning! – a spoonful of bacon, a slice of bread and a cup of coffee! So today has been pretty good.

Yesterday we spent a most unpleasant morning. I had just had my turn in the bathroom and was recovering from a cold wash when Nielson, our chairman, hurried in to say that everyone had been ordered to parade on the open space beside the prison. It was a dismally cold and rainy morning and everyone felt rather miserable, no one knowing the reason for the order. People turned up in all sorts of queer apparel; some wrapped up in bits of canvas or blankets, a few well equipped people with umbrellas. Yvonne and I were well clad, each wearing a mackintosh over our overcoats. Even so we felt cold and our feet were icy. After standing about for half an hour we were arranged in groups according to the blocks of buildings that we lived in. We wondered if the new Civil Administration, whom we had heard were taking over control of the civilian population of the Colony, and the internees, were going to inspect us. However, after another half hour, the whole 3,000 of us had to file past Japanese soldiers or Gendarmes, Sikh and Chinese police who were under Japanese command, and we were all searched for fire-arms. The rain had been intermittent all this time. I must have looked like an apostle with my beard and moustache and a white scarf over my head! After that we were told to proceed to St Stephens School where we stood around for another hour.

We heard then that the Japanese authorities were searching all our rooms and luggage for fire arms, ammunition, wireless sets or any other instruments that could be used against the Japanese. I heard of nothing of that sort that had been discovered. Tim had not been feeling well and he stayed at home, in bed, to look after Adrian. He told us that Chinese constables searched our belongings. One of them took my precious last half packet of cigarettes, but Tim spoke up and demanded them back and the constable meekly gave them back again!  One of them found the leather holster of little John’s toy pistol and this caused a great deal of suspicion and excitement!  Fortunately, Tim can speak some Cantonese and was able to convince them of its innocence.

So altogether we stood about from 9 a.m. to 12 a.m. in the raw cold weather for nothing. I felt very sorry for some of the old people. Fortunately some of our cooks had stayed behind and started cooking the first meal, and our chow was ready by 12:30. In the evening the cooks surpassed themselves; they had been issued with a ration of flour instead of rice and that evening we had some meat and vegetable soup with a little rice for thickening and two meat and pastry patties fried in peanut oil. They were marvellous. The pastry was so heavy and leathery that I felt really full. We also had our bread ration too, of a slice of bread and that with a scraping of jam finished off the meal.

The Japanese authorities have allowed the Red Cross lorries to bring in parcels of foodstuffs for people, which neutrals and some of the Chinese friends outside have been able to purchase. The price of goods is exorbitant but by contributing about $5 (present day value £14) per head we have been able to get a few tins of pilchards, bully beef, syrup, cocoa, butter and some Chinese sauce which helps flavour our otherwise rather tasteless food. I fear our money will not last long and I sincerely hope the Japanese will allow us to draw a little money from our banks as they promised to do over a month ago. We hope a canteen of sorts will be opened here.

The official Japanese rations for us per person per day are: 8 ounces (226 grams) rice (dry); 3/7 ounce (12 grams) sugar; 3/7 ounce (12 grams) salt. It is found by weighing that we seldom get more than 7 ounces of rice per day. In addition we obtain soya beans, lettuce (enough for a ladle full of soup per meal) and between 7 and 2 ounces of meat or fish per day, and also our slice of bread, and the community has arranged amongst itself that manual labourers get an extra half slice per day. It can be seen that on these rations we are perpetually hungry.

During the first two weeks here the men doing manual work began to feel really weak. I was (like most of them) attacked in the thighs and knees with a feeling of weakness and impotence that one often feels in horrible dreams, when your legs just won’t move. Now I do not get this I am glad to say. I expect my constitution has adjusted itself to the chiefly vegetarian diet to some extent; also we are getting a little more food than at first and finally, the little extra that we did manage to provide ourselves must make a difference.

The communal kitchens I have been working on are now nearing completion. When they are finished the cooking for our blocks is to be completely reorganised and the meals should improve. As a first step in this direction, 20 cents per head was levied the other day for the purpose of buying condiments such as curry, pepper, baking powder and some of the cheaper Chinese sauces. With these prerequisites it will be possible to serve the same food with a greater variety of flavours and in different forms.

The cooking is at present done by seamen cooks whose real knowledge of cooking is very limited. They are a cheery and very hard working crowd, but they do not appreciate suggestions and are not prepared to accept advice from other experienced cooks and dieticians (mostly women) with which our section of the community seems well supplied.

The other day some malcontents circulated a letter they had jointly written in which they styled the cooks ‘inexperienced’ and gave them no word of thanks for all the hard work they had done. They then went on to make some really useful suggestions, such as: having shifts of cooks who would work by rote; a storekeeper who would issue all stores (thus eliminating any suspicion of pilfering by the cooks); and using the knowledge of the dieticians and experienced cooks in preparing the meals. Unfortunately, many people signed it, which we in our room thought was wrong of them, for any good suggestions should have been made to the committee and not done in this rather back door manner, which was very unkind and hurtful  to the cooks. The signed paper was presented to Nielson (who, incidentally shares a room with some of the cooks, and was suspected by some of benefitting by this in the matter of a little extra food – this further complicated matters). 

A meeting of the blocks was convened (which I missed) and a stormy meeting, apparently, it proved to be. The circular was read aloud and there was much back chat etc. and Nielson, the Chairman rather lost control of the meeting – which was held in the open air and therefore difficult to manage in any case. The integrity of the temporary committee somehow became involved and a vote of confidence was asked for and accorded. Then the issue became unclear and a vote that the cooks should ‘carry on’ was taken to mean ‘carry on permanently’ and was defeated. The cooks promptly declared they were ‘through’ which left everyone wondering where the next meal was coming from. However, Neilson persuaded everyone to let the matter rest for 3 days and managed to persuade the cooks to carry on for the time being.  That was about a week ago and things are still the same!

This evening’s meal has again been very satisfying: rice, soya bean and pork stew in really liberal quantities. Some of the cubes of meat in the stew were pure pork fat, which would normally make me retch, but which I ate with relish on this occasion, in spite of the somewhat seering burnt fat taste it left at the back of my throat. But our food is so deficient in fats that we readily eat all we can when it comes along.

Yesterday evening we went to the Police Concert which was held in the hall at St Stephens College (as are most concerts). It really was very good indeed and relied very little on community singing, as most previous concerts have done. There was a Prison Inspector who had rescued all his conjuring apparatus (from $800 to $1000 worth (pdv£2,800) from the prison and gave quite a good show. The Balalaika Singers, a group of about 15 White Russians, sang Russian folk songs. The interned Russians must have become naturalised British; 3 of them were in the Police Force. Then the ‘College Rowdies’ (a Police quartet with guitar and ukulele sang ranch songs etc. There was a recitation; a solo song or two; a very humorous monologue and a few silly stories. The concert lasted from 7 to 9 and ended with 2 or 3 popular choruses with the College Rowdies.

The previous concert, held on Shrove Tuesday and organized by Father Murphy was far more impromptu and consisted mainly of community singing with a few solos. It was quite good fun, but some of the last wars sentimental songs such as ‘Keep the home fires burning’, ‘It’s a long way to Tipperary etc. gave me the pip and made me feel far from cheerful, as it reminded one of good old England too much and made me long to be out of this wretched mess.

The concert was preceded by a cinema show kindly given by some Japanese official. In the circumstances it was not greatly appreciated as it was chiefly about Japanese industrial development – picturing the manufacture of many and varied articles. The bit that caused the most interest was the bottling of beer! And the final shot of that particular item, showing frothing beer pouring into a glass produced a loud cheer!! The film even showed Japanese bombers taking off and then releasing bombs in the air. This was by no means a new sight to us! And was, indeed hardly tactful! However, we all clapped politely at the end of the film.

Today I had a nice morning’s rest. We finished the flue to the kitchens yesterday afternoon and at 4:30 I managed to get a jug full of boiling water and had a shave, shampoo, and hot wash all over. It was lovely and I put on a clean set of clothes. How one appreciates these little things now. Our soap is limited and during this cold weather I change my underclothes once per week only and Yvonne does the washing and mending. How different to our former life when I had a bath and clean clothes at least once each day.

I might explain that the greater part of the internees in this prison camp occupy the former European Warders’ flats. There are four blocks consisting of six flats per block (in the storied buildings) two flats opening off each landing. These flats contain a living room (18’ x 15’) and a dining room (12’ 6” x 15’) with a good sized balcony (9’ wide x 30’ long); two bedrooms, a bathroom and lavatory suite, and a lavatory off the hall; a small pantry, a small kitchen, a covered back balcony which is quite big and which gives access to two servants rooms, (about 10’ x 7’), a servants W.C. (Chinese type), a copper and tool shed and a small servants kitchen with chattie type fires and sink. Normally, these 24 flats would be occupied by 24 European families with (at a generous estimate) a total of 96 Europeans and about 48 to 60 Chinese servants. This is the maximum peace time capacity of the flats with two double bedrooms, and actually I expect it never exceeded 72 Europeans.

Now, however, 700 people occupy these same 24 flats. It really is disgraceful, and the risks of epidemics starting, and quickly spreading in the hot weather is very real. There are 50 British who are housed in the Dutch block and they too draw their food from our block kitchen.

I have drawn a sketch plan of the communal kitchens which I was asked by the committee to design.

At present all the rice and stews are being cooked in the coppers (normally used for boiling clothes). So the new kitchens are to cater for about 750 people. One big rice pan produces approx 270 bowls of boiled rice, so three gives enough for over 800. The meat and fish and pasties can be stewed or fried in the stew pans and the vegetables and soups cooked in the coppers. We are hoping to get some hot iron plates on which chipatties etc. can be fried or baked, and rice cakes made. These will be interchangeable with the stew-pans. In the kitchen there is a bay for food preparation, a food store and a fuel store. The intention is to store the rice and vegetables etc. in the food store, but my personal opinion is that it will prove unsuitable for rice storage, as rice is a commodity that must be kept in a dry place or it will go bad, and the hot and humid atmosphere of a kitchen where the rice and beans are boiled in the big pans for a long time will, I think, prove damp for the rice to store.
Adjoining the kitchen is the General Store: this communicates with the kitchen by a hatch and if necessary food could be kept in the General Store. Water and electric lights are being laid on to the kitchen. The question of drainage may prove a difficulty.

These communal kitchens, stores etc. are being built in a block of 14 brick and concrete car shelters. The back and ends of the block are entirely enclosed, there being no partition walls or doors to the garages. We built up ¾ high walls in front, between the columns, knocked a wide doorway in the end wall, and cut long, narrow, horizontal ventilation slits at the back, above the cooking range. Most of the new walls we constructed are built of the hollow concrete blocks which had been used for building blast proof screens at the back entrances to the flats, to act as air raid shelters. These walls had to be demolished, the concrete blocks cleaned up and then re-laid.

We had only four 90 lb bags of cement for use on the stoves (built in brick) and the brick flues and stack. We had to use 1 cement: 3 sand: 6 red earth for this, and the concrete block walls are bedded entirely in red earth mud. It is amazing how affective this red earth is. As it happens, the concrete blocks (which measure 1’ 6’’ x 9” x 9”) are very heavy and stand up quite well if bedded evenly in mud. Each block weighs approximately 90 lbs and when the walls were four and five feet high, it was very exhausting work lifting up the blocks and laying them gently in position. It was rough on one’s hands too, and very soon the skin on my hands began to grow tough and the tips of my fingers became quite considerably less sensitive to touch.

Our kitchens have not proved a success alas. I made drawings of the stoves and flue etc. as previously described. However, a very stubborn little fellow named MacCormack, a foreman bricklayer from the Dockyard, who had been appointed chief bricklayer, insisted on building things as he thought fit. He refused point blank to build in the dampers as I had indicated; he refused to build in the fire doors; I had started building a 14” x 14’ chimney stack which I had intended to narrow at the top to about 12” x 12”.  But he finished the upper portion and battered it back so that it measured only 12” x 7” at the top (this to take the smoke of 8 stoves). I had alas intended to build it in to the edge of the projecting concrete flat roof to give the flue additional support. Why was he given his own way?  Because if anyone remonstrated or tried to get him to do things differently he merely put down his tools and refused to work. As it was he had taken a whole week off, and as he did more work in a day than three of us unskilled workers (and better brickwork at that by a long way) Neilson and MacCrea (the latter in charge of labour) said,

“Let him carry on and we can alter things afterwards”. 

This has proved fatal. Precious cement was wasted and the stoves could not be used. He had allowed a depth of 7” only between the fire bars and the bottom of the big rice pans. This was inadequate as the rice in the bottom of the rice pans tended to burn before the rest was properly steamed. I had shown the depth as a full 12”.

So I had to knock down the part of the chimney stack he had built and rebuild it myself; the blacksmiths have cut and fixed fire doors; Blackmore and Ogden have had to remove the fire bars, cut out bricks and mortar from the bottom of the big stoves and lower bars and all by 3” and raise the pan itself by building up a brick and cement rim. That is nearing completion and there will be a full 12”. The blacksmiths have cut dampers out of the heavy sheet iron and some metal guides out of the glazing bars of a metal French window that had been blown out by a shell! Now it remains for me to chip out the channels for the dampers and cement in the frames. What a lot of time and trouble could have been saved if it had all been done in the first place.

One of the chief troubles is that this low block of garages is flanked on two adjacent sides by the 3 storied blocks of flats and this means that a very strong down-draught is caused in our kitchen flue when the wind comes in a N.E. direction, over the high blocks and down onto the garage blocks. We cannot help this, but I am hoping to counter it with a cowl or T piece which we will fix on top of the flue. Before, the down draught blew the smoke straight into the kitchens and with no damper or fire doors the fires were impossible to control. When the cowl is fixed I hope everything will be in order. The Blacksmiths have laid on water from a tap on the lawn. The Electricians have installed electric lighting; the window openings have been covered with wire netting to discourage flies and prevent possible theft of food and utensils. There is talk now of laying on power to the kitchens and moving in 8 electric stoves…………and so it goes on.

On Monday 16th February 1942 the Japanese sponsored paper ‘The Hong Kong News’ announced with banner headlines the fall of Singapore. We found this bit of news very depressing and would not at first believe it.  Singapore had been looked upon as Britain’s impregnable Eastern fortress and its early fall makes one realise how gravely the Home Government, or someone, has underestimated the strength of the Japanese. Truly we are a race of muddlers, and it is only our tremendous tenacity and considerable wealth that will enable us to emerge, with our allies, victorious in the end.

I believe too that the democratic principles for which our allied cause stands are right, and though, cut off from news of the outside world as we are, I believe that ultimately our cause will emerge victorious. Without this belief, life here would indeed be intolerable. This we presume, is the ‘good news’ that the Japanese officer had ironically told us we should hear on 15th February. Apparently, according to the Japanese timetable, Singapore was scheduled to fall on the 15th February, and fall it did! There are apparently only about 120 European women and children in Singapore, but according to the ‘Hong Kong News’ some 60,000 troops (regulars and volunteers) were captured. The Japanese also state that the Philippines have fallen, though apparently American resistance there has not yet completely ended. High Ho! The Japanese army is certainly proving a very efficient fighting machine.

Today we have been confined to our quarters from 1 p.m. till 6 p.m., because the new Japanese Governor of Hong Kong came to visit the fort at Stanley and all internees had to be off the roads during the visit.

Last Tuesday evening I was making a jug of cocoa for our supper (on the electric stove downstairs) when someone came running along the back yard shouting,

 “Put out all the lights, there’s a drunken Japanese soldier coming.” 

Lights in the various blocks flicked off, for on several occasions drunken gendarmes, who are quartered in the Prison, had come round at night, pushing their way into rooms and looking for young women. It is a beastly position to be in, for these soldiers are armed and when drunk are likely to be dangerous. Sure enough, in about 5 minutes this gendarme staggered along, escorted by a Sikh policeman who was doing his best to calm the former. The Japanese was shouting at the top of his voice and I heard him banging at some door and then there was silence for some minutes! Suddenly Mrs Greenwood ran across the yard to the flat on the ground floor where the cooks live and shouted to them at the top of her voice for assistance. Mrs Brown was in the kitchen with me, washing her baby’s’ clothes and she asked me to stay with her, so I did not join the cooks who had immediately turned out to render assistance. They disappeared into the flat which the gendarme had entered and presently escorted that gentleman out, shouting at the top of his voice. The Sikh policeman persuaded him to turn his steps in the direction of the gaol; Mrs Brown made a bolt for her room (a small Amah’s room on the ground floor which she shares with her mother and 18 month daughter; her soldier husband having been killed here during the war). I advised Mrs Brown to lock her door and not open it on any account. I then went to see what had happened and chatted with Himsworth.

Apparently the gendarme had burst into a room where 8 women lived; some were already in bed. Himsworth, who lived next door, with great courage went in to try and distract the gendarme’s attention. This he managed to do and the women fled from the room, some escaping through a window. Another man (whose name I did not get) had also gone along to help. The gendarme drew his revolver and pointed it in their faces and when Mrs Greenwood peered in she found the gendarme shouting at Himsworth, with the pistol waving about, 18 inches from his forehead. She ran back to give the alarm and when the cooks appeared (all seamen) headed by Mills, they found the gendarme had forced these two unfortunate men onto their knees and were making them kowtow to him, their foreheads touching the ground, while he shouted and waved his revolver.

Mills came up behind, seized the gendarme’s arm and hand and pointing the pistol harmlessly at the ceiling led the gendarme out of the flat and into the back courtyard, where the Indian policeman took him by the arm and led him away, still shouting and protesting. Himsworth was laughing and treating the whole thing as just an exciting adventure! However, after a few minutes, back came the gentleman, evidently determined not to be balked. He was really yelling and grunting and waving his revolver in a most dangerous looking way. We all melted away in the dark and doors were locked and bolted behind us. Vera had very courageously come down to see if she could help by talking to the gendarme and reasoning with him. She speaks Japanese fluently, having been born in, I think, Yokohama, and lived in Japan for the first eleven years of her life and returned there later. However, we dissuaded her and returned to our flat and turned off the light. I heard the gendarme hammering on Mrs Brown’s door and felt so sorry for her as she and her mother must have been frightened. However, he gave up in time and stood swaying in the courtyard, looking up and grunting and shouting and waving his revolver. He stood just below our window and when his gaze was turned to it, I judged it wisest to withdraw! Eventually the Sikh got him away and peace reigned again.

Neilson and our block representative went immediately to see Mr Cheng the Chinese Administrator appointed by the Japanese to look after the internees here. They apparently all went to the gaol and reported the matter to a Japanese officer who promised to take disciplinary action. I hope no similar incidents will occur.

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.

My diary is getting behind hand and I must catch up. Many things seem to have happened since my last entry. Firstly the war news seems very depressing: Penang, Rangoon, The Dutch East Indies, most of the Philippines (including Luzon and Wake Islands) and apparently New Guinea and Borneo have fallen to the Japanese. The northern part of Australia – Port Darwin – has been bombed and so also have Colombo and Trincomale harbours in Ceylon.

There is one encouraging thing about the news which one gathers from the Japanese sponsored ‘Hong Kong News’ and that is the complete lack of and reference to the war in Europe. This must mean that the course of events there is shaping well for the allies and that the Russians must be continuing to push the Germans back, for were this not so – or even if the Germans had merely halted the Russian counter offensive – I am sure headline news would be made of it in the local paper.

From time to time new people arrive here for internment – people who have been left in Hong Kong to carry on some necessary work for the Japanese until they could be replaced - and apparently, the Japanese have made no restrictions on the use of short-wave receiving sets outside the internment camps. Consequently these people are able to obtain BBC and San Francisco news and they confirm that things are going fairly well for the Allies in Europe. From a report in the local paper that the Japanese navy had attacked an American troop transport convoy off Australia it also appears that America is sending reinforcements to Australia. This too is good news! But it all seems to point to a long internment here. What a depressing thought!

It is now just on four months since the surrender of Hong Kong but it seems as though we have been here ages, huddled on top of each other like sheep, with inadequate food, with our few clothes and shoes wearing out and with no indication of how much longer it is to last or what is to become of us. It seems that the whole war has now reached a very crucial stage and the next four or six months will decide the issue one way or the other – and here we are, unable to do anything, unable even to get any really authentic news of what is happening. I have suffered moods of depression here that I have never before experienced in my life and I hope I never shall again.

I must have been feeling a little blue when I made my last entry! Since then a crop of more cheerful rumours have been circulating and the food rations have improved slightly so I am feeling a little more cheerful.

The flour ration has been increased of late to as much as 4 oz (112 grams) of flour per head per day. I do hope this increased ration will continue for it means that if we can build an oven we can have almost ½ lb of bread each per day and that will make a tremendous difference to our food. About 3 weeks ago the food situation seemed to be getting worse and worse and all of us felt we were literally starving: I felt weak and lethargic and we all lay down and just slept for about 2 hours after the eleven o’clock meal; at nights I was kept awake by the pangs of hunger and could do nothing but lie and think of food. It really was wretched.

Maudie Minhinnick who weighed 188 lbs when she first arrived in Hong Kong in June 1939 had reduced her weight to 156 lbs just before the war by a course of exercises:  now, with no particular exercise at all, she weighs 133 lbs! Still, she is looking very fit and well and if she does not lose any more weight she will not suffer for this enforced dieting. Yvonne weighed 135 lbs at the beginning of December and she now weighs 115 lbs. She really has a beautifully sylph-like figure which greatly pleases her and she is even prepared to admit she was too fat before this internment. She means to keep slim after the war…………I wonder! I have always been pretty lean; I weighed 154 lbs when I came to Hong Kong in 1939. By last December I had lost 9 lbs which brought me to 145 lbs, this being exactly my weight on leaving school at the age of 18. Now, at the age of 29, I have lost 11 lbs more and weigh only 134 lbs (60 kilos). I have lost less weight than most people here, chiefly, I think because I have very little surplus flesh to lose. 

Harold weighed 165 lbs in December; he now only weighs 134 lbs. He has lost 8” round the waist! Poor old Mr Wilmer has lost 50 lbs since he has been here and many of the stouter men and women have shed a similar burden………many of them, it must be admitted, look all the better for it, though the reductions have been a little too quick to be good and have now reached a stage where further reduction will only be weakening.

Many people are deficient in some food or another. Yvonne had an outbreak of spots on her face about a month ago which turned out to be impetaego. This was due chiefly to lack of calcium. In the early days of our internment the Canavals came to our room one evening and Helen mentioned the fact that the lack of calcium would have very bad effects on people – skin, teeth etc……and she wondered how we could possibly produce calcium. I suggested, that if the grissel and animal matter could be dissolved out of the beef or buffalow bones that are sent for our rations, it would leave more or less pure calcium. I had in mind dissolving it with acid. Helen thought that a good idea, consulted a little chemist here and in a day or two she issued calcium powder to all the people in these blocks 2, 3, 4 and 5.  It was a very good effort. I think that after the bones had been boiled and boiled for stock, she gets them burned somehow so that all animal tissue is burnt away and then the hard calcium is ground down into a powder. I believe this particular form of calcium is not easily absorbed by our systems, but we must absorb some of it at any rate. Very little food is wasted in this camp!

There has been much trouble about the cooks. Many people have complained……… and often quite legitimately………that the cooks have been eating considerably more than their rations of food. Few people, if any, objected to the cooks taking their small perks, but unfortunately they considerably overstepped the mark in many cases. An enquiry was instituted, following some letters of complaint that were submitted by various people; Tim and Harold composed and signed one of these letters. The findings of the special enquiry committee were that the rations reached our store room in full measure, thus exhonerating the ration squad; the quantities issued to the cooks in full measure - clearing the storekeeper - but leakage occurred during the process of preparing, cooking and serving the meals. Mrs Lucas, the caterer and Keates, chief cook of the second cooking squad offered their resignations, which were accepted. Some caustic comments were shouted by members of Block 5 when Charlie Ingledew, chief cook of the first cooking squad, was appointed chief cook of the combined cooking staff; but Block 5 is, by common consent, the most ill mannered and disgruntled block in our community………more scandal and slanderous accusations seem to emanate from them than the other three blocks put together. However, they were ‘shushed’ and Mr Sanbach asked people to give the new rules and arrangements formulated by the committee a chance of working. Stores were to be issued by a storekeeper and the chief cook was to keep the key. This announcement brought forth fresh hoots.

Ingledew was not present, fortunately. From the beginning of this internment camp he has acted as chief cook for the squad of seamen (most of them skippers of coasting vessels who were caught here at the outbreak of war) who started cooking meals for the community in blocks 2, 3, 4 and 5 before the camp had any internal organization at all. In fact at one time they were cooking rice and soup stew twice a day for over 1500. They are a very nice crowd of chaps and have worked extremely hard, as I can witness because of my association with them whilst building additional kitchen stoves. One of the regulations was that supervisors should be appointed to inspect the cooking and distributing of food; another was that two groups of cooks should be appointed (mainly the same personnel as before) and should work as before doing 3 days on and 3 days off duty.

The Ingledew gang of cooks objected to both regulations and after much hithering and dithering and committees it was decided that their resignation en mass should be accepted and a new squad appointed. So now there are two squads, each with its chief cook, Capt. Ried and Mr Leslie, with Mrs Greenwood as caterer; she it is who decides how the food shall be prepared and she simply works like a Trojan, doing a good deal of the actual preparation herself and working day after day without a pause. I believe another woman has been appointed to take 3 days alternate duty with her but she evidently feels she is the only one capable of doing the job! The new arrangements seem to be working quite well at any rate.

All ‘burnt rice’ (the encrusted skin left on the rice pan after the boiled rice has been removed) is now sent to the clinic where it is fried in oil and given to the children for breakfast. It used to be eaten by anyone who managed to scrounge a piece - the cooks getting first whack - and there were crowds of people who flocked round the cookhouse door at each mealtime. I worked in the kitchen on the stoves and I always managed to get a big tin full of rice pan scrapings which I took back to our room and shared between the eleven of us. This rice biscuit is really excellent as it is very hard and is good exercise for our jaws - most of our food needs no chewing at all. I must say, though, that it was a hateful business hanging around and collecting this burnt rice with everyone else trying to get a piece, and I was quite relieved when the new regulations precluded its distribution to all and sundry. As a matter of fact, supervision of the cooks has already become a merely nominal duty that is hardly ever carried out by members of the committee due, no doubt, to the feeling of embarrassment caused by the hostile looks of the cooks! Anyway, a good deal of burnt rice still does not reach the clinic, though apparently the clinic gets as much as it wants.

It is significant that all the other blocks, with perhaps the exception of the bungalows where the numbers amount to only 40 or 50 in each, have had trouble with the cooks and the cooking staff in general. This must be because food is so scarce and is so precious that we all watch it and its preparation with eagle eyes; also, if the cooks and their families had plenty of food, there would be small temptation to take any from the community.

The standard of morals in this camp has sunk to a very low level: the imperceptibly fine line between scrounging and thieving has, in many cases, absolutely vanished. Peoples’ washing disappears from the lines; mugs, spoons, etc. that are not clearly marked have a tendency to disappear and if a mug, say, similar to a lost one suddenly is included amongst one’s after tiffin washing up, the idea is to hang on to it until someone enquires if a such and such coloured mug has been found, and if no one comes to enquire, well so much the better for you; little or no effort is made to find the owner - for the very good reason, of course that it might possibly be the mug that was pinched from you three weeks ago, and anyway, as yours was pinched you had a right to replace it if the owner was careless enough not to come and reclaim it!

One really forms a habit of automatically picking up things that one is in need of - of helping oneself, say, to a few screws from the precious store in the community tool shed without asking if they have been reserved for anything; of getting permission to obtain things for the community and then keeping some of the things yourself - say planks of wood or odd tools such as a hammer. I am sure a lot of that has happened.

The other day someone had left a roll of toilet paper in the lavatory (a very rare commodity these days) and really my first thought was to help myself to some of it!  And then I realised I had no right to it at all. I wonder how long, after we get out of here, we shall continue to think in this manner!

Then, the spirit of camp life here is very low indeed. Everyone is just out to fend for themselves and their families and maskie anyone else. When the additional rations that hard manual labourers were getting were cut right out because of the very small rations the community as a whole were receiving, most of the men just stopped working altogether.True, most of us felt so weak that we could do only a little work, but the work had to be done, rations had to be fetched, wood had to be sawn, drains and gutters had to be swept and kept clean and refuse had to be disposed of, and most men could have managed 2 hours per day.

I have been disgusted by many people here; it takes the unusual in life, sometimes to show what we are really like. And some of the biggest grumblers and biggest talkers are often those who are least willing to do a job of work. I do not consider our small community in room 11 exceptional in any way, but Jack, Harold and Tim have kept on with wood sawing all this time (until Harold was ordered to stop work by Dr Canaval because he had overdone things and worn himself out); I have kept on with work in the kitchen (building three additional stoves entirely by myself - I have had to carry the heavy concrete blocks, bricks being unavailable, dig the red earth, fetch the lime and gypsum blocks and pound them up and burn them to make mortar, mix the mortar, and cut and lay the blocks - all unaided);  Yvonne and Isa have kept on with their work in the clinic; Vera and Marjorie have their respective children to look after, Elsie is the only one who does nothing but her share of the housework, but she is not strong and at the outbreak of war the doctor at the military hospital, where she should have started nursing, told her she was not strong enough for it, so it is best for her to conserve her energies now. She joined Harold at Fire Brigade headquarters during the war and acted as telephonist, stenographer and cook! So I think room 11 has pulled its weight for the community as a whole. 

But things have happened here that have made me ashamed of the European community of Hong Kong. I must record my disgust at the behaviour of Justice Cressal, Puisne judge of Hong Kong. His conduct during the war was most reprehensible when he seemed to loose his nerve. He was attached, I think to the Food Control and would not go out during any shelling. He apparently parked himself on the War Memorial Hospital, where he was not wanted, and was drunk for most of the days of the week. When he came to the camp it was found he had appropriated to himself a large quantity of the food from the Food Control stores that should have gone to the community - and strange to say Sir Athol Macgregor has tried to shield his actions. Sir Athol’s sense of brotherhood of the law must be very strong.

I have always disliked Mr Justice P. Cressal since the first time I met him at the Kilies birthday lunch at the Hong Kong Club shortly after Cressal had arrived in Hong Kong - a great mass of boastful flesh and blubber, full of his own importance; why the Minhinnicks ever tried to cultivate his friendship I cannot think; Minnie says she now certainly has no intention of continuing it. Cressal must have lost pounds since he has been here and he really looks very fit and all the better for it.

Cressal is by no means the only black sheep, but on the other hand there are many real heroes and heroines amongst us, of people who behaved and are behaving magnificently, and are worthy of our national traditions and spirit.

My outburst about Cressal, on reading it later, seems somewhat unworthy and perhaps uncalled for; I am not usually given to back-biting or derogatory imputations but as this is a private diary and is not written for publication I will let it stand. Perhaps I am becoming somewhat irritable and morose and this may account for my hard words!

Incidentally I have become very irritable since I came to this camp. Things seem to be a bother to do - it seems an awful fag to go visiting one’s friends - and sometimes I feel snappy for no particular reason at all. The doctors say this is largely due to the lack of fats in one’s diet. The pork, while it lasted, had a fair amount of fat on it, but the buffalow that we now get - which is extremely well beaten and tough! - has no fat at all, and the only fat we do get is our one teaspoonful of butter that we have each day from the community store. Incidentally the butter has now come to an end and we are half way through our one and only 2 lb tin of margarine. Still, it has done well to last us for four months: a little looting goes a long way! Yvonne remains very cheerful though at times she too feels a bit under the weather. She must find me difficult to get on with some times. However, I am by no means pessimistic. Lots of things have happened lately.  

The beastly, sticky and damp Hong Kong Spring weather has descended upon us now, with heavy rain and sultry moist days. Really we have been lucky with the weather this year: it has remained comparatively cool till the beginning of May and is not yet uncomfortably hot. But this morning the rain poured down upon us, turning the worn out bits of lawn and grass plots into morasses. Now, all the landscape is of silver light on the grey sea, white foam about the black rocks and filmy white mists wreathing and curling and whisping up the dark and bleak hillsides to the flat grey ceiling of the sky. When the sun shines on a sunnier day, the sea takes on a vivid blue and distant stuccoed houses look bright and cheerful. Stanley really is a charming spot - were it not for this damnable internment and these millions of other people about! 

The other evening we strolled up to Barton’s (or ‘C’) bungalow as we often do to visit Minnie. It was a simply perfect evening, full of soft golden light with smokey blues and greys of the sea, headlands and hills and the soft orange clouds of the setting sun. A gentle breeze was blowing and we longed to be out again in a slender white sailed yacht.  Still - one day we keep saying!

Yes, the hot weather has come and both today and yesterday the temperature must have reached the eighties. Fortunately there were quite a few electric refrigerators in these flats and with their help it is possible to keep the meat overnight and prevent it from going bad. I believe some of these ‘fridges have been distributed to other blocks in the camp.

The food has improved quite a lot, thank God. We still rise from our meals feeling we could eat more, but we don’t get up feeling hungrier at the end than at the beginning as we did a few weeks ago. I suppose the very act of eating makes the digestive juices begin to flow which increases appetite and really after those scanty meals, we felt just as hungry at the end as at the beginning.

We now get on average per day: 8 ozs rice, 7½ ozs flour, an average of 200 lbs of meat and bone for our blocks (750 people) which means we get about 2½ ozs (70 grams) of actual meat, and the bones, grissle and uneatable portions of the meat are boiled for meat stock. We are given a variety of vegetables: lettuce, spinach, egg plant (brinjals), cucumbers, marrows, occasionally tomatoes, sweet potatoes and carrots, and the amount varies - usually about 200 to 250 lbs per day or about 5 ozs  (140 grams) per day per head. Sugar and salt is still about the same, about ½ oz per person per day.

The flour is an absolute godsend: a competent gang of workers, including Blackmore and Ogden (bricklayers), Wallis, Black, Hamilton, Robinson, Greenwood, (blacksmiths) and Howel, Fuller and Mackie (electricians), got together. Blackmore designed the oven and the others worked with him and built a really first class electric bakery oven in which can be baked 72 lbs of bread (in 12 pans with 6 lbs in each). Wallis started to make yeast from raisins, feeding it on flour, sugar and warm water. Mrs Wallis tended the growing yeast which had to be kept warm with hot water bottles (!) and fed every four hours. The net result of all this labour is that we each get ½ lb of bread per day, and the difference this makes to our general well being is quite phenomenal. It takes approx. 4 ozs of flour (or a little more) to make ½ lb of bread, so we still have about 3 ozs of flour per person left over each day and with this the kitchen staff makes Cornish pasties or sausage rolls or biscuits, generally for one meal in 3 days. The pastry is rather hard and leathery because the only shortening available is peanut oil, which (by the way) is supplied in small quantities with our other rations. These are cooked in the electric ovens of which there are about 5. To make and cook 750 Cornish pasties or 1500 biscuits is no small task when only 5 ovens are available.

The bakery oven is very useful for these pasties also. Three ovens were dismantled and the electric elements used for the bakery. This bakery oven has thermometers on the doors to register the heat of the oven (it reaches the requisite 400 degrees Farenheit quite easily) and even boasts a brass plate to say it was erected by the engineers of Blocks 2,3,4 and 5 of Stanley Prisoners of War Internment Camp, May 1942. It was built in a ground floor kitchen of block 3, of hollow concrete blocks, finished on top with Canton tiles (flat roofing tiles) and coated all over with asbestos lagging in which the hot water cylinders in the flats had been lagged. The doors were made of metal window frames (blown out by a shell) covered with sheet iron and filled in between with the lagging. The only criticism of the bread is that it is rather inclined to taste a little sour. This is because the bakers cannot procure proper yeast.  But it tastes very good for all that.

We managed to get into the canteen a week ago………at long last……on one ticket. In the old days the canteen opened about once in three days on average. People often started queueing at 7:30 a.m. to get a place which would enable them to buy (what few things were available) at the canteen which opened at 1 p.m. and closed at 4:30. It was quite useless to queue at all unless you took your place before 8 a.m. and even then many people waited all day and yet did not get in, either before 4:30 or before the scanty stocks were exhausted.

In those days the administration of the camp was under the direction of a Chinese superintendant named Cheng and canteen supplies were purchased by him and then re-sold to the camp. In fact, he first opened his own canteen on the hill until the Camp Council prevailed upon him to let us run our own canteen. We were still in his hands however and the ‘squeeze’ he obtained from the already almost penniless internees by adding his profits was really disgusting.

Things have been put on a better basis since a Japanese superintendant has been in charge here, though no doubt there are still the middle man’s profits! Now the canteen opens when there are sufficient goods to be sold, and that seems about once in two weeks.

To avoid the awful queueing and to make sure everyone had a turn, people were issued with tickets bearing a serial letter and a number. The Canteen Committee then decided how many people could be served (usually either 400 or 200) and a corresponding number of purchase tickets were divided proportionately amongst the various blocks. Each of these tickets enabled 4 people to buy. All serial numbers were placed in a hat and all the various blocks drew amongst themselves for these purchase tickets. When 400 people could purchase at the canteen, 100 purchase tickets were issued, which meant that our blocks (known as ‘the Married Quarters’ because the married European Prison Warders normally occupy these flats) with 750 people were allocated with 14 purchase tickets; this enabled 56 people from this block to buy goods. These people relinquished their ‘A’ serial tickets which were replaced with ‘B’ serial tickets and ‘B’ ticket holders could not buy anything more till all ‘A’ tickets had been used. The person who drew the purchase ticket could choose the other 3 who would purchase on the same ticket and he (or she) bought the goods for all 4, thus reducing the queueing to a minimum.

The goods available are classified into groups and priced, and each person is allowed to purchase one lot from each group. Isa Watson drew a purchase ticket at the first of the re-organised canteens and she and the Bidwells and Mr Lammert bought goods. We were unlucky and drew nothing for about 2 months, when John Armstrong drew a ticket. The Armstrongs had already been invited to purchase on two other tickets so they had two free tickets on John’s purchase ticket and they offered one of the remaining two to the Fortescues and one to us.

The Bidwells had spent their last cent in buying food and we decided also that it was better to buy food while it was available than to keep idle money. By this time we possessed $35 between us. We had previously spent money in communal purchases. Miki Haan had kindly purchased things for us and sent them in during the early days when parcels were first allowed in. So, although Pudney had, by good fortune, been able to advance me $50 to replenish our dwindling reserve, this had again dwindled. I did not like the idea of spending our last cent, as I believe it always wise to keep a little money in reserve for an emergency.

However, the cost of the goods was, and still is, constantly rising, and we decided it would be wisest to buy tinned foods while we could, and keep them as iron rations, and buy other foods such as oatmeal to eat periodically, and thus keep up our strength and resistance powers against illness as much as possible.

For the sake of record I will set down the commodities that could be purchased at our canteen.

I have ticked off ((marked with an asterisk in the table below)) the purchases we made. We wanted to buy as much as possible in the way of sugar and jam, but unfortunately these were mostly in the same group.
You could buy one lot in each group only. Fortunately the Wong Tong was in a separate group to sugar. We had hoped to exchange our raisins for dried apricots which had been sold at a previous canteen, and with them and the Wong Tong make apricot jam. However, the people who had said they would swap changed their minds, so we re-sold the raisins in the hope of buying jam later. Fats and sugar are things we need.








1 lb Raisins               

2.00 *             

2/6 ((present day value £5.60))



½ lb Figs                 





½ lb Prunes              





1,2 or 4 lbs syrup

4.40 per lb

10/6 per 2 lb tin  ((present day value £23))



1 lb sugar


3/3 per lb ((present day value £7.30))



12 oz tin of jam





½ lb Rolled oats





Packet of corn starch





Shredded wheat





Grape nuts





All Bran





Cornflakes 8 oz





Pork and Beans





Corned beef 12 oz tin


3/- ((present day value £6.75))


















Tin of Fruit salad





Tin of Pineapple





Tin of Golden plums





Tin of Apricots


4/10 ½  ((present day value £10.96))



Bisto 8 oz





Salt 1 lb


((present day value £6.19))



Curry powder





¼ lb Cocoa





Coffee ( loose) ¼ lb





Coffee 1lb tin


((present day value £25))



Ceylon Tea ½ lb


((present day value £7))



Chinese Tea





¼ lb margarine





12 oz tin of butter


((present day value £17.70))



½ lb chocolate





Packet of chewing gum





Wong Tong ( unrefined sugar slab)


((present day value £3))



Chinese washing soap





Lux Toilet soap





Toilet paper


((present day value £3))



Matches – 2 boxes





Playing cards





Shoe polish





Sun glasses










Razor blades - 10


((present day value £11.25))








Ovaltine 5 lb tin


((present day value £155))



½ lb milk powder





Cream crackers – 10 pieces



Well, these extra things make an enormous difference to our food. It is grand to finish off a meal with bread and margarine and some sugar or wong tong. We managed to buy from someone else, two 12 oz tins of jam at HK$1.10 and two tins of Quick Quaker Oats at HK$4.50 per tin ((present day value £12.60)). We put the jam in our iron rations and took out the 2 lb tin of Lyles golden syrup which we had brought into camp with us. We are trying out these extras for 2 months.

Also, about a month ago, the Japanese announced that a grant of HK$300,000 ((present day value £843,750)) had been made by them to the internees - to be charged to the British or Hong Kong Government! That meant each of the 2,800 internees would receive HK$105 each ((pdv £295)). The Japanese proposed to give the money in big notes - HK$100 - but owing to the difficulty of disposing of big notes, the Communal Council strenuously opposed this idea.

When we came into camp, shopkeepers and people in a position to change money were giving about HK$75 for a HK$100 note; now the exchange rate has sunk to HK$62 in spite of the fact that the Japanese have stated that HK$100 and HK$50 notes are still legal tender. The Japanese Military Yen (which has no real value) is being circulated at the exchange rate of one Yen to two Hong Kong dollars.

To get over the difficulties of issuing money to the internees it was decided that people should be allowed to make out lists of goods they required and that a British, American and Dutch representative should go into town and order these goods from one or two of the big Chinese shops, Wing On, or Sincere, or China Emporium or through a Compradore. Parcels would then be made up and sent into camp and then the Japanese would pay the lump sum direct to the shop or shops.

We were told by the British Communal Council that HK$30 ((pdv £85)) was going to be deducted from everyone’s amount with which to buy essential things for the community, such as condiments for cooking, brooms, cooking utensils etc. They also proposed to spend about HK$20 per head out of this fund for purchasing rolled oats with which to give everyone porridge in the mornings.

This all happened about a month ago and the parcels are still in the air! All sorts of difficulties seem to have cropped up to prevent the purchase of the goods. We had been told to guide ourselves in assessing the purchasing power of our remaining HK$75 by pricing our lists on current canteen prices. Later we were told the Japanese were disappointed, and in fact, felt a little slighted because about 80% of most lists consisted of items of food and only a small percent on clothing and other requisites; while the Japanese considered our extra food rations were quite adequate for our physical needs. Yvonne and I had HK$150 between us. We ordered food.

Items of Food:          

  • 5 lbs Rolled Oats @ 3.20 – $2
  • 2x Tins Syrup @ 7.30 per tin - $14.60
  • 8 lbs Brown sugar@ $2.40 per lb - $19.20
  • 12 oz 12 x tins jam @ $1.20 -   $14.40
  • 1 ½ lb Margarine @ $5.60 lb - $8.40
  • Soya Bean Milk Powder - $14.00
  • ½ lb Tea @10.40 lb - $5.20
  • 1 lb Salt @ $2.20 lb - $2.20
  • 1 lb Cocoa @ $5.60 lb - $5.60
  • ½ lb Milk Powder @ $6.60 - $3.30
  • Peanut oil @ $15.00
  • Total - $117.90

Items of Clothing:

  • Tooth brushes and tooth paste @ $12
  • Washing soap @ 40c per cake
  • Matches $1
  • Toilet paper x 2 rolls - $3 ((pdv £8.40))
  • 2 x pairs of rubber shoes - $12 ((pdv £33))
  • White sewing thread - $1
  • Packet of needles - $1
  • Total- $32.10

Grand Total: $150
In later canteens the prices of various commodities have varied and so the representative buyer will be guided by the prices we have put against each commodity. Syrup is now HK$8.80 ((pdv £24.75)) per 2 lb tin while it was HK$7.30 a month ago. On the other hand tea can be bought at HK$5.00 (Ceylon) or HK$2.40 (Chinese) per lb instead of HK$10.40, and margarine at HK$2.80 instead of HK$5.60 per lb. In view of the advent of bread and things we have been able to purchase at later canteens, we should have liked to revise our list a little. However, we are fairly satisfied with what we have ordered.

Our aim was to buy things which would improve the food we were getting for rations rather than buy such things as flour, dried fruits etc. with which to make entirely new dishes. Many people are cursing themselves because they ordered fairly large quantities of flour, while as it happens the committee twice decided to issue flour because the bakery was not complete and we were getting a surplus of flour (which incidentally is full of little maggots and weavils which have to be sifted out with much patience). Each of us has received 1½ lbs of flour with which we can make biscuits of sorts or plain dumplings (without the suet) which we eat with sugar or jam. We had heard of the vague possibility of an increased bread ration so we ordered a fair amount of jam on the off chance of it being true and we are glad we did. Anyway, we could have eaten it with part of our rice as a sweet-course after the rice, meat and vegetable course.

At about the time of this (canteen) parcel news, the Japanese sent us 100,000 cigarettes. They seem to do this sort of thing when they are celebrating a victory or the capture of some place or other! However, we were mighty glad to get the cigarettes. I had given up smoking except for an occasional pipe full of some cheap Chinese tobacco mixed with an equal quantity of dried and chopped up pine needles to drown the taste and smell! The cigarettes were divided evenly between all people over 17 and we each got 38. We had to pay for the cost of transport only and that amounted to 35 cents each person. Cigarettes in camp - these cheap Chinese makes like ‘Globe’ or ‘Golden Dragon’ - which get in some way or other have been selling at HK$1.40 per packet of 10, while before the war a similar packet cost only 10 cents.  Before the war a tin of 50 ‘Players’ or ‘Gold Flake’ etc. cost only HK$1.00 (pdv £2.80)! Thank goodness I am not a tobacco addict, nor is Yvonne, though we are both moderate smokers and enjoy a cigarette.

Last Saturday was quite a red letter day. News came through that each of us was to receive in cash the sum of HK$17.20, this being our portion of the HK$30.00 kept for the community purchase of rolled oats that could not be spent because rolled oats were not obtainable in such quantities. This was excellent news, and the actual money arrived almost as soon as the news. Usually such news arrives as a rumour which most people treat with much scepticism. Generally the rumour turns out to be only a rumour, but sometimes, after a day or two or even several weeks, the rumour turns to fact. This time it turned to fact very quickly.

Almost concurrently with the money issue came a second cigarette issue. This time it was 40 ‘Golden Dragon’ cigarettes in packets of 10 at 20 cents per packet. Yvonne and I bought our share and decided to smoke 30 each and sell our last two packets in a week or two for 80 cents each packet when the price would again have reverted to HK$1.20 or HK$1.40 per packet. Thus we would get our 30 cigarettes for nothing. This sounds rather mean, but it is not below Stanley standards! And anyway, there are many men who happen still to have quite a lot of money who are only too glad to buy the cigarettes and would buy the whole lot if they were offered at HK$1.00 per packet. However, now we have an extra HK$34.40 we may be real devils and smoke the lot!

Yvonne was very sweet! She had saved two of her last packets, unknown to me, and was keeping them for my birthday. However, on looking at them the other day she found them beginning to go mildewy and so we had to smoke them. It will be miserable if she has to spend her 21st birthday in this wretched camp. I hope and pray we shall be out before 6th August.

On Saturday also the Welfare Committee issued clothing sent in by the International Welfare Society. I think it was probably organised by the Swiss Consul under the aegis of the International Red Cross Society. At any rate, it was really a splendid effort.

We had previously been given lists of articles they hoped to provide and were asked to place a tick against those we required. These included shorts, shirts, dress material, hats, handkerchiefs, underwear, socks, sleeping mats, shoes, saucepans, spoons, forks, mugs, basins and other very useful articles. Owing to the prohibitive cost of things now in Hong Kong it was not possible to get all these things - at least, a very limited number of some of articles were brought in. Where demand exceeded supply, names were put in a hat and the allocation of articles was decided by drawing.

Yvonne drew: a dress length of grey and white small chequered cotton material, a reel of white cotton and some ‘poppers’, two cotton handkerchiefs, a pair of khaki shorts, washing soap, and a small packet of Chinese toilet paper, also one fork. I drew: a pair of khaki shorts, one khaki shirt, one brilliant yellow shirt with a bright blue collar and a purple ‘V’ neck decoration, 2 handkerchiefs, a pair of sandshoes (not yet received), material for repairing one pair of leather shoes, bar of washing soap and a packet of toilet paper.

I was most pleased with my draw for shoes: I have two pairs of leather shoes, one which is almost worn out and which is so old that no further repairs can be executed on them, the other which has never been repaired and whose uppers and heels are good but whose soles are so worn that I can see daylight right through them. Consequently in wet weather my feet are perpetually wet. I have finished Yvonne’s clogs and have half finished my own, so our shoe position is brightening. In addition, we have each ordered a pair of sandshoes in our HK$75.00 parcels and if these arrive we shall be able, more or less, to look the weather in the face again. I took my shoes along to Major Begley and his assistant who are the shoe repairers for our blocks and who are doing all the repairs with the Welfare material. I was lucky to get repairs and shoes - I hope the shoes will arrive in due course.

Every man who applied for them received 1 pair of shorts and two shirts, two handkies, soap and toilet paper: every woman a dress length, shorts, one shirt, soap, handkies and toilet paper. The Bidwells drew a straw sleeping mat which makes it infinitely cooler at night than sleeping on blankets or even sheets. The Fortescues drew a large mug; unfortunately none of us drew an enamel washing bowl.

These brightly coloured shirts, the cheapish khaki shirts and the shorts are made for Messrs. Dodwell or Jardines, I think for export to Africa, in normal times, where they are sold in large numbers to the Africans - hence the gaudy colours of the coloured shirts. They all have collars of a different colour to the shirt; blues and yellows, plum and green, blue and plum, brown and green and numerous other combinations. Yvonne very cleverly spotted a woman with a blue shirt (the same colour as my collar) and a yellow collar, so she suggested unpicking and swapping the collars.  This they agreed to and now I have a really smart looking all yellow short sleeved shirt and the other girl has an equally smart blue shirt. Yvonne also removed the strip of violet decoration (all these shirts have this strip of colour round the neck in third and brightly contrasting colour!) Another African fancy is, apparently, to have shorts with turn ups at the bottom, for all these shorts are carefully turned up! The Africans must be short in the body and have enormous stomaches, for these shorts are enormous round the waist and are very short in the crutch. My normal size is 32 and Yvonne’s 28 and we had to get 38 and 34 respectively to get them to fit. Size 40 would have been better for me but they had no 40’s left. So, quite a lot of adjustment is necessary. Well, this is the first time I have lined up for free clothing!  I remember how, two years ago, we took clothes we could spare to the Cathedral where they were dispatched to a little tramp steamer that had called in on its way from Vladivostock to Australia full of British refugees who had escaped across (then Central) Russia from Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania with hardly more than the clothes they stood up in, when those countries were occupied by Germany.

This morning there was some excitement because a tiger had been seen on one of the beaches near the camp. The report sent in to the Community office by an internee who saw it, described it as being about 4’ 6” long (head to rump) and standing 2’ 6” to 3’ 0” high, with a long bushy tail. It encountered a Chinese guard and mauled his face and later a party of these police guards went in search of it and shot it near Stanley Village. It can be seen (or could this morning) in the distance from the PWD bungalow at the Gendarmerie Headquarters, but it is too hot to toil up there for that doubtful pleasure. Apparently this tiger’s mate (the female) and its two fairly large cubs are still at large in the hills in the vicinity of the camp, but whether they are in the hills of the island at the back of this Stanley peninsula or in the hills at the end of the peninsula (where the fort is situated) is not quite clear. It is many years since a wild tiger visited Hong Kong - they swim the short distance from the mainland.  I cannot imagine why they should come now.

Bradbury, the Dairy Farm butcher who was taken in to town by the Japanese for the purpose of skinning the tiger, has now returned. Apparently there was no one else in Hong Kong capable of skinning this tiger! He performed his duties at the Happy Valley police station - now Gendarmerie Divisional HQ. He had a room to himself in which he was locked from 5 p.m. to 8 a.m. and he had to eat all his meals with the Chinese cooks. 

((Written on 21st June 1942:)) After the tiger had been shot at the beginning of the month, there was much speculation about its origin. It was suggested that this family of tigers had escaped from the circus that used to be held at Causeway Bay, and this seemed quite a probable explanation. However the ‘HK News’ suggested that these fine specimens had been roaming the countryside in search of food, explaining that tigers seldom resort to eating human flesh unless other food is very scarce or unless the tiger is getting old, but ended up suggesting that the tigers were attracted to Stanley by the 3,000 well fed internees in the European Internment Camp there! These journalistic efforts are often most amazing especially when one remembers they are written in all seriousness. Bradbury discounted the menagerie origin of the tiger, saying that the animal he skinned was a fine specimen of a wild male tiger, about 3 years old and in excellent condition. He cured the skin and said it was flown in a special plane to Tokyo where it was presented to the Emperor.

Apparently this tiger killed a Japanese gendarme (not reported in the paper) and mauled an Indian guard, so he did his bit for the war effort! The paper displayed a photograph of the tiger, lashed to a pole and it certainly looked a fine beast, beautifully marked and like the big Malayan type of tiger. It weighed about 250 lbs. The paper also said that local Chinese stated that the appearance of the tiger meant that a long period of prosperity was about to begin. Perhaps there is more in that than meets the eye! The other day we saw a triple rainbow (the first I have seen in my life), a fine sight. What would not the Ancients have forseen from that? Well, we too have faith!

Incidentally the tiger episode did not end with the shooting of the tiger, but let me finish with the first tiger first. Earlier in the night on which it was shot (at about 10 p.m.) a couple of Chinese women and an old Chinese man had come into the camp somehow or another with cigarettes and sweets etc. to sell to the internees. Loseby, a little man full of his own importance who is living in ‘B’ bungalow, reported these unfortunate Chinese to the guard and the man was dragged off. One of the women found ‘Goldie’ (Police Sergeant) who is living in the garage at ‘B’ bungalow and asked him to intercede with the guard on behalf of their father or husband. Goldie, who thought it unwise for the woman to stand about in the open said,

“You’d better come around here and tell me what has happened,” and led her to the small grotto or alcove in the garden, covered with creepers and only dimly lit by the lights from the bungalow.

As he was almost at the entrance he noticed his shoelace was undone and stooped to tie it up. As he did so, there was a snarl from inside and quickly looking up from his crouching position, he saw to his complete horror and amazement, a large tiger leaping right over him! He said he saw its teeth and claws and all!! It just sloped off into the bushes and shrubbery and disappeared! To finish the story of the Chinese pedlars, I regret to say the old man was taken outside the camp to Stanley Police Station and there was summarily shot.

The morning following the shooting of the tiger a great round up was organized by the Japanese occupying the battery at the end of the peninsula. During the morning we could hear a great noise of gongs being beaten and could occasionally see the flash of an officer’s sword as it caught the sunlight. They combed the whole hillside and report had it that three dark objects had been observed swimming towards some other islands out to sea. Whether or not this is true I do not know. The tigers are now reported to have been seen near Wong Nei Chong Gap, in the centre of this island and apparently a leopard has now joined their ranks! Probably one of their cubs. But before leaving Stanley, they made several more visits to the camp, (after the organized tiger hunt). Two nights later Maudie herself was sleeping outside in the garden of ‘C’ bungalow with several others when a man shouted “the tiger!” and they all rushed for the bungalow. A tiger was seen in the gardens of the bungalows on two nights and we could hear the shouting and see the flashes of torches from our block. One gentleman kept flashing S.O.S. but who was going to save him no one knows!  At any rate the tigers departed with no harm done.

On about March 15 1942, the Chinese supervisor of this camp was replaced by a Japanese supervisor, Mr Yamashita. This change, I believe, had been brought about by representations made by the Camp Committee to the Japanese Gendarmerie, pointing out how unsatisfactory it was for us to have to do all our negotiations about camp affairs through the medium of a Chinese puppet and asking very strongly that a Japanese Supervisor be appointed. Mr Cheng (the Chinese) had been, it was suspected, ‘squeezing’ the internees to a considerable extent. At about that time he became indisposed and is said to have developed TB of the lungs, at any rate, he went and Mr Yamashita came in his place. I was working in the kitchen when he came on his tour of inspection. Imagine my surprise when I found him to be the hairdresser at the Hong Kong Hotel who had often cut my hair. Conditions in camp have greatly improved since he has taken charge of things and it has proved far more satisfactory to negotiate directly with the Japanese than through the Chinese.

One more weary month has passed and we are now preparing to plod through the growing heat of June. How much longer shall we have to lead this futile and utterly boring existence?

There is much twittering and excitement amongst the Americans because they are due to embark for repatriation on the 16th of this month. Arrangements have evidently been completed between America and Japan for the exchange of Nationals residing in territory occupied by their respective enemies, and the latest information is that the Americans are to be ready on the 14th with a view of embarking on the 15th and setting sail on June 16th at 10:30 a.m. They are to travel, (according to the report) on the Asama Maru. This is the ship that was stopped by HMS Liverpool, within sight of the Japanese coast, (when the then Pay Comdr Crowley was in the Liverpool) and male German passengers of military age taken off.

Well, good luck to the Americans; we all wish we were in their shoes just now. I wonder if they really will go. They are each to be allowed to take 5 suitcases and their destination is Lorenzo Marques in Portuguese East Africa, via Singapore (re-named “SHONAN” by the Japanese) where they will pick up a few more Americans.

The Colonial Secretary’s Office has sent round a list asking all British subjects whether or not they wished to be repatriated and if so where they would choose to go if given a choice. The notice warned us that this list had not been instigated by the Japanese and it did not mean necessarily, that there was any likelihood of our repatriation! But that the list was being compiled for C.S.O. record purposes. I stated for Yvonne and myself that we would like to be repatriated to England or Australia unless we were required to remain here by our local Government. It would be marvellous to get out of this place.

We have been having some lovely weather recently. The early part of this month was very hot with the S.W. monsoon wind blowing. As our room faces East there was little or no air moving in the room and the nights were very hot. Vera, bless her, lent us a beautiful green sheet which saved us sleeping on a hot blanket. Actually, Yvonne had put both our mintois into one cover and had cut the other cover, thus making two sheets, albeit somewhat stained by marks from the floor and the red cement skirting to the room. In the humid weather the moisture condensed on these skirtings and the red came off onto anything that touched it.

At the beginning of the month the moon was full, giving a brilliant light: we could see quite clearly all the islands to sea. Yvonne and I decided we would try sleeping up on the flat roof of our block, for although the S.W. wind was blowing the weather seemed to have set fair. We carted up all our blankets, the mintois and our green sheet, selected a suitable spot and made our bed, puttiwng all but one blanket under the mintois to make the bed as soft as possible. There was a lovely breeze blowing on the roof and it was much cooler than in our room; in fact, in the early morning we were quite glad to put a blanket over us. We watched the enormous moon rise out of the sea……it looked the size of a house. By the time we were in bed the moon was so bright that it rather kept me awake. Then we were wakened at about 7 in the morning by the sun. There is so much power in the sun at this time of year that it made us begin to perspire soon after it had risen and we too had to rise, though usually we stay in bed until 8 a.m.  

There were two or three other couples on the roof as well, so we selected our own bay, formed by chimney stacks and water tanks and left our bedding up there all day in the sun. On the third night I woke up at about 11 or 12 o’clock and saw clouds rolling up. We did not know whether to risk it or not, but when another couple set the example and took up their beds and walked, we decided to follow suit, for it would have been an awful scramble getting down the cat ladder to the second floor with our bedding. The Fortescues had moved to our bed (which was in a cooler corner of the room than theirs, so we quietly made up our bed on theirs and safely ensconced ourselves. We had hardly got into bed when down came the rain! We pictured the scramble of the others still on the roof. Just then Marjorie woke up and said to Tim,

“It’s raining, we’d better get our bed ready for the Charters”. 

Tim staggered out of bed half asleep and came over to us. He looked hard and then said, 

“They seem to be here already!”

We had a day or two of real monsoon rain and then the wind veered to the East or South East bringing cooler and much drier weather which has lasted up to date. I don’t mind high temperatures at all when the atmosphere is dry; in fact I quite enjoy hot, dry weather; but the damp heat of the monsoon weather is terribly trying and enervating.

I have forgotten to mention the all exciting escapes from this camp. Just before Yamashita arrived to take charge here (with Nakasawa as his second in command) two separate parties of people escaped on the same night. There were three Americans (merchant seaman I think) and five British. The British went in two parties: Mrs Gwen Priestwood and Thompson and the other was Miss Fairfax Chumley, ‘China’ Wright and …………………).

The British divided because the two men did not want Mrs Priestwood (who spoke no Chinese) to go, whereas Thompson refused to go without her. Miss Chumley speaks fluent Cantonese. I hear the first couple managed to get as far as Macao where the Portuguese have interned them in the British Consulate! So they are not much further forward. (In fact, this is not correct. They got through to Chungking and Gwen carried with her a full list of British internees.)

The other three, we hear, got right away and got through to Chungking. Good for them! It was a courageous effort. They must have gone by junk and been landed somewhere up the coast and then travelled right inland, avoiding Japanese occupied areas. It must have been a thrilling adventure: no doubt we shall hear all about it one day. I believe Wright was in the Chinese Maritime Customs and consequently had many Chinese friends and connections amongst the coastal trading people; so he was probably able to fix up all the transport.

We have heard nothing definite about the Americans (O’Neill being the name of one of them) but as no news of their capture has come through, we surmise that they too have safely reached Chungking. At any rate, we sincerely hope so.

We think it is partly due to these people and to others such as Gordon King and Phyllis Harrop, who escaped from Hong Kong, having avoided internment, that conditions here have improved. This may seem strange, particularly in view of the fact that when British prisoners from the military and naval camps escaped, as they did, the Japanese imposed punishments of various kinds on the whole camp to discourage any further escapes…………such as cutting down on food rations, fatigue parties etc.  But it is quite evident that reports of conditions in Hong Kong must have been broadcast from Chungking, for we know these conditions were made the subjects of censure, first by Anthony Eden in the House of Commons and later by Churchill himself in a broadcast to the nation. We know this because parts of the speeches were quoted in the local (Japanese) papers in order that they could then be indignantly denied. This, incidentally, is one of our best sources of authentic news! Anyway, Eden referred to the unhappy state of Hong Kong where ‘conditions’ now are mediaeval and barbaric and Churchill threatened retribution on those,

“Who have thrown our people from their homes, herded them like cattle and fed them like pigs.” 

The Japanese papers jeered at the British who after boasting of their invincibility in the East started squealing immediately they had lost and had to suffer hardships. Well, we are prepared to take our medicine manfully, but we expected treatment that was in some measure akin to that laid down by the Geneva Convention and which is meted out to enemy aliens interned in British territory……not to be herded together as we are and practically starved as we have been. But, as I say, these reports have evidently borne fruit for a Japanese naval officer told Vera that instructions had reached them from Tokyo to improve the conditions of internment in Hong Kong because Japan was ‘loosing face’ by reports of bad conditions here, which were being broadcast from Chungking. That was a pretty frank admission! The Japanese naval officers seem to be a fine type of man from what I have seen and heard of them. Our fear, which has crossed the minds of one or two of us, is that these better conditions will prevail until the departure of the Americans (so that they will circulate the news of fairly good conditions) and thereafter things may fall off somewhat. I very much hope not!

The Japanese authorities did not seem to be unduly disturbed by these escapes and nothing much was done about them. They would have obtained nearly 48 hours start before their absence was discovered, but Bill Hunt, Chairman of the American Community (who was trying to keep in with the Japanese as much as possible) gave the alarm that three Americans had escaped. We all thought it pretty scurvy of him. Later, he again played the same kind of game by notifying the Japanese that it had been brought to his notice that another escape was being meditated that night. In consequence the concert that Saturday evening was cancelled and we all had to be in our rooms by 9 p.m. for a roll call which the Chinese block supervisors had to carry out.

I consider Hunt to be an unscrupulous man, not far removed from a slippery customer. Apparently he is wanted in Shanghai by the Japanese to answer various charges of espionage or providing information contrary to Japanese interests. In that case, I suppose he is doing all he can to ingratiate himself with the Japanese here at the expense of anyone who comes within his grasp. He seems to be the type of man who will end up either very wealthy or behind bars!

However, it was not very much later before 4 police cadets attempted to escape. They were Brian Fay, Morrison, Bidmead and Randall. News of their escape got out soon after they had started and in a day or two we heard that they had been recaptured. We did not know quite what to believe. I thought that if they had been recaptured a great song and dance would have been made about it in the local paper, and no mention was made of it whatsoever.

Various stories circulated; one was that they had been caught while trying to get across Lei Yue Mun pass, to the mainland, in a junk; that they had been pretty badly knocked about and that Bidmead, I think, had a bayonet wound in his thigh. Then one of the Chinese constables, (ex police) who is now one of the camp guards, told one of the police cadets that he had seen these four, either tied up or under guard, in the back of a lorry being exhibited around town and that they were then taken to the Central Police Station.

One day our speculations came to an end when a lorry turned up at the prison here with the four of them in it. They were in a terrible condition: thin and emaciated, covered with dirt and sores, with long hair and with their clothes in a filthy condition. They had evidently been in the same clothes day and night for the six weeks they had been away. I did not see them (fortunately) but those who did said that Morrison was the only one who could walk or stagger in by himself, Randall and Fay staggered in supporting each other and Bidmead had to be carried in. A night or two later a doctor and a nurse from the hospital were sent for to attend to Brian Fay who was evidently quite ill. They seem to have recovered now. Conditions in the gaol here would be infinitely better than in the cells at the Police Station. Poor chaps!  Apparently they made their escape without any well prepared plans, but expected to contact Chinese friends who would be able to help them.

After the second attempt at escape considerable precautions were and are being taken to prevent any such recurrence. The whole camp has been encircled by a pretty formidable barbed wire fence and big gates have been erected (also covered with barbed wire, broken glass etc.) at the approach road to the camp. There is a guard of some 20 armed Indian and Chinese ex-police who are posted at various points all round the camp. The whole camp, also, is surrounded by fairly powerful lights (which coolies from the HK Electric Co. were brought out to erect). These lights are on poles or standards about 50 yards apart. They are switched on all night. This is in accordance with international law or the Geneva Convention for POW Camps which demands that all such camps shall be clearly lit at night to avoid aerial bombing by their own countrymen. So we, 3,000 civilians are being treated as prisoners of war! By international law we should not be in a prison camp at all. However, I really believe we are better off here than we should be outside in the town. 

I should also mention that there is a curfew from 8 p.m. till 7 a.m. and we have to be in our own rooms at 10 p.m. for a roll call, to make sure no one is missing. Now we are allowed to be within the vicinity of our own blocks after 8 p.m. but we are not compelled to be indoors by then.

At first when this curfew was imposed there were some nasty face slapping incidents. The Sikh police here, many of whom have turned completely anti-British, are by far the worst. It is unfortunate that the Army absorbs almost all the better type of Sikh and leaves (for a small place like HK) only the riff-raff, for some of them are real scum. Mr Pritchard was walking from an adjacent block in the Indian quarters to his own block at just about 8 p.m;  he was accosted by two Indian guards (one, an ex-prison guard who was known before the war to be anti-British) who held him at the points of their bayonets. Then this particular truculent guard gave him a tremendous slap on the face which knocked Mr Pritchard right off his feet. He scrambled up only to be knocked down with another similar blow. What can you do? If you try and defend yourself the guard would probably shoot and then explain that you offered physical resistance or even say you attacked them. The only thing to do is to give these wretches as few opportunities as possible to find an excuse for doing such things. Some of them are ex-Hong Kong police and they seem to go out of their way to be offensive to the European police officers whom they meet about the camp.

Before the Japanese Civil Administrators were in charge of the camp there were many face slapping incidents, both by the Japanese gendarmes and the Indian guards (few if any of the Chinese indulge in this pass-time be it said to their credit).

On one occasion a fairly senior Japanese officer departed by car from the prison (the gendarmes have their quarters in the prison). Two internees (men  were standing quite along way away, over 50 yards, chatting to each other, one smoking a pipe. After the departure of the senior officer, a junior officer strode over to the two men and said (in English),

“When one of your officers passes by you always salute, why don’t you show proper respect to our officers and bow as you should?”

Then he gave the first one a good slap and turned to the other and said, 

“And why didn’t you take your pipe out of your mouth?” 

Then he knocked the pipe out of his mouth and sent it for six! The truth of the matter was these two had been so engrossed in their conversation that they had not even noticed the departing officer.

On another occasion about 14 European police were sitting on a garden wall of the administration building on the hill, waiting to form a labour squad to remove bricks etc. from Bill Hackett’s bombed house for building operations in their own quarters. Presently a little Japanese officer strode over to them and using a Chinese interpreter he lined them all up and demanded to know why they were looking into the prison, which it is forbidden for anyone to do. They replied that they were not intentionally looking into the prison grounds but that while they were waiting and talking it was difficult not to glance occasionally in that direction. But this did not satisfy the little officer and so, just to harm them, he proceeded to walk along the line slapping the faces of all fourteen of these large police! It must have looked funny.

Various other people have been slapped and occasionally knocked down, quite often for being near the road when some high Japanese official is due to pass by. When this happens the whole road is closed for about an hour and internees have to keep away till the officer has passed. Very often this information is given at very short notice and we internees are notified by means of a notice posted on our board. Thus it often happens that we are not aware of such an event (if you happen not to have looked at the board) until it is over, consequently it is not difficult, inadvertently, to trespass and get slapped for it. This has happened to women as well as men and sometimes to quite old men. However, Yamashita has said this must stop and future incidents are to be reported to him with the number of the guard in question.  

Various rules and regulations have been posted concerning the respect due to the Japanese: 

  1. No one may look into the prison grounds (our blocks are situated on a hill which overlooks the prison) or towards the barracks of the fort now occupied by the Japanese.
  2. No one is to watch any squad of gendarmes or soldiers doing exercises or carrying out some work. (It is a grave insult to look down on any Japanese soldier as he represents the Emperor, before whom all must bow).
  3. No European may pass a gendarme, who is on duty, with his hands in his pockets or a pipe or cigarette in his or her mouth.

So we have our orders.

The Americans are still with us. About 10 days ago they were informed that owing to some hitch in the shipping arrangements the date of their departure from HK had been postponed by a week to June 23rd. Accordingly, several farewell parties miss-fired and had to be postponed including ours to Bob Kendall and B.Witham. We now hear there is a still further hitch and the date of departure has again been postponed, probably for a day or two only. Well, they’d better hurry or maybe it will be too late altogether! There was something of an outcry because every American who is being repatriated has to pay his or her fare which, I gather, is in the region of 300 pounds ((pdv £13,500)). Whether the Japanese or American Government is demanding this I do not know………surely it can hardly be the American Government? About 60 Americans have elected to remain anyway. Repatriation was optional.

With the Americans are going the Consular people (who have been virtual prisoners in the Prep School since early in March), and the Canadians. We are hoping two of the Canadians will telegraph or write letters informing our parents of our safety. We are often troubled by the thought that our families are being put to endless and unnecessary doubt and anxiety about our wellbeing or even our existence because no letters have been sent out to the outside world since hostilities began here.

Soon after we arrived we were each given one ‘field’ postcard which merely enabled us to state whether we were ill, well etc. We all filled them in and were told they would be sent by the International Red Cross with the assistance of the Japanese. This put our minds at rest, although it would take months to deliver them………they would have to go via Russia, Turkey, thence via enemy occupied territory to Switzerland and then out again from Geneva. If they really had got all that way in safety it would have been a miracle. Anyway, in May we heard the Japanese had never forwarded the cards but had destroyed them.

At the beginning of May or end of March we had been told we could each send a cable of ten words excluding name and address. It took quite a long time to think out a message, I can’t quite remember what I said but it was something like this:

“Both together, well, don’t worry, friends safe, keeping cheerful, Charter”.

By ‘friends’ I guessed Mother and Father would think of the Minhinnicks, Buckie and Gordon King. I can’t remember what Yvonne sent to Chère, something on similar lines. We never heard definitely what happened to these: they again were instigated by the Red Cross (who have done fine work here) but have had little co-operation from the Japanese. It is almost certain they shared the same fate as the cards. At all events, on 20th May we were told we could each send a letter of 155 words excluding address, and to be written in block letters or typed, in English, French or Chinese. Better and better!

Once again we sat down to cudgel the old brains! As Chère’s birthday was on 20th May and Mother’s on 21st, Yvonne and I dated our letters 20th and 21st respectively and were able to start by wishing our respective Mothers “Many happy returns” which was rather nice. I have remembered all the family birthdays as they have come along and wished them all Many happy,or ‘happier’returns. Why the number of words should be 155, I don’t really know.

We are assured that these letters (if they pass the Japanese censor) will be posted on the Asama Maru with the departing Americans. At present there is some haggling going on because the Japanese are demanding the payment of a 40 cents stamp by each internee!! Really!! It was quite difficult to write these messages: we did not want to say that living conditions were bad (as probably the letter would be destroyed) as it would only worry our families, nor did we want to give a false impression of good conditions or the Japanese might very well use some of these letters for propaganda purposes. It will be interesting later to see if they ever reached their destination.

Sometime in March the Japanese paper here said that women and children were being evacuated from Ceylon. This news followed the Japanese aerial attack on Colombo and Trincomale. I had always thought of Ceylon as one of the safest spots in the Northern hemisphere, being midway between the Western and the Eastern war. However, this piece of news began to make me worry about the safety of Mother and Father. But the source of news was very dubious being a message supposedly intercepted by Lisbon from Madras and forwarded from there to Tokyo by the Domei Agency (the Italian news agency)! No further reference has been made to it so at most I imagine it may just have been an appeal to all non essential people in Ceylon to leave if they could. As a small precaution I addressed all my messages to the Mission House in Colombo, in case Mother and Father had removed from Matale.