25 Dec 1941, Sheridan's diary of the hostilities | Gwulo: Old Hong Kong
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25 Dec 1941, Sheridan's diary of the hostilities

Date(s) of events described: 
Thu, 25 Dec 1941

This must be the most extraordinary Xmas Day. The bombing and explosions could be heard all night. We have a quick breakfast at dawn and I set out with the bakers in the van just as the air raid siren commences. We can hear the bomb explosions but cannot tell where they are falling. Leung Choy finds some more of my former Chinese bakers, so we decide to open up two more Chinese bakeries in the Central area of the City. On one of my trips I stop and talk to a police Sgt. He tells me that from the roof of the HK & Shanghai Bank building a clear view of the Japs invasion can be seen. They are using every type of craft and are landing at North Point and Lyeemun seemingly without any opposition. We need more equipment for the two additional bakeries and consider a last attempt to visit Stubbs Road bakery. Edgar and I set off in the van and get as far as Ventris Road ((Sheridan appears to have made a mistake with the road name here - more details the comments below)) but have to make a rapid about turn as the place is swarming with Japs, we were lucky to get away. We saw some Middlesex Regt. lads making their way back with mortars and Vickers machine guns. We knew there were no further visits likely now to Happy Valley. The Racecourse stand had been used as a temporary hospital, treating wounded civilians and servicemen. When the Japs over run Happy Valley they entered the race course stand and broke into a well stocked Bar. A number of wounded servicemen were shot and bayoneted. A lot of the nurses, European and Eurasian auxiliaries had a bad time. Leung Choy came to me and said he was very worried about his wife and children whom he thought were somewhere in the Wanchai area, also some of the other bakers were also worried about their families. I knew that whilst they were worried we would not get the best out of them so I promised to take them in the van to Wanchai to try and find them and bring then out if at all possible.

We set off about 4.30p.m. in the van in the middle of an air raid. The siren had been wailing for a long time but no bombs had dropped near us. We were just opposite the Garrison Sgts. Mess in Queens Road when I noticed a lot of our troops straggling towards us from the Wanchai area. I stopped and asked one of them what was wrong, noticing that none were carrying any weapons. He said “it’s all over, the white flag is up and a cease fire order had been given”. I feel a bit stunned and cannot quite grasp the situation. Another chap seeing my rifle and bandolier of ammunition, tells me to get rid of it as the Japs are shooting anyone with weapons. I swing the van round and tell Leung Choy it is no use continuing to Wanchai we would only get shot. I drive back to the Exchange Building in Des Voeux Road and find a lot of people shocked and dazed at the news of the surrender. Mr Brown, the manager tells me that there is an order from the Chief of Police to hand all weapons into the Gloucester Hotel next door. After doing this, I go with the van to the bakeries to collect Hammond and Mortimer. The air raid is still in progress and explosions can still be heard, but it seems the Japs have not had a cease fire order yet. From the Exchange Building I make contact by telephone to Battle HQ and speak to our Colonel Andrews-Levinge and tell him the situation. He instructs myself and Hammond to remain where we are and keep off the streets. After dark a lot of shooting and explosions can be heard from the Central district. Looting of shops and buildings is now taking place. An order comes through from the Police Chief Pennefather-Evans to get rid of all liquor. Mr Brown the manager calls all the men in the Exchange Building and explains that there is a large stock of liquor, wines and spirits stored in the basement. He asks for volunteers, so we set to work opening hundreds of cases of whisky, gin, brandy, port, wines, champagne, etc. smash the neck of each bottle and pour the contents into buckets and carry them up to street level and pour it down the drains. Mr Brown tells everyone that if they want a bottle or two to drink take it now. Amongst the 15 males were quite a few noted boozers, but they were so shocked at the surrender I saw nor heard of one taking as much as a bottle. I think it was a reaction or kind of daze of not knowing what was going to happen tomorrow, and the fact of seeing so much good liquor go down the drain.

However, we were a lot more fortunate than a lot of people as at least we have a place to sleep and can still get a reasonable meal in the Café Wiseman.

There are now a lot of people in this building including some women and children. There are quite a number of different nationalities, who must have taken refuge here when the air attacks were on. Some are people who normally live over in Kowloon City but had fled across the harbour before the Japs overran Kowloon. This is a large Department store on the lines of say Lewis’s or Harrods. It has seven floors plus a basement. The top floor being the main Hong Kong telephone exchange, which employs quite a number of European engineers, etc. The Mezzanine floor which is the main furniture and bedding dept. is now occupied by a large number of people sleeping on mattresses on the floor. There is a grave shortage of water, and the toilets are in a dreadful state at present.

Comments

If my understanding (which is admittedly based on Google Earth) is correct, the route from Victoria to the Stubbs Rd. bakery was west of Happy Valley Racecourse while Ventris Rd. lies to the east.

Staff-Sergeant Sheridan had been in Hong Kong for over three years and worked part time at the racecourse. He mentions Ventris Rd. in another part of his Memoir so a mistake, although of course possible, isn't my first thought. Could the bakers have been warned that the Japanese were present on all the obvious routes to the west of the racecourse so have decided to try to get to Stubbs Rd by rounding it to the east and then joining Stubbs Rd from the south? This seems implausible as the Japanese were generally speaking attacking from the east, but I can't think of any other explanation - unless Ventris Rd. had different boundarioes in 1941?

I think Sheridan must have got his street names mixed up at this point. In "Not the slightest chance", Tony reports this at 8:30am on the 25th:

The formation of a new line is reported to Fortress HQ. Running from [the Royal Naval Hospital] through Wan Chai market, to the junction of Hennessy and O'Brien Roads in Wan Chai.

Ventris Road was on the far, Japanese-held, side of that line, so I don't believe Sheridan ever got that far.

Sheridan's Memoir is a fascinating read, many thanks for posting it.

Regards, David