8 Dec 1941, A. H. Potts' wartime diary | Gwulo: Old Hong Kong

8 Dec 1941, A. H. Potts' wartime diary

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Date(s) of events described: 
Mon, 8 Dec 1941

According to Police reports there wasn’t any movement across the border the whole of Sunday and all that night but at dawn on Monday (Dec 8th) what everyone had hoped was only a phantom had become a grim reality.

For days our detectives had been bringing back news from across the border to the effect that a large concentration of troops was on the move from Canton by forced marches, including infantry, cavalry, tanks and artillery, but either our authorities were too indolent or did not wish to believe, for no preparations were put in hand.

An officer who frequently visited the Japanese post at Shumchun always reported that the small garrison stationed there was very friendly and in fact had suggested fixing up some baseball and football matches with our men when they camped at Lo Wu which is just across the river from Shumchun, on our side of the border.

In consequence, nothing was done to prepare for any emergency – shells for the big 9.2 guns at Stanley and Mount Davis were left lying in the magazines at Shouson Hill and Lyemun.  Shouson Hill is some eight miles distant from these two batteries but at least was more favourably situated than Lyemun which in addition to being more than ten miles distant was built on either side of a roadway running at right angles to the Kowloon shore, less than half a mile across the harbour.  Shouson Hill magazines had been hastily constructed during the past two years when the threat of Hongkong being attacked from the mainland became evident and was completed some six months before the outbreak of hostilities here.  However, the bulk of the 9.2 shells were still stored at Lyemun.  Considering the 9.2 guns at Stanley and Mount Davis are fixtures it is difficult to understand why magazines were not built adjoining the batteries, and this is also applicable in the case of many of the 6 inch batteries whose shells were also stored in Lyemun, Shouson Hill, and Belchers magazines whilst all the cartridges for these 6 inch shells were stored at Kennedy Magazine which is opposite the Ordnance Depot next to the Naval Yard and therefore subject to early attention from bombers.  Nothing was done regarding distributing the shells and cartridges, prior to the outbreak of hostilities on December 8th.  Why?

The food situation in Hongkong was excellent;  at least nine months’ stocks were safely stored in godowns which had been hastily constructed all over the island during the past year.  

Air raid precautions were nearly complete, many tunnels having been constructed and other shelters erected.

Many communal kitchens and other feeding arrangements were ready and all sorts of services such as road repairing, and water and gas main repairing had been organized, and in addition there were the Land Transport Service, Food & Rice Control and Special Police all organized and functioning, in fact it appeared at the outbreak of hostilities that we were well organized and except for the distribution of shells everything looked set for any emergency.

The police warned certain people at Fanling early on Monday morning, including Cox who immediately went off in his car and collected Uncle Pat, but instead of being able to bring away all their clothes and other belongings, as would have been the case if they had taken my warning on Sunday, they were only able to pack a suitcase hastily.  The Japanese arrived at Fanling at 8 a.m. that morning.

An old house contractor whom I was employing to repair “The Hunter’s Arms” for the approaching season told me, when I saw him around 28th Dec, that he had been caught out at Fanling when the Japanese arrived but had in no way been molested.  He said there had been a steady stream of infantry, cavalry, tanks and artillery passing through Fanling for over a week, but beyond helping themselves to all the food and drink which they found, no damage had been done.

The first blow was when the few planes we had, based at Kaitak, were destroyed by a well-planned raid early on Monday morning;  the only plane which escaped damage being an old school machine which was so slow, she could not go up in daylight against the fast machines which the Japanese employed.

For the first few days there was the utmost confusion.  All cars and lorries were roped in and sent to the Vehicle Collecting Centre (VCC) at Caroline Hill which was in charge of the Land Transport Service who distributed them to the various services, Army, ARP, Food Control, Rice Control etc etc.

The Army Pool was at Happy Valley race course, which provided admirable accommodations for the 12th Coy RASC to which our ASC Co HKVDC was attached on the outbreak of war.

Early on Monday morning we moved down to H.V. from Murray Parade ground, where we had spent Sunday night having mobilized that afternoon.

The office was in the secretary’s room and overflowed into the sales room;  the men slept in the parimutuel building and had the jockey room with its numerous baths and other appointments at their disposal and the officers were luxuriously housed in the private luncheon boxes, each of which has its own lavatory.

I selected the box of the chairman (Hon Mr. T. E. Pearce) who was most unfortunately killed at the Hongkong Electric installation at North Point which he was guarding with his company of volunteers – all men in their sixties and never intended to be left in the front line.  However, that was the position in which they found themselves on the morning of 19th Dec, the troops who were supposed to be in front of them having mysteriously disappeared.  “Tam” Pearce will be an irreplaceable loss to the Jockey Club of which he was chairman and clerk of the course for many years.  There were other old men also killed at North Point including Sir Edward Des Voeux – a great pal of Uncle Pat’s for he also lived at Fanling, and an old banker broker named Rodgers – both these men were over seventy.

On arrival at Happy Valley I and Capt Blaker (HKVDC) went off to the VCC at Caroline Hill and put in a request for as many lorries and cars as could be spared.  These we dispatched as quickly as possible to our pool at the Valley where guides from the various army units were waiting to snap them up.

Now instead of registering the lorry or car and then having it parked in the centre of the course and the driver then being instructed as to where and when he eat [change to ‘ate’?], where he slept and where he should report (transport office) if called for duty, issuing him with blanket etc etc, nothing was done except take a note of the number and turn the lorry into the centre before going on a job.

So after completing a job, many drivers returned to find there was no food and no blankets for them and consequently were much disgruntled and in many cases returned to their homes either taking their lorry with them or taking the ignition key, and returned or not the next morning according to how bloody minded they felt and there were many in that state of mind for the Chinese love their food and many had returned to Happy Valley late in the evening having already missed their morning meal and were told the evening chow was finished.

After the first few days an excellent chap named Gidley (?) was put in charge of the coolies and drivers, he housed and fed them in the racecourse stables and lived there with them – he arranged that if a man was to be away during chow time that some biscuits and a tin of meat was given to them before leaving;  however he was too late as during the first few days many lorries were lost through deliberate sabotage, which was undoubtedly largely due to the treatment meted out to the drivers.

In any case it was a mistake to employ Chinese drivers as it has been estimated there were over forty thousand fifth columnists.

I have never seen such wanton wrecking of cars and lorries which would not have happened if British drivers (a thing which had been recommended by many including myself, to the powers that be) had been employed.  Lorries were found with distributor heads, carburators, coils and other parts missing, flat tyres, empty gas tanks, stoved in radiators etc.

Towards then end of the war, there was hardly a sound lorry on the road and nearly all the damage was sabotage.  The drivers were always difficult to find and frequently had mislaid their key so that when lorries were needed in a hurry there was often considerable delay;  all this could have been avoided by having a board in the transport office on which all ignition keys should have been hung.