Harry Ching's wartime diary: View pages | Gwulo: Old Hong Kong

Harry Ching's wartime diary: View pages

About noon when third raid. Much machine gunning. Great excitement. Early blackout. Rumour one American plane shot down. Chinese airmen said in downed American machine.

((Following text not dated:))

Rice ration terrible. We pick out stones and turds.

Leaving permits suddenly issued to people who previously refused. Easier if not returning. Must be careful to state this.

Cholera inoculation campaign in full swing. 

Black-outs nightly. Much shouting lights out. Rumoured American aviator came down at Kwai Chung. Reported thirty planes approached Taipo but were driven off. 

Alarm at 4 p.m. after high-flying plane. Conflicting tale of alleged dog fight over Central.

Plane on exhibition. Bits which might be anything. People near airfield warned after dusk will be fired on.

((Following text not dated:))

All radio sets to be taken for inspection and alteration. Only long wave allowed. Radio sets not sent in by 1st December to be confiscated. To depot with my big set. They looked suspicious because I only had long wave. Short wave adaptor hidden in hole in wall.

((Following text not dated:))

Hear people now leaving by junk from Taipo to East River.

Street sleepers and destitutes being rounded up.

Searching at ferry requires people take off shoes and socks. 

Prices published as at 30th November:

  • Rice 30 sen a catty official (black market 67 sen),
  • flour 45 sen,
  • sugar 55 sen,
  • beans 35 sen,
  • peanuts 90 sen,
  • peanut oil Y1.40,
  • beef Y2,
  • pork Y3,
  • mutton Y2.30,
  • chicken Y3.40 (with feathers),
  • eggs 23 sen,
  • fish (wong fa) 75 sen,
  • salt fish Y1.50,
  • coal Y6 picul,
  • firewood Y4,
  • kerosene Y2. 

New Year's Eve deadly quiet. Contrast against noisy crackers and revelry of other years. Bleak weather. Cold. Using more electricity. Firewood is wet, heavy and hard to burn.

Eating plenty corn these days. Everybody buying corn mixing with flour. $1.35 catty. Later price rises to $1.60, then to $1.80. Word spreads and profiteers quick to take advantage of any demand.

((Following text not dated:))

Wife to French Hospital to see Mrs May ((mother of Arthur May)) who operation varicose veins. She has breakfast tea and two slices bread with nothing on it. Tiffin and dinner rice and beans or greens. Plain tea at 4.

Garden poor so far. First tomatoes. Six pounds sweet spuds from one bed. Price $1.30 in market. Rationed salt at 20 sen to be .36 of catty per person per month. No meat in market for days. No fish either.

Population figures December end.

  • Japanese 1,546 families with 4,002 people.
  • Chinese 235,110 families with 972,146 people.
  • Third Nationals 2,247 families with 7,264 people.
  • Estimated small islands population of 29,295. Based on rice cards. Apparently no decrease which surprising.

Early in month loud explosions at night Kowloon side but no flashes to explain. Many rumours. Allegedly bombs Taipo and plane over Central. Paper says rumour of submarine in Lyemun because of explosions and shrapnel landing in Shaukiwan not true. Claims old fortifications being demolished with explosives.

No flour for Eurasians. Portuguese have theirs. They checking our list, referring it to District Offices. Pat Brown says trouble is Eurasians going as Chinese for rice. Crossed off list if discovered.

Flour for Eurasians at last, but 24 families cut out.

((Following text not dated:))

In first week of month met Scamp ((Selwyn Clarke)). Plausible as usual but no offer of help. Later in month to hospital to ask him about relief. Frank talk. Says he has no money. Handed over all relief to Red Cross. Many wrecks waiting to see him. Several bearded Europeans living there. Agrees Eurasians not well treated by British or Red Cross. That why tried help them from start. Suggests inquiry at Macao.

Faure and Omar ((both employed by Hong Kong News)) first reported sacked, later said to be confined to office. Apparently suspected of being spies. Friends warn me keep away from office. Met Omar. When sacked he insisted on going to gendarmes to demand trial on spy charge. Thereupon reinstated, but not Faure. Says trouble in office exaggerated. Leung to Fred ((nephew Fred Wong)) warning not to office. Apparently the same scare. Rumour Chinese to be eliminated from office and Lum may have to go. Greaves ((Alec)) seen in Kweilin.

((Following text not dated:))

Foggy and dreary. Drizzling and cold.

Elsie Lo visits. Husband Albert Cunningham in Volunteers killed by going over hillside in car. Scamp refused help telling her she had plenty.

Mrs Smith health bad. Cancer, Dr Li says. Mrs May to try and get her into hospital.

No flour for Eurasians for a week. Checking list again. Maybe Sykes backwash. Rose Souza ((wife of Luigi Souza)) told at depot rice ration be halved next month because they get flour. All sorts devices to reduce the hand-out. Salt also refused to Eurasians. Some Eurasians being refused sugar. Received circular from District Bureau cutting rice ration by half because of flour. I not allowed to abandon flour for all rice. But depots must give salt to Third Nationals.

Letter from Bill Way ((worked for RKO)) at Chungking asks me if want to go there. Suggests go Kwang Chow Wan see agents at theatre who will help. No sign censorship but must have been and may get me into trouble.

Heard Dorothy Lee ((Eurasian, surname also Ahlmann)) and Ken Chaun ((dentist husband of Gertie, a sister of M.K.Lo)) disappeared. Later learned Dorothy Lee held Central Police Station. Ken's disappearance mystery. Seems answered call to Medical Department and four men pushed him into car.

((Harry Ching was arrested by the Japanese on 17th February and incarcerated in the cells of the Gendarmerie located in the Le Calvaire Convent in Happy Valley. He was released on 17th April. Faure and Omar were also there, and Grayburn was briefly a cell-mate.

Obviously Ching had no chance to keep a diary while in prison, but as his son explains:

Following his release from a Japanese prison in April 1943, Harry Ching (editor of the South China Morning Post) drafted a 14-page account of his brief imprisonment in the gendarmerie in Happy Valley.

The next two months entries are extracts from that account, originally published at: http://www.rhkrnsw.org/s/OP32-Prisoner-of-the-Japanese.pdf))

Through gate into yard of Le Calvaire Convent, eastern gendarmerie headquarters. Down steps to inside passage and on both sides heavy wooden bars four inches wide and one and a half inches apart. Much chattering noise. Terrific smell. Realise people are behind those bars. Hard to see because of their thickness and narrowness of slits. This good, as guards couldn’t see in except at right angles. Omar greeted me from Cell 3 and Faure from Cell 1. Then Tubby Arculli in Cell 3 and leaning against door post was Bill Sling.

Put in Cell 4 which measured about 32 feet by 8 feet. On floor matting for sleeping. Older inmates collected mattings of prisoners released and none for newcomers. Only half cell habitable because sanitary arrangement half dozen wooden buckets occupy one end.

Cells 3, 2, 1 opposite, then barred verandah for privileged prisoners including Bill and Formosan. At other side of Cell 4 lavatory which only prisoners on verandah allowed use.

Cell 4 inmates included Japanese coxswain of fishing boat in for illegally selling fish. Mrs Tang, well-to-do, wife of brother of General Tang, suspected British agent. Plenty of lan chai, ordinary criminals. Woman who helped eat husband, filthy with matted hair. One-eyed man called Darn Ngan Chew, Pak Yeh Paw, two Shantung coolies, two ex-policemen.

Rice brought in kerosene tins. Lan chai empty their bowls on beds and add them to pile, so get two or more bowls. But if cook counted he stopped when number filled, and last few have to do without. Two classes chow. Politicals, about eight including me and Japanese and Formosans get good rice with cabbage or turnip or other vegetable. Sometimes bit of fish or bit of pork skin. But second class get gravy and fish bones. Scraps, but tasty.

Sanitary arrangements terrific. Board on bucket. Mount one foot first then change weight then other foot. No water. No paper. Occasionally someone fell over and filth poured over floor. No drainage. No privacy. Place stinking and buckets not emptied every day. At night rats, hair coated with shit, run over face.
Lice in your hair and everywhere. But nights are best. Dark hides ugliness. Cell 4 gets some sunlight. Others artificial light all the time. Trams run by outside. Motor cars honk, children play and someone in building practices piano. What a difference a wall can make.

Exercise turns out to be perfunctory and we run round by ourselves and enjoy the sun.

Prison is burlesque affair. Great to do about guarding us and much care locking doors. But guards very scared of disease. Always keep distance when benjo or someone ill.

Cells 1, 2, 3 each with population 10, verandah 9 and ours 25.

((Following text undated:))

Middle of March midday meal is cut out. Only Japanese, Formosan and ex-policemen get lunch. Verandah residents expelled following big shot visit. Formosan in my cell, sleeps next to me. Takes all my nails in wall for hanging his possessions, leaving me one.

Then a wonderful day. Mum sends food. Also underclothes and pyjamas, but they are my undoing. Had fight with Formosan. Pyjamas too much for my nail and fell on his basin. He slapped my leg. I punched his nose and the fight was on. I could hit him but wasn’t hurting him. I decide let him hit me and get it over. But he wouldn’t stop. In pain bleeding and exhausted. Room made for me near shit buckets. In bad way. Formosan invites me return to other end of cell. Still in pain, I return to old space.

Sat up and took notice when someone said Europeans, Hongkong Bank. Outside Sir Vandeleur Grayburn and Streatfield. Latter to Cell 2 and Grayburn into ours. Call him and make room near me.

Arm troubling me, Sore where hit on ground. Getting septic. Still can’t get up easily so Grayburn helps me. He is second class prisoner so gets no soong, so share mine with him. Cell population now 33. Someone gave us spoon with all plating off. This we use between us, spooning rice into hand in turn and licking it off.

Van getting food parcels, sharing with me. Mutton chops or tinned meat. Potatoes, tomatoes, eggs, bread and butter, bananas and sometimes oranges. Mighty good. He wants eat everything up. I urge leave some for snacks, so we snacked bread at midnight and orange if any early a.m. He not taking his share of rice. But I manage give him biggest egg or odd one of three of anything.

One night guard thrusts bayonet through bars and whacked Van in face while he lying silently thinking. He got shock. Pessimistic, used to say wouldn’t come out alive. Tell him important thing is remain alive then you win.

8th April Faure and Omar out. Omar ill, spitting blood. Was taken out to verandah questioned and beaten. Yelled loudly.

((Not clear which date the following applies to:))

Grayburn and Streatfield taken away, but come back after silly questioning. One breakfast I am bunted on head with rifle butt for backing up for more chow. Sent me reeling back bleeding.

13th April Grayburn and Streatfield taken away in a.m. bound with rope. Despondent.

((Harry Ching was released from his imprisonment by the Japanese today.))

On 17th April hear my name called. Taken to waiting room. Told I must return when called up, mustn’t move or leave without permission and must not gossip. I promise.

To Nethersole Hospital, share room with Bill Sling. Bones ache. Some fever. Can't sleep. T.B. both lungs. Weight 117.

((Following text not dated:))

Gendarme visit alarms family. With Eurasian George Kotwall ((executed as BAAG agent in October, 1943)). But mistaken identity. "You master's wife?" Confusion. Wanted Morgie Master next door. Allegedly carried messages Ginger Hyde ((banker)) to Volunteer husband ((Pte R. J. Master)) in camp for one Ansari instructing Indians escapology. Supposedly from one Sedgwick ((P. C. M. Sedgewick, a HK Govt Cadet)) at Waichow.

Home. Weight 113 lb at month's end.