17 Feb 1943, Harry Ching's wartime diary | Gwulo: Old Hong Kong

17 Feb 1943, Harry Ching's wartime diary

Book / Document: 
Date(s) of events described: 
Wed, 17 Feb 1943

((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.