Tom Hutchinson's Wartime Diary
The Hutchinsons: Sarah, Girlie, James, Bea, Tom, c1937
My grandfather Thomas Henry Hutchinson was born in Shanghai in 1897 to Eurasian parents. He worked for Guest, Keen and Nettlefolds (GKN), a British engineering company. At the outset of the Japanese war with China in 1937, GKN sent him to Hong Kong to establish their South East Asia office in a location of relative safety. Tom, his wife Sarah, daughters Bea, Girlie, and son James arrived in Hong Kong in October 1937. They rented a flat on Prince Edward Road, above what is now the Flower Market.
When Hong Kong was captured by the Japanese in 1941, the family was not interned because they were stateless. They remained in their flat, and subsisted on what Tom managed to buy at the markets in Mongkok and Shamshuipo, while he raised chicks on their verandah, and made his own bread. He sold their belongings ranging from clothing to furniture and his photographic supplies (he was an amateur photographer) to pay for food and other necessities. Their income was supplemented by occasional remittances from his brother Fred in Shanghai, and Girlie’s salary when she started working for Dr Lum (actually Dr K.C. Lam, 268-270 Lai Chi Kok Road, Kowloon). Bea moved out of the family home upon her marriage to Y.C. in January 1943.
The diary is essentially a record of Tom’s income and expenditure, a medium through which he conveys a clear picture of their precarious hand-to-mouth existence. The currency in use was the Japanese Military Yen (¥), imposed by the Japanese occupiers. The exchange rate from October 1942 was HK$4 to 1¥, with hyperinflation from 1944.
Their diet was monotonous though nutritious, and we get some idea of the seasonal availability of various fruit and vegetables. The family sweet tooth is much in evidence from the constant purchases of sugar in its many forms, and while Tom toils over his yeast cultures and bread doughs, Girlie’s determined emulation of Marie Antoinette is delightfully uplifting.
This diary covers the period from 8 August 1943 to 29 December 1944. Tom stopped writing up his diary abruptly on this date possibly due to Allied bombing of Japanese installations nearby. The family left their flat and moved in with friends in Homantin.
The diary is tiny: it measures 6cm by 13cm, and Tom wrote in it in pencil and in increasingly minute script to conserve paper. His handwriting is difficult to read, and he often used his own system of transliterated Cantonese to record his purchases, eg Tsoong, for spring onions. Sarah was a Japanese Eurasian, so there are some transliterations of Japanese, eg Shoyu, for soy sauce, and also of Shanghainese, like Lobo for Chinese radish. I have provided a list of translations and abbreviations, and also a list of the foods that Tom managed to buy in the markets, in case you find it difficult to read his writing. Tom also wrote in shorthand occasionally, and I am indebted to Barbara Anslow for deciphering some of these passages.
The family lived in this block on Prince Edward Road, Kowloon. © T.H. Hutchinson
Tom Hutchinson's Wartime Diary is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License.
The original diary was donated to the Hong Kong Museum of Coastal Defence.
Translations and Abbreviations
Tom spoke English mostly, plus Shanghainese and Cantonese. His wife Sarah was Japanese Eurasian, so some Japanese words were used in the home. Tom recorded what he bought in the market in English, except for the distinctly Chinese ingredients, which are translated below from his transliterations:
|Baak gwor||Ginkgo nuts|
|Ba(a)k choi/tsoi||Bok choy – Chinese cabbage with white stems|
|Baat kok||Star anise|
|Black Tai||Black bream|
|Brinjal||Portuguese/South Asian for aubergine/egg plant|
|Choi sum||Chinese flowering cabbage|
|D(a)i gon||Long white radish, possibly pickled|
|Doong Gwar||Marrow or Winter melon|
|Foo Yu||White fermented beancurd|
|Gai tsoi||Mustard greens|
|Gai laan||Chinese kale/Chinese broccoli|
|Gow Tsoi||Chinese chives|
|Har zee||Shrimp eggs|
|Hoong Sam Yu||Golden Thread fish|
|Kow Choi||Chinese chives|
|Kum Tsum||Golden needles: dried Day Lily flower|
|Lien Ngow||Lotus root|
|Lobo||Long white radish (Shanghai pronounciation)|
|Loong-ngan||Long An fruit|
|Lor Mai||Glutinous rice|
|Lungnan meat||Long An fruit, flesh only|
|Meen see||Fermented bean paste|
|Mo chi||Rice cakes|
|Mui gon tsoi||Mui choy is preserved mustard greens|
|Nam yu(u)||Red fermented beancurd|
|Oong Choi/Tsoi||Ipomoea aquatica, Morning Glory|
|Shoyu||Soy sauce (in Japanese)|
|SiyangChoi||Watercress (Shanghai pronounciation?)|
|Sum shue||Root vegetable similar to yam|
|Tai – Red fish||Red coloured sea bream|
|Toong Gwar||Marrow or Winter melon|
|Tseet Gwar||Fuzzy or Hairy melon|
|Wai sung fun||Type of flour?|
|Wong Yu||Type of fish|
|Wong Far fish||Yellow Croaker fish|
Commonly used abbreviations:
|Blk Mkt||black market|
|c or cat(s)||Catty/catties (Chinese weight measurement: equiv to 1 1/3 lbs or 605g)|
|¢||sometimes Catty/catties, sometimes cents/sen|
|CRB||Central Reserve Bank of China – issued CRB Yuan|
|sw pots/s pots||sweet potatoes|
|t||tael(s) (Chinese weight measurement: 1/16th of a Catty)|
|Y.S.B.||Yokohama Specie Bank|
|¥||Japanese Military Yen|
Food bought in markets
This is a list of the food items Tom managed to buy, in addition to those in the translated list. They are recorded in the order in which they first appear in the diary:
Sweet potatoes, salt pork, cucumber, oranges, rice (ration), star fruit, rice biscuits, ginger, green papaya, shark liver, bamboo shoots, salt, beef, whitebait, peanut oil (ration), tins of Golden Syrup, sugar – white and brown (ration), cube sugar, bananas, coconut oil (ration), (Irish) potatoes, false mackerel, limes, black treacle, cat fish, ray liver, bean sprouts, berries, shark, chilli, dried whitebait, persimmons, shrimp paste, dried peas, flour (ration), dried black dates, egg yolk, pork fat rendered, fried beancurd, milk, sardines, shallots, pumpkin, beef tails(?), long(?) potato flour, sweet potato flour, red rice, cakes, bran, cabbage, candy, mackerel, dried salt cabbage, banana, arrowroot(?), squid, bean paste, chilli paste, peanuts, sugar candy, sago, peppers, melon, bulgar, rice mixed with gram (beans)(?), garlic, salt duck eggs, tangerines, beef bone, salt fish(?), salt minnows, egg flakes, lettuce, tofoo residue, suet, carrots, rolled wheat, papaya, dried duck, duck, cuttlefish, kale, starch (ration), spinach, barley, eel, tomatoes, eggplant, Yellow Lable soy sauce, green peas, squash, root flour(?), curry powder, French beans, slab sugar, onions, beans, string beans, fried cakes, Tientsin cabbage, egg albumen, egg yolk powder, soya beans, dried long radish, herring, red beans, sesamum, boiled pigskin, mint, shrimps, apricots, conger eel, King fish, horse beans, plums, pork, long beans, wheat, duck eggs, beef suet, rice mac. (?), shell fish, pig’s blood, unhusked rice, pomelo, conpoy, seaweed, rolls, rice rolls, green oysters, baby yam, biscuits, small mooncakes, tins mushroom sauce, puffed rice(?), ray, mochi rice, fresh olives, lard residue, dried baak tsoi, tinned fish, pop barley, celery, cow’s foot, three Lushus Jellies.
He also bought food for the chickens they kept, such as small shrimps, gow tsoi (Chinese chives), rice bran, heen (clams), small fish, rice husks, cabbage, crabs.
The chickens provided eggs and some meat. Tom used the egg shells as a calcium supplement baked into bread. He planted peas in flower pots, also mint sprigs, and potato eyes, chilli seeds, celery.