01 Jan 1939 - 25 Dec 1941, Paul Atroshenko's childhood memories of wartime Hong Kong

Submitted by Admin on Mon, 06/29/2015 - 17:41

SAFE IN HONG KONG AGAIN... or so it seemed.

Somehow my father managed to obtain visas for the family to return to Hong Kong. Apparently, having a child in the family who was British by birth was an advantage in obtaining visas for all of us.

While my mother established her dressmaking business in Hong Kong, my father was soon successful in prospecting for minerals. With both my parents gainfully employed, this was a short period of considerable comfort and stability for us. We lived in a spacious flat in Kimberley Road, Kowloon, and I vividly recall the tricycles that my brother and I rode around the flat.

Since my mother was very busy with her dressmaking salon, I had my own baby amah to care for me. I became very attached to my amah as I spent most of my time with her. In this respect, my early upbringing was similar to the very wealthy children in Europe who had little contact with their parents, and became very close to their nannies. My father was away a great deal in the New Territories, as he spent most of each week supervising the operation of the mines which he had prospected there.

Although my father had little formal education, apart from his studies for the priesthood in Ukraine, he had acquired valuable lessons in prospecting for minerals from his elder brother. This brother had been responsible for diamond prospecting in Siberia during Tsarist times. He was so successful in this endeavour that, after the Russian Revolution, the Bolsheviks put him in charge of diamond prospecting in the Urals as well as Siberia.

It turned out that my father was an apt pupil. Several of the mines in Hong Kong and its New Territories owed their existence to my father's talent for discovering minerals of various kinds.

By the early Forties, the British authorities in Hong Kong were well aware that the Japanese posed a threat to the Colony in the near future. Since Britain itself was under siege from the Nazis and fighting for its very survival... this was the time of the Battle of Britain as well as the Battle of the Atlantic... there were few military resources which could be spared for the defence of Hong Kong.

Furthermore, in 1921, the British had agreed to limit the fortifications of the colony and this had increased its vulnerability. The government began a program to build air raid shelters in the colony and my father was employed by the Marsden company to supervise the construction of some of them. ((Jurors Lists show that Paul's father was actually working for the mining company "Marsman".))

By late 1941, the Japanese controlled most of the area in China just to the north of Hong Kong. For the defence of the colony the military commander of Hong Kong, Major-General Maltby, had only 14,000 troops. The force was made up of Canadian, British and Indian regiments as well as Hong Kong Volunteer Defence Corps. Maltby only had five antiquated aeroplanes at Kai Tak aerodrome. These were no match for the Japanese Zeros which were among the best fighters of their day. In the Harbour, there was only one destroyer, a few gunboats and a small flotilla of motor torpedo boats.

The Japanese attack began on December 8th, 1941, the day after Pearl Harbor. They had massive superiority on land, sea and air. The Allied troops resisted bravely, suffering severe casualties and inflicting punishment on the Japanese invaders, but after 17 days of brutal fighting General Maltby advised the Governor that further resistance was futile. The American fleet had been decimated at Pearl Harbor and the British had lost two of their capital ships, the Prince of Wales and the Repulse, to Japanese bombers off Malaya. There was no prospect of relief from the sea. The defenders of the Colony were on their own.

On Christmas Day, 1941, Hong Kong surrendered.

Date(s) of events described