Escape from the Japanese: View pages

Ralph Goodwin, a New Zealand naval officer had been a PoW since Dec 25, 1941.  For two and a half years he always had escape in his mind, and in Sham Shui Po camp he had prepared for it.    He realized that the location of this camp was the best he had ever had to make an escape. The proximity of the camp to the sea, meant that he could swim from the seawall, to a little habited part of the coast from where he could climb into the hills and make his way northwards to freedom.

"Sunday the 16th of July 1944 was just another day of pouring rain, without however, the usual display of lighting. In fact, when night fell, the rains came down with never a flash to break the darkness, a most unusual condition. Never before had there been such an opportunity."

He had to wait for midnight when the lights went out, and he prepared to pick up his pack with the escape supplies he had secreted away.

"Suddenly the lights went out and the camp was plunged into intense gloom"

All was ready and he prepared to leave without disturbing anyone.

"There would be interrogations on the morrow, and it was better that nothing should be known."

Shortly after midnight, Goodwin quietly left the his bed and the hut in the camp with all the escape equipment he could carry, and in the darkness of a rainy moonless night, made his way to the fencepost, he had to climb.  This was the first of three electrified fences he had to pass.   With care he climbed up to a foothold on the top insulator.

"Then summoning every ounce of strength I straightened up, and stood clear of the electric wires. As quickly as possible I stepped off the insulator on to the barbed wire fence behind the posts."

He made a painful descent through the rolls of barbed wire until:

"There was a tearing of cloth, the fence jerked violently, and I dropped seven feet to land with a tremendous thud on my back".

Recovering, he went on to crawl under the next two fences to reach the sea wall. He used the length of thin rope he was carrying to descend, misjudging his weakened condition. 

"The result was inevitable and I reached a beach of firm sand with the skin torn from both palm and back of the hand, an injury that gave me a great deal of pain in the days to come."

Using a life-jacket to float his pack, he started swimming the half a mile to the shore where he planned to go ashore. There were dark moored craft he had to pass, and he had to swim slowly.

"Brilliant phosphorous marked every movement with a trail of fire that made me proceed with care when passing close to anchored vessels."

Eventually reaching the shore, he made his way through a cultivated area to the edge of a road.   In the complete darkness he almost walked into a Japanese guard at the roadside.    He slowly moved away and in a heavy downpour made for a lane opposite, then moved quickly to a steep cutting behind a building. The cutting was below to the hills he was seeking, and finding a watercourse, he slowly climbed up about 80 feet to a grassy slope. He moved quickly, past buildings and some houses, then climbed up into the hills.   Dawn was approaching, so he found a clump of bushes in which to hide.

"I wedged my pack against the base of a small tree, and seated on that, I could lean back against the streaming earth."

He remained there throughout the day, eating some of his canned food. At dusk he moved quickly along a track and climbed a ridge were he had a view of :

"Shamshuipo camp, gaily illuminated with its closely spaced perimeter lights."

There were sounds of patrols below him and torchlight in the dark, so he moved on as fast as he could in what he assumed to be an easterly direction.

Goodwin did not have a watch, nor a compass, but at around midnight (June 17) he made his way up slope taking note of patrols below him that were probably looking for him.   As he went higher, gaps appeared in the clouds, and a few stars were visible. At last he had a chance to get his bearings.

"It was my belief that on the other side there would be a valley leading into Tolo Harbour, and after avoiding a building that might have been a guard-post I was deeply disappointed to see the water of a bay.  That could only be an arm of  Hong Kong Harbour, and I realised that my course had tended too far to the west."

He was no doubt looking down on Gin Drinkers' Bay, and he quickly set off along a track that had steep slopes on each side. This would be dangerous if he met a patrol, so he descended a spur heading eastwards.   He soon lost most of his sense of direction as he struggled from one valley to another and arriving in one valley he heard voices and swishing noises, and the sound of something being dragged over the ground.

"That was a disquieting situation and I lay down straining eyes and ears in an effort to understand what was happening. My fears were at once dissapated when a  figure, carrying two large bundles on a pole passed a few feet from me."

He relaxed and quietly and quickly passed between the workers, as he realised tht they were breaking Japanese law, as this type of grass theft was strictly banned.  All fuel in Hong Kong, including grass for their cooking fires was extremely scarce.

He realised that dawn was approaching and moved on through a pine palantation to find a hideout for the day. Taking care to skirt a sentry box that might have been manned, he hurried on until he found a narrow watercourse hidden by shrubbery that would have to be his resting place until nightfall.   There were sounds and sightings of Japanese soldiers, and he had to remain motionless most of the time. While in that location he revised his escape plan.

"My original intention had been to swim across Tolo Harbour from a point near Shatin, travel north along the Sai Kung Peninsula, recross Tolo Harbour near its entrance in Mirs Bay, and finally reach the mainland at a point north of Shataukok."

However he realised "that even with the aid of life-jackets I would be too weak to undertake those long swims."

He discarded the life-jackets and other heavey items, and as darkness descended continued in an easterly direction.   Pressing on into the hills he saw what he imagneed was a grassy area.  His mistake became obvious when he pitched down a six foot high bank into 18 inches of muddy water.  Exhauted, he gave vent to his bad temper and disappointment while  easing and cooling his feet.

"Then, gathering myself up I splashed across the swamp into the entrance to a valley, where my spirits rose rapidly as I found a much-used path."

It must have been around midnight when Goodwin set off along a good track which he assumed would lead him to Tolo Harbour. However after following the track for about a mile, it disappeared into an area where the ground was churned up and there appeared to be landslides.   Also here were masses of broken concrete piled up.

"Then a darker shadow on a face of rock resolved itself into the entrance of a tunnel, and I realised that the upheaval had been caused by the collapse of a mine."

This assumption is probably incorrect. He must have been close to the network of British defenses known as the Gin Drinker's Line. The upheaval he describes, and the broken concrete may well have been pillboxes and structures destroyed by the Japanese in December, 1941, particularly in the area of the Shing Mun Redoubt, which could have been on his route.

He cautiously made his way around the debris to the edge of a valley and very nearly ended his escape right there.

"Unable to see anything, and probably giddy with fatigue, I suddenly fell out into space"

His fall took him down to a stream bed, receiving violent blows as he fell, and he blacked out.

"Full conciousness returned suddenly, and I realised what had happened. The end of the fall had taken me head first down between some large boulders, and there I had come to rest with my feet pointing skyward through the hole above."

Goodwin had fallen several times in the darkness of his first three nights outside captivity, but this was one of his luckiest escapes.   Nothing broken, nothing damaged.

As dawn was fast approaching he regained his original path. He walked on quickly until he found a hiding place in a shallow excavation hidden by grass and scrub. His hideout gave him an excellent view from the Shingmum Dam down the river to Shatin. He settled down, but was soon surrounded by about thirty Chinese men and women cutting all the grass and brush-wood from the hillside. He was worried that they might work towards him and was preparing to move away when a shot rang out from above him. It was fired by a sentry standing only fifty yards above him.

"That shot was not aimed at me, but I flattened on the ground again, very thankful for the warning. In another moment I would have crawled out into full view, to be a perfect sitting shot. Overhead a hawk made several leisurely circuits, and possinbly the sentry in his boredom, had fired at that"

He settled down in his shallow hollow, making use of the little cover he had. The sentry stayed above him for the rest of the day, often talking to the Chinese who were only thirty yards away. As he lay there he recalled the words of a fortune-teller who had made some very accurate forcasts of his life. She had said:

''I don't know how this can be, but a bird is going to save your life."

Whatever it may have been, "I shall always hold feelings of high regard towards that bird."

As evening approached the Chinese and the Sentry departed and he considered his next move.

"On the opposite side of the Shingmum River there was a poorly defined track close to the water, so I would follow that."

As darkness fell, he moved down a deceptively steep and long descent to the river. He waded along the river before climbing the bank to find the right track.

"At first a few stars were shining, and I covered two miles on a reasonably smooth path."

Goodwin made good progress along his chosen track beside the Shingmun River, but came to a halt at around midnight where a stream joined the river. He went into the river and waded and stumbled over shingle banks in heavy rain and complete darkness.

"I continued until the bank rose to a vertical cliff, and the river became a deep wide stream that could be followed only by swimming."

He decided against swimming into the unknown, and retraced his steps to a point where he was able to climb out of the river and to walk up a hill that he had noted from his hiding place of the previous day. There were trees and a grave on that hill, and a tall flagpole, and he crossed over the hill to find that there was only a large area of rice paddy there, too open for him to cross, as daylight was approading.  With torrential rain falling, and a gale blowing he was feeling very cold and dejected.

"Lack of sleep, an extremely meagre diet, and the desperate physical effort of the journey were beginning to take their toll. There was possibly an hour to wait for daylight, and that gave me a bitter taste of a feeling that persisted throughtout my escape, when every day became and agony of waiting for the night, and every night became an agony of waiting for the day."

Increasing light determined that he should take a path that he had thought led to the river, and he felt very conspicuous as he went over a rise to see the windows of a house only a hundred feet away.

Luckily there as a thick clump of bamboo beside the path, and he hid in there without being seen. He forced his way through bamboo stems growing closely together and found a safe but uncomfortable resting place on knobs and spikes of bamboo that gave him little comfort.

"Having settled down gently into that sodden couch I became aware of an increasing throng of people passing, and there only a few yards away was the road, my goal of the past four nights. The smooth tar-sealed surface looked wonderfully inviting, and it was a tremendous relief to see it so close."

He had mistaken the wet surface of the road for the surface of the river in the darkness, but now he was able to relax in his bamboo hideaway and reflect on what lay ahead of him.

"There would be a definite route to follow after the heart-breaking cross-country struggle, in which I had maintained little sense of direction, and throughtout which, even in the daytime, I had little idea of my exact location."

He had settled down in the bamboo to wait for dusk when a Chinese woman arrived on the path opposite his hiding place, and started cutting the bamboo in front of him. Slowly but surely she cut towards him until there were only a few stems and leaves between them.

"With eyes glued on hers and fingers pressed to my lips to enjoin silence at the moment of recognition, I watched her every glance intently. Not until she swept away the very last row of stems did she see me.  Then she received a terrific fright.  Her eyes opened like saucers and she sprang away."

Her fright at the sight of Goodwin, grimy and emaciated must have been great, but luckily she just picked up her working equipiment and walked away. Goodwin wondered if she might return, so he picked up his pack and headed for another clump of bamboo sixty feet away. Fortunately he was not seen, so he waited there until dark, when traffic on the road stopped completely.

He set of at a fast pace along the road, and walked through Shatin village. He lost some time at the Shatin Railway Station, as he passed along the tracks. He hid at the end of the station where he could hear some Indian guards talking about him as they mentioned Shamshuipo and a price of 50 yen, which he assumed could have been the payment for his capture. Leaving the station he quickly regained the road, and walking quickly made good time along a deserted road by the seashore.  He felt he was finally moving at a satisfactory pace

Goodwin moved easily over several miles along a level highway that followed the shore, until around midnight he came to a point where the road turned inland and crossed the railway lines. There was a sentry on guard, so he went down to the sea and waded for some distance before returning to the road. The road climbed as it went inland, and there was heavy rainfall.  It took some effort for him to reach the summit of the road, where he rested, enjoying a view of Tolo Harbour and the hundreds of fishing boats, brightly lit for fishing at night.

He had an easy descent towards Tai Po, and decided to fill his almost empty water-bottle.  He could hear running water, but was not able to find an entrance until the fireflies came to his aid.

"I noticed many fireflies passing me, going a short distance along the road and then turning in towards the water. So many were flying the same course that I decided to follow them, and sure enough, they were turning in over a track that led to a waterfall."

That proved to be the last location where he would be able to collect drinking water as he continued on the road towards Taipo Market. Dawn was approaching as he came to a railway crossing, and decided to climb to a level spur some two hundred feet above the road. Perfect cover there convinced him that he would rest for the hours of daylight in that location. He had a perfect view of what was happening below him, and planned ahead for his progress after dark.  He noted that there was a sentry post at road junction, where all vehicles, and pedestrians were searched, but there was no sentry at the rail crossing.  He would take the rail route. He could not see Taipo Market, hidden by a hill, but he did notice a stream of junks and sampans sailing into a sheltered haven.

"It was while watching these little ships coming to anchor that I decided to steal a sampan that night and proceed across Mirs Bay by sea, and so cut out many miles of dangerous travel."

He kept himself busy preparing for his night's activity, while keeping an eye on traffic on the road, mainly pedestrian, and this did not cease for about an hour after darkness fell.  He then moved down the road to the railway line and walked along the track to where a steep concrete seawall descended to rocks beside the sea. He used his rope to descend the rocks beside the sea, then stashed his pack, rope and clothes there, after stripping off to swim out into the bay. To his dismay, he found that none of the sampans there had an oar, and he was not able to find a stick or a board that he could use as a paddle.

"By that time it must have been near eleven o'clock, it was raining steadily, a fresh wind was blowing, and I started to shiver violently. There was only one way to cure that, so finding a sheltered place I indulged in a few minutes of strenuous physical exercise to start my blood flowing again."

When he was recovered he decided to swim out to the junk moored farthest out, to see in he could get the owner  to take him across Mirs Bay. The man on board awakened and before he could get his message across, began shouting and jumping up and down showing fierce hostility. When the boatman attempted to crack Goodwin on the head with a piece of timber, he beat a speedy retreat, and swam as fast as he could back to the shore. The noise had awaked the crews of adjoining junks and they threw lengths of timber and shouted threats at him. He was fearful that the Japanese guards onshore would be alerted and fortunately his sense of direction quickly led him to where he had stashed his belongings. Grabbing everything, he pulled himself up to the top of a wall on a wire-stay from a pole, and hurried through the gloom along the railway line and across the road.

"On rounding a bend I had a clear view back over the bay of my unsuccessful adventure, and there was a great uproar in progress, with lanterns flashing everywhere. My nocturnal visit had certainly started something, and vowing never again to seek assistance as long as I could still walk, I hurried on my way."

Goodwin moved quickly along the railway track towards Taipo Market, until he reached a bridge where he was slowed down by having to negotiate sections where sleepers were missing. At a point where two sleepers were missing he found he was already moving forward when he:-

"just managed to throw myself sideways and grab a rail in falling."

Soon after that he mistakenly assumed that he was not heading in the right direction, and made his way back to solid ground. Still somewhat shattered by his experience amongst the junks, he  made a wrong assumption, and walked back along the rail tracks until he found himself on a high embankment with no sign of an exit.

"I could find no way down until fireflies again came to my assistance. Many of those bright little sparks began dancing along, following the same course, and after going some yards ahead of me they dipped suddenly down over the edge of the bank. It was a real game of follow my leader, and, having joined in, I found that they were turning off at the start of a narrow track."

Wondering why they should wing their way directly above a nine inch wide track, he thankfully followed it down to the road.  The road passed through an archway in the embankment, and this led to a solid structure, and a wide roadway that went up an incline to a building. His bare feet made not a sound as he walked up.

"Just as the road leveled off I stopped stock still. every nerve in my body tingling, for not more than eight feet away to my right the luminous face of a wrist watch was glowing"

He stood motionless, and a few moments later a man on his left began to speak, and through the gloom he saw the faint silhouette of a sentry. Gradually he backed away from between the two guards, fearing to be caught in a beam of torchlight at any moment. When he was well clear, he bolted down the narrow lane from which he had so recently arrived.

"In my official report that incident was described as taking place at a crossroad, but after the war I saw that I had actually walked up to the entrance of the Taipo railway station."

Thankful for such a lucky escape he walked back through the archway under the embankment and decided  to try his luck on the other side.

"Exactly what happened next will never be known to me."

He thought he was entering a storage area as he could smell rubber and petrol there. He also had the impression that he was in the midst of animals and people. and he stopped still at the sound of the loud breathing of sleeping people.  He considered it would be best to proceed, and soon found himself among the buildings of a village. His next impression was of climbing a concrete road that led to a set of large iron gates. He retreated and went down the road a little way, then climbed to a ridge, where, utterly exhausted he sank down to wait the dawn.

"Mercifully the day was not long in coming, for fierce squalls roared through the bushes about me, torrential showers were falling, and in spite of the high summer temperature I was shivering with cold."

As daylight increased he could see where he had gone astray during the night, and decided to head towards a spur about three or four miles away that ran down from, Tai Mo Shan to a point where he could head back towards the road.

"A full typhoon was blowing, and squalls of wind and rain were driving across the landscape with all the ferocity that such storms can bring."

He noted that the paddy fields he could see were deserted, and no one was abroad, and as there was little shelter or place to hide where he was, it seemed that it would be safe to walk on during the day, using the contour of the land to shield him from the view houses and villages.

He pushed on through the storm, with gusts of wind forcing him to run at times. That kept him moving quickly, but there were places in valleys he had to cross, where dense growth slowed him down. To cross the streams he simply jumped into the water ducked his head and enjoyed the experience of:

"The torrent rearing over me, and the stream felt much warmer that the wind and the rain."

He was well above the paddy fields when he reached a track in late afternoon and commenced a long descent. Lower down the track skirted a pineapple plantation, and he finally found one small green pineapple he was able to pick.

"Although it was a very immature specimen it tasted remarkably sweet, and to my disordered palate it was delicious."

As the track he was following would pass through a village, he left it to walk along the foot of a hill, often knee-deep in mud and water.  With the light fading he pushed on until he was relieved to see a track that would take him over a bridge to the road that he was seeking.

"What a wonderful feeling it was to be able to step out freely along the clear highway after the heartbreaking struggle on the mountain."

He had to maintain a constant lookout for military vehicles on the road and hide when they approached. There were light showers, but the wind had dropped and he made good time, although he had to hide on occasions when people or vehicles passed by.  Midnight was probably near when the clouds broke and brilliant stars filled the sky. He quickly passed an area where soldiers were working just off the road, and pressed on to a point where the railway crossed the road.  Sighting a building there that could have housed a sentry, he climbed an embankment to the railway track and crossing the track dropped down to the other side where he was able to skirt the sentry box and regain the road.  He had been on the go for twenty-four hours, but felt he was making good progress.

It would have been shortly after midnight when Goodwin set off at a steady pace on the road to Fanling. It was pitch dark and rain was falling when an incredible incident occurred. Some sixth sense warned him of danger, and he grabbed the base of a shrub growing on the roadside and slid down a slope, holding his face level with the road surface. Just in time, as the legs of a soldier passed  just three feet away.  He was followed by five other soldiers all wearing soft rubber-soled shoes that made no sound. Had he continued a few more paces they would have collided. Close on the heels of the last soldier was a large Alsatian dog.  He neither moved nor breathed, and felt complete detachment, without a trace of fear as the following scene was enacted.

"The dog turned towards me, sniffing the air inquiringly. He lifted his nose, laid his ears back, and there was a strange expression in his eyes as if he were trying to recall something from a long way off.  His ears pricked forward again, and he seemed to be looking directly into my eyes.  Then his head went down slowly, and he turned without a sound.  With his fail drooping to the ground he loped off after the patrol."

Goodwin was amazed that his luck had held once again, but wasted no time in returning to the road and setting off at a good pace. His rough map showed a junction where he should turn right towards Shataokok, and quickly passed an entrance to what appeared to be a Japanese camp, probably from where the patrol had started.   In the total darkness further on he saw a road turning right and then a tree-lined road.  He considered that this had to be the Shataokok road.

He saw buildings but no lights and pushed on quickly, on an elevated road passing through miles of flooded paddy.  There seemed to be no end to this road, and as dawn was approaching he decided to climb a hill where he could hide and view his surroundings in daylight.  Climbing to the top of the hill he found a clump of bushes where he could hide, and relax, as the rain had now stopped.   From his vantage point he was able to see in the early light of day that Shataokok was still some distance away, and he reflected on his situation.

"That was the seventh night of my journey, my clothes had been soaked the whole time, and sleep persistently eluded me. Never had I had more than half an hour's oblivion in any twenty-four hours since leaving camp. My tinned food, mostly used in the first few days to keep up my strength at that critical time, had all been consumed except for one tin of condensed milk."

The only provisions remaining were soya bean powder, heart of wheat cereal, peanut oil, and a small tin of black pepper.  The pepper had been intended for use in discouraging dogs from tracking him, but as this was not necessary because of the continuous rain, he was using it to flavour his scanty meals.  These were eaten twice a day, breakfast about sunrise, and dinner just before dark. Both meals were identical, consisting of soya bean powder, wheat cereal, peanut oil with a little pepper flavoured water. This formed a small serving of a thick paste that was eaten slowly and carefully, and while any addition to his diet, such as the pineapple was most welcome, he had never at any time felt hungry. The stress of nervous tension had killed both appetite and the need for sleep.

Towards noon the sun broke through and the air warmed up. He took the opportunity to dry everything, his few clothes and the small amount of gear he was carrying, including papers and maps and his diaries.  He was happy that these possessions had survived quite well so far. He took stock of his feet and legs, which had suffered badly due to "athletes foot", and various cuts and torn skin from his legs, gained during his nightly struggles through the scrub. His hand, injured right at the outset of his escape also required attention.  He had no ointment, but he was able to apply dubbin from a tin that had been supplied in the camp.  He covered all sores with that grease and none of his injuries ever turned septic.

In the late afternoon he dressed and packed all his dry gear and went down to a hiding place near the road where he was able to sleep comfortably on some straw for about half an hour.

When darkness fell he started walking on the road again and after some distance had another encounter with the friendly fireflies.  They were flying across the road when suddenly they turned and a couple of them almost hit him. It was a warning, and just in time he saw the headlights of a car turning out of a concealed road.  He dived for cover in ditch as the car went by.  Further on near some buildings he again sensed danger, and almost ran into a sentry standing in the dark. He backed away and made for a track he had seen entering the fields. He followed this until in the distance he could see lights and activity, and he realised that he was on the outskirts of Shataokok.

He walked on through a village where a barking dog forced him to move quietly away through paddy.  Continuing in a wide detour he came out on a track that led to a well-formed road. He knew from his map that this road closely followed the New Territories border, and he would climb it to a ridge where he could turn in a westerly direction towards China.

It was around midnight when Goodwin reached the summit of the frontier road, then made his way down a spur towards China, heading to what he hoped would be his freedom.

His hopes were soon dashed however, when he ran into coils of barbed wire in the long grass that made progress impossible. There was nothing to do except to return to the road, and head back towards Shataokok. Half a mile down the road he found an entry to a deep gorge that carried rushing water, and he slipped and slithered down to find a secluded resting place.

He could not proceed until daylight, and as dawn approached he was pleased to enjoy a view of the pattern of diffused daylight in the eastern sky, giving rise to a series of colours in the sky that would have given inspiration to a painter such as Turner.  However, he was soon confronted with the reality of finding a hiding place for the day and planning his move at nightfall.  He could see that the stream beside him continued down to the sea at Shataokok and following it down to its confluence with another stream he found a perfect lair with a good cover from trees, and a bed of soft grass. He dried his belongings again, and finding a pool in the steam, had a lazy if not luxurious bath.

He managed to gather a large ripe pandanus fruit which looked like a four-pound pineapple but proved to be most difficult to eat.  It had no flavour at all, but he ate what he could, and hoped for the best. He wrote an entry in his diary that afternoon that read:-

"Am feeling rather weak; a good sleep would make a lot of difference. With any luck this should be the last of my most anxious nghts.though do not know how far the 'Nips' hold."

Very soon he noticed a storm building up and before long lightning struck in the gorge, the thunder was deafening, and a deluge of rain fell for an hour before the storm moved away. Goodwin surveyed the scene and comments:-

"Alas! for my brief comfort. Everything was completely saturated again, and my only wish was that darkness would come quickly."

However, as the stream in the gorge was rising rapidly, he crossed to the other side where the track was and waited for the night.  At dusk he had to make his way carefully down a washed-out track until the valley opened out and the track improved. As the lights of Shataokok came into view he proceeded very much on the alert.  While approaching some houses, he saw a sentry flashing his torch about fifty yards ahead, so he went back to leave the track and found a path leading to paddy fields where rolls of barked wire had to be negotiated.  He crawled through or under these, for more than one hour, then had to make another detour away from the built-up area. The area near Shataokok was alive with action, with many gaurds and troops in evidence. Obviously something unusual was taking place, so he headed away in a southerly direction through the paddy until he came to a vertical drop to a river below. As it was too steep to descend there he followed the paddy down to a point where  he realised that he was well clear of any buildings but there was a bank about eight feet high ahead with bushes and thorny undergrowth growing on it.  With effort he forced his way through the thorns and to his surprise found he was standing on firm sand.

"There at last was the coast, and after crossing a hundred yards of dunes I saw surf breaking on the seashore.  Again the sea was to befriend me.".

Goodwin stood on the beach near Shataokok with his spirits soaring. It was probably around midnight, and he had to move quickly along the coast in a westerly direction to get as far removed from Shataokok as possible by sunrise. Walking along the beach was out, as he could see the torch of a patrolling sentry in the distance. He decided to walk in the sea as far out as possible from the shore. Putting on his shoes to protect his feet from sharp shells and coral growths, he walked out until the sea was at neck level, carrying his pack on his left shoulder. If sighted from the shore it would have looked like a square bag floating over a glassy sea.

There were sampans out to sea engaged in fishing, and one of these gave him concern as it seemed to be tracking him, but it eventuated that they were just chasing fish. Well past the danger of a sentry on the beach he left the water and walked along the beach. He found then that the sole on one of his shoes had almost come off due to the stitching being cut in the sea, so his shoes were returned to their usual position round his neck. As it had been for most of his trek, he continued bare-footed.  He walked on in increasingly bad weather to a headland where small trees and bushes provide a hiding place from the rain and wind.  He was protected by a steep bank , and while the gale-force winds tore branches off the overhead trees, nothing stopped the rain from finding his resting place, and filling his shallow bed with three inches of water. He remained there as he found the submerged areas of his body warmer than the rest.

He spent the rest of the day in his hiding-place, devoting some time in shoemaking, fixing the sole of his shoe with hempen chord.  This was a task he had to repeat again later. By late afternoon the wind and rain squalls had abated, and he saw a group of men passing along an inland track. He decided he would take that route himself when darkness fell.

The storm had blown itself out by nightfall and he set off along the track in a brighter mood. However, his progress was slow, as the track was washed away in several places and he had difficulty with a gruelling climb up a steep and damaged path. He reached the summit and began a gradual descent. When the track came to a junction he rested for a while, then took the right-hand path which he assumed would descend to the shore. But the track levelled off to show a wide expanse of paddy stretching out in the blackness.

"Behind me was a very hard climb, while in front the way was at least level and, thinking I would eventually reach the shore, I started of across the fields. Time and distance no longer had any meaning and I had not the vaguest idea how far I had gone since dark or how near to dawn it might be."

It was probably around midnight at this time, and when a large village on rising ground came into sight, he stopped to consider his options.

Goodwin stood outside a large darkened village when he saw through a narrow alley a watchman with a lantern passing along the central roadway.

He decided to enter and avoiding the watchman walked right through the village. Walking with bare feet he could hear people moving in their sleep and saw the heads of occupants through open doorways. He could find no exit from the village, and fearful of disturbing a dog and rousing the whole village, he quietly back-tracked to the entrance and took a track outside the village that went up a steep hill covered with small trees and thorn bush. Tired out by his efforts he stopped at three big trees to await the dawn.

"The strain of the journey was making itself increasingly felt. The constant wet, the desperate struggling over rugged terrain in the intense darkness and the almost total lack of food were rapidly wearing one down. It was obvious that my solo effort could not last  much longer."

Daylight revealed that he was well away from the sea, and for the first time he had no idea how to proceed. He knew the general direction of the sea, and decided to walk by the early morning light around the expanse of paddy that was obviously the property of the village he could see below him. He would then make his way to the ridge he had crossed during the night, then descend from there.

"That decision was no sooner made than the plan was put into execution, for every moment of delay increased the chances of discovery."

He moved as quickly as possible down through terraced gardens, slowed down by protective thorn bushes, until he reached a track that took him around the paddy, and away from the village.

He made good time on this track, and reached a point where he could enter a valley. As he went in he  could just make out, far behind him, the villagers entering the fields to work. There were several resting places, that were well concealed near a stream, and he lay down to rest, hoping to find sleep. Sleep was out of the question thought, and within half an hour encouraged by the sunshine, he recorded in his diary:-

"Beautiful sunny day, hope there are more of them. Another wet one would have finished me."

He collected some fresh-water snails, and after drying his matches soon had a fire burning to cook these, and some rice he had collected. The bracken and twigs he burnt made almost no smoke. The snails made a tasty but rather small meal, but the rice was almost inedible. He then rested but still did not sleep, while all his possessions were drying in the sun.

"It was simply marvelous to feel warm dry and comfortable after ten days of constant saturation, of chilling gales, and an extreme of physical depression."

After several hours of relaxation he shouldered a much lighted pack, and climbed to the top of a ridge. He considered that his khaki clothes and brown skin would give reasonable camouflage on the open grassy hills, and he made his way to the edge of the spur of land he was climbing, then lay down to admire a view of Mirs Bay that captivated him. It reminded him of the Bay of Islands in New Zealand where he had spent many delightful cruising holidays, and the sight of a Japanese patrol launch idling along, increased his caution but made him resentful that the enemy could enjoy such beautiful conditions.

He could see below a beach curving away towards the village of Shatau, and he could just make out some construction work along the seashore about twelve miles away. He did not realise it at the time but his vision was failing through diet deficiency. He descended to the beach to rest and wait for darkness.

Making his way along the beach and a good track around rocks, he was soon heading away along a well defined path. He carried on along the shore until he came to the constructon he had seen from his vantage point on the spur, and he walked on, often through mud until he found he was on a damaged seawall that was under repair. He was soon on a wall that made a perfect road heading towards the lights of Shatau. It would have been around midnight when he set off in the direction of that village.

Goodwin found easy going along a beach that took him past Shatau and onto a long stretch of sand with surf breaking from the sea. He walked easily along this until it ended in a rocky headland. There was no shelter there so he lay down to escape the gusting wind, and to await daylight, feeling absolutely exhausted.

By first light he caught a large crab, and then climbed up a stream to find cover for the day. There were also snails in the stream, which he caught and boiled with the crab, then tried to cook some of the rice which he still had. The snails and crab were edible, but the rice was not, so he settled for drinking the water it was cooked in.

There were sampans out to sea below him, and he was concerned that they might see the smoke from his fire, and come to investigate. There was no problem, though he had an anxious time when two men in a sampan came directly to the beach beneath him, but only to collect water, then row out to sea again. He later inspected a track above him that appeared to be well used, but took a heavy fall as he was jumping from a large boulder. He landed with a thud on his thigh, but fortunately no damage was done. He realised that the track would be impossible to use at night and that he had better stick to the seashore. Then he saw a fisherman standing on the rocks using a circular net. Goodwin waited for quite some time, then decided to descend to the rocks below him, where he could look for oysters. He was working on collecting three of these when he looked up to see the fisherman above him. They greeted each other affably, and he tried to see if there were some fish he could buy using mainly pantomime, but there was no response.

He thought it would be better to move on, and the fisherman turned to head back towards Shatau. Goodwin moved off as quickly as possible, as he was concerned that the fisherman could report his discovery. The way along the coast become impossible when he reached an area of cliff.  He had to make his way precariously up through crevasses to the top of the cliff, a climb of about one hundred feet. He almost passed out at one point and waited until he had enough energy to climb slowly uphill to grassy slopes leading to a well-used path. As he moved westwards along the track he passed several women walking in the opposite direction with poles over their shoulders carrying heavy loads of merchandise. They walked singly along the track and passed him with eyes averted.

"From the summit of the ridge a beautiful view of sea and beaches was disclosed, while near at hand, nestled on flat ground close behing the sand, was a sizeable village."

His eyes were definitely not functioning well when he saw three black objects ahead. With difficulty he brought them into focus, and saw there were three men coming towards him.

"As they came closer I felt certain that they were Chinese, and it was obvious that they were very interested in me."

As he walked straight towards them, they appeared to be very much on guard and separated to stand around him. His appearance could hardly have reassured them. Clothes in filthy tatters, with a ten-day's growth of beard covering his gaunt and haggard face.

He motioned towards the village and said, "Any Japanese down there?" One the men answered: "No, No Japanese long time."

He felt immensely relieved, and attempted to engage in a conversation that no-one understood, and it was only through hand-waving and gestures that he was able to inform them that he had come from Kowloon. They understood and seemed to appreciate this, then gave him the message that he should proceed to the village ahead which was called Taimuisha. They could not accompany him as they were apparently had a task, and one of them opened his jacket to disclose half a dozen grenades slung round his chest.  If appeared that they were guerillas heading out on a mission.

He set off on his way alone, and walked with some trepidation steadily to the main pathway right into the village. Women and children bolted indoors at the sight of him, but in a central square under a large tree, a number of men gathered round and smiled at him. They had no language that they could converse in, and feeling weak he sat down on a wooden bench under the tree.

As news of his arrival spread, it looked as though the entire population had gathered round.

A voice asked in English:" Where you go ?" to which he replied:"Waichow"

Someone heard the word 'chow' (a slang word for food) and he called out "Wantchee chow?"

He nodded vigorously, for there was nothing he needed more than food to sustain him.

"Immediately they escorted me across the street to a small teashop, and while all those who could not enter gathered round outside, I was given a pot of Chinese tea and four sweet scones. It was the most delicious food one could possibly imagine."



Goodwin was at last able to relax, as the most difficult and dangerous period of his escape was over. He was now among friends, and he would have assistance for the rest of his escape.  First from the Kwangtung Peoples' Anti-Japanese Guerilla Unit, then from the BAAG, the RAF and from various military oraganisations.   It would take several months for him to arrive safely back in his homeland, New Zealand

His whole book is well worth reading, and I can recommend "Escape from the Japanese" as a very good read. His story is interesting and his style of writing is relaxed and enjoyable.

When we left Goodwin, he was on his way to the British Army Aid Group, the BAAG. Elizabeth Ride has kindly looked through her collection of BAAG material and sent copies of the documents that mention him.

  • 4 Aug 44: 4. HONGKONG
    A British P.W., Liut. GOODWIN, H.K.R.N.V.R. has escaped from SHAMSHUIPO Camp and has been brought out to WAICHOW by the Reds - This is terrific news, and may open up complete new vista on MI9 in HONGKONG. He should be up here in about a fortnight. I am longing to interrogate him - it will be completeley up to date news. Since he is an offr, he was obviously in ARGYLE St. Camp and was then transferres to SHAMSHUIPO. BAAG ref 18/416/E. (119.PDF)
  • 3 Sep 44: "Lt. GOODWIN arrives today 3 SEP 44 from WAICHOW. We gather he is in poor physical state. What arrangements are you making for him in INDIA? Please signal reply to this. BAAG ref: 18/441/E (48.PDF) The author is Major Minshull-Ford, BAAG Intelligence officer at the time (even though it is nominally from the Commandant).
  • 22 Sep 44: "Lt. R.B. GOODWIN, N.Z.R.N.V.R., who escaped from SHAMSHUIPO Camp on 17 JUL 44, is now recuperating at KUNMING. A detailed report will be made upon completion of interrogation. BAAG ref: KWIZ No.67. (8.PDF)
  • 16 Aug 44: The escape of LIUT CHOR GOODWIN from SHAMSHUIPO has acted as a great tonic to MI9 work in the HONG KONG area and his arrival here is awaited wth great interest, for on the information he brings out will defend entirely the whole trend of our work, e.g., if we can be definitely sure that P.O.W. are sent from HONG KONG to JAPAN or FORMOSA in small junks, the possibility of running pirate junks along the coast becomes of great interest and value. BAAG ref: B/127/44 (56.PDF) A report written by Col. Ride.
  • ?? ??? ??:  10 FUTURE P.W. ESCAPE OPERATIONS.
    (b) Escape.
    The reason for initiating escape operations is no longer to gain valuable bodies for the war effort but purely and simply to save lives, hence individulal escapes again become advisable. Neither does the reprisal argument against individual escapes any longer hold good because it would appear that there is a big chance of many of the P.W.'s ultimately being lost whether or not there is any attempt to escape. The repercussion after Lt. GOODWIN's escape (R.M. 387 et seq; J.G. 285 and 548 et seq) were not as drastic as one might have expected and it would appear that escape morale is again in existence, among certain P.Ws at any rate.
    The mass escape plan as suggested by the FORMOSANS is definitely NOT worth considering in its present form.
    BAAG ref: ??? (78.PDF)
  • 23 Sep 1944: Following from 76 dated 19th Sep grade B2.
    (a) Many British, some Americans Latin Americans Russians and Persians interned in S'PO as possible repercussion of GOODWIN's escape as these people were parcel senders.
    (b) Lieut HAZELL and NISSIM H.K.R.N.V.R. were detained for 3 days and tortured after G's escape.
    BAAG ref: ??? (101.PDF) The source of 101.pdf is Advanced Headquarters, Waichow, with intelligence supplied by Agent 76 (probably a new agent, not the original 76 who brought the POW lists). 
  • 20 Oct 1944: The BAAG write a report of Goodwin's comments about the conditions in the POW camps. Here is the first section which gives his background:
    [Goodwin] was 1st Lieutenant of M.T.B.10 2nd M.T.B. Flotilla HONGKONG from 8 Oct. 41 until he was wounded in the thigh on board on 21 Dec. 41. At the time of the surrender of the Colony, he was in hospital in the University buildings. The Japanese put the hospital under Japanese guards, but in most cases the patients were not interfered with in any way. He was moved around from the University hospital to QUEEN MARYS Hospital, thence to R.N. Hospital, and finally to STALBERTS Convent where ho was discharged and sent to NORTH Point P.W. Camp on 25 Feb. 42. Ha remained there until 18 Apr. 42 when all naval personnel were moved to other P.W. camps, the officers to ARGYLE St., and the men to SHAMSHUIPO Camp. On 11 May 44 he was moved to the offrs camp in SHAMSHUIPO where he remained until the date of his escape.
    You can read the full report at: