23 Jul 1944, Escape from the Japanese | Gwulo: Old Hong Kong

23 Jul 1944, Escape from the Japanese

Book / Document: 
Date(s) of events described: 
Sun, 23 Jul 1944

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.