INTERNED - DECEMBER 1941: View pages | Gwulo: Old Hong Kong
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INTERNED - DECEMBER 1941: View pages

We were dancing in the Rose Room of the Peninsula Hotel in Hong Kong on the evening of Saturday the 6th December, 1941.  During the evening an announcement was made on the loudspeaker, recalling all service personnel to report to their headquarters immediately.  It was an ominous sign that war with Japan was close at hand.

At 5:30am on Monday, the 8th December, my husband, who was the Hong Kong Airport Manager at that time, was 'phoned informing him that war with Japan was imminent, and that he was to go to the airport at once.

At 7am the Japanese bombed the airport which I could see from our flat, and I felt there and then that I must be a widow, for I could not visualise anyone escaping death in that terrible bombing.  But my husband did survive and stayed there until the Japanese took Kowloon.  (The mainland part of Hong Kong).   He then went over to the island of Hong Kong, where he gave his services to the Auxiliary Transport Service, where he was constantly bombed and shelled.

((The following text is undated:))

With my friend Carmen Hailstone, I was at my First Aid Post at the Kowloon Cricket Club attending to the wounded.  Eventually, the Japanese advanced to the next street to us, a terrifying thought.  Suddenly Cliff Large, 19 years old, came dashing to rescue his mother who was with us, telling us that we must get away at once to Hong Kong island.  I had our car parked outside, so we all jumped in and Cliff drove us down to the ferry wharf, crashing the car as badly as he could (so it would be useless to the Japanese), before crossing over the harbour which was being bombed and strafed all the time.  We reached the other side safely, where we were given refuge in Sir Lawrence Kadoorie's Office, and had refreshments.  In the meantime, Sir Lawrence was arranging a post that we could go to.  Finally, we were posted to St. Joseph's College where we stayed until the end of the war in Hong Kong, on 25th December.  Throughout that time we were constantly bombed and shelled, and in fact received the last stick of bombs before the colony capitulated.

((The following text is undated:))

We lost so many friends during the war in Hong Kong; one of them was stepping out of his front door when he received a direct hit from a bomb.  A very dear friend of mine, who was one of the sweetest and gentlest souls one could ever meet, had a dreadful death.  She was looking after the wounded at a makeshift hospital at Repulse Bay. ((Kathie has mixed up two different events. Her friend was at the temporary hospital in St Stephens in Stanley, not at the Repulse Bay Hotel.))  Amongst many others, her husband was brought in.  When the Japanese captured Repulse Bay, the soldiers came into the hospital and bayoneted every bed.  She tried to save her husband by putting him under the bed, but to no avail.  Dr. Black, a well known and delightful man, was in charge of the hospital, and had a bayonet put through him straight away.  Then all the nurses were raped so badly by all the soldiers that their bodies were burnt for fear of reprisals by the officers.

My husband had survived, and came with a jeep immediately the war was over and took Mary (an old friend of the family's) Carmen, and myself to the Gloucester Hotel which was inundated with people.  There we stayed with little to eat and no fresh water as the pipes had burst.  We awaited the arrival of the Japanese who entered the town the next day.  We had no idea what they were going to do with us, but soon found out.

((The following text is undated:))

We had to assemble in the street, carrying whatever we could, and were marched along until we came to the real Chinese area.  We then turned left down a road where the Chinese brothels were located.  As we were at the end of a long line of people, our brothel was not completely full, so that the first three floors were "business as usual".  We were crammed onto the top three floors of this dreadful old building and six of us, (Mary and her husband; Alec, my husband;Owen, Carmen, a friend called John Robertson, and myself) were put into a tiny room with a stone floor, a broken ceiling with rats looking down on us, and a Chinese wooden bed with its mattress covered in blood.  The six of us tried to wedge ourselves on the bed with legs over the side for the first night, but it was too uncomfortable, so we decided that the men would have to sleep on the floor on the mattress, while we girls, being afraid of the rats, would attempt to get what sleep we could on the bare wooden boards.  There was only one toilet for the whole floor (50 of us), and we wouldn't use it during the night, so we had to use a tin spittoon, illuminated with a torch, on the wooden bed, just above the heads of our menfolk, to relieve ourselves before going to sleep.

We were not given any food by the Japanese for four days, but we were fortunate in the fact that Alec had a wonderful Chinese clerk in his office who came with a few tins of food for us; he most certainly risked his life.

Occasionally a Japanese soldier would come into our room with a bayonet pointed at us, but would decide to leave us.  We were allowed to stretch our legs on the roof for half-an-hour, but then that had to stop in case the roof caved in!  We were in the brothel for about ten days.

((The following text is not dated, but other accounts put the move to Stanley on this day:))

We were then ordered out onto the streets and marched to the sea wall, where the oldest looking launches were awaiting to transport us to Stanley Peninsula, where we would be out of the way.

Again we were at the end of the line, and while we waited for our turn to be put on a launch, I saw a Japanese soldier beat a Chinese to death with a bamboo pole.  He seemed to be thirsting for blood, and I was terrified that he would do the same to Owen.  There was another Japanese soldier who had a golf club in his hand, who was making for an old Chinese woman who appeared to be in a rice queue.  He swung his golf club with all his might at the back of her head and she fell like a stone.  Thank goodness we moved on after that and were put on the launches, herded like cattle.  We reached Stanley, where it was a "free for all" to find somewhere to live.

Stanley consisted of the prison warders' quarters, several bungalows, and a college.  Five thousand of us had to find accommodation!  We five (Carmen, Mary, Alec, Owen, and myself) found a room with a mother, father, and daughter, in what was known as the married blocks, which had been occupied by the European staff of the prison, and was really the headquarters of the camp where all the administration was carried out.  There was little or no furniture anywhere, as the whole place had been looted, so we had to sleep as best we could, all eight of us.  There was a double bed in the room and the parents and daughter slept in that; I slept on the floor on a none too clean mattress with Alec and Owen, Mary and Carmen did their best to share a camp bed.

While we were all trying to settle ourselves, an old piano was found in one of the flats, which was brought down onto the lawn outside, where someone started playing all the old songs that everyone knew, so all joined in a "sing-song".  The Japanese could not understand this; we had been defeated, and here we were singing for all we were worth!

((The following text is undated:))

The garages were turned into kitchens to cook the rice and spoonful of vegetables we were allowed twice a day.  We were given firewood for cooking purposes, but no containers, so that dustbins and zinc baths had to be used.  Our food was served from these containers using a ladle, but rice sticks, and some were getting a good deal more than others, and with such great hunger, this could not be tolerated, so a utensil was found which would smooth off the top of the rice, giving everyone the same amount.  We collected hot water for drinking from the garage kitchens; a huge black kettle hung over a fire.  Carmen used to say "Break your head, but do not break the flask!"  (There was no means of replacing anything.)  When some bright spark put up a menu "Honeymoon Salad", we knew we were getting "lettuce alone"!

Each of us was supposed to have received a Red Cross parcel, once a month, but we only received three over the three years and eight months that we were in the camp, as the Japanese did not recognise the Geneva Convention.  (It was quite astonishing what a difference those parcels made to the functioning of the body, as far as women were concerned.  The greater number had stopped having any periods and became enormously fat, but within a couple of days of receiving a Red Cross parcel, the periods returned.  For me, personally, my periods never stopped and I became very thin, weighing about five stone ten pounds.  I had to try to cope with the situation by cutting up flour sacks!)

((The following text is not dated:))

The Japanese were adept at causing us worry, as each week they would come down on us with a new rule, making life even more difficult.  The last straw was when they told us that we could only have water once in five days!  They would not give us any containers to enable us to store a little extra water.  We had to fill the bath, and be on our honour only to take a ladle full each day.  As there were eighteen of us in a flat with only two toilets (which could only be flushed with clean water once in five days), we kept the dirty water to throw in the toilets that was anything but hygienic.  The Japanese did allow us to go down to the beach to collect salt water, some of it being used for cooking, and some we drank mixed with fresh water added, which worked well as a purgative!

We had a so-called canteen run by the Japanese in which one could buy some tinned goods and other ordinary commodities at high prices.  We sold whatever jewellery we had to buy anything that would augment our rations, and would cook them with our rations on a fire in the grate.  (I sold my diamond and sapphire watch for four pounds of sugar!)    The only fuel we could find was the beautiful parquet flooring of our room that burnt extremely well.  We would cook banana skins to eat just to give us some bulk.  We were fed twice a day, at eleven in the morning, and again at five in the evening, consequently we were always very hungry.  I remember seeing Owen trying to pick up a grain of rice that had been spilt; he lost a tremendous amount of weight.  He never complained, although I knew that he was always hungry, being a big man.  There were those who went around the dustbins searching for whatever crumbs that they could find, but they had let themselves go and looked like coolies.

The Japanese produced their own news bulletins, which we made a point of reading for it gave us information as to where the war zones were and how the fighting was progressing.  The Japanese would give themselves away by reporting that the Americans had claimed that another island had been captured, but of course this was quite untrue!

((The following text is not dated:))

After six months the Americans were repatriated, as the Japanese had made arrangements with them to have their own national repatriated.  With my last ten dollars, I remember buying a pair of sandals from one of the American internees before they left, which I felt was a bit mean.  (The men wore sandals made from old car tyres.)  Our hearts sank as we saw the Americans going to the ship that was lying in the bay below, ready to take them back to their homeland.

Everyone was so keen to get news and several internees had brought radios into the camp with them, secretly hiding them where they didn't think the Japanese would find them.  But on the 10th July, 1942 (a date we can never forget), they pounced on the camp and several internees were taken away to where a huge grave had been dug.  They had to kneel down, and were decapitated with a sword.

((Kathie wrote this account some fifty years after the events, and not surprisingly some of the dates and events have got merged together. The actual timeline was:

((The following text is not dated:))

Eighteen months later the Canadians left, and once again our hearts ached to be going with them, but as Hong Kong was a British colony, we had to remain until the end.

When the Canadians had left, it gave us a little more space for living in, and the five of us; Mary, Alec, Carmen, Owen, and I moved into a slightly smaller room, but at least we didn't have to share it with anyone else, and we had some privacy.

((Following text is not dated:))

We made our own entertainment during the years of captivity using makeshift props.  Mosquito netting was soaked with a variety of medicines from bright mercurochrome to methylene blue, and made into frilly skirts.  Jam tins were saved for helmets and crowns, with silver cigarette paper stuck on cardboard to resemble armour and shining swords.  Japanese guards watched these performances, and didn't entirely approve of the mosquito netting.  Rehearsals could not go on for too long, as it was so weakening.

Betty Brown, ((sic., actually Betty Drown)) Radio Hong Kong's pianist, provided music on the camp piano, composing and improvising for all the ballet shows, pantomimes, and vaudevilles which we put on at intervals.   Carol Bateman, from Shanghai, put on the ballets; we were fortunate to have her...she gave Margot Fonteyn her first ballet lessons!  The Japanese would not allow us to sing the National Anthem, but we were permitted to sing Rule Britannia!  (We sang it with gusto accenting the never, never.)  Perhaps we were allowed to sing it because the Japanese greatly admired the British Navy, and modelled their own on it.

((Following text is undated:))

Owen, my husband, was taken out of the camp one morning at nine-o-clock, by the Japanese for interrogation concerning the airport, and, as the day wore on, and he did not come back, I was in a dreadfully anxious state and wondered whether I would ever see him again.  Thankfully, at nine-o-clock at night he returned, but I will never forget that day.

((The bombing of Stanley Camp happened on the 16th of January, not the 17th as written below.))

On the 17th January, 1945 the whole camp was bombed by the Americans who mistakenly thought it was a Japanese only camp.  It was really terrifying as they flew low with bullets coming from all sides, smashing windows and doors.  We threw ourselves on the floor and hoped for the best.  One bomb actually hit one of the bungalows, in which there were fourteen internees who were all killed.  Many were badly hurt in the raid.

((Following text undated:))

There were so many rumours about the ending of the war that in the end we didn't believe that it was true, until the Japanese gave us each a toilet roll!  Henceforth it was called the Victory Roll!  The next two weeks were quite extraordinary; the Japanese had surrendered, but there was no sign of the Allies.  Dropping the Atom Bomb on Japan ended the war immediately, and our navy had to steam up from Australia to take over.  In the meantime our police force took charge of running the Colony.  It was absolutely wonderful when the sailors came into the camp...they looked so enormous to us who were so weak and lean!  No sailor came empty handed; for the first time there was toothpaste, soap, etc.  Carmen and I decided to walk up to the camp gates which we had not seen for the duration of the war.  It was guarded by one of our own sailors, so we asked him if we could just walk out; and he replied: "You may walk wherever you please".  Freedom at last, and what joy!

Lots of food was sent into the camp including meat, but our stomachs had become so weakened and small that the meat made us very sick.

((Following text undated:))

Some Australian mine-sweepers were sent to pick us up and take us back into Hong Kong harbour.  There was a slight swell as we boarded and I am a bad sailor so I lay on the deck.  Presently a big, burly, Australian sailor came along with a pillow and a blanket, and put my head on the pillow and covered me with the blanket; it touched my heart.

Once in the harbour we were transferred onto a British Aircraft Carrier, where all the officers had given up their cabins to the women, and the petty officers to the men.  We set sail for Colombo; the first part of our voyage to London.

((Following text undated:))

As we were steaming through the China Sea on a glorious night, the Captain asked all the ladies to go down onto the flight deck and dance with the sailors.  As I simply adore dancing, I did not need a second invitation, and we danced the whole night through, being thrown from sailor to sailor.  They were marvellous dancers as only the sailors who loved dancing turned up.

((Following text dated from other accounts of arriving at Colombo:))

On reaching Colombo we were billeted with such a lovely young couple in their beautiful home, which we almost felt afraid to enter!  Our bedroom was so pretty, and I couldn't get over the fact that we would be sleeping in beds that night.  On the dressing table were all the cosmetics we could wish for, and in the wardrobe two dainty dresses that fitted perfectly.  (I had not worn a dress since before camp days.)  I cried over such kindness.  We spent about a week in Colombo before being put on the P&O Chitral bound for London.

((Kathie finishes her account with a look back over the war years:))

Doctors who were prisoners of war themselves, stated that "in all camps the individuals who kept fittest were those who worked hard, and kept themselves cheerful and occupied, while those who sat around grumbling and pitying themselves lost weight and condition rapidly".

I am of an optimistic frame of mind and kept myself going with the thought that in three months time it would all be over!  It didn't matter if it wasn't; I'd just start another three months, and kept this up until the end.  I tried to keep up appearances, and managed to get some telephone wires (covered with hard rubber), from a friend who was in the telephone company.  These were cut into small strips for me to curl my hair.  It was not easy to sleep in them, as it was difficult to find a comfortable position for my head.  Our men shaved every day whatever state the razor was in; those who didn't soon became tramps.

Had it not been for the Atomic Bomb, one and a half million of our men would have died, as the Japanese would have fought to the bitter end.  The Chinese have rather a good saying: "If you get on the tiger, you must be prepared to ride him".  (You have to be able to take the consequences of what you start!)

There are no winners in a war; there is nothing but heartache and tragedy.  I don't hold any grudges against the Japanese; let each one of us be kind to one another and pray for peace in the world.

AUGUST, 1995