W J Carrie's wartime diary | Gwulo: Old Hong Kong

W J Carrie's wartime diary

Book type: 
Dates of events covered by this document: 
Mon, 1941-12-08 to Sat, 1945-09-22

After hearing Barbara Anslow speak to the Hong Kong Society last year, I contacted Barbara to see if she remembered my grandfather, William (Billie) J Carrie and to let her know that I have his own wartime diary that he started on 08/12/1941 when Hong Kong Island was first shelled by the Japanese. I am happy to say she instantly remembered him from their days in Stanley Internment Camp.

This spurred me onto digitising my grandfather's diary. The diary was written in the form of letters intended for his wife Beatrice (Bee), and covers c.245 pages until his liberation. At the time, initially he did not know where Bee or my mother Joy or uncle Ian were. 

My grandmother (Beatrice Carrie dob 16/01/1892), mother (Beatrice Joy Carrie, known as Joy, dob 04/02/1924) and my uncle (Ian Carrie dob 22/03/1926) were evacuated from Hong Kong to Singapore. I don’t know the date of this evacuation nor their subsequent evacuation from Singapore to the UK. I do know they were in Singapore when it was under attack because my mother told a story of jumping into an air raid shelter/ditch whilst being bombed and getting a millipede caught under her blouse and being badly bitten/stung. Family folklore has it that they were on one of the last boats out of Singapore. For part of the voyage they were tracked by a Japanese submarine and had to wear their lifejackets and stay as silent as possible 24/7. The ship had an Indonesian crew and the story was that at some point the propellers were sabotaged. This necessitated lying offshore either at Durban or Port Elizabeth for a repair to be carried out. They were not allowed to dock. They returned to the UK and spent the rest of the war living in Edinburgh where my mother studied medicine and my uncle went to the Edinburgh Academy and then on to study medicine as well.

After Stanley camp was liberated my grandfather returned home to Edinburgh. He and Beatrice returned to Hong Kong until he retired sometime around 1953. They came back finally to Edinburgh but then moved to live in Dumfries nearer their son Ian who was in general practice in the town. In retirement he attended Dr.Sircus, a gastroenterologist at the Eastern General Hospital, for treatment of his legacy health issues from his time in captivity.

He did not talk much to me about his time in Stanley. He did however tell about making marmalade and peanut butter from the contents of the Red Cross parcels. Prior to captivity he had buried valuable belongings e.g. family silver and a large stamp collection in the family garden on the Peak, but these had been discovered and looted whilst he was in the camp.

Sadly the diary mentions cemetery visits, which were to visit the grave of their first born son Tony. He was born on 23/12/1920 and died on 24/12/1920. He is buried in Happy Valley cemetery, see https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/152502951/tony-carrie. Beatrice didn’t attend Tony’s funeral. Whether she wasn’t physically capable of being present or whether due to custom at the time I do not know.

I hope this helps give readers some background information on my grandfather, W J Carrie. I've also uploaded a newspaper cutting about him at https://gwulo.com/comment/48575#comment-48575

Comments

Hello, David --

Thank you for sharing your grandfather's story.  As you probably know, he is mentioned a few times in Barbara Anslow's Tins Hats and Rice, which I am currently reading as part of my research on U.S. Navy airstrikes on Hong Kong during the Second World War.  There were several incidents at Stanley involving U.S. Navy aircraft. The most famous (and deadly) of these is the bombing of Bungalow C on January 16, 1945.  Another incident that may have involved the U.S. Navy (the facts of this incident are unclear) occured on July 25, and a U.S. Navy patrol bomber sank a small Japanese ship just offshore from the camp on August 14.  May I ask if your grandfather's diary makes any reference to these air attacks?  I am gathering as many eyewitness accounts as possible, and your grandfather's viewpoint would be invaluable. 

Best,

Steve Bailey

.Hello Steve

My grandfather does discuss the air raids on 16th January and 25th July in his letters / diary and below are the comments that he made:

16/01/45 (Tuesday) – “I've been trying to get out - up to St. Stephens since yesterday morning but we have had almost continuous air raids and so we are confined indoors. We had a very large one today and for the first time I am sorry to say two of our planes were shot down - I only saw one man too come down by parachute - perhaps the other was killed. As I wrote on Tuesday the planes returned and as the Japs were firing at them from inside and just outside the Camp they went for the gun positions. They say also that there was a salvage ship in the bay which they tried to bomb (there is a half sunk tanker there). Well one bomb fell short and hit our Bungalow C and 14 internees were killed. It is a terrible tragedy - Oscar Eager is one, and Balfour of the Cadet Service, Hyde Lay and his wife (her old mother was in hospital and escaped) Stopani Thomson who married my old friend "Ginger" - five women in all and nine men. I have had my hands full since I heard about it on Tuesday - I had all the arrangements to make - yesterday morning was very unpleasant - Miss Davies and a lot of sisters helped to sew the bodies up in sacks. They were buried in one big grave. I was absolutely dead tired last night but I slept like a top and feel ok today. I am to get an extra ration tonight to make up! – something to look forward to. We had a quiet day yesterday T.G. , and so we were able to get on with the work. Perhaps they’ll be back today. There are all sorts of rumours about the damage done in town – it must have been pretty heavy with, I am afraid, many casualties among the Chinese. Gloucester Building is said to have been badly hit – I hope not – but it is more or less Jap HQ. Well I won’t write more just now – I am so sorry about Oscar Eager – I was very fond of him and have known him for 30 years.”

I understand that one of my grandfather’s duties in the camp was to be in charge of burials.

29/07/45 (Sunday) – “ No news yet – we must just hang on. We had a nasty business one day last week – a plane went over and dropped half a dozen bombs or so none of which exploded. But one went through St. Stephens and ploughed along through several rooms. It was I believe an American built plane of an obsolete type dating before 1939, some of which were sold to China and other countries. It had no national markings. We are convinced it is some Japanese stunt for propaganda purposes – it might of course had very serious consequences – as it is one man has a nasty scalp wound from falling debris – he was in one of the Bungalows near St. S. which was also hit. We feel it is all rather sinister.”

I hope these comments will be of both use and interest to you.

Kind regards

David

Hi David --

Thank you for sharing the January 16 and July 25 entries from your grandfather's diary.  They make for fascinating reading.  Your grandfather's observations match up with eyewitness accounts from diary entries and memoirs written by other Stanley internees.  The two American aircraft he mentions were TBM Avengers piloted by Lt. Richard L. Hunt and Lt. Richard C. Scobell of the aircraft carrier USS Hancock.  The two planes collided over Hong Kong Island, possibly as a result of enemy antiaircraft fire.  Sadly, of the six men aboard the two aircraft, only Lt. Hunt managed to bail out, and he then died in a POW camp.  Your grandfather's description of the July 25 mystery seaplane as an obsolete prewar American model is particularly intriguing.  The identify of this aircraft has never been determined--was it a Japanese plane engaged in a propaganda stunt, as so many internees believed?  Or was it another friendly fire incident involving an Allied aircraft, presumably U.S. Navy?  Nobody knows, though I am trying very hard to find out!

Thanks again for sharing your grandfather's diary entries!

Best,

Steve