The First Shall Be Last

Submitted by David on Fri, 06/28/2019 - 14:33

This is a valuable resource for anyone interested in Stanley Internment Camp, and Hong Kong during the Second World War.

It's a thick book, over 600 pages long, with the bulk of the content coming from John Charter's diary of events. Every new diary we read gives new viewpoints on events, but this diary also stands out for the level of detail recorded. John writes well, making it an easy read as well as an informative one.

John's family had known of the diary for many years, but despaired of ever being able to read it. His son Anthony explains:

Sadly, I never read my father’s journal fully until after he died, not because he did not want me to read it, but because the journal was written in such a tight manner, as paper was in short supply in Stanley Camp, that when he ran out of space, he wrote all around the margins, backwards and upside down, so that I thought it would be almost impossible to follow! However, my friend Bill Lake, a Hong Kong war period historian, decided he would take on the task of typing the whole journal out, and unravelling the sequence, which has, for the first time enabled me to read it comprehensively. I am very grateful to Bill for his painstaking work transcribing my father’s journal, for without his dogged determination it would never have seen the light of day.

Bill says the transcription project took over 2 years! We're all in Bill's debt for unraveling the original tangled text.

As well as John's diary, the book also contains:

  • additional notes and explanations from John Charter
  • extracts from the memoirs of Yvonne Charter (John's wife)
  • and many photographs from Bill Lake's collection

The book's ISBN number is 978-1786233967 and its full title is:

The First Shall Be Last
The War Journal of John Charter and Memoirs of Yvonne Charter
Hong Kong 1940-1945
Stanley Civilian Internment Camp

Copies of the book are available to order online from

Book type
Diary / Memoir
Dates of events covered by this document