09 Nov 1942, John Charter's wartime journal

Submitted by HK Bill on Tue, 05/04/2021 - 12:09

Today has been quite a gala day; there have been processions but no decorations. Our ‘comfit parcels’ have been distributed! And the processions consisted of the willing ‘able bodied men’ who carried the parcels from the godown to their various blocks. A prize giving wasn’t anywhere near it, and when we opened our parcels in our room we were like a lot of little kids at Christmas! An additional and unexpected thrill was to find that all these parcels came from London, England!  Mine was packed in Bermondsey. Good old Bermondsey say I! The parcels were beautifully packed in cardboard boxes, the boxes being packed up in lots of 4 and 6 in sacking and marked ‘British and Dominions Prisoners of War, Far East, c/o South African International Red Cross Assn, in transit, Lourenco Marques’. ‘Suisse’ and ‘Geneve’ came into it too somewhere and one or two other words, but I wasn’t really concerned with the covers!

A case of 6 boxes was pretty heavy (I made sure I got a case of 4!), but we got them all onto the lawn and they were then distributed by Blocks. The contents of the parcels were the same in general although different in detail. For instance, the types of tea were different, also jams, puddings, tinned meats etc. and we had great fun comparing tins. Even so, the parcels were grouped in two categories because one type contained a packet of fruit drops which the other lacked! Married couples had one parcel of each kind and single people had those with the sweets, and I think it worked out like that pretty completely. There are still about 2,000 parcels left and these, I hear are to be distributed one between two, just before Christmas. I am sure it would have given the folk at home a kick to see us opening the parcels! Any way, we are very grateful to them and the IRC (and the Japs too) and we feel we are not forgotten in a far and distant land. Now I will tabulate the contents of the parcels:

4 x 3 oz tins of Sugar:  2 x 10 oz tins of Tomatoes: 1 x 10 oz tin of Meat Galentine 
1 x 10 oz tin of Spiced Meat Roll: 1 x 14 oz tin of Beef and Vegetables: 1 x 14 oz tin of Steak & Vegetables
2 x 8 oz or 12 oz tins of Bacon: 1 x 12 oz tin of Marmalade Pudding: 1 x 12 oz tin of Apple Pudding
1 x 12 oz tin of Raspberry Jam (Morton’s) : 1 x 8 oz tin of Golden Syrup: 1 x 12 oz tin of Creamed Rice !!
2 Large tins Nestles Condensed Milk: 2 x 3 oz tins Cheese: 1 x 3 oz tin of Shrimp Paste
2 x 8 oz tins of Margarine: 2 x 2 oz packets of Tea: 2 x 4 oz tins of Plain Chocolate (York & Meltis)
1 x packet Lime Drops: 2 x 8 oz tins of Peak Freanes Biscuits: 2 x Tablets of Assorted Soap.

It is a very well selected list of foods, and as most of the contents of the tins have been specially vitaminised the nutrient value will be very high. The chocolate is very much appreciated because we know it has not been available in England for the ordinary civilian since war began. The one tin that has raised a laugh is the ‘Creamed Rice’. Fancy, sending rice all the way from England to Hong Kong, when we have been eating practically nothing but rice for the last 10 months. Still, I have heard some people have already opened their tin and say it is delicious, the creaming part having been carried out with real cream. I suppose it is really like a creamy rice pudding. Also, these comfit parcels have been packed up by the British Red Cross for distribution amongst British prisoners of war in Germany who would appreciate rice. They are dated April, May and June of this year, so in all probability the tins contain fresher food than any of the tins still left in Hong Kong.

I saw a long message scratched with a pin or nail on the outside of one box. Amongst the many sentences were: “There’ll always be an England”. “Germany for a while” (obviously intended for a prisoner in Germany). “Chins up”, “I am slim, blonde and blue eyed”, “Write soon you lovely boys”!  I hate to think how disallusioned the fair originator of the message would be if she knew that in all probability the parcel was given to a scrawny, sun-baked empire wallah. I hope she would not just have written “Rats”.

4,420 of these parcels were sent to this camp. A parcel was given to all the remaining Americans and also to all the Dutch community although the latter have been receiving regularly Y80 worth of food per month in extras from town as the Dutch Government has made the necessary arrangements with the Japanese. This still leaves some 2,000 parcels and they are to be distributed, I hear, shortly before Xmas.

The food that has come in bulk has all come from Australia. We have heard a story that the HK evacuees in Australia obtained permission to hold a 3 day flag day collection to raise funds to send the food, and the story goes that the sum they aimed at was collected in the first 3 hours of the first day! Well, if that is so it shows a generous spirit in Australia. This bulk food is an absolute godsend. The official list is as follows:

Bully Beef in 12 oz & 8 oz tins      40,175 lbs
Meat & veg with peas in 16 oz tins   32,640 lbs
Dried fruit (Pears & Raisins)         9,000 lbs
Sugar                                50,000 lbs
Cocoa                                 3,640 lbs
Vitamin Caramels                         30 cartons
Clothes (Cardigans, shirts & vests)     120 bales
Felt Hats                             1,400 hats

This means that per head we each receive about 17 lbs of Bully Beef (34 lbs for Y and me together!), 13½ lbs of meat & veg; 4 lbs dried fruit; 20 lbs sugar; 2 lbs tea; 1½ lbs cocoa.

It has not been finally decided how to distribute these goods. Dr MacLeod, the Camp Health Officer, has said we should be eating a minimum of 25 grammes of protein per day while in fact we have been getting about 15 grammes. He suggests we should be issued with sufficient tins of meat to give us 35 grammes per day to the end of the month and then enough to bring up our daily protein supply to the requisite 25 grammes. Sugar is to be distributed at 3 lbs per person per month. I think this is quite a good idea.

Date(s) of events described