Barbara Anslow's diary: View pages | Gwulo: Old Hong Kong

Barbara Anslow's diary: View pages

((I've included this with Barbara's diary, but it's actually an extract from a letter she wrote. She'd describing the trip from Hong Kong to Manila, along with all the other women who were evacuated from Hong Kong. Over to Barbara:))

Below is part of  an account of the Evacuation I wrote on 23rd July 1940  to my friend in England during the time we were staying in the Philippine Islands awaiting onward transport to Australia:-

..'Since Italy entered the war, we in Hong Kong had been more or less on our toes, but for all that, we weren't exactly prepared for such a hasty evacuation.  On Friday night, 28th June, we received sudden orders to be ready to embark for Manila on the following Monday morning.

Olive's job and mine were open to us if we cared to stay, but our staying depended on my father's permission, and he wouldn't give it. We were therefore in the first boatload - families of service personnel.  We were on one of the huge Empress boats that had carried some of the Anzacs (Empress of Japan).  Olive has met THE man at last ((Sam Brown)), and they have a verbal engagement, but I'm not supposed to tell anybody, so don't mention it when you reply.  Of course, they can't get married til this Japanese business has been settled. 

It was typhoon wather, it rained all the time, the ship was crowded, and we had to queue up for meals.   We Redwoods were lucky enough to be in a cabin - but that had had extra bunks fitted.  There were hundreds of less lucky people in camp beds set up in every covered part of the ship - lounges etc.

I felt bad most of the time but wasn't sick until we had actually arrived in Manila, then I made up for all previous deficiencies.  I shall never tired of waiting in queues again: of the 23 days we have been adventuring, I think quite 5 of the first 10 were spent in waiting - waiting for meals, to have passport business transacted, waiting for vaccinations to be O.K'd, and waiting to be told where to go next. 

A terrific downpour greeted us in Manila, and continued to pour over us for the next 10 days. We were loaded into little army trucks and despatched to a Fort (Fort MacKinley) some miles out of Manila; here we were allotted to barracks.  We werent able to get out except for meals, which we all had in a separate barrack.  Here we had to queue up again, tin mug and tin plate in hand, and balance same as we filed past the tubs from which we received a dab of this and a splash of that. 

There were 80 of us in our particular bedroom, everything was beautifully clean and new, but we had nothing to do all day, and nowhere to go except sit on our camp beds, although this could be alternated by a precarious 5 minutes on the narrow window-ledge.  Everything was splendidly organised, and everyone has been more than kind.  The Americans have surpassed themselves, there wasn't a sour face among them.  We had a free movie at the barrack cinema one morning which made a little change. 

After 3 days, 100 of us were moved to a Women's Club in Manila itself.  There were about 16 of us in our particular room, where a dining table took up half the space.   We hadnt an inch to move in, our camp beds being even closer together than at Fort McKinley, but we could see how wonderful the Red Cross really are. Large parcels of brand new camp beds, sheets and pillows were coming in when we arrived, and every one set to undoing things.   Strange people (American) from 'around the corner' or 'just across the road' kept popping in to say hello, to see in what way they could help.  We had little privacy.. it began to wear every one down because we couldn't get out, being marooned on account of terrible floods.  We only got out once. 

A few days later, some volunteers were wanted to transfer to a sugar plantation, an hour's journey out of Manila.  I had visions of some ramshackle place with very un-modern conveniences etc., but we - (Mum, Olive, Mabel, me, and our friends Mrs Penney and Bettine) - volunteered, so off we set (in a posh car provided).  I've revised my ideas of sugar plantations.  This one is called Calamba Sugar Estate, and is like some super country Club.  There are cottages dotted here and there, all on stilts on account of the rainy weather.

We eat at the Club House on the verandah and have 4 or 5 course meals, marvellously cooked; there;s a super library, which we are allowed to use.  Not far away there's a swimming pool, and bowling alleys and all sorts of games; Tennis too.  There are about 30 evacuees here now, but we have been lucky enough to have the guest house of the Big House of the Estate, and is made of Nipa palm, even the floor is woven.  It's beautifully furnished.  The country around is very like England but there are tropical trees and flowers here and there.  It's luxuriant. We play tennis by floodlight at night.  There's a cinema here, a post office, and a shop at which you can buy anything.

The other day the Americans at the Plantation drove us out to their coconut groves.  There, we drank milk from coconuts without the first large husk taken off.  This morning we were taken round the desiccating factory.  Nothing is wasted except the milk. 

Another batch of evacuees arrived 5 days after us, but girls (stenographers etc.) were being allowed to stay in HK if their bosses said their jobs were still open.  The Manila people have been grand, they allowed so many of the evacuees to broadcast from Manila to Hong Kong.   Tonight some of the Hong Kong men are broadcasting to us.  We are very depressed at the thought of going to Australia - it seems such a long way away from everywhere - about a fortnight's journey from Manila.  There have been many times  when most of us have been very unhappy, but one thought has made us hold together - at least we had no fears throughout our evacuation.  Nothing to worry about in these skies (unless USA comes into the war.)

We are all very sceptical about Australia, yet to break away from the evacuation scheme means Government washing hands of us completely, and at present they are paying our expenses.  We are supposed to be leaving for Australia next Sunday - that is what the press says anyway, we have so far had no definite embarkation instructions.   If, as a family, we have any choice, my father has cabled us to choose Sydney.  It seems so strange to be writing ike this, on such a subject as going to Australia, just as if it were an everyday occurrence.

As far as we know, there's no immediate prospect of our getting back to Hong Kong. Later, perhaps, some people seem to think, but no one really knows.  We were evacuated, on the face of it, lest the Japanse blockade should cause serious food shortage. 

(Little did I know, when writing that letter, that my father had died suddenly that day; 3 days later my Mother, sisters and I arrived back in Hong Kong to sort out affairs - and remained there, so were caught up in the Jap attack.)

Churchill says if Japs and USA come to grips, Britain will follow USA 'within the hour.'

I'm a bit afraid that Xmas won't come.

Reply from Home Government about evacuation – no chance of people coming back yet.


The rumour today is that the Japs are coming on Saturday.

London news (radio) says that tanks are massing in the Canton area. Blackout. I am frightened.

Newspaper says Japan is calling up her reserves.

The Band came in from camp to play in two Canadian Battalions which have just arrived on grey ship and another..

Arthur and Sid arrived about noon, and we went to King's - 'Buck Privates'.

Once again Japs look like business, and they can't call it off every time.

Mary Taylor phoned me about a possible new job, so at 5pm I went to 3rd floor, Hong Kong Bank Building, and met Elsie Cholmondeley, tall and fair, very blue eyes, employed there (Stabilization Board of China.)  I was there until 7pm and everyone still working - wouldn't like that continuously.  Mr Fox interviewed me, he sprawled over a table... said he couldn't take any one till he got more room. ((I seem to think he was American, and I dont think he was in Stanley... none of the people on Stanley list named Fox sound like him. Perhaps he got away before 8th Dec, he certainly spoke about going 'on a trip' when he interviewed me shortly before.))

Arthur came in from camp unexpectedly, and we had tea in Cecil Hotel.

Mum started work at Mr. Addis Martin's today.  ((Mum had been interviewed by Mr Addis Martin the previous week, she had applied for job of a live-out supervisor of his baby daughter Jean then 7 months old.  Mrs Addis Martin had cancer and died when Jean was about 5 months old.   There were amahs in the house to do all the housework, washing, etc., but Mr A M wanted  a motherly figure to supervise Jean's care.  Mum loved the job from the start, she went there daily.))

Jap/USA situation isn't looking any better, it really doesn't seem as if any one can bluff any longer, so I typed a long letter to Margaret ((a friend in UK)), whatever happens here I want her to know I'm happy these days.

2 of Patsy's pups taken to Mrs Hogg today.

In morning, Mr Bevan (Deputy DARP), Mrs. Cook (stenographer) and I went in Bevan's car to Bacteriological Institute to have blood tests.  They won't take the actual blood until it is wanted.

All to 9.30am Mass St Margarets.  We still seem to be doing well in Libya, but I'm so afraid we may be crowing too soon.

China Fleet Club dance.  Some Canadians there.

News from Cairo is rather more cautious.

Asking myself "What am I waiting for?"  i.e., starting new story.  In a way, it's the political situation, but I will begin tomorrow morning.  

Mum and I went shopping tonight, I bought shoes for HK$12.50.

Arthur phoned, he might get in on Sunday, but they will be 'manning' up to Christmas from now on.

Arthur rolled up at 5pm.  We had tea at home, then I went to office. (Although Saturday there was a Defence Exercise, we were working shifts and I was due for evening 6-11pm. I told Tony Cole of predicament, and he said he would do my shift for me!  Arthur and I took Mum to see 'Sun Valley Serenade'.

Because of Exercise, so there was blackout and no trams or buses during 'pretend' raids, so we had to walk most of the way to Central and back because air raid sirens blew from time to time.  Saw a plane drop a 'pretend' parachute.

Mum on practice duty as an ANS (Auxiliary Nursing Service) nurse at Jockey Club (designated as a war-time convalescent hospital.)   They had real convalescent patients brought out from main hospitals - in this cold weather.   Sid was in from camp yesterday but had to go back ready to play at camp church services - riding round on back of lorry with piano.

Arthur had to leave early today to play at the Officers' St. Andrews do.  He gave me 'Human Being' by Christopher Morley for my birthday.

Topper says we are as near war now as we have ever been, that Japan with her militarist Govt. can't very well back down now.   I don't know what to think, but I'm afraid - because I recklessly bought myself chocolates today at $2.30... perhaps as a treat lest it's the last of treats.

My 23rd birthday.  Mr Bendall (Public Works Dept. official) gave me a Roget's Thesaurus, Olive and Topper stockings; Mabel - eau de cologne; Sid  - hanks; Mary (Taylor) eau de cologne.

New girl started at work, Lily A. Medina (Portuguese).

Malaya mobilised. Even Mr Cole thinks there will be war this time. ((The Mr Cole referred to here is not Tony Cole, but Lieutenant George Reginald Cole, R.N.))  Even if this place (HK) isn't involved by 5th Dec. when the R.S. Band ((Royal Scots Band)) should be in, I don't expect.. can't see that they will be allowed in under present circumstances.

Government advising further evacuation.  Only hope seems to be that Japs now say they will keep on talks with USA in hope that USA will change viewpoint - that isn't thought likely.

Libyan battle still on.

Began writing new story 'Vacation in Hong Kong.'

Lbyan news isn't so good.   Germans 36 miles from Moscow.

HMAS 'Sydney' presumed lost, having sunk an armed raider merchantman, then no news.  700 men, apparently no survivors.

Japs now want to resume talks with USA 'until the last moment.'

Suggestions are that Japs must continue talks for 2 weeks, by which time their war preparations will be completed.

Mary and I went to Peggy (Wilson)'s house - St Joan's Court, Macdonnell Road, (Mary lodged there).

I like Lily Medina but I'm sorry because she's so pitifully poor.

Jap and USA talks evidently proceeding.

Battleship 'Prince of Wales' is in Singapore.

Olive and I each sent $5.00 to local Bomber Fund in lieu of Christmas cards. Perhaps we should do the same for presents, but I'm loath to make that sacrifice.