The year begins with the Colony's British community obsessed with a war that's confined to far away places. The Hong Kong Daily Press headline announces apparently promising developments on the Greek front; but in the top right hand corner there's a reminder of another war, one much closer to home - an article about 50,000 Japanese soldiers massed in Canton, and a report of a possible attack on Hong Kong as part of 'a new Axis move in Europe' and a Japanese assault on French Indo-China. Later in the paper readers will encounter a stirring New Year's statement from the China Defence League:
From guerrilla strongholds on hill and plain China's defenders look upon a world in flames....Only China, more people will admit now than ever before, stands between themselves and a sudden violent extension of war in the Pacific.
The signatories are T. V. Soong, Madame Sun Yat-sen and the League's tireless secretary, Hilda Selwyn-Clarke, the radical wife of the Colony's Director of Medical Services.
But Hong Kong life apparently goes on pretty much as normal. The HKDP for today reflects the Colony's vigorous sporting scene. Page 7 also includes details of the Hong Kong Cricket Club's squad - Lindsay Ride captaining - for Saturday's game against Craigenower. Page 2 reports that the University is to play a 'Past' vs. 'Present' Cricket Match, while Scotland's footballers have pulled off a Christmas Day surprise against the 'all-powerful Chinese eleven' in the semi-final of the Sunday Herald International Charity Cup.
There's plenty of irony in store in the unlikely event that anyone still had a copy of the paper a year later. Page 5 reports a talk to the Rotarians 'weekly tiffin meeting' by American writer Emily Hahn on her experiences in the air raids on Chungking, the war-time capital of the Chinese Nationalists - Doctor Arthur Woo, a radium expert, is in the chair. Miss Hahn likens the experience of sheltering through an attack to that of a man who doesn't like music forced to listen to a symphony concert. Professor Robert Cecil Robertson proposed the vote of thanks. On the same page is a long account of how to send mail and parcels to Prisoners of War.
The next page features letters from Major Dorothy Brazier thanking those whose kindness has enabled the residents of the Salvation Army Home For Women and Girls to enjoy such a happy festive season, and a similar thank you from Gerald Gardiner of the St. Andrews Fellowship to all those who enabled his organisation to throw such a splendid Christmas party - 'complete with decorated tree and Santa Claus' - for the babies at Muriel Dibden's Baby Home in Fanling.
Of course, to those who'd been living in Hong Kong for four years and more, very little was really normal. The streets were full of refugees, most of them having fled the fighting in south China - and there would be over half a million of them when the Japanese attacked, about 13,000 living in Government camps, and many of the rest crowding into already bursting tenements. Almost 4,000 of the Colony's women - or at least the 'pure European' ones - had been evacuated to Australia in the summer of 1940. Eurasians were turned back at Manila because the Australian Government was determined to keep their country 'white', and the Chinese population was rightly indignant that a scheme largely paid for by their rates ignored them almost completely. There was a vocal 'Batchelor Husbands' movement, demanding the return of their wives - and, more reasonably, complaining about the blatant unfairness that meant you could see some of the most prominent women in the Colony carrying on as normal - Hilda Selwyn-Clarke, for example. Most of the men left behind were spending their weekends training with the now misnamed Volunteers - conscription for the British was introduced in July 1940 - while a multi-ethnic team of Air Raid Precaution Wardens was preparing to marshal citizens into the controversial new shelters, by force if necessary- 'under no circumstances are other than the improved canes permitted' (HKDP, page 11).
Whatever the future held on this first day of 1941, the present was abnormal and unsettling.
Evacuation and conscription: Tony Banham, Not The Slightest Chance, 2003, 6
All else: Hong Kong Daily Press, January 1, 1941, as cited