Category Archives: Conference

On the 80th Anniversary of the Battle of Hong Kong: 8 – 25 December 1941

By Mary Monro, author of Stranger In My Heart

The Pacific War started for the Americans at Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941, but it was a few hours later and on the other side of the international dateline that Britain woke to war in the Far East and a threat to its Asian territories. The battle of Hong Kong, though key to events in China and ultimate victory, is a largely forgotten part of the Pacific War.

Japan’s strategic objectives 1941

Churchill felt that it would be better for Hong Kong to fall into Japanese hands – to be recovered later – than to fall into Chinese hands, from which it might never be reclaimed. He certainly didn’t expect that Hong Kong could be held and refused to ‘waste’ extra resources on its defence. After receiving a request in January 1941 to strengthen the garrison, Churchill noted:

‘If Japan goes to war there is not the slightest chance of holding Hong Kong or relieving it. It is most unwise to increase the loss we shall suffer there…. I wish we had fewer troops there, but to move any would be noticeable and dangerous.’

Oliver Lindsay, military historian, commented:

‘For political and moral reasons Hong Kong had to be defended. Many Chinese would have been seriously discouraged from continuing their weary and interminable struggle against Japan, if Britain had lacked the courage and determination to resist and had abandoned the colony to the mercy of the Japanese before they had even declared war. Such a sordid act of appeasement would also have shaken the neutral Americans, who were then strengthening their forces in the Pacific while critically assessing Britain’s determination to fight on.’[1]

The Allies in Hong Kong were woefully unprepared for a land-based attack and were poorly supported at every level. They were 15,000 men against over 50,000 Japanese, who were battle hardened from four years fighting in China. The garrison included Hong Kong Chinese, two Indian battalions, two newly formed Canadian battalions, British forces and the Hong Kong Volunteer Defence Corps. Initially the Japanese air force knocked out the Allies’ capability for air defence and reconnaissance, before ground troops began to push south from the Chinese border. The lack of air cover combined with few troops defending the mainland meant that the Japanese made rapid progress through the New Territories. The mainland was lost by 13 December, following a last stand at the Devil’s Peak peninsula.

Map of the Battle of Hong Kong, from Stranger In My Heart (Unbound 2018) by Mary Monro

After refusing a Japanese demand for surrender there followed three days of bombardment of the Allied positions on Hong Kong Island. General Sakai demanded surrender again on 17 December after this punishing shelling but, again, the British refused. Fierce fighting raged for the next few days as the Allies obstinately refused to admit defeat. The Governor of Hong Kong, Sir Mark Young, eventually surrendered the colony to the Japanese on Christmas afternoon, 1941. In his official despatch General Maltby, General Officer Commanding explained:

‘The deployment by the enemy of such superior forces and armament, the exhaustion after sixteen days of continuous battle with no reliefs for any individuals, our vulnerability to unlimited air attack, the impossibility of obtaining more ammunition for the few mobile guns I had remaining, the serious water famine immediately impending – these were the factors which led to the inevitable conclusion, namely, that further fighting meant the useless slaughter of the garrison, risked severe retaliation on the large civilian population and could not affect the final outcome.’[2]

Subsequently known as ‘Black Christmas’, the surrender of Hong Kong cost the Allies around 11,000 captured as well as 2,287 killed/missing and 1,300 wounded during the battle. Japanese casualties in the fighting numbered 1,895 killed and around 6,000 wounded.[3] For the captured, this was the start of a long struggle for survival. Thousands died, either in Hong Kong or when they were shipped to Japan, with over 800 PoW fatalities on the Lisbon Maru ‘hell ship’ alone. Almost a quarter of Far East PoWs died in captivity. Very few men escaped from Hong Kong, where Japanese troops patrolled the colony and it was thought that the local Chinese might hand you over to the enemy. Besides, disguise for Caucasians was impossible and China was an unknown territory, with poor transport links and the Japanese army advancing across it. Only 33 men ever escaped from Sham Shui Po camp, for example, thankfully including my father.

Not that he ever talked about his experiences. It was though he, like so many veterans, kept a vow of silence after the war. The annual commemoration of the Great War (later known as the First World War) with two minutes’ silence is a ritualised version of the night vigil, when the dead were watched over by their surviving comrades. The purpose was to protect them against mutilation, looting or being eaten by scavengers; to guard their honour rather than as an act of remembrance. Perhaps survivors’ lifelong silence, particularly from the First and Second World Wars, served to guard the honour of their dead and their own scorched youth. But the families of veterans are left with a tantalising blindspot, a frustrating ignorance of what their loved ones did, achieved, suffered and felt.

On this 80th anniversary, what are we commemorating and how does the act of remembrance help us in our lives today? For those of us with personal connections to the Battle of Hong Kong, we can take this opportunity to collectively remember our loved ones, even if their specific role in the battle and its aftermath remain unknown to us. We are deeply indebted to Prof Kwong Chi Man of Hong Kong Baptist University for creating a commemorative, interactive map of the battle and its actors at https://digital.lib.hkbu.edu.hk/1941hkbattle/en/index.php. There you can see details of battle infrastructure, the chain of events, unit movements and biographies of individual combatants, pausing, zooming in and learning more as you go. It is an extraordinary achievement and a resource to be treasured.

Sample screenshot of Prof Kwong’s interactive map

More generally we can think about the values and behaviours that the Allied forces expressed. Britain, its empire and its allies had been at war for two years by this time and was facing an unknown, imperilled future. The opening of a new theatre in the Far East meant stretching scarce resources and, potentially, the loss of many more lives. It was widely accepted in Hong Kong that the fate of the colony was doomed and yet they fought to the bitter end.

These men were fighting with commitment, determination, camaraderie, fortitude, conviction, resilience and courage, in defence of freedom and in defiance of inevitable defeat. Like their colleagues in Europe they fought against tyranny, aggression and greed. They lost colleagues, friends and family and often suffered terribly themselves and yet they fought on. The Hong Kong civilian population suffered too but did not turn against the Allies, often supporting them at risk to their own lives. The battle was a joint effort, with Allied troops of every colour, culture and creed united against a common foe. Local defeat was the price of ultimate victory, with the China theatre keeping half the Japanese forces busy for the rest of the war.

We need this same spirit of teamwork, cooperation and willingness to make sacrifices in our approach to present day global issues such as the Covid pandemic and the climate crisis. This is a moment in history to stand together and to value our common characteristics above our differences in order to achieve a lasting security. Let us remember and honour that, with those brave people who fought for us lighting the way.


[1] Oliver Lindsay The Lasting Honour: The Fall of Hong Kong 1941 (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1978), 201

[2] General Christopher Maltby The London Gazette, 27 January 1948

[3] according to Kennedy Hickman http://militaryhistory.about.com/od/worldwarii/p/World-War-Ii-Battle-Of-Hong-Kong.htm. This tallies with Gen Maltby’s Despatch about the Battle of Hong Kong.

UPDATE: 7th International Researching FEPOW History Conference Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine – June 2020

In the light of the growing worldwide uncertainty around the Coronavirus outbreak and its potential impact specifically upon the U.K. over the coming months, as well as in response to some concerns expressed by our delegates and speakers, the Researching FEPOW History Group has regrettably decided that we need to postpone the conference scheduled for June 2020. We have deliberated long and hard over this decision and we also consulted with our hosts, the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine.

This news is of course very disappointing for everyone, especially in this 75th VJ Day anniversary year. However, with the growing uncertainty and anxiety expressed by some of the conference participants who have existing health concerns, we have little choice. We do not wish to put anyone at risk and we cannot run the conference without the required number of delegates and – of course – our team of expert speakers.

The good news is that the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine (LSTM) have agreed to host the postponed conference in June 2021 (the precise dates to be confirmed). We very much hope that everyone who had planned to attend the conference in June 2020 will be able to join us next year. More news will be posted on the Researching FEPOW History website https://fepowhistory.com/blog (https://fepowhistory.com/blog/)/ as soon as we have the details for 2021. Emails to all the delegates and speakers have been sent.

We would like to thank everyone for their support and understanding and we very much hope to see you in Liverpool in June 2021.

-The organising team of the Researching FEPOW History conference

THE 7TH INTERNATIONAL FEPOW HISTORY CONFERENCE – Registration Open

IMPORTANT UPDATE HERE

Making and marking memory: widening perspectives on Far East captivity

5 – 7 June 2020, Liverpool

Co-hosted by the Researching FEPOW History Group (RFHG) and the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine (LSTM), our 7th international conference will focus on the stories and creativity that sustained prisoners, internees and forced labourers throughout captivity. We will also look at the made, recorded and preserved memories that subsequent generations have drawn upon in their own responses to this rich and moving history. In doing so, we will look for different perspectives and new voices to shed light on all that is yet to learn about – and from – the experiences of captivity, internment and forced labour across Southeast Asia and the Far East.

Taking place during the 75th anniversary year of liberation, and in conjunction with LSTM’s Art of Survival exhibition, the conference will encourage delegates to think of the objects, poems, artworks, and stories that resonated with prisoners and enabled their narratives to endure for many decades post-war.

Located at The Liner Hotel and LSTM buildings in the beautiful city of Liverpool, speakers already confirmed include: award-winning novelist Mark Dapin, acclaimed history writer Damien Lewis, representatives from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, British Red Cross, Imperial War Musem, the WarGen history project plus many more family researchers, academics, photographers and writers.

Hope to see you there!

 

Save the Dates: RFHG Workshop and Conference

Two FEPOW research dates for your diaries….!

Captivity, internment and forced labour across the Far East during the Second World War.
Institute of Historical Research, London

10 June 2019

If you would like the chance to speak at our next workshop, please send a 200 word summary of your proposed talk to researchingfepowhistory@gmail.com by 25 January 2019.

  • Talks are welcomed from relatives of former prisoners/internees, undergraduate and postgraduate students, academics, cultural institutions and museums, as well as members of the wider public.
  • Registration will open in January 2019!

For more details, see our website: https://fepowhistory.com/call-for-papers/

The 7th International FEPOW History Conference
Liverpool, UK

5 – 7 June 2020

What you need to know:

Co-hosted by the Researching FEPOW History Group (RFHG) and the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine (LSTM), our next conference will take place during the 75th anniversary year of liberation in conjunction with LSTM’s Art of Survival exhibition.

  • An exciting line-up of speakers already confirmed, including acclaimed history writers, historians, novelists, photographers, museums, libraries and archives.
  • Places will be limited — be ready for booking to open in Spring 2019!

Keep an eye on https://fepowhistory.com/ for our guest blogs, and future announcements!

Workshop, Leeds 2018: The Future of FEPOW Research – Call for Papers

RFHG are delighted to be co-organising a one-day workshop, to be held at the University of Leeds on 19 March 2018. We really interested to hear from potential speakers – particularly anybody working in ‘new’ or understudied geographies and themes related to the experience (or memory) of captivity across Southeast Asia and the Far East during the Second World War.

 

Future Memories: Where next for Far East Prisoner of War studies?

19 March 2018

University of Leeds

in partnership with Researching FEPOW History Group (RFHG)

CALL FOR PAPERS

Drawing on the broad theme of captivity across Southeast Asia and the Far East, this one-day symposium aims to be a ‘seed’ event for larger projects planned to mark the 75th anniversary of VJ Day (2020).

Proposals are invited for 15-minute papers covering, but not limited to, the following topics:

  • New perspectives, including transgenerational memory, perpetration, reconciliation, marginalised or ‘secret’/‘forgotten’ histories, influence of the Far Eastern experience on subsequent POWs in Korea and Vietnam
  • Geographies and communities, including lesser-known geographies of captivity, military POWs, romushas, civilian internees, ‘comfort’ women
  • Impact and engagement, including educational initiatives, exhibitions or memorial work, the role of third-sector organisations in developing impact,
  • Making and marking memory, through life-writing, fictional depictions of Far Eastern captivity, creative responses, transnational connections

Submission

Please submit 250-word abstracts plus a 50-word biography to Emily Sharp (futurememories2018@gmail.com) by 4 February 2018. We will notify you of acceptance by 15 February at the latest.

Postgraduate and early career bursaries

To support the work of early career researchers in the field, a limited number of bursaries will be available from RFHG to contribute towards the travel expenses of PGR/ECR speakers. Please note in your submission if you would like to be considered for a bursary, and why you think you should be offered one.

For all enquiries, please contact: futurememories2018@gmail.com

You can also download the Call for Papers here.

Legacies of Captivity: last few places remaining!

We are absolutely thrilled with the response to the conference launch…However, it does mean that we only have a few places  remaining for the 6th International FEPOW History Conference.  It’s all taking place in Liverpool, 9 – 11 June 2017…

Just some of our confirmed speakers include:

Jeya Jeyadurai (Changi Museum, Singapore)

Jon Cooper (TAAP)

John Cardwell and Emma Nichols (University of Cambridge)

Anne Wheeler (A War Story)

Stephen Walton (IWM)

Frank Taylor (Borneo tours)

Rod Beattie (Thai-Burma Railway Centre)

Flora Chong (ALPHA Education, Toronto)

It’s sure to be fabulous – don’t miss it!!! To make sure of your place, you can download a registration form here.

Conference places filling fast!

There are still places available for the 6th International FEPOW History Conference – but do send in your reigstration form as soon as you can!

A  great range of international experts will be covering Singapore, Thailand, Borneo, exciting new digitisation projects, the effects of PTSD on veterans and their families and much, more more – we really do hope that you can join us for what promises to be another inspiring, moving and fascinating weekend.

‘For me a lot of the value in the RFHG conferences have been the small snippets of information & new ideas where to look – as well of course building relationships over time with people’ (Walter Tuttlebee).

Legacies of Captivity, June 2017 – New Speakers Confirmed

We are delighted to announce that several new speakers have been confirmed for next summer’s 6th International FEPOW History Conference, held in conjunction with the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine.

These include:

  • Professor Sears Eldredge (speaking via film on Borneo POW and Internee camp entertainments)
  • Dr John Cardwell and Emma Nichols (Archivist and conservator for University of Cambridge’s Wellcome Trust funded Changi digitisation project)
  • Stephen Walton (Senior Curator, Imperial War Museum)

Places are filling up, so please do book soon – and certainly by September! You can download a booking form here.

 

Call for postgraduate bursary applications

The Researching Far East POW History Group (RFHG), in partnership with the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine (LSTM)

6th International Research Conference: Legacies of Captivity

9 – 11 June 2017

Call for Postgraduate Bursary Applications

What was the personal impact of captivity in the Far East during the Second World War? How did survivors rebuild their lives post-liberation? And where do families share and preserve their stories today?

Combining medical expertise with the most current research, this three-day conference will be aimed at: families of former POWs and civilian internees; professionals in the heritage sector; researchers, writers and the general public. Events running throughout the weekend will encourage audiences to reflect on the myriad ways that histories of captivity in the Far East have influenced individuals, families and communities.

We are inviting postgraduate researchers to apply for a bursary that will cover their full conference delegate fee.

There are three bursaries available. To apply, please submit a one-page (A4) proposal explaining how the themes of this conference relate to your current research, and the benefits to your project/career development in attending.

Note that successful applicants will need to arrange their own travel and accommodation – the bursary covers delegate fee only.

Completed proposals should be emailed to Dr Lizzie Oliver: hrieo@leeds.ac.uk by 5pm on 8 July 2016

Applications will be reviewed by Professor Geoff Gill, Dr Lizzie Oliver and Dr Bernice Archer.

Informal enquiries about the conference, or your application, should be made to Meg Parkes MPhil meg.parkes@liverpool.ac.uk or Dr Lizzie Oliver: hrieo@leeds.ac.uk.

Download the Call for Applications here