Tag Archives: Hong Kong

Aunt Pat and the Hong Kong Civilian Internees

Account introduced by John Reynolds

This account was written by my Aunty Pat, army nursing sister E.G.M. Reynolds. Born in 1903, she trained as a Queen Alexandra’s nurse and first saw WWII duty in 1939 at No.5 Casualty Clearing Station in N.E. France. With France having fallen, her next posting was to India where she nursed for five years until ordered in late 1945 to leave for Hong Kong.


Nurse Reynolds (Aunt Pat), in the tropics, 1930s (© J.Reynolds)

At the close of the Japanese war I was matron of a very large hospital in India (2000 beds) and was given 24 hours warning to pack and hand over my hospital and proceed to Madras. There I collected 11 nursing sisters QAIMNSR [Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service (Reserve)] and TANS [Territorial Army Nursing Service] and embark on HMT Highland Monarch (Royal Mail Lines). We proceeded to Hong Kong via Rangoon and Singapore to collect as we thought service ex-PoWs [prisoners of war] and were told that they would be all men.


On arrival at Hong Kong we found that all the service men and members of QARANS [Queen Alexandra’s Royal Army Nursing Service] and QAIMNS had already left and that we were to bring home all the civilian internees, women and children and a few men.


The ship was bare and comfortless, a very small saloon, very few cabins but many large dormitories. The O/C troops was a very young and shy lieutenant colonel aged 23. The SMO [Senior Medical Officer], a Pole who spoke little English, and the captain and ship’s company – rather tough types who had very little to do with women in an official capacity – the captain was quite terrified at the thought of 1500 women and children on his ship. The four stewards on board said they just could not cope.


A conference was held on board at which the ADMS [Assistant Director of Medical Services] and some Air Force officers from Hong Kong attended. During this conference I was called to the captain’s cabin and told that, from that time on until we arrived in the United Kingdom, I was to take complete charge of the women and children and the O/C troops would be in charge of the men.


I then collected the 11 nursing sisters and told them my story and they started work at once making the dormitories as comfortable as possible – the Australian Red Cross were most helpful with extra food, clothes and blankets, and even provided toys for the children. The goods arrived by the ton and I had two holds to store them in – the ship was short of such things as milk, tinned fruit, sweets and chocolate, honey, lime juice and had no baby food at all. These were all provided by the Australian Red Cross and more baby food was waiting for us at Singapore and Colombo on our journey home.


Five nursing sisters did dormitory work and five hospital work and changed duties half-way home – I did all the catering and Red Cross, and the usual matron duties – I was also responsible for the women and children for life-boat drill.


The chief steward was a charming man and was most kind and cooperative. We worked out menus a week ahead and gradually got the passengers on to ordinary diet, from small four hourly meals to ordinary breakfast, lunch, tea and supper, and were very satisfied at the progress they made – there was little sickness among the passengers, except the poor souls who were ill when they came onboard as a result of starvation and hardships during captivity, and only one of these patients died. On arrival in the United Kingdom we were able to let all but 10 go to their homes. The 10 went into the local hospital and I learnt later they all recovered.


The passengers could not understand that we were nurses as we were wearing khaki and they had not seen women in khaki before they had been taken PoW, so most of them called me the Chief Stewardess and the sisters Stewardesses – but before the end of the voyage we were Matron and Sisters.


By the time we arrived in Colombo I had found out (identified) that those women and girls who were fit enough to help look after the young children, and we had the port side of a deck fitted and boarded as a nursery. Two women and two girls did one-hour in the morning and one hour in the afternoon or evening each in the nursery. The carpenter made a seesaw, a swing and a wonderful rocking horse. These were in great demand, and at night after the children had gone to bed many of the grownups used to have great fun in the nursery.


Later on some of the women volunteered to help with the dormitories and by the time we had arrived in Aden we had morning school for the very young and morning and afternoon school for the bigger children. An Anglican nun gave religious instruction to some of the children every day and the RC Padre also gave daily instruction.


We used to find small portions of food hidden in all sorts of strange places, especially under the mattresses and under chairs etc. These poor folks could just not realise that there was food for them at the next meal and these small packets were a habit of the internment camp – they still happened until the end of the voyage.


On arrival at Port Tewfik (Egypt) we had to disembark our flock in batches of 50 at a time to an enormous centre where they were given good warm winter clothes which were all new and fashionable. The women and children were delighted with their first new clothes for many years. The many young children at first did not take kindly to their strong shoes but when they did it was hard to get then to remove them for bathing and bed.


After eight weeks we arrived in Southampton and had a wonderful reception, bands playing, relatives reuniting and so on. And then the Customs – I asked a customs official to get me through quickly and he thought I was an ex-internee, said I looked well after my long period out of England, marked all my boxes and wished me a happy journey and a good holiday with my loved ones. As I had been overseas for five years, I did not disillusion him about not being an internee but was very grateful he asked no questions about my luggage.


The 11 nursing sisters and me had a most charming letter from the directors of the Royal Mail Line for all the help we had given them with the women and children on the voyage.


I must say I enjoyed every moment of the voyage and still hear from many of the ex- internees.

Hong Kong at Dawn. Painted by artist unknown and given to Matron Reynolds by Winifred Griffin C.M.S.(Church Missionary Society), one of the internees. The note which accompanied the painting has be reproduced below.

To the Principal Matron

Red Cross Hospital on SS Highland Monarch

Dear Miss Reynolds

You have been so very kind to us all on the ship caring for so many of our needs and indefatigable in your manifold services. I have no way of thanking you save by way of this little sketch of H.K. from which you came all the way to fetch us.

Thank you and all your staff for you care of our sick folk and especially of Sir Atholl.

Wishing you a joyful home coming.

Yours sincerely

Winifred Griffin      C.M.S.  (Church Missionary Society)

Colonel Reynolds (Aunt Pat), 1950s (© J. Reynolds)

Postscript

My aunts cousin, Miss E.B.M.Dyson ,also a QA nurse was stationed in HK at Bowen Road BMH at the outbreak of the Japanese War. She was a POW until late 1945 and remained a QA until the late 1950s when retiring as Colonel E.B.M.Dyson  OBE RRC

Did Allied Strategy Prolong FEPOW Suffering?

By Mary Monro, author of Stranger In My Heart (Unbound, 2018)

We naturally focus on the long, terrible suffering of the FEPOWs. But what if there could have been an earlier end to the war? This is the question that struck me when I uncovered my father’s part in trying to liberate the PoWs in Hong Kong.

Major John Monro RA escaped, with two colleagues, from Sham Shui Po PoW camp in Hong Kong in February 1942, making their way 1500 miles across China to the wartime capital at Chongqing. In August 1942 he was made Assistant Military Attaché there, where his chief role was liaison with Col Lindsay Ride, founder of the British Army Aid Group (BAAG), a humanitarian and intelligence organisation supporting the Hong Kong PoWs.

My father also had close links with US Air Force Chief of Staff, Col Merian Cooper, who served General Chennault of Flying Tigers fame. Cooper had long been a pilot and he was also a film maker, creating and co-directing King Kong. He flies the plane that kills the beast in the final scene.

Images courtesy of Mary Monro

In autumn 1942 the Japanese seemed to be an unstoppable force and competing strategies were being considered by Allied Command. General Stilwell, Commander of Allied Forces in China, was an infantryman and land war proponent. Chennault was a forward thinking airman who believed that retaking control of China’s airspace and major ports would enable the Allies to attack Japanese shipping, disrupt their supply lines and ultimately attack the Japanese islands themselves.

Part of Chennault’s analysis was the intelligence supplied to him by BAAG, giving him confidence in his plan to retake Hong Kong. My father saw an opportunity to liberate the PoWs as part of this plan, knowing that they were now too weak and sick to escape. He put his idea to Cooper and Ride and they hammered out the details.

At the Casablanca Conference in January 1943 the air war strategy was approved and reported in the press – an interesting read for the Japanese! Chennault and Stilwell travelled to Washington for the Trident Conference in May 1943, where they put their detailed and opposing plans to President Roosevelt. He was in favour of the air plan, as was Churchill, who famously said ‘going into swampy jungles to fight the Japanese is like going into the water to fight a shark.’

The air plan won the vote and Roosevelt wrote a directive for the War Department. He showed it to Chennault to check that it included everything he needed, but omitted to sign it, ‘FDR’. The War Department was headed by land war and Stilwell supporters, who ensured the error was never corrected. Chenault never received the planes, pilots, ammunition and fuel that he needed. The land war in Burma went ahead, with huge suffering and loss of life. Had Chennault’s plan been properly resourced, perhaps the war in the Far East would have ended early. Allied resources would have redeployed to Europe, shortening the war there. As many as 9 million lives might have been saved.

Mary’s book, Stranger in my Heart, please click the image to go the book’s website.

Search for Relatives of BSM John Carley, 965 Defence Battery, Royal Artillery

by Brian Finch

A pre-war football medal awarded to John Carley has been found and the finder would like to return it to the family.

John Carley served as a Battery Sergeant Major with 965 Defence Battery, Royal Artillery, in the battle for Hong Kong in December 1941.  Philip Cracknell’s article about this battery can be read here

Following the surrender on Christmas Day 1941 all the defending forces were incarcerated in prisoner of war camps.  On 25 September 1942 1,816 prisoners of war were taken from Shamshuipo camp and put on an armed Japanese freighter, the Lisbon Maru

This ship set sail on 27 September, also carrying Japanese troops and not marked to show that it had pows on board.  It was torpedoed on 1 October by an American submarine, the USS Grouper.  During the 24 hours it took to sink, the pows on board were confined to the holds with the hatches battened down and with no access to food, water, fresh air or toilet facilities.  Since many of the men were suffering from dysentery the stale air soon became foul and suffocating, some men died during the night.  The condition in all three holds where the pows were confined were atrocious, but those in the third hold had the worst time.  This was where the gunners were held, and as their hold was filling with water they had the unenviable task of manning an inadequate hand pump to keep the ship afloat.  In the stifling atmosphere the men could hardly breathe and were only able to pump for a few minutes at a time.  As one man became exhausted another would take his place.  This went on all night until by the early hours of 2 October all the men collapsed out of sheer exhaustion.

Shortly after this the men in the second hold managed to break out and open all three hatches. Most managed to get out and jump into the sea to save their lives, but they were then shot at by the Japanese with rifles and machine-guns.  Tragically, in the third hold, where the gunners had worked so hard to save the ship from going down earlier, the only ladder broke, and most of the men then went down with the ship.  John Carley was almost certainly one of those brave men who kept the ship afloat for so long and then perished as they went down with the ship.  It is certainly known that he died in the sinking.  He was one of the 828 who tragically died in this terrible incident.

Bryher Bell has contacted Philip Cracknell to say that he has a 1936 football medal for John Carley when he was serving in Aldershot.  He would love to be able to trace the family so that he can return this medal to them.

If anyone knows of any relatives or descendants of John Carley, please can they contact Philip Cracknell at philip.g.cracknell@gmail.com to let him know.

On This Day

30th August 1945

  • Hong Kong is reoccupied by the United Kingdom after a British battle squadron led by HMS Indomitable arrives.
  • General MacArthur lands in Japan and sets up a temporary headquarters in Yokohama.

Liberation of Stanley Camp, Hong Kong – Naomi’s Story

Excerpts from internees’ recollections of liberation from Stanley Camp, Hong Kong  1945

Composed by Dr Bernice Archer

Naomi Walton Smith – Young single woman in Stanley Camp. H.K.

(Interview with Dr. Bernice Archer)

On August 14th the Japanese told us to assemble. The commandant of the camp then came down from his headquarters and announced that the Japanese had surrendered.

Delight was an understatement.

We were allowed to move freely around the camp for the next few weeks and rations increased enormously. There was a general display of Chinese colours and even a Union Jack and the American Flag. The Japanese took exception to this premature display as the British Navy still had not arrived to release us. Those few weeks were the longest of my life. We were told not to go to town because there was a lot of rioting and looting. We could not believe it would take the British so long to reach H.K.

When the British did finally come into camp the National Anthem was played.

On 30th August the British Navy anchored in H.K. Harbour.

I remember being told that it was my turn next to be taken back to H.K. I was billeted at the Gloucestershire Hotel and was allotted a room which I shared with someone who had also been interned in Stanley.

 “I have no bitter feelings towards the Japanese and I have been back since to visit. I lived in such terrible uncertainty that I just never knew what was going to happen to me. We all had such an uncertain life. One lived from day to day… All I want to do now is to forget everything to do with it”.

Liberation of Stanley Camp, Hong Kong – Marjory’s Story

Excerpts from internees’ recollections of liberation from Stanley Camp, Hong Kong  1945

Composed by Dr Bernice Archer

Marjory Fortescue – a young married woman in Stanley Camp H.K.

(Interview with Dr. Bernice Archer.)

There was a lull for several days and then suddenly planes came over – not Japanese planes – all the Japanese had left the camp. Next thing we know planes coming over and dropping crates of food – not all that carefully but as carefully as they could! All the children were terrified because they had been bombed before by the Americans (accidentally) and so they were frightened. Luckily the crates fell open and there was food inside… but still nobody came.

We were not allowed out of the camp as the Colonial Secretary (Franklin Gimson) did not want to have responsibility of women milling around H.K. not knowing quite what was going to happen. So, I went straight from Stanley onto this minesweeper and then onto a boat and onto this aircraft carrier and straight to Ceylon, so I never went to H.K. proper immediately after the war till I went back a year later.

We stopped on the way home in south Jordon and were given clothes. When we landed in England we went by a train from Southampton to London and Adrian (her 4-year-old son) saw a swan and said “is that a cow?” … not any cows in H.K. too dry!!

We were home (her mother’s home in Cambridge) for Christmas.

Liberation of Stanley Camp, Hong Kong – Hilary’s Story

Excerpts from internees’ recollections of liberation from Stanley Camp, Hong Kong  1945

Composed by Dr Bernice Archer

Hilary Hamson, aged 8 in Stanley Camp Hong Kong.

(Correspondence with Dr. Bernice Archer)

I can’t remember being told the war was over. My recollection is that everything went quiet, bonfires around the Japanese quarters. maybe as they destroyed files? I was kicking my heels one day and I saw this ship coming into Tai Tam Bay. I raced back and found my dad. He went around the barbed wire to Stanley village and asked someone to take us out to the ship. We were the first on board HMAS Freemantle and were welcomed aboard by the captain. (HMAS Freemantle was a minesweeper ahead of the British fleet coming into H.K) The captain took us down to his cabin and I remember the taste of soft white bread and also trying to eat an orange, peel and all! I was given a present (a pennant) from the ship which I still have.

The pennant Hilary was given by the Captain of the HMAS Freemantle

At some point supplies were dropped by parachute. My brother ran down to the green thinking he could catch this ‘little box’ but soon realized that the box would squash him if he didn’t get indoors…. Later the good looking, healthy Australians arrived.

My next memory is a party on HMS Swiftsure. We were loaded on buses and taken down via Happy Valley to the harbour. We saw Mickey Mouse cartoons, ate jelly and ice cream, sat on huge gun barrels and were generally made a great fuss of.

I don’t remember much about the journey to the U.K on the Empress of Australia. I know the crew fixed up a canvas swimming pool. The men had to sleep on deck – fine when the weather was warm but cold as we arrived in Liverpool in November. I don’t know how my father coped. Somewhere along the way we were kitted out with clothes. I think we were lucky to have that six – week recovery time.

I remember two things on the journey home from Liverpool – cows from the train windows and traffic lights in the fog of November evening in Exeter.

Liberation of Stanley Camp, Hong Kong – John’s Story

Excerpts from internees’ recollections of liberation from Stanley Camp, Hong Kong  1945

Composed by Dr Bernice Archer

John Barton (Brother of Rosemary Murray) in Stanley Camp H.K. aged 12 at beginning of internment.

(Written by John Barton and copy given to Dr. Bernice Archer)

Rumours were rife…we lived in constant hope. On 15th August a Formosan guard told a group of us ‘war over’. We looked at him incredulously. The next day the colonial Secretary set up a table and stood on it and informed the internees that Japan had unconditionally surrendered to the Allies. Frenzied ecstasy is the only way I can describe the days that followed. Rations improved, the Japanese gave us buffalo meat and butter and chocolate, it was wonderful to have good nourishment again. Days later the American planes began dropping food.

On the horizon we could see signalling lights of the Royal Navy as they swept the approaches to H.K. (Hong Kong) for mines. One morning three weeks later HMAS Freemantle glided into the bay at Stanley and anchored some 500 yards away. I ran to the beach and was joined by a 12 year – old girl. Chinese sampan sculled us to the Freemantle where we were treated like royalty. We finally left the mine sweeper loaded with fruit and tinned food.

A few days later the British soldiers arrived in camp. We were impressed by their healthy-looking bodies, they in turn were amazed at the emaciated internees in their bedraggled shorts and no shoes or shirts.

In mid-September we were ferried to the SS Empress of Australia. Women and children were quartered in cabins, men and boys on the troop desks. When we arrived in Manila British POWs were mustered and ready to embark. We looked over and there was Bernie (Bernard their older brother was a member of the H.K. Volunteer Defence Corps) waiting to board. He had survived!! We were all overjoyed.

I had entered the camp aged 12 and left aged 16 and at that age it seemed like a lifetime.

Liberation of Stanley Camp, Hong Kong – Rosemary’s Story

Excerpts from internees’ recollections of liberation from Stanley Camp, Hong Kong  1945

Composed by Dr Bernice Archer

Liberation of Stanley Camp H.K.

The actual surrender ceremony in Hong Kong was delayed from day to day and it was not until everything was ready on 16th September that the British authorities officially fired a twenty-one-gun salute from the war ships. Later that evening the British fleet performed a searchlight and firework display.

Rosemary Murray (nee Barton) aged 11 years when interned with her family in Stanley Camp Hong Kong remembers:

(Interview with Dr. Bernice Archer)

On August 15th 1945 I was playing schools. I had just expelled Roger (her brother) from my class. Before long he returned he said ‘The war is over – it’s true the gates are open’ within minutes everyone appeared to have heard the news and were running around jubilantly calling out ‘The War is over’.

We were compelled to carry on living normally until our repatriation could be arranged. My birthday on 29th August is probably my most memorable birthday. I was eleven years old on that day. Coloured mushrooms fell from the sky, as relief goods were parachuted into the camp. Once they had fallen we ran to retrieve the coloured silks….

Peacetime brought with it all the responsibilities of normal life. My father was called upon to re-establish the Treasury in Hong Kong, my mother and all but three of us sailed back to England on the SS Empress of Australia, a new life in a new community had just begun.

It was not easy fitting back into the normal swing of life. The children at school used to stare at us thinking we were some primitive creatures from China, because we came from China we must be Chinese – that was their logic.

After spending one year in Baginton Fields Hostel, a refugee camp in Coventry, we returned to Hong Kong to resume the colonial way of life.

In 1947 Jacqueline (her sister) and I went to boarding school…I felt more a prisoner there than at any time in Stanley. The rules, silence, discipline and censorship soon changed my personality. From a spirited youngster I became a withdrawn adolescent, frightened, lonely and always pining for home.