On 25th December 1941 The Allied Forces surrendered Hong Kong to the Japanese, beginning their rout of Allied territories in the Far East. It became known as “Black Christmas” to acknowledge the losses suffered by the military and civilian populations there. This year will be the 78th anniversary of that sad Christmas Day. Stranger In My Heart, which describes the battle and its wartime context, is available online if you have any friends or family who haven’t read it yet!
I hope you have managed to see some of the “My Grandparents’ War” series on C4. It has thrown light on some of the lesser known aspects of WW2 but, perhaps more importantly, has reminded us of the character of that generation. The acceptance of the horrors that they witnessed, the hardships they endured, their bravery under fire or persecution, their indomitable spirit and their mental resilience are beacons to light our way. Our lives in the present are extremely stressful and many are suffering or in difficulty, but I wonder if we have lost that ‘feel the fear and do it anyway’ attitude? Those participants in WW2 may have felt terrified, appalled, inadequate to the task, unprepared for what they faced, imperilled, confused, but they continued to do what was asked of them for the protection of their colleagues and for the greater good.
Let’s hope that 2020 will be a year of clearsightedness, when we set our priorities straight and work together for the greater good.
The Clearing by Martha Postlethwaite
Do not try to save the whole world or do anything grandiose. Instead, create a clearing in the dense forest of your life and wait there patiently, until the song that is yours alone to sing falls into your open cupped hands and you recognise and greet it. Only then will you know how to give yourself to this world so worthy of rescue.
Merry Festive Greetings and very best wishes for the New Year!
Moving pictures of both kinds to discuss. I met a TV company in London who are making a series to commemorate the 80th anniversary of the outbreak of WW2, to be aired in the autumn on C4. They asked me all about the Battle of Hong Kong and the FEPoW experience at Sham Shui Po camp, as well as Dad’s escape. The celebrity who is presenting this episode is being flown out to Hong Kong – without me! – and the company may or may not want to interview me to fill in the gaps. They like that I am female in a male dominated topic, but I guess it depends how the filming goes in HK.
I have just returned from Shropshire where my brother showed me some old family photos. I took them to the nursing home to show my mum, Betty, and she really connected with them. It prompted her to tell some stories from her youth and it was so moving to see her enjoy her memories and to hold a coherent thread. It is rare treat nowadays to see her rise from a sea of confusion for a brief moment in the light of reason. I told her I loved her, always mindful that it may be the last time that I can be confident that the message will reach its destination.
These portraits of my parents are by society photographer, Madame Yevonde of Berkeley Square.
There was also a couple of pictures of Dora; with her brother Howard on a cruise to Australia in the 1970s, perhaps after husband John died in 1975? And with John in the 1930s.
On 8 December 1941 began the battle of Hong Kong, now 77 years ago. Here is an extract from Dad’s diary of 10 December, recounting the first days of the Japanese invasion:
About 6:00am on Monday 8th I was woken up, called to the telephone and told that war was imminent with Japan. By the time I got to H.Q. we were at war. About 8:00am the first Japanese bombers came over. They did a lot of damage at the Aerodrome, destroying 7 C.N.A.C. (Chinese National Aviation Corp) planes, The Clipper, most of the RAF planes and the two Walruses. They were unopposed. The volunteer A.A. (anti-aircraft) platoon had drawn no ammunition, I suppose because the day before was a Sunday. The gunboat supposed to be in the seaplane anchorage was being used for something else. The Japs made rapid progress down the Taipo Road, and by the evening we were back in Shatin. H.Q. were gravely disappointed with the Stanley guns. They have shot too big a line, boasted that they could get almost to Taipo, in actual fact they can only reach about 1500 yards beyond Shatin Station. We were unable to answer several calls for fire as the targets have been out of range.
On Tuesday general skirmishing took place on the main approaches to the inner (Gin Drinkers) line, to which by nightfall all our forces had retired. During the night Tuesday/Wednesday the Japs surprised and captured the Shing Mun Redoubt. This is a severe loss. Today there has been heavy fighting all along Smugglers Ridge and up towards Golden Hill.
The Allied forces had been on high alert for some time but, as each alarm turned out to be false, they became complacent and so weren’t fully prepared for the attack. When war did come, it was fierce and relentless, raging until Christmas Day when the Allies finally surrendered. For the people of Hong Kong, this year would always be known as Black Christmas.
It is hard for us to imagine what that must have been like, as we do our online shopping for Christmas presents, put on a load of laundry or take the dog for a walk. We must always remember what we owe this generation. Blessings for a peaceful Christmas 2018.
Oh brilliant, I forgot to bring the melatonin, so did NOT get a good night’s sleep. Also it was rather warm (sorry folks but daytime is about 23C and night not much less) so I felt restless. This morning I met Martin Heyes, of Walk Hong Kong, who is an expert on the WW2 history of Hong Kong. My Dad spent most of his time at the Battle Box, the Allied HQ on HK island. Needless to say it has been destroyed and the spot is now occupied by the British Consulate. We went and had a look at the site, just so that I could orientate myself when reading his story.
British Consulate, HK
We then headed uphill to Wong Nai Chung gap, the site of the decisive battle for HK. Martin walked me round a ‘discovery trail’ (with some limited printed information) bringing alive the battle – the tactical errors, the stories of survivors, the history of the Japanese in China and the roles of the various regiments and battalions. The British were utterly under-staffed and under-prepared, especially for an attack from land. The view from the UK War Office was that they didn’t stand a chance of succeeding and it seems that they didn’t want to waste resources (men, artillery or supporting troops) on a lost cause. Under the circumstances the Allies did well to last as long as they did! Here is a film of Martin Heyes describing the battle of Hong Kong:
Cricket ground, 1942
Cricket ground, 2013
While we were surveying the scene over the cricket ground and Happy Valley racecourse, 2 kites flew overhead. I love these birds – we often see several on our way to visit horsey clients along the M4. Julian and I have seen one or two when we’vc visited Roger’s grave in Wales – they always seem to be there, regardless of the weather.
Somehow it seemed like a wave from Dad – he was a keen birdwatcher and got very excited if he saw a kite (they were pretty rare in the ‘70s). I have fond, if slightly terrified, memories of travelling through Wales on the way to our annual holiday (a picnic on the beach at Aberdovey) with Dad birdspotting whilst driving on winding mountain roads with a substantial drop off.