Escape!

I have seen that in any great undertaking it is not enough for a man to depend simply upon himself.

Teton Sioux

On the night of 1st February 1942 Dad escaped from Sham Shui Po camp in Hong Kong and set off towards an uncertain future in China. He might have felt that he was taking back control of his destiny and in some senses he was. But he was heavily dependent on having companions for support and points of safety, resupply, information, healthcare, transport and finance along the way. He was escaping into an allied country, supported by British and American military missions. For all that, he and his companions were still destitute refugees who had to successfully navigate territory occupied by enemy troops, who would certainly have killed them if they had been discovered.

Interconnected and interdependent

The choice to escape must balance the possible hazards along the way with the likelihood of reaching the desired outcome. And what might be the cost of staying put? We know that many of Dad’s colleagues who remained in the camp had a miserable time and some did not survive. The worst outcome of both choices was death, but the best outcome of escape was freedom and agency.

The diminished, demoralised and degraded group of men who remained in the PoW camp were to become Dad’s mission when he was appointed Assistant Military Attaché in Chongqing. Their appalling treatment in camp meant that they were no longer fit to escape – it would have to be mass liberation. Sadly, the fate of Hong Kong PoWs was not a strategic priority and Dad’s rescue plan – although agreed at the most senior levels as part of a bold strategy to win the Pacific War – was not actioned. An arrogant personality clash among the military leadership led to a different strategy, the consequent suffering of many and the loss of millions of lives.

Escape Anniversary


On the night of 1st February 1942, Dad escaped with two colleagues from Sham Shui Po PoW camp in Hong Kong. They took some supplies with them to see them through the next week as they walked at night across the New Territories towards the Chinese border:

8 Tins Bully Beef, 1 Tin Mutton, 2 Tins Carnation Milk, 1 Packet Army Biscuits, 2 Emergency Rations, 2 Pints of Sugar (half in a tin; half wrapped in a piece of gas cape), 1 Tin of Salt, 7 Oxo Cubes, 80 handful of Dry beans stored in containers made by tying up the ends of the sleeves of a gas cape, 1 Jar Virol (malt based health drink).

From the Medical Officer: Some Biozygen (vitamin supplement), Quinine Tablets, Aspirin, Iodine, Pot Permang Tablets, Chloride of Lime, a very small bottle of brandy.              

An oil Prismatic compass, 4 Field Dressings, H.K.$ 180 in cash, 50 Camel Cigarettes, a 1/250,000 map of the Country to Waichow.

Quite a comprehensive list considering the camp conditions, but not much given that they had no idea where, when or how they would resupply. It was a bold move to escape into the unknown, not knowing if they would be recaptured, killed by the Japanese or betrayed by the Chinese. Dad was 27 years old.

A TV production company from London called, asking if I would contribute to a show they are making about Sham Shui Po and the Battle of Hong Kong. Not sure what that will mean just yet but will keep you posted. Exciting!