Behind Barbed Wire
Publication Year: 1982
Published by: Hong Kong University Press, HKU
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The passage of more than thirty years has neither dimmed the writer's recollection nor cast any false glamour upon these events as unrelieved hardship and suffering were it not illuminated by the insight the reader i s afforded into the courage, endurance and unselfishness with which so many of those confined in the Stanley Camp responded to the long grim challenge of internment. ...
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In the thirty-odd years since the end of the Second World War, I have answered many questions and given more than one account of our experiences in Hong Kong's Stanley Camp where civilians were interned. There was so much to tell and people never seemed to tire of asking but, try as I might, it was impossible to present a picture sufficiently graphic to show things as they were. ...
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Saturday, 21 February 1942. It had dawned a cold and dull morning with a touch of Scotch mist so typical of the Chinese New Year weather we had in February. It was not the day, then, that was remarkable, but the circumstances in which I found myself. For one thing, although the lunar New Year was only days old, I heard no sign of festivity, not even the odd firecracker. For another, I had awakened not at home but at the University of Hong Kong, although the University was no longer a university - it was a relief hospital. ...
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When the Second World War broke out in Europe in 1939, it did little to disrupt Hong Kong's normal routine, but after the Allied retreat from Dunkirk in May 1940, the realization came that if, or rather when, trouble reached the colony no help from Britain could be expected. Preparations against such an emergency, begun in a somewhat desultory fashion after the Munich crisis and the fall of Canton in 1938, assumed a more urgent note. ...
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After the children's departure we moved to a small flat. Billy had been offered a commission but he elected to remain a Sergeant in 4th Battery. He was stationed at Lyemun, in charge of the searchlights guarding the entrance to Hong Kong harbour. They spent at least one night a week and alternate weekends training whilst in the University we, too, had frequent practices so that we could be mobilized at moment's notice. ...
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On 4 January 1942 copies of a curt notice were widely displayed. It was an order for all British, American and Dutch nationals to report at 9.30 the next morning to the large military parade ground in the city. No indication was given of what was to happen, but people were instructed to carry with them such essentials as would be needed for overnight use. ...
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Tweed Bay Hospital, a three-storey building of red brick, was pleasantly situated facing the sea. The top storey consisted of a large dormitory for fifty nurses. Four wards occupied the intermediate level and on the ground floor there were three more wards as well as offices, an operating theatre, kitchen and dispensary. Like the Indian Quarters, it had stone floors, ill-fitting metal framed windows and native latrines - that is, water closets fitted below floor-level over which one squatted. ...
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If living conditions presented a grim picture, food in the camp was infinitely worse. Having neither the space nor the facilities to be self-supporting, Hong Kong has always been forced to import most of its food supply. A little was grown in the New Territories certainly, but the staple diet, rice, came mainly from China or Indo-China, and pork, fowl and vegetables were brought from across the border and beyond. ...
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When our first Easter came, the Japanese gave each child a duck's egg - they seemed to have a fondness for children which was quite incongruous with some of their other characteristics. From then on, eggs could be bought from the canteen. By then, too, we were getting an occasional grant of a few yen from the fund sent by the British government but, like bananas, we could afford only one egg at a time. ...
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As a general rule we put on all the clothes we possessed in the winter and stripped as far as decency would allow during the summer months. Should anyone have a frock, it would be reserved for Sundays or for the occasional concert during the first two years but, with no laundry facilities to speak of, the practice decreased progressively with time. ...
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We had not long been in the camp before if was realized that something would have to be done for the two hundred-odd children of school age thrown together in so harsh an environment. The sheer struggle for existence and the overcrowded conditions soon began to fell on their young and impressionable minds. Parents were only too anxious to push them out of the rooms - their very presence irritated the other occupants - and, feeling insecure and unwanted, the children wandered around making greater nuisances of themselves. ...
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Although Tweed Bay Hospital had been established immediately on our arrival, it soon became apparent that the camp needed an extended health service. Clinics were the first to be introduced. Manned by volunteer doctors and nurses, they functioned at fixed hours to dispense extras like powdered milk, dried eggs and vitamins, and even bread when available, to invalids and babies within the area of their control. ...
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I am frequently asked what we did with ourselves all day. Strangely enough, we seemed to have little spare time. There must have been days, naturally, when we didn't know where we were heading or, in the face of new difficulties, how we could ever carry on, but often in the darkest moments the instinct for survival would force a resurgence of activity to stimulate fresh interest. ...
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While we were happily occupied with our garden, the rest of the camp also found plenty to do. Because extra food was so pressing a need, many had gardens of their own. The very quality of life was uniformly low, a standard brought about by the degradation, deprivation and despair forced upon us. To combat the misery and frustrations of the inescapable living conditions, hidden talents found expression in all branches of the performing arts - there could be no lack of talent considering the sheer number of people. ...
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Although it was intended by the authorities that we should have no contact with the people of Hong Kong, they obviously felt it desirable that we be informed of what was happening - at least insofar as it suited their interests to do so. A bundle of their English-language newspaper, The Hong Kong News, its pages filled with the most outrageous propaganda, was sent into the camp daily with the rations and a copy was given free of charge to any internee who cared to collect it. ...
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Throughout the years of our internment, until the fall of Germany in 1945 when it was no longer sent in to us, the columns of The Hong Kong News continued to be our main source of information. Added to this were the titbits of news brought in by the late arrivals to the camp and the uncertain traffic of patients who, through the persistent efforts of Dr Selwyn-Clarke, were sent into town for X-rays or for special treatment requiring a more protracted stay. ...
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We would have drifted indefinitely in this atmosphere of listless apathy had it not been for a series of distressing happenings which instilled a new tension and spread an intense and nameless fear into the life of the camp. Each event appeared initially as an isolated incident, but later each was found to be just one more link in the chain of tragic circumstances which led ultimately to the execution and imprisonment not only of a number of internees but of many others outside the camp who were either genuinely implicated or merely suspected of having been so. ...
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It was as well that the bombing of Bungalow C occurred when hope was vibrant in the wake of such cheering war news, otherwise many more might have succumbed to the harsh conditions we were yet to endure before relief came. As it was, morale had sunk to its lowest ebb. This was perhaps only natural for, following the January sunshine, the days grew bleaker as winter reached its bitterest in the heavy Scotch mists and biting winds of traditional Chinese New Year weather. ...
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As we drove through the once familiar streets that morning in September 1945, we looked around us with keen interest. Three years, eight months and five days had elapsed since our surrender on that fateful Christmas afternoon in 1941. Until our liberation a few days before, Hong Kong had endured a succession of dreary nights followed by even drearier days marked by hunger, fear and blasted hopes while she waited for deliverance. ...
Page Count: 176
Publication Year: 1982