Ernie's Story

Keeping Hope Alive

As the war dragged on into 1943, hope of victory over the Japanese and eventually being free again became hard to believe. Many men simply lapsed into lethargy and refused to eat, wash, or leave their bunks. Ernie told the family this story:

"I was lying on my bunk, too weak and discouraged to get up. Dr. Crawford came over to me and said "Goodbye Ernie". I was surprised and asked him where he was going. He said that he wasn't going anywhere but I would soon be leaving for a grave if I didn't get up and eat. Dr. Crawford just wouldn't give up on me and literally nagged me into getting up and eating something. He saved my life."

So for the second time Ernie survived a brush with death. Dr. Crawford was responsible for saving many lives during those terrible years in the P.O.W. camps. Some of the conditions in which he worked are described by Ted Ferguson in Desperate Seige:

"The disease and work injury toll remained high. Dr. Crawford and others performed sugery on a wooden bench; the few instruments were boiled in the kitchen pots. Chloroform was the only anesthetic, sulfa drugs the principal antiseptic for wounds."

Dr. Crawford eventually learned how to talk his captors into giving him more medicine.

"A direct request, however reasonable was automatically rejected. Then I discovered that by taking a different tack and making a personal request, a Japanese officer could be placed in a position whee a refusal would result in a 'loss of face'. After I made that intriguing discovery, I conducted all my dealings with the Japanese along these lines."

Dr. Crawford learned other useful methods to get drugs. The Japanese guards didn't want to go to their own medical officer for the treatment of venereal disease for fear of punishment. The Canadian medical team agreed to treat them in exchange for black market medicines. One Japanese sergeant agreed to supply drugs if Dr. Crawford would help him with his English. Dr. Crawford had read him aloud scenes from Romeo and Juliet! (Desperate Siege, p. 234).

Dr. Crawford was certainly an interesting man and a dedicated doctor. He survived the camps, testified at the war crimes trials, and died in Ottawa at the age of 92.

The Canadian P.O.W.'s had access to the local newspaper The Hong Kong News. The paper contained daily Japanese lessons (see Chapter Four) and Japanese reports on the war. These reports gave the impression that not only was Japan on its way to victory but that all of East Asia supported Japan. Here are some excerpts found on the back of the Japanese lessons that Ernie saved:

Tokyo, Nov. 29 - Mr. Iguchi ... stated that it is remarkable that the enemy can blandly speak of their humanitarianism and do just the reverse as in India where they are plundering ... necessities of the suffering Indian people for their own armies and to satisfy their selfish needs. The spokesman pointed out that the situation in Greater East Asia offers a sharp contrast. Freed from the ruthless heel of Anglo-American imperialism, the peoples "are basking in the glory of a new life, tilling the soil, mining the minerals, manufacturing articles by their own efforts, not to fill the pockets of their late alien masters but to enrich their own life ... Japanese experts are helping ... the peoples of East Asia ... and their welfare is materially enhanced.
Manila Aug. 22 -- Mr. Hilario Lara revealed that at the training institute released war prisoners, along with spiritual reorientation, receive vocational instructions, fitting them for a new life as worthy members of the New Philippines ... The Welfare Bureau renders them solicitous care. It gives freely medical care where it is needed ... free transportation and ... employment.

Other headlines give the same happy prosperous picture:

  • Bumper Rice Crop in Thailand - Large Quantities to be Exported (Tokyo, July 13)
  • Great Progress in Celebes (Macassar, July 17)
  • Liberation of Burmese Now at Hand - Japan fighting for benefit of Asia (Tokyo, July 23)
  • China's War Contribution Appreciated (Hsinking, Aug. 18)

The other theme in the Hong Kong News stories was the worsening state of the Allies, particularly the United States.

Ignoble War Aims of the United States' Vile Dream to Dominate and Shackle Whole of East Asia
Tokyo, July 28 - Referring to the soiled pages of American history, the Professor (Kamikawa) pointed out that the world has often heard the names of avowed imperialists such as Theodore Roosevelt, former President, Rear-Admiral Alfred T. Mahan, ... but the first and foremost imperialist of the United States was William Seward ... [who] launched the United States on its aggressive mission in the Pacific and East Asia. Japan was forced to rise in arms not only for self-defense but also for the defense of the entire East Asia against Anglo-American invasion as well as the emancipation of all Asiatic peoples from the fetters of Anglo-American imperialism. The Asahi declared that Anglo-American theories as to their war aims and of a new order in the world, which are regarded as typical of their crafty propaganda and strategy have proven to be a complete failure.
America and Chungking Disillusioned Expected too Much of Each Other.
Lisbon, Nov 8 - It is reported from New York that Nathaniel Peffer, well known writer on Oriental affairs, in an article published in the New York Times, pointed out that both the Anmericans and Chungking people have over-rated each other. Peffer declared that the tendency to expect to much of each other resulted on the American's part in a stream of deprecatory reports regarding the Chungking Army and Chungking politics, while the Chungking people naturally found the American performance far below par.

Other headlines told of economic problems and racial tensions in the United States, leaving the Asian readers to draw their own conclusions about the treatment they could expect should the Anglo-American alliance be victorious.

  • Big Shortage of Newsprint in America - Lisbon Aug. 19
  • U.S. Racial Discrimination Belies Democratic [Ideals] Negroes Swindled to Fight U.S. Correspondents Duped Japanese Internees On Strike (in U.S.)
  • Self Seeking Policy of Britain - Responsible for Famine in India
  • Britain and U.S. Against Justice - Exclusion of Asiatics
  • State of Emergency in New Jersey - Tomatoes are Rotting due to Serious Labour Shortage!

All of these news reports were clever propaganda in that they always contained a bit of truth e.g "U.S. Racial Discrimination Belies Democratic Ideals". Most readers knew this to be true and might therefore believe the rest of the article.

Another example of this propaganda technique is "Britain and U.S. Against Justice - Exclusion of Asiatics". Their limits on Asian immigrants were well known. So it is easy to make all East Asians fear their fate unless they supported Japan.

One of the most blatant examples of this propaganda has to be the item from Tokyo, Nov. 29 describing the peoples of East Asia tilling the soil, mining the minerals etc. "to enrich their own lives". We know they were working as slave labour in inhumane conditions but the readers in Hong Kong probably didn't know this.

Perhaps supporting Japan against the Anglo-U.S. allies was right for East Asia? Even the P.O.W.'s, after years of suffering and humiliation, might have started to believe this except they had another source of news.

In chapter four, Dr. Stanley Banfill tells of a radio smuggled from North Point to Sham Shui Po. The hero of this story is Ernie who again showed great courage. Here is the account by Ted Ferguson in Desperate Seige:

"Grenadier Major Ernie Hodkinson was involved in the dangerous operation of a camp radio. Smuggled into Sham Shui Po piece by piece, the radio was assembled and hidden with another contraband item, a battered typewriter. Hodkinson took shorthand notes of the newscasts' highlights and typed them on a sheet of paper. The paper was surreptiously passed from hand to hand. The Major continued his furtive nocturnal activities even after three other Canadians were inplicated in the radio conspiracy and executed without trial."

The courage to do this night after night, year after year, took tremendous inner strength and tenacity. These were some character traits that Ernie showed all of his life as he faithfully worked in Scouts, Militia, and the Church and helped to support his mother. The charge against the police station at Wang Nei Chong Gap was an act of great courage but the ongoing operation of the radio required an even greater degree of bravery.

So with the help of the newcasts from Ernie's radio, letters from home, and the occasional parcel, the P.O.W.'s were keeping hope alive that one day they would be free to go home.

Ernie told the family that in early spring of 1945, there was a noticable change in the behaviour of the Japanese towards the P.O.W.'s. It got worse! But the Canadians with the help of Ernie's radio knew why. The war was going badly for the Japanese. American bombers caused the city of Yokohama to burn. Then on August 6th and 8th, the Americans dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The tremors were felt by Canadian P.O.W.'s in coal mines 500 miles away (Valour and Horror, p. 52).

Back in Sham Shui Po, things changed almost overnight. On August 13th, according to a list of events recorded by Ernie, Tokanaga (the Japanese officer in command of the camp) summoned the Canadian officers and announced that "hostilities ceased at 3 a.m. 13th of August 1945". For the next two weeks, the prisoners were left to fend for themselves. The Japanese guards left the camp and the Americans flew over dropping a leaflet telling the P.O.W.'s that:

"An official representative is on his way for humanitarian purposes and liason with this headquarters. He will be an initial, pre-Allied occupation representative in the interest of welfare needs and general conditions in the area or camp to which he is sent." (from A.C. Wedemeyer, Lieut. General, U.S.A. Commanding).

 

 
Leaflet dropped over Sham Shui Po after Japanese surrender

 

Ernie began writing a letter to Irene on August 23, 1945. No one had arrived to advise the P.O.W.'s. In his usual understated style, Ernie writes:

23rd Aug. 45
Dearest Irene:
I am writing this in the hope that relief will be here very shortly now and some means of delivery will be available quickly.
The news and suspense of the last 12 days here has been so exhilarating and excitment so high that my head is in a whirl and it seems incredible that we are free.
Our hosts have not been able up to the present to make our lot much better, although we have received 15 pkts of cigarettes and 2 lbs of sugar - a rarity - since their surrender. However we are all hoping Sat. 25th is the big day and will be up bright and early looking for the Fleet.
At present we have a short wave set in camp and I have secured a job as news reporter owing to my shorthand ability so am fairly busy keeping the camp posted on present world events. - - -
Au Revoir my love
Irenian
always yours in
all ways
Ernie

P.S. 24th Aug. We are now in the early stages of a typhoon. Barometer falling, wind backing blowing about 40 M.P.H. in gusts, rain heavy squalls. So it would appear we are in for some heavy weather. Hope it only lasts 3 or 4 days.

Love
Ernie

In this letter, Ernie also speaks happily of being home for Christmas and sends his regards to family and friends whom he is looking forward to seeing once again. He also gives news of a sad event:

"One paragraph of extremely sad news and no more I promise in this letter. Harry who spent all his time with me during our captivity was taken ill early in May this year and passed away on July 7th with spinal meningitis. I trust the Japanese have already informed Ottawa of this calamity and Mrs. Hook has been officially notified, if not you could possibly visit her and make the news a little easier. He was extremely courageous and cheerful and the best friend a man could find in good times or adversity; sharing, caring, and carrying more than his share of all things during our incarceration -- a very pitiful end for a genuinely true, honest, sympathetic, sacrificing, noble character."

Ernie and Harry Hook had been good friends since before the war.

The British Fleet did not arrive by August 25th as Ernie had hoped, perhaps because of the typhoon. Here is the account from the South China Morning Post and Hong Kong Telegraph, August 30, 1945.

Extra Fleet Entering
The first communique from the Hong Kong Government to the people of Hong Kong since December 1941 was issued this morning at 11 o'clock as follows:
Rear Admiral Harcourt is lying outside Hong Kong with a very strong fleet. The Naval Dockyard is to be ready for his arrival by noon today ... The capital ships will follow as soon as a passage has been swept ... The fleet includes the merchant cruiser Prince Rupert, Canadian registry and the Hospital ship Oxfordshire.
A considerable number of other ships will follow in a day or two.

What a welcome sight the Fleet must have been to Ernie and the P.O.W.'s at Sham Shui Po! After nearly 4 years of trying to keep hope alive in spite of starvation, torture, and disease, they were free and almost able to go home. Of course the P.O.W.'s were in no shape to undertake a long voyage. Those four horrible years had taken a severe toll on everyone's health.

All suffered from a severe loss of weight. Ernie's medical records show: Dec. 41 - 189 lb. -July '45 118 1/2 lb. He also suffered from malaria, peptic ulcer, and severe dental problems. So it would be a few more days before Ernie and his fellow P.O.W.'s were able to leave camp. His joy at being free even if still in the P.O.W. camp is expressed in a letter to Irene:

2 Sept. 45
Shamshuipo Camp
Hong Kong China
My dearest darling Renee
Hows that for a start - Good - well just wait a little longer and then you'll learn a thing or two. ... It sure is wonderful to be free, admittedly we are not running around anywhere or everywhere but there are no guards around, barbwire means nothing except a symbol of farming in Canada, but most marvellous is getting up and cooking 3 eggs, some sausages with brown bread and coffee for breakfast. I never complain about having to concoct it myself.
Remember me to all our family and friends Love to Sydney, Spencer & Joan.
All my LOVE
always in all ways
Ernie

In his little notebook, Ernie records that he left aboard the Sham Shui Po Ferry for the Empress Australia at 0900 hr. on Sept. 9th 1945. He had at long last taken the first step in the journey home to Winnipeg and Irene, Sydney, and Spencer.