Memories Uninvited - Hong Kong

It Makes One Wonder ...

I must insert this brief side note to the story. In 1995 I received a letter from a chap named E.J. Bird, an ex Royal Marine, who had served aboard the "HMS Danae", and who had made the acquaintance of my cousin in Northampton, England. My cousin told him that I had been on the Awatea sailing for Hong Kong. Although I hadn't realized it, according to Bird, the "Danae" joined the convoy in Manila and escorted us to Hong Kong.

Bird wrote, "I will now endeavour to explain why it might be of interest to you, and all the gallant Canadian men that survived the awful debacle that happened all those years ago. I remember quite vividly the days when we escorted you to Hong Kong from Manila, in the Philippines, and the fact that we of the crew were well aware of the situation that awaited all of you. The whole detachment of Royal Marines aboard the "Danae" were, to say the least, absolutely appalled at the predicament that we were placing you in."

Mr. Bird went to the trouble of locating a picture of the "Danae" for me which is pictured here. The "Danae", above, went on to serve with distinction throughout the war taking part in the Normandy Landing on "D Day".

Hong Kong Arrival

Our arrival in Hong Kong was a much different experience. As we sailed up to the dock in Kowloon we were greeted by three ancient aircraft. They were pusher props, their propellers faced the rear of the aircraft, and did not make much of impression of air power.

There were dozens of small, and not so small, boys swimming around begging us to throw coins to them in the water. My Scottish upbringing protected me from such a scandalous waste of money.

We disembarked, formed up, and marched up Nathan Road to our barracks at Shan Shui Po, a distance of probably four miles. The route was lined with spectators, and although it was the middle of November, we found it quite warm marching along in our summer uniforms of shirts and shorts with our small packs, and our rifles at the slope. We were amused at the sight of the British soldiers watching the parade bundled up in their greatcoats.

The Good Life Before the Bombs Began to Fall

Our first home away from home were the barracks at Sham Shui Po across the harbour from Hong Kong in the city of Kowloon. They were obviously old, having served a succession of garrison troops from the early days of the British occupation. They were of stone with a stucco finish, sparsely finished with not much more than an iron bed for each man. The bed was made in two sections that telescoped together to leave more floor space during daylight hours.

The mattress consisted of three "biscuits", or pads about two and a half feet square and filled with coconut fibre. To make up the bed for inspection the three biscuits were piled on top of each other on the shortened bed. A mosquito net was provided which, as it turned out, was a very valuable item as the camp was infested with malaria bearing mosquitoes.

A small cubicle was located at the end of the barrack for the use of the section leader. But, the men enjoyed some unusual comforts too. We were surprised, and somewhat amused, to wake up the first morning with a servant polishing our shoes, shaving us in bed, and then making the bed for us. It turned out later, according to the best information I have, that those "servants" were, in fact, spies in the employ of the Japanese. So much for security, and another example of the naivete of the Military Advisors.

Pity The Man With the Dhobie-Itch

A short time after we arrived in Hong Kong I developed an itch in my, uhum, private parts that had me greatly worried. Had I caught some dreaded tropical venereal disease? With out the benefit of contact? Were my privates going to fall off? You can understand my concern. I went to the first sick parade, certain I was headed for the hospital for a series of treatments graphically described by my comrades as VERY painful and requiring the use of instruments that would have been at home in a torture chamber.

Dr. Banfill smiled benignly at me following a brief, non-painful, inspection that required no instruments, and informed me that I had a case of "dhobie itch". "Dhobie itch?", I asked. "Yes," he said, "It's caused by washing your underclothes in strong soap."  Whew!!!!

Night Life Was Something Else

Night life was something else. Passes to leave the barracks were required and good until 23:59. They were easy to obtain and the Canadian troops swarmed out into the night to seek the pleasures of the cities of Kowloon, and Victoria on the island.

The SunSun Café was located in Kowloon, if I remember correctly, and attracted troops of all stripes. There was a famous fight when Canadian and British troops tangled in a bone-crushing brawl. Everyone you ask about it was there, though I doubt it. I was there just briefly because as I was going up the stairs a Wurlitzer was coming down. I wisely preceded it out the door and did not join the "party".

In addition to the written pass, good until 12:59 hours, a second pass was required before you could get past the guard at the gate. It was a small, round, latex device, issued at the nearby dispensary that called attention to itself with a small blue light bulb mounted above the door. I have a dim recollection of a taxi dance club somewhere in the amusement area. I remember meeting Lieut. Elmer there, and his words to me were: "Philip, what would your mother say if she knew you were here?" My answer to him was:, "Sir, I shudder to think of it."

Our fun filled nights were short-lived. Military Intelligence must have functioned to some degree because, on December 8, most of the Canadian troops were in position in the hill on the Island of Hong Kong short hours before the Japs opened the war. In my ignorance of the situation I neither thought, nor cared, about what was to happen next.