Slice of Life

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 01 September, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 01 September, 2009, 12:00am

It was a time to celebrate and mourn, with the end of Japanese occupation the Colony was abuzz 64 years ago. A 9pm-to-6am curfew was ordered, looting was common and there was little transport. The following excerpts show what a chaotic time it was. It should be noted that there had been no editions of the Post since December 1941 and the paper resumed publishing in August 1945.

Captain L. M. Shadwell, of the mothership Maidstone in the relief fleet, addressed the Stanley Internment Camp after a stirring flag-raising ceremony that 'officially signalized the restoration of British control', reports on August 31 said. 'There had been some difficulty in the occupation of Hongkong where the Japanese commander denied official knowledge that the war was over. However, when they came into the harbour, he decided that he was aware of the fact but asked for a further 24 hours grace. 'I think we gave him half an hour,' Captain Shadwell said, 'which was just about what they gave us' [in December 1941]'. After the fleet's entry, Rear Admiral Cecil Harcourt declared a state of military government - not martial law - in Hongkong.

Most of the deaths in the Stanley camp of about 2,500 were among the elderly, a report on September 1 said. Most died from natural causes, about 10 were executed and some were killed by Allied bombings. There were 50 births and a stillborn child. Former Kowloon Cricket Club cricketer and bowler Hubert Overy and Mrs Hazard were the 'most recent to go'. 'Hongkong's outstanding war casualty was Sir Vandeleur Grayburn, chief manager of the Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation. Released to assist in the liquidation of the bank, he and some of his staff were arrested in March 1943 ... they were accused of being active enemy agents. Sir Vandeleur was sentenced to a term of imprisonment in Stanley Gaol and died there in late August.' He was 62.

Assistant superintendent of police Geoffrey Wilson explained the new policing arrangements for Hongkong Island. Naval landing parties would come ashore and concentrate at West Point godowns, Happy Valley Race Course stands and North Point power house. 'These pickets will clear the island of Japanese in the order of civilians, Army and Navy, and finally Gendarmery, who will remain by permission of the British until the last moment to maintain law and order,' a report said. The European Police Force, who arrived from Stanley and were at the Hongkong Club, would move into their old divisional stations. They were to take over from the Japanese Gendarmery, with former Chinese and Indian officers. Kowloon remained under the Japanese until further notice.

The price of meat had now dropped to about one-tenth the peak prices during occupation. Beef and pork reached such astronomical figures that only the wealthy could buy meat by the pound or catty. Beef had reached 60 yen a tael or 800 yen a catty, but was now 15 yen a tael, and pork touched 1,600 yen a catty but was now 20 yen a tael. 'Stories about the future value of the yen and the Hongkong dollar are merely inventions of people gambling in their own interest,' chief censor D. J. Sloss said in a report on August 31. 'Some soldiers were said to have changed pound notes for Y400 [yen]. It may be helpful to the service men to tell them that normally a pound is worth 16 Hongkong dollars.'

Looting was rife and scenes reminiscent of the occupation were witnessed throughout the Colony after the mass evacuation of Japanese nationals. In Lockhart Road, Wanchai - where a 'Japanese town' had been established with restaurants, geisha houses and shops - suffered at the hands of looters, and other houses here and there were stripped of their furnishings. 'The majority of looters were not, however, organized gangs as in 1941; they were in the main old employees and their friends, or neighbours taking advantage of opportunities,' a report on September 1 said.

Water, electricity, public health and other services would function without a break at the takeover, a report on August 31 said. But the greatest problem was transport. 'There are few motorised vehicles in the Colony, even when those being used by the Japanese military are counted. Transport had been expected to arrive with the relieving feet, and perhaps will follow later.'

'Stanley internees can expect their first half pound loaf of wheat bread today, as the result of intensive search and effort by members of the Food Organization,' a September 3 report said. Mr T. Edgar, who 'has had only rice flour on which to exercise his skills', baked the bread. 'The flour is probably four years old and is in such bad condition that there will be a wastage of something like 50 per cent. However bread is bread and diners at the French Mission and Hongkong Hotel, where Government personnel are quartered, are pretty unanimous that bread is the most popular item on the menu.'