Stanley camp survivors revisit a place of pain

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 03 December, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 03 December, 2011, 12:00am


Daphne Erasmus has been reliving some painful memories.

'You were always hungry, there was never enough food,' recalls Erasmus, who was detained with her parents in the Stanley internment camp after the Japanese invasion of Hong Kong.

'For the families without gardens to grow vegetables it was particularly difficult. Even now I never let any food go to waste.'

The daughter of Quaker missionaries, she was six when she was interned. She was among 26 former detainees or descendants who visited the grounds of St Stephen's College, site of the former camp, this week to mark the 70th anniversary of the invasion on December 8, 1941.

For Erasmus - who came with her granddaughter from New Zealand - life in the camp had one compensation. 'There was a lot of freedom to play,' she said.

The week-long visit was organised by retired American teacher Geoffrey Emerson, who interviewed many ex-internees for his book Hong Kong Internment, 1942-1945: Life in the Japanese Civilian Camp at Stanley.

'It occurred to me that it would be a nice idea to get together,' he said. 'We've got people from Australia, the UK, New Zealand and some local people, too.'

Among the visitors is Judy Snowdon, daughter of former colonial secretary Franklin Gimson, who is keen to set the record straight about her father's role in Hong Kong during and after the Japanese occupation.

Gimson became the senior civilian representative in the Stanley camp, but not without controversy. In accounts of their internment some other inmates said they no longer felt he had authority after Britain surrendered, and that he was resented.

Snowdon said life was as hard for Gimson as it was for anyone interned in Stanley, noting that he is also credited with keeping Hong Kong British and out of the hands of the Americans after the Japanese surrender in 1945. Under orders from the UK, he set up a 'puppet' government until the Royal Navy could get to Hong Kong, so that the Japanese had someone to hand over to.

Another member of the party is Monique Westmore from Australia. She is the daughter of Armand Delcourt, who was among the Free French forces that fought and died with the Hong Kong Volunteer Defence Corps. A memorial stands to him in Stanley Military Cemetery.

Westmore, who was born weeks after her father's death, says Delcourt was bayoneted in the final days of the defence of Hong Kong and captured by the Japanese. He was later among three captured prisoners doused in petrol and shot. But her father filled his pockets with grenades, and as he was executed the grenades exploded, killing his captors.

Westmore will be attending a ceremony next week that, for the first time, is specifically dedicated to the members of the Free French forces who were slain in the city's defence.