A black day recedes from living memory

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 27 December, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 27 December, 2011, 12:00am


Ever since I heard a newspaper editor rail against the coverage that his own newspaper devoted ('wasted', he said) to the 40th anniversary of the D-Day landings in Normandy I tend to wonder, whenever they come around, if there's any point to anniversaries.

This editor felt that they were an excuse for bad journalism, symptomatic of a newspaper that, unable to tell its readers what was happening in their own times, seized upon flimsy pretexts to tell them about another event, no matter how many times they had heard it before. To him it was just 'the mere roundness of the number of passing years'.

We in Hong Kong may have passed through just such a round-number moment when Christmas Day came and went with little mention (a scan of the headlines suggests) of Black Christmas, when Hong Kong surrendered to Imperial Japan, on December 25, 1941. Earlier this month local media recalled the 70th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbour, but the day on which this city began three years and eight months of cruel occupation a few weeks later seems to have been given a miss.

Perhaps '70' is not round enough, unlike '100'. However, it is an anniversary that should be commemorated for the most important reasons of all, if only because 70 approximates the extent of the human lifespan in years.

As time whizzes by, those who remember Black Christmas and the months that followed will dwindle. A member of the Hong Kong Ex-Servicemen's Association is reported as saying that only about 20 veterans from the infantry and artillery units that fought the Japanese are still alive.

The end of the war's presence in living memory is only a few years away. Once that era has passed, who will then remind us of those cruel times? Will those dark days be remembered only in history books, to be read only by the studious and scholarly?