Hong Kong's second world war history

Hongkonger who survived war reflects on friends that weren't so lucky

Veteran says he is the only one who 'got away with it' out of four comrades

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 11 November, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 22 September, 2015, 12:01pm

For Dr Dan Waters, today is the one day he can he can devote entirely to the memory of his lost friends.

The 91-year-old served with the Royal Engineers as part of the British 8th Army, under the famous British commander Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery, in the deserts of North Africa and later in Italy.

On Remembrance Sunday, he remembers his fallen comrades-in-arms.

Waters was the only one of four close friends who came out of the war relatively unscathed, apart from being classed as "walking wounded" three times and having a few pieces of shrapnel left in his midriff courtesy of a landmine that failed to explode properly.

"A shell came over with Freddie's number on it. He died of his wounds. Dougie had his right leg blown off, and Tom went shell happy [now known as post-traumatic stress disorder] when we were being badly stonked [bombed]. I was the only one who really got away with it," he said.

"As engineers we were always the first in and the last out. But in an emergency we'd fight as infantry - we were in the lines at Salerno and Anzio when the infantry was hard pressed."

Waters came to Hong Kong in 1954 to work in the civil service and never left. A well known local historian, he described how local people suffered during the Japanese occupation from 1941-45.

Many women were raped in the first few days after the Japanese capture of Hong Kong on Christmas Day in 1941. The Japanese turned the city into a military base, summarily executing many residents suspected of opposing them. Dead bodies were left rotting in the streets.

"These bodies had signs on them saying: 'Do no disturb. We will collect later.' There was a curfew at that time and many people were killed for being outside after it," he explained. "These signs were put on the bodies so relatives could come back and bury their dead. Life was without doubt very hard."

The Japanese enforced a repatriation policy throughout the period of occupation because of the scarcity of food and a possible counterattack by the allied forces. As a result, unemployed locals were deported to the mainland, and the population of Hong Kong dwindled from 1.6 million in 1941 to 600,000 in 1945.

A camp set up in Stanley was one of the largest unsegregated internment facilities in Southeast Asia during the second world war. About 2,800 people, mostly British women and children, were transported there by the Japanese in early January 1942.

As there was inadequate food, the Japanese rationed necessities. Each person was only allowed to buy 240 grams of rice per day. Many died of starvation.