ESCAPE from HONG KONG
C. E. ROSS
(`~ p ``Ted'' 11055, echo wrote lies (UCWI n.t of lie(' fall of Hong Kong and Ilight from the surrendered city, was born / n I iii ii ij)ef/ Iu'enty-n inc years ago, u'('nt to the Orient with I/ic C. P.11. in 1/136 and la/cr joln((l the British. ill in istry of I i~formalwie.. Just as he set it down in a letter to his mother from Chungking, in its last issue Maclean's printed the story of how Ross started from Hong Kong's soul/i shore with fifteen others in a slow motor launch. Stopped by a hail of Jap bullets they swam for a small island where Ross and his boss, Duels MacDou gall, dis covered what they thou gut was a British motor torpedo boat. But when a member of the group raccd down to the boat the rest of the party was greeted by a burst of machine gun fire. The story is here concluded.The Editor.
IT WAS getting darkand Imade up mymind there was onlyone thing left to do. Hide, if possible,un til it was completely dark; climb back down to our original ledge and swim out to our abandoned boat; put my clothes back on, and then try to swim back to Mac waiting on our rocky island with at least one of our packs, and especially with my two thousand dollars. We could make our way along the island in the direction of Aberdeen (Aberdeen was not so very far off across on the Hong Kong Island) and bribe a junkman or sampan man to take us back to Hong Kong. There I intended to try to get Mac up to Queen Mary Hospital.
My plans after that were indefinite, but I had a hazy notion of sneaking back to Aberdeen and trying again to bribe some sampan man to take me off to some farther away island, where I might have a chance of holding up for a day or two until I could make the mainland. It was a crazy plan as the Japs would probably have nabbed us the moment we set foot back in Hong Kong, but it seemed no more crazy than what we were justgoing through, and I certainly could see no way of escaping over miles of water and land clad only in wet, oily underwear and no shoes, and with Mac wounded I didn’t know' how badly.
While these thoughts were running through my mind Mac decided to hail the torpedo boat again. No further shots had come from it, and I was afraid our first group of fellows had been shot down. Mac apparently had got past caring. He simply stood up in the open and started making his way down to the boat, shouting as he went. I followed, taking what cover I could.
Nothing happened until we were almost down to the water’s edge, when suddenly a voice in beautiful English shouted, “It’s okay, come on down.”. I don’t believe I’ve ever heard anything so beautiful and gratifying as that voice. We scrambled down and they picked us up in a small rowboat.
The explanation of the burst of machine gun fire
was this. One of our chaps away ahead of the rest spotted the boat first, and without any thought that it might not be British, dashed down the hill, dived into the water and swam out to it. He was so excited and exhausted when they pulled him aboard he shouted, “There are ten chaps following, being machine-gunned.” The crew misunderstood him to say, “There are ten Japs following me with machine guns,” and when our advance party came into view they blazed away at them with their Lewis guns, luckily hitting none. The mistake was quickly realized and our fellows taken aboard.
Now I must go back a bit in the story. One of the Chinese officials who started out with us was Admiral Chan Chak. He was a grand old chap of about fifty, and had lost a leg while serving in the Chinese Navy. He had his A.D.C. and a bodyguard with him. The A.D.C. was a young Chinese whom we all called Henry, an excellent athlete and one of the champion swimmers of Hong Kong. When the order was given to abandon the boat they put a life preserver around the bodyguard, who couldn’t swim, and pushed him off.
The Admiral ordered his young A.D.C. to beat it
as he was going to make his own way to the shore. Henry dived overboard and waited to help the Admiral, but was again ordered to save himself. The old boy then threw his wooden leg over and jumped in after it. Just before he jumped a bullet smashed into his arm and fractured one of the bones. With only one leg, and now with only one arm in use, he made the shore. He had lost a good deal of blood, and before we first started off to explore the island we told him to lie still behind the rock and we would come back for him later.
By the time Mac and I were pulled aboard the torpedo boat it was quite dark and a small rowboat was immediately put back ashore to find the Admiral. He was not behind the rock where we left him and they searched and searched and finally found him right on top of the hill. He had heard the sniper after Mac and me and decided he was too exposed where he was, and had pulled himself, dragging one leg and one arm, right up to the top.
When they got him back it was almost ten p.m. and it was decided to push off to run the Japanese naval blockade. The sailors had dug up old dry clothes for our wet group and given us a good nip
A one-legged admiral swims for his life and sixty desperate men steal through enemy lines to freedom
of rum each. When we finally all assembled we were amazed to find eleven out of our sixteen had got through, including the two wounded. And of that eleven, ten were of our original party that left the city together. We had lost one Chinese, a grand fellow and a high official, and four of the five naval volunteers that had joined us at the last minute in Aberdeen. That so many got through seems an absolute miracle.
By this time other motor torpedo boats had come alongside, and we numbered five, with three torpedoes among the lot. The mixup in the original plan to meet the Chinese party just before the surrender had occurred because the Japanese bombers had been after the M.T.B.’s the whole day, chasing them from pillar to post, and it was impossible for them to get into Aberdeen. They, therefore, hid in the cove on the other side of the small island for three reasons. First, because they had eluded the Jap planes and were safely hidden in their little cove; second, because there was just a chance wre might stumble across them out there should we attempt an escape of our own (as we eventually did); and third, because they had to
wait for darkness anyway before making a break for it.
We pushed off about ten p.m. and the throb of those powerful motors was music to our ears. About an hour later a Jap destroyer (or light cruiser, we couldn’t tell which in the darkness) heard us and got us in her searchlights. She fired four shots at us, but they all fell wide and we continued on.
The next problem was where to land. It was decided to make a landing on a small island near the shore about thirty-five miles up the coast. We knew most of thecoast line was held by the Japanese and the problem was where to slip through their lines. Someone knew there was a small Chinese fishing village on the island we selected, and the idea was to slip ashore quietly, shoot up any Jap garrison there might be (we thought at most there could be only a dozen or so Japs) and then get the villagers to guide us to a safe spot on the mainland.
By now we presented quite a formidable force. Including the crews of the M.T.B.’s there were now about sixty of us, all armed to the teeth. I’ve never seen a party better armed. We had eight Lewis machine guns, six Bren guns, two Tommy
guns and every man had a rifle or a revolver; most had both. A little after one a.m. two boatloads put ashore on the island chosen. Luck was with us again.
There were no Japs ,on the island, and the villagers were pro-Chungking and were very pleased to see us. When they heard the powerful throb of our motors they expected a Japanese raiding party and had taken to the hills, but rushed back on learning our identity. They sent two guides with us and we pushed a little farther along the coast and landed on the mainland right smack at the guerilla headquarters. The guerillas also heard our motors and took to the hills; but there was great rejoicing when they discovered who we were, and they simply couldn’t do enough for us when they learned the Admiral was in our party.
We landed about three a.m. and they at once provided the best of biscuits and boiling hot milk. By golly, they were well stocked up. The very best English blankets, cigarettes, tinned goods, camp beds, etc. Regular bandits, with guns and bandoleers of bullets draped all over them. They’re violently anti-Japanese, but don’t let that interfere with their own private looting. On learning the Admiral was with us there was a great show of patriotism and they at once offered to provide us with an armed escort and guides to get us through the Japanese lines. We, in turn, told them they could strip everything off the M.T.B.’s but that they must be sunk before daylight. (If left afloat, Jap planes would quickly spot them and be on our trail in a flash.)
They got some lovely equipment off those boats. Radio transmitting and receiving sets, and all the vast quantity of gear that goes with those wellequipped craft. They began to sink at dawn and it seemed such a shame to destroy them, with their huge powerful Napier engines. They were very reluctant to go down and the villagers had to pile them high with rocks to keep them under the surface. At dawn we marched a few miles into the hills and rested all day in a small village.
Oh, I forgot to mention, just before dawn a motorboat came cruising along and ran on a rock almost beside us, in the dark. It turned out to be another group of British naval chaps, seven in all, who had also escaped at dusk from Hong Kong. They were not quite sure where they were, and it was sheer good luck they stumbled upon us and safety. They had had an uneventful trip, having left Hong Kong after dark. We now had quite a distinguished party—the Chinese Admiral, a British Naval Commander, and two Lieutenant Commanders in addition to our original little party of eleven.
AFTER resting all day we set out at dusk and - marched in single file by moonlight. We had to be careful of Jap planes (a real danger had we marched by day), and also of any puppets who might spot us and inform the Japs ahead. We were indeed fortunate with the weather; clear and cold, with a bright moon for several nights.
We carried on and finally passed around the last Japanese stronghold, a Chinese city with a Jap garrison of four thousand, and five hundred cavalry. The guerillas knew the exact strength and positions of the Japanese far miles around. They were certainly to be admired. Their intelligence work was perfect, and occasionally we would spot one or two away off on some hilltop, threading along on our flanks to prevent any surprise attack.
We had one ticklish moment getting past this last stronghold. It was about one a.m. and we were creeping ahead in a long single file, not making a sound, when a wretched dog in a small village we were skirting started barking, and a villager took a shot at us. That shot sounded like a cannon blast. However our guerilla escort got hold of the villager and scared the wits out of him and we crept away with the near-by Japs apparently quite unaware.
Finally on Dec. 29 we arrived at the first Chinese city of any size on our route into FYee China. We were a bedraggled-looking lot.
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Unshaven, uncombed, clad in odd bits of clothing picked up in the motorboats. The worst of all was marching for days with old borrowed shoes that didn’t fit. Boy, our feet were in bad shape. I was bitten from head to toe with vermin picked up in the filthy Chinese huts we slept in by day. Three or four of our chaps were ill, one with dysentery and another suspected of having cholera. It was no wonder, when I think back on the food we had been eating.
It was indeed fortunate we were travelling in the coldest part of the year, when disease was at its lowest ebb. We almost froze each night, but that was far better than falling sick.
I kept in the best of health, and was feeling better than I had for years. Kept thanking my lucky stars I had done so much swimming and hiking all summer, it was just what was needed.
What a reception ! Word had been flashed ahead we were coming and they sent a fleet of bicycles for us to ride the last fifteen miles. And were we glad to see them ! A small force of Chinese troops was drawn up just outside the city to salute us as we came by and I don’t mind saying I was never so glad to see a Chinese soldier. We couldn’t enter the city right away as there was an air raid on, but we got in about three in the afternoon and were given an evacuated hospital to stay in. Real beds and everything. Boy, it felt good to get a bath once again, even though it was only from a wooden bucket.
Mac had stood the trip remarkably well. It amazed me how he ambled on mile after mile with that bullet in his j back and with the original dressing still on. There was only one Chinese doctor in the town, and after messing around for some time until he almost had poor Mac fainting, he announced j he couldn’t find the bullet and we j would have to carry on to another I city about five days away. The j Admiral’s arm was beginning to swell, and he was feverish; but they could do nothing much for him either, except change the dressing.
The whole city was a wreck. Bombing after bombing had produced rows and rows of burnt-out streets, and all the bridges were down. There were no roads or railways serviceable for transport and it was decided we would push on by river junk. We I stayed and rested for two days, and j bought a few necessities at outrageous prices. The shops simply had no stocks. What they did have had all been smuggled through from Hong Kong before the Jap attack and most of that had been bombed out. So at six p.m. on New Year’s Eve we set out in four river junks for the interior of China.
Gas, $150 a Gallon
TRAVELLING by junk was slow, but not unpleasant. We made only about three miles an hour j against a strong current. The boats had automobile engines, run on charcoal burners instead of gasoline. ¡
! (Gasoline was $150 a gallon.) We chugged slowly along, having frequent engine breakdowns. Our junks were crowded to capacity with Chinese regular soldiers and some of our own guerillas with us as guards. We slept head to toe, on straw strewn on the floor.
Some of us wanted to go ashore and walk along the river bank for exercise, as the boats made their way along; but that whole countryside is unsettled and dangerous, and they wouldn’t let us land. And so we went slowly along, until on the fifth day we came to quite a village where the first motor road linking with Free China began. (You must remember that after almost five years of war with j Japan, the Chinese had thoroughly destroyed all roads, railways, and bridges to hinder any attempted Japanese advance into the interior.)
Here again we had a great reception. After a huge dinner provided by the community, speeches were made from a platform draped with British and Chinese flags. Beef is scarce, and by government decree can be killed only three times a month; but by special dispensation they were allowed to kill a cow for us and, boy, it was good.
They provided five trucks for us ; and a car for the Admiral and Mac, who were feeling the strain by now, and we set off at four-thirty next morning for a two-day trip along the most mountainous, bumpy, narrow, dangerous road we had yet struck, j We were bounced around and covered thick with dust, but it was a hundred per cent better than walking. After two days we arrived at Shiukwan (pronounced Shoo-gwan), quite a large Chinese town, and the first we had struck that had telephones and electric lights, although both were uncertain in the extreme.
We were met a few miles out of the city by the governor, the mayor, and several generals. There were troops drawn up taking the salute, and a line of boy scouts and girl guides and small girls dashing around pinning rosettes on us. They were written in Chinese, of course, and the translation read, “To the brave defenders of Hong Kong.” From the very first contact with the Chinese after our getaway I was struck by their friendliness and good will—one would have thought we had saved Hong Kong instead of losing it—and this show of good will never abated. It was amazing how well they took care of us.
We were very comfortably quartered on a huge floating houseboat. The air raid signal sounded without fail every morning, but ! during the few days stay we never sighted a Jap plane. I firmly believe the Chinese air raid signal system is the simplest and most effective in the world. Do you know, they keep the populace informed moment by moment exactly from which direction the planes are coming, how many there are, and almost to the exact minute the time they should be expected overhead. The result is the populace leisurely wander along to the trenches or dugouts at the first alarm, start getting under cover at j the second and are safely tucked ' away by the third and final alert.
All this is accomplished by having an army of spotters dotted on the hilltops for hundreds of miles around. They give the news by field telephone anc should this break down, they simply shout from hilltop to hilltop.
Plane To Chungking
MAC GOT a telegram off to the Ambassador in Chungking offering our services and he replied immediately congratulating us on our safe escape, and telling us to proceed immediately there as there was plenty of work to be done. Mac and the Admiral went into the Mission Hospital where it was found the Admiral’s arm was broken. They removed the bullet and dressed him up but he became quite ill and was still in hospital when we left six days later. They still couldn’t find the bullet in Mac’s back, but he was feeling much better after a couple of days in bed, and it was decided he should proceed to Chengtu by plane where is situated the Canadian M:ssion Hospital—the best equipped in Free China.
We had a round of big dinners and receptions and I’ll swear I’ve never shaken hands with so many generals in all my life. They were certainly good to us. Mac still had a bundle of Hong Kong dollar notes, soaked with salt water but otherwise none the worse for wear. The Central Bank of China cashed them for us and we were able to buy pants, shoes, and shirts and began to look human once more.
The Mission people were simply swell, and couldn’t do enough for us. My, it’s strange how we curse them in normal times with all their seemingly petty requests, booking passages, shipping goods, and so on, but how extraordinarily fine they really are. Who knows, some day— if this world continues to go completely mad—I may join forces with them, if they’ll let me in.
After six days Chungking finally managed to get a plane down for us and seven of us lucky ones climbed aboard, leaving the rest to continue the long, arduous journey by train and truck. One of our original party got malaria and had to be left behind. It was my first long journey by plane. We took off in pitch darkness at nine p.m. and landed in equally pitch darkness at about four a.m. in Chungking. The plane was a peach of a big Douglas, the same type used on the American commercial routes; and the American pilots are tops. My gosh, when it became light and we saw where we had landed in the dead of night we were almost bowled over. Towering cliffs on both sides, with hightension wires strung across the top, and we had slid right under the wires and between the cliffs and landed on a sand bank in the middle of a river. And these pilots do it night in and night out, flying planes that haven’t been serviced for thousands of miles.
Now I must hurry; it’s almost two in the morning and I have to scoot to the airfield in another hour, for Calcutta.