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Episodes & Studies Volume 1

Hong Kong

page 21

Hong Kong

By the standards of Japanese prison camps those at Hong Kong were relatively humane and well run. In Shumshuipo camp there was a good library, and the prisoners held classes (until mid-1942, when they were forbidden), produced plays and concerts. Sports gear and instruments for a band were sent into this camp, the former bought with money sent by His Holiness the Pope. But malnutrition was common. Food sent in by the Red Cross helped to keep up a minimum standard of health, and in one camp a garden of 3 ½ acres was cultivated. A shortage of wood for fuel was a constant annoyance. This was one of the few areas outside Japan itself where any clothing was issued to prisoners. In the Netherlands East Indies, Malaya, Burma, and Thailand, men who would otherwise have been completely naked were given loin-cloths (nicknamed ‘Jap-happies’); few had more than a tattered shirt and a pair of shorts or a loin-cloth at the capitulation.

Even in these relatively good camps the guards gave frequent exhibitions of brutality, arrogance, and bad temper, keeping prisoners in a perpetual state of tension. The prisoners suffered, here as elsewhere, from the universal habit of Japanese officers of backing up any action of a Japanese private. Each guard could make his own camp rules, and did, so that there was no end to the petty annoyances and interferences prisoners had to endure.

The Japanese had the habit in many of their camps of distributing English-language newspapers containing their own versions of the progress of the war. The Hong Kong News gave a fairly accurate account of events in Europe but a wholly biassed and even childishly fantastic story of the Pacific war. Like others in Malaya and in Thailand, the Hong Kong prisoners had their own secret radios and knew the real news. This was a service which a few men rendered to their comrades at very great personal risk. Lieutenant H. C. Dixon, RNZNVR,* a radio engineer in civil life, in North Point and Shumshuipo camps constructed several receiving sets under great difficulties. Once valves were smuggled in wrapped up in the bandages round a prisoner who had been operated on, outside the camp, for appendicitis. The set itself was kept hidden under the ovens in the kitchen and later in a specially built space under a flower-bed, where it was subsequently discovered by the Japanese.

A secret radio was a highly dangerous possession. The senior officers in Shumshuipo, who had instigated the building of this set, had been extremely careful in feeding out news bulletins to the camp. Few were in the secret. But the necessity for drying out the radio after it had been taken from its damp hiding place under the flower-bed made its existence known to other prisoners, one of whom must have been indiscreet. One day the Japanese military police cleared the camp and then went straight to the flower-bed. The radio was not there, but some hours later the Japanese found it on the stove where it had been placed to dry. Lieutenant Dixon and other officers were taken away for a ruthless interrogation which lasted a month. Fortunately they had a story prepared with enough of the truth in it to satisfy the Japanese and reduce the circle of their victims. Dixon was inevitably among these. Another New Zealander, who escaped to China in July 1944, page 22 reported that he expected that Dixon would have been executed, but, surviving the maltreatment of the Japanese police, who had been especially alarmed because this set could have been used for transmitting, he received a sentence of fifteen years’ imprisonment and was released from Canton jail at the capitulation.

* Lt H. C. Dixon, MBE, RNZNVR; radio engineer; Wellington; born Wellington, 24 Apr 1908; taken prisoner at Hong Kong, 25 Dec 1941; released Aug 1945.