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Episodes & Studies Volume 2

Escapes to China

Escapes to China

Few prisoners of war escaped from. Japanese hands. On the islands of the East Indies thousands of miles of sea separated them from friendly territory. In Malaya and Thailand 1000 miles of jungle lay between the prison camps and Allied forces. Burma was nearer but just as hopeless to pass. No one escaped from Japan itself. A European would be immediately remarked among a population of Asiatics in all these territories more or less hostile to the white man. In China page 32 the chance was a little better as the Chinese bitterly hated the Japanese. Some prisoners escaped from Hong Kong in the first weeks after its fall.

A pilot officer of the RNZAF (E. D. Crossley1) escaped from Shamshuipo Camp, Hong Kong, in February 1942 with two others and reached the guerrilla-held area of China. They had bribed a Chinese to take them by sampan across the harbour, and although fired on by the Japanese managed to get into the hills. On their fifth day out they had the bad luck to meet a gang of Chinese bandits by whom they were set upon and robbed; although these men took their money, they left the escapers their maps and food and thus the ability to go on. Once in the friendly hands of the guerrillas, the escapers were passed on by water or by road to the interior of China and thence flown out to Calcutta.

Another New Zealander, a lieutenant in the RNZNVR (R. B. Goodwin2), had been wounded in the defence of Hong Kong and was unable to attempt escape in the early period when the Japanese hold on the territory was comparatively loose. His escape in July 1944 was a supreme feat of nerve and endurance. Lieutenant Goodwin has himself graphically described his adventure in his book Hongkong Escape.3 This was one of the few escapes made with virtually no co-operation from fellow prisoners and no prearranged help from outside; indeed, the escaper felt he had more to fear from some fellow prisoners than from the Japanese.

1 Sqn Ldr E. D. Crosslecy, MC, m.i.d.; Lower Hutt; born Wellington, 25 May 1917; company manager; p.w. 25 Dec 1941; escaped 2 Feb 1942.

2 Lt-Cdr R. B. Goodwin, OBE; Wellington; born NZ 15 Jul 1902; civil servant; p.w. 25 Dec 1941; escaped Jul 1944.

3 Arthur Barker Ltd.