Lockdown Resource: Hong Kong Oral History Collection

Continuing my blog series on lockdown-friendly resources, I recently came across the Hong Kong Oral History Collection on the Hong Kong Public Libraries website. Of particular interest to me are the Radio Television Hong Kong (RTHK) interviews with Hong Kong personalities recorded in the 1960s.

Click ‘view all items’ on the top right-hand corner of the search engine and you’ll be taken to a page where you can refine your search by year, collection and language (Chinese, English and Japanese). Interviewees include Michael Herries, the Jardines taipan, Dr Gerald Choa, the Director of Medical Services, and Gerry Forsgate, manager of Kowloon Wharf. All audio interviews are available to listen online, although no transcripts are provided. Happy searching!

Blank Visas?

Six Nations Underwrite UN Aid to Europeans Stranded in Red-Held Shanghai

By Kathleen Teltach, for the New York Times

United Nations June 1953: A UN Agency has developed a novel cooperative visa plan to help stranded European refugees get out of Communist held Shanghai. The visa plan, explained here today, by Dr Van Heusen Goedhart, High Commissioner for Refugees, already has rescued 1,200 Europeans, and he hopes to get out many more. The Shanghai group, he said, has confronted the High Commissioner’s office with its “tickets” problem since it was set up in 1951 to take over activities of the liquidated International Refugee Organisation. The refugees include White Russians, living in exile since World War One, and Poles, Hungarians, and others who fled from Eastern Europe after World War Two. All arrangements to care for these people – including daily rations for 1,300 refugees – and to obtain visas for them, must be handled without contact with the Chinese Communist officials, Dr Van Heusen Goedhart said.

 Diplomatic-level problems are negotiated through Indian officials at Peking. To move out the refugees from Hong Kong the High Commissioner explained, a government must agree to accept the refugees without examination and sight unseen.

To overcome the obvious reluctance of some states to open their doors to immigrants on this basis, six states have agreed to “underwrite” the needed visas. These six: Australia, Belgium, Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Switzerland – each have supplied ten blank visas to be used if the ‘host’ country decides after interviews with the would-be-migrant, to refuse entry. In 1952, 878 refugees were transferred from Shanghai on the alternate-visa plan and last April 300 more departed. In only three cases has the High Commissioner been compelled to use the alternate visa and the rest, still valid, can be used repeatedly. It would take 500 alternate visas, Dr Van Heusen Goedhart said, to evacuate the remaining refugees. Besides visas, the Commissioner needs funds since the present resources – supplied voluntarily by governments and in private agencies – will be exhausted by next January.

The activities of the High Commissioner’s office will come for review this fall before the General Assembly when it will be decided whether the office is to be continued. Two million persons are under its jurisdiction, half requiring help of some kind.  

The Elizabeth Ride Archive

Bouncing off from my previous blog posting about Baptist University’s storymap website, I recently came across another new online resource which chronicles the activities of the British Army Aid Group (BAAG), the MI9 in China ‘who did the best things in the worst of times’. The Elizabeth Ride Archive aims to document the activities of the war-time organisation through the papers collected and described by Elizabeth Ride, Sir Lindsay Ride’s daughter, who has devoted her life to publicising and disseminating this history. Here you’ll find information about Allied strategy, speeches and diaries from Sir Lindsay, as well as memoirs and war stories from the Hong Kong Defence Volunteer Corps, including recollections from a Portuguese Captain; a Chinese Private, and this British signalman.

The BAAG / Elizabeth Ride papers are duplicated and fragmented around the world, and can be accessed primarily in Australia, Britain and Hong Kong. The website has a handy finding aid showing which collections are available where.

New Online Resource: Hong Kong and the British Army Aid Group

Sir Lindsay Tasman Ride

In an age of Covid-19, at a time when many libraries and archives remain closed, online resources can feel like a lifeline for researchers marooned at home. (For an excellent account of the impact of Covid on graduate research, read Colourful Histories‘ viral blog post). Digitised records, free journal access and e-books can help keep the wheels of research turning.

So it was with great joy that I came across – via good ole Twitter – the Hong Kong Resistance: the British Army Aid Group (BAAG) storymap, which introduces the history of BAAG, its wartime activities and the impact of the organisation on the Allied war effort against Japan. Led by Lieutenant Colonel Lindsay Tasman Ride, the BAAG was an underground resistance organisation active in Hong Kong and South China from 1942 to 1945.

On 8 December 1941, 35,000 Japanese troops, supported by heavy artillery and air and naval elements attacked Hong Kong, as part of Japan’s undeclared war against the United States, the British Commonwealth, and the Netherlands.

The interactive website is divided into chapters, each chronicling important junctures in the history of BAAG, from its formation in early 1942, to Col. Ride’s heroic escape to China, and finally, the liberation of Hong Kong in 1945. The website has a particularly interesting section on Hong Kong’s P.O.W. and internment camps, with an interactive map showing the location of each camp (Stanley, Argyle Street, Sham Shui Po, Ma Tau Chung, North Point) which is illustrated by photographs and digitised records.

The new website, hosted by Hong Kong Baptist University, is the brainchild of the indefatigable Professor Kwong Chi Man.

Refugees: Forced to Flee

A new exhibition opening in September 2020 at the Imperial War Museum (IWM) will explore a century of refugee experiences, from Nazi Germany’s persecution of Jews, to the Calais ‘jungle’ and the dangerous crossings across the Meditterranean. First-person accounts and deeply personal experiences confront and challenge common perceptions of the refugee plight. The exhibtion makes use of oral histories, artefacts and photographs to tell the story of refugee journeys, showing how war and conflict radically alters ordinary lives.

Ordinary people are forced to make extraordinary decisions – should they stay or go?

The exhibition is part of IWM’s ‘Refugee’ series, which explores refugee experiences throughout history and the ongoing challenges faced by the 17.5 million people who have fled Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, South Sudan, Syria and Yemen.

Refugees being escorted out of Mostar, Bosnia in June 1992 © Kevin Weaver and IWM