Hong Kong Diary: 1941 (part 2)

As mentioned in a previous blog post, I’ve come across a diary which reveals the social, political and economic life of Hong Kong in 1941, including attitudes towards the evacuation scandal, the treatment of British and Canadian soldiers, refugee humanitarianism and race relations between the Chinese and British in the period immediately preceding the fall of Hong Kong. The diary was written by a British expatriate who had previously worked in Shanghai.

Below you’ll find the second diary extract, written on 15 – 16 November 1941, which describes a social event for the Hong Kong Volunteers, the eerie beauty of a blackout, and social work undertaken on behalf of Chinese refugees. As you’ll see below, the author expresses a fear, common at the time, that generous social welfare schemes would ‘encourage’ more Chinese refugees to settle in Hong Kong.

Last night we had one of our periodical blackouts. I went to see the 7:30 showing of the film ‘Andy Hardy’s Private Secretary’ with a friend – a delightful fellow who is in charge of the Government Radio Workshops here – and we had a quiet meal and a chat after. On returning home I saw one of the most wonderful star-lit skies that it is possible to imagine …

When I finish this page I will be going to the annual dinner of the No. 1 Machine Gun Company of the Hong Kong Volunteer Defence Corps, of which I am a member. I was still in the training cadre when last year’s dinner was held, and I am looking forward to this evening when I shall be sitting next to congenial friends.

(The writer goes on to detail his social committee work).

At present the only other committee is in connection with free food kitchens for feeding refugee and destitute Chinese. At present there are four of these kitchens (2 on the Mainland and 2 on the Island) which between them provide over 4,000 mid-day meals daily and it is expected that this will be greatly increased in the near future.

The govt. social services are, to European eyes, inadequate but it must be remembered that any improvement in the conditions here would probably mean an influx over the border of many thousands of refugees without any certainty that they would remain to become an asset to the colony after their health and education has been looked after. At present there is no adequate primary education, and the boys’ and girls’ clubs have to provide an educational programme instead of supplementing existing education as is done in London and elsewhere in the British Isles; these clubs are open in the evenings and the daytime many of the youngsters try to earn a few cents as newsvendors and boot-blacks.