The UNHCR’s First Mission to Hong Kong, 1952

UNHCR Hong KongIn the 1950s Hong Kong became a base of international humanitarianism as NGOs opened offices in the colony to help assuage the Chinese refugee crisis. The newly formed United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) dispatched a mission to Hong Kong in 1952 – its original remit was actually to help Europeans displaced in China (see letterhead above). Other organisations were founded to help Chinese refugees who were, according to the UNHCR deputy commissioner James Read, ‘living in the most primitive circumstances … their houses are shacks and lean-tos, put together from a few pieces of wood and corrugated iron … sanitary arrangements are non-existent’. These included voluntary organisations rooted in Hong Kong’s Chinese communities, Kaifong Associations, global Christian missions and politically influenced secular NGOs, which dispensed housing, food and sanitation for Hong Kong’s growing refugee population.

For further reading on this subject, I recommend:

Laura Madokoro’s new book (Elusive Refuge, Chinese Migrants in the Cold War, 2016) takes a comprehensive look at white settler immigration policy towards Chinese refugees during this era – I haven’t had a chance to read it as yet but it’s certainly on my ‘to read’ list!



Dr Solomon Bard (1916 – 2014) and the Battle of Hong Kong

Dr Solomon Bard: a man of many talents

Dr. Solomon (Solly) Bard was born in Siberia in 1916. He received his early education in Harbin and Shanghai, and lived most of his working life in Hong Kong. He moved to Hong Kong in 1934 to study medicine at the University of Hong Kong (HKU) where he graduated in 1939. During the Second World War he served in the Hong Kong Volunteers Field Ambulance Unit. When the colony fell to the Japanese he was imprisoned in Sham Shui Po prisoner-of-war camp. After the war, Solly was appointed Director of the Student Health Service at HKU, and in 1976 to 1983 served as the Executive Officer of the Antiquities and Monuments Office. He occasionally served as the conductor of the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra and later became its Chairman.

Below is an excerpt of an oral history interview with Dr Bard in which he discusses his memories of the Battle of Hong Kong.

The Japanese landed at Mirs Bay and at any moment the invasion, the attack on Hong Kong, was expected. They were massing at the border at Lo Wu and it was no surprise whatsoever when I was told to report to the headquarters to be deployed on the morning of the 8th of December. And just as I gathered my kit together, I could hear explosions, and I said to my wife – we were only two and a half months married – I said Sophie, I think the war has started. I got my kit and I reported to headquarters. The war had started.  Kai Tak was attacked and the Japanese had crossed the border.

Very shortly after the hostilities began, I was transferred to Mount Davis, because Mount Davis came under heavy shelling and bombing. Mount Davis had a battery, a regular Royal Artillery Battery of about a hundred and thirty personnel and they were expecting to have casualties. And the medical headquarters, that’s a part of the whole field ambulance, the headquarters decided that they needed a Medical Officer. And I was the nearest.

My position with Advanced Dressing Station was the nearest to Mount Davis and so I received orders to proceed to Mount Davis and spend the rest of the fighting here at Mount Davis. So, in fact, since the landing took place right at the other end of the island – we were on the west end at Mount Davis – we never had contact with the Japanese, except shells and bombs, and that came very heavily and a lot of it.

SJYA diary: final entry (no date)

Day 8 and final entry of Yenta Kleiman’s  Shanghai Jewish Youth Association summer club diary (days 6 & 7 can be found here):

SJYA Summer Club 1938 Newspaper
North China Daily News ‘Presentation to Mr. Horace Kadoorie’, 16 September 1938

The children made the best of the advantages of a spacious garden, and really enjoyed themselves that day at Mr. Albert Hayim’s garden. Some preferred to explore the ins and outs of the place, while others practiced the different sports that were very carefully arranged for them.

The Cafeteria Dinner and Cinema, the Sports’ Day and the day of the presentation of Prizes, were enjoyed as much as the previous S.J.Y.A. meetings, which is saying much.

The last day was especially outstanding in its events. Everybody was happy, the prize winners went to receive their awards and their pals clapped for them. Presently the Camp Fire was lighted, and as everybody raised their young and vibrant voices to sing together the popular songs, they tried to forget the impending breakup. Indeed, despite the gaiety, a little tinge of sadness prevailed as each one of the campers thought of the jolly club activities that were to cease.

The President stood up and asked for attention, and after he had concluded his very interesting speech, I asked permission to say a few words. In my speech, I tried to express on behalf of all the members of the S.J.Y.A. Summer Club how much we are indebted to Mr. Kadoorie for the lovely time we had had. The President and the other members of the Executive Committee each received a little presentation, given with our ever-lasting gratitude.

As everything must have an end, so must our jolly times together.

Looking forward to the following Summer …

SJYA diary: August 11 & 18 1938

Days 6 and 7 of Yenta Kleiman’s  Shanghai Jewish Youth Association summer club diary (days 4 & 5 can be found here):

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SJYA Cantonese Dinner menu (front cover), August 1938
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SJYA Cantonese Dinner menu inside sleeve. Entertainment includes ‘Song with Chin (Chinese Harp). Accompaniment by Miss Buttercup Li.

11 August 1938: Cantonese Dinner

A bowl of rice, and several tasty dishes to accompany it, is really an inspiring dish, and I am sure all present thought so, as the chopsticks clicked and the bowls were constantly refilled. I consider Chinese chow most savoury as compared with European food, and I am sure many would agree with me, had they been party to our Chinese dinner.

A looker-on would have said that the scene that presented itself to him reminded him of Orient; and why not? Real Chinese singing with Chin (harp) accompaniment – or the popular Woo Chen (fiddle) put into use – the tropical sun and palm trees – Chinese Dinner – isn’t it an ideal scene of the Far East?

(After Dinner)

The S.J.Y.A. Dramatic Association developed into something great. First of all, it increased in number, and also its programme is on a larger scale. Formerly, the act they produced was short, this time it was pretty long, and I thought the actors did marvellously well, considering that they has so short a period to rehearse in.

Books of tickets for the Fun Fair were distributed to S.J.Y.A. Club members and their little brothers and sisters at home. Only seven days more and the eminent FUN FAIR will take place. Hurrah! Three hearty cheers for the coming FUN FAIR! Hip, Hip …

18 August 1938: Fun Fair

SJYA Summer Club 1938 x2 photo
Pillow fight at the SJYA fun fair, August 1938

Even a writer would have been a failure to describe the happiness, gaiety, jollity and good-fellowship which prevailed, so I guess I will be a complete one. But just the same I will attempt and perhaps will be so fortunate as to produce a tiny fraction of what I would like to have written.

Never before was Shanghai Jewish School so crowded. The young and old came, and both thoroughly enjoyed themselves – the former trying their luck at different fun stalls and the latter watching their sons and daughters, grand-sons and grand-daughters.

The cats were being knocked off the wall (Cat on Wall); the windows being smashed (Smash the window); ugly faces were being properly smacked (Aunt Sally); fish were being caught (Fishing); profiles were being silhouetted (Silhouette); coconuts were being won (Coconut Shy); roller skates, torches, watches and dolls were being houped (Houp La); pillow duels were being fought (Pillow Fight); AND WHAT NOT!

While some rode the donkeys, others were piloting the aeroplanes. Whereas there was a ring of eager children around the “Ski Board”, a still bigger one surrounded the “Dart Board” and so on.

Two radios were in full blast. In one corner old Fatima, the gipsy, told fortune. The Ice Cream, Sweets and Restaurant stalls were kept extremely busy “valuating the tickets”, etc. etc.

Every participant carried off 4 prizes at least, and some made away with very much more.

“Wonderful” is not the word for it!”

SJYA diary: July 31 & August 4 1938

Days 4 and 5 of Yenta Kleiman’s  Shanghai Jewish Youth Association summer club diary (day 3 can be found here):

SJYA Summer Club 1938 song book inside
SJYA summer club song book

July 31 1938

At 16:30 the sun was still high in the sky, and one would never have believed that it was raining about four hours ago.

The girls as they scattered round the garden, their brightly coloured frocks challenging the beautiful shades of trees and flowers, made the most enchanting picture. Some preferred solitude, while others made up their minds to spend their time jubilantly, and they certainly suited the action to the mind. As the whistle blew, however, all came together to partake of the refreshments served around.

Then there were the sports heats. Such encouragements as “Come on”, “Take your time”, “Make it snappy” “Take it easy” “Faster, faster” and other similarly cheery exclamations were constantly heard, while the greatest excitement prevailed all around.

It was with great reluctance, therefore, that we were obliged to leave, as terrible clouds spread over the sky and something of a storm was imminent. But we yet had time to sing some of the favourite songs, amongst which “Michael Finnigan” usually comes first.[1]

After having given the loudest and most hearty cheers for Sir Elly, we quickly went home, ere the rain began to pour.”

[1] See SJYA song book (pictured)

August 4 1938

Owing to it being a solemn Jewish festival, our merry programme of “Amateur Night” was slightly altered, but it was as equally enjoyed as any of the previous S.J.Y.A. affairs. Instead of Floor Show Night, we were entertained by a very thrilling film entitled The Light-house by the Sea in which a dog named Rintintin took the principle role. A ripple of excitement ran through the young audience, as Rintintin attempted any of his daring pursuits, and then followed sighs of regret or vice versa.

All this took place up on the roof garden. Like grand mandarins, we did not even have to shift from our tables when the dinner was over, but, with ice-cream, fruit and some cold soft drinks at our disposal, there we sat with the movie picture before us.

The picture was long and very interesting. The different scenes were invariably discussed from every angle, and finally acknowledged as one of the most wonderful pictures that ever was.

We all had a topping time!