Stanley - Hong Kong
January 1974, in his 86th year
by Jane Taylor (Granddaughter)
Before hostilities broke out, Grandpa was Manager of the Green Island Cement Company at Kowloon.
When the Japanese invaded, Grandpa pushed his much-loved Humber Snipe motor car into Hong Kong Harbour, as per official instructions to the civilian population at the time; (presumably it's still there, somewhere beneath all the debris).
Grandpa was interned in Stanley Camp in Hong Kong throughout the war. Food was very short and he even had to trade his wedding ring for a tin of sardines when rationing got really bad (and knowing Grandpa, that would have been a major sacrifice; literally a matter of life and death). He was grateful whenever he was able to get hold of a raw egg to eat for its protein value, despite the revolting sense of having to push it down uncooked. Apparently, he used to say that you never know how glad you are for the simplest things in life till you're right up against it.
When the Americans bombed Stanley in January 1945, Robert was blown through the window of the bungalow he was living in by the force of the blast. Thankfully, he survived, though he received severe injuries to his back as a result; the scars from which he carried till he died in January 1974, in his 86th year.
Owing to these injuries, I understand that Grandpa was among the first from Stanley to be repatriated to the UK via ?Lancaster (or perhaps Sunderland?) bomber: a very long and uncomfortable journey by what little I've been able to glean, but much quicker than going by ship. All things considered, I suppose speed was of the essence. Until the day he died, Grandpa treasured his copies of the "South China Morning Post" which were issued on 14th/15th August 1945; a couple of single newspaper columns announcing the liberation of Hong Kong.
In the same US raid on Stanley in which Grandpa was injured, one of Dad's former teachers at the Hong Kong British School was killed (I can't, for the moment, recall the name, though Dad will remind me if I ask him); as was Grandpa's colleague, Sid Bishop, who'd been a close family friend for many years. In 1938, (the year Grandma, Dad and my youngest aunt returned to Scotland) Sid commissioned a Chinese joiner at Grandpa's works to make a scale model of one of the company's steam tugs, the 'Hok Yuen' for Dad. This was a vessel the family often used to get from Kowloon to Hong Kong side on private expeditions. Dad remembers vividly how he and my Aunt Nan (the youngest sister in the family) used to spy on the work in progress through an uncovered skylight in the workshop.
Following a period of recovery at home in Glasgow after liberation, he and my grandmother (who had come back to Glasgow in 1938 to be with my father and my three aunts, all of whom were of school age at the time; she was a staunch member of the FEPOW group in Glasgow throughout the war) returned there until his retirement in 1949.
In February/March 2005, I visited my sister in Shanghai. During that trip, we managed to make a five-day visit to Hong Kong. Although the area which was Dad's childhood home has long since been reclaimed and built over, we were able to visit Stanley and to say a prayer for those who were held, and who died there. I was also able to visit the church that Grandpa helped to build in Kowloon in the 1920s, and which he did so much to help restore after the Japanese had used it as a stable during the War.
The great majority of those interned were ordinary men and women, like us, who did their very best to live according to their lights and to uphold the honour and the best traditions of their countries. What they sacrificed, in terms of personal life and achievements, is something we can never fully appreciate. But it's something we should never forget, or cease to be thankful for. Their bravery is something that ought to humble every one of us.
Jane C Taylor