Massacre and Atrocities in Hong Kong during WWII

Hong Kong was a British colony before and after WWII, but from 12/25/1941 to 8/15/1945 when Japan surrendered, Hong Kong was under the control of Japan. This article recounts the massacre and atrocities committed by the Japanese troops during those three years and eight months of occupation of Hong Kong. The purpose of recounting these events is not to bash Japan or to generate hatred of Japan, but to make sure that we do not forget the lessons of history so that similar events do not occur again in the future. This is especially important taking into consideration that Japan’s current prime minister recently denied any major atrocity committed by Japan during WWII and Japan’s school textbooks have been rewriting history.

Japan started its invasion of Hong Kong on 12/8/1941 (or 12/7/1941 U.S. time, the same day Japan attacked Pearl Harbor). Great Britain surrendered Hong Kong to Japan on Christmas day, 12/25/1941, on a day that the people of Hong Kong called Black Christmas.

Although what happened in Hong Kong during this period pales in comparison to what happened during the 1937-38 Nanking Massacre, a great deal of massacre and atrocities were committed by the Japanese soldiers against the Chinese, British, Canadians, and other people living in Hong Kong at that time.

As many as 10,000 women were raped in the first few days. Tens of thousands, including women and children, were killed. Many more starved to death. Many parts of Hong Kong were ransacked and burned, and many residents left, deported, or escaped to even famine/disease-ridden areas of mainland China. Basically a reign of terror ruled Hong Kong during those three years and eight months, resulting in Hong Kong’s population of 1.6 million shrinking to 600,000 at the end of that period.

The atrocities were not just against the Chinese, but also British, Canadians, and people of other nationalities. For example, at a hospital for injured British soldiers, the Japanese soldiers slaughtered 170 recuperating soldiers and a few hospital staff. The eyes, ears, noses, tongues, or limbs were cut off on many victims. Seventy of the soldiers were killed with swords while they were lying in bed. The hospital’s seven nurses were raped, sometimes while lying on top of the bodies of murdered British soldiers. Several of the nurses were also slaughtered, and one of them almost had her head severed. All these actions were in complete violation of the 1864 Geneva Red Cross Agreement (which was the beginning of the establishment of the International Red Cross) regarding the treatment of prisoners-of-war.

After 18 days of fighting and bombing and the British surrendered on 12/25/1941, many people came out of hiding in the bomb shelters. Upon seeing many mean-looking Japanese solders with guns pointing at them, some ran either out of fear or not being able to understand the Japanese command to stop, they were shot dead on the spot. Some children cried and before the parents could stop their crying, the children were shot and killed.

Some of the atrocities even continued after Japan surrendered on 8/15/1945. For example, during 8/16-26/1945, a small garrison of Japanese soldiers in Silver Ore Bay in Lantau Island (where the new Hong Kong international airport is currently located) went berserk and slaughtered, robbed, and burned almost everything in sight, thus almost obliterated several small villages in this bay.

Many innocent people were also killed due to arbitrary and unjustly enforcement of curfews and other rules. For example, one time an eight-year old son, upon seeing his mother and a younger sibling coming home, ran across the street to meet them. All three were shot and killed due to a curfew forbidding crossing of that street. Often the rules were purposely left ambiguous or not well publicized, so that the Japanese soldiers could impose severe punishments, including killing, upon the violators.

While facing this reign of terror, many people also performed heroic acts. For example, in a hotel at Shallow Water Bay, Japanese soldiers found several seriously injured British soldiers and planned to kill them. A foreign nurse stepped in front and said if you want to kill them, you have to kill me first. On that occasion, the Japanese soldiers retreated. Dr. Hu, a doctor and head of a public hospital, out of his own pocket provided food and medicine to many orphans, and also provided free medical treatments to these orphans. Without his help, many of these orphans would have starved to death. There was also a British underground organization in southern China, called B.A.A.G., which helped over 600 alliance (including British and Canadian) soldiers escaped to safe territories, and over 120 Europeans and 550 Chinese escaped from Japanese controlled territories in Hong Kong and China.

Instead of learning from history to avoid repeating this kind of massacre and atrocities, unfortunately the Japanese government is in denial of their existence. They publicly proclaim that these events were fabricated in spite of so many eyewitness accounts, and they have been rewriting history in their school textbooks. Their senior government leaders also pay regular homage to the Japanese shrine where many of the war criminals were buried.

It is important for peace-loving people of the world to remember the following quotes:

  • “Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it” – 19th/20th century American/Spanish philosopher George Santayana
  • “All that is needed for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing” – 18th century Anglo-Irish statesman and philosopher Edmund Burke
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41 Responses to “Massacre and Atrocities in Hong Kong during WWII”

  1. Steve Fleetwood says:

    Excellent article. I have heard that Stanley was used as an internment camp for the foreigners during this period and the Japanese used the Peninsula Hotel as their headquarters.

  2. Guy Longtin says:

    Hi,
    Just came from an excursion on Peng Chau Island. I saw old abandoned factory buildings dating back to maybe a hundred years but I can’t confirm that. Anyways, on one side of the building, on a wall, I noticed what looks like bullet holes, about 3 to 5 feet off the ground, pockmarked all over the place. I’m not sure these were bullet holes, but I’ve seen other examples in France that look similar. Was there a recorded massacre on Peng Chau Island? I’ve googled and I can’t find any evidence. Maybe there’s other explanation for these holes on the side of the building.

  3. Maureen Doctrove says:

    The military hospital referred to in the article is the one on Bowen Road, now used as the base for various kindergarten and primary schools. There are further stories of patients being taken to the roof and forced to jump at the point of a bayonet in their backs. I have heard all the other stories before as reported in the article. It is a beautiful building and there is a house attached to it on the grounds. The road up to the hospital was built by the British army. A lot of the outside facade of the building has been destroyed and changed to accommodate these schools – a pity. The Government should slap a preservation order on it.

  4. Allan Proulx says:

    Referring to Maureen Doctrove’s comments, the hospital mentioned in the article could also well have been St. Stephen’s Hospital close to the Stanley POW Camp. The Japanese killed the patients and doctors and raped the nurses before slaughtering them not long after they invaded the colony.

    My Dad and uncle grew up in Hong Kong and his family lived with his grandparents in their large home in Tai Tam Bay (Turtle Cove). Just after the war started, they all ended up at the Repulse Bay Hotel except for my grandfather, a Canadian, who had been in Hong Kong since 1920 and joined the RNVR (Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve or more fondly known as the Wavy Navy) as a volunteer some time before hostilities began. He ended up at a military POW camp at North Point, was transferred to Shamshuipo, then back to North Point. He and two Dutch submarine officers escaped from North Point and made it to Bias Bay on the mainland where they split up and he, with the help of some Maryknoll nuns made his way to Kunming where Chennault took him in so he could recover. While in Kunming he would fly with some of Chennault’s pilots in unarmed aircraft over Hong Kong while he pointed out the main Japanese installations to them and would quickly beat it back to Kunming before the Japanese discovered they were there! He finally made it back to his family’s home in Ottawa via Karachi, India (visited his sister and brother in law there) and London. He wrote a book about his escape – “Underground from Hong Kong” – while at the family home in Ottawa.

  5. Paul T. Mudge says:

    When I was in Hong Kong in 1956 and 1957, I visited the Maryknoll House near Stanley (I believe). The caretaker who conducted me on a tour told of the Japanese occupation in WW-2 and stated that the Japanese had ripped up the flooring in the ground level of the building for firewood. He also stated that where my taxi was parked in front of the building is where 13 Canadian soldiers/prisoners were shot.

  6. Jeremiah Mason says:

    War is a product of man’s vanity for dominion over other race. Once they feel they are superior in terms of arms and technologies, they believe it gives them the right to suppress other people. My dad was a soldier in the Philipines during the war and I wasn’t able to get the details of how life was during the war that’s why I am so thankful that there is a website where we can find INVALUABLE INFORMATIONS about it. As I was reading some historical events, it strucked my mind IF JAPAN WAS REALLY AFTER THE C0-PROSPERITY OF THE ASIAN RACE, WHY KILLED THEIR FELLOW ASIANS? THEY COULD HAVE SHARED THEIR TECHNOLOGIES AND EXPERTISE INSTEAD SO THEY THEMSELVES COULD PROSPER AND DEFEND THEIR OWN COUNTRY FOR ANY INVASION.”

    I once spoke with an American National who happened to be a former member of the Marine Corpses. We were talking about wars and their effects on man. He mentioned the day when they bombed Nagasaki and Hiroshima in retaliation for the cowardly acts that Japan did at the Pearl Harbor. Sad to say, the end justified the means…

  7. formwiz says:

    Excellent piece, reminding us all that the Japanese were just as bad as the Germans (in many cases, far worse).

    Thank you for being politically incorrect.

  8. Brenda Coatta nee Andrews says:

    I am trying to track down some information on POW’s in Hong Kong. Does anyone have a web site for British POW’s. My grandfather was stationed in Hong Kong and my father and aunt were born in Hong Kong and later spent time in the prisoner camp. All have passed on now making information minimal. sure would love some help!

  9. Philip Cracknell says:

    I was very interested to read (belatedly) the response from Allan Proulx. I read your Grandfather’s book Underground from Hong Kong and in fact live near the former Royal Navy Minewatching station at Chung Hom Kok. The shelters still remain hidden in the undergrowth. Florence, Michael and Roger were interned in Stanley Camp. Allan if you get to read this. Please contact me. Best reds, Philip

  10. Philip Cracknell says:

    Brenda: I have a list of civilian and military internees/POWs in HK – please feel free to contact me. I can be reached on philipgcracknell@gmail.com

    best rgds,

    philip

  11. Brenda Coatta nee Andrews says:

    My dad was young ( 11 or 12 ) when first interned as a British POW. He didn’t talk much about the Japanese. but he did tell us he would run errands for them or polish their shoes to get extra food. He said they used to tease them by singing ” Banjo on my knee”. Apparently Banjo sounds the same as the Japanese word for toilet.
    Perhaps he was too young to know of the atrocities or wise enough to forget. He did say the Japanese were cruel! However, in the late 80’s I had home stay students from Japan and I found my father most accepting of these young people. I am glad he either forgot or chose not to dwell on the negative! Either way the world is a better place for those who can move on!

  12. Philip Cracknell says:

    Hi Brenda

    I found your grandfather as a POW in Sham Shui Po Camp in HK. He was not trains hipped to Japan as many were. He was in No 2 coy of HKVDC. This company was in the thick of action. I have emailed you details.

    Philip

  13. Philip Cracknell says:

    The Japanese soldiery were usually better with children but generally they were treated brutally within the Imperial Japanese Army and they were certainly brave and willing to lay down their lives for the Emperor who was divine but they were incredibly brutal and prisoners were often bayoneted or beaten to death . There were a large number of atrocities in Hong Kong and the fighting only lasted 18 days!

  14. Nicole says:

    What about the hospital on Ho Tung Road (where Maryknoll Convent School is right now)? I believe there were massacres there too? Can anyone confirm?

  15. Ken Wright. says:

    Hi Don, Sorry to trouble you but can you please tell me what Japanese units/battalion was actually responsible for the massacre at St Stephens College.
    Any help you can give will be most helpful.
    Cheers,
    Ken.

  16. Charles says:

    I have studied WW2 extensively. I was 6 years old when Pearl Harbor was so savagely attacked by the Japs. I remember my Mom & Dad being very alarmed; my Dad drove downtown to buy an Extra edition of the local Roswell, NM paper. All during the War–the Germans/Nazis were made fun of–such as hop-skip & jump upon a crude drawing of either Hitler–or Tojo. The atrocities were not known until as the last months of the War–when Nazi death camps were captured and prisoners in Japanese held territory that were still alive-told the almost unbelievable tales of torture-death-extreme brutality all in the name of the Emperor. All of the books–please read The Rape of Nanking – it shows & tells of unimaginable brutality. I have never quite forgiven the Japanese–their Government has purposely tried to minimize and outright try to re-write history. Japan–and yes I have been there as a US Naval Medical Officer and found them to be lukewarm friendly. Many apologists try to say that our Nuclear bombing of Hiroshima/Nagasaki was uncalled for — but it would have cost over 100,000 US troops to pacify Honshu, not counting the awful toll on the Japanese population. The Japs were the most horrific killers-rapist-brutal beatings and the death toll will never be known. And in the light of all atrocities – modest-unfelt apology — Doesn’t work for me CDP

  17. Don says:

    Charles,

    Thank you so much for your words of memory from your hearts.

    Don

  18. Barry Hyder says:

    I remember vividly the times when my uncle and aunt Eddie & Phyl (William Henry Edgar Colledge and his wife Phyllis) returned to the UK in the years following WW2. They brought with them food hampers from Hong Kong containing all sorts of goodies and dried fruits, most of which I had never seen before. They also sent food hampers to arrive just before Christmas every year. I know my uncle was a customs preventative officer in Hong Kong ending up with a high rank. My mother told me many years ago that both Eddie and Phyl were captured by the Japanese during the invasion of Hong Kong. They had two children, I believe boys, possibly twins, who they had tried to conceal in a trunk. The Japanese had bayonetted the trunk killing both. I have no means of confirming this and would be very pleased to hear from anyone who may have further information.
    The Hong Kong war diaries show Phyllis working as a nurse in the Volunteer Defence Force at St Pauls Hospital during WW2.

  19. Don says:

    Barry,

    I posted your comments. Hopefully someone can provide the information that you are looking for. Thanks.

    Don

  20. Sue Harding says:

    Just this last weekend, we’ve been talking with relatives about my husband’s Great-Uncle (Donald ‘Donny’ Brown) who was in the Royal Hong Kong Police at this time. He was held in Stanley camp as a civilian internee. A few of his letters reached his sister in India and we have been privileged to examine this (we shall be digitising them for posterity). His letters, although always filled with hope and concern for his siblings’ welfare back in India and the UK, hint at the darker side of internment. Suffice to say, after the war he declared he would never set foot in the UK again, after the perception that the UK government virtually abandoned the colony to its fate. He retuned to his police duties until retiring to New Zealand – but he would apparently never talk about what had happened in Stanley, even to his own family.

    A lot of these details, gleaned mainly from his letters have only come to light recently and I’m keen to find out more, so we can keep this bit of family history ‘alive’ for my children and the future generations.

    From another message board, I have been told Donny Brown was held at Nanking Hotel, before being transferred with three other RHKP officers to Room 12/30 in Stanley camp. I’d love to hear from anyone with a connection to this!

  21. alison hardie says:

    My father was in Stanley Camp and repatriated on the Gripsholm. Thanks for the article. Apparently my father and several friends went to as many hotels as they could before Hong Kong fell and smashed as many bottles of booze as they could find so the Japanese couldn’t get the liquor. I have very little actual information just stories my mother told me as my father died in 1948.

  22. jim kiffin says:

    what is not known about the battle of hong kong is that when it was liberated in 1945 the allied troops on seeing the massacres committed went about doing the same to them. in the next few days the bodies of dozens of dead jap troops were seen floating in hong kong harbour.& this was after their surrender .they did not die in battle .the citizens of hong kong also had their revenge .they got their comeuppance .

  23. Hello Alison:

    I have very little on your father other than these details:

    Hardie Malcolm Leuchars Mariner 26-Mar-09 Repatriated Canada in Sept 1943

    Best regards

    Philip Cracknell

    Philip.G.Cracknell@gmail.com

  24. Dear Barry:

    I have following information on your Aunt & Uncle in Stanley Camp.

    Camp No D.o.B Room

    94 Colledge William Henry Edgar Pharmacist /Dispenser at St Paul’s Hospital 13-Sep-06 2/24

    95 Colledge (Mrs) Phyllis Rose Nurse & Wife of above 3-Jan-11 2/24

    I have some additional notes:

    ‘A Bill of Divorcement’ put on by Bill Colledge, very well done, with Norah Witchell, Nina Valentine (Dr’s wife), R. Hughes. (Barbara Redwood’s Diary March 44).

    He and Mrs P R Colledge together with adopted daughter Miss Gladys Hutchison are on a list of Civil Service staff who stayed on (remaining in HK on 26th Jan 1946).
    Best regards, Philip Philip.G.Cracknell@gmail.com

  25. Hans Zulauf says:

    My father, Erich Zulauf, was working for the Swiss consulate during the war in Hong Kong. I have not been able to find any info concerning his time during the japanese occupation of Hong Kong. Can anybody he me out.
    Best Regards, Hans

  26. robert chow says:

    i’m not anyone can help me on this quest for more information on japanese occupation of hong kong , especially in Yuan Long, new territories, kowloon. i was born june 1, 1945 in tai cheng wei, yuan long. my father was killed in this village and was told his body was found near the village’s temple. my mother was imprisoned in the tiny brick hut until her death. at this time i was nine months old with malnutrition and was taken to an orphan in Fanling Babies Home under Droctor Mills. at age of ten i was adopted by a chow family in greenville, MS. after high school, i returned to fanling to tract back my back ground and met auntie clay (kei) the orphan supervisor who also sent me off to the kai tak airport in june 1955. to make the story short, in 1974 an unusual letter arrive to my home in phoenix, az. it was autie clay informed the my sister was looking for me. She told me what she heard from our grandmother the plight of my parents. i am still struggling what really transpired during the japanese occupation in hk. did they play any part murdered my father and mother? my two Tang’s uncle noe is dead and one is still alive today. reason for my quest is my parents’s property that is being confiscated by my third uncle who refused to give it back to me. if the japanese did kill my parents, my uncle is worse off than the japanese that have no heart for his long lost nephew. how would i do search to reclaim what is mind? if anyone know some history on yuan long during wwii, i would appreciate to gain more insight. thanks, Robert Chow

  27. The Fanling Babies Home was run by Mildred Dibden in 1941 assisted by Ruth Little. They were right in the path of the advancing Japanese army who crossed the border on Monday 8th December 1941. There were many rapes and deaths at the hands of the Japanese invaders. Mildred was struck in the face with a rifle butt many of her staff were raped and one of the children in the orphanage was killed. THey were allowed to remain there during the war years until liberation in 1945 when Mildred left for UK around Sept. 1945. You can read the story in a book called ” The Yip Family” by Jill Doggett (1969). The Japanese Army went through Yuen Long and along Castle Peak Road towards Tsuen Wan and on to Kowloon. Best regards Philip

  28. R. Crompton says:

    The atrocities committed by the invading armies of the Empire of Japan
    from 1931 until the end of WW II are very well documented. Although
    some Japanese military and political leaders were tried, convicted and executed for their crimes against humanity at the end of the war, too many to count escaped justice.

    The most notable omission of justice was the failure of the Allies to try
    Emperor Hirohito — who personally ordered the Japanese field commanders
    to strike terror into the hearts of the nations they invaded. Sadly, political expediency prevented what would have otherwise been the just execution of the butcher emperor. Small wonder then, that the Supreme Allied Commander in the Far East, Lord Louis Mountbatten refused
    to attend the reception given Hirohito and his empress by the British government in the late 1970’s.

    Japan is a proud nation — so proud that to this very day, it has been unable to fully acknowledge its war guilt, especially with regard to the Rape of Nanking and the cruel and inhumane treatment meted out against the
    opposing armies that vainly tried to defend themselves against the Japanese onslaught. Japanese cultural pride simply cannot admit guilt;
    and that fact may be a key reason why the Gospel has found such little acceptance among the Japanese people. Percentage-wise, there are fewer Christians in Japan than in any other nation in the Far East. They are evidently not moved by or attracted to the credo that states we ought to “…do unto others as we would have them do unto us.”

  29. David Ahlstrom says:

    The Americans did not bomb Hiroshima and Nagasaki out of “revenge.” They did it to END the war. WW2 would have gone on for at least one more year if they had tried invading the Japan home islands one by one and fighting 10 million soldiers and armed militia.

  30. Graham Mcblain says:

    My Father – RN FAA was in Hong Kong at this same time Aug 45 – HMS Venerable fleet carrier shore patrol rounding up the Japanese, they went to the British/Canadian hospital to locate the nurses trapped during occupation,they found them all – butchered and dumped down the water well, mattresses in the Hospital blood soaked and bayonet holed.

  31. Peter Lin says:

    Kuribayashi Tadamichi was the chief of staff of Japanese army during invasion of Hong Kong, the current Japanese prime minister consider Tadamichi is a hero, Hollywood movie described him a great human being

  32. Chris Trench says:

    I have heard of a mass killing by the Japanese of POWs, where they were forced to jump off the sea cliff to the north of Shek O Golf Club. I can’t find any information on this incident. Any details would be appreciated. Thanks

  33. Alison Hardie-Taylor says:

    My father, Malcolm Hardie, was in Stanley Camp. I was told very little about “the war” when I was growing up. I have a pair of sandals that took him 10 days to make whiled he was in camp. I’m finding it hard to locate information on Stanley prisoners. My father died in 1948, so not a lot to go on. My father was repatriated in 1943. I know a couple of stories about him and some friends of his before their capture, but not much Thanks for the excellent article.

  34. Leslie Ward Larrick says:

    Hi,
    My grandfather John Derrick Ward was a POW at Stanley. My father has never spoke much about the Japanese invasion, but he has told me that he and his brother then 9 and 11 used to take the bus to go visit their father at Stanley. I am not sure how long he was there. Does anyone know if there is a way to get any of this information?
    Thank you!

  35. Paul Pang Gerondal says:

    Hi Don

    I was born of Chinese parents on 18 December 1941, the very day 10 thousand Japanese Imperial Army troops invaded Hong Kong. My father managed a ships’ chandler business in the Central District of Hong Kong before WWII and one of his clients was a ship broker (Alex) A.E. Gerondal who took part in the civilian defence service and became the Deputy Chief Air Raid Warden in the ARP (Air Raid Precautions). Alex Gerondal and his wife May were interned at Stanley and after the war, settled in Western Australia.

    During their internment at Stanley, my father managed to send them food and other provisions, consequently Alex Gerondal was forever grateful and just before my father died he promised to repay his debt after the war. Subsequently he legally adopted me and gave me the best of everything.

    My research started in 2011 as a follow-up interest from a movie entitled Hong Kong 1941. Previous to that, I have read several library books with accounts of life at Stanley written by the interns or their relatives.

    Kind regards

    Paul Pang Gerondal

  36. jean mcroberts says:

    I am trying to find out where the doctors’ bodies were buried. My Uncle was one of those Doctors killed. Dr Johnston.

  37. Pat Fergusom says:

    My father, Sgt. Arthur Edward Budd was shot in the initial battle with C company and the Grenadiers. He spent well over a year (perhaps longer) at Bowen Road hospital and then was transferred to Sham Shui Po for the duration. He kept a diary hidden that we understood was documentation by one of the medical officers of japanese atrocities. We thought it was a surgeon from Scotland. He did not keep contact with this person but in 1964 when he took us to the UK where he was born we also went to Glasgow to try and locate the surgeon. My father was able to confirm with one of the local hospitals he had died about 2 years earlier. Would anybody know the surgeon’s name by chance?

    Thank you

  38. Don says:

    Jean McRoberts,

    I am afraid that I don’t have the information that you are looking for. I am posting your comment; hopefully, one of the readers may have the information that you are looking for.

    Don Tow

  39. Don says:

    Pat Fergusom,

    I hope one of the readers may be able to help you.

    Don Tow

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