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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56 Responses to “Massacre and Atrocities in Hong Kong during WWII”

  1. Gary CHIN says:

    Hi All;

    I know what I am going to Post has nothing to do with the Second World War.
    But Has anyone here ever heard of the Chinese Labour Corp (World War One)
    Theatre!

    And the Book By Gregory James.

    And Joseph Warren STILWELL “Vinegar Joe” in World War Two.
    I know HKers is going through a Rough Patch at the Mo. But it has seen harder times! 24th Nov. 2019.

  2. Tim Leonard says:

    I lived in Hong Kong, as a child in 1961-1965, at Stanly Fort. I had no idea of the massacre that took place at St. Stephen’s College. I have been shocked, horrified and deeply sadened by the acts of the Japanese.

    Three things are required for forgiveness:

    1. Individually or collectively there is sorrow by the perpertrator for what they have done
    2. There is acceptance and acknowledgement of the crime
    3. Sincere and genuine undertaking of acts to ensure non-repetition

    The Japanese, by all accounts, have not got beyond Step 1. It is not like they have not had time, or evidence.

  3. Joseph Robert Bingham says:

    Was the “foreign” nurse that put herself between the Japanese and wounded British soldiers German? As Japan was an ally of Germany this might explain why they “retreated” instead of killing the British.
    Being German was how that Nazi official in China was able to help some of the Chinese people from the Japanese military.

    Just curious.

  4. Don says:

    Mr. Joseph Robert Bingham,

    Thanks for your question. The answer to your question “Was the “foreign’ nurse that put herself between the Japanese and wounded British soldiers German?” is no, based on the information I received from my friends Simon K. Li and Jonathan Hung (both from Hong Kong). That nurse is Elizabeth Mosey, an Australian. Here are three references given to me by Simon K. Li:

    (1) Not the Slightest Chance: The Defence of Hong Kong, 1941 (回頭無望:1941年香港保衞戰)
    By Tony Banham (HKU Press):

    https://books.google.com.hk/books?id=Pr7ZjNCqyUsC&pg=PA207&lpg=PA207&dq=%22Elizabeth+Mosey%22,+%22hong+kong%22,+nurse&source=bl&ots=Uw7MLFAUB_&sig=ACfU3U2FfYW6hwh1KnK9OyRU2QCEOZjflA&hl=zh-CN&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwiqz4-Gi-7nAhVPyYsBHW7tA94Q6AEwDnoECAkQAQ#v=onepage&q=%22Elizabeth%20Mosey%22%2C%20%22hong%20kong%22%2C%20nurse&f=false

    (2) Elizabeth Mosey by Sophie Baker
    https://veteranssa.sa.gov.au/story/premiers-anzac-spirit-school-prize-2019-elizabeth-mosey-by-sophie-baker/

    (3) Hirohito’s War: The Pacific War, 1941-1945
    By Francis Pike (Bloomsbury Academic)
    https://books.google.com.hk/books?id=SfTQDAAAQBAJ&pg=PT432&lpg=PT432&dq=%22Elizabeth+Mosey%22,+%22hong+kong%22,+nurse&source=bl&ots=XhQzCCipVU&sig=ACfU3U0Aro5BmHbvpyYoMD7Xp_nJAcxq2w&hl=zh-CN&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwiqz4-Gi-7nAhVPyYsBHW7tA94Q6AEwDXoECAoQAQ#v=onepage&q=%22Elizabeth%20Mosey%22%2C%20%22hong%20kong%22%2C%20nurse&f=false

    Thanks again for your question.

    Don Tow

  5. Christine McDerment says:

    So many fascinating and sad stories on here. Thank you all for sharing.
    I am looking for any information I can find on my great-uncle William Robertson who was a banker in Hong Kong when it fell. He joined the HKRNVDF and was imprisoned but I can’t find out where. He had the rank of Warrant Officer (with seniority – whatever that means).
    He survived and returned home eventually to Scotland. His wife made it out in time and spent the war in Sydney waiting for him.
    I remember visiting them both in their lovely home when I was young. They were lovely people, very gentle and charming. I shudder to think what he went through in Hong Kong.
    Thanks in advance for any info.
    Christine

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