Epic wartime escape brought back to life
The daring Christmas Day escape from Japanese-occupied Hong Kong by a one-legged Chinese Admiral escorted by a large and colourful group of British intelligence officers and sailors is the subject of a new exhibition at the Hong Kong Museum of Coastal Defence.
The two-year exhibition, entitled "Escape from Hong Kong - the Road to Waichow", jointly presented by the Leisure and Cultural Services Department and the Hong Kong Escape Re-enactment Organisation (HERO), formed earlier this year by descendants of the original escape party, will run at the museum from tomorrow (December 25) to December 31, 2011.
The opening held today (December 24) at the museum's spectacular cliff-top site in Shau Kei Wan was attended by more than 100 members of HERO, who have gathered in Hong Kong to mark the 68th anniversary of the escape and retrace part of the route taken by their forefathers. They also hope to establish a series of walks linked by permanent markers along the original route taken by the escapers and guerrillas between Nan’ao and Waichow in the last days of 1941.
The 68 escapees included China's top representative in Hong Kong before and during the war, Admiral Chan Chak, whose son Donald Chan, the President of Hong Kong Escape Re-enactment Organisation, was one of the officiating guests at the opening ceremony. Other officiating guests included the Deputy Consul-General and Head of Political, Economic and Public Affairs, British Consulate-General in Hong Kong and Macao, Mr Neale Jagoe; the Chief Curator of Hong Kong Museum of History, Ms Esa Leung; and widow of Lt Col John Collingwood, Captain of MTB 11 of the Escape Group in 1941, Mrs Kay Collingwood.
Chan Chak, a veteran of 1911 Revolution, was China's top representative in Hong Kong when the Japanese, who had been waging war on China since 1937, launched their long-expected attack on the British colony on December 8, 1941. Officially he ran an ordinary trading company, based on the 2/F of the Asiatic Petroleum Company Building, or Shell House, Queens Road, Central. But in fact he had been liaising with British police and intelligence, carrying out undercover work against Japan and using both legal and illegal means to ensure China remained supplied with fuel and other essential materials despite the Japanese trade embargo.
As it became clear the battle was lost, the British authorities made arrangements to help ensure that Chan Chak and his staff did not fall into enemy hands. A three-man commando group was ordered to prepare an escape plan involving a daring, last-minute getaway on Motor Torpedo Boats.
Leaving Aberdeen under heavy gunfire within hours of the colony's surrender in 1941, the escape party sailed by night to Mirs Bay in a flotilla of motor torpedo boats. Helped by Chinese guerrillas and villagers, they walked for four days across rough country frequented by bandits and Japanese patrols to a heroes’ welcome in Waichow (Huizhou), about 75 miles away and the nearest town held by the Nationalist Government.
The main group of almost 50 Royal Navy sailors continued their journey by river, road and rail across China to Burma, finally reaching Britain five months later.
The exact route taken by the escapers was kept secret for many years, but many of those who took part left diaries or letters, some of which only came to light recently after they died.
These personal written accounts and maps of their remarkable journey, together with photographs, medals, uniforms and other mementoes have now been brought together for the first time for exhibition in Hong Kong. Other highlights in the exhibition are the bullet with which Chan Chak was shot in the wrist during the escape and the working model of MTB07, one of the flotilla which took part to stop the Japanese crossing the harbour and sail the escape party.
The exhibition features a series of audio recordings telling the dramatic story of the escape through excerpts from diaries and letters written by those who took part and read out now by their direct descendants, and a short video documentary featuring interviews with HERO members.
To tie with the exhibition, the Museum of Coastal Defence will organise a lecture entitled "Why We Decided to Re-trace the Route of the Escape Group of Christmas Night 1941?" at its Lecture Hall on Saturday, January 9, 2010. The speakers will be the President of the Hong Kong Escape Re-enactment Organisation, Mr Donald Chan, and experienced journalist Tim Luard. The lecture, to be mainly conducted in Cantonese and Putonghua, is admission-free with a capacity of 50 seats on a first-come-first-served basis.
The Museum of Coastal Defence is located at 175 Tung Hei Road, Shau Kei Wan, Hong Kong. It opens from 10am to 5pm. It is closed on Thursdays (except public holidays) and the first two days of Chinese New Year. Admission is $10 and half-price concessions are applicable to full-time students, people with disabilities and senior citizens aged 60 or above. Admission is free on Wednesdays.
For details of the exhibition, please visit the museum's website http://hk.coastaldefence.museum or call 2569 1500.
Ends/Thursday, December 24, 2009
A group photo of the escapees in Waichow, 1941.
The original crest taken from Motor Torpedo Boat 09.
Goring's article "My Escape from Hong Kong" in Wide World magazine, 1949.