During World War 2 in Hong Kong, the POW Camps at North Point, Shamshuipo and Argyle Street were characterized by appalling conditions. The military internees were on starvation rations and many developed illnesses associated with malnutrition. Epidemics of dysentery and diphtheria claimed many lives. The Japanese would not allow sufficient medicines into the camp and for most, it was hard just trying to stay alive.
The civilian internment camp at Stanley was also a harsh environment and the internees also suffered from malnutrition and other illnesses. The rough-hewn graves of internees at Stanley Military Cemetery testify to the difficult conditions there but given a choice one would rather be in a civilian internment camp than a military POW camp.
A number of civilians were unlucky enough to end up in military POW camps, whilst several volunteers and regular soldiers were lucky enough to end up in Stanley Civilian Internment Camp. One of these was Michael Alex Koodiaroff who had just turned forty and worked as a Hotel Assistant at the Peninsula Hotel. He was married to Elizabeth and they had one child, a boy, also named Michael, of seven years.
Michael had joined the Hong Kong Volunteer Defence Corp (HKVDC) in July 1939. He was a member of the Armoured Car Platoon commanded by Lt Mike Carruthers, a unit that was in the thick of the action in the short and bloody battle which commenced in Hong Kong with the Japanese invasion on 8 December 1941.
He was patrolling Castle Peak Road, guarding the left flank of the Royal Scots positions on the Gin Drinkers Line. In the early hours of Thursday 11 December, the driver of their armoured car swerved to avoid a large coil of barbed wire across the road and the vehicle ended up overturning into a ditch. Michael's left foot was crushed by ammunition boxes. Their armoured car was out of action and they were picked up together with their machine guns and ammunition by a passing army lorry. Despite the injury to his foot he carried on until Christmas Day - when the British surrendered, at which time he was admitted to the War Memorial Hospital on the Peak where he remained until 4 January 1942.
Now let's pick up the story direct from Michael Koodiaroff:
During the period of the war I had lost contact with my wife and son but had heard that they were probably evacuated to May Road together with other wives and children (of HKVDC members). On 4 January I asked the Sister at the hospital if I could visit my wife and son. I left the hospital and on the way met a car driven by a Chinese and asked the driver if he could take me to May Road. 1
However, they were stopped by a Japanese military patrol.
One of the Japanese soldiers saw me in uniform and began to speak to me in Japanese. I did not understand him, he became angry and slapped my face several times. He took me to the Hongkong and Shanghai Bank building where I was taken in front of a Japanese officer and through his interpreter I explained who I was and my reason for driving in the car. I was placed under arrest and detained in the Guard Room until the following morning, 5 January, when the Japanese interpreter told me to go with a Chinese detective and collect my family and report at the Murray Parade Ground. 1Murray Parade Ground, on Garden Road, was where British, American and Dutch (enemy) civilians had been ordered to report for internment.
When I returned to Murray Parade Ground with my family, I again saw the same Japanese interpreter. 1Koodiaroff explained that he was a Hong Kong Volunteer and should be interned with the troops.
He (the interpreter) said it makes no difference which camp you go to so long as you are interned. With a crowd of about 400 people, we were then taken to the Tai Koon Hotel. 1The Tai Koon Hotel was one of a series of third-rate, cheap hotels and brothels on the waterfront where European internees were held until 21 January 1942 when they were transferred to Stanley Camp. Koodiaroff and his family remained in Stanley until liberation in August 1945.
I travelled with my family on the SS Empress of Australia as far as Colombo and then we embarked on the SS Madura for Australia, arriving in Sydney on 10 November 1945.
|SS Empress of Australia|
A google search shows Michael's son also Michael (born 11 Dec. 1934) joined the Royal Australian Navy in January 1953
Henry Ching writes in response to this blog which was posted on Hong Kong local history site www:gwulo.com
"Thanks for the info on Koodiaroff’s route from the hospital to Stanley. It includes some aspects that I was not aware of – he was lucky not to have been shot when he was picked up in uniform. The little I knew I got from his son we were together in the Red Cross camp at St Mary’s, west of Sydney, in late 1945.
There were at least 80 Volunteers interned in Stanley (not counting the nurses), more than half of whom were in the Stanley Platoon, and about 15 were in the so-called Hughes Group at the North Point power station. Generally speaking, these tended to be late recruits who joined up during or just prior to the battle and who had no uniforms, which is probably why they were treated as civilians.
HKVDC Files held in Hong Kong Public Records Office
1 Quotes are taken from a memo written by Michael Koodiaroff in the above files