Saturday, 3 August 2013

Michael Koodiaroff - HKVDC

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 poorly fed and 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 tough and the internees also suffered from malnutrition and other illnesses. The rough hewn graves of internees at Stanley Military Cemetery testify to the harsh 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 and 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 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 Lieut. Mike Carruthers,  a unit that was in the thick of action in the short and bloody war which commenced in Hong Kong with the Japanese invasion on 8th December 1941.

He was patrolling Castle Peak Road,  guarding the left flank of the Royal Scots. In the early hours of Thursday the driver of their armored 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 armored car was out of action and they were picked up by a passing Army lorry, with their machine guns and ammunition.

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 4th 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 4th 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."

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." (1)

"He took me to the Hong Kong 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, the 5th January  when the Japanese interpreter told me to go with a Chinese detective and collect my family and report at the Murray Parade Ground" (1)  (where civilians had been required to report for internment).

"When I returned to Murray Parade Ground with my family, I again saw the same Japanese interpreter (explaining that ) I was a Hong Kong Volunteer and should be interned with the troops. He 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",   (1)  (one of a series of third rate, cheap hotels and brothels on the water front where European internees were held until 21st January when they were transferred to Stanley Camp).

He 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 10th November 1945".(1)





SS Empress of Australia




SS Madura



..............................................................


Addendum 1:
A google search shows Michael's son also Michael (born 11th Dec. 1934) joined the Royal Australian Navy in January 1953

Addendum 2:
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 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.

Sources:

HKVDC Files held in Hong Kong Public Records Office

(1)  Quotes taken from a memo written by Michael Koodiaroff in the above files


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