Monday, 26 August 2013

The Dogs of War & Pets in Stanley

One of the first books I read on the Battle for Hong Kong was entitled "I escaped from Hong Kong".  My copy was published in America in 1942 on war time type paper and is signed by the Author Jan Henrik Marsman. It's a first hand account of his experiences,  of being caught up in the battle and in the siege of the Repulse Bay Hotel, and his subsequent escape from occupied Hong Kong.

Jan Marsman a Dutchman,  resident in Philippines and the US was the proprietor of a company Marsman & Co which was involved in a number of business including construction - his company had built some of the air raid shelters in Hong Kong. He was on a business trip to Hong Kong in December 1941 and was due to depart on the Pan Am Clipper on the morning of 8th December. These plans were rudely interrupted by the outbreak of war and the bombing of Kai Tak which saw the destruction of the Pan Am Clipper and a number of other military and civilian aircraft.

Marsman later took refuge in the Repulse Bay Hotel which after the Japanese invaded the Island soon came under siege with snipers firing down from the hills behind the hotel.

Marsman describes how the Japanese snipers worked with specially trained alsatian dogs.

"the dogs were trained to fight with the snipers. The dog as silently as his master the sniper, would crawl along through the underbrush without making a sound or a false move for many hours. He would wait until he detected the presence of an English defender in ambush. Then with a fierce bark , the dog would charge and leap on the defender. The defender, trying to fire at his human foe and fend off the animal a the same time, obviously had a very rough time. Many a Japanese sniper by his dog was saved from being successfully ambushed. Snipers and their dogs lay all around us in the shrubs and tangled wildwood of the hillside amphitheater encircling the Repulse Bay Hotel."(1)

I recently saw a clip from a Japanese news film about the Battle of Hong Kong which briefly showed a group of I assume snipers with netting for camouflage and with dogs that were difficult to identify their breed because of the grainy nature of the film but looked more like Doberman than alsations.

In addition to the Japanese sniper dogs in the hills Marsman describes how a number of pet dogs abandoned by their owners in their homes, had found their way to the Repulse Bay Hotel.

"When the hill residents had abandoned their villas, they also left their dogs behind. Without exception , every one of the Cockers, Dalmations, Pekinese, Chows, Dobermans, wire haired fox terriers, and Irish setters found his or her way to master or mistress. We had more mouths to feed, and we managed to find food for them". (1)

Lance Searle a policeman in Hong Kong who was later interned at Stanley writes in his diary about the Japanese  use of Alsatian dogs - " on visiting the Japanese General HQ at HKU, I was surprised at the amount of small trench mortars the troops carried, also at the number of Alsatian dogs ......they took no notice of any of the Japanese, but when a Chinese or European went or passed nearby, they would strain at their leashes".  (2)

Somewhat surprisingly a number of internees were able to bring their pets into Stanley Internment Camp. Muriel Hassard, the Matron at the Diocesan Boys School was able to bring her dog "Missie" into Camp. Nicola Tyrer in her book "Stolen Childhoods" about children growing up in internment camps describes how "Missie" and other pets had to be put down.

"Missie was Matron's Scottie dog, and since her husband's death, her dearest friend. Initially the camp was crowded with cats and dogs. The animal loving British could not bear to leave their pets. Within 6 months a decision had been taken by the camp authorities that there was not enough food to feed animals as well as humans. The camp committee decreed  that all domestic animals were to be put down. Bill (Macauley) volunteered to take Missie up the hillside" (3) where they were disposed of with a whack from a spade or hammer and buried on the hillside.

Sadly Muriel herself died in camp on 26th August 1945 only days away from liberation and after the Japanese capitulation. She was 59 and died of a heart failure leaving behind in camp, her younger sister
Margaret Winifred Sutton.

Franklin Gimson the Representative of the Internees and the Colonial Secretary who had arrived in Hong Kong the day before war broke out writes in his diary for November 1943 about the removal of dogs.

"Considerable excitement was caused by the Japanese order that all dogs were to be removed from the Camp. There was  still a few remaining and the owners were summoned up to Japanese HQ where the dogs were removed in the presence of a large number of  military officers. Mrs Howie  caused rather a scene and her husband was removed to Gedarmerie HQ  for an hour’s  detention in consequence of her actions. The principal factor effecting the Camp  was that Mrs Hardie (who acted as Japanese Interpreter for Franklin Gimson) decided to kill her own dog in preference to handing it to the Japanese. Thereby she caused resentment  on their part and has not been accepted  as the Camp Interpreter for the future. At present Bickerton is undertaking this duty and is improving every day." 

Don Ady who was a child in Stanley Camp recalls, " Harriet Refo, my age, brought one into camp. A cat. The Refoe family came a little late into Camp, having been under house arrest at the home of the Kennedy-Skipton family. I think they got ground transportation and had some ability to bring in more things than those coming with the general influx from hotels via a launch. And what did it eat  ? Harriet scrounged fish heads from the garbage. These should really have gone intact into the American's fish stew. However in finding the fish heads, Harriet discovered a scam for which she was regarded as a heroine. The fish heads were overly long. One would think that some cooks were going back to them later, hidden in the garbage as they were, and recovering a bit of extra ration from that portion of the fish fuselage behind the head. Before leaving camp on June 29th (1942) with the American repatriation,  Harriet gave the dog to a nice Englishman who had lost his wife". (4)

Barbara Anslow who was in Stanley Camp with her mother and sisters wrote:

"I recall at least one other dog as well as Mrs Hassard's - Flossie who belonged to Nursing Sister Williams I believe. During the fighting , Sister Williams thought it best to have Flossie put to sleep, and arranged for some one to shoot her, but the shot din't kill Flossie so she was brought into Stanley.

There must have been a few cats (maybe left behind by pre-war occupants of our quarters) because at some time during internment  we Redwoods acquired a kitten whom we called Henry. We got him because my sister Mabel screamed out in the night that something had run over her face. Suspecting a rat we decided we needed a cat. No milk pr Kitticat for Henry ! Like s he lived on a rice diet to which all four of us contributed a tiny morsel. Henry stayed in our room all the time , except in the evening when my Mum took him out for a walk round the Block. Henry survived and when Mum was about to be repatriated she handed him over to a couple who were going to stay on in Hong Kong". (5)

A number of chickens were kept by internees.  Alice Briggs writes, "my remaining room mate at that time was Elma Kelly, an Australian journalist . She had brought a chicken into camp in the hope of a few extra eggs to supplement her diet ......sadly it turned out to be a cockerel and was put into somebody else's stew. She had not the heart to eat it herself". (6)

The top dog has to be Sgt Gander the regimental mascot of the Royal Rifles of Canada. A massive Newfoundland dog who came out to war with the Canadian Army two battalions of which arrived in Hong Kong in November 1941

Sgt Gander was attached to C Company Royal Rifles who were deployed on the North Shore around Lye Mun Barracks and  Saiwan Fort.  On the night of 18th December they found themselves right in the path of the Japanese landings. What happened is not exactly clear but it is reported that grenade was lobbed at a group of Canadian soldiers badly wounded and pinned down by enemy fire = Gander took the Grenade in his mouth and ran towards the enemy who took to their heels. The grenade exploded in Gander's mouth and Gander died. Gander was subsequently awarded the Dickin Medal for gallantry displayed by animals.


(1)    "I escaped from Hong Kong"  Pages 34-35  Jan Henrik Marsman  (1942)

(2)     Unpublished diary of Lancelot Searle held at Bodleian Library, Oxford

(3)     "Stolen Childhoods" Page 167 Nicola Tyrer  (2011)

(4)     Email posting by Don Ady to author on Stanley Email Group

(5)     Email posting by Barbara Anslow (nee Redwood) on Stanley Email Group

(6)     "From Peking to Perth" Page 107 - Alice Briggs (1984)

"Sergeant Gander - A Canadian hero"    Robyn Walker 2009

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