|Robert Southerton (Sr) and Edie at their wedding in 1917 (Lorna Loveland)|
|Job Witchell (Source: Lorna Loveland)|
SMC Polytechnic Public School
In a letter to his family written in August 1945, Southerton wrote that they arrived on the Yu Sang at Woosung, Shanghai and anchored offshore. It was December 1941, it was the eve of battle and tensions were running high. The next morning, before they could disembark, the ship was ordered to return to Hong Kong without docking in Shanghai. The ship anchored in Hong Kong harbour, but Edie and Bob, and another female passenger, Mrs McCready, were not allowed to leave the ship and go ashore. Armed police were put aboard to ensure they did not disembark. I can only assume that the reason for such harsh treatment was that Hong Kong had been subject to a compulsory evacuation order in July 1940. A large number of women and children had been allowed to stay because the women were in essential services, like nursing or working as stenographers for the government. However many had avoided the evacuation by being absent during registration, or simply failing to show up, and some had falsely claimed they were in roles for which there was an exemption, for example, being a business proprietor. Some had illegally returned after evacuation. There was no restriction on men leaving the ship. Robert Southerton (Snr) went ashore and stayed with his wife's family members (the Witchell family) in Hong Kong. Robert planned to get ashore and then get help from the authorities for his wife and son to be allowed off the ship. Robert and his brother-in-law, George Witchell, sought help from Duncan Sloss, the Vice-Chancellor of HK University, he appealed to the Governor, Sir Mark Young on Southerton's behalf. George's niece, May Witchell, worked for Duncan Sloss at HKU. The intervention was successful, and it was arranged that the police would bring certain papers to the ship on Sunday 7 December. Once the papers were signed, Edie and Bob would be allowed to disembark. On that Saturday night (6 December) Robert came aboard with George Witchell, his wife, Dolly, and their daughter Norah. They had dinner with Edie and Bob and then left the ship at around 11:30 p.m. thinking everything would be sorted the next day.
At about midnight Edie heard a commotion in the saloon. It transpired that the ship had received emergency orders to sail to Singapore early the following morning. Edie was still not allowed off the ship to contact her husband. It was only when she threatened to jump off the ship that the police became a bit more accommodating. They allowed Bob, accompanied by a policeman, to go ashore and to inform his father who was staying at George Witchell's house. However, nothing could be done in time, and so it was decided that there was no point in Robert staying on the Yu Sang and going to Singapore. He, therefore, disembarked with the intention of getting a passage to Shanghai as soon as possible. That morning, Sunday 7 December, the day before the war began, the Yu Sang, along with many other ships that had been anchored in Hong Kong Harbour sailed under orders for Singapore.
|Santo Tomas University Internment Camp. (Source: Wikipedia)|
It was at about that time that he discovered his wife and son had not reached Singapore and instead had been interned in the Philippines. Edie and Bob were repatriated from Manila to Shanghai in September 1942. They were put aboard the Maya Maru, a former cargo ship which had been put to use as a trooper. Edie and Bob, together with about thirty other internees, were accommodated on platforms in the hold. The hold was also carrying army horses. The internees were allowed out on the deck during the day but at night they were confined to the hold which was infested with rats, cockroaches and other vermin. Edie had the unpleasant experience of being bitten by a rat. The ship took ten days to reach Shanghai and during that time some of the horses died from the heat and were left to rot in the hold.
The family were at last reunited. At first, British, American and Dutch civilians living in Shanghai were not interned. However, in February 1943, the Japanese decided to intern civilians from these countries. There were several different internment camps in and around Shanghai. The family were interned at Yu Yuen Road Camp from February 1943 until April 1945. In April 1945 they were moved to Yangtzepoo Camp until liberation in August/September 1945. Yu Yuen Road Camp held a large number of Shanghai Municipal Council employees. At Yangtzepoo Camp, Robert Southerton (Snr) was elected as Deputy Head of the internment camp. The family were repatriated to the UK after the war. Robert (Snr) weighed 190 pounds when he left Australia on the Neptuna in 1941, but by release in August 1945, he weighed only 138 pounds. The privations of life in Japanese internment camps, the diseases, the shortage of medicines and the lack of adequate food took its toll on their health. Robert Southerton died in February 1948 aged only fifty-six after suffering a heart attack. Edith died the following year in November 1949, having suffered a stroke, she was only fifty-three.
The MV Neptuna on which the Robert, Edie and Bob took passage from Australia to Hong Kong was sunk during the Japanese air raid on Darwin in February 1942. She was unloading armaments when she was hit by bombs in the engine room and in the main saloon. Some of the ordnance ignited causing a massive explosion. Forty-five men were killed. The Maya Maru was sunk by an American submarine in July 1944. The Yu Sang was requisitioned by the US Navy, but was bombed and exploded in Manila Bay. Shanghai, once known as 'the Paris of the East', did not regain its former opulence in the immediate post-war period. After the Japanese capitulation, civil war returned to China eventually leading to the defeat of the KMT by the communist forces.
|RGS (Snr) (Source Lorna Loveland)|
|Edie (Source: Lorna)|
Robert Grindley Southerton (Jnr) (Source: Lorna)
|Muriel (Mully) Southerton (Source: Lorna)|
|The sinking of the MV Neptuna (Source: Wikipedia)|
|King Edward Hotel (1904-1929) (Source: Wikipedia)|
Lorna Loveland for photographs and private letters
Log Book of Internees Stanley Camp (Imperial War Museum)
Frank Fisher's diary (Imperial War Museum)
Captives of Empire by Greg Leck
Letter from R. G. Southerton (Snr) dated 26 Aug 1945 (IWM Docs. 13452)
WWW.hongkongsfirst.blogspot.hk (for information about Job Mitchell's trial and the hotel fire)