Wednesday 3 July 2019

Book: Battle for Hong Kong December 1941 - a peep inside.

My book Battle for Hong Kong - December 1941 was published by Amberley in July 2019. The book focuses on the battle which started on 8 December 1941 and lasted eighteen days until the surrender on 25 December 1941.  It is a research-driven narrative, which describes exactly what happened and where it happened. The book includes thirty-three hand-drawn maps and diagrams, and there are thirty-seven photographs.

Dust jacket
33 Maps
There are eighteen chapters, starting with a prelude which gives the historical context. Chapter 2 looks at Hong Kong before the war and preparations for the defence of Hong Kong. Then I take you on a journey through the battle, starting with the fighting on the Mainland, the evacuation of troops from Kowloon, the invasion of the Island, and finally the surrender on 25 December 1941. I cover the war atrocities that occurred at Sai Wan, the Salesian Mission Building, the Ridge, Overbay's, Eucliffe and St Stephen's College.

Chapter 2

Chapter 3
Living in Hong Kong, I was able to carry out considerable field research on the battlefields. Sometimes this involved using a metal detector to find relics left over from the battle. In some cases, personal effects were found including the ID bracelet of a Royal Navy sailor and a wristwatch with the name of a Canadian soldier engraved on the reverse. Spent casings are commonly found, and these can be cleaned with a wire brush to reveal whether they are Japanese,  British or Canadian. From this, one can get a better understanding of where fighting occurred and who was where on the battlefield.
   I particularly enjoy being able to marry archival research with field research. By way of example, the war diaries referred to Canadian troops bringing up a 2-inch mortar to the crest of Notting Hill on 21 December. On this hill, several screw-on caps for mortar bombs were found confirming that a mortar had been deployed there and pinpointing the exact location.
   In another example, the war diaries refer to a Japanese machine gun (MG) positioned at a villa called Cash's Bungalow. The MG was firing on British and Canadian troops deploying along Island Road (now called Tai Tam Road) to attack the Tai Tam X-Roads. This MG was also used to fire on Canadian troops going up Notting Hill and Bridge Hill on the left flank of the attack. The actual  MG position was found by the ruined garden-wall of Albert Cash's bungalow now an overgrown ruin hidden in the trees on a mound above the Tai Tam X-Roads. A large number of Japanese spent MG rounds were found at this location which one could see provided a clear line of fire along Island Road and the hills on the left flank of the British/Canadian advance. This helps brings history alive and helps unfold the story of the battle. 
   Hong Kong was an isolated outpost, a strategic liability. Churchill had said there was not the slightest chance of defending Hong Kong should it be attacked. He would rather have taken troops out than add more troops. Hong Kong was to be sacrificed but not without a fight. After the Japanese effected a landing on the north shore of Hong Kong Island on the night of 18/19 December,   Churchill sent a message to the Commander-in-Chief, Sir Mark Young and the Military Commander, Major-General C. M. Maltby that there must be no thought of surrender, they must resist to the end, and this they did. 

Major General C. M. Maltby with Sir Mark Young  in October 1941
They were fighting a losing battle. They were criticised by some for not surrendering earlier and thereby saving more lives, but they were simply following orders. In the brutality of subsequent incarceration, hundreds of lives were lost due to malnutrition, and many died needlessly from diseases like diphtheria, which were rampant in the camps because the Japanese withheld medicines. The story of the battle is a tragic but gallant tale. The garrison put up a good fight against the odds. The Japanese had complete air supremacy, they had more troops and more guns. The garrison did resist to the end, and as Churchill later conceded in so doing, they won the lasting honour.

Ordering Copies:

The book is available at Amazon and other on-line booksellers.  The book is on the shelves of major booksellers in Hong Kong (including Bookazine) and London (including Waterstones). If not on the shelves the book can be ordered at these book stores. You can also order direct from the publisher (see the links below).