News of Hong Kong in England (2): December 15, 1941

On Monday, a week after the Japanese attack, Hong Kong gets its share of the page one headlines for the first time:

Daily Mirror, Monday, December 15


 Japs Push On Hong Kong, Burma, Malaya

 JAPANESE forces were last night launching offensives against three points of the British Empire—Burma, Hong Kong and Malaya. The size of the attacks on Burma and Hong Kong are not yet known, but a big battle is raging in the jungle around Kedah, North-West Malaya….

On the same page a map was provided, showing readers the location of ‘Senchuah’, which was said to be in the hands of the relieving Chinese army, who were now on their way to take the Canton-Kowloon railway, ‘which is the gateway to the fortified island of Hong Kong itself’.

 This relief force did exist, and was on its way to help Hong Kong, but even the vanguard never reached British territory, and the Japanese, in any case, knew of its existence and had efefctive plans for dealing with iit. (See Philip Snow’s The Fall of Hong Kong, 74-75).

 Part of the section on Hong Kong in the main article reads:

 Tokio radio said that Japanese land and air units started a “general offensive”at dawn yesterday.  As{the} city itself was being shelled by artillery British artillery opened up and shelled the Japanese gun positions.

 The G o v e r n o r, Major- General C.F. Norton, refused to surrender in response to a demand by the Japanese commander. General Norton. D.S.O., M.C., was leader of the Mount Everest expedition in 1924. which reached a height of 28.100 (?).

 Chang (sic) Kai Shek’s forces are attacking north and north-west of Canton in an attempt to ease Japanese pressure on Hong Kong….

 I’m intrigued by the reference to Norton. He was indeed a distinguished mountaineer, but he’s not on the Wikipedia Governors of Hong Kong list,[1] which records Sir Geoffry Northcote as being followed by the hapless Sir Mark Young, who arrived in December 1941 and spent most of his first term as Governor in various prison camps. However, Wikipedia does record Norton as ‘acting governor and commander-in-chief’ 1940-1941[2] so I wonder if he filled in between Governors? In any case he’s not in the index to Tony Banham’s Not The Slightest Chance, and it was certainly Young who rejected the Japanese requests to surrender, so I assume that Norton had left Hong Kong before December 1941.

 Also on page 1 was Churchill’s message to the defenders:

We are all watching day by day your stubborn defence of the port and fortress of Hong Kong. You guard a link long famous in world civilisation between the Far East and Europe.

We are sure that the defence against barbarous and unprovoked attack will add a glorious page to British annals.

All our hearts are with you in your ordeal. Every day your resistance brings closer our certain victory.

 Luckily Alice and Herbert didn’t know Churchill’s real thoughts, expressed in a minute of January 7, 1941:

 If Japan goes to war there is not the slightest chance of holding Hong Kong or relieving it. 

 Still, as Tony Banham points out, the defence of Hong Kong, although doomed to failure, was not pointless: Churchill’s plan was to exact as heavy a cost as possible on the Axis in every engagement, and this strategy eventually succeeded.[3]  But Banham also points to the ‘horrendous’ cost, and that was what must have been foremost in the minds of Alice and Herbert as the news got increasingly gloomy.


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