My generation – the so-called Baby Boomers – grew up in the relatively peaceful and democratic world won by the tremendous efforts and sufferings of those who had defeated the Nazis and their Japanese allies. At the end of the war, this generation returned home, and with yet more sacrifice of their immediate comfort, created a system that looked after our health and welfare and educated us for free (in my case until the age of 21). Because of the long economic ‘boom’ that began in the early 1950s few of us suffered the poverty and hardship that had been the fate of most human beings in previous history.
So, quite naturally, in the mid-1960s we rose up and almost universally complained about how badly we’d been treated!
In the 1980s I was part of a performance poetry group in the south east of England. We adopted a ‘cabaret’ style, very different from the sedateness of the usual ‘poetry reading’. In this poem, written in 2012 but adopting this style, the lines in italics are spoken by a Baby Boomer, the counterpointed lines in ordinary print as if by Thomas Edgar. They summarise his ‘story’ during the war years – there are a few plausible assumptions, but most of it is documented elsewhere on this blog.
The Baby Boomer’s lines are, of course, from the classic Who anthem ‘My Generation’ (1965), except for the concluding demand to get out of the way of the emerging superior type of humanity (the Baby Boomers, of course) – that’s from David Bowie’s ‘Oh You Pretty Things’ (1971). They should be imagined delivered with a suitable arrogance, accompanied by much self-important strutting around the stage.
People try to put us down just because we get around…
On December 8, 1941, the day the Japanese attacked Hong Kong, I was appointed Deputy Supply Officer Bakeries. By the end of the fighting I was baking for the entire civilian population of Hong Kong Island and for the armed forces. For the first week of the war I slept on my office chair, after that I was given a camp bed.
Ain’t trying to cause no big sensation…
After the Japanese captured the mainland, the bakery was caught between our own guns and those of the enemy. On December 18 they landed on the Island, and on December 21 the bakery became too dangerous to continue operating. I moved the staff to five smaller Chinese bakeries and tried to keep production constant.
Just talkin’ ‘bout my generation…
For the whole eighteen days of the fighting Hong Kong was being constantly shelled and bombed from the air, the food supply was in chaos and people were starving. A friend brought his lodger to see me to ask if I could her get some food. She was a pretty woman, half-Chinese, half-Portuguese, and we got on well together, even though most British people didn’t approve of relationships between whites and Eurasians in those days.
My generation, baby, my generation.
Hong Kong surrendered on Christmas afternoon. I was told to go to my company headquarters and wait for the next day, when the Japanese would take control of Hong Kong Island. We were all scared as we’d heard that some of our men who’d surrendered had been massacred during the fighting. And I was worried for Evelina because everyone knew that many women would be raped. But we were separated now and I didn’t know if I’d ever see her again.
Luckily the Japanese officer in charge of our building was Captain Tanaka, who treated us well, although no-one was allowed to enter or leave for 13 days. Then I was allowed to start baking bread for the hospitals.
Why don’t you all fade away…
In late January most of the other British and American civilians were sent to Stanley Internment Camp, but I stayed out and carried on baking. I saw Evelina again and we soon realised we were in love.
Don’t try and dig what we all say…
We were married on June 29, 1942 and Captain Tanaka was one of the guests. We went to live together in the French Hospital. There were about 20 of us British there, bakers and medical workers, and our leader was a doctor called Selwyn Selwyn-Clarke.
Things they do look awful cold…
I was happy to be with Evelina, and things weren’t too bad at first. Not for the British at any rate. But I couldn’t stand what they were doing to the Chinese. You’d see them beaten or killed in the street for trivial offences. Many of them just fell down and died of starvation. Sometimes I saw the Japanese rounding them up and putting them in junks and sinking them for target practice.
Hope I die before I get old…
At the start of 1943 we were getting more and more scared as the Japanese police thought we were all spies. They started to arrest some of the Chinese and Eurasians working with us. They tortured them to get them to say that Selwyn-Clarke was a spymaster, but he wasn’t, and they couldn’t make them lie. He was smuggling food and medicine to our people in the Camps, but he wasn’t spying.
My generation, just talkin’ ‘bout my generation.
They came for Selwyn-Clarke early in the morning of May, 2, 1943. They arrested some other doctors too. They shut down the hospital for five days while they searched the whole place. Nobody was allowed in or out. Evelina and I were terrified. We all were.
On May 7 they sent 18 of us into Stanley Camp. I felt safer for the moment, but I was still worried Selwyn-Clarke would tell them that I’d committed some kind of crime – all of us had done things that the Japanese had forbidden. But soon after we arrived in Camp I was cheered when the Red Cross delivered a card from my mother – it was the first news I’d had of my family for two years.
We shared a tiny room in Bungalow D with another couple. We hadn’t had much to eat back in Hong Kong, but there was even less food in Stanley. It was good to be amongst British people, though, and the camp was in a beautiful place by the sea and we could walk around and visit our friends as much as we wanted.
My generation, just talkin’ ‘bout my generation.
They tortured Selwyn-Clarke for months but he never admitted anything. We were living in the same bungalow as his wife and daughter. They called her ‘Red Hilda’ before the war, but by the end of it all her hair had turned white.
On the day before our first wedding anniversary the police started arresting people in Camp.
They said that there were secret radios in Stanley, and that some people had been sending out illegal messages using the lorry that brought in our rations. I was scared because I was baking again and the flour I used came in on the lorry. They took people to Stanley Prison where they tried to get them to confess and to name anyone else involved.
On August 6, 1943 Sir Vandeleur Grayburn, the head of the HKSBC, died of malnutrition in that prison. He was one of those left in town and he’d been arrested in March for smuggling money into Stanley to help the people buy extra food and medicines. Lady Mary Grayburn was another one living in Bungalow D. She didn’t see her husband before he died.
On October 29 they executed some of those who’d been arrested. It was on a beach near the camp. Mr Frederick Hall, who’d played bowls in the same company team as me, was beheaded for sending messages through the ration lorry. Mr Charles Hyde was beheaded on the same day. He’d been arrested in town for sending money into camp and being in contact with the Hong Kong resistance. I was with his wife at the time of his execution. She also lived in Bungalow D.
In February 1944 they stopped sending meat and flour into Stanley. I began to make bread out of rice.
On September 7, 1944 Mrs Hyde died of bowel cancer, but everyone said it was because of what had happened to her husband. Lady Grayburn adopted their son, Michael, and we all tried to keep going.
Early in 1945 Evelina got ill and needed an operation. At the time we were living on filthy rice and vegetables with an ounce or two of fish. I’d sold all my valuables in camp so I had some money and I managed to buy Evelina a boiled egg on the black market. It gave her a little more strength to recover.
Some people were always talking about what they would do after Camp and how they would live. I never did that because I got friendly with a Formosan guard and he told me we’d all be shot the day the Allies landed on one of the main Japanese islands. Anyway, they stopped sending us fish in February and I reckoned we’d all starve to death before 1945 was over.
The thing that saved us was the atomic bomb. Without that we’d never have walked out of Stanley Camp.
Most of us had lost everything and Hong Kong was a complete mess. We started again and built the place up as fast as we could. It took me months to get the bakery working. I wasn’t allowed to go home until the summer of 1946, one of the last to be given leave.
When the boys were born we decided not to talk to them about the war. We wanted to put that behind us and not upset them. I don’t know if that was the right decision. Brian seems very angry all the time and we don’t talk much.
Let me make it plain:
You gotta make way for the Homo Superior.
You gotta make way for the Homo Superior.