Hong Kong Provost Detachment
1941 ~ 1945
|This article was prepared by Maj Arthur Bird, a former Canadian Provost Corps Officer for publication in the first edition of the "Thunderbird Journal", the official magazine of the Canadian Forces Military Police.|
|About The Author|
Maj Art Bird
joined the Loyal Edmonton Regiment in 1939 as a private soldier
and was despatched overseas a month later. He transferred to the
Canadian Provost Corps
in June 1941 and served continuously as a
member of the Corps until his retirement in 1969. Maj Bird served
in Nos. 2 and 6 Provost Companies in Northwest Europe
WWII. Some of his post war transfers include: Camp Borden,
Calgary, Ottawa ( in the original NDHQ Security Guard Unit
1949-50), Japan, London, United Nations
Emergency Force (UNEF),
Gaza, Mobile Command Headquarters, 1 Division Provost Company,
Kingston and the Canadian Provost Corps School, amongst others.
ird now resides on beautiful Vancouver
|The Sole Survivor|
No doubt it will come as a surprise to many former members of the
Canadian Provost Corps to learn that a C Pro C Detachment,
consisting of one sergeant, one corporal and
six lance corporals,
were included in the Canadian Army Contingent which sailed for
Hong Kong on 27 October 1941. Lance Corporal Robert Patrick (Bob)
Warren was one
of the lance corporals and he is now the sole
survivor of that eight man detachment.
Bob joined the Army at age 22 and it is interesting to note that he had no military or police training prior to his enlistment; nor did he receive any when he did join. To think that five months later he was to become a prisoner of war!
Heading For Hong Kong
Bob joined the Canadian Provost Corps in Montreal in July 1941. Shortly thereafter he became one of a C Pro C eight man over-seas draft. Unexpectedly, he was sent to Vancouver and boarded the Australian ship "Awatea". They sailed on 27 October 1941 and several days later, after much guessing as to their destination, (all the guesses were wrong), they learned that they were heading for Hong Kong. On arrival there they lived and worked with the British Corps Of Military Police. Conditions were excellent; tea was served to them in bed each morning and servants polished their boots, cleaned equipment, etc. This pleasant life came to an abrupt end when the Japanese attacked on 7 December 1941. Bob was sent to guard "Battle Headquarters". Here, he was issued with a Thompson Machine Gun and given a short course on how to load and fire the weapon. He was required to guard and escort "Wang Ching Wei" troops - Chinese who were Japanese sympathizers. The area was under enemy bombing and shelling daily.
Prisoner Of War
On 25 December 1941, the Allies surrendered to the Japanese; British, Canadian, Indian and Chinese soldiers became prisoners of war. A week or so later they were transported across the bay to Kowloon and interned in the former Sham Shui Po (Warm Water Bay) British Barracks. Here, British and Canadian troops paraded together for morning roll call
A Living Hell
Living conditions were terrible. The barrack rooms were infested with bed bugs, lice, fleas and mosquitoes. Food consisted of inadequate portions of rice and a soup made only of greens - no meat or fish. Not surprisingly there was a great deal of sickness, mostly dysentery and malaria. There was little contact with Japanese troops since for the most part they remained outside the perimeter fence. Their first view of Japanese brutality was when they witnessed Chinese people being bayoneted for little or no reason, and British Officers being knocked to the ground for the alleged offence of giving an incorrect count of their troops on morning parade. Soldiers were warned not to run to the defence of their Officers as such action would only give the Japanese guards an excuse to open fire.
The Canadians returned to Hong Kong about the end of February 1942 and were located in North Point Camp, a former Chinese Refugee Camp, which, to say the least, was filthy and provided little or no facilities. The huts in which they were housed contained double-tier wooden bunks with the usual population of lice, bed bugs etc. There were inadequate washing facilities. The toilet/latrine consisted of a long narrow wooden platform extending out over the sea from the sea wall. A rope stretched the length of the platform acted as a safety measure. It was now almost impossible to maintain a minimum standard of personal hygiene. If possible, the food was worse, as the rice was contaminated with weevils, rat feces and grit. In addition; to dysentery and malaria, constipation and boils became problems. Major Crawford, Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps (RCAMC) only had Epson Salts and Mecurochrome to dispense. Of note is that while they were held at North Point Camp one provost member died and another suffered a complete mental collapse.
The actions of the Japanese guards at the Camp entrance were very unpredictable. They seemed to enjoy beating those who could not defend themselves. Quite often they practiced judo on Chinese civilians who passed by their positions with some of these encounters resulting in the death of the civilians. The same guards also amused themselves by firing their weapons at human targets. During this period Bob received his first, but by no means his last, beating at the hands of his captors. He left the Camp on rice detail and while loading the truck he put some rice in his pocket. Back at Camp he was caught in the act of boiling the rice at the Camp incinerator and was knocked to the ground several times with rifle butt and fists.
Back To Kowloon
In September or October 1942 the Canadians crossed the bay back to Kowloon and this time were put to work improving a runway of the Kai-Tak Airport (the present Hong Kong Airport). Due to the lack of proper food everyone continued to lose weight at an alarming rate. Pellagra was added to the diseases already mentioned and then came diphtheria. Fearing the diphtheria might spread to them the Japanese opened the Bowen Road British Military Hospital but not before a number of prisoners died. Bob was hospitalized there and treated for pellagra and diphtheria.
Work In Japan
In the spring of 1943 Bob was told that if he joined the line-up on the Kowloon parade square he might be selected for work in Japan. This he did and soon found himself on a boat en route to Japan, along with the Provost Sergeant and two other lance corporals. The ship docked at Nagasaki and they traveled by train to Yokohama where they were put to work building coastal freighters. Bob's first job was heating and shaping pipe; then he drilled holes, held rivets and finally became employed as a riveter. Despite the starvation diet and lack of medical care Bob admits that he did not mind the work. However, he did not escape without beatings. One morning when reporting for work Bob passed a Japanese co-worker who was squatting nearby. He greeted him in Japanese and at the same time reached down from his impressive height and patted this co-worker on the head. He was immediately seized by the guards, beaten, and then forced to stand at attention in the Guardroom for an indeterminate period. He later collapsed. Shortly after this incident his career as a shipbuilder ended.
In March or April 1945 about 350 Canadians left Yokohama and traveled North to Sendal where they joined about 150 British and Japanese Prisoners. At this stage of their confinement they became coal miners and although it would not have seemed possible, conditions in every respect were worse then those they had previously endured. Eighteen men lived and slept on the floor of a small hut and they slept in the same uniforms they had worn on the day of their capture - these uniforms now of course were torn and covered with patches. Due to the lack of a proper diet and illness all of them suffered great weight loss. Bob now weighed only 108 pounds and at six feet, two and one half inches, he must have looked like a walking skeleton.
The mine extended two kilometers into the side of a mountain. Many hot water springs existed in the coal seams making it necessary to shovel coal out of these springs. Naturally, it was hot and humid in the working area and some of the prisoners worked naked. Most Canadians wore a type of loin cloth fashioned and supplied by the Japanese. The mine operated twenty-four hours per day with three eight hour shifts. Food was the same three small portions of rice daily, plus one portion of greens. There was now more bickering and fighting amongst the prisoners while at work and considerably more beatings administered by the guards using rifle butts and fists.
Relief At Last
Not long after this there were rumors flying about the camp that the war was over. It was, but the prisoners were not advised untill three weeks after the fact. At this time US Navy fighter planes flew over the camp and dropped messages. One of these requested that a sign be placed on the ground indicating the number of Prisoners Of War present. The number 500 was marked and soon tons of food, clothing, medicine, etc... were dropped by parachute. The prisoners all but went mad. Penicillin, which of course was unknown to the prisoners became available, curing many ailments as if by magic. Mercifully, Red Cross personnel arrived in camp to give assistance and then four weeks later the camp was evacuated and all personnel were taken to Tokyo.
Sometime in June or July Bob collapsed and was moved to the medical hut which was staffed by Captain Reid, RCAMC and a couple of orderlies. He was suffering from "idiopathic pleurisy with effusion", in lay terms, the outside lining of his left lung was filled with fluid which collapsed the lung. His heart was pushed out of its normal position. In addition to this, he was suffering from intestinal parasites and malaria. Needless to say, there was no medication available to treat these conditions. Bob was put on board a hospital ship, the "US Benevolent" where he remained for a week or so. He was then transferred to the "US Rescue" which sailed to San Francisco from whence he and other prisoners were conveyed by train to Montreal via Vancouver. Bob then spent eighteen months in the Queen Mary Veterans Hospital in Montreal and the Naval Hospital at St. Hyacinthe.
Back To Work
On release from hospital Bob resumed work with Uniroyal Limited in Montreal where he became an industrial safety engineer. In 1977 he took early retirement and together with his wife Lucille, moved to beautiful Victoria, BC where, among other things, he tends to his garden and plays golf.
We hope in his pleasant life in Victoria that Bob will be able finally to forget his dreadful experiences as a Prisoner Of War, although you can see from the foregoing, how vividly those experiences must be etched in his memory.