previously published in Voz de Macaenses de Vancouver
in November, 2001, Mrs. Margaret Rozario offered her late
husband’s memoirs to us together with dozens of
her late husband’s sketches drawn in camp, so that
our younger generations can know what their forbears went
through fighting for their homes in Hong Kong, and 44
months being incarcerated in camp during World War II.
Hong Kong’s surrender on December 25, 1941),
it took us twelve hours to reach Shamsuipo Prisoner-of-War
Camp as there were over 10,000 men and only two
ferries, so we had to walk all the way from Star
Ferry, a distance of about two miles, lugging
all our belongings.
were put in Quonset huts with about 50 men in
each hut. No. 6 Company personnel had their own
hut, and No. 5 Company and Field Ambulance of
the Hong Kong Volunteer Defence Force were next
to us. In fact, the Volunteers were all in a row
as we were under the command of the same sergeant
by Cicero Rozario and A V Skvorzov, Hong Kong Volunteer
the Volunteers, there was the Royal Scots and Middlesex
Regiments, one Indian artillery regiment, one Chinese
Field Ambulance Section, and the two Canadian Regiments—the
Royal Rifles of Canada, and the Winnipeg Grenadiers. After
the Chinese and Indians were later released, there was
a rumour that we (the Portuguese) would also be released,
but this never happened.
was winter and very cold, and the windows and the doors
of the huts had all been looted so we had to go scrounging
(a polite word for stealing) for pieces of wood and corrugated
metal sheets to fabricate our own with the help of the
allowed to send only one letter a month
were allowed to write one letter a month which was only
sent out after being censored by the Japanese. What you
could say: “Dear Mom, How are you? I’m well.
Your loving son.”
Green tended to our spiritual needs, saying mass every
morning in one of the huts. Leonel Silva was his aide.
(Leonel’s father, Nado, was also in the camp). The
Engineers built us a brick altar to give us quite a chapel.
Father Green was badly beaten up by the Japanese one day,
but I never found out why. [In his memoirs published here
in Spring 1998 Luigi Ribeiro, who was also a POW, wrote:
Green had reason to believe that the camp authorities
had not spent all the money received from the Vatican.
He had the brazen audacity of going to the Japanese
to ask for an explanation in connection with the disbursement
of the Vatican funds.
For his impudence, Fr. Green was given such a battering
that he passed out completely and had to be revived
by throwing water over his face.” (Ed.)]
had a hospital and a mortuary, both of which had no proper
windows or doors, so when we walked by these places we
could watch the doctors and staff going about their business.
also had a chicken farm, a pig farm and a football field,
a garden full of tomatoes, melons and lots of greens,
but they were only for hospital patients so there was
no chance of scrounging, as there were guards all over
the place—Japanese, and our own men.
pigs in the farm were huge, like cows, which the Engineers
killed by hitting them over the head with a wooden mallet.
We once sat on the side of the field and watched this
pig chanse the Engineers. More Engineers had to come out
to help them.
POWs forced labour at Kai Tak, Aberdeen and Lai Chi-kok
were put to work in Kai Tak Airflield, cleaning nullahs
(large, open boxed culverts) and shovelling down a whole
hill (quite a mountain) to enlarge the airport. A few
soldiers died because of landslides, despite our futile
efforts to dig them out.
had a first-aid station under a tree and the sick could
go there to rest and recuperate. On the first day, there
were two or three of us. The next day, there were ten.
Then everybody got into the act until the Japanese sentries
chased us away with fixed bayonets. Then it was back to
normal, with two or three genuine patients, for the others
preferred not to get “sick”. Anyway, at Kai
Tak, the grass was so long that you could go to sleep
and the guards couldn’t see you.
also had to shift bombs from one godown to the other stacking
and unstacking the 500 and 1,000 pound bombs.
other big job was at Aberdeen. We had to take oil and
kerosene drums down to the pier and then later load them
on to a barge to be taken to Lai Chi-kok Socony (Standard
Oil Company of New York) Installation. There were so many
drums that it took us six months to clear the godowns.
got up at 5:00 a.m., had breakfast, and waited on the
parade ground to be counted. Then we were put on a barge
which took over an hour to reach Aberdeen. Most of us
slept on the barge and others chatted and read books.
The Japanese brought in a lot of books giving us quite
a good library. (The books were looted from private libraries
in the Colony—Ed.)
Allies bomb targets
in Hong Kong
we were working on the drums, an Allied spotter plane
flew over us every morning. The air-raid siren went and
the Japanese guards ran up the hills, far away from the
drums. We sat on the drums, and as we had our own spies,
we knew the same spotter plane came over every morning.
The American bombers never bombed the prison camp as if
they knew where we worked.
all the drums were taken to Lai Chi -Kok, the
spotter plane still came around as usual, and
the siren went and everyone looked towards Lai
Chi-Kok. On September 2, 1942, a heavy droning
sound led us to believe that this was it. The
huge tanks went up in a black mushroom cloud,
and we could see the drums going up through the
smoke followed by many fighter planes strafing
the godowns until there was nothing left.
fire in Lai Chi-Kok burned for a week. Every day,
we took our bowl of rice at dinner time to the
field and watched the huge fire, singing, “Over
there, everywhere, the Yanks are coming”.
By the third day, the Japanese guards were also
singing with us. If they found out what we were
singing they would have set on us with bayonets.
The Americans also bombed Kai Tak and some shipping
in the harbour. But they were gone by the time
the air-raid sirens sounded the warning for the
planes had glided in low over their targets, escaping
we went to Lai Chi-Kok to clean up and it was like No-Man’s-Land,
no trees, everything black for about a mile. The godown
was all smashed up. We had to take the drums to our prison
camp for storage. Each drum was riddled with over a hundred
had other jobs besides, which was against the Geneva Convention
(which Japan did not sign). One of the interpreters, who
told this to the Japanese, was badly beaten up.
ones who didn’t go outside on forced labour had
to remain and clean up the camp, do the gardening, and
even tailoring. We also had to unload rice from the trucks
when they came in. In those days, I could carry 250 lb.
Bags; now, I can’t even lift a 20 lb. bag of manure.
the beginning, the cook house was staffed by the Royal
Engineers, but later on, it was mostly ‘our boys’,
so we had to do the firewood, chopping up whole trees
which were wet and knotty. Every time you took a chop
at it, the axe would fly out and you were left with the
handle. The Japanese gave us pick axes instead but the
same thing happened. We dreaded this chopping business.
Every hut had to have a man at the door doing guard duty
in case the Japanese ever wanted to know how many people
were inside. Everyone took turns for a two-hour guard
duty and I always chose the 4:00 to 6:00 a.m. shift. At
4:00 a.m., someone would wake me up, and I’d say,
“OK,” and go back to sleep. I was never caught.
we were doing guard duty at the doors of the hut, we sometimes
got together for a chat to while away the time. One day,
one of the kwai-lohs (British) tied a long string to a
black piece of paper and dragged it behind him. Thinking
it to be a little rat, we stamped on it. He turned round
and laughed. He did this every day fooling a lot of people.
day, while he as walking his ‘little rat’,
a Japanese guard rounded the corner behind him. Thinking
it to be a rat, he also stamped on it. The kwai-loh turned
round, and his laughter froze when the guard didn’t
think it was funny. You can guess what happened next.
We didn’t see the ‘little rat’ any more.
could be called on at any time to do some work, and while
playing cards one day, we heard the sergeant-major call,
“Sergeant, I need five men.” All of us promptly
jumped out of the window of the hut, so that when the
sergeant looked in, he saw an empty hut. He then went
to the waterfront, and collared those who were enjoying
the walks and sightseeing. But when the sergeant came
back, he was surprised to find a hut full of men.
woe to you if you ever were assigned to do a hospital
job. It was dysentery time and you had to wash the bed-pans.
The moment you brought one in, they would give you another
one until you hoped that they would all die.
men did die of dysentery. When my uncle had it, he weighed
only 40 lbs. I could have carried him on his stretcher
by myself. The Japanese sent him to Queen Mary Hospital,
and after three months, he returned. When I saw him, I
said, “Uncle, I thought you were dead.” He
chased me around the room.
there was an infestation of bugs, flies and rats
during the dysentery outbreak, the Japanese offered
a packet of cigarettes for every 100 flies caught.
Some of the prisoners went around with their drinking
mugs to catch flies. If they caught a big fly
they would break it in two; that way, they would
earn their pack of cigarettes anyway as the Japanese
didn’t bother to count the pests.
afflicted with scabies was like having boils all
over one’s body. The treatment was having
the patient hold on to a bar in front of him while
the medic helper scrubbed his back with a brush
with long bristles. This treatment would cause
his back to bleed, and was so painful that he
would faint after the second pass. This treatment
would go on until the patient was cured, but that
was impossible given the poor food we were getting.
When cases of diphtheria occurred soldiers were
dying like flies because there was no serum for
its treatment. Those who went into hospital, would
die on the third day. Each time someone died,
the bugler would blow his horn, but after ten
men died in one day, the Japanese stopped this
a primitive operating theatre, British Army doctors
fought to save lives. Their instruments were razor
blades and knifes; the drugs, salt and peanut oil.
Even those were precious and zealously guarded. The
Japanese had taken over enormous stores of medical
supplies which they used only for their soldiery.
Later, by bribing sentries, essential drugs were secured
in minute quantities.To obtain money for this, men
sold to the sentries, all they had including gold
teeth. (A V Skvorzov)
the hospital, the Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC) tended
to the sick and dying, but tended towards the dying for
they were suspected of grabbing a patient’s belongings
when he eventually called it quits. The kwai-lohs cynically
told us that RAMC also meant “Rob All My Comrades”.
had a Canadian dentist who was very thin and weak from
malnutrition. When I had a toothache and couldn’t
eat I joined in the queue to see him. I told him, “I’m
going to scream, but don’t mind me, and keep pulling.”
He did just that, but he was so weak he literally had
a foot on my chest, believe it or not, as he tugged. I
screamed louder when he broke my tooth into three pieces,
and then he had to do this all over again two more times.
a month or so, I had another bad tooth. This time, he
got me out of the queue and said, “You first.”
He tugged and once again I screamed, only the screaming
was no acting as my tooth was being pulled without any
painkillers—we didn’t have any.
all that screaming, the guys in the queue ran away. That’s
why I was always first whenever the dentist saw me. I
had six more teeth extracted in the camp, and shuddered
each time. I was a brave man then. Not any more. After
the war I had all my teeth pulled out (with injections
of anaesthetic course). Now I have two sets of pearly
white teeth and no more toothache. When I was sent to
Japan, a friend told me that the dentist had died in camp.
Everything was tasteless. As it was, most of the time
we just had half a mess tin of rice, and a bowl of hot
water, twice a day. Sometimes we had vegetables. The same
stuff for six months—chrysanthemum leaves, chili
water, etc. The English engineers threw out the pei-tan
(preserved black eggs) because they looked “rotten”.
of the guys in the camp were already not-tempered, and
as we were given chili water many fights occurred among
us. I remember one fight where one of our boys was beating
up this other guy, and he turned to us and said in Macanese,
“Stop the fight. I’m out of breath.”
We stopped the fight and called it a draw to save face
for the kwai-loh.
of the prisoners was a bully who kept picking
on small and sickly people. One time, he picked
on a tall American seaman who also happened to
be a boxer. They sparred until the American hit
the bully on the mouth knocking out his false
teeth, stopping the fight. Everyone helped look
for his teeth, and when these were found, the
fight continued. But eventually we had to stop
it as it was too one-sided. After that the bully
was very careful who he picked on.
outside help there were a few escapes from the camp. Whenever
there was an escape the whole camp had to parade on the
football field as punishment for as long as twelve hours,
and sometimes in the rain. We would have to miss a meal.
Eventually barbed wire was placed in the nullahs (open
drainage channels) to deter escapes. The Japanese also
made us sign a paper saying we would not escape.
Japanese would search the huts and confiscate a cart full
of electric wires, and stamp flat all our frying pans.
You had to pay three cigarettes for another frying pan.
These were made by the engineers by welding a handle to
a sweet (candy) or biscuit tin. The engineers also made
clogs when your shoes wore out. They made a lot of cigarettes
as the shoe straps would get old, and would snap when
wet. You felt like a woman walking around with a shoe
with a broken high heel.
something the Japanese considered negative happened in
camp, such as an escape or a prohibited radio found, visitors
from outside would know because the POWs had to squat
and wait for hours until the Japanese would come, and
tell them “No parcels today.”
some prisoners had escaped, the barbed wire fence around
the camp was electrified, and turned on at night. In the
morning, the guards would switch off the electricity.
One morning they forgot. A prisoner who was sweeping the
ground near the fence, accidentally touched it and was
electrocuted. The people working with him, seeing what
had happened, ran to the guard house to tell the guards
to switch off the current, but when they returned, the
poor blighter was already dead. I forget his name, although
he was a good friend. I think he worked with Alex Azedo
in Optorg & Co.
camp, we learned to make our own beds. There was Japanese
inspection every morning. We cooked a lot of stuff but
mostly with oil and soy sauce in our chow-fan (fried rice).
We hammered nails to hold our clog straps, and we darned
socks, and sewed on buttons. The smart woman will marry
an ex-prisoner-of-war. (With servants, my wife had nothing
to do; so she learned to play mahjong, and now she is
we washed our clothes, we hung them on the wire, got a
chair and a good book, and waited until they dried. If
not, someone might come knocking, trying to sell you your
own pair of pants or shirt that you had just washed! If
your clothes were too old for them to steal to sell, the
advice was to wait for rain and hang them on the line.
Later the sun would come out and dry them.
latrine was about half a mile away from the huts and we
complained to the authorities about the long walk at night
and especially in the winter. For once, the Japanese understood,
and allowed us to each have a tin. We would pass water,
put the tin under our tatami, and then take them to the
latrine in the morning. Like hell we did. We emptied them
out the window.
night, one of the POWs filled his tin and threw it out
of his neighbour’s window. But the window was closed
and the urine splashed over this neighbour. The perpetrator
pretended to be asleep when he heard his neighbour mutter,
“My, it’s raining. Funny, the windows are
closed—the ceiling must be leaking.” The neighbour
put a bucket next to his head and went back to sleep.
Japanese brought in a lot of sports equipment for the
prisoners to use in their spare time. We played baseball,
soccer, hockey, tennis, volleyball and even lawn-bowls,
but the bowls didn’t last very long as we were playing
on sand. The little grass was reserved for smokers who
weren’t to know until two decades later that they
were also smoking grass. We were just prisoners. Some
of the boys also learned bridge and chess.
day, the Japanese challenged us to play baseball. We fielded
a good team. When a certain Japanese came up to bat, a
lot of voices shouted, “Come on, get this guy.”
He put down the bat and asked, “Who said that?”
Nobody answered. But we struck him out.
guy’s nickname was “Slap-Happy”. A Japanese-Canadian,
he who went about slapping people for no reason at all.
He was hanged after the war, and was very arrogant at
the trial, but he was no match for Marcus da Silva who
was the prosecutor.
those days almost everyone smoked. “No Smoking”
signs were rare. Cigarettes such as Camels, Lucky Strikes,
Capstan, etc., were popular. But as the war progressed
these imported smokes were increasingly rare in camp and
were prized. Cigarettes were bartered for other desired
commodities. In fact any cigarette we smoked pine needles,
tea leaves, grass—you name it.
also had Japanese cigarettes which were very strong. One
puff got you dizzy. We called them “killers”
and “cow dung”. In offering someone one of
these Japanese cigarettes, we would say, “Here have
a cow dung.”
of the kwai-lohs in the camp would often come up to you
when you were smoking and say, “Give us a light,
chum.” Then you’d see your cigarette getting
shorter and shorter. This guy had a hollow piece of paper
and was smoking your cigarette. We got mad but also wise
to this trick.
Baptista, an artist and chain-smoker at Christmas, would
make a greeting card for three cigarettes. (I traded a
pair of knitted gloves for five cigarettes). Nanelli had
so many orders that I had to help him, and almost became
a chain -smoker myself.
Christmas, we wished each other and hoped to see everyone
outside by the following Christmas. As two more Christmases
in camp went, our hopes waned.
the camp fence
the grimness of camp life, there were lighter moments.
We used to buy some provisions from outside. In the beginning,
we were buying Chinese cakes for a dollar, but later the
cakes shrank from a five inch diameter to one inch so
that they could fit through the fence when only a few
guards were around. You would take the cake in a “one-two-three”
grab as the seller outside would take the money simultaneously.
a POW tore a dollar bill in half and bought a bag of sugar
this way. The prisoner had the sugar and the Chinese outside
the fence got cheated with half a dollar. The POW had
a good laugh. The next day he went hunting again with
the other half of his dollar. But this time the Chinese
seller with the sugar was disguised, and when “one-two’three”
was called, they grabbed simultaneously. The seller now
had the other half of his dollar, but the POW got his
comeuppance with only a packet of sand!
day my Mom sent me a papaya and since the following day
was Sunday I saved it for a Sunday treat with a few friends.
Fearing foraging rats, I tied the ends of the papaya with
a long string to nailes on both sides of the room, dangling
it in the middle of the room. How could I have guessed
that this little (or big) rat was a wire-walker. In the
morning, I found a neat hole bitten through the papaya.
No matter. I cut around the hole and shared the dessert
our hut, for a while, there was this chomp-chomp sound
on the roof every night. It didn’t bother us, but
this particular mama’s boy complained to the padre
that he thought the hut was haunted, so the padre brought
in some holy water, and blessed the hut. But the chomp-chomp
continued. One night, there was the usual noise, and bingo,
a huge rat fell out from a hole in the ceiling, but it
ran out of the hut, too fast for us to catch it.
married and older POWs constantly worried about their
wives and children on the outside. We, the younger people
between 20 years and 30 years old, did our best to help
these married people, joking and telling them funny stories.
Thank heavens they listened and joined in.
of the man in camp was boosted by music and stage shows
produced by the camp inmates. The late Johnny Fonseca
who was very popular in camp, and well known even to the
English and Canadian POWs, did a lot for our boys with
his guitar. He accompanied us while we sang with some
kwai-lohs joining in.
also had concerts for which full credit must be given
to Nanelli Baptista, his helpers and the Royal Engineers
crew for the stage setting, to Eli Alves, Reinaldo Gutierrez
and Alarcon for their very sweet violin music; to the
“girls” - Sonny Castro (who dressed as Carmen
Miranda), Eddie and Gussy Noronha, Robert Pereira and
a few more. (You couldn’t say they were not girls
unless you disrobed them!)
Japanese camp commandant, his entourage, and some outside
friends usually came to these events, occupying the first
three rows in the improvised theatre, arriving in limousines,
while we looked at them the way movie fans ogle the stars
when they arrive for the Oscar awards in Hollywood.
I say something about George Ainslie, a good friend who
at 18 or 19 was our youngest POW at Shamshuipo, I must
digress: He and I (and others) used to dive together at
the old Victoria Recreation Club (V.R.C.) on the Hong
Kong waterfront. At first, we were diving from the lower
one-metre board, then the three-metre board, and then
from the verandah into the pool. We couldn’t go
any higher so we dove from the window in the clubhouse
into the sea. Finally, we ended up on the roof of the
building, and looked down. All we could say was, “Jeepers”,
so we climbed down, but one of the guys slipped and fell
into the sea. It was then that we saw the hugs crowd on
the waterfront having a free show. But the show must go
height was scary; about seven storeys high, and to add
to the danger, the water below was relatively shallow,
being at low tide. Our hearts must have stopped as we
took the plunge which, seemingly took a long time to reach
the water. But all of us: Eddie (Monkey) Roza, Lionel
Roza-Pereira, Peter Rull, Manaelly Roza, Hugo Ribeiro
and a guy called Pullen, took the plunge. I had a stiff
neck for a week. Now back to Shamshuipo camp.
Ainslie died of diphtheria in the prison camp and Pullen
died in the war. David Hutchinson was the fellow with
the scabies, and fainted when they scrubbed his back.
He was very friendly with our boys as he was a member
of the V.R.C. and the Colony’s 100-yard swimming
champion. (After the war, he went to Australia, married
an Australian Catholic girl, became a Catholic himself,
and went to mass every day. I’m quite sure a lot
of us don’t go to mass every day—not yours
truly anyway—but if you say there is a mahjong came
at 6.00 a.m. I bet a lot of us will get up at 5.00 a.m.).