China Fleet Club - The War Years

China Fleet Club Jap Occupation

 

THE CLUB CARRIED on and although turnover was somewhat reduced, it showed a profit for 1939, 1940 and 1941.

 

1940 brought rumours closer to home, this time of increased Japanese war activity in the Far East, and on 1st July 1940 British women and children in Hong Kong were evacuated.

 

The following twelve months saw Hong Kong preparing for war. The China Fleet Club was selected as the first Headquarters for the Royal Navy, being required to accommodate the Officer's and Ship's Company of H.M.S. "Tamar" at the first sign of hostilities.

 

The Chinese Compradore was instructed to purchase, and maintain, a three months' supply of foodstuffs, and to keep this stock in reserve against emergencies.

 

The rumours became reality when Japan declared war on 8th December and Hong Kong was brought into the conflict. The Club Manager was informed at 5.15 that morning that England was at war with Japan and War Operations Orders went into immediate effect.

 

All Service ratings on shore leave were cleared from the Club so that the Officer's and Ship's Companies of H.M.S. Tamar could move in. Orders were also received to prepare accommodation for R.N.R., R.N.V.R., and H.K.R.N.V.R. Officers and ratings and an unknown number of Chinese.

 

Further orders stated that all Officers and Men in uniform, civilians attached to Naval establishments and Chinese ratings who reported at the Club were to be accommodated and fed. All meals were to be supplied by the Club's Compradore under the instructions of the Manager.

 

By 7.30 on the evening of 8th December 1941, the China Fleet Club was on a war footing. Everything had gone according to plan.

 

At approximately 8 a.m. on 8th December, the Japanese started air raids on Hong Kong, at Kai Tak, and in the harbour ships were attacked from the air. Bombs were dropped in the harbour but the Club suffered no damage on that first day.

 

The Ship's Company of H.M.S. Tamar moved into the Club according to plan, and the Officers occupied the billets allocated to them. The following shows the number of Officers, Men and Chinese accommodated and fed in the Club from 8th December to 11th December 1941, both days inclusive:

 

8th December 1941 Officers and Men - 250

 

9th December 1941 Officers and Men - 287

 

10th December 1941 Men  - 265 Chinese - 120

 

11th December 1941 Men  - 277 Chinese -1 54

 

On 10th December 1941, the Wardroom Officers' Messman, Ah Choy, took over the victualling of the Officers, sharing the Club's Kitchen and utensils with the Compradore.

 

During the next few days the Colony was subjected to intense aerial bombing, and long-range shelling from land and sea, but the Club remained undamaged.

 

On the morning of 9th December, two lighters arrived at the Pier outside the Club and were loaded with beer, wines, spirits, bedding and part of the three months' reserve of foodstuffs from the Compradore's stores. These supplies were then taken to Aberdeen and placed in the Aberdeen Industrial School, where a branch of the China Fleet Club had been established, in the temporary charge of Petty Officer William Thynne, the Assistant Manager of the Club.

 

On the morning of Thursday 11th December 1941, the British position on the Mainland had become precarious, and it was decided to evacuate all the remaining troops to the Island of Hong Kong. By this time, the Club had come into the danger zone to such an extent that it was decided to evacuate Officers and Men to Aberdeen, and this operation was completed by 5 p.m. on Thursday 11th December. That night, the Manager of the Club received orders to report to the Aberdeen Industrial School to attend a conference regarding the maintenance of China Fleet Club supplies for the Officers and Men then billeted in the School. On returning to the Club on Friday morning, 12th December, he found that the Leading Seaman's Bar had been broken open and completely looted, while the Manager's Quarters and Office had also been broken into and ransacked. A report was immediately made to the Commodore Hong Kong, and the Commissioner of Police, the latter sending two detectives to the Club to investigate.

 

During the next few days, the Engineers' Shop and Carpenters' Shop were transferred to Aberdeen and, following an urgent request for beds and bedding and other stores, the following were sent to Aberdeen Industrial School from the Club:- 400 mattresses; 800 sheets; 800 pillows 1,000 blankets; 800 counterpanes; 1,000 towels 1,600 pillowslips; 50 rattan chairs; and a further consignment of beer, wines, spirits, and cigarettes. These stores were transferred by lorry, the Manager of the Club making daily trips to and from Aberdeen.

 

After the evacuation of Service personnel to Aberdeen, the Club became the Centre for the accommodation of troops manning the pillboxes on the Praya, drawn from the Middlesex, Royal Scots, Indian and Portuguese Regiments.

 

In addition, Naval and Army personnel were supplied with meals at all times of the day and night during the Battle of Hong Kong, and accommodation was also given to crews landed from disabled ships, and ships sunk in the vicinity of Hong Kong. It should be noted that at least 8( per cent of the Chinese Staff remained loyal to the Club until 22nd December, but as the position wa5 then desperate, they left to seek safety elsewhere. As far as possible, the "boys" were paid half-a-month's pay before leaving the Club.

 

During the actual Battle of Hong Kong, the Club received a direct hit, a 6-inch shell penetrating the main wall of the Reading Room on the Ground Floor, passing through two more walls, and landing outside the Leading Seaman's Bar! But luckily it failed to explode. The markings on the shell bore the date 1941 and showed that it was ol British manufacture. The south side of the C1u1 also suffered slight damage when a small bomb hit the parapet on the roof, and tore away water and sanitary pipes. Another shell passed through the parapet wall of the Theatre roof on the East side, and here again the shell failed to explode.

 

The last visit paid to the Club by the Manager during the Battle was on 23rd December 1941, when further supplies were transferred to Aberdeen.

The Branch of the Club at Aberdeen Industrial School functioned throughout the Battle of Hong Kong and was the Distributing Centre whence beer, wines, spirits and cigarettes were supplied to the Naval Craft operating in the vicinity 01 Aberdeen and Repulse Bay. The Bar was kept open and drinks and cigarettes were supplied to all Naval and Army personnel accommodated in the Industrial School, and to all personnel who came down from the firing lines for rest periods The Assistant Manager of the Club was detailed to join a fighting unit, but shortly afterwards was sent to Queen Mary Hospital where he remained for some months.

 

During the last week of the Battle of Hong Kong, the Industrial School was evacuated by nearly all fighting forces, who retired to the hills, but a great many returned to the School within 48 hours. By this time The Japanese were occupying Repulse Bay.

 

On 25th December 1941, orders were received at Aberdeen to "Cease fire - retain all guns and ammunition", followed by a further order to "Return all guns and ammunition to store". The Battle of Hong Kong was over - His Excellency The Governor of Hong Kong had surrendered the Colony to the Japanese Military Forces.

 

THE OCCUPATION

 

AT 6 P.M. ON 25th December, the Manager of the Club was ordered to destroy all Beer, Wines and Spirits - the property of the Club at Aberdeen, and from that hour until 6a.m. of 26th December, the following stocks were destroyed:-

 

500 Cases Beer    (48 bottles per case)

75 Cases Brandy   (12 bottles per case)

75 Cases Whisky   (12 bottles per case)

100 Cases Gin     (12 bottles per case)

75 Cases Sherry   (12 bottles per case)

70 Cases Rum      (12 bottles per case)

 

Also, about 50,000 cigarettes were sent out to the British and Canadian Forces at Aberdeen.

 

With the exception of a small party, all Service personnel were transferred to the Royal Naval Dockyard, Hong Kong, as Prisoners-of-War.

 

On 27th December 1941, the Japanese stated that the Naval prisoners-of-war could be accommodated in the China Fleet Club, and the Manager was sent to the Club to arrange for their accommodation, but was refused  admittance by the Japanese Military Forces who, in the meantime, had taken over the Club. Just then, five lorries filled with Chinese women arrived under Japanese escort outside the Club. These women had been collected by the Japanese and were put into the Club to work for them.

 

After six months had elapsed the Japanese Military Forces evacuated the Club, and the Japanese Naval Authorities took over control. Naval Officers and men of the Japanese Navy were accommodated in the Club until the British Navy re-occupied Hong Kong in August 1945.

The Theatre of the Club was used chiefly as a School for Japanese Naval Officers, and the Restaurant was re-opened under Japanese control to cater for the needs of the Japanese residents of Wanchai.

 

During one period of the Occupation, all brass materials were stripped from the Club by the Japanese, and extensive looting of Club property took place.

 

The Club suffered very little damage during the bombing raids on Hong Kong by Allied Forces.

 

When the re-occupying Forces entered Hong Kong Harbour on 30th August 1945, they found the Club still standing. The China Fleet Club had a reputation amongst Naval personnel, and for those who were seeing it for the first time it must have caused considerable interest. For those who had served on the China Station and had known the Club before the war, it meant that the Club could again be used and raised their hopes of its early restoration.

 

From a closer inspection of the Club, little structural damage appeared to have been done. Only two shell holes could be seen but there were many broken windows. Also, the floors of the Club were exceedingly dirty and the ranges in the kitchen were broken. Meanwhile little could be done to the Club and its future had not yet been decided, the building was entrusted to H.M.S. "Vengeance" - Captain D.M.L. Neame, D.S.O., R.N.