Reflections on recent events, plus the occasional fact
free rant unfiltered by rational argument.
A bittersweet story caught my eye this week. Two ill veterans of Communist East River Column (ERC) found themselves admitted to the same ward in a Shenzhen hospital. These two guys fought in World War II against the Japanese. They sustained resistance in Hong Kong and Guangdong after the defeat of the British forces. One, Zhuang Shuifan, lost an eye to a Japanese bullet. The two served in the same platoon as teenagers. They'd lost contact after the war. Only after four days in the same ward did they recognise each other. They are now in adjacent beds.
For political reasons, the colonial government played down the huge contribution that the ERC made during World War II. With the communists out of favour, their efforts didn't receive the publicity deserved. The Column operated guerrilla style, forming up in 1937 to resist Japanese aggression. With the fall of Hong Kong in December 1941, the Column set about aiding the fleeing British personal. In January 1942, the ERC extracted Sir Lindsay Ride and others from occupied Hong Kong. It then mounted a campaign that kept the Japanese forces unsettled. They'd collected weapons discarded by the British to supplement their own meagre collection.
The ERC operated in Kowloon, the New Territories and Sai Kung. They rescued twenty American aircrew, who'd parachuted into Kowloon after their planes were hit. Moreover, they were able to assist escaping prisoners of war, and open lines of communication to prison camps. As the occupation progressed, they attacked Japanese forces in Tai Po Police Station. Later they ventured into Kowloon to sabotage aircraft and equipment at Kai Tak. The harassment of the Japanese extended to the identification of collaborators. Many faced execution when caught by the ERC.
Such was their foothold in rural areas, the Japanese rarely ventured to the Sai Kung peninsula fearing an ambush. All this was achieved by a motley crew of villagers, students and communist officials. At its height, the Column had an estimated 6000 soldiers. After the war, with China in crisis, the achievements of ERC got scant attention. Internal communist disputes further dampened interest in the Column. At the same time, the British, now at loggerheads with Beijing, wrote their version of history. Mention of these hardy fighters was minimal.
Lying in their hospital beds today, Zhuang and his compatriot Lin Shuishou are heroes Hong Kong should recognise. Both are now fighting their last battle. We wish them well.
Walter De Havilland is one of the last of the colonial coppers. He served 35 years in the Hong Kong Police.