The Long March - January 1942

by Joyce Osmund Van LangenbergClick on the SEARCH icon and enter her ID number (24165) to be taken to her personal page

A feverish excitement swept through Tung Cheong Terrace from building to building, floor to floor and balcony to balcony like a succession of waves that rolled in from the sea towards the shingled beaches. The atmosphere was euphoric filled with wild anticipation unlike the trauma of gth December 1941 when Japanese planes without warning swooped down from the skies and rained their bombs of destruction on the unsuspecting population of Hong Kong and Kowloon. Now at last there existed a glimmer of hope for the Tung Cheong residents to cling to - the opportunity of catching a glimpse of their brave and beloved men in the Hong Kong Volunteers Defence Corps, in defeat - husbands, sons, brothers, sweethearts, a neighbour, a friend, even an acquaintance, mingled with a fervent hope that by some quirk of fate they had survived the overwhelming odds.

On this bright but cold mid-day of January 1942 the residents of Tung Cheong Building were out en masse in the compound below calling out to latecomers, "Hurry, it's almost time, our boys are coming, the volunteers are coming!" Others too impatient to wait rushed ahead to Nathan Road to occupy vantage positions along the designated route of the march.

Pa Vio and CarlinhoClick on the SEARCH icon and enter his ID number (30116) to be taken to his personal page brought large paper bags filled with packets of cigarettes for the prisoners of war. They understood a soldier's craving for cigarettes particularly in the height of battle and in captivity. The cigarette consumption of a soldier had always been prodigious. Crouching in a pillbox under bombardment, he wanted a cigarette, waiting to go into the attack with bayonet fixed, he wanted a cigarette and he wanted another before he died.

The moment of anticipation arrived. A hushed silence permeated the cold January air. The civilian spectators that lined Nathan Road to watch the march of defeated soldiers stood like sentinels, silent as the grave, as if they were witnessing a funeral procession instead of the incarceration of their loved ones that appeared to them just as funereal.

As the Portuguese contingent of the Hong Kong Volunteer Defence Corps marched past the broad thoroughfare of Nathan Road, Kowloon, that wondrous stretch of seemingly unending road lined with traditional colonial architecture and shaded by massive Banyan trees, the Tung Cheong crowd stood rigid in silence. Many soldiers were floundering and had to be helped by their more able mates. Copious tears of sorrow streamed down the faces of wives, mothers and fathers, sweethearts, brothers and sisters. The civilian men of the community lifted children on their shoulders whilst infants were cradled in their mothers' arms on the slim chance that their fathers might glimpse the children they had not seen at birth.

Suddenly pandemonium reigned. All fear vanished. The women had had enough. The strain of separation from their beloved men was unbearable. They shouted with tremulous voices to the passing soldiers they recognised calling out their names. "Henry, George, Memie, the string of names spilled over like a burst dam, fast flowing and unstoppable. Carlinho and Pa Vio tossed packets of cigarettes to the passing soldiers - Players, Gold Flakes and Capstan- as quickly and as accurately as possible. Someone called out a name and a volunteer signalled a 'thumbs down.' In the midst of the tumultuous outcry from the crowd Carlinho suddenly stopped what he was doing and lifted his five-year-old daughter, Joyce onto his shoulders. He had spotted Reggie. As if by some miracle Joyce, hitherto excessively shy and timid, in the fervour of the moment cried out - "Uncle Reggie, Uncle Reggie." Tears filled Reggie's eyes he had never heard Joyce speak before in all the short years he had known her. And there she was perched upon her father's shoulder shouting the word he longed to hear - his name.

The sound of tramping boots receded as the defeated soldiers marched past Nathan Hotel and the Majestic and Alhambra cinemas on their long march to Shamshuipo Camp leaving their loved ones behind to carry on their lives without them.