The Forgotten Years – British Army Aid Group

RogEr Stanton

Of those who have served in Hong-Kong since WW2, many will retain good memories of Tiger Balm Gardens, the Star Ferry, The Peak, Nathan Road, and tabbing around the hills of the New Territories in blistering heat.

However, to find information about WW2 in Hong Kong is difficult, particularly escape, evasion, and resistance. WW2 is hardly spoken about. The camps are still there, many of the old ones that held POWs during the war are also still there; Shamshuipo, Whitfield Barracks, and Stanley Fort. I have memories of boarding landing craft from Shamshuipo Camp to outlying islands in the early seventies.

British Regiments kept diaries of their exploits, and two Regiments in particular, stand out. The heroic defence of Hong-Kong Island by the Middlesex Regiment; and the Hong Kong Volunteers, a Territorial Regiment, made up of all nationalities and local Chinese, which proved that if trained and employed in a role that made good use of local knowledge, fought on its own ground, and in defence, their men could be a valuable addition to any defence force. The Hong-Kong Regiment proved to be gallant and stubborn fighters in the defence of Hong-Kong, both before and after the fall of the Territory.

Amongst the many POWs interned in Shamshuipo Camp, was Lt Col Ride, CO of the Hong-Kong Volunteers Field Ambulance Unit. Unable to get medical supplies for the injured in the camp, Col Ride informed Major-General Maltby, that it was his intention to escape and organise aid for the POWs from the outside, then filter it back to the camp. As a local Hong-Kong Volunteer, he knew his way around the New Territories and parts of China, could speak the language, and had excellent connections with the local Chinese. Ride’s main obstacle was that he was, and looked, European.

In mid-January 1942, LCol Ride, with a small group of Hong-Kong Volunteers, broke out of the camp and, after evading capture for four days, made contact with Chinese guerrillas in the Sai-kung area of the New Territories. The Guerrillas arranged a route for the party across Mirs Bay, evading Japanese patrols, and into China. On the long route to Chungking, Ride laid plans to form the British Army Aid Group (BAAG), to assist POWs in the camps, and to assist escapers and evaders from the Colony. LCol Ride put his plans to the British Embassy in Chungking, who asked him to commence his escape line plan right away. He was joined by Capt Clague RA, another escaper from Shamshuipo, who set up a forward base at Waichow. Members of the group were drawn from all walks of life. Many were Hong-Kong Volunteers who had avoided capture and gone to ground. Many had already escaped from the Colony and offered to return. The BAAG operated under the umbrella of MI9 in London.

Many local Chinese assisted the group by taking food and supplies to Shamshuipo, Whitfield Barracks, and Stanley Fort. Information and news of Allied victories were also passed to POWs. Some carried out intelligence gathering tasks, and others set up a route to Macau for escapers. A Miss Mui Shiu-Hing reported all Japanese shipping movement to Dr Atienza at Kowloon Hospital, who operated a radio and passed the information back to Chungking. He and Miss Mui Shiu-Hing also passed money to the POWs. All BAAG operatives and agents lived a very dangerous life.

With the number of POWs escaping from Shamshuipo, it became obvious to the Japanese that organised assistance was in operation, as the easily recognisable, penniless Europeans, who were unable to speak Chinese were reaching China. This resulted in the Japanese enlisting Chinese traitors to search the back streets of Hong-Kong, and roam the Kowloon hills to seek out the helpers and escape routes. Many were betrayed and tortured to death. Miss Shiu-Hing was captured and suffered horribly in the hands of the Japanese secret police, the Kempi-Tai.

By the end of the war in the Far East the BAAG had escape line routes throughout the Far East. It worked alongside Force 136 [SOE], gathered information and intelligence, but always placed assistance to escapers, evaders and POWs as priority. At the end of hostilities LCol Ride became Sir Lindsay Ride.