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How British helped one-legged Chinese admiral make great escape from Second World War Hong Kong

Malcolm Moore Telegraph 12/19/2011 20:54
How British helped one-legged Chinese admiral make great escape from Second World War Hong Kong - history - culture - Hong Kong

It was one of the greatest escapes of the Second World War, by more than 60 British servicemen and a one-legged Chinese admiral who slipped out of Hong Kong and broke through Japanese lines to freedom.

It involved a desperate swim under heavy fire across a Hong Kong harbour, a night-time dash for the Chinese mainland aboard five motor torpedo boats, and a gruelling four-day march through Japanese-held territory, where capture would have meant almost certain death.

"There were many remarkable adventures during the war but few can rival the escape from Hong Kong to mainland China of 68 men under the noses of the invading Japanese army," is how the Duke of Edinburgh described it to descendants of the servicemen in 2009.

Yet only now has the full story of their extraordinary feat been told in a newly-published account, timed to coincide with the 70th anniversary of the escape on Christmas Day, 1941 - the day that Britain surrendered its Hong Kong colony to Japan.

For decades it has been largely forgotten in the West, and hushed up in China, whose Communist rulers were not eager to celebrate a joint mission between Chinese and British forces or the role of Chan Chak, the Chinese admiral who was a member of the former Nationalist government.

But descendants of the sailors, special operations agents and intelligence officers involved in the escape have meticulously pieced together their fathers' diaries and letters to create a compelling account of what happened.

"My father never really talked about it," said Sheena Recaldin, the daughter of David MacDougall, one of the escapees who later went on to be Hong Kong's first post-war acting governor.

"The story only came out when we saw the scars on his back when we went swimming, but it was my mother who told us. It is only in the last 10 years or so that I have begun to understand what happened. At the time, they all thought they were going to die."

The story of the escape has been stitched together in a new book, Escape from Hong Kong, by Tim Luard, a former BBC correspondent whose father-in-law was a special operations agent and a part of the escape team.

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