A Weekend to Pack
The evocative, human story of a family caught up in the Second World War in the Far East
The week beginning 1 July 1940 saw almost 3,500 British women and children evacuated from the British colony of Hong Kong, following threats of invasion from the Japanese.
One of the families separated was George Bearman’s, with his wife and two sons – Hilda, David and Edward – bound first for the Philippines, before sailing on to Australia.
Few in the colony believed the evacuation to be necessary, almost all that it would be short-lived. But these were uncertain times, and as they made their farewells on the dockside, families could not help but wonder where and when they would meet again.
Tension between Japan and Britain had been growing. Japan was at war with China, and Britain supporting the Chinese Nationalist Army. The months following what became known as the ‘Evacuation Crisis’ were set, too, against the wider background of the war with Germany, and the developing global situation.
The husbands left behind in Hong Kong formed a relatives’ committee, continually lobbying for the return of the evacuees – sent first to the Philippines, and then on to Australia – while hopes for their return rose and fell with the seesaw of tension in the Far East.
Postings away from Hong Kong led to some families reuniting during the 18 months as the colony lived in the surreal atmosphere of the ‘bachelors’ keeping the home fires burning. But most would have to wait, as the colony continued to slide towards war, and the ‘three years and eight months’ of Japanese occupation.
The letters of George Bearman, electrical engineer at the colony’s naval dockyard, create a poignant, human thread to the narrative of events shaping the story of Hong Kong during the Second World War.
Letters edited by writer and editor
George’s letters establish a snapshot of life in 1940s Hong Kong – the colour and culture, with its mix of Chinese customs and British tradition – set against the curious backdrop of life returned to bachelorhood, and that of the wider background of Britain at war and the growing tension in the Far East.
George weaves his family’s story in with those of
friends and colleagues, as he reports on events in
Hong Kong. Private, personal, and at times intimate,
George’s letters are interspersed with official
communications from the Admiralty, Red Cross,
Foreign and Colonial Office, and a reminder that
Britain was at war and life could change at any moment.
Admiral Sir George Zambellas GCB DSC DL
First Sea Lord and Chief of Naval Staff 2013-2016
“The global nature of the conflict is demonstrated as George reads in Hong Kong of air raids on Portsmouth and hears of the Royal Navy sinking of the German battleship Bismarck, an important turning point in the crucial Battle of the Atlantic…
“But these are interwoven with the kind of everyday occurrences that any of us will recognise, whether arranging the movement of a piano or sorting out a tax return. We can also empathise with his painful separation from his family; those of us regularly separated by Service life will be among those able to appreciate it most keenly…
“Ultimately ‘A Weekend to Pack’ is an evocative human story of a family caught up in an almost unknown dimension of the Second World War. I commend it to you.”
1 July 2022 – 25 years since the return of Hong Kong to China, 82 years since the first evacuation ship sailed in 1940
Today, 1 July 2022, marks 25 years since Hong Kong was handed back to China after 156 years as a British colony. The handover ceremony – attended by Prince Charles, the UK’s then Prime Minister, Tony Blair, and the Chinese President Jiang Zemin – began on 30 June 1997. At midnight Chris Patten as theContinue reading “1 July 2022 – 25 years since the return of Hong Kong to China, 82 years since the first evacuation ship sailed in 1940”
On 19 April 1941, George begins his letter to Hilda: “It’s 6 o’clock Saturday evening, and I’m writing in the office while waiting for my lads to come back – yes, I’ve been working this afternoon and now it’s nearly time to pack up. “I’ve just been playing that silly game of being sorry forContinue reading ““I’ve just been playing that silly game of being sorry for myself””
A Weekend to Pack – The Fall of Hong Kong 1940-1945
A Weekend to Pack is published by Sabrestorm Publishing.
If you’d like more information about the book, do please link through to my interview on YouTube, A Weekend to Pack – The Fall of Hong Kong 1940-1945.
I will also be talking to various groups and organisations when the world returns to a little more normality – and if you’d like details about the programme please let me know.
In the meantime, I’d love to hear from you – so do please get in touch!
I’d love to hear from you!