A Weekend to Pack: The Fall of Hong Kong (1940 – 1945) – A Bitterne family caught up in the Second World War in the Far East
Saturday 12 November 2022, 7pm
Bitterne United Reformed Church, 446 Bitterne Road, Southampton, SO18 5EF
The house in the photograph is the Bearman family home. It’s in Redlands Drive, Bitterne – and I’m delighted to have been invited by Bitterne Local History Society to talk about the Bearman family’s wartime story.
George and Hilda Bearman were married at Jesus Chapel, St Mary Extra – now Peartree Church – in Southampton on Saturday 24 July 1926. Hilda had grown up in the city, and although George and Hilda began married life in Portsmouth where George was an electrical engineer at the Royal Dockyard, they maintained strong links with Southampton. Hilda’s parents’ home was in the city and the family returned to the UK and Bitterne in 1945.
It was in the late 1930s, that the family sailed for the Far East and Hong Kong.
The Second World War did not come officially to the Far East until December 1941, when the Japanese attacked the Americans at Pearl Harbor, and the British colonies Malaya (Malaysia), Singapore, Burma (Myanmar) and on 8 December, Hong Kong.
But the Bearman family wartime story along with that of many of those in Hong Kong began 18 months earlier, and the week of 1 July 1940 which, following threats of invasion from the Japanese, saw the shock evacuation – after only a weekend to pack – of almost 3,500 women and children.
We followed you down the harbour to Lyemoon and then you disappeared in sheets of rain. We all stood up and got nicely wet trying to peer through the rain to see the last of the ship and then we gave it all up and turned back.
Oh, my dear, what a Monday that was. In fact what a weekend! But perhaps the rush was all for the best as it didn’t leave us a lot of time to think of ourselves.
Few believed the evacuation to be necessary, virtually all that it would be short-lived, but when George wrote to Hilda of watching the Empress of Japan sail from harbour with Hilda, David and Edward on board on that Monday 1 July, it was the first of many letters he would write stretching down the years – with the home country at war in Europe, and tension with Japan growing.
In my talk I’ll be covering the story of the evacuees as they travelled from billet to billet, at first in the Philippines and then in Australia, and that of George and his fellow colleagues remaining in Hong Kong – both before the eventual attack by Japan, and in the years following Britain’s surrender on 25 December 1941.
Tickets are £3 (£1 of you’re a Society member) and you can find more information about the evening on the Bitterne Local History Society website.