Allison, Margaret, and Ellen – the King girls

In a nice (but very cold) afternoon in July this year, I met someone important in the National Gallery in Canberra, Australia. She was Ellen Tulip, my very first oral history interviewee.

The story goes back to November 2013, two months after I had started my MPhil thesis on the evacuation. A teacher at HKU learnt about my project. Knowing that I hadn’t been able to find any surviving evacuee, he was kind enough to put me in touch with Dr. Ellen Tulip. And that’s how I got to know Ellen. When I visited Canberra in September 2014, Ellen kindly offered to pick me up from the airport, and it turns out I picked the right time to visit: her elder sisters Margaret, who lives in Tasmania, and Allison, who lives in WA, were both visiting her. So in just one trip, I managed to see all three of them. We had Australian BBQ lunch, dinner and saw the Australian War Memorial together. But more importantly, I also held a group interview with Ellen and Margaret, and another individual interview with Allison, in which I learnt so much more about their family’s past.


(left to right) Ellen, Margaret and Allison, Canberra, September 2014


Daughters of Prof. Gordon King (then a prof at the medical school at HKU) and Dr. Mary King, Allison, Margaret, and Ellen left Hong Kong with their mother in July 1940 with 3,331 other evacuees.

In many ways, their experience was not a typical evacuation story. Mary later also took the responsibility of looking after Jean Gittins’ two children. As Jean, daughter of Sir Robert Hotung (a prominent Eurasian tycoon in HK), and her husband were both Eurasians, she and her two children were not included in the evacuation scheme. With the White Australia policy, she couldn’t bring her two children to Australia. As Jean was working as Gordon’s secretary, he kindly offered that her two children could stay with his family. And so during the war years the two children stayed in the King household, until Mary had to go to China to support her husband’s war relief work. Most exceptionally, their father Gordon escaped from Hong Kong to free China in early 1942; the King family could remain in communication during the war. On the other hand, the majority of evacuees remained out of touch with the men in Hong Kong who were kept in camps there.

However exceptional their experience may be, their story still helped me –  as a historian, as an outsider, as someone who had never lived through a wartime emergency – to understand what it was like for evacuees to start a new life in Australia. Their story told me how hard it was for the evacuees, many of them knew nothing about Australia, to just decide on where to disembark for the next few weeks (which ended up being years, and in many cases even decades). The Kings almost ended up in Perth in Australia: Mary was attracted to Perth in Australia, because ‘she came from Perth in Scotland and she thought Perth in Australia might be the same’. But as her friend was from Melbourne she decided eventually to go to Melbourne. Their story of rushing out to find somewhere to rent allowed me to understand evacuees’ anxiety from trying to find a home without knowing their bearings in Australia. Their narratives of their school lives suggest how it was relatively easy for children to adjust to life in Australia, as it was part of the British Empire. Their vivid recollection of the first reunion of their father seven years after the evacuation shows me how long-time separation disrupted parenthood and affected the evacuated families in a very personal way. Even though they could stay in touch with each other during the war, the three little girls that left Hong Kong in 1940 had become teenagers – it was Gordon and Mary’s first time seeing Margaret wearing lipstick!

After the war Gordon stayed in Hong Kong to help with the reopening of the University, and eventually became the Dean of the Faculty of Medicine at HKU. The King girls moved to Scotland for schooling with their mother. Hoping to study medicine and be closer to their father to make up for lost time in the war years, Margaret and Ellen eventually moved back to Hong Kong and finished their university education there.

I am very lucky indeed to have made friends with the three of them, who brought me so much closer to the history that I was studying. This post is written, to the good health of the three King girls.



British Schools Attendees Wanted!

As some of you know I have moved to the University of Bristol about a year ago to embark on my PhD research on Britishness in interwar Hong Kong. I am keen in engaging oral histories in my new project as well, and I am particularly eager to interview those who attended the several British schools in Hong Kong in or before 1941. Please get in touch if you’re interested in participating in my research!



Jennie Carey

A reader of the blog is looking for information about the Carey family who went to Australia with the official evacuation scheme in 1940.

Jennie Carey, the wife of Mr. Albert Edward Carey, a police inspector in HK, arrived in Australia (very likely Melbourne) with her two daughters Beryl and Sheila. Any information on what happened to them during and after the war would be greatly appreciated.


5th July 1940, Friday

It has been a very long day. Finally got the time to write the diary after Joan eventually fell asleep. Let’s hope the baby next to our bed won’t cry again in the middle of the night and wake us all up.

Today we all got up really early to get ready for our departure. I woke up at 5 in the morning, finding Ah-ho crying at the children’s bedside. My eyes got watery as they matched Ah-ho’s. She has worked for us since Joan was born and saw Joan and Lily as her own daughters. I assured her that we will be back very soon and told her not to worry about us and also her job. The farewell was very emotional – Joan and Lily cried and wouldn’t let go Ah-ho’s arms and insisted us to bring Ah-ho with us. Will and I had to forcibly take the two of them to the car and endured their cry for the next ten minutes on the ride.

We got to the Assembly Point at Hong Kong Club before noon. After a long wait which involved tedious checks of our passports and vaccination certifications, we were finally taken to the boat The North Star in the early afternoon. Joan was delighted to find that her classmate was also in the boat as we crossed over to the docks. The two of them sang cheerfully as the boat sailed towards the Empress of Japan, the liner that is currently carrying us across the Pacific. All the adults on the boat found it rather ironic that we are actually escaping from a Japanese attack by taking the Empress of Japan! We were horrified as we stepped into the public room of the ship. It was SO packed with camp beds, in one of which I am now writing this diary. The beds are so closely placed that I can easily touch the baby on my left without even reaching my arm.

At around 3pm, when the whole embarkation process was done, the men were allowed to get on the ships to say goodbye. It was very hard; I was trying very hard to hold back my tears every single second, and had to avoid looking into Will’s eyes or else I would have a meltdown. It got worse, when all the men were ordered ashore. I could not hold it back anymore, and all my fortitude just broke suddenly. It hurt so much as he disappeared out of sight. We were allowed to stand on the deck as the liner pulled out of the harbour. I tried really hard to lift both Joan and Lily up so that they could wave goodbye to Will, who I could tell tried very hard to smile encouragingly as he waved back to us.

Not long after we walked back to the public room, and calmed ourselves down, supper was served. We were all very shocked to learn that no milk or any other kind of baby food was prepared by the government. One of the staff blamed us for not preparing anything for our own child. How could we do that, when we are only allowed to take a suitcase with us? Poor Lily ended up eating gravy for supper. Let’s hope she won’t be hungry and wake up in the middle of the night…


七月五號 星期五

今天真的過得很累! 終於等到Joan睡著了我才有時間寫這本日記。拜託隔壁床的小baby千萬不要睡到半夜又再哭了,她一哭我們全部人又會不得安寧了…














1st July, 1940. (Monday)

This weekend has been a disaster.

On Sunday morning we rushed to the Hong Kong Club to report for evacuation. There were so many people and so many lines – lines for the British, British-Chinese and British-Indians. In front of us in the line for “British” were some Eurasians. Poor them. The officers said they don’t know what to do with them and stopped them from registering. They seemed really angry, and asked the officers why they do not deserve to be evacuated. I guess I partly understand their anger, but really, I am slightly jealous that they get to stay and don’t have to go through this muddle.

The ahmas and I have also been having a hard time try to put as many things as possible in the suitcase. The singles had a suitcase and a trunk allowed, whereas the three of us only had two suitcases allowed. We have been really creative in making the most out of it. As rumours had it that we might go to Australia, we are also putting winter clothes in. Joan cried about having to leave her favourite doll behind; she clearly doesn’t get this is not a vacation trip but a flee from HK.

The idea of leaving Will behind saddens us. I keep worrying and asked myself what if the rumours that the Japanese will invade soon are real? What’s going to happen to Will? It’s his birthday in only a few days, and the little ones are really upset that they can’t celebrate it with Daddy. They were really excited about blowing out the candle. But Will says we can celebrate it in advance the night before we leave. I guess that’s the only thing we can do….

July 1 Kung Sheung



現在我跟家裡的僕人想盡辦法把必需品全塞進去行李箱裡面。該死的政府只准我們三個人帶兩個行李箱…你說說這兩個行李箱能帶多少東西?這兩天大家都在傳說我們最後可能要去澳洲,那邊現在又是冬天,可是馬尼拉現在是大熱天,於是現在要帶的東西又更多了… Joan竟然一直在大吵大鬧,哭著說要帶她最喜歡的玩具一起去菲律賓..我想這小孩是真的不明白我們現在是在逃難,不是去度假啦!


29th June, 1940. (Saturday)

I woke up like a walking dead this morning. I could not sleep at all. All my mind was just too occupied by the news of the possible evacuation of British women and children in Hong Kong that came in last night.

At the dinner party last night, the only thing people could talk about about was the evacuation. Many are scared. Scared by the thought that the Japanese may come in any minute. Some, on the other hand, seemed to have no anxieties at all. They think that the Japanese would not be capable to invade Hong Kong, a Crown Colony of the British Empire. They think the government is just being cautious and they would not really evacuate us. Not sure which side should we believe, we came home early for we still have to take the kids to vaccination centres today.

Finally the news came in during the day. Except for those registered for nurse services or holding essential posts, all women and children will be evacuated to Manila within a week. Service families will go first on Monday, and we, the civilians, were to leave no later than July 5. Men cannot go – they have to stay and fight.

But this is just insane! How are we supposed to pack everything? Everything is in here! They only allow us to bring along one suitcase.. That’s not gonna be enough for me and the kids!? And where on earth is Manila? I heard it’s tropical and it’s the typhoon season right now. How long do we have to be there? I hope there’s going to be enough food and housing for that many of us… Can we come back as soon as the threat is off? And what about my hubby? What kind of threat is he facing? I hope he’s gonna be alright..

Poor military families! How are they supposed to get cash from the bank when this is Saturday and they’re going to leave on Monday morning..

Mary, who took an auxiliary nurse course, called in today. She was furious because she had to go even though they said they’re going to exempt nurses. She has no idea what she should do. She kept complaining about the government for giving such a short notice and also confusing information. I guess she’s right. The government ought to provide clearer answers in this time of crisis.

一九四零年六月二十九日 週六








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28th June, 1940. (Friday)

Imagine you are a British woman in 1940 Hong Kong.

Today is 28th June, Friday.

You just came back from Repulse Bay, where you always spend your afternoon with your children. Thanks to the amahs you can get here at an affordable rate, you don’t have to worry about making dinner for your kids and the first thing you need to do when you get home is to get ready for your friend’s dinner party…

But all your good mood is ruined by the shocking news that you got on Z.B.W, the government radio station.

“We are informed by the Government that instructions have been received from the Secretary of State for the Colonies which indicate that the evacuation of women and children from Hongkong may be ordered in the near future,” says the voice announcing the Government’s advice to us, British women, and our children. “In the view of the Government this need not be taken as in any way a cause for alarm, but, as the destination of such evacuation would probably be Manila in the first place, all persons who are likely to be affected by such an order are advised to be vaccinated forthwith.”

So what does that mean? Does that mean the Japanese across the Shenzhen River are coming soon? Are you going to leave very soon? And what about your husband? What is he going to face in the colony? And when can we come back after they defeat the Japanese?

These are the questions that many British women probably asked when they first heard of the notice. Not long after that, they received another notice that left them no time to think much….