Friday, 31 July 2015

The Prisoner of War diary of Private William Sprague, Hong Kong Volunteer Defence Corps, written in Hong Kong August 1945


Will/Bill Sprague was born in 1901in Plymouth, Devon where he grew up. He qualified as a Naval Architect in 1928 and the following year took up a post with the Hong Kong Harbour Office (post-war the Marine Department). In 1939 he and his wife Caroline and daughter Jenifer were on leave in Britain and when this ended in November he returned to Hong Kong alone because Caroline & Jenifer (then just 2 years old) were unable to go with him on account of the European War.


He had been a member of the Hong Kong Volunteer Defence Corps for some years but could hardly be called an ambitious soldier – when he was transferred to the Armoured Cars in 1941 he had to drop his Corporal’s rank and revert to Private. When Hong Kong was invaded and fell to the Japanese on Christmas Day 1941, he was captured in hospital having been injured in the fighting. After recovering from this injury he left hospital and was interned in the PoW camp at Shamshuipo where his Harbour Office colleague and friend, Captain K.C.Hamilton, offered him the opportunity to be his batman/orderly, which he accepted. He remained in the Officer’s camp when it moved to Argyle Street in April 1942 and when it moved back to Shamshuipo, alongside the Other Ranks camp, in May 1944. In both these camps, in addition to his general batman’s duties, he volunteered for the Sanitary Fatigue but, at the end of 1944, the personnel were changed and he reverted to general batting. On 23rdJune 1945 he was moved to the Stores. He recorded this event as follows:


“It came as a bolt from the blue to me today when I was appointed as assistant in the ration store in place of Sgt Tupper. The staff there is being entirely changed. Lt Brown RNVR & Haines of the DDC leave to give place to 2/Lieut Millar who will be my boss under Capt Head OIC galley & store. I know of no reason for the change other than perhaps they have “been there too long”. I was delighted to leave hut batting for this much more congenial staff job. I suppose the war will promptly end now, but after all the performance lies in scaling to the mountain top & not in continued sitting on its peak.”



Wednesday, 22 July 2015

William Sprague, a Ship Surveyor in the Harbour Office in Hong Kong, served as a private soldier in the Hong Kong Volunteer Defence Corps and was a Prisoner of War in Hong Kong from Christmas Day 1941 until the end of the war in 1945. During this time he kept a Diary day by day, with a few gaps in it. This unique document, written "in the moment", has been transcribed and a copy was lodged with the Imperial War Museum in London in February 2011. It runs to some 450 pages of typescript and is a remarkable description of how a very ordinary man and his fellow POWs survived a very extraordinary experience.

To mark the 70th Anniversary of the ending of the war in the Far East and the release from Hong Kong we propose to blog the 1945 Diary entries daily from the 2nd August to the end of the month to demonstrate how this momentous month was seen from inside the barbed wire in Hong Kong - rather than the better known outside view.

Jenifer (née Sprague) & Philip Burton.