Chan Sui-jeung,Centre of Asian Studies,University of Hong Kong

Ride-diary               Ride-photo-with-locals

Abstract: The British Army Aid Group (BAAG) was formed in July 1942 at the suggestion of Colonel Lindsay Ride. After the fall of Hong Kong in December 1941, all personnel from the British side were sent into various prisoners-of-war (POW) camps on Hong Kong Island and in Kowloon. Ride later escaped from his camp and arrived in Chongqing, where he formed this unit, with its headquarters in Guilin, Guangxi as a front-line base in the south. They mainly rescued POWs from the camps, smuggled medicine and other supplies in and out of the camps, and gathered intelligence for the Allied Forces. In the process, BAAG enjoyed the active co-operation and protection of the East River Column.



 At 3:15 p.m. on December 25th 1941, the Governor of Hong Kong received a call from Admiral Mo Debi, the Chief Commander of the British Army in Hong Kong, who said continuing the fight was pointless and would only result in more deaths of innocent civilians by the Japanese. The admiral suggested a ceasefire starting at 8:00 a.m. by surrendering to the Japanese; his suggestion was accepted by the governor. At 3:25 p.m., the admiral ordered all officers and soldiers to surrender.

Hong Kong had taken precautionary measures before war broke out on December 8th. About 12,000 troops from Britain, India, China and Canada were ready to defend it as well as the Special Task Force, which was specially trained to set ambushes behind the Japanese lines. The Japanese invaders were battle-hardened while our defence troops had very little experience of battle. For instance, the two Canadian contingents had no understanding of Asia before coming to Hong Kong, let alone knowing anything about the climate and terrain there. Some soldiers were very young. In the 18 days that the battle lasted, the Japanese gained the upper hand and took control of the air base. Soon after, the small-scale Hong Kong Air Force was completely destroyed.
More than 2,000 people died during the battle while 2,300 people among the defence force were wounded; there were also some Chinese troops mingling with the local civilians.  On December 30th, all the prisoners were directed to prisoner-of-war (POW) camps by the Japanese invaders, some of them being ferried to Sham Shui Po camp. The 18-day battle emptied all the camps, so that when 6,000-plus British, Indian and Chinese soldiers arrived, they only found a picture of desolation with dilapidated houses and no beds; they could only use what they had brought with them.
Colonel Lindsay Ride, at the time professor of physiology at the University of Hong Kong, was among these unfortunate people. He had formed the Hong Kong Royal Guard with students and colleagues before the war, holding the position of colonel in charge of the guards. As an experienced medical professional, Ride took charge of medical care of the POWs. The medical supplies he brought to the camp were not enough, and the Japanese rejected demands for more supplies time and again. Ride realised that it was only winter now and the disease situation would become more serious once summer came. Therefore, he decided to escape from camp to let the allies outside know about the hardships inside. Only in this way could he help the prisoners in the camp.
Ride realised escape was preferable to staying in the camp helplessly facing famine and disease. He found two friends willing to co-operate with him. One was Lieutenant Molly and the other was Adjutant Lieutenant Davis. Ride also knew that he needed a helper who could speak Cantonese. Li Yubi took on this responsibility; he had been Ride’s assistant in the university and a soldier in the guard during the war. They arranged to escape together.
On the night of January 9th, they escaped from the camp by raft. The soldiers were elated at the news of their successful escape. The Hong Kong & Kowloon Brigade of the East River Column immediately headed for Saigon to rescue them.
Luckily Li Yubi succeeded in liaising with a soldier of the East River Column named “Xiao Gui” and was eventually rescued. They met with Cai Guoliang, the leader of the Hong Kong & Kowloon Brigade on January 13th and were well treated. The two sides exchanged information related to Kowloon. Ride found some civilians suffering from malaria and treated them with medicine. After this, the two sides began a period of long-term co-operation during the war.
The team evaded the Japanese all the way and on January 18th, they arrived at Waichow in the rear. Then they turned to Qu River and eventually reached Guilin.
After the escape, the Japanese took revenge on the POWs. Ride felt extremely angry when he received this news. But he knew clearly that their first priority was to help the soldiers in the camps escape and to provide medicine for the worst cases. Thus the idea of forming the British Army Aid Group (BAAG) arose.
After his safe arrival in Guilin, Ride became more determined to carry out his idea. He went to Chongqing, the political centre at that time to inform the leaders about his plan. The preliminary plan was finding and forming a team of those who were familiar with Hong Kong and stationing the base at a location as near as possible to Hong Kong. The prime goal of the troop was to rescue the POWs and those who were trapped in Hong Kong. In order to realise these goals, medical supplies and information had to be transmitted into the camps. With the help of the guerrillas a few miles away from the camps, a rescue should be successful. Ride soon received the support of India. He met Chiang Kai-shek in the company of the British ambassador to China and Brigade Gries Dale and explained that he needed the help of the East River Column. The special standing of Hong Kong meant that they needed the agreement of Chiang Kai-shek. In addition, the British Army promised the Chinese that Ride would not undertake anything relating to politics. The key point of this action was to collect information from Hong Kong and its surrounding regions.
At once Ride began to enlist those who were familiar with Hong Kong. He first found Ronald Holmes, C.M. McEwan and E.M. Holroyd, who had worked for British Intelligence when the war broke out and joined the battlefield behind enemy lines. Others included Li Yubi. They planned to station in Waichow, 80 miles away from Hong Kong, and co-operate with Doctor Wang Man, who was in charge of the Red Cross Society of China in the Guangdong Region. Li Yubi and Dick Lee, a renowned businessman in China, were placed in charge of the base.
One way for BAAG to collect information was to intercept and question refugees escaping from Hong Kong if they were found near Waichow. Another way was to send agents back to Hong Kong to observe the Japanese. Some went to the docks to note details of the movements and types of Japanese boats.
Soon after the establishment of BAAG headquarters in Guilin in 1942, it conveyed much information to Hong Kong. At that time, Ride thought that some of those imprisoned such as Ghraib, the president of HSBC, and Robson, a physiology professor at the University of Hong Kong, would be of great help in liberating China. However, Ghraib was forced by the Japanese to print huge quantities of money while Robson was forced to work in the Bacteriological Warfare Laboratory. Though BAAG manages to make contact with them, unfortunately they died before they could be rescued. Ghraib died of torture while Robson killed himself due to severe depression about the nature of his work.
With the help of the East River Column, information was successfully sent into the camps. When the POWs were forced to do hard labour, agents passed on information to them at the place where they were working. Later, when the POWs were too weak to continue labour, they hid the information in the trucks taking food every day. The POWs were greatly encouraged when they knew they had not been forgotten.
Some letters of information were written in invisible ink and sent into each camp by BAAG secret agents. Eventually contact was made with Mr. Duncan Sloss, vice-president of the University of Hong Kong.
During that time, BAAG brought much information to civilians and soldiers in each of the camps. But Ride never forgot that the main aim of forming BAAG was to rescue those imprisoned. Therefore after gaining specific information from each camp, he decided to plan a great escape from Camp Stanley. Unfortunately the prisoners were too weak to take this risk, so the plan had to be abandoned. Later, a POW escape plan gradually took shape and some people successfully escaped, but the plan was finally thwarted when the Japanese blocked off the penstock by cement.
Despite many failures, the East River Column still spent 3 days collecting information about the newly-built Kai Tak Airport in Saigon and Kowloon and gathered comprehensive information about Hong Kong. The outstanding work carried out by the East River Column was especially praiseworthy.
Throughout 1942, Ride built up correspondence with high-ranking officers and soldiers in Sham Shui Po camp. An extremely important information channel was the use of shuttle trucks and the bribing of Taiwanese soldiers among the Japanese to secretly carry emergency medicines and vitamin pills into the camps in case prisoners needed them when escaping. This information channel was very successful and Ride could even send New Year’s greetings of sympathy to POWs on December 29th, 1942. But this initial success could not be built on. In 1943, 170 people from different nationalities were arrested by the Japanese, including some BAAG soldiers. Although some British and Indian officers and soldiers tried to defend themselves at a court-martial, they were still sentenced to death or life imprisonment. More than 40 soldiers were eventually executed. Soon after June 1943, BAAG’s original channels of communication had to be abandoned. Later, BAAG found new ways after some prisoners were forced to labour in the garden. However, the prisoners’ fear of the Japanese meant that between 1943 and victory in the Anti-Japanese War in 1945, BAAG’s action was reduced to monitoring the status and number of prisoners in the camps.
At the end of 1943, BAAG planned another important action. With the help of the Hong Kong & Kowloon Brigade of the East River Column, BAAG established an observation post on Lantau Island. At that time, Lantau Island was considered as an important tactical placement because from there the movement of Japanese boats at the mouth of the Pearl river could be observed. Small firearms and ammunition were needed by the guerrillas to guard this observation post properly. Although the guerrillas offered co-operation and support, this plan finally failed due to the opposition of the Kuo Min Tang commander in Waichow headquarters. Therefore in that year, BAAG could only receive the support of the East River Column and had to deal carefully with the thorough control exercised by the Kuo Min Tang Army. At that time, the major concern of the Kuo Min Tang commander in Waichow headquarters was that the weapons provided for the guerrillas would not involve any danger for their own troops. In the end, the guerrillas built the station at Mirs Bay themselves.
In addition, BAAG gradually made close contact with the American Volunteer Group (“Flying Tiger”). Early in 1943, Flying Tiger carried out air attacks on Hong Kong and the surrounding region on the basis of detailed information and gave the Japanese ships a thorough pounding near Wan Chai. About 40 American soldiers were moved to safe places as a result of a concerted effort between BAAG and the Hong Kong & Kowloon Brigade of the East River Column.
At the end of 1942, Hong Kong was facing serious food shortages and many people died of famine. The Japanese seized many civilians and sent them to Hainan Island or to exile by sea. In the face of this bleak situation, many people returned to their home in the Pearl River Delta. BAAG tried their best to provide them with food or medical relief. Although their original intention was to look after the officers who returned from Hong Kong, they finally received financial support from the British Red Cross Society and United Relief so that they could obtain food from Chongqing at low prices to take care of a large number of refugees.
At the end of 1942, when BAAG faced a shortage of grain and oil, the Japanese started to repair all the shipyards. Thanks to the labour of many skilled workers, normal operations began to resume. When BAAG discovered this situation, they immediately thought of a way to guide these skilled workers to return home and make good use of their skills in India. In September 1942, agents successfully made contact with some of the workers and began to move them out of Hong Kong group by group. By the end of 1942, 153 skilled workers had managed to escape to Guilin, causing the Japanese immediate labour shortage problems.
In addition to these contributions, BAAG achieved an important success in 1943, when they established a Hong Kong Volunteers corps consisting of 127 soldiers. They went to fight in India and were very much to the fore in Myanmar (Burma).
In 1943, the Japanese moved from Hunan to Guizhou and occupied Hunan in 1944. At that time Guilin and Liuzhou seemed to be lost and Ride decided to evacuate BAAG to Yunnan. Along the way, they set landmines on the bridges and roads, which delayed the Japanese attack. They completed the withdrawal in January 1945.
In May the defeat of Germany in the European theatre indicated that victory in the Anti-Japanese War was in sight. BAAG succeeded in stationing themselves in Xinning, Yanping and Macau. On the eve of the final battle, Ride asked the government to give the POWs in Hong Kong and other areas of Guangdong adequate food and medical supplies. On August 13th, the headquarters received a letter from the British Consulate in Chongqing asking them to bring a message to Fukelin Jameson, the Colonial Secretary of Stanley. The headquarters sent the message to an agent named Liang, recommending that once the Japanese surrendered, the Minister should immediately recover those places where British sovereignty and executive power had previously been exercised. Although Ride did not want his men to risk their lives, he still sent three soldiers to complete this mission. They were disguised as Chinese fishermen whose boat landed “accidentally” in Hong Kong. No sooner had they reached land than they contacted Robert, the senior informal executive. On August 23rd, they handed the letter to Jameson in person.
Gelinmusen appointed himself Chief Executive and Asuomaike Gorgo Chief Justice. They co-operated with each other and on August 30th, allowed a powerful army to enter Hong Kong, followed by BAAG’s arrival on September 2nd. Gelinmusen appointed lieutenant who?? to manage the people’s livelihood. Former government officers were liberated. David, the administrator who had escaped from Hong Kong before, also returned to assume a high position. Many soldiers in BAAG found jobs in the government. On September 16th, the Japanese surrendered. On October 31st 1945, the British Army Aid Group (BAAG) was formally dissolved in Hong Kong.


* All information and material are provided by China Culture Development Association and Party History Research Center of the CPC Guangdong Provincial Committee.


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