There British Government had long been concerned at the excesses of the Japanese during the occupation of Hong Kong. When, in the summer of 1942, the Japanese uncovered evidence of a ‘resistance group’ amongst the interned civilians they set about trying to discover the membership of the group using the most brutal torture.
In fact there was little to discover, the group was trying to smuggle in food from the outside and maintained a radio to listen to world news. However, to be associated with the group would have been fatal. The refusal of those who were arrested to betray others saved many lives. Nevertheless those arrested included Chinese residents who they had been in contact with.
After many weeks of interrogation the Japanese decided they had discovered enough and the entire group of 33 who had been arrested were condemned to die. On the 29th October they were taken down to the beach to be beheaded.
One of those who had escaped arrest because of their bravery, George Wright-Nooth, was subsequently able to put together an account of their last hours. He established that a Sandhurst educated Indian officer, Captain Ansari, had been able to address the group before they were led off for execution, which they knew would be by beheading:
Everybody has to die sometime. Many die daily from disease, some suffer painful, lingering deaths. We will die strong and healthy for an ideal; not as traitors, but nobly in our country’s cause. We cannot now escape the enemy’s sword, but no one should give in to tears or regrets, but instead face the enemy with a smile and die bravely
George Wright-Nooth was able to piece together an account of the actual execution:
There they were lined up in single file and told to sit down while guards blindfolded them. Among the japanese officials watching were Kogi, Yamaguchi, his second-in-command Imiaye, and a doctor.
Hirano was standing with drawn sword by the graves waiting for the first trio to be led forward the last few paces.
It was Ansari, Scott and Fraser. Ansari knelt, hands still bound behind his back, eyes bandaged. Without prompting he leant forward to expose his neck, his face a mere inch or so from the sand.
Hirano raised his arms, the sword slanted back above his head, glinting brightly in the sunlight. He glanced towards Kogi, who nodded. A momentary pause as he sighted on Ansari’s neck, then down swept the blade in a silent, silver blurr. It was an expert’s stroke, removing the head with a dull thud. Blood from severed arteries spurted up over Hirano’s polished field boots and soaked the bottom of his trousers. His sword had lost its shine. He stood motionless while the body and head, which had not fallen into the pit, were pushed in.
Now it was Scott’s turn, then Fraser, then …
Hirano began to tire and lose concentration quite quickly, so others took their turn, including Sahara and Takiyawa. The butchery became even more cruel and bloody as some victims moved, or inexpert swordsmen only partially severed a head. Some waiting prisoners who had broken down had to be dragged forward squirming and squealing and forced to kneel.
Wong Shui Poon was struck by Sahara, whose blow only wounded him so that he lay shrieking in agony with his life blood pouring from his open neck. Still alive he was booted into the grave where he lay crying piteously until Sahara leaned over to thrust the point of his sword into his stomach.
Takiyawa made a similar mess with Kotewall. He also was thrown in while still obviously not dead. This time Takiyawa apparently finished him off with revolver shots.
It is of interest to record at this point that Takiyawa’s eventual fate was perhaps appropriate. After the Japanese surrender he was seized, half-drowned, then lynched by a Chinese mob before being hanged, still alive, from the Star Ferry terminal and left to rot.
George Wright-Nooth attitude to the Japanese is revealed in the title of his memoir: Prisoner of the Turnip Heads: Horror, Hunger and Humour in Hong Kong, 1941-45.
Of all those who had been arrested two men, John Fraser and Captain Ansari were recognised by the award of the George Cross:
The KING has been graciously pleased to make the undermentioned awards of the GEORGE CROSS: —
John Alexander FRASER (deceased), lately Assistant Attorney-General, Hong Kong.
Fraser was interned by the Japanese in the Civilian Internment Camp, Stanley, and immediately organised escape plans and a clandestine wireless service. He was fully aware of the risks that he ran but engaged continuously in, most dangerous activities and was successful, not only in receiving news from outside, but also in getting important information out of the Camp.
Eventually he was arrested and subjected to prolonged and severe torture by the Japanese who were determined to obtain information from him and to make him implicate the others who were working with him. Under this treatment he steadfastly refused to utter one word that could help the Japanese investigations or bring punishment to others.
His fortitude under the most severe torture was such that it was commented upon by the Japanese prison guards. Unable to break his spirit the Japanese finally executed him. His devotion to duty, outstanding courage and endurance were the source of very real inspiration to others and there can be no doubt the lives of those whom the Japanese were trying to implicate were saved by his magnificent conduct.
Captain Ansari was also posthumously awarded the George Cross but his award did not explain the circumstances, merely stating that he had died “carrying out hazardous work in a very brave manner”.