Yesterday, August the 30th, a day that should be remembered by everybody connected to Hong Kong, the day of liberation by the Pacific Fleet of the Royal Navy from Japanese occupation since Christmas Day, 1941. Little known is the fact that the Japanese first surrendered to a Jesuit way before the official surrender on 16 September! The following is an excerpt from “Jesuits in Hong Kong, South China and Beyond – Irish Jesuit Mission – its Development 1926 -2006” Thomas J. Morrissey, S.J. Xavier Publishing Association Co. Ltd, Hong Kong 2008.
<<On 15 August 1945, the Japanese Emperor made his historic announcement: “ Moved by charity and in order to save further loss of life, his Imperial Majesty has decided to put an end to the war…” … “Then one day at the end of August”, as Bourke (Fr. Edward, Rector of Wah Yan) recalled, “ we saw the spectacle of of British warships slowly, very slowly, entering the harbour…”… The Japanese army and gendarmes had interred themselves, for their own protection, in camps under their own officers.
The British ships, which had come from Australia, included the 45,000 ton battleship, H.M.S. Anson (see photo of the ship in HK), which had on board a fellow student of Bourke at University College Dublin, Fr. Matthias (Matty) Bodkin, the only Irish Jesuit chaplain in the British navy. Some hours after Bourke had seen the arrival of the H.M.S. Anson, he heard someone trampling heavily up the stairs. To his astonishment it was Bodkin, dressed as a naval chaplain. All his Irish colleagues were overjoyed and “listened spell bound” to all the news he had for them. Bourke expressed to him his concern about Ricci Hall. If the Japanese gendarmes were no longer there, there was grave danger of it being looted again. Bodkin suggested that they go and see. “On our way”, Bourke remarked, “we saw looters everywhere, and the sight of a British uniform caused some of them to run away. We passed by the university which was being looted. Then we came to Ricci Hall. The Japanese flag was still waving so we realised the gendarmes were still there.
“When the gendarmes saw the uniform they all lined up, bowed low, and saluted Fr. Bodkin. They held their swords flat on their hands as a token of surrender, and one lowered the Japanese flag. Fr. Bodkin was very kind to them and I think they were surprised. We asked the, to let us know when they were vacating, so that we could take over and prevent looting. Fr. Bodkin afterwards jokingly referred to the incident and claimed that he took the first surrender of Hong Kong”.>>