So we decided to emigrate to Australia and I suppose we could now be called ‘Dinkum Aussies’ – after 30 years.1
By 1946 Hong Kong’s pre-war colonial society, which had celebrated its hundredth birthday just five years earlier, had gone forever. Hong Kong, to the British people who lived there between the twentieth century’s two great wars, had been perhaps the prime real estate to be had in the empire. Life there was entertaining and cheap, profits were bountiful. But then came the threat of war. Mindful of their own situation in 1939, the British government instructed the Hong Kong government to mandate evacuation of British women and children should the colony be threatened by attack. In mid-1940, as the Battle of Britain stamped an indelible, greasy smoke stain through British skies thousands of miles away, the majority of Hong Kong’s civilians prescriptively escaped the threat of Asian war. Those families split asunder would often—in the context of the more than 200 husbands killed, and the many divorces—never be reunited; the cost of war being measured in permanently broken homes. That evacuation, in stages from Hong Kong to the Philippines, from the Philippines to Australia, and from Australia to the UK, or back to Hong Kong, and—in many cases—back to Australia again, would define many lives. Looking at Australia’s population today, a surprisingly large number can—at least in part—track their heritage back to Hong Kong’s pre-war society: the garrison, the businessmen, earlier evacuees who had washed up in the colony, and local families. From the perspective of Australia’s twenty-first century population, the effects of Hong Kong’s evacuation still reverberate through tens of thousands of its people. Many of the ancestors of those Australians are buried in Hong Kong or—for those who died as prisoners of war—in Japan, or they lie lost and forgotten, skeletons in Hong Kong’s remotest ravines or at the bottom of the South China Sea....
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