The Living Nightmare ...

The Honourable J.L. Ralston, speaking in the House of Commons at Ottawa: "The defense of Hong Kong is in accordance with the finest traditions of the Canadian Army. All ranks fought it out to the last and more cannot be asked of any man."

In the early morning hours of Christmas Day the Japanese approached St. Stephen's Hospital. Doctors and nurses stepped forward to surrender and were shot or bayoneted where they stood. The Japanese stormed into the hospital, killing and beating staff members, beating and bayoneting the wounded as they lay helpless in their beds. The acts were unspeakable. Eye witness accounts tell the terrible story.

Artist's Rendition of the Massacre at St. Stephen's Hospital - Christmas Day, 1941

Rifleman Sydney Skelton, 19 years old, of "D" Company of the Royal Rifles of Canada had been wounded when he and two other soldiers ran into a Japanese machine-gun nest. His two companions were killed instantly. Skelton was hit by the heavy caliber machine-gun bullets and flung down an embankment which provided cover until he was rescued. Badly wounded he was taken to St. Stephen's Hospital.

Rfm. Sydney Skelton, of "D" Coy of the Royal Rifles, recounts:

"I was sharing a 10' x 12' room in St. Stephen's Hospital with about 40 other wounded. The hospital doubled as a prison after the battle was over and we had laid down our arms. I had been wounded by machine-gun bullets in my right leg and took another in the arm. I had been waiting for surgery when I was captured so I was given only a hospital blanket when the Japs took the hospital. I had been given some pre-operative anesthetic and was pretty groggy but certain things you never forget."

What he never forgot were the sounds of the conquering Japanese Infantry celebrating their victory that Christmas Day.

Rfm. Skelton continues:

"The Japs stormed the hospital throwing grenades and bayoneting the wounded. I had rolled under a bed and lay as still as I could. A Jap turned me over, kicked me in the face, and tore off my bandages. I didn't move, or make a sound. The guy must have thought I was dead and took off. I heard screams coming from outside, terrible screams I can still hear in my head twenty years later. I saw a Jap coming into the hospital and take men outside at random. One of the wounded they dragged from his bed, cut off his ears, and ripped out his tongue. Then they took him outside and shot him. There was a lull in the din and he heard a British officer shout: "If you can walk or crawl to the door you may be allowed to live."

At this point Skelton tried to crawl to the door: "I was really confused from the anesthetic and I started to crawl, dragging my blanket, towards the door. A guy just ahead of me, a Hong Kong Volunteer, with a clasp knife in his belt, but his hands raised, was bayoneted as soon as he went out the door. The Padre grabbed me and slapped me to my senses. I'm alive today, thanks to him." A Japanese officer entered the hospital, saw Skelton with his wounds bleeding. He tore off Skelton's watch, hit him with the flat side of his sword and ordered him to go upstairs. Though badly wounded, Skelton crawled up the stairs and into a room that would be his prison for the next two days.

Skelton spent nearly four years as a captive, first in Hong Kong and later in Japan where he worked as a slave labourer in a coal mine. Somehow, he made it home, where he lived in Scarsboro, Ontario. In a 1961 interview, he said: "Twenty years have passed, but I can never forget Christmas, 1941."




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Books on the Battle of Hong Kong