Stanley, on the southern shore of Hong Kong Island, dates back to the foundation of the British colony in 1842 and has always been the location of the main military base.
A short walk from the beach lies Stanley Military Cemetery, used for burials up to 1866, and then again during the brutal Japanese occupation from Christmas 1941 to the end of the War.
It has the hallmarks of a Commonwealth War Graves cemetery – the Cross of Sacrifice overlooking rows of uniform gravestones and immaculately kept lawns – interspersed with nineteenth-century gravestones, civilian burials and the improvised memorials erected during the occupation: https://gwulo.com/node/9180/photos.
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission identifies 595 burials within the cemetery, each denoting a story of hardship and fortitude.
Elsewhere on the island, the post-war Sai Wan War Cemetery contains 1,528 Commonwealth and Dutch burials and commemorates a further group of Indian personnel who were cremated according to their religious beliefs.
In Stanley Military Cemetery one gravestone in particular caught my eye – Captain L A Newnham GC MC of the Middlesex Regiment, who died on December 18th 1942 aged 54, “shot while a prisoner of war for refusing to betray his comrades”. The motto at the foot of his gravestone is simply “True to the end”.
He earned his Military Cross in the First World War. His posthumous George Cross was awarded for his heroism in working to arrange escapes and for defying Japanese attempts through torture and starvation to make him divulge details of his connection with an MI9 unit, the clandestine British Army Aid Group: https://vcgca.org/our-people/profile/153/Lanceray-Arthur–NEWNHAM.
Colonel Newham was not alone. Two others, Captain Douglas Ford (1918-1943) and Flight Lieutenant Hector Gray (1911-1943), were executed by firing squad alongside him.
Another notable victim of Japanese brutality was Captain Mateen Ahmed Ansari GC (1916-1943) of the 5th Battalion, 7th Rajput Regiment, in the Indian Army, who was beheaded for repeatedly refusing to renounce his allegiance to Great Britain.
Hong Kong under Japanese occupation was a bad place to be, and the catalogue of atrocities is lengthy.
For me, as a casual visitor, Colonel Newnham’s stone and story stood for the unimaginable hardships endured by those who happened to be on the island at the time.