Thursday, September 22, 2005

Hard-Bitten POW Meets Untimely End

Today I'd like to share the sad tale I read about today of one Lance Sergeant Herbert Winfield Jackson (link and photo from article by Stephen Verralls), whose grave in the Stanley POW cemetery was one of the last to be placed there. He was a policeman, well liked by all, that came to Hong Kong in the 1930s to serve in the city's police force. He was promoted through his ability to Special Branch, and served in this capacity up to and during the Japanese invasion of Hong Kong in December 1941. His role was to deal with fifth columnists and Japanese collaborators; if you read Philip Snow's excellent account in his book The Fall of Hong Kong you'll find that there were quite a few of those, and those that were discovered during the fighting were summarily shot, including some right in the Central Police Station.

But I digress. After the cessation of hostilities when the British surrendered to the Japanese on 25th December 1941, the policemen were rounded up and quartered at the Gloucester Hotel and ultimately at Stanley internment camp. Although many of the police apparently acted in a 'Lord of the Flies' manner during the Japanese occupation, Jackson by contemporary accounts is said to have acted honourably. He survived the war, and in early September 1945 was offered a flight to go home. He very graciously and altruistically gave up his spot on the plane to another fellow internee who was waiting to see his family. He was booked on a flight that was to leave on September 23rd. But just the day before his departure (September 22nd, 60 years ago today), he decided to go swimming in Stanley beach, the place of his confinement for the last three years and eight months. By an incredible, horrible stroke of fate, a shark was swimming in the shallows that day and mauled him. He was brought back to the beach by friends but did not survive.

So a man that had survived war, looters, and being imprisoned in the Stanley POW camp for almost 4 years dies at the fins (and teeth) of a hungry shark. Those who are not atheists among us must find this story difficult to comprehend... I know I struggle with it still as I type.

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