Veteran Stories:
Philip Doddridge

Army

  • Lance Corporal Philip Doddridge, 1945.

    Philip Doddridge
  • Philip Doddridge shortly after his enlistment in the army, 1940.

    Philip Doddridge
  • Rifleman Philip Doddridge, The Royal Rifles of Canada, in tropical uniform, 1941.

    Philip Doddridge
  • Rifleman Philip Doddridge, The Royal Rifles of Canada, 1940.

    Philip Doddridge
  • Rifleman Philip Doddridge, The Royal Rifles of Canada, 1940.

    Philip Doddridge
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"Never make eye contact, never do anything that would attract attention. I learned that very soon and I never got the severe beating that a lot of our fellows did."

Transcript

In 1940, jobs were pretty scarce and I didn’t have a job. I was 18 years old and not very well educated, and not trained in anything. So that was one option. I took it, I joined the army. Well, the Royal Rifles [of Canada] sent a recruiting team to New Richmond [Quebec] or to the Gaspe Coast in fact; and that’s why I joined the Royal Rifles, because I was recruited by a Royal Rifles recruiting team.

We got to Hong Kong [in November 1941], of course, and the Japanese hadn’t declared war, so it was a wide open city and it was all sorts of entertainment and pleasurable events that you can think of. For three weeks, we were living pretty well, but then disaster struck.

Well, we were pushed back to the extreme end of the island; and on Christmas Day 1941, our company, which was "D" Company, we were ordered to clear out what we were told at the time was 15 Japs in Stanley Village. But when we got there, there was a lot more of them: 140 of us went down over the hills to the battle site and 45 of us came back. So, quite a few of our fellows killed and wounded. It was a disaster.

That night, Christmas night, we were told that the island had surrendered, that the colony had surrendered to the Japanese; and we had to turn in all our arms and ammunition. I think it was on 31 December probably that we were marched out of Stanley Fort [the British Army barracks] and went to North Point [Prisoner of War] camp. In our situation, we didn’t know when we were going to be released, if ever. And what sustained us, of course, was just the hope that tomorrow would be better. There was always a rumour about [Generalissimo] Chiang Kai-shek, who was then the leader of the Chinese National Army [National Revolutionary Army]. He was always going to ride over the hill on his white horse and liberate us, but it never happened. But as I say, it was just hope, living from one day to the next, hoping for something better.

And, of course, the worst part of it was the food. We were malnourished and disease-ridden; and not sufficient medication and food, of course, was the big problem. My mother wrote often to me, but it never came through. I wrote to her as many times as we were allowed; and I think she might have got two cards from me during the time [1941-1945].

Some of the guards were pretty harsh and you’d meet the odd fellow that was reasonable. But I was very careful not to attract attention. Never make eye contact, never do anything that would attract attention. I learned that very soon and I never got the severe beating that a lot of our fellows did.

I can tell you about one fellow who, one day, he started scratching words with a stick in the dirt and he was quite able to do that, but he couldn’t speak English. He could write it, but he couldn’t speak it. So we carried on quite a little conversation of just scratching in the dirt with a stick. That’s an example of one of the nice guys. Come to find out he was a graduate of Tokyo University and he told me this little story just by scratching in the dirt like that.

Well, I think it affected me quite a bit. I had time in the prison camp to reflect on what I should do with my life if I ever got home and, of course, I went back to school and got a bit of an education ̶ became a teacher. For a long time after the war, I didn’t feel that we had received enough respect, but that’s changing and it has changed a lot.

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