Veteran Stories:
Philip George Bissell

Navy

  • Badge from the HMCS Prince Robert, 1940.

    Philip Bissell
  • At his retirement in 1976, Philip Bissell shakes hands with Admiral Collier.

    Philip Bissell
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"And they were all starving. They came every day and they were fed; we had to put the cooks on three watches, that’s all they did was cook food and bake bread."

Transcript

The [HMCS] Prince Robert, one of the first things we ordered, all the ship’s company, including officers, had to go to Comox on Vancouver Island, which at that time was known as Givenchy III, I think. The training was unarmed combat and it was already an amphibious school. But the unarmed combat was when we had to learn judo and how to kill people without using any weapons. And we had an assault course you did every day and you did judo lessons every day and we fired an awful lot of guns, all light guns. The biggest gun was a machine gun. And then down to a revolver.

We finally got away and we went to Sydney, Australia. And just before we got into Sydney, -oh, we stopped in Hawaii first - the atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki [Japan], which basically finished the war. And there was big celebrations going on there, people yelling and screaming in Sydney, Australia but we joined the British [Pacific] Fleet and there were two groups, one went to … Singapore and the group I was in - aircraft carriers, cruisers, battleships and destroyers - and we were in that group and we had a final meeting of all the commanding officers who were down in Manila Habour, in the Philippines. And then the next thing was that the split came and some went to Singapore and we went right into... We were the only ships to go into Hong Kong on the Kowloon side.

And so we were responsible for landing people there right away and disarmed the Japanese and secured the city of Kowloon. And we were in three watches, so this continued day and night. We were ordered to go to an island in the harbour called Stonecutters Island which was the British naval ammunition place. And there was a threat that the pirates would be coming down from the north; these would be Chinese pirates looking for ammunition. So anchored the ship and we were boated in, 24 hours a day to protect the island. The only interesting thing; most orders for doing something in the navy in those days were quite long, not like they are now - but quite long. There, there was only a small half page, giving what you’re supposed to do, and we were allowed to shoot without any warning, anything that came within 200 yards of that island, except our own boat. And that was so there would be no hesitations to stop.

The final treaty [Japanese surrender] was finally signed [for Canada] by our captain, [Commanding Officer of HMCS Prince Robert] Captain [Wallace] Creery. The prisoners of war, who were in ghastly condition, came down from -on the Kowloon side was the military barracks for the prisoners of war; the civilians were on the island of Hong Kong. And they on their own, with crutches some of them, walked all the way to our ship. Their ribs were all sticking out and they had no medical attention. The medical attention they received was from their own people, which was very minimal. And they were all starving. They came every day and they were fed; we had to put the cooks on three watches, that’s all they did was cook food and bake bread. And they came aboard, they’d get a whole loaf of bread, they’d go down and eat it but they also stole all our cutlery. We got down to four and suddenly realized, so we put them all [away] and hid them.

Those that were still mobile were taken out by the [RMS] Empress of Australia. The wounded went back in the hospital ship that was available to everybody.

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