(This book cannot be returned.)
The Real Empire of the Sun: The Remarkable Story of Bob Tatz
On December 8th, 1941 the Kowloon waterside was packed with men and women fleeing the Japanese army which had begun its assault on Hong Kong early that morning. The colony was home to over a quarter of a million refugees from the war in China and no-one was in any doubt as to how violent the Japanese could be. Few people in the middle of all that fear and panic would have noticed a boy not yet in his teens, completely without adult help and protection, making his own way to the temporary safety of Hong Kong Island.
Hong Kong was at the start of eighteen days of fighting, to be followed by three years and eight months of brutal occupation. The historian Tony Banham has estimated that this was to cost over 300,000 lives, roughly one in six of those living there at the time of the attack. Who would have guessed that the ten year old boarding the ferry on his own would be one of the survivors?
Even before that dreadful December day, Bob Tatz had experienced much more than the normal ration of loss. Death had taken his father, stepfather and his mother, and he no longer saw the 'beloved' Chinese amah who had once helped care for him. He did have two older sisters and a godmother somewhere on the island, but he had no reason to expect they would come looking for him. He was on his own.
When J, G. Ballard came to write the classic novel of civilian internment Empire of the Sun, he decided to make his child self - 'Jim' - experience Shanghai's Lunghua Camp as an orphan, even though in reality Ballard was there with both his parents. Stephen Spielberg's film underlined the drama and poignancy that this decision allowed Ballard to create, and we find plenty of those two qualities in Bob Tatz's memoir - but in this case we know we are reading sober historical chronicle not imaginative fiction.
Bob notes in his introduction the fascination that his story has long held for historians of the Hong Kong war, and this group will not be disappointed by his account. This memoir throws light on a host of issues of importance to those who study the period. But in no way is it just for historians. It tells a story that will intrigue everybody interested in the response of the human spirit to circumstances of the utmost difficulty.
The final section of this memoir, as well as providing rich material for those interested in the maritime history of the Far East, shows us how the author found the perfect setting in which he could get back on track psychologically: the merchant navy provided him with new and colourful experiences in the context of the discipline, hierarchy and fellowship that enabled him to complete his emotional education in the same way as studying engineering brought his interrupted schooling to a successful conclusion. I'm sure many readers will be moved by the way in which that scared and abandoned orphan boy eventually found fulfilment in work, love and parenthood.
Excerpt from the foreword by Brian Edgar, Formerly Professor of English Language and Literature at the University of Yunnan
This book throws light on an important period in the history of Hong Kong. Nevertheless, it is not a history book but a personal memoir that begins in the pre-war British colony, moves through the traumatic events of war and Japanese occupation, and ends with the author's successful career as an engineer with Jardine Matheson, one of Hong Kong's oldest companies. Lost in the Battle for Hong Kong tells an unusual and intriguing story.