Ashley Road Episode
Life for the Atroshenkos in Hong Kong was a roller-coaster affair. There were times when we were reasonably well-off and there were times when we were pitifully poor. The years before the Japanese Occupation of Hong Kong were good times for us. My mother's dress-making business was doing very well and my father was employed by a company which had the contract to build air raid shelters from the British administration. (I am not sure but I think that company may have been called either Marsden or Marsman).

We had a spacious flat in Kimberley Road in Kowloon. Several months before the fateful Christmas of 1941, my parents bought my brother and I two little tricycles and I remember tearing around our flat on these vehicles.

After the Shell House Episode, when the Japanese decided that we would not be interned because my parents were Stateless Aliens, we tried to go back to our Kimberley Road flat. However, the Japanese refused to give us permission to enter our old flat.

We were not even permitted to enter the flat in order to repossess our belongings. In the panic following the attack by the Japanese, we had to leave almost everything behind, and we just had the clothes we were wearing at the time.

The Kempetai was the military police and the Japanese equivalent of the German Gestapo. We discovered after the war the reason we were not allowed to see our old flat. Throughout the occupation, the Kempetai used it as a torture chamber. Some people we knew had died there.

Our family was just about broke but we were able to find very cheap lodgings in Ashley Road, close to the Star Ferry in Kowloon. We had one room in a third storey flat. There was only one bed and the four of us slept in it nose to toes.

Three other penniless Russian families lived in the other rooms. Since the flat was on the top storey we four families had access to the roof. That proved to be fateful.

One of the Russians in the flat, a Mr Pokrovsky, was a keen amateur astronomer. His passion was to study the night sky with his precious telescope which he had managed to save. Unfortunately, the Japanese spotted him on our roof one clear night with his optical instrument and they decided that he was a spy signalling to American aeroplanes. The Kempetai arrived in force, took him up to the roof, tied him up to a post, and beat him savagely until they became convinced that he was just a harmless star gazer.

After that nasty episode, all the residents of the flat except my father were disinclined to answer the door in case the Kempetai paid us another visit. However, it wasn't the Kempetai which knocked on our door but rather a string of ordinary Japanese who had mistaken our flat for the army brothel next-door.

That brothel for the lower ranks of the Japanese army was situated on the top floor of the building next to ours. From our window we could see directly into that sad establishment. The Japanese army used sex slaves in such brothels throughout their evil empire.

I was only five years old at the time and my brother was seven. We would peer into the brothel until our mother would drag us away and pull down the rickety blinds.

Almost every night, drunken Japanese soldiers would come knocking happily on our door and my father would indicate to them in sign language that the place they were looking for was next-door. Giggling, they would go down the stairs without causing us any trouble. The Japanese soldiers all seemed to be happy drunks!

One night there was a quiet knock on the front door and when my father opened it he saw a very young Japanese who happened to be a junior officer. Although my father tried to tell him that the brothel was next-door, the young man would not go. Since it wasn't a good idea to slam the door in the Japanese officer's face, my father left the door open and went back to our room. The young Japanese quietly followed him in to our tiny home.

After a moment of embarrassment, my mother offered the young officer some tea. He accepted with a huge smile. Since he did not speak either English or Russian, and we did not speak Japanese, all we could do was to smile at each other and drink our tea.

The young man stayed in our room for about an hour and then left, politely bowing to my mother and father. We had no idea what prompted his visit.

A few days later, the young man appeared again, this time bringing with him a more senior Japanese officer. This older man explained that the young officer was very homesick and enjoyed being with our family. Would we mind if he visited us regularly? What could we say? Of course we would be delighted to have him visit us, said our parents, smiling as broadly as they could.

The senior man was nervous and he warned us that the junior officer would be in serious trouble if he were discovered fraternising with Europeans. It was strictly against Japanese army rules.

The young man became a regular visitor. We began to enjoy his visits especially as he always brought sweets for my brother and myself. He was very polite and would nod his head enthusiastically, and no doubt bemusedly, as my father harangued him about our possessions in the Kimberley Road flat. Of course, he did not have a clue what my father was ranting on about since he hardly spoke either English or Russian.

A couple of months must have gone by before he suddenly understood what my father was saying. Perhaps it was the hand gestures and the miming which my father had resorted to. He grasped that the Kempetai was denying my father permission to recover our family possessions from the flat.

The young officer jumped up with a big grin on his face, grabbed my father by the arm, and pulled him out of the flat. The two of them were on their way to Kempetai headquarters!

When they arrive there, he led my father by the hand into the office of a senior Kempetai officer. When that man saw him holding the hand of my father he barked out a short order. The young officer blanched and quickly walked out of the room.
Since my father had been brought there by a Japanese officer, however young and foolish, the Kempetai official treated my father very politely. He listened carefully to what my father had to say about the Kimberley Road flat and about our belongings there.

The official quietly told my father that all our belongings would be placed on the street in front of the flat by the next day, ready to be collected by us. The next day the four of us went there and, sure enough, our stuff was neatly piled up on the pavement.

Those possessions were gradually sold off and the proceeds helped us to survive for the next few months. We were still desperately poor but alive.

The young Japanese officer never visited us again. A few weeks after that episode, the older officer who had come with him to our flat on his second visit came to see us late at night. He explained that having been caught fraternising with Europeans was considered to be a serious offense and the young man was obliged to volunteer for service in New Guinea as his punishment. To this day we have no idea of his ultimate fate. New Guinea proved to be a bloodbath for both Australians and Japanese in the years to come.