Friday, Christmas Day
Some of us who weren't out partying last
night (and even, impressively, some
who were!) meet at St John's Cathedral for the 9am Christmas morning service. We've been promised a mention of the men who escaped, and of those who lost their lives in the attempt. A somewhat dour Minister welcomes the HERO group at the beginning of the packed-out service, but later includes a lovely remembrance of the escape in prayers. The choral music is fabulous.
Back at our hotel, Mike and I meet up with the girls for a late breakfast, then open Christmas presents. We put out a card from Russ with a picture of a Christmas tree as the closest thing we have to the real thing! Mike has given me a gorgeous black silk dress from Blanc de Chine, which I'll wear tonight. We have a lazy afternoon, but Sheena (HERO coordinator, and middle daughter of David MacDougall) and Alison are not so lucky. They're still negotiating with our Chinese partners over our mainland itinerary - the last thing anyone wants to be doing on this very special Christmas Day. Mike and I put in our tuppence worth of advice, discussions continue...
We need to be ready in our finery at 5pm to take a coach and then a sampan over to the venue for HERO's celebration dinner, the Jumbo floating restaurant in Aberdeen Harbour. The Jumbo, a vast, ornate, multi-tiered restaurant and something of a Hong Kong institution, is moored in the very spot between Aberdeen and Ap Lei Chau where our fathers took to sea. We're gathering there at exactly the date and time when they set off in the Cornflower launch 68 years ago, only to be shot up by Japanese occupying Brick Hill. These were the survivors:
Mason Chan and Sheena have organized a wonderfully festive occasion. Remarkably, 100 HERO family members are present for this, our largest event. With many Scots among the families, there is plentiful tartan and kilts in evidence. After a cocktail hour, we're seated by family - our small group of four is joined by 4 McEwans, Rob Macmillan, and Helen and Lucy Hyatt (daughter and granddaughter of Harry Owen-Hughes). Donald and Richard welcome us and propose toasts to our forebears and absent friends. Warwick and Lindzay Chan act as MCs to go round the tables inviting a representative of each family to introduce themselves.
We are truly a global group, with members from the UK, Canada, America, Australia, Thailand, Hong Kong and elsewhere. No family is more international than the Chans, who have perhaps 30 members here tonight, from all over the world. In addition to his film for the Museum, Warwick has made a tribute to the men of the escape, which we watch before starting dinner. Photos of each escaper as a young man and in later life are set to music
- no words necessary - there's hardly a dry eye in the house during this powerful tribute.
Chan family members
We enjoy getting to know our fellow HEROs better over a twelve-course Chinese banquet, and later absorbing the night views from the lovely terrace of our private dining room. There's dancing to 1940s music, including the tune which famously played at Hong Kong society's last peacetime dance (at the Peninsula hotel): "The Best Things in Life are Free". We're all overjoyed to be here on a happier occasion.
Gina and Roxie, Christmas night