Memorial Walk of Goodwin Escape Route
In memory of Lt Cmdr R B Goodwin RNZNVR
Lt Commander Ralph Goodwin, of the Royal New Zealand Navy Volunteer Reserve, was a patient in Hong Kong’s Queen Mary Hospital on Christmas Day in 1941 recuperating from a leg wound sustained in action while in defence of Hong Kong, when the surrender of Hong Kong to the Japanese made him a Prisoner of War.
Escape was always on his mind, but he had to wait for nearly two and a half years until July 1944, before he was able to break out from Sham Shui Po Camp where he had been interned. The story of his incredible trek to friendly forces in China, and his four month journey home to New Zealand reads like something out of the Boys Own Paper! His story is well told in his [now out-of-print] book “Hong Kong Escape”.
“ … New Zealander, a lieutenant in the RNZNVR (R. B. Goodwin), had been wounded in the defence of Hong Kong and was unable to attempt escape in the early period when the Japanese hold on the territory was comparatively loose. His escape in July 1944 was a supreme feat of nerve and endurance. Lieutenant Goodwin has himself graphically described his adventure in his book Hongkong Escape. This was one of the few escapes made with virtually no co-operation from fellow prisoners and no prearranged help from outside, indeed, the escaper felt he had more to fear from some fellow prisoners than from the Japanese”. (New Zealand Electronic Text Centre, Victoria University of Wellington)
[Walk Leader Gordon Andreassend 3rd from left - photo of walkers by Grace Cheung]
On ANZAC Day 2010 (Sunday 25 April 2010) a walk by 14 Kiwi and Ozzie “escapees” retraced the approximate route he took during the first four days of his escape. The walk was about 11km and took five hours, started near the Water Treatment Works on Cheung Yuen Road (below Kowloon Reception Reservoir) and finished at Tai Wai, near Shatin. The walk leader was long time Hong Kong Kiwi Gordon Andreassend.
Here is a map of the route we walked that gives great views of Hong Kong harbour and the surrounding high peaks.
You can look at the route on Google Maps for better quality information
View Goodwin Escape Route in Hong Kong in a larger map
The Goodwin Escape – July, 1944.
Lt. Commander Ralph Goodwin was a NZ naval officer, serving on a Motor Torpedo Boat in Hong Kong when he was wounded in December 1941. He was in Queen Mary Hospital on Christmas Day when the British forces surrendered to the Japanese. As a P.O.W. he endured 30 months in captivity, but escape was always in his mind. In May, 1944 he was transferred to Sham Shui Po Camp, and he realized that this camp provided his best opportunity to make an escape. He quickly made his preparations, and on July 16, taking advantage of a moonless, wet night, he made his break. Here are the details of his first 4 nights and days on the run. He had to wait for midnight, when the perimeter lights were switched off.
July 17 – Midnight to Dawn.
Risking death in climbing the electrified perimeter fence, he reached the sea and swam to Castle Peak Road at Lai Chi Kok. He climbed up into the Kowloon foothills and made his way through rugged terrain until he had to take shelter in a clump of trees as dawn approached.
July 17 - Dawn to dusk (Day 1)
He spent a most uncomfortable day on the slope of a hill, wet and exhausted. He ate some of his limited food and remained hidden throughout the day.
July 17 and 18 – Dusk to Dawn.
At sunset he continued inland, through ravines and hills in what he assumed to be the general direction of Shatin. Japanese patrols were searching the hills, and he moved as quickly as possible over ridges and gullies until a break in the clouds enabled him to see an inlet of HK Harbour - probably Gin Drinkers Bay.
He had travelled too far west, as his goal was Tolo Harbour at Shatin. He changed direction and headed on a more easterly course, until the approach of dawn forced him to seek shelter for the day.
July 18 - Dawn to Dusk (Day 2)
Shelter was difficult to find as dawn approached, and he spent the day in a water course listening to the sound of searchers nearby. During the day he decided to abandon his original plan to swim to freedom via Tolo Harbour – and threw away life jackets and other items to lighten his pack. He would walk to China.
July 18 and 19 - Dusk to Dawn.
As darkness fell, he made for higher ground and continued towards the east as the rain fell heavily. He sighted two buildings and moved away from them through a swampy area until he found a well-used track that led to a rough area something like a worksite. He continued on in a direction he assumed would lead to Shatin, and daylight found him on a ridge with very little cover. He quickly looked for a hiding place, and settled on a shallow excavation where he could lie for the day.
July 19 - Dawn to Dusk (Day 3)
Increasing daylight showed that his hiding place was not well-concealed, but did command a good view – so he decided to remain there. His vantage point was perfect in that he could see the length of the Shing Mun River from the Shing Mun Dam to the road and railway near Shatin. He was able to plan his route down the Shing Mun Valley. Intending to move slightly to get a better view, he was startled by a rifle shot being fired at a bird by a Japanese soldier he had not seen, standing just above his hiding place. He hid deeper in his shallow pit and reflected on the prophecy of a fortune-teller who had told him that his life would be saved by a bird. His gratitude to that winged saviour, was matched only by his gratefulness that the soldier’s shot had missed its mark, a fate that he, as a larger and closer target would not have enjoyed.
July 19 and 20 – Dusk to Dawn.
At nightfall he set off briskly down the slope towards the Shing Mun River, heading toward a track he had seen on the opposite side. He waded over the river and headed downstream. He made good progress, and eventually arrived at a clump of bamboo at the lower reaches of the river. There were houses nearby and as daylight was fast approaching, he pushed as far as possible into the bamboo, to find a rather uncomfortable resting place for the day. A woman cutting bamboo could have ended his flight right there.
July 20 – Dawn to Dusk (Day 4)
He was delighted to see as the light improved that he was very close to Tai Po Road – the route he had decided to take for his escape over the Chinese border. The walk by night to safety took another 7 days.
“There would be a definite route to follow after the heart-breaking cross-country struggle, in which I had maintained little sense of direction, and throughout which, even in the daytime, I had little idea of my exact location.”
Goodwin’s words taken from his book “Hongkong Escape”, which was used as the basis for retracing his escape route, sums up the situation most precisely. This book, now about 50 years out of print is a most enthralling read, and gives full details of his 4 month journey from Hong Kong to New Zealand.
Sunday, April 25, 2010
Memorial Walk of Goodwin Escape Route