Sister ship of the Chengtu I
April 7th. 1921. Tailshaft broke, towed to Shanghai and repaired.
Requisitioned by M.O.W.T. under the liner requisition scheme.
Dec 8th. 1941. Seized by the Japanese, while in the Whangpu river. June 1942, renamed "Sekko Maru"
Jan.16th. 1945. Bombed and sunk by Allied aircraft at Hong Kong.
Built for the China coast trade.
Events / Stories
The Reminiscences of Andrew Watson, Master with CNCo and Acting Chief Officer aboard Chekiang 8th December 1941
From a letter dated 24th December 1962 to D. Carey, China Navigation Company Ltd, Hong Kong
- My earliest recollection of the part I was destined to play in World War 2 seems to me, at this late stage, to begin at Tongku in North China, and the China Navigation ship Chekiang in which I was serving as Chief Officer. The date was 4th Dec. 1941, and Chekiang, having completed bunkering, was ready to leave the pontoon but was, unfortunately, heading the wrong way, and would have to swing at the berth before doing so. Much anti-British feeling was in evidence at this time, sponsored by the Japanese Military who were in virtual control of all N. China ports. The result was that no shore coolies could be found to let go the ship’s ropes, so recourse had to be made of cutting our ropes adrift from the ship, the last one, the back-spring wire, being a particularly dangerous operation on a swift ebb tide, as any sailor will know. However, the job was done and we were able to proceed on our voyage to Hong Kong.
- As far as I can remember a normal trip was experienced until the morning of 8th Dec. 1941, when Chekiang was approaching the Chusan Archipelago, some hundred odd miles east of Shanghai. I must mention at this point that Chekiang was a two-officered ship and that I had come off watch at 4.00am. The Master, Capt. Donald Brotchie, a very fine gentleman and not one given to panic, came bursting into my cabin at 6.00am with the news, received through his own small radio receiver, of the bombing of Pearl Harbour and other cities in the Far East. Apart from that disturbing message through the ether, all other conditions appeared normal, the sea was smooth, not a ship in sight and Chekiang bowling along at her usual 9.8 knots.
- A council of war was formed in the Master’s cabin consisting of Capt. Donald Brotchie, Chief Engineer J. Fayers and myself. Should we steam south by night and hide behind some island by day, or steer far to the eastward and make for Singapore, or what? By 8.00am our course of action was resolved by the appearance on our starboard quarter of a small Japanese gun-boat who signalled us to stop, but who did not appear to have sufficient speed to overtake or enforce her order. So we decided to “run for it” and cracked on speed. When I mention “cracking” on speed, I do not wish to create a false impression of Chekiang’s capabilities. She was a good ship in many ways, but speed was not one of her virtues. The actual speed we achieved escapes me at the moment, but, speaking loosely, I should think we reached about 10 ½ knots, sufficient, as it happened, to out-distance our pursuers.
- We had barely completed congratulating ourselves on our escape from the enemy, when we were then confronted, two hours later, by another and more formidable Japanese gun-boat, right ahead and steaming towards us. Her invitation for us to stop could not be ignored without much unpleasantness, so it was not long before a party of Japanese marines boarded us and made their first capture of the war. The naval officer in charge, who spoke fair English, produced a small scroll and read to us the obvious news that our two countries were at war, that we were his prisoners and our ship his prize.
- Their first act was to search the chart room where a number of old log books were kept. It was amusing and rather pathetic to watch these sons of Nippon pouring over log books of some six to seven years vintage and imagining they had unearthed valuable documents. Even at this late stage I can still see our captors going through the medicine locker, bottle by bottle, and chattering among themselves. At one stage I thought they were going to sample some of the more virulent poisons, but 8th Dec. was not our lucky day, the medicines were restored to their shelves and we were escorted to the small port of Ting Hai, in the Chusan Group, where a considerable Japanese naval force was assembled.
- The following day we parted company from Chekiang. Our Chinese crew were released and the six European officers ordered down to a small motor fishing boat for transit to Shanghai. At this stage I must pay tribute to the excellent manner in which we were treated by the Japanese naval officer in charge of us. We were permitted to take all our personal effects with us on board the fishing craft, and I remember handing down one of Captain Brotchie’s precious possessions, his violin. The passage from Ting Hai to Shanghai was too long to be made in one day, so we berthed alongside a wharf at Woosung that evening, to await daylight. The six of us with our two guards were accommodated in a small and obnoxious compartment, lit by a swinging hurricane lamp, but our discomforts were, in part, forgotten when Capt. Brotchie entertained us with selections on his fiddle. The high-light of that never-to-be-forgotten occasion was the playing and singing of our National Anthem – to which even our two guards and the Japanese crew, all three of them, applauded.
- The other incident worth recording occurred the following day while we were being transported from the wharf at Shanghai to the prison camp prepared for us. We were travelling along Nanking Road in an open truck when one of our guards indicated in no uncertain fashion that we were being taken somewhere to be shot, using his rifle and the words “Boom Boom” to ensure we understood what he was trying to convey. We did. His meaning was substantiated by the fact that a truck ahead of us and going the same way, contained six Chinese coffins. It was just a coincidence, of course, those two trucks being in such close proximity to each other, and our guard being a person with a warped sense of humour, but I can think of no other set of circumstances more calculated to convey the thoughts and emotions of the occupants of the tumbrels while on their way to the guillotine during the French Revolution.
- That was 9th Dec. 1941, and the war had been going on for twenty-four hours. It was the beginning of nearly four years of captivity in various POW camps in China and Japan, and I never saw the Chekiang again. The only ship I came in contact with was hardship; hardship from cold, the bitter cold of the Shanghai winters, the scorching heat of summer; the forced labour and hunger, always hunger. In point of fact, I can truthfully state that a number of pigs presented to us by the Red Cross, died of starvation as their pitiful scraps of food were continually stolen by us prisoners at every opportunity. If there were any bright moments during that dark period, I cannot recall them except one occasion when a Japanese guard, doing morning exercises, touched the electrified fence with his posterior. Boom Boom.
- News travels quickly through the “grapevine” of a POW camp and I did hear that Chekiang had been fitted with wooden guns and moored off Woosung. She was eventually bombed by American aircraft and sunk, the authenticity of this, however, I cannot vouch for. For me she signified the last of the old China Coasters and I regret her passing and the period I served in her and all the other China Navigation Company’s ships during those memorable and happy pre-war years.
- A. Watson
- China Navigation Company Ltd.