Thomas’s Work (6) More on the Delivery Drivers

In a previous post[1] I wrote about the courageous truck drivers who worked for the Medical Department in the first half of 1942, delivering supplies to the hospitals, including the bread baked by Thomas and his fellow bakers. I’ve sometimes wondered why, with one exception, they were all American. (The exception, Thomas and Evelina’s best man, the Britisher Owen Evans, had early worked as a volunteer ambulance driver in the Sino-Japanese War, so he was an obvious choice).

It seems that Americans had already taken over transport duty during the fighting (December 8-25) because the network was in danger of collapsing due to the defection of many Chinese drivers, some of whom were fifth columnists, perhaps infiltrated into Hong Kong by the Japanese amongst the hundreds of thousands of refugees from the Sino-Japanese War who flooded into the colony after the conflict came close to the Hong Kong border in late 1938. Others probably didn’t see why they should risk their lives driving through shell fire and air raids for a racist imperial system. In any case, the defections left many gaps to be filled.

In a report to the American consul general in Hong Kong, quoted in the Miami News of September 13, 1942,[2] N. F. Allman, Provost of the American Internees’ Council at Stanley said:

During the war the transport of the medical department very soon began to fail. Likewise, the transport of the food control. The transport of both these departments was virtually taken over, reformed and kept going by American civilian volunteers.

Not all the Americans who worked with Selwyn-Clarke after the surrender were in place during the fighting, but it seems that some of them were, and there was already a ‘tradition’ of American drivers. It seems that although Americans are not absolutely forbidden to join foreign militaries (at least not today[3]) they are strongly encouraged not to, so voluntary service as a driver was obviously a popular option for those who wished to play a part in the defence of Hong Kong. They would have been particularly welcome because before the war the military had refused to withhold Europeans from the Volunteers to act as drivers, claiming that the length of the line they had to guard meant that not a single man could be spared for this service (M. F. Key, cited in John Luff, The Hidden Years, 1967, 134).

Charles Schafer remained behind to the last minute in Hong Kong to help wind up the affairs of the China National Aviation Corporation, a Chinese airline, but also an affiliate of his company, Pan Am. As the Japanese stormed into Hong Kong, CNAC managed to get a few transport planes into Kai Tak airport (all the planes there had been destroyed on the ground) and ferried many important Chinese politicians and officials, including Madame Sun–Yatsen, to safety in Chungking.[4] When Kai Tak Airport was finally destroyed by the British, any possibility of escape for Shafer disappeared. He caught the last ferry from Kowloon to the Island and joined a British medical detachment.[5] After the surrender he continued his association with the Medical Department, ending up working in Dr. Selwyn-Clarke’s team:

He (Selwyn-Clarke) immediately contacted the head of the Japanese medical service and offered the full support of his staff. He asked for passes for the doctors and for the truck drivers who would supply food and fuel for the hospitals and these were granted.[6]

In another deposition, he referred to himself as part of ‘Selwyn-Clarke’s motor corps’.[7] It seems that these drivers might have delivered wood as well as bread and medicines.[8] The Miami News article also has them moving hospital patients and driving Red Cross trucks (although whether these trucks belonged to the Red Cross before they were used by this team is another question).

Shafer and fellow driver Albert Fitch were involved in a daring piece of smuggling when the Americans were repatriated. The leader in this operation seems to have been John Morton. Thanks to these men (and unnamed helpers) the entire financial records of the Hongkong Bank’s last day of operations before the Japanese takeover were hidden in a typewriter and taken out of Hong Kong. Morton, Shafer, Fitch and other Americans preparing for repatriation gave a list of items they wished to take with them onto the ship to Mr. Oda of the Japanese Foreign Affairs Department. Most of the items were chosen so as to guarantee refusal – camers, trunks, radios and so on. They rightly reasoned that having said no so many times, Oda would nod through typewriters. The group purhased some identical models, and John Morton carefully secreted the Bank records – ‘typed on the thinnest onion-skin paper you could imagine’ – inside his. At one point, all seemed lost when a second round of searches led to the confiscation of all the typewriters on the grounds that Fitch had put some carbon paper into his and the typing visible on this was thought to contain coded messages. Luckily they found Mr. Oda who managed to over-ride the Army confiscators and just before sailing they saw a tug  transferring the typewriters on board:

Albert Fitch was, I think, as young as I was, but he was impetuous. He wanted to go right down and demand the typeriters, right then; but we restrained him.

Five days later the typewriters, hidden records intact, were restored to them. (Alan Birch and Martin Cole, Captive Years, 107-110)

Florida resident Eugene Pawley was another driver who was formerly with the CNAC and found himself stuck in Hong Kong. Rather surprisingly, he didn’t have high enough priority to get on the CNAC evacuation flights so was forced to stay behind in occupied Hong Kong.[9] This lack of priority is a little surprising because Eugene was the brother of William Pawley, the President of CNAC. With William and the third brother, Edward, he was involved in the setting up of the famous ‘Flying Tigers’ unit of American airmen, volunteers who helped the Chinese resist the Japanese in southern China until America itself entered the war.[10] Edward Pawley and his wife Idah were friends of the writer Emily Hahn, who mentions them a number of times in her memoir China To Me.[11] Eugene Pawley arrived in China in 1939 and after repatriation in late June 1942 eventually headed the China Desk for the Office of Strategic Services.[12] William Pawley became Ambassador to Brazil after the war; he seems to have been involved in promoting CIA (successor to the OSS) covert operations against Castro, and one conspiracy theorist has even suggested he put up the money for the assassination of John Kennedy!

It seems that another CNAC employee Max Lessner, who’s not in Gwen Dew’s list, was also a driver, but one who was allowed to leave for Macao in March.[13] Lessner was a Rumanian with business experience in China who eventually became Pan American’s airport manager at New Delhi.[14]

A fourth driver, Carl Neprud, was born in Coon Valley, Wisconsin in 1889. His old university,Wisconsin (class of 1912) provides some general biographical details:

(Neprud) was taken into the Chinese Maritime Customs in 1913 with which service he has been connected ever since. He has been stationed in different parts of China and held different posts such as appraising commissioner in Shanghai, tariff secretary and more recently, (since the war) as liaison officer between occupied and unoccupied China.[15]

The same source tells us a little about his work during the war:

During the war he and his group supplied First Aid for civilians (and soldiers in many cases) so he got to the front lines rather frequently…Living in a strong granite building on the waterfront he was across the bay from the Japs on the mainland, and at one time counted 14 Jap “hits” on the front of his building.

The description of the events after the fighting suggests that he wasn’t the only one of the American drivers to have been working for the Red Cross during the fighting:

After the surrender as the Jap army of occupation moved into Hongkong, Neprud and other members of his committee were allowed to operate for the relief of the civilians, as the Jap military had no machinery set up to care for civilians.[16]

It seems that the June 29/30 repatriation came as no surprise:

 Neprud early had the feeling that the American civilians would be repatriated soon, because the Japs would want their own people back. In each drive the Japs would pick a land wherein English was spoken, and their own people who had lived in America would be tremendously useful in translating documents.

But it seems there was still more to Carl Neprud. The St. Petersburg Times for October 24, 1943 reported:

As an agent of the Chungking government for several years, Neprud disguised himself as a city health service ambulance driver when the Japs invaded Hongkong for fear that he would be recognized.

So Neprud was one of those who hoped to get out of Hong Kong before the Japanese discovered who he was. My guess is that Eugene Pawley felt the same way, as he must have been nervous about the possibility of the occupiers getting to know of his family’s connection with the Flying Tigers.

Neprud continued his association with the Nationalist authorities:

 A Chungking agent for commercial and financial affairs in the Orient, Neprud is still representing the Chungking government at Washington, D.C., studying tariff and trade matters.[17]

This article in the St. Petersburg Times reports Neprud’s 1943 plan to drive the Japanese out of China with 500 planes. [18]

He was appointed to Economic Cooperation Administration[19] Mission to Austria in October 1951 and died in October 1976.[20] His daughter became a pioneer woman stockbroker.[21]

These drivers (with the exception of Lessner) are mentioned by Dew but not in Thomas’s 1946 article in The British Baker, which might mean that they were not very involved in delivering the bread he was baking in the Qing Loong Bakery. I’ve not as yet been able to find out any more than is contained in my original post about his best man, Owen Evans. Another American, Charles Winter, in the letter he wrote to Thomas’s parents, mentions his pre-war work with the Medical Department, but I’ve not been able to find out in what capacity. He might have been one of the ‘committee’ (see above) who worked alongside Neprud in the fighting and continued to drive for the Health Department after the surrender. I can find no other trace of  Dr. Robert Henry. Thomas calls the latter ‘Dr. Henry’ and the first name comes from Gwen Dew (and is confirmed by the Miami News article). Emily Hahn mentions ‘Dr. Jim Henry’ as President of the American-staffed Lingnan University, but it’s unlikely to be him. Research continues, and I’d love to hear from anyone who has more information about any of these men.

Update:

Elizabeth Ride has kindly sent me a June 1942 letter from her father, Lindsay Ride, the founder of the resistance organisation the BAAG, to Dr. Court, a contact in the French Hospital. In it there is an interesting reference to two of these drivers:

Will you kindly tell the bearer where he can find GENE PAWLEY and ALBERT FITCH who are supposed to be driving supply trucks. I have a message from Ed Pawley who wishes his brother Gene to come out…

Colonel Ride goes on to urge Court to make up a party with the two Americans and assures them they’ll be well looked after. But by this time the Americans were on the brink of repatriation, and Court never ‘came out’. He wasn’t one of those arrested at the French Hospital on May 2, 1943, though, so it seems that his contacts with the BAAG remained undetected.

Another document supplied by Elizabeth Ride confirms that only Dr. Henry, Charles Winter and Owen Evans delivered bread to the hospitals. It also contains something about Owen Evans that’s so interesting it deserves a post to itself.


[2] http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=2206&dat=19420913&id=MQYtAAAAIBAJ&sjid=T9QFAAAAIBAJ&pg=4602,2075440

[3] http://travel.state.gov/law/citizenship/citizenship_780.html. John Luff (The Hidden Years, 179) claims American men were legally forbidden to serve with the Hong Kong Volunteers, which may well have been the case as the conscription order of July 1940 was undoubtedly nationality specific. The current US position seems to be that their nationals are liable to call-up under the laws of any country they’re resident in, but should do their best, within the law, to avoid such service.

[6] Quoted in Alan Birch and Martin Cole, Captive Years: The Occupation of Hong Kong 1941-45, 1982, 24.

[11] E.g. 180-181 (1986 ed.).

[19] An organisation involved in implementing the Marshall Plan.

2 Comments

Filed under Carl Neprud, Eugene Pawley, Hong Kong WW11

2 responses to “Thomas’s Work (6) More on the Delivery Drivers

  1. Pingback: Thomas’s Work (3): Outside Stanley | The Dark World's Fire: Tom and Lena Edgar in War

  2. Pingback: Early Days in the French Hospital: The Evidence of Staff-Sergeant Patrick Sheridan | The Dark World's Fire: Tom and Lena Edgar in War

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