Dr. Phillip Court

There were two men in contact with the British Army Aid Group (part of the Hong Kong resistance) in the French Hospital, where Thomas lived from February 8, 1942 to May 7, 1943 (Evelina joined him after their wedding on June 29).  One was Dr. Selwyn-Clarke, whose ‘antagonistic co-operation’ with the BAAG is well-known to those familiar with the literature of the Hong Kong war.[1] The second was Dr. Philip Court.

Phillip Francis Shelsey Court was a physician with the Hong Kong Medical Department before the war.[2] I don’t know at what stage he became associated with the French Hospital, but he was there on January 16:

I paid a visit to the French Hospital to-day for a general examination. Whilst I was waiting I watched Dr. Court amputate a leg of a Chinese woman who had been injured in the bombing. Their light had not yet been restored and he had had to operate in front of an open window to give him sufficient light.[3]

According to Emily Hahn, in the early stages of the occupation the entire Medical Department was allowed to stay outside Stanley working under Selwyn-Clarke, but one of the doctors broke his parole and escaped. As a result, most of the departmental members were interned, and the Medical Director was only allowed to keep out a skeleton staff, chosen by the Japanese, and all forced to live under one roof.[4] Hahn gives no date for this, but it is possible that the move to the French Hospital took place on or around February 8: this is the date on which the three bakers producing bread for the hospitals and the associated unit of drivers went there,[5] but Exchange House, their previous location, was not cleared of Allied civilians at this point, as the telephone company workers didn’t leave until February 23;[6] this suggests that there might have been a specific reason for sending out those associated with the Health Department on the 8th.

If this is correct, Dr. Court’s presence at the French Hospital on January 19 suggests that he worked there before the war or was sent there during the fighting.

The continuing presence of the health workers in the city was due to the championship of the Japanese medical officer Colonel Eguchi and a number of other influential supporters who managed to persuade the authorities that they were needed to prevent the outbreak of epidemic diseases amongst the Chinese, diseases that would threaten Japanese soldiers and civilians. But the Kempeitai (‘the Japanese Gestapo’) were deeply suspicious of these health workers and other uninterned enemy citizens, reckoning, correctly in some cases, that they would use their location in the city to spy on the Japanese military. They began to watch them carefully even during the early stages of the war when there wasn’t much of an Allied  threat to the Japanese in Hong Kong.  In June 1942 Colonel Lindsay Ride, the head of the HKVDC Field Ambulance, who was one of the earliest escapers from Shamshuipo, sent agents of his newly formed British Army Aid Group to try to make contact with the camps and the Allied citizens left outside them – as early as June 15 Ride reported that two agents had been sent to contact ‘North Point {POW Camp}, BMH {Bowen Road Military Hospital} and the French Hospital’.[7] As Ride seems to have known Dr. Court well, he was one of those specifically targetted in these attempts.[8]

Ride sent Court a letter in June. He began by asking him to help the bearer locate Gene Pawley and Albert Fitch, two American truck drivers, as he had messages from their families asking them to escape (as the repatriation of June 29/30 was already planned this came to nothing, but it proves that according to Ride’s sources these drivers, who were not part of the unit working on bread delivery, were also outside Stanley at this point and probably in the French Hospital – see note 4). Ride then turns to the question of Dr. Court’s own escape:

I am sure your wife not to mention Angela and Averil[9] (and even LTR[10]) want you to come too ever so badly.

He suggests that Court consider making up a party of three with Fitch and Pawley – ‘no money will be needed if you work through this man’ – and even suggests that Hilda Selwyn-Clarke and her young daughter Mary come along as well, assuring them they’d be well treated. Arrangements were at some point made by the BAAG for Court’s escape, but this fell through.

Japanese suspicions made contact between the BAAG agents and Court difficult. Ride reported to the Military Attaché on July 27, 1942:

{Agent}36[11] is back in Waichow;  he took a message to Dr. Court at the French Hospital and found it impossible to see him personally because Dr. Court is carefully watched.  36 saw a French nun who told him he could not see Dr. Court on his first visit.  On his second visit he was told by a Chinese sister (nun) he could not see him.

A BAAG report four days later suggests that the Hong Kong operatives had found a way round the problem:

Dr. Court receives out-patients in the hospital between 9-11 a.m. daily and they hope to be able to make contact through this channel in the near future. 

Philip Court was not one of those arrested when the Kempeitai raided the French Hospitalon May 2, 1943. They took away Selwyn-Clarke, Dr. Frederick Bunje, Dr. Murdo Nicholson and some of their Chinese colleagues.[12] He was presumably one of those who were held prisoner while the Kempeitai searched the premises for evidence of espionage and then were sent into Stanley on May 7. He’s on the Camp Roll in Greg Leck’s Captives of Empire, so he certainly went there at some time, and as 18 people went in on from the French Hospital on May 7[13] and those recorded by the BAAG as living there in December 1942 make up 17, not counting those known to have been arrested but including Court, it seems most likely he was one of those 18. Diarist R. E. Jones records a second party, this time of 5 ,coming from the Hospital on May 19; if he was right, then either these were people held back for further investigation or they were one of the group of generally elderly patients who’d been allowed there for treatment and who the authorities had now decided were now well enough to re-enter the internment camp.

So it seems that Dr. Court was in Stanley by May 19 at the latest, no doubt relieved that his contacts with the BAAG had not been discovered, but like many others wondering if his courageous actions would one day prove his undoing.


[1] See, for example, Philip Snow, The Fall of Hong Kong, 2003, 178-179.

[2] Greg Leck, Captives of Empire, 2006, Stanley Camp Nominal Roll.

[3] Phyllis Harrop, Hong Kong Incident, 1944, 115.

[4] Emily Hahn, China To Me, 1986 ed., 358. Hahn says that the enemy national Red Cross drivers were sent intoStanley with the majority of the health department at this point, but this is not true, of most of them at least – see below.

[5] British Baker article, viewable at http://brianedgar.wordpress.com/2011/10/18/thomas-edgar-some-documentation/

The date is confirmed by S-Sgt. Sheridan in his escape statement.

[6] Les Fisher, I Will Remember, 1996, 36.

[7] Edwin Ride, British Army Aid Group, 1982, 87.

[8] An extract of references to Dr. Court in the Ride papers and a copy of the letter from Ride to Court were very kindly sent to me by Elizabeth Ride on April 26, 2012.

[9] Court’s mother.

[10] Lindsay Tasman Ride himself.

[11] Lau Teng Ke, a student – Ride, 1982, 310. Another agent known to have been in touch with the French Hospital was Raymond Wong, who was also a member of the Communist East River Guerrillas.

[12] Tony Banham, We Shall Suffer There, 2009, entry for June 7, 1943.

[13] This arrival is recorded by both George Gerrard and R. E. Jones whose diaries are available to members of the Yahoo Stanley Group:

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/stanley_camp/messages

Only Jones records the second party mentioned below.

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3 responses to “Dr. Phillip Court

  1. Pingback: Dr. George Graham-Cumming | 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

  3. Pingback: Conditions at the French Hospital: More Evidence From The Ride Papers | The Dark World's Fire: Tom and Lena Edgar in War

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