Pre-war Hong Kong: The Myth of Mediocrity (Part 3): Eleventh Rate Women

For two related reasons it’s harder to refute the second half of Stella Benson’s claim that 1930s Hong Kong was full of ‘tenth rate men and eleventh rate women.’ Many ‘European’ women did what they were expected to do at the time and stayed at home, managed the servants and looked after the children and household. It’s hard to judge the qualities they brought to such activities, and because most of them didn’t have paid jobs we lack the objective evidence about esteem and career progression I was able to marshal in my previous post on the men. But the first thing to say is that if the men weren’t tenth rate, as I think I’ve demonstrated, then there’s no reason to believe they’d settle for low-quality women. The ‘myth of mediocrity’ is all of a piece: the men are duds, their wives are worse and the communal life they built up was deplorably limited in achievement and scope.

As I pointed out in the previous post, you can only get so far by holding up examples of men or women and exclaiming, ‘Look, obviously tenth/eleventh rate (or not)!’ There were enough men and women in Hong Kong for all categories of merit to be present, so we need to be able to suggest who was and wasn’t representative. In fact, most of the critics of Hong Kong’s pre-war Europeans don’t even bother to give examples, preferring to take mediocrity as self-evident. I shall cite a few instances of what I regard as talented pre-war women, as if I don’t it will look as if I couldn’t find any. But first I’ll look at how the idea of ‘eleventh rate women’ has been put together.

Firstly, the claim that the women were worse – more narrow-minded and racist – than the men is a colonial stereotype. This doesn’t mean there’s automatically no truth in it, but it does mean we should look carefully at how such a conclusion is arrived at. This is E. M. Forster writing in a journal about the situation as he knew it during his time in India:

If the Englishman might have helped the Indian socially, how much more might the Englishwoman have helped! But she has done nothing, or worse than nothing. She deserves, as a class, all that the satirists have said about her, for she has instigated the follies of her male when she might have calmed them and set him on the sane
course.

That was the kind of picture he drew in his great novel of British colonialism,  A Passage to India, and it’s clearly a version of a much broader assumption of female inferiority that’s been widespread in European culture perhaps from the beginnings. So widespread it’s even shared by some women : as Susanna Hoe points out, Stella Benson – a former suffragette – constructed her picture in the way most of us create our ‘unreasonable prejudices’ – she decided what she believed and then discounted all evidence to the contrary:

She is….forever meeting an interesting or an open or a clever woman and defining her as very much not a ‘honkongeress’. If one were to add up the number if times she wrote something similar one would deduce that she had as many compatible acquaintances as most of us have in Hong Kong or similar transient places. (Susannah Hoe, The Private Life of Old Hong Kong, 1991, 182).

Hoe also points out that Helena May library held all of Benson’s novels, which is worth bearing in mind as at least some counterbalance to the picture of Hong Kong’s philistinism that is part of the ‘myth of mediocrity.’
But Stella Benson’s own experiences tell heavily against her denigration of Hong Kong’s women. In the wake of a hard-hitting book published by a husband and wife in 1930, Benson joined the campaign against the Chinese system of ‘mui tsai’ – opponents considered this institution no more than domestic slavery, but even westernised Chinese defended it as giving girls whose family couldn’t support them the chance of a decent life. But Benson wasn’t the only female campaigner. Bella Woolf Southorn, the wife of the Colonial Secretary, got involved. Benson got involved in the campaign after being invited by solicitor’s wife Katherine Beavis and Gladys Foster to sit on the local League of Nations sub-committee (Hoe, 249) and Gladys in particular seems to have been a very active campaigner. Beatrice Pope, a teacher at St Stephens, was also on the committee. It seems that Adjutant Rosa Raines of the Salvation Army was probably involved too (Hoe, 249, 255). So all these women were presumably classified as definitely not typical ‘Hongkongeresses’ so Benson could maintain her stereotype!

This earlier campaigning was matched by the work of Hilda Selwyn-Clarke who came to Hong Kong with her husband Selwyn, the new Director of Medical Services, in 1938. Mrs Selwyn-Clarke was a former parliamentary candidate for the Independent Labour Party, which was to the left of the Labour Party itself. She was thoroughly committed to the Chinese, both to the betterment of their condition in Hong Kong itself and to their victory in the war with Japan. She was already influential as the wife of a senior Government administrator and she added to that all that could be achieved by charm and force of personality – one source says that she could wind the Governor around her little finger, although that’s undoubtedly an exaggeration. But I suspect that there was another factor that added to these two to make her the most influential ‘white’ woman in the Colony: through the China Defence League, which she served as Honorary Secretary, she became an ally of Soong Ching-Ling (Madame Sun-Yatsen) who in some ways was the most influential woman of any ‘race’ in pre-war Hong Kong. I’ve written about Hilda Selwyn-Clarke and some of her work at length elsewhere on this blog, e.g.
https://brianedgar.wordpress.com/2013/09/23/hilda-selwyn-clarke-and-the-hong-kong-eugenics-league-1-introduction/

The Eugenics League was a mixed-race medical welfare organisation in which women palyed an increasing role as time went on. Anyone in interested in learning more about pre-war Hong Kong’s very much not eleventh rate women should take a look at the final chapter of Susannah Hoe’s excellent work cited above: Phyllis Harrop, Margaret Watson, missionaries Mildred Dibden, Ruth Little, Dorothy Brazier and Doris Lemmon all made valuable contributions to Hong Kong life in the peace and showed their mettle in the war.

Before I conclude, I want to return to this question of the stereotyping of Hong Kong’s women. In general I’m confining my analysis to the last years of peace, but there’s an example of stereotyping at work too good to leave out. American reporter Gwen Dew, describing her experiences during and after the siege of the Repulse Bay Hotel, provided a vivid picture of all that was worst in Hong Kong womanhood: ‘Mrs Elegant’ is racist, snobbish and selfish
‘The idea of giving all these ((Chinese)) people food!” Mrs. Elegant sniffed. “They shouldn’t be here at all, and they will get plenty of food even if we don’t!” (Prisoner of the Japs, 1943, 49):

On the long forced march from the hotel to the northern shore of the island, Dew starts to feel sorry for Mrs Elegant, but not for long. The Japanese were persuaded to provide enough water for one glass per person, accompanied by a single sugar lump:

But all my antagonism came flooding back as she managed to get to the bucket first, and before even the sick children had a chance. She had five glasses of water! Then she grabbed two dozen lumps of sugar and put them in her pockets and walked off! (Dew, 66)

She’s unforgettably nasty, and historians Gerald Horne and Stacilee Ford have both used her as examples of what the British were like. Lewis Bush, an author who fought with the Volunteer Naval Reserve, describes her counterpart amongst the civilians who found themselves at Marina House in Central soon after the surrender:

A well-known socialite was immaculate, powdered and perfumed, and demanded that Suzuki arrange for her to go to her home. Daughter of a marquis, niece of a general…She did not conceal her disgust at having to rub shoulders with the wives of bank clerks, Eurasian girls, wives of policemen and sanitary inspectors, with shopwalkers and even whores. The Chinese ladies she could tolerate, especially those who’d been received at Government House.

So far, so like Mrs Elegant: a mean-spirited racist snob. But Bush continues:
But she was apparently untiring in her efforts to create order out of chaos in the building, and, as Kaneko ((Bush’s Japanese wife)) was to tell me, had tons of courage and seemed to overawe even the most arrogant Japanese (Lewis Bush,The Road to Inamura, 1972, 145).

This has the messy feel of reality; Mrs Elegant, who is all of piece with no redeeming virtues, is a literary creation. Dew is playing to her American readership’s expectations of upper-crust British colonial women. This doesn’t mean, of course, that there’s no reality to the stereotype, for, in this case, there undoubtedly was, but I don’t think it’s an accident that the Yahoo Stanley Discussion Group, which contains two of the historians who know most about the siege of the Repulse Bay Hotel and a woman who was personally acquainted with some of those there has been so far unable to identify the real-life original of Mrs Elegant! (https://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/stanley_camp/conversations/topics/1685) Nevertheless, Horne and Ford have written her into the historical record where she now stands as yet another proof of the nature of Hong Kong’s pre-war females.

I hope I’ve shown I this post that the ‘eleventh rate’ label is merely a stereotype, and that Hong Kong had at least it’s fair share of strong, socially committed and active women in the years before the Japanese attack. In the final post in this series I’ll examine the charge that Hong Kong life at this time was philistine, parochial, snobbish, racist, backward and smug. I think there’s more truth to this than to the other components of the ‘myth of mediocrity’, but it’s a long way indeed from the full truth.

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Pre-war Hong Kong- the Myth of Mediocrity (2) – Tenth Rate Men

In my first post I gave examples of a view of pre-war Hong Kong that can be summed up in novelist Stella Benson’s dismissal of its British elite as ‘tenth rate men, eleventh rate women.’ In this post I consider the first part of her claim. The trouble is that merely saying ‘this man was or wasn’t tenth rate’ proves little, because there were enough British males in Hong Kong in the 1930s and early 40s for every category of competence to be represented, but luckily there is some objective evidence relating to professional esteem and career trajectory which enables us to go beyond the ‘individual men’ approach. I’ll start right at the top with the Governor.

This quotation from Oxford historian Anthony Kirk-Greene, himself a former colonial administrator, relates to the immediate post-war period, but I’m confident that it would have been just as true of the years leading up to the Japanese attack:

As with ambassadorships, Whitehall ranked its colonial governors in four grades. In 1946 there were ten first-class governorships, representing the pinnacle of the colonial service. Nigeria, Gold Coast, Kenya, and Tanganyika in Africa joined Ceylon, Palestine, Straits Settlements (Malaya), Hong Kong, Jamaica, and Trinidad and Tobago. (http://www.webafriqa.net/library/african_proconsuls/british_governors.html. This article is mainly focused on the post-war Empire, but it also discusses the situation in the 1930s and 1940s)

High esteem was reflected in salary. In 1945 the Hong Kong Governor got £7,000 for ruling a colony of 2.5 million people while his unfortunate Ugandan counterpart had to make do with a mere £5,000 for steering a territory with about twice as many people. That in itself is quite a blow for the ‘dumping ground’ thesis (see first post), But lets look at the two men who ruled Hong Kong in the period under review and see if we can deduce anything about their quality. Anthony Kirke-Green again, to give us some orientation:

Really outstanding governors, of course, might hold two or more successive governorships. If a man were successful in the testing ground of chief secretary in a major colony… or of a minor governorship… the way was open for him to aspire to the plums of the service like Nigeria or Kenya, Ceylon or Malaya, Tanganyika or Hong Kong.

Geoffry (it seems this is the correct spelling) Northcote entered the Colonial Service in 1904, held two chief secretaryships (the Gold Coast and Northern Rhodesia) and moved to Hong Kong in late 1937 from the Governorship of British Guiana. It seems a normal kind of career progression for a successful man as described by Kirke-Green: two stints as the number two, a try-out as number one in a minor colony, culminating in promotion to one of the top ten.
(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geoffry_Northcote#Early_life.2C_education.2C_and_early_colonial_services_career)
Northcote had got to know Selwyn Selwyn-Clarke in the Gold Coast, and soon after his appointment he invited him to join him in Hong Kong in the important role of Director of Medical Services. We should note that Selwyn-Clarke was willing to move to Hong Kong from the same post in Nigeria, a colony with a population well over ten times as large, which is further evidence that Hong Kong was not considered a refuge for the dead-beats and losers of the Colonial Service. I’ve already written at length about Selwyn-Clarke’s personal qualities, so I’ll just refer the reader to:
http://gwulo.com/node/21994
Anyone who considers Selwyn-Clarke, for all his admitted ‘mulishness’ and excessive attachment to his own opinion, anything but first-rate has very high standards indeed. As I’ll show in my concluding post, Northcote, with Selwyn-Clarke as an important ally, inaugurated a period of reform that belies the idea that Hong Kong before the war was reactionary and unchanging, unstirred by the liberal ideas that were slowly transforming the world.

Northcote’s successor was unlucky enough to arrive so close to the war that he had little opportunity to leave his mark. Before coming to Hong Kong on September 10, 1941 Mark Young had been Governor of another of the ‘pinnacle’ positions ‘, Tanganyika, having moved there from a senior position in another, Trinidad and Tobago. Again, this looks absolutely what one would expect from Kirk-Greene’s account. Of course, the crucial premise is that the official has been successful in the previous posts, so I think we can assume this of both Northcote and Young. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mark_Aitchison_Young#Hong_Kong_Governor.2C_prisoner_of_war)
The Colonial Secretary – the number two – when the war broke out was Franklin Gimson, who was even more unfortunate than Young as he arrived just one day before the Japanese attack. Gimson had spent all his colonial career rising though the ranks in just one colony, Ceylon – but the island was regarded as the very best posting of all, ‘the premier colony’ as Kirk-Greene puts it. (India had its own system and didn’t come under the Colonial Office). His war-time record was controversial: Geoffrey Emerson reports that most of the internees he spoke to for his 1973 thesis on Stanley Camp didn’t admire him, but the preface to the book version of Emerson’s work (2010) registers a vigorous defence of Gimson’s role in Stanley, one with which I wholly concur. In any case, the Colonial Office thought highly enough of his actions to elevate him to the Governorship of Singapore in April 1946.

What of the other ‘leaders’ of Hong Kong society? There were enough outstanding men to cast further doubt on the ‘tenth rate’ label. I’ll briefly consider the heads of probably the three most important non-governmental institutions: the University, the Anglican Church and Cathedral, and ‘the Hong Kong Bank. (I’ve left out the police because I haven’t been able to find out enough about the Commissioner John Pennefather-Evans to present a clear picture.)

Duncan Sloss, appointed head of the University of Hong Kong in November 1937, had come from Burma, where he’d led the University of Rangoon through a major expansion. (https://brianedgar.wordpress.com/2012/10/28/duncan-sloss/)
He had been far more than a university administrator there, playing a major role in the government. He’d proved controversial, and has been accused of sparking off a Student revolt that was to end in Burmese independence after WW11, but his administrative talents nor his ability to bear the weight of huge non-academic responsibility were not seriously in doubt and he was appointed unanimously by the committee (Peter Cunich, A History of the University of Hong Kong 1911-1945, 2013, 332). The University Sloss found was in crisis because of uncertainty as to its future role; within weeks of his arrival, he’d evaluated the situation and devised a strategy for bringing it back from the ‘brink of disaster’ (Cunich, 2013, 332). He pressed forward on the crucial matter of University science teaching, and negotiated the deal whereby Lingnan University, forced to flee Canton by the Japanese invasion, could get started again by sharing some of the Hong Kong facilities. The University’s research culture was admittedly poor, so Sloss tried to build on the few excellent parts he found, for example, by encouraging Geoffrey Herklots to set up a Fishery research Station supervised from the Biology Department (Cunich, 2013, 357).

One of the men under Sloss at the University was Lindsay Ride, who’d been made a professor of physiology in 1928. Ride was a man who seemed able to turn his hand successfully to almost anything: before the war a medical professor and author, during the fighting head of the Volunteers’ Field Ambulance Unit, and after escaping from Shamshuipo in early 1942 the founder and leader of the BAAG, a resistance organisation that functioned more successfully than night have been expected given the complications of its relations with other British organizations, the Americans, and the two warring Chinese factions of Communists and Nationalists. After the war, Sloss emerged from Stanley to get the University back on its feet, to be followed by Ride who started the process whereby it now vies with the Universities of Tokyo and Singapore for the top position in Asia (http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/world-university-rankings/2012-13/world-ranking/region/asia). It’s actually one of the top fifty universities in the world, and amazingly it began its ascent to the global first rank under the leadership of two of the pre-war tenth-raters!

Bishop Ronald Hall was the head of the Colony’s influential Anglican communion. This is what a current Hong Kong Anglican source has to say about him:

Bishop Ronald Owen Hall was the longest serving, the most influential, and perhaps the most controversial bishop in the Hong Kong Anglican Church. His episcopacy, from 1932 to 1966, covered the most tumultuous period in the history of China.  (http://echo.hkskh.org/issue.aspx?lang=1&id=141&nid=1074)

Controversial – why? Well, for a start:

In 1926 when he visited the tomb of Confucius, he was so overwhelmed by its harmony and beauty that he did something that would have shocked his fellow Anglicans at the time.  He bowed three times in front of it.  In 1936, Bishop Hall asked a Chinese bishop to baptise his own son in Hong Kong – a British colonial outpost – making the political and theological statement that Chinese and British Christians are equal in the sight of God.
(http://echo.hkskh.org/issue.aspx?lang=1&id=141&nid=1074)

Not much of the narrow-minded, culturally smug stereotype here, and you can see why he was a controversial figure among the expatriates. But that wasn’t the half of it. The Bishop was a socialist:

At a time when communism was branded as a godless and evil ideology in the West, Bishop Hall recognized the spirit of personal sacrifice and dedication to the welfare of Chinese people in the early communist movements in China.  He was recognised by both Mao Zedong and Chiang Kai-Shek during the Second Sino-Japanese War for his work with Gong He, raising huge amounts of funds internationally for its support…. He rejoiced at the founding of the People”s Republic of China in 1949…He helped establish a number of workers’ children”s  schools in Hong Kong, and earned the nickname, “the Pink or Red Bishop”. ((http://echo.hkskh.org/issue.aspx?lang=1&id=141&nid=1074))

‘Gong He’, from which we get the phrase ‘gung ho’, was a set of industrial co-operatives founded by the New Zealand communist Rewi Alley to underpin the Chinese war effort against the Japanese. The effects of this war were felt in Hong Kong itself after the Japanese attack on south China October 1938, and Bishop Hall helped Selwyn-Clarke to set up the Social Service Centre of the Churches to provide rice kitchens for refugees and street sleepers, (David M. Paton, R.O. – The Life and Times of Bishop Ronald Hall of Hong Kong, 1985, 217) and he also served with Selwyn-Clarke’s wife Hilda, (and Duncan Sloss) on the committee of the Foreign Auxiliary to the National Red Cross Society of China, whose head quarters was at the bishop’s house. But the war, during which he was out of Hong Kong, brought a still greater storm his way.

In 1944 he licensed the first woman priest in the Anglican communion – not because he believed in female ordination, but because this was the only thing to do in the circumstances created by the war in south China ( http://anglicanfuture.blogspot.co.uk/2007/01/priest-florence-li-tim-oi-and.html) After the war, he continued his social activism. There’s a lot more to be said about Bishop Hall, but the point is clear: he was a man of outstanding talents, an absence of cultural or racial arrogance, a social reformer and a campaigner for the Chinese cause in the war against Japan.

I’m not, by the way, claiming with regard to Bishop Hall or anyone else that left-wing ideas are an automatic proof of talent and virtue: but, when they’re found in Hong Kong’s leading ‘white’ citizens they certainly show a willingness to engage in independent thought, and I would go as far as to claim that a sense of the equal value of Chinese people and culture and support for their cause in the war with Japan was an unambiguously good thing. And I should mention while on the subject of Hong Kong’s Anglicans that the Dean, Alaric Rose (who I think was number two in the hierarchy) had a first class degree in Politics, Philosophy and Economics from Oxford (Paton, 105) – PPE was considered perhaps the most demanding Oxford degree, and in 1952 Rose became a lecturer at the University of Hong Kong.

To leap ahead to the territory of my final post: there was an amazing moment in 1939 when this supposedly smug and ossified colony had socialists as Bishop and Director of Medical Services, a Jewish Marxist editing one of its four English language dailies (another was under the direction of a Eurasian often regarded as the greatest newspaperman in Hong Kong’s history) and perhaps the most influential woman was the Medical Director’s wife, another socialist, who worked alongside Madame Sun Yat-sen to help the Chinese war effort, and was said to be able to twist the liberal-minded Governor round her little finger. One of her friends and co-workers was the Colony’s first Medical Almoner (a social work type of post) who also supported the Chinese Communists in the battle with the Nationalists, and who would, after the war, marry the Vice-Chancellor of the University who in 1939 was himself working to help the Chinese beat the Japanese, albeit while supporting the Nationalists in the rumbling civil war. These people were all involved in one way or another in a movement of liberalisation and reform that drew in people who were in no sense on the political left. It’s amazing the stereotypes about mediocrity, apathy and ‘sleepiness’ have lasted so long.

Someone who definitely wasn’t on the left was the man who many people believed was the real ‘governor’ of Hong Kong, Vandeleur Grayburn, the head of the Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation. When he was appointed in 1930 some people felt that he’d been too long in Asia so rather lacked international experience (Frank King, A History of the HKSBC, Volume 3, 1988, 202-204). Otherwise, he seemed the right man for the job. I’m not the right person to offer an assessment of his role in helping his Bank and the Colony generally respond to the challenges of the worldwide depression that began in 1929, or of his actions and advice in the wake of the Chinese decision to abandon the silver standard in late 1935, but I do note that he was knighted for his services to Far Eastern commerce in 1937 – this wasn’t an automatic honour for the HKSBC head, as he was the first such recipient since the founder, the great Sir Thomas Jackson. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vandeleur_Molyneux_Grayburn) He also received an honour from the Chinese Government for his defence of their currency (King, 1988, 291). It’s also worth noting that, although he was the man who told Auden and Isherwood that the Sino-Japanese war was just the ‘natives fighting’, in his public capacity he claimed – plausibly as far as I can make out, to have seen helping China as major duty:

I have done my utmost to do what I consider is the principal duty of the Hong Kong Bank – to help Hong Kong and China and the Government of both places – and I think I have done it. (King, 541)

In 1935 Grayburn commissioned the design for a new HKSBC headquarters, (see first post) which was modern in both appearance and the fact that it was the first Hong Kong public building to have air-conditioning, so he was no backward looking cultural reactionary. Still, the building was sometimes known as ‘Grayburn’s Folly’, so it would be fair to point out that not all of the community shared his advance taste (or at least high level of cultural tolerance.) Finally, I think it also worth pointing out that Grayburn refused the full salary package he was offered in his first year at the top and that he and his number two David Edmondston shared one office, Grayburn at a large desk and Edmondston with his at an angle:

From this two-man office, Grayburn and Edmondston ran banks with assets of $1,246million (= £77.2 million) and an Eastern staff of 254 in 1940. (King, 1988, 446)

Of course, he was also a racist with perhaps even more bigoted views than some of his fellows, as his scorn for others extended to thinking that one American at the Bank was one too many. But the HSBC was on its way to becoming the second largest bank in the world in terms of total assets, and if Grayburn was a tenth rate dud he certainly did well to keep them fooled for over a decade!

It’s rare for propagators of the ‘dumping ground for duds’ view of Hong Kong to name names, so I’m left wondering who these tenth-raters actually were. Well, here’s one candidate: policeman George Wright-Nooth felt that Attorney General Sir Grenville Alabaster – nick-named the Blind Knight of Stanley for his habit of wearing dark glasses on even the most sunless of days – was regarded as ‘the archetypal semi-senile civil servant.’ In his rigid conservatism, dogmatic orthodoxy and attachment to red tape, he might seem to have personified the Hong Kong of hopeless ‘duds’, yet Wright-Nooth was forced to admit that whenever they spoke he found his conversation ‘quite stimulating’ and that appearances can be deceptive. In any case, he wasn’t shipped out to Hong Kong because of obvious incompetence: ‘very few young men have commanded the admiration of so many intelligent people’ reads one newspaper cutting, which went on to laud his ‘great intellectual distinction and…judgement of rare clearness and sagacity’ and mention his contribution to various legal reference works and the Encyclopedia Britannica. After the war, effectively blind perhaps because of the deprivations of the occupation, his sisters would read him the clues to the Times crossword in the morning, and he’d give them the answers after lunch. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/C._G._Alabaster)

I’m not claiming that there were no ‘duds’ in pre-war Hong Kong, nor that the general human standard was pretty much on the level of Athens in the time of Pericles. Merely that the picture is pretty much as you’d expect: a melange of men of differing levels of talent and that the colony was seen as a desirable enough place to be posted, not as a ‘dumping ground’ for failures in either private or public service. In the next post I’ll look at some of the ‘eleventh rate women’ who infested the Colony, and then conclude the series with a general account of Hong Kong life on the eve of the Japanese attack.

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Pre-War Hong Kong: The Myth of Mediocrity (Part 1)

Part 1: The Myth

Hong Kong historian Jason Wordie put his finger on something in a South China Morning Post book review last year:

Probably the most prominent popular belief today maintains that pre-war Hong Kong was governed and garrisoned by a clutch of blimpish colonial stereotypes, straw men with no clue about events taking place in the wider world. In tragic consequence of their ignorance and complacency (as we have been led to believe), Hong Kong was caught catastrophically by surprise when the Japanese finally struck.  (http://www.scmp.com/lifestyle/books/article/1166480/book-review-clash-empires-south-china-franco-david-macri)

Yes, indeed – this is one version of the view that Hong Kong’s pre-war ‘European’ elite were a bunch of trivial-minded and incompetent no-hopers, and that the Colony’s expatriate life was racist, philistine, narrow, conventional, complacent and generally without merit. It’s not just a ‘popular’ view either, as a number of historians hold it.

Military historian Tim Carew, for example, thinks that Hong Kong’s civil servants were ‘old and atrophied’, its administration corrupt, its police force inefficient, and its military supine and ostrich-like (The Fall of Hong Kong 1963, 11). Gossip and scandal, leavened with ‘snobberies’, were the ‘staff of life among the colonizers in Hong Kong,’ opines American professor Gerald Horne. (Horne, Race War!, 2004, 25). Canadian historian Ted Ferguson believes that the Peak dwellers – the elite of the elite – were even ‘more complacent than their forebears’ because ‘they’d been entrenched in their way of life for so long (Desperate Siege, 1980, 23-24). The ‘way of life’ he describes is smug, trivial, conventional and marked by an extreme sense of racial superiority. So these British, American and Canadian historians are in agreement: Hong Kong before the wars was woefully deficient as regards the calibre of its rulers and the form of life they created.

Philip Snow, a much weightier figure than these three, shares this grim view: the Colony was seen as ‘a dumping ground for the duds’ of the Colonial Civil Service, he claims (The Fall of Hong Kong, 2004, 2.) Charles Boxer, who seems to have coined the ‘dumping ground’ phrase used the idea more widely to include ‘duds’ such as himself and presumably his fellow military and intelligence officers:

‘Hong Kong is the dumping ground for the duds,’ he said. ‘Including me. Any old fool who can’t be used elsewhere is dumped out here in Hong Kong. Look at them!’ (Emily Hahn, China For Me, 1986 ed., 209). According to Snow, Stella Benson, who lived in Hong Kong in the early 1930s, saw it as ‘the acme of provincial philistinism’, a place where life revolved around sport and gossip. (Snow, 2003, 2). It seems that the phrase that sums up much of this view is Benson’s jibe about Hong Kong’s ‘tenth rate men and eleventh rate women’.
I suspect that one of the reasons for this negative view is that imaginative writers have imposed it on historians and then it’s spread to the reading public through both conduits. I am not, I hasten to add, trying to suggest that the whole thing is a fictional imposition, and that nothing about this view is correct, that the ‘whites’ who ran pre-war Hong Kong would have seemed outstanding figures even in the Athens of Pericles. But it does strike me that imaginative writers have played a significant role in this rather inaccurate stereotyping.

Benson was a novelist, Hahn, who reported Charles Boxer’s remark as something like the truth, wrote novels as well as working in a broad range of other genres, and two other stern and influential critics of pre-war Hong Kong, Wystan Auden and Christopher Isherwood who visited in 1938, were respectively the leading poet and one of the most distinguished novelists of the day. I’m not accusing Hahn of making things up – she did do that in the novel Miss Jill and in the New Yorker articles collected in Hong Kong Holiday, and at least one reviewer and two historians have been misled by the latter’s convincing semi-fictions, but in China For Me she’s doing her best (within the limits set by the war-time publication of the book) to tell things as she saw them. She was always had the eye of a journalist and novelist though, and she didn’t look too carefully at a good story, a picturesque detail or a lively opinion. In general I’ll be focusing on Hong Kong’s civilians not its soldiers, but it’s worth taking some time with Charles Boxer because of his contribution to the myth of mediocrity.

It is frankly amazing that Hahn should have quoted her future husband’s opinion as if it was definitive or that anyone else should have accepted it. For a start, there’s the English belief in the virtue of self-deprecation that needs to be taken into account. But more significant is Boxer’s role as a military intelligence analyst. I have to confess that I’ve never been approached by my country to work in the field of espionage, but common sense tells me that, if I were to act in such a capacity, it would be better not to let it be known that my colleagues and I were unbelievably sharp and on the ball operatives who knew what the enemy were up to before they did themselves. Rather, I’d try to have it believed that we were doddering incompetents who usually found out things by reading them in the newspapers.

The Commanding Officer Colin Maltby did believe his intelligence system was weak (http://www.britain-at-war.org.uk/WW2/London_Gazette/hong_kong/) so you could make a case for Boxer having been right – but not about himself. First of all, he was the one who told Maltby that the Japanese attack was imminent: he’d just taken over monitoring Japanese radio broadcasts when the announcement was transmitted. He was doing so because he’d learned the language (and claimed he was the first of the foreigners in Japan to learn Kendo fencing instead of Judo) during a secondment of three years from 1930 to the Japanese army during which he won the respect of many of their officers. (http://www.cfr.org/world/cr-boxer-affaire-heroes-traitors-manchester-guardian/p3924)It’s certainly true that some people in Hong Kong intelligence – but not only in Hong Kong intelligence – were reporting that the Japanese wouldn’t attack right up until they did, but Boxer wasn’t one of them. He understood that the shabby appearance of some of the Japanese troops was deceptive, and he was sharp enough to feel that the Japanese officers who’d entertained him to dinner on the night of December 5 had been suspiciously polite.
(Ken Cutherbertson, Nobody Said Not to Go, 1998, 221)

In any case, In his distinguished study of Hong Kong in the context of the war in south China, Franco David Macri has shown that Maltby was given good intelligence often enough but failed to act on or even believe it (Clash of Empires, 2012, 302).

And there was another aspect of Boxer that makes his self-deprecation impossible to take seriously: he was later to become one of the most brilliant scholars of his generation. After the war he was offered an academic post in spite of his lack of formal qualifications. A fellow professor sums up his career:

Charles Boxer was no ordinary academic. As well as the chair of Portuguese, he held or was
offered three other chairs in three other subjects… and this in a career that only began when he was 43 years of age. What would we think of an Olympic athlete who only took up his sport in his twenties and then went on to win four gold medals in four different disciplines?
When failing eyesight eventually put an end to his remarkable career, Charles Boxer had over
three hundred and fifty publications – all of them works of originality and substance.
(http://www.kcl.ac.uk/artshums/depts/splas/people/staff/former/cboxernewitt.pdf)

In today’s universities, obsessed with getting their staff to churn out papers for some form of ‘research assessment’, Vice Chancellors would kill for someone like that. Of course, he might have been right about his colleagues in Intelligence – but neither the poetry-loving Alf Bennett, who was also a fluent Japanese speaker, nor Max Oxford, whose achievements are one of the subjects of the recent memoir At Least We Lived sound like they’d fit the bill!

Even a fine historian like Robert Bickers – one of the greatest experts on the British in China – has fallen for the myth of the mediocrity of the men of pre-war Hong Kong. He draws on both Benson and Auden, who visited Hong Kong briefly in February 1938, to convey his own judgement:

In his sonnet (‘Hong Kong’) Auden brought a first rate mind to bear on Stella Benson’s tenth rate men. (Robert Bickers, Britain in China, 1999, 235).

The Auden lines Bickers quotes describe the 1935 Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation headquarters, a building I shall have more to say about in this and the subsequent post:

Here in the East the bankers have erected
A worthy temple to the Comic Muse.

That’s fair enough – Auden indeed saw the building as a symbol of the lack of seriousness of Hong Kong life, but he had other things to say as well. I quote the original version written a year or so after his 1938 visit:

The leading characters are wise and witty,
Substantial men of birth and education
With wide experience of administration,
They know the manners of a modern city.

There’s a degree of irony here, but not of the kind that makes the lines mean the opposite of what they appear to say. Auden doesn’t want us to admire these men, because they are indifferent to the Chinese they live amongst and to the war in China, and, as a later version of those lines makes clear, because he also disliked their cynical take on morality. But in no way does he suggest the men he met were fools or incompetents (not in this poem at least – see below for more Audenesque impressions of his hosts) They are urbane, weighty and – within their limits – up to the task of ruling Hong Kong.

The contemporary writer John Lanchester, whose grandfather was one of the dentists in Stanley Camp, also relies on Auden to act as guarantor for his view of pre-war Hong Kong as ‘deeply stuffy, socially rigid’ and ‘hierarchical’ – a ‘backwater’ even by the standards of the British Empire at the time (Family Romance, 2008, 156-157). He too quotes the line about the HKSBC building and opines that it shows how ‘inherently trivial, and how profoundly provincial, the colony seemed to a super-intelligent cosmopolitan visitor in the 1930s’. That’s an impressive fusillade of adverbs and adjectives, but Lanchester’s failed to notice something strange: Auden made the Art-Deco Bank into a symbol of Hong Kong’s shortcomings because it was too modern for him! He later admitted that while posing as a cutting-edge Marxist intellectual and calling for ‘new styles of architecture, a change of heart’ (symbolic of social transformation) he actually preferred old styles of building. (‘Sir, no man’s enemy'; ‘Preface’ to Collected Shorter Poems, 1966) Grayburn’s Folly, as some locals called it, was actually too advanced for the hyper-intelligent poet. Further, as his travelling companion and fellow leftist intellectual Christopher Isherwood later revealed, the two men were disappointed by Hong Kong’s clash of architectural styles – they’d hoped for something ‘purely and romantically oriental’. So the ‘cosmopolitan’ poet was not only an architectural conservative, but a form of what later came to be called ‘Orientalist’, who wanted the East to conform to his simple fantasies. The bank building simply wasn’t exotic enough!

Isherwood provided more details of the poet’s contempt for the Hong Kong British (which he himself obviously shared):

They (((he’s writing about Auden and himself in the third person)) were invited to formal dinner parties at which they met government and millionaires. Wystan was not charmed by the food or the company. ‘The oxtail soup wasn’t oxtail,’ he wrote, ‘the women were cows and wore mermaid dresses; Sir Blank Blank, a squat red-faced toad, was reputed to have The Eighteenth Century Mind.’ (Christopher and His Kind, 1977, 223.)

(Isherwood revisited Hong Kong in 1957 and was surprised at his own earlier reaction, now finding the city ‘picturesque, to say the least’. ) So it seems that the poet’s reaction to the Hong Kongers was based, at least in part, on a love of fine cuisine, an obviously sexist dislike of the women and their dresses, and the belief that in order to be a proper intellectual you had to be tall, fine-looking, upright in posture and not get rubicund through drinking. And as Sir Blank Blank (who I think is easily identifiable, but whose name I’ll withhold) lacks all these qualities, Hong Kong must be an intellectual wasteland which sees the Mind of the European Enlightenment in a man Auden knew by looking at him was a cultural nonentity.

(For more on Auden and Isherwood in Hong Kong, see https://brianedgar.wordpress.com/2013/08/23/auden-isherwood-grayburn/)

Another communist-leaning writer, the New Zealander Robin Hyde also visited Hong Kong in 1938. Like Auden and Isherwood she didn’t like the ‘Europeans’ (for want of a better word), but unlike them she made the sensible decision to spend as much time as possible with Chinese rather than inflict on herself the company of the rich and powerful. The two Brits started off in a luxury matshed at Repulse Bay and then moved into the house of University Vice-Chancellor Duncan Sloss – you would never, by the way, guess from either man’s comments that they’d been put up by a delightful and polymathic conversationalist and world-expert on William Blake, a poet whose work and ideas had certainly influenced Auden. Anyway, I think Robin Hyde, who got to know Hong Kong much better than them during her visit, was putting her finger on something important in the negative view of the Colony when she dubbed a senior civil servant ‘High British Official Winkle’ – as in Rip Van. (The Dragon Rampant, 1939, 42). The image that comes across to me from a lot of the critical descriptions is of a Colony asleep – snoozing away while the Japanese mass at the border, and more fundamentally, enjoying overfed afternoon slumbers while the modern world passes it by.

In fact although there are undoubted elements of truth in the critical version of pre-war Hong Kong – and no-one should try to deny or defend its extensive racism – much of it is a myth, a parody of the real men and women of the British community and of the lives they lived. As one reviewer of Philip Snow’s book – whose excellence once it gets to the war years he rightly acknowledges – the Hong Kongers of its first chapter are ‘colonialists in the comic-book tradition.’ (Patrick Hase in the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society Hong Kong Branch, Volume 42, 2002, 471). That’s true of the writers and historians I’ve been discussing, and of many others, as Jason Wordie has testified.

In my next post I’ll consider some of the ‘tenth rate men’ of old Hong Kong and follow that up with one on the even lower-rated women. In the final instalment I’ll consider the nature of colonial life in the years leading up to the war – smug, narrow, philistine, torpid, reactionary and criminally indifferent to the coming storm as it’s sometimes considered to be.

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Charles ‘Chuck’ Winter

Charles Winter, from Homer, Minnesota, was one of the American truck drivers who volunteered to stay outside Stanley camp to help the Medical Department in its public and community health work.

He was a Seventh Day Adventist missionary and teacher:

Mr Chuck Winter is an American Seventh Day Adventist missionary school teacher and ran a school over on the mainland near Clearwater Bay
.1

This school was presumably the forerunner of today’s Hong Kong Adventist Academy and the Hong Kong Adventist College for older students, both in Sai Kung.2 Seventh Day Adventist educational efforts in south China go back to 1903, and by 1935 there was a successful ‘Canton Training Institute’ in the city now known as Guangzhou. As a result of the outbreak of the Sino-Japanese War in 1937, the school was moved to Hong Kong, first operating in Shatin. It merged with another Adventist institution to become the ‘China and South China Training institute’ and 40 acres of land were bought at Clearwater Bay. After the Japanese invasion, the school returned to Guangdong province.3

The Japanese attacked on December 8, 1941. It wasn’t long before the British ran short of drivers, and this shortfall was made up by American volunteers,4 keen to do something to help but forbidden by their constitution to enlist in a foreign militia. Mr Winter was one of a ‘brave group’ who worked for the Medical Department and ‘drove throughout the war under shell- and machine-gun fire and continued as drivers up to the time of repatriation’.5

Mr Winter was delivering bread when he fell into enemy hands and made a spirited escape:

Charles Winter, one of our drivers, was captured. One morning as he was delivering bread to the French hospital in the Happy Valley area he was suddenly surrounded by a platoon of Jap soldiers who told him politely, ‘You are captured; prease (sic) stay here.’ Then in a hurry to join their advance they did not stop to tie him up, just left him sitting in the truck with the threat, ‘We come back.’ Winter waited just long enough for them to march out of sight beyond a bend in the road, then turned and drove like a bat out of Hades back to town.6

After the surrender (December 25, 1941) and internment of most ‘white’ Allied civilians (January 21, 1942) Mr Winter and his fellow drivers agreed to stay outside Stanley to carry on their work. Patrick Sheridan, an RASC baker, who was initially held in the Exchange Building with my father and two other bakers, describes the situation in early January 1942:

The Japs have allowed a sort of Medical or Health Dept. to be set up to help the local hospitals and homeless refugees of many nationalities. The man who formed it is the former Director of Medical Services of Hong Kong, a Dr Selwyn-Clarke. He has the assistance of a Mr Owen Evans, an Englishman, and two Americans – a Dr Henry DD and a Mr Chuck Winter. They have an ambulance and operate very much like the International Red Cross.7

After the surrender, the Medical Department seems to have regrouped at Queen Mary Hospital in Pokfulam:

Evans, Winter and Doc Henry were formerly based at the Queen Mary Hospital but the Japs took it over for their own sick and wounded and turned everybody out. They are taking over all the best and modern hospitals for themselves and not concerned where the patients go when they throw them out.8

American writer Emily Hahn, who was sheltering there with her baby, dates the expulsion to January 20 or 21.9 The Japanese wanted the uninterned Medical Department personnel all to live under the same roof, and the next we see of them, they’re in St Paul’s Hospital (aka the French Hospital) in Causeway Bay, which had a huge ‘compound’ of associated buildings, including one of the island’s two French Convent Schools:

Evans and co. are now accommodated at the French Hospital at Causeway Bay. They live in the former girls’ school in the Convent grounds.10

The bakers joined the drivers there on February 8,11 and Mr Winter’s work brought him into regular contact with them:

We are now producing bread for all the Hospitals including Bow(e)n Road Military Hospital and also some for Stanley Internment camp. Evans Winter and Doc Henry bring us supplies of materials. They also collect and distribute the bread, and ferry the bakers to and from the Bakery. They also distribute milk, rice, beans and fuel to the Hospitals. In fact they are three conscientious, hard-working, unselfish men.12

Mr Winter was involved in one of the earliest documented episodes of smuggling by outsiders into Stanley Camp:

{Captain}Tanaka13 hands out another kindness, he sends for Mr Evans and Chuck Winter and tells them to load the ambulance with food stuffs, i.e. tea, sugar, butter, tinned goods etc. and take it to the Beach Hospital for the patients. This is a godsend as they have been living on a small rice ration and a slice of bread a day. Evans and Winter manage to smuggle some of the food into Stanley Camp where it is needed just as badly.14

This must have been before February 8 when the bakers were living at the Exchange Building with Captain Tanaka in charge. Mr Winter continued to drive into Stanley with bread baked at the Ching Loong Bakery in Wanchai:15

Evans, Chuck Winter or Doc Henry make a daily trip to Stanley internment camp to deliver bread, milk, etc. 16

Bread deliveries to Stanley were gradually replaced by an internee flour ration in April/May 1942 but the drivers continued to take bread to the hospitals.

The drivers didn’t always find their work easy; we hear of another team of drivers (former American pilots living in May Road) getting rough treatment and slaps during Japanese searches, and this almost certainly happened to the French Hospital group as well:

{Charles} Schafer and four other American citizens managed to escape internment by securing passes to work for the Hong Kong Medical Dept. During the next six months, they trucked 350 cubic tons of food and supplies to the internees and 800,000 lbs of firewood to Hong Kong’s hospitals. But though they had a form of freedom, they never knew when they would be slapped or kicked, or their loads confiscated by the Japanese. Once, a guard slapped Schafer so hard his head rang for hours. They lived on the internee’s rice-beans-salt rations, and managed to avoid catching beriberi only by buying other foods outside at enormously inflated prices.18

Mr Winter made a mark on life at the Hospital that survived his repatriation:

Conditions at the French Hospital are not bad, and as we make friends with the young children and the older girls, Chuck Winter introduces games of soft ball in the evenings before it gets dark. There are ten small children of various nationalities aged between 6 to 11 years, four older girls aged about 16 to 20 years. 19

Henry Ching, the young son of the former editor of the South China Morning Post, remembers joining in these games in 1944.20

We get a final glimpse of Mr Winter in early June, 1942 as Staff-Sergeant Sheridan is about to make his escape from Hong Kong (for which he was awarded the Miitary Medal):

I say farewells to Dr Selwyn-Clarke, Dr. Henry, Chuck Winter and Mr Evans and hope they will be able to continue the fine relief work they are doing.21

On June 29, the day of my parents marriage, the Americans in town were driven to Stanley to board the repatriation ship, the Asama Maru. In late July they were transferred to the Swedish ship the Gripsholm for the rest of the voyage home. On August 18, Charles Winter, still on the Gripsholm, typed a letter to my father’s parents in Windsor. It was the first news they’d had of his survival, and it also told them of his marriage.22

1Patrick John Sheridan, Hong Kong Memoir (unpublished), 89.

2http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hong_Kong_Adventist_Academy

3http://www.hkac.edu/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=26&Itemid=16&lang=en

4https://brianedgar.wordpress.com/2012/04/12/thomass-work-6-more-on-the-delivery-drivers/

5Norwood Allmann, Shanghai Lawyer, 1943, 265. See also http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=2206&dat=19420913&id=MQYtAAAAIBAJ&sjid=T9QFAAAAIBAJ&pg=4602,2075440

6Allmann, 1943, 266.

7Sheridan, 88.

8Sheridan, 88.

9Emily Hahn, China To Me, 1986 ed., 307-308.

10Sheridan, 89.

11http://gwulo.com/node/9906

12Sheridan, 88.

13https://brianedgar.wordpress.com/2012/03/01/thomas-and-tanaka-2-the-man-in-the-photo/

14Sheridan, 91.

15https://brianedgar.wordpress.com/2012/10/18/how-the-bakers-started-baking-again-after-the-surrender-2-return-to-the-qing-loong/

16Sheridan, 93.

17Sheridan, 100.

18 Ian Johnson, in a Pan-American in-house journal of 1942 – passed on by Tony Banham

19Sheridan, 94.

20http://gwulo.com/node/13010

21Sheridan, 105.

22The letter can be read at https://brianedgar.wordpress.com/2011/10/18/thomas-edgar-some-documentation/

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Walter Richardson Scott

Before the War

Walter Richardson Scott was born on December 15, 1899.1 His career as a policeman whose career went back to 1920 when he served in Ireland as part of the final desperate British attempt to hold back the independence movement.2

He joined the Hong Kong Police on November 4, 1922 and appointed a Superintendent on May 4, 1933. In the early 1920s he probably spent time in Peking; George Wright-Nooth, a fellow Hong Kong police officer, tells us his wife, an American called June Samson, used to run an antiques shop in that city. Her sister Maurine married Mr Scott’s best friend,3 Alexander Grantham, who was posted to Hong Kong in 1922 and returned as a post-war governor,4 but who met his wife in Peking in 1925.5 This meeting was during Mandarin lessons, and as Mr Scott also understood this language (see below), it’s possible he was already working in Hong Kong and both men were sent to Peking for study.

He was obviously successful in police work and by the middle of the 1930s he’d achieved Hongh Office and a role in the broader life of Hong Kong. In 1933 he was appointed a Superintendent of Police, with effect from May 4.6 In 1934 he’s listed as as an Official Justice of the Peace.7 In May of the same year he was appointed a member of the committee to administer the Mercantile Marine Assistance Fund of Hong Kong.8 His salary in 1935 was £930 p.a. In 1938 he was chairman of the Air Raid Precautions Sub-committee until the arrival of Wing Commander A. H. S. Steele-Perkins as Air Raid Precautions-Officer.10 He was first appointed appointed Deputy Commissioner of Police with effect from March 18, 1939,11 again with effect from September 20, 194012 and finally with effect from July 28 1941.13 This means he was acting Deputy when the war broke out. His salary in 1941 had risen from a starting point of £450 to £120014 – that’s worth just over £50,000 in today’s UK values, and prices in Hong Kong were generally much lower.

What exactly were his responsibilities? Geoffrey Emerson describes him as head of the police ‘Intelligence Department’,15while according to Wright-Nooth, his ‘substantive post was head of Special Branch’.16 This was a small section that worked with Superintendent Frank Shaftain’s CID to counter ‘internal subversion17 – for example, the efforts of the numerous Chinese fifth columnists who had been infiltrated into Hong Kong by the Japanese under the guise of refugees fleeing the fighting in south China.

Before I describe his wartime service, I’ll say a little more about Mr Scott’s pre-war life. I strongly suspect that he was the ‘Walter’ who went hunting with American writer Ernest Hemingway (a future Nobel laureate) on May 3, 1941. Here’s a description in Hemingway’s unmistakeable style:

This Kowloon is a fine city and you would like it very much. It is clean and well laid-out and the forest comes to the edge of the city and there is very fine wood pigeon shooting just outside the compound of the women’s prison. We used to shoot the pigeons, which were large and handsome, with lovely purple shading feathers on their necks, and a strong swift way of flying, when they would come in to roost just at twilight in a huge laurel tree that grew just outside the whitewashed wall of the prison compound. Sometimes I would take a high incomer, coming very fast with the wind behind him, directly overhead and the pigeon would fall inside the compound of the prison and you would hear the women shouting and squealing with delight as they fought over the bird and then squealing and shrieking as the Sikh guard drove them off and retrieved the bird which he then brought dutifully out to us through the sentry’s gate of the prison.18

It’s certain that many Hong Kong policemen hunted, but the name ‘Walter’ (given in a letter by Hemingway to his wife), and the fact that Mr Scott is known to have been a hunter make me think of him, while the prison guard’s helpfulness strongly suggests an officer of high rank.

On November 16, 1941, Mr Scott was on a hunt close to Junk Bay in the New Territories with Chinese surgeon Li Shu-fan. They heard the sound of a formation of planes and Scott told Li that they were protecting a transport loaded with Canadian troops:

We climbed to the top of the hill in silence, and looked down upon a huge, three- funnel Canadian Pacific transport steaming toward the entrance of Hong Kong harbor. Walter commented that these would probably be the only reinforcements allotted to us

The Deputy Commissioner was apologetic – he’d known about the arrival in advance, but Dr Li, who was prominent in the British-supporting Chinese ‘gentry’ and might have been expected to be informed, had been kept in the dark. Later that day Mr Scott wrote to his wife, who’d returned to the United States.19 The Scotts are reported to have been living together in Mount Cameron Road in 1938 (http://gwulo.com/node/8673) so perhaps she left in summer 1940 as part of the general evacuation.

A Glimpse in the Fighting

Dr Li came across his ‘old friend’ during the hostilities. He went to the Gloucester Building – police HQ after Central Police Station was bombed – hoping he’d get some ‘encouraging news':

When I arrived he was dashing all over the place, giving orders. Just as I was about to give up my attempts to find him, we met on the staircase.
‘Any news of reinforcements?’ I asked at once.
Walter shook his head. ‘Remember the Canadians we saw on that big three-funnel steamer?’
‘Of course.’
‘Well, they’ve been putting up a splendid fight, but they can’t possibly hold out against such odds.’
I then asked the question which was in everybody’s heart, ‘Can we hope for a relief force?’
Walter answered honestly, ‘There’s no hope of that
.’20

Life in Stanley Camp

On February 2, 1942, about ten days after most Allied civilians were sent to the improvised internment camp at Stanley, Morris ‘Two-Gun’ Cohen, a ‘general’ in the Chinese army who’d been working with Special Branch, was taken from the camp by the Gendarmes and held at a prison in Kowloon for interrogation. He notes that other ‘Special Branch’ men were there Seymour Major, A. H. Elston, Frank Shaftain and Rex Davis.21 He does not report seeing Mr Scott – it’s possible he was interrogated elsewhere or that the Japanese were not aware of his true role so left him alone at this point.

Mr Scott shared a tiny room in the Indian Quarters with ASP Booker and George Wright-Nooth.22 Stanley was an egalitarian place and his high rank almost certainly made no difference to his rations – he would have shared the same deprivations as everyone else. In fact, the Indian Quarters were sometimes called the ‘slums’ of the camp. Apart from the black marketeers, the best off internees were those who had friends outside Stanley (generally Chinese or neutrals) who could send them food parcels. It’s highly likely that Mr Scott was one of the ‘close friends’ that Dr Li (his hunting companion) sent regular parcels to (some in the name of his secretary who was Swiss by marriage) until this became too dangerous.23 Dr Li also records that when in Stanley Mr Scott sent him a cheque for $500 to be cashed, not realising that the HKSBC had been seized as enemy property24 – or perhaps hoping that his friend’s Chinese ethnicity and high status (he had a reputation even in Japan) would enable him to have the rules bent.

It seems that Mr Scott was a considerable linguist: an official listing gives his languages as Cantonese, Urdu, Punjabi (all useful for dealing with Hong Kong’s police, most of whom were Chinese or Indian) and Mandarin. But his talents weren’t confined to learning Asian languages: in Camp he taught German as part of the lively education programme (about 1 in 3 internees took part at one tie or another). Diarist R. E. Jones notes that he began lessons with Mr Scott on June 3, 1942 and that he ‘retrieved’ a German grammar book from is room after his arrest.25

Resistance in Stanley and its consequences

Anything like the full story of the courageous men and women who carried on the anti-Japanese struggle in Stanley Camp will probably never be written, but from what is known at the moment Mr Scott played an important part, under the direction of Colonial Secretary Franklin Gimson and Defence Secretary John Fraser:

Scott was a key figure. He knew most of what was going on.26

In particular, he knew about the operation of a secret radio set by Douglas Waterton, Stanley Rees and others, and about a system of messages carried by the truck that brought the camp’s daily rations which linked Stanley with the resistance in town. I’ve described both of these activities in previous posts:

https://brianedgar.wordpress.com/2013/11/13/john-alexander-fraser/

https://brianedgar.wordpress.com/2013/10/11/leung-hung/

Stanley contained a number of informers and the agents in town were constantly spied on so to have anything to do with the resistance took the highest courage, as no-one doubted what would happen to anyone who was caught.

In March 1943 the Japanese sent a well-known Chinese collaborator into Stanley, presumably to try to extract information about the resistance. This man, variously known as Tse Chi, Howard Tau or Howard Tse spent a lot of time talking to Mr Scott,27 an ominous sign. In February 1943 the Kempeitai had begun to ‘strike back’ all over Hong Kong against various forms of resistance activity, and they clearly didn’t intend to leave Stanley out and had already marked Mr Scott as someone likely to be involved.

The blow fell on June 28, and Mr Scott was the first to be arrested:

At about noon on the 28 June, 1943, I was present when our Chinese supervisor, Yip, arrived at our room and announced to Scott that he was wanted ‘up the hill’. Slowly, without any outward sign of the turmoil of doubt and fear that must have seethed within him, he calmly finished his meal of bully beef. Waiting outside was{Gendarme} Yoshimoto.28

Mr Scott was taken by Yoshimoto, two other Japanese and a Chinese interpreter to ‘House Number 2′, which was occupied by the Chinese Camp Supervisors. There he was brutally interrogated.29 According to George Wright-Nooth there was ‘real fear’ in Stanley after Mr Scott’s arrest: he was a ‘key figure’, who knew many of the people involved in ‘illegal activities’ including Wright-Nooth himself.30 The three men who had handled a crucial message from the resistance to Stanley (see below), Messrs Anderson Hall and Bradley, were arrested at about 6 p.m. on the same day.31 William Anderson was also involved with the radio operators, one of whom, Stanley Rees, was arrested. At the end of the day, Scott and the five other prisoners were taken to the Gendarme station in Stanley village. It only remained for the Japanese to extract by torture the names that led to a second round of arrests on July 7. For a number of reasons, it is not believed that Mr Scott was the source of any of this information.

On June 29 he was taken with the others to a cell on the top floor of ‘G’ Block in Stanley Prison. At one point he was slapped by a Chinese warder for crying out for treatment for his diarrhoea.32 An Indian prisoner who seems to have been offered inducements to inform on the others, asked Mr Scott for favours for his collaborator father after the war; he refused, as did John Fraser and William Anderson, so all three were dropped from the prison cleaning party organised by this man– cleaning was a popular activity as it enabled the prisoners to leave their cells and talk to each other.33

Mr Scott was tried in the first and largest batch of prisoners on the morning of October 19, 1943. This is what a Japanese trial summary, captured by the BAAG after the war, has to say about this ‘crimes':

The accused Walter RICHARDSON SCOTT {capitalisation sic} was chief of police HONKONG, before the war, and was interned when HONGKONG fell. In April 43 when the former Assistant Superintendent of Reserve Police Force LOOIE FOOK WING {David Loie, an important resistance agent in town} secretly sent him a document concerning the establishment of Radio communication between the Internment Camp and the British organisation at WAICHOW {The British Army Aid Group, a resistance organisation}, he did his best to achieve this, in cooperation with FRASER.34

The section on John Fraser stipulates that they ‘conspired’ to have Stanley Rees get in communication with the Waichow organisation – the British Army Aid Group, a resistance group led by Colonel Lindsay Ride, which was hoping to sponsor a mass break-out from Stanley. It seems that Mr Scott had his own plans for escape: Wright-Nooth tells us he planned one with Defence Secretary John Fraser, radio operator Douglas Waterton and Police Sergeant Frank Roberts,35 while Camp Secretary John Stericker claims that ‘John Fraser and Scott had made almost foolproof plans to escape. They were asked not to go because of the mass punishments which had been vested on the camp as a result of earlier escapes.’36

But the Japanese knew nothing of this; it was that message from the BAAG that was to prove his downfall, and we have an account of it from another source. George Wright-Nooth tells us that in March 1943 Leung Hung37 (‘Jimmy’) an assiduous smuggler of messages through his ration truck told William Anderson to expect a highly secret message which he should give to Mr Hall, who would know what to do with it. The message was given to Mr Anderson inside a cigarette and he passed it on as requested. It contained instructions from the BAAG to listen in on the 40 metre band for radio messages.38 The Japanese trial summary tells us what happened next:

In April of that year {1943} he {Frederick Bradley} was asked by the accused HALL to hand the former Police Chief SCOTT a message concerning W. T. {wireless transmission} code from the British organisation in WAICHOW, which LOOIE FOOK WING was getting in through {Alexander} SINTON39. Knowing quite well the import of what he was doing, he agreed to this and some days later handed the message to SCOTT.40

The same document’s section on Portuguese agent William White41 tells us more:

He {White} was thus {through the driver of the Stanley ration lorry, Leung Hung} able to maintain liaison between the camp and the British organisation at WAICHOW, getting its messages to the former HONGKONG Government Police Superintendent {Pennefather-} Evans and the Police Chief Scott.42

It’s not clear if Mr White was part of the Sinton-Looie network or if he was transmitting messages to Scott independently.

In any case, the crucial message about radio contact was the only thing Mr Scott was question about at his trial, where the prosecutor called it ‘the Waichow letter’. He vigorously protest his innocence43 – the prisoners hadn’t been asked to enter a plea as it was assumed that this had been established by the Kempeitai investigation. He got a beating with a sword scabbard for his heated denial, which can have been no surprise as the accused were expected to stand stock still throughout the trial except when being personally questioned and they were hit every time they moved. Mr Scott was almost certainly ‘guilty’ as charged, and of much more in the way of resistance activity, and he can have been under no illusions as to efficacy of his protest. I think it possible that in fact his intervention was a sign to any of his fellow accused who survived the war that, in spite of brutal interrogation, he had incriminated neither himself nor others.

Because Mr Scott’s actions involved military resistance – contact with the BAAG – they were more than enough to guarantee the death sentence. In fact, both the verdict and the sentence had been decided beforehand,44 the first being standard Japanese procedure, the second unusual and perhaps brought about by the arrival of new Gendarme officers from Tokyo. Those not sentenced to death got 15 years (later reduced to 10).

The prisoners were sent back to Stanley Prison to serve their sentences or to await execution. Their fellow internees made a courageous, but desperate, effort to save them. Jean Gittins, who could write Chinese, was asked to translate a message which was written on a piece of cigarette paper and pasted on the back of a matchbox tray:

Fraser and Scott sentenced to death. Others in grave danger. Request immediate intervention by British Ambassador in Chunking. Most urgent.45

Mr F. Shaftain, head of CID, was still in touch with the resistance, in which some of his former Chinese detectives were working. He had revived the secret route through the ration lorry workers that had been broken in the spring of 1943, so he was quite right to warn Mrs Gittins that ‘there is considerable risk attached’.

No doubt Mr Scott and the others prepared themselves for death in the ways they thought best. One fragment of information probably relates to this time. While in Stanley he’d had a close friendship – nothing more – with well-known Australian broadcaster Dorothy Jenner – he asked a friend to give her his police uniform, badge and arm-tags after his execution.46 Other condemned men managed to smuggle out messages, and I think this means that Mr Scott probably did too.

At about 2 pm on October 29 the 32 condemned men and one woman were taken out of solitary confinement and assembled inside Stanley Prison. They were refused a visit from a priest, but were allowed five minutes together to compose themselves. Captain Ansari47 gave an impromptu talk, and Preston Wong48 led prayers.

At about 2 p.m. they were driven out of the prison in the official van. Although accounts differ, there is general agreement that as they were leaving the prison either Mr Scott or John Fraser shouted ‘Goodbye, boys’, or something similar, to a group playing close by. Their last journey was short: to Stanley Beach, at a point close to where the internees had disembarked in January 1942:

The prisoners marched in single file to a small clearing. Ringing the hills around them were scores of Chinese gravestones. Before them in the center of the clearing the prisoners saw two trenches dug by Indian warders and knew how they were to die.49

They were all blindfolded. Mr Scott, Captain Ansari, and John Fraser were led forward first – it looks like the Japanese were allowing precedence to rank even in death. The others followed after, also in goups of three. George Wright-Nooth tells us that Mr Scott faced death ‘silently and with dignity’.50 He was obviously a man of high courage who, when his duty demanded he run the most appalling risks, carried it out unflinchingly.

1List of Senior Government Officers Retired or Died During the War, 34 – available to members of the Yahoo Stanley Camp Group.

2George Wright-Nooth, Prisoner of the Turnip Heads, 1994, 35.

3Information supplied by Mr Scot’s grandniece to Tony Banham – http://www.hongkongwardiary.com/

4http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alexander_Grantham

5http://hkcart.blogspot.co.uk/

6The Hong Kong Government Gazette, October 6, 1933, 671.

7The Hong Kong Government Gazette, June 22, 1934, 456.

8The Hong Kong Government Gazette, May 25, 1934, 396.

9Civil Establishment of Hong Kong, 1935, J47.

10Report On Air Raid Precautions For 1938, 1. Steele-Perkins was to become embroiled in one of the biggest scandals of pre-war Hong Kong.

11The Hong Kong Government Gazette, March 17, 1939, 188.

12The Hong Kong Government Gazette, September 20, 1940.

13The Hong Kong Government Gazette, August 29, 1941.

14List of Senior Government Officers Retired or Died During the War, 34 – available to members of the Yahoo Stanley Camp Group.

15Geoffrey Emerson, Hong Kong Interment, 2008, Kindle Edition, Location, 2885.

16Wright-Nooth, 1994, 35.

17Wright-Nooth, 1994, 47.

18Peter Moreira, Hemingway on the China Front, 2007, 38, 67; Ernest Hemingway, Islands in the Stream, 1970 (posthumous), 280 – this source is a novel, but the part cited is generally agreed to be strongly autobiographical.

19Li Shu-Fan, Hong Kong Surgeon, 1964, 92.

20Li, 1964, 101.

21Charles Drage, The Life and Times of General Two-Gun Cohen, 1954, 291.

22Wright-Nooth, 1994, 101.

23Li, 1964, 141.

24Li, 1964, 141.

25Diary of R. E. Jones, June 3, 1942; July 5, 1943.

26Wright-Nooth, 1994, 160.

27Wright-Nooth, 1994, 156-157.

28Wright-Nooth, 1994, 159.

29Wright-Nooth, 1994,160.

30Wright-Nooth, 1994,160.

31Wright-Nooth, 1994,160.

32Wright-Nooth, 1994, 176.

33Wright-Nooth, 1994, 178-179.

34Captured Enemy Document, Page 6. Part of the Ride Papers, and kindly sent to me by Elizabeth Ride.

35Wright-Nooth, 1994, 156.

36John Stericker, A Tear for the Dragon, 1958, 182-183.

37https://brianedgar.wordpress.com/2013/10/11/leung-hung/

38Wright-Nooth, 1994, 155.

39https://brianedgar.wordpress.com/2012/03/31/alexander-christie-sinton/

40Captured Enemy Document, Page 5.

41https://brianedgar.wordpress.com/2013/06/06/william-john-white/

42 Capture Enemy Document, Page 4.

43Wright-Nooth, 1994, 181.

44Wright-Nooth, 1994, 184.

45Gittins, 1982, 144.

46Dorothy Jenner and Trish Shepherd, Darlings I’ve Had A Ball, 1975, 214.

47https://brianedgar.wordpress.com/2013/11/04/captain-mateen-ahmed-ansari/

48https://brianedgar.wordpress.com/2013/11/06/wong-shiu-pun-preston/

49https://brianedgar.wordpress.com/2011/11/16/chester-bennett-the-american-hero-of-hong-kong/

50Wright-Nooth, 1994, 255.

2 Comments

Filed under British Army Aid Group, Hong Kong WW11, Stanley Camp

John Alexander Fraser

Note:
There is an excellent article on John Fraser in the Chinese Wikipedia. I would like to acknowledge how helpful it’s been, in machine translation, in preparing this post.1

Introduction
The voice of the accused was bold and clear, ringing resonantly through the courtroom. The prosecutor was keen for him to implicate others, but he refused to do so. He had, he insisted, acted solely on his own judgement, in the interests of the internees in Stanley Camp.2 The clarity of the voice and the measured defiance were all the more remarkable as the speaker was emaciated and bent, crippled by torture and repeated beatings – that very morning he had been cruelly hit with a truncheon by a warder because of his efforts to sponge himself clean after an attack of dysentery.3
No suffering and no mistreatment could break John Fraser’s spirit. But how had a ‘mild-looking civil servant of 47’4 found himself in a position where the fates of so many – he was lying when he said he worked on his own – depended on his fortitude?
Early Life
John Alexander Fraser was born in Edinburgh on February 12, 1896.5 He was educated at Trinity Academy, Leith where he was the Dux (best student) in 1913.6 He enrolled to study for a BA at Edinburgh University in 1914 and was in the School’s Officer Training Corps (Infantry) from April to September 1915, when he volunteered (conscription had not yet been introduced) to join the 9th Royal Scots Fusiliers as a second lieutenant. My source, the Edinburgh University Roll of Honour, states he was promoted to lieutenant in October,7 but this seems to be contradicted by the citation quoted below, unless the move to the 105 Machine-Gun Company8 in March 1916 involved a loss of rank. It was while he was in this Company that he was awarded the Military Cross in July 1916; the citation reads:

Temp. 2nd Lt. John Alexander Fraser, R. Sc. Fus.
For conspicuous gallantry during operations. When the enemy was working round the position, he took his machine-guns up to a position in the open in a shell-hole. Here he remained for four hours, and materially he remained for four hours, and materially assisted, first in checking, and then in stopping the enemy’s attack
.9

Now definitely a full lieutenant,10 he was awarded a bar to his M.C. October 191711. My source claims he was promoted to Major in March 1918. However, it seems that he was demobilised on November 3, 1919 and at that point was granted the rank of Major, which he was presumably allowed to use in civilian life; it seems he ended the war as ‘Temporary Lieutenant’.12 A Japanese summary of his trial (discussed below) claims he was on the army Reserve List as a major.
He’d been wounded in August 1918 and was invalided away from the fighting – the wound was in his leg and he was lame thereafter.13

Civil Servant in Hong Kong
The 1920s: Broad Experience with a New Territories Focus

It wasn’t long before he’d left Scotland and Europe behind. In October 1919, he began his work as a Cadet (gazetted December 11, 1919;14 a Cadet was a fast track civil servant).
His career in the Government falls into three stages. In the first, he was gaining experience in a variety of fields, focusing on administration the New Territories (both North and South Districts),15 16 17 but also working for the Sanitation Department,18 The Department of Chinese Affairs19 20 and acting as a Police Magistrate.21 His salary in 1922 was £400 p.a.22
His rise in the first five years was steady; on May 10 1923 he was made acting Head of the Sanitary Department during a leave of absence.23 With effect from September 18, 1925 he was appointed Assistant Superintendent of Imports and Exports.24 This seems to have been a full-time post, as the 1925 New Territories Annual Report25 lists three other men as in charge of the North and South Districts during this year.
But in 1926 he was ‘in charge’ of the Northern District of the New Territories again – from February 20 onwards. This meant he was responsible for relocating those villagers displaced by the Shing Mun Waterworks Scheme;26 this seems to have been a precursor of the huge Shing Mun Reservoir, built in the mid-1930s, and Mr Fraser was again District Officer in 1929 when most of the work was competed. Interestingly, he praises the engineers responsible for the new settlements in which the displaced villagers were relocated for ‘meeting as far as possible’ the objections raised by the villagers on the grounds of ‘fung shui’, which he calls ‘a pseudo-science which trivial as it may seem to Western eyes, has an all-important bearing in the question of selecting or forming a site for Chinese village dwellings’.27 In spite of this lack of sympathy, not unusual at the time, for ‘fung shui’, I get the impression that Mr Fraser had a real interest and concern for the Chinese people whose lives it was his job to oversee. On indication of this is that in November 1933, when he was no longer working in the New Territories, he bought a house there: Tai Po Lookout, which is now a Grade 11 listed building.28 I wouldn’t be surprised if he also owned a property on the island, especially as the Lookout is in a remote location but, to the best of my knowledge, there weren’t many senior ‘European’ Hong Kong figures with a presence in the Chinese dominated (and sometimes wild) New Territories at all. He was obviously proud of his property, because he mentioned it to Gladys Loie when they were imprisoned together in 1943.29 With a savage irony this was used by the Japanese as a torture chamber.30 Another indication of his concern is that while District Officer for the Northern New Territories, he founded the 21st Hong Kong in Taipo in 192731. This was probably the first time scouting had been made available to rural boys.

The 1930s: A New Direction

As we’ve seen, he was already a magistrate in 1922, and he was empowered to hold small debts courts in the New Territories.32 33 34 This was to prove the basis of a new specialism: he went on leave from his work in the New Territories on March 14/15, 193035 and travelled to London to study law. In 1930 he’s listed as being part of the Colonial Secretary’s Department (D/O Northern District) and having an annual salary of £1000 while having been absent from the colony for 9 months and 11 days during the year;36 in 1931 he was absent for seven months and 15 days.37
He became a barrister of the Middle Temple in 1931.38 39 40During the next decade he rose up the hierarchy of Government legal officials, starting with appointment as Police Magistrate for Kowloon with effect from 18 July 1931.41On October 8, 1932 he was made Assistant Attorney General42 with a salary of £1,100; he was now a senior Government legal officer. He was made Cadet Officer Class 1 with effect from 29th December 1936.43 In 1937 he was appointed to be editor of the new editions of the Ordinances and the Regulations of the Colony.44 He was made First Police Magistrate in addition to his other duties with effect from 7th January, 1937.45
It seems that during 1936-1938 he switched between senior posts in the Attorney General’s and Crown Solicitor’s Departments as needed.46 47 From August 6, 1936 he was acting Crown Solicitor during the leave of the incumbent,48 and was appointed to act as Crown Solicitor from February 1, 1937. With effect from February 5, 1938 he was acting Attorney General during C. G. Alabaster’s leave.49
His eminence brought responsibilities and rewards. He was one of two men appointed to the Directors of the Widows’ and Orphans’ Pensions with effect from 18 January, 1937 (2 others from December 1936).50 In 1937 he was awarded the King’s Coronation Medal in the category ‘Administrative and Professional Services’.51 He was appointed to a Commission to inquire into the sinking of fishing junks brought into Hong Kong on the Scharnhorst and Kaying.52 He was made a member of the Court of the University during an absence with effect from February 25, 1939.53 He was allowed to quit the HK Defence Reserve on 26th January1940,54 no doubt because he was considered an ‘essential worker’ who would be needed in a crisis.
Between 1938 and 1941 his career continued to flourish. He was appointed Proctor on July 29, 1938.55 During G. C. Alabaster’s leave he became an Official Member and Vice-Chairman of the Licensing Board.56 From August 4, 1939 he was a temporary additional judge in the Supreme Court57 and a member of the Public Services Board.58
In 1939, the last year for which full information is available, he’s described as ‘attached to the Attorney General’s Office’, on a salary of £1650, one of the top half dozen or so people in the Government.59

The Crucial Shift

Then something rather surprising happened: having retrained in the law, and pursued a legal career with some success for ten years, he executed a complete change of direction: with effect from April 26, 1941 he was appointed Defence Secretary60 (from May 31 he became an ex officio ‘additional Official Member’ of the Executive Council).61
A search for ‘Defence Secretary’ in the online Hong Kong Government Reports turns up only 7 uses, two of which relate to the appointment of Mr Fraser and his Executive Council seat. A third is dated August 7, 1941,62 a fourth to October 20, 1941,63 and a fifth to October 17, 194164 (confirmed at the Legislative Council meeting of November, which makes the sixth record65). All relate to the powers of the Defence Secretary – that he organised the General Group Essential Services, for example. These were men exempted from military service with the Volunteers so that they could be assigned to carry out the kind of work they did in peace time – there was another group for those who would stay in the exact same job if war broke out. Finally, a note of October 2, 1941 tells us that a woman was appointed to advise the Defence Secretary on the allocation of women to the defence services.66
In other words, all the documents relate to Mr Fraser, and they show us very little of his work. The first point suggests to me that the post was a new one, while the importance of secrecy is not hard to grasp. (For the one indication I’ve been able to find that Mr Fraser might have had a predecessor in the post, see the Note below.) I suspect that the post was created in 1941 and that perhaps Fraser was pressed to take the position and felt it his duty to accept. However, he might simply have wanted the job, or even felt that it was reasonable for him to hope for a future Colonial Secretaryship or even Governorship (he was only 45) and that a third field of experience would stand him in good stead.
I think that historian G. B. Endacott give us an idea of Mr Fraser’s main task: Hong Kong’s preparations for war ‘were co-ordinated by a Defence Secretary with a Defence Committee comprising representatives from the Armed Services and government departments most concerned with defence policy. It’s actual membership was never divulged’.67 The only other indication of Mr Fraser’s role that I’ve been able to find is also provided by Endacott: in November 1941, as part of a drive to get people (especially the Chinese) to sign up for civil defence work, he announced that members of the Civil Defence Services and their families would have preference over non-members for billets, food and medical attention, and that a scheme of compensation for war injuries would be applied to all members.68
His job was co-ordinating and organising defence measures with the secretive Defence Committee and will probably never be known in any detail.

After The Surrender

As yet, I have come across no references to his work during the hostilities, but he comes back into focus in the period after the Christmas Day surrender when he was living in the Prince’s Building alongside recently arrived Colonial Secretary Franklin Gimson and other members of the former Government.
On January 1, 1942 Fraser, accompanied by R. A. C. North (Secretary for Chinese Affairs) and the Attorney General C. G. Alabaster called on Sir Robert Kotewall and Sir Shouson Chow in the China Building and asked them to co-operate with the Japanese for the sake of the Chinese population.69
Hong Kong was generally crime-ridden during the occupation, and never more than in the early days before the Japanese had established full control. On the afternoon of January 4, 1942 Phyliis Harrop, who was also living at the Prince’s Building, went shopping for supplies for with secretary Barbara Budden and Mr. Fraser; an attempt was made to steal her shipping basket, a scuffle ensued as Harrop courageously defended the precious goods. She seems to be rather misleading when she writes, ‘John Fraser came to my rescue’ as it seems that the person in need of salvation was one of the two would-be robbers, whose head she was vigorously banging on the ground – ‘John said he could not pry me loose’. The incident had a happy outcome: the thief suffered no worse than wounds to his head and nose, which bled profusely, while a passer-by managed to retrieve the stolen goods from the second offender and ten minutes later returned them to Miss Harrop.70 Fraser’s concern for her is also shown by his advice to leave the Gloucester Hotel, where she was associated with the police and ‘the Chungking people’ (nationalists who would have been in great danger from the Japanese) and join the rest of the Government staff.71
However, what was perhaps Mr. Fraser’s main work at this point was in making sure that the future internees would be able to keep in touch with the outside world by radio. W. H. P. Chattey, an army officer who found himself in the civilian camp, reported after the war:

The original plans to establish and maintain a wireless set in Stanley civilian internment camp (caps sic) were made by Mr. J. Fraser…and certain members of the Cable and Wireless Company, immediately after the capitulation of Hong Kong…and during the interim period, before the Japanese authorities interned all the British subjects inside the camp. As a consequence, arrangements were made for all of the component parts of the wireless sets to be brought into the internment camp, hidden in the baggage of various civilians, mostly employees of Cable and Wireless, who were moved into the camp by the Japanese authorities in late January and early February 1942…72

According to lists published by Tony Banham, there were 8 Cable and Wireless staff who were held after the surrender at the Prince’s Building:they included T. W. Addingley, J. S. Logan, Stanley Rees, and Douglas Waterton, who are all known to have taken part in the radio operation,73 so it was almost certainly during this period that the arrangements were made.74
On January 25 Phyllis Harrop noted in her diary that Mr Fraser was one of a party leaving the Prince’s Building ‘mess’ to go into Stanley and ‘as an advance party to prepare the way for us and to establish some sort of accommodation for living and offices’.75 As Franklin Gimson stayed in the Princes Building until May, he became in effect the Government representative in Stanley, a tough task as, rightly or wrongly, camp opinion was violently anti-Government, blaming it for what was seen as the failure to put up an effective resistance.

Life and Work in Camp

While in Stanley, Mr Fraser’s high rank did not spare him from suffering the same deprivations as almost everyone else. He write to his old friend Dr Li Shu-fan describing his ‘failing vision and loss of weight’ and adding that the camp doctors said the internees’ diet was deficient in vitamins. Dr Li, who was helping other friends, responded generously:

I sent Fraser some capsules of carotene, Vitamin A pills, and cod-liver oil compounds, and included a tin of of precious tobacco and a small towel. The last was an item valued beyond words by the internees.76

At first, like most internees, he believed that Hong Kong would soon be recaptured – he estimated they’d be out of Stanley by late October, 1942.77Nevertheless, he supported attempts to get the British repatriated in a speedy exchange of prisoners. He represented Gimson on the Camp Temporary Committee, which operated until February 18, 1942. He was elected as an Executive Officer of the Committee on January 2478 and on the same day this question of repatriation was discussed:

Speaking with reference to the possibility of securing repatriation for men over military age, Mr Fraser expressed the opinion that such could be affected by arrangement between the two sovereign sates concerned, made through diplomatic channels.79

Of course, the British were never repatriated for reasons that do not concern us here.
In February the committee faced a crisis: the Chinese Camp Superintendent, Mr Cheng, demanded, with some Japanese support, that internees with bank accounts in Hong Kong withdraw $50 to cover rations of meat, fish and vegetables (everything but rice and salt).80 Mr Fraser, representing Gimson, refused and instead demanded full access to their bank accounts for the internees. Cheng, who regarded his position as an opportunity for private enrichment, threatened to stop sending in rations, and in the end two HKSBC bankers drew up an agreement for the money to be withdrawn. In the end a cheque was given to the Superintendent, for rations and for ‘rent’ with respect to the hotel-brothels that had been used to house the future internees before they were sent to Stanley. The cheque was returned uncased after he left his post,81 which suggests that the Japanese Foreign Affairs Department, which generally tried to be fair to the British, had second thoughts about supporting his actions.
The Temporary Committee was replaced by the British Communal Council on which Mr Fraser acted as senior Government representative, and a member of the Executive Committee. As the committee often clashed with his boss, Franklin Gimson, his must have been a difficult role, but sadly I have no details of how he filled it at the moment.

Resistance in Stanley
Overview

But it was the late move to Defence Secretary that determined his role in the occupation. Franklin Gimson, who arrived to take up the post of Colonial Secretary on December 7, 1941, took overall responsibility for resistance activities,82 but it was Fraser who was in day to day charge.
The two best documented activities he was responsible for are the operation of secret wireless sets and the organisation of escape plans, but I’m sure he also knew about, and had a hand in, the smuggling of food into Stanley prison, the use of the ration lorry for conveying secret messages in and out of camp, and the contacts with the British resistance – the British Army Aid Group.

Secret Radios

The report of W. H. P. Chattey, part of which was cited above, gives an idea of the nature of Mr Fraser’s work and the care with which he carried out:

Mr J. Fraser…then organised the procedure whereby every morning he would transcribe these hastily written notes {BE’s note: radio operators Rees and Waterton et al. would listen in for much of the night and write down the most important pieces of news as they were hearing it} into longhand on his typewriter, one copy only at an appointed rendezvous. Mr Fraser detailed me to act as his staff officer in this respect. I prepared situation maps of the western, middle-east, and eastern fronts, which were kept as up-to-date as possible…I also had to arrange the rendezvous mentioned above and carried verbal messages to the various members of the wireless inner circle. By this procedure, the key people avoided being seen talking together, a precaution which served us in good stead for many months in a camp where, if two or three people had talked together for any length of time, it was bound to be commented on.83

A Japanese trial summary, captured by the BAAG after liberation, has this to say about his resistance work – my notes are in {}.

The accused John Alexander FRAZER {sic} was a major on the reserve list and was Assistant Public Procurator-General in the former HONGKONG Government. On the fall of HONGKONG he was placed in the Internment Camp, and acted as representative of the British Internees. Up to about April 1942 he caused the accused Waterton and Rees to listen in secretly to broadcasts from London and other places on a radio set they had and to report to him on what they heard. About May 1942 he caused a certain American (who has since returned to America on exchange) secretly to introduce a radio receiving set into the internment camp. About April 1943, acting on information received from the above-mentioned LOIE FOOK WING, {the late David Loie, a senior BAAG agent} he conspired with SCOTT to have REES arrange radio liaison between the camp and the British organisation at WAICHOW {the BAAG}.84

Another section of the Document specifies that Fraser got the unnamed American (probably Hill, Dwyer or Hunt) to bring in the set from outside.85 In fact, it’s possible that the American who provided the radio was still in Hong Kong, although the exact details of the American radios after repatriation aren’t clear.86 In any case, assuming the BAAG translation is accurate, the Japanese had been thoroughly confused as to Mr Fraser’s pre-war post; a number of sources, including his George Cross citation, get this wrong and I wonder if part of his ‘cover’ in camp was the story that he’d been ‘Acting Attorney General’ or something similar?
The significance of radios was twofold: firstly, they enabled the internee leaders to learn news of the war, which was an important aid to decision making and might also have had military significance: Gimson tells us that plans had been made for ‘all contingencies’ that might arise if the Japanese were forced to abandon Hong Kong, and this must have included an attempt to massacre the internees, something which was on the mind of everyone in Stanley; although Gimson didn’t hold out much hope in such an eventuality,87 any chance of saving a few lives depended on having an idea of when such a massacre might be imminent. Secondly, it enabled the internees to communicate with the BAAG: the captured Documents states that in April 1943 Fraser received a letter from their Field HQ at Waichow and that thereafter Stanley was in radio contact with the resistance.88
In spite of Fraser’s caution, rumours of radios circulated in camp.89 It seems that some of the operators became over-confident, perhaps because of having carried out their duties so successfully for so long, and talked about their work and even used a second radio set without authorisation.90
According to internee Canon Martin, there were at least three sets working, although only two became known – he believed through informers.91 According to another internee source, there were in fact four radios in Stanley.92 I think one was brought in by Cable and Wireless employees, the other was passed on by an American leaving Stanley either for home or after being ‘guaranteed out’ into Hong Kong, and a third was operated by M16 men George Merriman and Alex Summers and hidden in the wall of Summer’s room in the Married Quarters; they listened almost every night and asked George Wright-Nooth to pass on important information to Gimson.93 The fourth, according to the Captured Enemy Document, was found by Police Sergeant Frank Roberts in one of the buildings in Stanley Camp soon after the internees’ arrival; he kept it for a time, then handed it over to Rees and Waterton.94 However, the account given by Wright-Nooth is more plausible: Police Sergeant Roberts brought the radio in to camp with him, reported it to Fraser, who was at that time the senior Government officer in Stanley; the latter consulted with camp quartermaster William Anderson, and then gave the set to Messrs Rees and Waterton.95

Escapes

I think that the full extent of Mr Fraser’s work in planning escapes will never now be revealed. We know that he plotted escapes with Assistant Police Commissioner Walter Scott, radio operator Douglas Waterton and Police Sergeant Frank Roberts;96 the source, police officer George Wright-Nooth, found it surprising that two such senior figures would co-operate in this way with a mere sergeant, but he, rightly in my view, accepts Roberts own testimony. Camp Secretary John Stericker gives more details of the escape plans with Scott:

A further tragedy lay in the fact…that John Fraser and Scott had made almost foolproof plans to escape. They were asked not to go because of the mass punishments which had been vested on the camp as a result of earlier escapes.97

Two sources98 claim that Fraser had a role in planning both sets of escapes on March 18, 194299 It’s almost certain he had nothing to do with the American party, which was led by the Marxist journalist Israel Epstein and seems to have been organised without any involvement of the camp authorities,100 but he might well have had helped with the flight of the British pair, policeman W.P Thompson and Gwen Priestwood.

Other Activities

As I said above, although Mr Fraser’s roles in overseeing the operation of secret radios and in planning escapes are the best documented, he undoubtedly knew about and engaged in other ‘illegal’ activities. We get a glimpse of this in Family Romance, a book in which novelist John Lanchester tells his family”s story. Two grandparents, Jack and ‘Lannie’ Lanchester were in Stanley:

John Fraser, in his capacity as Assistant Attorney-General, {B.E’s note:. A common mistake, possibly resulting from an attempt to conceal Fraser’s role from the Japanese.} had some of the paper-work with him when he went into the camp, hidden in his personal belongings. He didn’t think he would be able to keep it a secret indefinitely, so he asked my grandmother to hide it for him. Lannie was able to do that because the Japanese always searched the camp in the same order, so there was notice between their first arrival in the camp and the time they reached the laundry where she worked; she managed to hide the papers inside sheets that had been folded over the clothes lies. In this way Lannie kept the documents safe for the duration of the war.101

Fraser was one of the closest friends of the Lanchesters, and ‘Lannie’ never forgave the Japanese for his treatment.102
According to his George Cross citation,103 picked up by an article in a post-war China Mail, Fraser was not only the ‘brains’ behind the escapes and organiser of the radios, but he also sent ‘vital information’ to the outside world.104 If Tony Banham is right in thinking that no radio in Stanley was capable of transmitting,105 then this must have been through a system involving messengers – the camp ration lorry, perhaps, or BAAG agents.

Personal Character

John Stericker, who as Camp Secretary must have worked regularly with him, calls him ‘brave, inflexible, little John Fraser’106 and I’ve already quoted Wright-Nooth’s characterisation of him as ‘mild mannered’. But the longest account I’ve been able to find is by internee Jean Gittins:

Mr Fraser lived in our block. He was a retiring person, well-liked and highly respected. I cans till recall his iron-grey hair and kindly face and his slight, trim figure always clad in well-pressed grey shirt and khaki shorts on his way to and from the food queues.107

The testimony of Phyllis Harrop, quoted above, also suggests a kindly man, who was concerned about the welfare of his subordinates.
He was married to K. E. Fraser, of South Kensington, London.108 Mrs Fraser wasn’t with him in Stanley; perhaps she was one of those evacuated from Hong Kong in the summer of 1940.

Arrest, Interrogation, Trial and Execution

He was arrested on July 7, 1943 on the evidence, of a wireless technician who’d been arrested on June 28 and subjected to severe torture – he and the others whose names were given never blamed this man.109 Mr Fraser was held in ‘a filthy makeshift cell…in a garage’ in the Gendarmerie in Staley Village and subjected to interrogations under torture, sometimes in his cell, after being sometimes taken away in the middle of the night, returning semi-conscious and covered in blood.110 The Japanese rightly regarded him as the main organiser of the Stanley resistance, so he was given particularly brutal treatment; he knew the names of almost everybody involved, but gave none of them.111
One Sunday in early August he was thrust into cell number 10 in Stanley Prison where he was seen by town resistance worker Gladys Loie:

He was of small stature, wore a blueish badly torn shirt, and a pair of shorts also torn. He had long hair, a grey beard, eyes were sunk in his head, cheeks hollow and an emaciated body.’Poor devil,’ I thought, ‘I don’t know where you have come from but you sure have had a hell of a time’.112

The Allied prisoners spent a couple of months in B Block awaiting trial. By a quirk of Japanese regulations, the civilians wee allowed to receive food parcels, but not the soldiers. Parcels were sent in regularly to the Stanley internees, but they were often intercepted by the Japanese at camp headquarters, who it seemed had a particular liking for those sent to Fraser and Scott. Nevertheless, when Fraser received his first parcel, he gave half to Colonel Newnham, a POW resistance leader.113
It seems that during this time one of the prisoners was persuaded by the Japanese to try to gather information about the others in return for better conditions and a reprieve (which was not actually granted). This prisoner was also put in charge of the organisation of the daily cleaning parties – this work was popular as it gave some relief from sitting cross-legged staring at the wall. Mr Fraser, along with Walter Scott and William Anderson, were dropped from these details because they were unwilling to offer post-war guarantees of protection for this man’s father, who’d made pro-Japanese broadcasts.114
Mr Fraser was tried in the largest of the Japanese trials of Allied nationals, which took place on the morning of October 21. I began this post by quoting from William Anderson’s account of bis courageous demeanour at this trial. Just as he had done under torture, he refused to implicate anyone else, and in particular resisted the prosecutor’s attempts to get him to admit to the role played by Franklin Gimson.115
He was sentenced to death, alongside 32 others in the two trials that day. His behaviour after this verdict continued to be remarkable. After the court adjourned for lunch, the accused from the first trial were all served a ‘meal’ of rice, the first food they’d had since 4.30 pm. The previous day.116 Nevertheless, many of those sentenced to death were understandably too upset to eat; luckily, the warders were sympathetic and allowed the dejected group to converse freely. William Anderson tells us that ‘Fraser was quite unperturbed and chatted as they ate’.117Some people felt that the fact that the chairman’s last words were ‘the court is adjourned’ meant that there might be future developments, and on reflection Mr Fraser supported this view, which lifted the mood a little.118 It turned out, he’d simply meant that the court would reconvene to try the second group of prisoners, but there is something a little strange here: Japanese procedure usually allowed for a review of the sentence by the same judges who’d passed it. In theory, the penalties could be made more or less severe, but greater leniency seems to have been the usual direction. This does not seem to have happened on this occasion, which perhaps supports the claim by BAAG agent (and former prisoner) Marcus da Silva that some extra-tough ‘thought police’ (probably senior Gendarmes) had come in from Tokyo and were imposing tougher treatment on ‘criminals’
The prisoners were sent back to Stanley Prison to serve their sentences or to await execution. Their fellow internees made a courageous, but desperate effort to save them. Jean Gittins, who could write Chinese, was asked to translate a message which was written on a piece of cigarette paper and pasted on the back of a matchbox tray:

Fraser and Scott sentenced to death. Others in grave danger. Request immediate intervention by British Ambassador in Chunking. Most urgent.119

Mr F. Shaftain, head of CID, was still in touch with the resistance, in which some of his former Chinese detectives were working. He had revived the secret route through the ration lorry workers that had been broken in the spring of 1943, so he was quite right to warn Mrs Gittins that ‘there is considerable risk attached’. The message was never heard of again, and it’s doubtful the Ambassador could have done anything even if he’d received it.120
At about 2 pm on October 29, 32 condemned men and one woman were taken out of solitary confinement and assembled inside Stanley Prison. They were refused a visit from a priest, but were allowed five minutes together to compose themselves. Captain Mateen Ansari said a few words of encouragement and then Mr Wong Shiu Pun was asked to say prayers.
The prisoners, bound together in threes, were loaded into a van for the short drive to Stanley Beach. Once there they were lined up in single file, told to sit down, and blindfolded by the guards. They came forward in groups of three to be beheaded. The Japanese seem to have given rank a grim precedence in death, and Mr Fraser, Walter Scott and Captain Ansari were the first to die.121

George Cross

The full citation for his George Cross was published in a supplement to the London Gazette of 25 October 1946 and read:

St. James’s Palace, S.W.1, 29th October, 1946.

The KING has been graciously pleased to make the undermentioned awards of the GEORGE CROSS: —

John Alexander FRASER (deceased), lately Assistant Attorney-General,122 Hong Kong.
Fraser was interned by the Japanese in the Civilian Internment Camp, Stanley, and immediately organised escape plans and a clandestine wireless service. He was fully aware of the risks that he ran but engaged continuously in most dangerous activities and was successful, not only in receiving news from outside, but also in getting important information out of the Camp. Eventually he was arrested and subjected to prolonged and severe torture by the Japanese who were determined to obtain information from him and to make him implicate the others who were working with him. Under this treatment he steadfastly refused to utter one word that could help the Japanese investigations or bring punishment to others. His fortitude under the most severe torture was such that it was commented upon by the Japanese prison guards. Unable to break his spirit the Japanese finally executed him. His devotion to duty, outstanding courage and endurance were the source of very real inspiration to others and there can be no doubt the lives of those whom the Japanese were trying to implicate were saved by his magnificent conduct.

Note: The only indication of a pre-Fraser Defence Secretary I have been able to find is the statement by George Endacott that the Defence Secretary was a member of a War Taxation board set up in 1940; 123 John Fraser was a member of this committee124 while he was still a legal officer and perhaps that misled Endacott. The first reading of the relevant Ordinance refers to the composition of the Board as ‘the Financial Secretary and four other members appointed by the Governor, of whom not more than one shall be an official in the employment of the Government’.125
The original members were Fraser, Eric Macdonald Bryden, an auditor, Lo Man-kam, a Eurasian Solicitor and George Gwinnett Noble Tinson.126 Only the last named, who did have a Military Cross, is a plausible candidate for Defence Secretary, but, if he was in this post, it was kept very secret indeed, as his appearances in the online records relate only to such things as his membership of the Medical Board and his status as a Magistrate.127 I suspect that Endacott was misled by Fraser’s membership of the board and assumed he was there ex officio.
The highly reliable Chinese Wikipedia article on Fraser128 considers his final post a ‘New Creation’, so I regard the matter as settled unless more evidence emerges.

Footnotes:

1http://translate.google.co.uk/translate?hl=en&sl=zh-TW&u=http://zh.wikipedia.org/wiki/%25E5%2582%2585%25E7%2591%259E%25E6%2586%25B2&prev=/search%3Fq%3Dj%2Ba%2Bfraser%2Bhong%2Bkong%2Bchinese%2Bwiki%26biw%3D1366%26bih%3D603

2George Wright-Nooth, Prisoner of the Turnip Heads, 181.

3Wright-Nooth, 1994, 144; 180.

4Wright-Nooth, 1994, 144.

5http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Alexander_Fraser

6http://warmemscot.s4.bizhat.com/warmemscot-ftopic4246.html

7John E. Mackenzie, University of Edinburgh, Roll of Honour 1914-1919, Mackenzie, 307.

8http://1914-1918.invisionzone.com/forums/index.php?showtopic=177983

9 Supplement to the London Gazette, 20th October, 1916, 10181.

10 I assume that the designation ‘Temp’ or ‘T’ before rank, which is common with these recipients means that they were not career army officers.

11Supplement to the London Gazette, 17th December 1917, 13180.

12Supplement to the London Gazette,November 2, 1920, 32110.

13http://translate.google.co.uk/translate?hl=en&sl=zh-TW&u=http://zh.wikipedia.org/wiki/%25E5%2582%2585%25E7%2591%259E%25E6%2586%25B2&prev=/search%3Fq%3Djohn%2Bmackenzie%2Bedinburgh%2Buniversity%2Broll%2Bhonour%2Bj.%2Ba.%2Bfraser

14Hong Kong Government Gazette, December 19, 1919, 513.

15Civil Establishments of Hong Kong, for the Year 1922,, J 55.

16The Hongkong Government Gazette, June 15, 1922, 240.

17The Hongkong Government Gazette, August 31, 1928, 396.

18Civil Establishments of Hong Kong, for the Year 1922, J31 notes he also worked in Chinese Affairs from January 4 to April 20.

19Report of the Secretary for Chinese Affairs, Appendix C, 15.

20Hongkong Government Gazette, January 6, 1922,

21Annual Report 1922, Police Magistrates Courts, Appendix H.

22Civil Establishments of Hong Kong, for the Year 1922.

23The Hongkong Government Gazette, May 11, 1923, 140.

24The Hongkong Government Gazette, September 25, 1925, 448.

25J1; J13.

26Annual Report, New Territories, 1926, J1; J5.

27Annual Report, New Territories, 1926, J2.

28http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tai_Po_Lookout#History

29Wright-Nooth, 1994, 173.

30http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tai_Po_Lookout#History

31Paul Kua, Scouting in Hong Kong, 1910-2010, 2011, 150.

32The Hongkong Government Gazette, June 15, 1922, 240.

33The Hongkong Government gazette, November 9, 1922, 425.

34The Hongkong Government Gazette, February 26, 1926 68.

35He’s listed as being ‘in charge’ of the Southern District until March 14 and having gone ‘on leave’ from the Northern from March 15- Report On the new Territories for the Year 1930, J1 and J10

36Civil Establishments for Hongkong for the Year, 1930, J58.

37Civil Establishments for Hongkong for the Year 1931, J62.

38http://translate.google.co.uk/translate?hl=en&sl=zh-TW&u=http://zh.wikipedia.org/wiki/%25E5%2582%2585%25E7%2591%259E%25E6%2586%25B2&prev=/search%3Fq%3Djohn%2Bmackenzie%2Bedinburgh%2Buniversity%2Broll%2Bhonour%2Bj.%2Ba.%2Bfraser

39Civil Establishments for Hongkong for the Year 1930.

40The Hong Kong Government Gazette, December 24, 1936, 1138.

41The Hongkong Government Gazette, July 17, 1931, J129.

42The Hongkong Government Gazette, October 7, 1932, 681.

43The Hong Kong Government Gazette, July 23, 1937, 569.

44http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=pCX660FA5wMC&pg=PA755&lpg=PA755&dq=common+law+abroad+john+fraser&source=bl&ots=RF3Xb-ML2C&sig=fuzvaW6opLAh5PUeipR28wr65fY&hl=en&sa=X&ei=nZZ_Uq3DIMmP0AWP74D4Ag&ved=0CDEQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=common%20law%20abroad%20john%20fraser&f=false

45The Hong Kong Government Gazette, January 8, 1937, 15.

46Civil Establishments of Hongkong for the Year 1936, J43.

47The Hong Kong Government Gazette, January 29, 1937.

48The Hong Kong Government Gazette, August 7, 1936, 766.

49The Hong Kong Government Gazette, February 4, 1938, 72.

50The Hong Kong Government Gazette, December 24, 1936, 1139.

51The Hong Kong Government Gazette Extraordinary, May 14, 1937.

52

53The Hong Kong Government Gazette, February 24, 1939, 153.

54The Hong Kong Government Gazette, July 26, 1940, 1225.

55The Hong Kong Government Gazette, July 29, 1938, 536.

56The Hong Kong Government Gazette, March 18, 1938, 145.

57The Hong Kong Government Gazette, August 4, 1939, 696.

58Civil Establishments for Hongkong for the Year 1939, J3.

59Civil Establishments for Hongkong for the Year 1939, J2.

60The Hong Kong Government Gazette, June 20, 1941, 929.

61The Hong Kong Government Gazette, June 13, 1941, 905.

62The Hong Kong Government Gazette, August 8, 1941, 1218.

63The Hong Kong Government Gazette Extraordinary, October 20, 1941 (No. 65).

64The Hong Kong Government Gazette, October 17, 1941, 1505.

65Legislative Council Minutes, 218.

66The Hong Kong Government Gazette, October 3, 1941, 1471.

67G. B. Endacott and Alan Birch, Hong Kong Eclipse, 1978, 43.

68Endacatt and Birch, 1978, 55.

69Endacott and Birch, 1978, 242-243; Philip Snow, The Fall of Hong Kong, 2003, 108.

70Phyllis Harrop, Hong Kong Incident, 1943, 103.

71Harrop, 1943, 95.

72Birch and Cole, 1982, 128.

73Wright-Nooth, 1994, 156.

74http://www.hongkongwardiary.com/searchgarrison/nonuniformedcivilians.html

75Harrop, 1943, 126.

76Li Shu-fan, Hong Kong Surgeon, 1964, 142.

77http://gwulo.com/node/10244

78Endacott and Birch, 1978, 351.

79Minutes, cited in Geoffrey Emerson, Hong Kong Internment, 2008, Kindle Edition, Location 1560.

80Emerson, 2008, Location 1520.

81Emerson, 2008, Location 1533.

82Wright-Nooth, 1994, 156.

83Birch and Cole, 1982, 128-129.

84Captured Enemy Document, page 6 – kindly sent to me by Elizabeth Ride.

85Captured Document, page 5.

86http://gwulo.com/node/15505

87F. C. Gimson, Internment in Hong-Kong (sic) March 1942 to August 1945, unpaginated hand-written introduction, section headed ‘Re-occupation’ (Rhodes House, Ms. Ind. Ocn s222).

88Captured Document, page 5.

89Allana Corbin, Prisoners of the East, 2002, 208.

90Wright-Nooth, 154-155.

91Alan Birch and Martin Cole, Captive Years, 1982, 131-132.

92Wright-Nooth, 1994, 153.

93Wright-Nooth, 1994, 147.

94Captured Enemy Document, page 6

95Wright-Nooth, 1994, 153-154.

96Wright-Nooth, 1994, 156.

97John Stericker, A Tear for the Dragon, 1958, 182-3.

98Birch and Cole, 1982, 95. Endacott and Birch, 1978, 194.

99http://gwulo.com/node/10233

100Israel Epstein, My China Eye, 2005, 140-145.

101John Lanchester, Family Romance, 2007,193-194.

102 Lanchester, 2007, 190.

103Given in full below.

104China Mail, October 30, 1946, page 1.

105http://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/stanley_camp/conversations/messages/1369

106John Stericker, A Tear for the Dragon, 1958, 182-3.

107Jean Gittins, Stanley: Behind Barbed Wire, 1982, 143.

108http://warmemscot.s4.bizhat.com/warmemscot-ftopic4246.html

109Wright-Nooth, 1994, 162.

110Wright-Nooth, 1994, 173.

111Wright-Nooth, 1994, 156.

112Wright-Nooth, 1994, 172.

113Wright-Nooth, 1994, 179.

114Wright-Nooth, 1994, 179.

115 Wright-Nooth, 1994, 181.

116Wright-Nooth, 1994, 182-183.

117 Oliver Lindsay, At the Going Down of the Sun, 1982 (1981), 127.

118Wright-Nooth, 1994, 83.

119 Gittins, 1982, 144.

120 Gittins, 1982, 144.

121Wright-Nooth, 1994, 186-187.

122 This is of course a mistake.

123Endacottt and Birch, 1978, 43; 32.

124The Hong Kong Government Gazette, May 3, 1940, 672.

125GA 1941 (suppl) no. 265, No S. 188, 414.

126The Hong Kong Government Gazette, May 3, 1940, 672.

127Mr. Tinson was killed by a sniper on December 19, 1941.

128http://translate.google.co.uk/translate?hl=en&sl=zh-TW&u=http://zh.wikipedia.org/wiki/%25E5%2582%2585%25E7%2591%259E%25E6%2586%25B2&prev=/search%3Fq%3Dj%2Ba%2Bfraser%2Bhong%2Bkong%2Bchinese%2Bwiki%26biw%3D1366%26bih%3D603

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Filed under British Army Aid Group, Hong Kong WW11, Stanley Camp

Wong Shiu Pun (Preston Wong)

Wong Shiu Pun was born on June 21, 1890. He graduated from Queen’s College and eventually became Vice Principal of St. Paul’s College, one of the world’s earliest Anglo-Chinese schools.1 He first worked there as a teacher in 1912, returned in 1922 after time spent in the UK, and subsequently acted as College Bursar and Warden of the College Hostel.2 His wife, Phyllis Grace Wong,3 a Chinese Australian,4 was school secretary until her retirement.5 The couple had at least one child, a daughter, Betty.6
Those three years away were spent at Cambridge, engaging in further studies in psychology and theology. This was an enterprising thing to do: the British universities weren’t exactly bursting with East Asian students in the early 1920s. While there, he also obtained a BA from the Intercollegiate University of Chicago.7
A picture of him in England c.1920 can be seen here:

It looks like a gathering of Scouts – Mr Wong took part in movement activities in the UK, and in 1922 he founded the 10th Hong Kong Troop based in St. Paul’s College.
Historian (and friend of Mr Wong’s family) Anne Ozorio tells us something I’ve not seen in any other source about the courageous Chinese agents who worked with the British Army Aid Group during the Japanese occupation:

That resistance group was not organised from outside HK but within HK before the war and was based in the Auxiliary Police, Scouts and Chinese Christian circles. When David Lo(u)ie the leader was arrested one man managed to smuggle away the police records so the Japanese could not track them down.8

Wong Shiu Pun was both a Christian and a Scout, and one source states he was also a Police Reservist. It looks like these courageous people went ahead in accordance with pre-war plans, and when most of them were captured they all stuck to an agreed story and managed to convince the Japanese the group had been improvised (largely by T’so Tsun-on9 who had escaped from Hong Kong) in the spring of 1942. This no doubt protected members who were still free and might have helped a few agents avoid the death sentence.10
Interestingly Scout associations in colonial settings typically sided with the anti-imperialist forces – in Eire, for example, they took part in the 1916 Easter Rising against British rule; Hong Kong scouting was unique in that its members worked unambiguously with the British.11 The reason is obvious: the Japanese were the enemy of China as well as of the Empire, and most Scouts by 1941 were ethnically Chinese, and therefore part of a population which knew better than to believe the Japanese claim to be liberating Asia from ‘white’ imperialism. The historian of Hong Kong Scouting, Paul Kua, has even suggested that the growth in Scout numbers in the late 1930s and early 1940s was specifically part of the Colony’s preparation for war.12
Sadly I have few details of Mr Wong’s resistance activities – I would be grateful to learn about them from anyone who knows more. A British Army Aid Group document of April 1943 has this to say:

“PREST” now PRESS. This is S.P. Wong (J.P.) uncle of FIG NO. 46 who used to help 46 in his work. When his nephew died S. P. WONG apparently sent a letter stating that he would continue to help through 19 and gave his nom-de-plume.
This message together with some maps were unfortunately lost when 48, 77 etc. were killed
.13

Laurence Tsui, son of BAAG agent Paul Tsui, who has worked extensively with the Ride Papers, tells us that No. 46 was William Wong Kwong-sheung of the BAAG’s ‘B’ Group. William Wong was one of the first agents to be arrested and his family later claimed that his death, while on the way to Waichow after his release, was due to the torture he’d experienced in prison.14 When Mr Wong offered to continue his work, he can have not the slightest doubt as to the risk he was running.
No. 19, who seems to have been the agent Mr. Wong worked most closely with after the death of his nephew, was Joseph Tsang Yiu-sang, who was involved in contacts with the British POW Camps in Kowloon15 and with plans to free Captain Ansari from Ma Tau-chung Camp.16
He was probably arrested soon after the raid on the French Hospital of May 2, 1943 – a note in the diary of former SCMP editor Henry Ching, undated but probably from the middle of May, records his arrest.17 He might have been one of the four Chinese people tried in a group of 15 prisoners on the afternoon of October 19;18 the only thing that can be said for certain for certain is that he wasn’t tried with the larger group that morning, as after the liberation the BAAG captured a summary of that trial and there are no details of him in it. Whenever his trial, he was sentenced to death and sent back to a solitary cell in Stanley Prison to await execution. During this time he was sent food parcels from outside the prison, and shared them with others less fortunate.19 In his diary entry for October 15 Henry Ching records that Mr Wong’s relatives were told not to send parcels any more as he was already dead. The same thing happened to the wife of Chester Bennett, who was to be executed alongside him two weeks later, and it seems that the guards were simply engaging in additional cruelty.
At about 2 pm on October 29, 32 condemned men and one woman were taken out of solitary confinement and assembled inside Stanley Prison. They were refused a visit from a priest, but were allowed five minutes together to compose themselves. Captain Mateen Ansari said a few words of encouragement20 and then Mr Wong was asked to say prayers. The prisoners, bound together in threes, were loaded into a van for the short drive to Stanley Beach. Once there they were lined up in single file, told to sit down, and blindfolded by the guards. They came forward in groups of three to be beheaded. At first, the executions were carried out speedily, but as they proceeded the executioners grew tired and their swords became blunt. Anne Ozorio describes the way in which Mr. Wong conducted himself during these hideous scenes:

As they were being executed, he prayed with the others in the group…. By the time it came to him the swords were blunt. But he kept praying.21

Mr Wong was the last person to be executed, so he was able to give at least some comfort to the others. It seems that the carnage continued for about an hour22 – he carried on praying to the end, forgiving his killers.23 When his turn finally came, he was struck by an assistant executioner named Sahara, who had to use his bayonet to complete the task.24
Today this brave man is remembered through the ‘Wong Shiu Pun Prize for Religious Education’ and there’s a similar ‘Community Service’ award in the name of his wife.25 Earlier this year the 10th Hong Kong Scout Group held a memorial service in Stanley Cemetery to mark the seventieth anniversary of his death.

1http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St._Paul%27s_College,_Hong_Kong

2https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10152902597363539&set=a.10152902596468539.1073741831.162053538538&type=1&theater

3http://www.roll-of-honour.org.uk/Cemeteries/Stanley_Military_Cemetery/html/w.htm

4http://gwulo.com/node/15358

5https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10152902597363539&set=a.10152902596468539.1073741831.162053538538&type=1&theater

6http://gwulo.com/node/15358

7https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10152902597363539&set=a.10152902596468539.1073741831.162053538538&type=1&theater

8https://www.facebook.com/groups/308617469269780/

9https://brianedgar.wordpress.com/2013/07/25/tso-tsun-on/

10The Captured Enemy Document in the Ride Papers, a summary of the morning trial of October 19, 1943 (kindly sent to me by Elizabeth Ride), certainly gives the impression that all of the Reserve Police on trial claimed to have come together in the spring of 1942 and done very little until the end of that year. I’ll discuss this issue in more detail in a future post.

11Paul Kua, Scouting in Hong Kong 1910-2010, 2011, 205.

12Kua, 2011, 204.

13http://gwulo.com/node/15716

14http://gwulo.com/node/15716

15http://gwulo.com/node/15716

16https://brianedgar.wordpress.com/2013/11/04/captain-mateen-ahmed-ansari/

17http://gwulo.com/node/15322

18George Wright-Nooth, Prisoner of the Turnip Heads, 1994, 180.

19Wright-Nooth, 1994, 179.

20https://brianedgar.wordpress.com/2013/11/04/captain-mateen-ahmed-ansari/

21https://www.facebook.com/groups/308617469269780/

22Wright-Nooth, 1994, 187.

23http://classical-iconoclast.blogspot.co.uk/2010/08/masaki-kobayashi-human-condition.html

24Wright-Nooth, 1994, 187.

25https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10152902597363539&set=a.10152902596468539.1073741831.162053538538&type=1&theater

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