Monthly Archives: October 2011

Two Pre-War Letters

Only two of  Thomas Edgar’s pre-war letters home survive. Neither of them are dated, but it is possible to assign an approximate date from related stories in the Hong Kong newspapers of the time (available online  at  )

Here’s the first letter:



 Shum Chun (now Sham Chun or Shenzhen) is the name of a river, a village and an area in the north of Hong Kong’s New Territories. The river forms the border with China. In late November, 1938 the Japanese army went on the offensive in southern China, aiming to take Canton (now Guanzhou). One part of this offensive took them towrads the Hong Kong border. The front page of the Hong Kong Telegraph for November 25 reported an appeal (by Bishop Hall) for help for the refugees who had sought safety fron  the fighting at Shum Chun. On November 26, 1938 the front page of the same paper carried the headline: FIGHTING ON THE HONGKONG BORDER.  A section of the article was headed Shum Chun Expected To Fall At Noon. On November 28 the paper carried the news that the Japanese were in control of an area that included Shum Chun and Namtau; a Japanese news correspondent claimed there were only 500 soldiers there, although this is not likely to have been believed by anyone in Hong Kong even if it had been true. Perhaps coincidentally, the figure of 20,00 refugees is given. The issue of Tuesday 29 refers to the attack on Shum Chun on Saturday (November 26). In the issue of November 30  it is reported that Shum Chun is ‘quiet’. The issue of December 1 reports that the Japanese have retired from ‘Shum Chun and the British frontier’, and on December 2 it’s stated that the Chinese are now garrisoning Shum Chun, while an unrelated story of December 5 confirms the Japanese evacuation.

This makes the most likely date of composition about November 28, 1938, which ties in reasonably well with the reference to Chamberlain and Hitler, which probably refers to the Munich Agreement of September 29/30. Thomas was not an assiduous letter writer, and this might have been the first chance he had to comment on the news.

‘Peppard’ is presumably the sanatorium six miles north of Reading (UK). Fred Alderman probably had TB.

 Here’s the second letter:


On February 20, 1940 The Hong Kong Telegraph reports, under the heading ‘Latest’, a large win for the Lane Crawford Bakery Department on the Hong Kong Derby Sweepstake. This letter must have been written about that date.

Charles (‘Chuckie’) Sloan’s son, Stewart, explains the reference to the British black-outs that had long baffled me:

Mum and Dad were married in 1939, not really an auspicious year. Following the wedding and a night of nuptial bliss in the Hong Kong Hotel (which incidentally was at the foot of Pedder Street in Central in those days), boarded a Blue Funnel Steamer headed for England and their honeymoon.

After six weeks of travel via Singapore, Malacca, Penang, Port Said, the Mediterranean and Gibraltar they finally docked in England completely oblivious of the fact that World War II had broken out. My father was given the opportunity of staying in the UK and joining the British Army or returning to Hong Kong and the Hong Kong Volunteers, which he was already a member of. As their lives and family were in Hong Kong they decided to return.



Filed under Uncategorized

Images of pre-war life

Thomas Edgar probably arrived in Hong Kong in 1938. Like many ex-pats he sent photos and postcards of his new home back to his family. This post features scans of those images I can date certainly or probably to that period. Unattributed quotations are things he wrote on the backs of the cards or photos.

There are some general views of the famous Hong Kong harbour, one of the main points of the whole imperial enterprise:

He lodged at 82, Morrison Hill Road; this is one of two cards that he sent showing the kind of view of Happy Valley Race Course enjoyed by his lodgings:

He was, quite naturally, struck by the unfamiliar sights of this exotic city.

A  sedan chair, for example (‘ this is how we travel’ he wrote, probably jokingly ):

This  photo was dated 1937; another such picture told his family he owned a two foot model junk.

Like many other Europeans he was fascinated by the life of the crowded, noisy Chinese streets…  (Queen’s Road one of the main roads in Hong Kong’)

…full of exotic sights, like people washing publicly…

…or funerals with bands that make ‘a devil of a noise’…

Two of the postcards below show busy streets (Queen’s Rd. again, and Flower Street) while the third shows the place where the wealthiest Europeans escaped from the heat, noise, and disease (real and imagined) of the Chinese dominated districts below them:

The first of these three cards shows the kind of view enjoyed by the homes of the wealthy on the Peak, the second is another shot of Happy Valley Racecourse, the third of Repulse Bay:

These postcards show more of the ‘sights’ of the colony. Two are of the Supreme Court Building, and one of Emperor’s Sung’s Castle in Kowloon, a place I’ve not been able to find anything more about:

On the back of this photo of the Supreme Court, he’s written ‘I’ve not been inside. Yet’.

The controversial Hong Kong and Shangai Bank building – ‘said to be the best in the Far East’. Not by everyone though: the poet W. H. Auden, in 1938 a guest of Duncan Sloss, the Vice Chancellor of Hong Kong University, called  it ‘A worthy temple to the Comic Muse’:

An outing with friends to Saukiwan:

Repulse Bay Lido, one of the places he went swimming (‘it is open till 1 o’clock’):

Repulse Bay again (‘another bathing beach, there are 5 on the island’):

This photo has on its back the rather mysterious words, ‘Motor! where we usually spend Sunday evening’:

The charming waterside area of Aberdeen:

I don’t know where these ‘public gardens’ are:


A hunting  expedition with Chinese helpers:


On the water with Charles Sloan, a close friend:

  Hong Kong 1938-1941 – how idyllic it looks in these pictures! Of course, like any son half way across the world he was trying to reassure worried  parents about the strange place he’d ended up. And like any older brother he was trying to impress his younger siblings. But it’s hard not to see the charm of the life shown in these images, especially for a man from a working class background who’d left school early and never travelled beyond Britain before. In fact, although he wouldn’t have stressed this in his letters to his family, to an adventurous young man like Thomas, pre-war Hong Kong must have seemed roguishly exciting as well as charming: a place of opium dens and meat-cleaver murders, (see Norman Gunning’s Passage to Hong Kong, 77), louche waterfront hotels and mysterious geomantic knowledge.

But in the first year he arrived there Hong Kong was already under threat, corrupted by racism and inequality within and facing a  determined enemy without.

What right did the British have to be there enjoying the good life  in the first place?

Only the ‘rights’ given by force of arms, and soon another imperial nation was to be strong enough to challenge  the power of the British.

It was in 1937 that the simmering tensions between the Chinese and Japanese in northern China became full-scale war. Many ex-pats thought that they were safe, protected by the might of the British Empire, but it was clear to those who really understood the situation that Hong Kong could not keep out of this murderous conflict forever.  Soon any observer on those once colourful streets would see nothing but armed men and desperate fighting, Repulse Bay would be the scene of battle and massacre, the HKSBC would be the headquarters of the Japanese occupation, and the Supreme Court building would resound with the screams of the tortured.

On December 8, 1941 the battled-hardened armies of Japan attacked Hong Kong. For almost 18 months Thomas’s family heard no more from him (although after almost a year of anxious waiting a repatriated American did let them know he was alive, well and due to be married the day his ship had left Hong Kong). Then a completely different kind of letter came:

Thomas and his family were now playing a tiny part in a huge struggle. On one level it was a clash between rival empires, neither of which had any right to be in China. But at another it was a combat to the death between two views of life, one of which was imperfect but familiar with principles of humanity, freedom and justice that were capable of creating tolerable societies in the present and holding out hope for future improvement. The other was part of an international madness that plunged most of Europe and much of Asia, including Hong Kong, into a nightmare. The whole future of the world, up to and beyond the present, hinged on the outcome of this conflict.

In other posts on this website I discuss Thomas Edgar’s life in this nightmare, and the life of Evelina Marques d’Oliveira, a middle class Eurasian woman  from Macao, who met him when the horrors had just begun and shunned comfort and safety to stay with him until, totally unexpectedly, they came to an end.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Thomas and Lena Edgar in the Hong Kong War: A Chronology (1)

Thomas Edgar During The Hong Kong War: A Chronology


Part 1: the fighting (December 8-25, 1941) and internment in the Lane Crawford Headquarters (Exchange House) and the French Hospital in Causeway Bay


Key to references:

BB = article by Thomas Edgar in The British Baker, September 13, 1946 (wrongly attributed to ‘E. Edgar’)

UPB = unpublished manuscript of British Baker article.

BE = recollections of Brian Edgar

Herklots = Food and War in Hong Kong by Dr. Geoffrey Herklots in Nature, March 16, 1946.

NTSC = Not The Slightest Chance: The Defence of Hong Kong, 1941 (2003) by Tony Banham

Chronology = Chronology of Thomas Edgar’s life drawn up by Wilfred Edgar in the mid 1980s. This Chronology is a continuation of this work.

Pre-war Letter, 1 Letter to family Windsor, probably written in late November, 1938.

Pre-war Letter, 2 Letter to family written in early February, 1940.

Post-war Letter, 2 Letter to family dated October 17, 1945.

Details of other sources are given on first citation.

1938  TE falsifies his age and moves to Hong Kong to work in a managerial capacity for the bakery of Lane Crawford, an important Department Store.

A report in the Windsor and Eton Express (late November or early December 1942) states that he went to Hong Kong in April 1938, and this probably reflects information provided by his parents. He sailed on HMS Carthage.

He lodges at 82, Morrison Hill Rd.[2] He says in a postcard to his sister Joyce[3] that his lodgings overlook Happy Valley Racecourse and he can watch the pony racing for free.

1938, May 30 According to an account in the Hong Kong Daily Press the Chairman of Lane Crawford reports to the Ordinary Yearly Meeting held at Exchange House (see below) that the company  have acquired ‘commodious and eminently suitable premises’ for a new bakery. The report continues: ‘I confidently affirm that – when completed – the new bakery will be without equal in theFar East in the manufacture of  bread, cakes and confectionery under the most efficient and hygienic conditions’.

November 26, 1938 A Lane Crawford ‘advertorial’ in the Hong Kong Telegraph announces the transfer of their bakery from Burrows Street in Wanchai to larger premises in the Happy Valley section of Stubbs Rd.[4]

1938 October-November TE receives letter telling him not to join Volunteers but to ‘keep the bakehouse ready for any emergency’. He reassures his family that ‘every where is gas proof’ – this seems to include the bakery and perhaps it is only the bakery referred to.[5] TE was lucky: ‘most able-bodied men were automatically members of the Hong Kong Volunteer Defence Corps’[6] and conscription was introduced in 1941. These men were mobilised on Sunday, December 7, and many were killed in the fighting. If he’d survived TE would have been interned under the harsher regime of the POW Camp at Shamshuipo (and would never have met EE – see below).

TE has bought dressing gowns and table cloths and wants to find a way to send them home; he’s bought a lot as he doesn’t think they’ll be many around soon: ‘when the Japs come they will take the blooming lot’.[7]

1939 TE’s name appears in the Hong Kong Jury lists for the first time.[8]

1939, February TE went on an outing to Saukiwan with three other Lane Crawford’s employees – Jean, Charlie and Sammie.[9] This may be the same Jean who has written to TE’s home in Windsor and perhaps also sent a jade brooch and some cushion covers.[10]

1940 February 20 The Hong Kong Telegraph reports, under the heading ‘Latest’, a large win for the Lane Crawford Bakery Department on the Hong Kong Derby Sweepstake. In a letter home he states that his personal share was worth about £650 in British money – about £26,000 of purchasing power today, although closer to £90,000 measured by the change in average earnings.[11] He sent £100 home immediately. The win did cause some problems: he believed that he would have to train new staff, as the Chinese workers all planned to move to the part of China close to Macao and buy land to grow rice.[12] He used some of the money to buy three trunkfuls of Hong Kong artefacts, all of which were looted during the war.[13]

1940, April 5 Accepted into the Eastern Scotia Lodge (Freemasons).[14]

January 13, 1941 telegram home: Many Happy Returns.[15]

April 6, 1941 TE and his friend Tommy Waller, an engineer on the Peak Tram, go out to the Prison Officer’s Club at Stanley Prison and play darts with R. E. Jones, the Hong Kong hangman (Diary of R. E. Jones).

Autumn-Winter 1941 TE, Mr. Meredith and Dr. Herklots working on a ‘siege biscuit’. – ‘we got on well Tommie and I in those hectic pre-war days’.[16] Production by late October is 1.5 tons of biscuits a day.[17] Dr. Herklots later wrote:

With the enthusiastic co-operation of a master baker and after about thirty trials, it was found possible to make a hard siege-ration biscuit from this {peanut} meal and whole wheat flour… The biscuits contained only 2 per cent water, and they were packed in petrol tins which were then sealed. On the day before the Japanese attacked, a satisfactory biscuit was made which contained added calcium carbonate and shark liver oil. Everybody liked the biscuits – all nationalities and all ages from six months to over eighty years….[18]

December 7 The Hong Kong Volunteers are mobilised. TE’s probable staus is Volunteer ‘seconded to Essential Services’ and he might have been sent to the bakery at this time.

December 8 Japanese attack on HK begins. The first air raid is at 8 a.m. TE is almost certainly already at the Bakery inStubbs Rd.

TE appointed Deputy Supplies Officer Bakeries, bringing all bakeries on HK Island and in Kowloonunder his supervision. He’d probably already decided during the three year period of preparation to keep the Bakery in Stubbs Rdworking and open other bakeries as and when required. Daily output of bread was 16,000-22,000 pounds.[19] After a few days he also takes charge of the RASC (Royal Army Service Corps) Bakery.[20]

TE sleeps in office chair (later camp beds are acquired). He spends most of his time either in Lane Crawford’s or in various Chinese bakeries (almost certainly including the Green Dragon (Qing Loong) in Wanchai).[21] Essential service Workers had the right to a free lunch at the Café Wiseman,[22] but it is not known if TE went there to eat.  At some point he tears up his shirt to dress the wounded,[23] but it is not known if this was in Lane Crawford’s bakery, one of the other bakeries, or in the Lane Crawford HQ where he was sent after surrender. There was an Emergency Centre that treated the wounded in the Gloucester Hotel, next to the Lane Crawford HQ,[24] so this is also a possible location.

December 13 By about 8.30 a.m. the Japanese are in full control of the mainland (New Territories and Kowloon).[26] From now until the surrender the Stubbs Rd. Bakery is ‘in the direct line of fire between the Japanese and our own troops’.[27]

December 15 Production of siege biscuits discontinued.[28]

December 18 On a wet night, with the north shore of Hong Kong island covered in smoke from fires, the Japanese begin to cross the harbour from Kowloon and land on the Island to begin their final assault.[29]

December 19 The Army Bakery at Deep Water Bay is captured and the army authorities gave TE orders to increase production by 4,000 pounds per day. They also sent two members of the RASC, Hammond and Sheridan to assist TE. Hammond later baked with TE in Stanley,[30] while Sheridan escaped from H.K., winning a Military Medal.[31]

After the capture of the North Point Power Station[32] there is no electricity or water in the Stubbs Rd. Bakery.[33]

The Japanese army had landed on the north-east coast of Hong Kong Island, as the distances across the harbour there are shorter; they then pressed southwards and westwards, seeking to capture the north-south running Wongneichung Gap, cut the island into two halves. and then to force the British surrender by moving westward and conquering the administrative and business heartland of Hong Kong, the district then known as Victoria (now Central).[34] These operations were taking them closer and closer to the bakery, which was somewhere in the HappyValley district.

Leighton Hill – to the north east of the Race Course – was an important British strong point which finally fell on December 24th, soon followed by Morrison Hill (N. E. of the Race Course – according to Google Earth this battle was going on 39 metres from TE’s lodgings at No. 82) and Mount Parrish [35] This left the road to Victoria open – hence the surrender on the 25th.

 But before that happened the fighting had got too close and TE’s work in the Stubbs Rd. Bakery had come to an end.

 December 21 TE decides the Stubbs Rd. Bakery is now untenable:

I then decided to open five smaller bakeries and decentralize. I had already stocked various bakeries with wood, flour and hops (Yeast would not keep out of a refrigerator in such a hot climate.) The Fire Brigade delivered water to the bakeries twice a day in a fire float.[36]

It is not known where these bakeries were. TE regarded the Green Dragon Bakery in Wanchai (see below) as the best of the Chinese bakeries, This could have been one of the five he opened, but on the December 21 and 22 the defenders were being pressed hard in Causeway Bay[37] (to the east of Wanchai) so, unless it was in the western part of Wanchai it wouldn’t have been viable for long, and might never have been opened at this time.

December 24 By now Hong Kong is a ‘sea of fire’; sanitation has broken down, and every building stinks. The invaders are in the Wanchai district, where there is some of the bitterest street fighting of the war. Wherever TE is – in Stubbs Rd or in one of the five smaller bakeries – the fighting is getting close.[38]

December 25 A ‘clear and bright’ dawn’[39] on the last day of British rule in Hong Kong. Soon after 3 p.m., the British surrender.[40]  The noise of shells, bombs and rifle shots is replaced by silence.[41] All Lane Crawford Staff are told to report to Lane Crawford HQ,[42] The Exchange Building at 14, Des Voeux Rd.[43]

TE might have arrived in time for Christmas Dinner – the Café Wiseman, the Exchange House restaurant, served turkey and plum pudding after the time of the surrender on Christmas Day[44], and had a Christmas tree.[45] He probably walked to the Exchange Building with other Lane Crawford staff; if he was on his own, he would probably have been robbed of his watch and other valuables by gangs of looters,[46] and both he and EE sold their watches in Stanley Camp, so presumably avoided looting.

TE took part in pouring away alcohol so that it would not further inflame the Japanese invaders.[47] This was possibly at the Gloucester Hotel, which was very close to the Exchange Building: after the surrender, it was decided ‘that all liquor in the hotel must be destroyed’ and ‘over $50,000 worth’ was broken up and poured down a bath room drain’.[48]  This job was given to the police, ‘aided by many volunteers’:

Because drains were blocked, and there was no water to wash it away, it (which includes champagne, whisky, gin and anything else you can think of) began to run down the staircase. The whole place reeked.[49]

John Stericker also records that the atmosphere became alcoholic, and that the police disposed of some of the liquor by drinking it, as did TE.[50]

However, it could be that TE’s work pouring away alcohol took place at the Exchange Building itself as its café (see below) had a liquor license, as did the Soda Fountain Restaurant, which was also very close.[51] It is of course possible that TE volunteered for liquor duty at more than one location.

The lane between the Exchange Building and the Gloucester Hotel had been nicknamed ‘Blood Alley’ as it was the place where the Hong Kong Police executed those caught looting during the fighting.[52]

December 26. The Japanese take control of the Exchange Building.  The Rising Sun flag was soon flying over the Exchange Building, but so were two white sheets, which seem to have been raised earlier as a sign of surrender and not immediately taken down.[53]

The officer in command of Lane Crawford’s is Captain Tanaka, a humane man.[54] He gives TE permission to return to his lodgings to get a new shirt.[55]  This is an important act of kindness as the weather was already bitterly cold[56] and remained so through February.[57] He confiscates his binoculars but gives him a chit for them, saying the Japanese army will compensate him for the loss after the war.[58] During the period of internment in Exchange House, Tanaka sometimes arranges film shows for the internees (and for his soldiers, who are billeted there).[59] The venue for these shows was the Café Wiseman.

The Café Wiseman had been the centre of the Hong Kong telephone network during the war,[60] and the staff of the Telephone Company were also interned there – ‘and treated well by a Captain Tanaka who was in charge’.[61] They were given ‘good food’ and managed to gather together ‘all kinds of useful tinned stuff and foods’,[62] so TE probably was probably well fed at this time, and might also have managed to scavenge some tinned food from the Café or the Lane Crawford Department Store.

The staff of the Telephone company were civilians and so were told that they would be interned in Stanley, but ‘(u)nfortunately a uniform was found at the last minute’ and they were sent to the military internment camp at Shamshuipo, were conditions were tougher. Once more, TE, who had been baking alongside army bakers, was lucky.

The senior Telephone Company engineer, Robert Farrell, who was married to a Spanish woman and was Spanish Consul, successfully claimed Irish nationality while at the Exchange Building. He and his wife and baby managed to get out of Hong Kong, and he returned to the Colony with the rank of major, on about September 10, 1945.[63] Note: Farrell went to Macao with Japanese permission, and escaped from there. His son, R. C. Farrell, became an executive director of the HKSBC. (Frank King, History of the HKSBC, Volume 3, 667.)

The Japanese brought Kane Bush to Exchange House to act as interpreter. She was a Japanese woman who’d married a British volunteer sailor: a brave and humanitarian woman, she was later arrested herself and eventually sent back to Japan where she was persecuted by the Kempetai and her fellow citizens.[64]

At some point, Tanaka also gave Selwyn-Clarke permission to distribute the ‘siege biscuits’ to the camps and hospitals: ‘Those vitamin biscuits were of real value’.[65] Some biscuits remained and were eaten after liberation from internment:

(T)he biscuits when we came out of Stanley Internment Camp in 1945 were in excellent condition and 2 * ½ oz. biscuits contained enough B.1, B.2, Iron and Roughage for one day.’[66]

‘Vitamin’ biscuits were sent daily to William Anderson, when he was in Stanley Prison (late 1943- June 22, 1945) although the Japanese didn’t always give them to him. There were probably attempts to get them to other prisoners, as their diet was even more limited nutritionally than that of the internees.[67]

Selwyn-Clarke records the rumour that Tanaka was later executed for his kindness to the prisoners (there was another Tanaka in Hong Kong  who was executed after the war for crimes against both Allied and Chinese nationals).

At some point TE was introduced to a Eurasian woman, Evelina Marques d’Oliveira. (henceforward EE). The introduction was made by EE’s landlord, probably the Swiss national Robert Bauder, who also worked for Lane Crawford and was a friend of TE. Bauder believed that TE could help EE find something to eat – most probably he took her to the Ching Loong Bakery to get bread. Eventually, an engagement ring was bought, which was sold in Stanley to buy food.[25]

During this period and the subsequent one, when he was interned at St. Paul’s (‘the French’) Hospital TE would have needed an ‘enemy alien’ pass, which would have given him some freedom of movement.[68] Other internees have reported that they were sometimes able to escape Japanese control and visit places without authorisation,[69]  and Emily Hahn reports that, after the first months the Japanese relaxed their restrictions relating to enemy presence on the Peak and allowed free access to the (heavily guarded) Japanese-style tea pavilion close to the exit point of the funicular (tram).[70] However, it’s probable that TE’s movements would be far from free: Ellen Field reports that, in order to visit her at home, Selwyn-Clarke had to make up a story to account for his absence.[71] On one occasion T. E. was questioned by Japanese soldiers about his presence outside a place of interment; according to EE (see below), they trusted his answer because he admitted at once to being English instead of claiming to be Irish.[72] (The Irish were neutrals and so not interned; at least four people, one of them TE’s fellow baker Sheridan,[73] had claimed to be Irish even though they had British passports.)

Whenever he left either the Exchange Building or The French Hospital – whether for work or other reasons – he would have been liable to see horrific scenes of Japanese violence against the Chinese.[74]

January 4/January 5, 1942 Enemy civilians are summoned by the Japanese to present themselves at the Murray Barracks Parade Ground in Victoria (now Central).[75] They are taken off to hotels/brothels on the waterfront. TE, two other bakers, some volunteer drivers, medical and banking personnel are exempted from this process.

January 9[76] Tanaka gives permission to resume the baking of bread for the hospitals, and TE opens the Green Dragon Bakery in Wanchai, probably the biggest and best of the Chinese owned bakeries.[77] At first production is 590 lb. of bread probably per day), later this is increased to 3,000 lbs. per day.[78]

Later on we were interned in the French Convent (sic – a mistake for Hospital). and as we had plenty of rice I got a dealer to grind some on a Chinese Stone Mill and added ground rice up to 60% of the flour. The yeast we were using was made by boiling 1g hops in 1 gallon of water for forty minutes then adding the mixture to 1-lb. flour that had already been slackened down with cold water. This we kept going for about two years until our stock of hops ran out. Then we made quite a good yeast from sweet potatoes using the same method only using 1-lb sweet potatoes instead of 1g hops.[79]

Barbara Anslow:

How welcome was the meagre bread ration we received in Stanley in the early days.   It used to be delivered to the hospital office where I worked, and the doughy SMELL was like a meal itself.[80]

Escaped internee Gwen Priestwood wrote:

At this time Dr. Selwyn-Clark (sic), director of Civilian Medical Services, maanaged to get us a ration of bread, and the small peice each of us received tasted – to me anyway – better than cake. (Through Japanese Barbed Wire, 1943, p. 52).

TE has to report back to his quarters by 6p.m. and can’t leave them until 7 a.m.[81] A volunteer unit is set up to deliver the bread: Owen Evans, Dr. Robert Henry and Chuck Winters (the last two were American).[82]

TE would have received a 7lbs per month personal ration of flour,[83] and  his position as a baker probably meant he was rather better off than most of the other Europeans left outside the Camps; nevertheless, it’s unlikely he was free of the prevalent hunger:

Flour rations notwithstanding, the British and their fellow Europeans around town were engaged every bit as much as the internees in a constant battle to keep themselves fed. Sir Vandeleur Grayburn of the Hong Kong and Shanghai bank was reported to be looking ‘as gaunt and grey as a timber wolf’.[84]

He would also have received a rice ration, but ‘ration rice…was seldom edible. It was dust for the most part, or a kind of broken grain that Chinese had always used for pigs’.[85] Anyone who could, supplemented their rations on the black market.

January 21/22 Most of those in waterfront hotels are taken by boat to the Stanley Peninsula on the southwest of the island; until the end of the war they live here in what now becomes Stanley Camp.[86]

Feb 8 TE is interned in St Paul’s Hospital (commonly known as the French Hospital) in Causeway Bay. Also interned there is Selwyn Selwyn-Clarke, the Director of Medical Services and his family and staff, the volunteer drivers, and two other bakers: Sgm. Hammond and ‘Peacock’’.[87]

Emily Hahn records that at some point (she gives no date) many of the doctors, including Douglas and Nina Valentine, the red cross drivers, and other ‘whites’ associated with the Health Department were sent off to Stanley at short notice while the Selwyn-Clarke family were sent to the French Hospital to live. It is possible that this was also on or around February 8th.[88]

Selwyn-Clarke’s Japanese ‘boss’ has obtained the permission of the Colony’s former Governor, Sir Mark Young, to continue his work as Medical Officer for the good of everybody remaining in Hong Kong.[89] This protected Selwyn-Clarke from accusations of collaboration, which were none the less made by some,[90] including Lindsay Ride, Head of the British Army Aid Group. The same ‘permission’ probably covered TE’s work, most of which involved baking for the hospitals.

This was a time of fear and tension for the internees, as the Japanese suspected that some of those outside Stanley Camp were spying on them, so the internees feared arrest and torture by the Kempetai (roughly equivalent to the German Gestapo).[91]

At about this time the yeast ran out, so, at the request of the bakers, the Medical Department bought hops. These were used to provide a small bread ration to patients in hospitals and to the internees at Stanley. [92]

May  7 A regular flour issue is made at Stanley from this date until January 9, 1944. [93] (so presumably the bakers at the French Hospital were now baking only for the hospitals something that might have saved TE from arrest later on ).

June 29 ‘(A) hot clear day’.[94] In the morning, the Americans still in Hong Kong boarded the Asama Maru, which then sailed to Stanley and picked the Americans there in an exchange of prisoners with the Japanese.[95] In the afternoon TE married EE.[96] The best man was Owen Evans, the Matron of Honour Mrs. Almeida.[97]  Owen Evan was a Friends {Quakers} Ambulance Unit Driver in China who was in Hong Kong to rest when the war broke out.[98] Tanaka was also present, and can be seen in the wedding photo.[99] The wedding took place at St. Joseph’s R. C. Church, Kennedy Rd.

It is probable after this that EE is regarded as a British citizen by the Japanese.[100] Her nationality is listed as ‘British’ on the Stanley Camp roll held at the Imperial War Museum. In any case, her after is now linked to that of TE.

August 11 A Stanley internee called Q. M. S. Stott, who had been sent to the French Hospital for treatment for an ulcer, escaped.[101]

August 18 Charles Winter writes to TE’s mother from the repatriation ship giving the family the first news of TE since the fighting began and telling them that he was due to be married. ‘During the war he did an excellent job of work in baking for practically the whole population of Hong Kong and also the Army’.  He says that TE had been offered his old job at Lane Crawford’s back but hadn’t yet decided what to do. He and Lena were planning to live ‘on the compound of the French hospital’.[102]

February, 1943 From the Japanese point of view, various illegal activities are going on in Hong Kong: 1) The British Army Aid Group was organising espionage and attempting to sponsor escapes and eventual armed resistance; 2) Some internees and POWs were listening to war news on secret radios; 3) British bankers, who had been left outside Stanley to help liquidate the assets of enemy nationals, were smuggling money to the internees and POWs. 4) Dr. Selwyn-Clarke, interned in the French Hospital alongside TE and perhaps acting as his boss, was smuggling medicines, medical equipment, extra food etc. into the camps.

The Japanese came to know about all of these activities: ‘In February 1943 the Kempetai {secret police} began to strike back, with efficiency and in every direction’.[103] Bankers, including Sir Vandeleur Grayburn, the head of the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank, were arrested, as were agents of the BAAG.

This Kempetai action was to lead to the internment of TE and EE in Stanley Camp.

February 11, 1943 One of Selwyn-Clarke’s team, a Hong Kong citizen and voluntary social worker,  Dorothy Lee, is arrested on Queen’s Rd and taken to Central Police Station. She was questioned about Selwyn-Clarke and beaten with a truncheon on her shoulders, back, knees and groin when her answers fail to satisfy the gendarmes.[104] Her initial interrogation was between 2.30 and 6 p.m. with only a twenty minute break when her interrogator went for a meal. At about 6 p.m. she was tied with her wrists behind her back and hoisted into the air; questionings and beatings continued in this position. She was then transferred to another room and beatings continued until 11.30 p. She was held overnight and given very little food. Interrogations, some with beatings, continued over the next week, and on one occasion she was beaten with a board with nails in the end. She was released on March 13. In 1947 Noma was tried for war crimes and Miss Lee’s statement was read out at the trial, she being in England. Her interrogator was named as Lishi, and other evidence named Ushiyama as an interrogator at Central Police Station. Miss Lee was arrested again on May 6 and held for questioning until May 14, but this time without mistreatment.

March 17 Arrest of Sir Vandeleur Grayburn on money smuggling charges.[105] Soon after his wife, Lady Grayburn, is either interned or enters Stanley Camp at her own request.[106] TE and EE are soon to be interned in the same bungalow.

May 2, 1943 Selwyn-Clarke arrested at French Hospital and accused of heading the British spy network: in fact his activities were entirely medical and humanitarian, although some were illegal from the Japanese point of view; it is not known if  TE was involved in any of them, but this seems possible as among the items smuggled into Stanley were the containers of ‘siege biscuits’.[107] Over the following ten months Selwyn-Clarke was subjected to inhumane prison conditions and to repeated torture, but refused to implicate anybody else.[108] (He then spent another 9 months in solitary confinement, but was released into internment and survived the war.)

TE and EE were probably kept inside the French Hospital for almost a week while the Japanese searched it for evidence of espionage, and were probably sent into Stanley with 16 others on May 7, arriving at about 2 p.m.

May 7-9 First letter home from TE says that he and Lena have finally been interned in Stanley Camp. The letter is dated April 30, but it was probably pre-dated to April 30 by agreement with the Japanese so another letter or card could be sent in May. His cards from Stanley carry the address Bungalow D, Room 1. Selwyn-Clarke’s wife, Hilda, and his daughter, Mary, were also interned in this bungalow  (in room D6).

[3] In the possession of Brian Edgar.

[4] Advertorial in the possession of Brian Edgar;

[5] Pre-war Letter 1.

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

[7] Pre-war Letter, 1.

[9] Photo in the possession of Brian Edgar.

[10] Pre-war Letter, 1.

[12] Pre-war Letter, 2, presumably sent about the same time as the newspaper article..

[13] BE.

[14] Chronology. TE had become involved with Freemasonry while still in theUK.

[15] In possession of Brian Edgar.

[16] Dr. Herklots in 1985 letter to Wilfred Edgar – Chronology.

[17] BB.

[18] Herklots.

[19] BB.

[20] UBB.

[21] BB.

[22] Wenzell Brown, Hong Kong Aftermath, 1943, 24.

[23] BE.

[24] Brown,, 60.

[25] Post-war Letter, 2.

[26] NTSC, 69.

[27] BB.

[28] BB.

[29] NTSC, 97.

[30] BB.

[32] NTSC, 141. The defence of the Power Station by a group of men all above military age is one of the most heroic episodes in the siege ofHong Kong.

[33]UBB. The accounts of the water situation in BB and UBB are a little confusing. At some point, deliveries were necessary because a water main had been hit by shell fire (BB), but it is not clear if this was atStubbs Rd or one of the other bakeries, when it happened, and how the burst water main problem related to the absence of power after December 19.

[34] NTSC, 165.

[35]NTSC, 166.

[36] UBB.

[37] NTSC, 187, 190

[38] Snow, 71.

[39] Fisher, 31.

[40] NTSC, 262.

[42] BB.

[44] Brown,36.

[45] Thomas F. Ryan, 1941, Jesuits Under Fire in the Siege of Hong Kong, 1941, 168.

[46] Brown, 37.

[47] BE.

[48] Phyllis Harrop, Hong Kong Incident, 1943, 86-87.

[49] John Stericker, A Tear for the Dragon, 1958, 131.

[50] BE.

[52] George Wright-Nooth, Prisoner of the Turnip Heads, 1994, 48.

[53] Harrop, 89.

[54] BB; Selwyn Selwyn-Clarke,  Footprints,1975, 74

[55] BE.

[56]Brown, 38.

[57] Fisher, 36.

[58] BE.

[59] BB. This is also mentioned by Fisher, 36.

[60] Fisher, 20.

[61] Fisher, 36.

[62] Fisher, 36.

[63] Fisher, 248-249.

[64] Banham, We Shall Suffer There, Appendix 15, ‘Kane Bush’.

[65] Selwyn-Clarke, 74.

[66] UBB.

[67] China Mail, October 17,1945.

[68] Jean Gittins, Stanley: Behind Barbed Wire, 1982, 33.

[69] Liam Nolan, Small Man of Nanataki, 1966, 74.

[70] Emily Hahn, China To Me, 1986 edition (originally 1944), 305.

[71] Twilight in Hong Kong, 1960, Frederick Muller, 132. Field wrongly claims that Selwyn-Clarke was interned in the French Convent.

[72] BE.

[73] The other was Ellen Field.

[74] Snow, 86.

[75] Philip Snow The Fall of Hong Kong, 2003,132.

[76] UBB gives January 8, but I think the published version is more reliable.

[77] BB.

[78] BB.

[79] UBB.

[81] BB.

[82] BB; Gwen Dew, Prisoner of the Japs, 1943, 117.

[83] Snow, 140.

[84] Snow, 141.

[85] Hahn, 361.

[86] Snow, 132.

[88] Hahn, 358.

[89] Footprints, 70.

[90] Footprints, 186.

[92] BB.

[93] BB.

[94] Dew, 150.

[95] It sailed for home at about 6pm on June 30 –

[97] Chronology, confirmed by writing on the back of one copy of the wedding photo and the signatures of the witnesses on the wedding certificate.

[100] Hahn, 321.

[101] Banham, We Shall Suffer There, Location 1148.

[103]Snow, 185.

[104] China Mail, Tuesday, January 7, 1947.

[105] Tony Banham, We Shall Suffer There: Hong Kong’s Defenders Imprisoned 1942-45, 2009, Kindle Edition, Location 1794.

[106]Hahn, 390.

[107] Herklots.


Filed under Hong Kong WW11, Selwyn-Selwyn Clarke

In Memoriam Evelina Marques d’Oliveira/Lena Edgar

People make history, but not in circumstances of their own choosing.

(Karl Marx, The Eighteenth  Brumaire of Louis Napoleon)

In Memoriam Evelina Marques D’Oliveira/ Lena Edgar (1913-2005)

In the winter of 2007-8 I visited Hong Kong and southern China, flying down from Dalian, where I was teaching.

My time in Hong Kong was both preceded and marked by a number of significant dreams. In one – just before I left Dalian – I was travelling around Hong Kong with my mother (who died three years ago). Everywhere we were moved to tears by what we saw, especially what we saw in Stanley Camp. But in the dream I looked at her coolly and wondered, given the bad relations that we had almost inevitably experienced  in the 1960s and afterwards, if I was able to take her in my arms and hug her as she cried. This post  is my response to that dream.

My mother was born in the Portuguese enclave of  Macao in 1913. This is  one of only two childhood photos I have of her (and the only photo of my grand father):

 The façade of Sao Paolo cathedral is one of the ‘icons’ of this Catholic colony :

It’s easy to forget that Portugal was the first great Western imperialist country of the modern age. Happily one of the books I had taken with me to the south was Hugh Brogan’s history of the USA, and, reading it in Hong Kong, I found this:

By the end of the fifteenth century the Portuguese were alarming their neighbours by their success as navigators and ocean-travellers. They had powerful motives: slaves, ivory and gold could be got from Africa, and they hoped to gain a share in the lucrative spice trade, monopolized until then by the Venetians and the Turks. They succeeded in finding new routes to the Indies, by way of the Cape of Good Hope.

So, in search of wealth through trade – eventually that included trade in Chinese slaves – the Portuguese came to Asia. By 1500 Portugal and her Iberian rival Spain ‘were dominant in every ocean’.  In 1557 they established their first permanent settlement in Macao. For a long time I thought that all of my mother’s life before Hong Kong had been spent in Macao. Then one day she mentioned that she’d lived as a girl in the Chinese city of Fuzhou (then Fuchow).  Her father was a Portuguese tea merchant, and Fuzhou is still a centre of the tea trade.

His wife was a Chinese woman who my mother hardly knew. She had TB, and sensing she would die the next day, she told the servants to bring Evelina to her bed. My mother was three years old, and the servants were horrified, thinking she’d catch TB too.

And there’s a mystery here. This is a copy of my parents’ wedding certificate:

Notice her mother’s name: Maria Oliveira. In her later years my mother told me that she didn’t know if my grandmother was Chinese or Portuguese, so when I went to Macao in 1996 and met up with one of the three sisters who had been her closest friends in youth I asked her what my mother’s nationality was. She looked at me as if I were crazy: ‘Eurasian, like us, of course’.

The process of creating my mother’s (purely) European identity had begun before she was born in the renaming of her Chinese mother; her denial of her Chineseness (and her eventual lack of any great interest in her Portugueseness) was not a purely personal attitude.  In fact, you might say that her family’s naming somehow tracks the development of European imperialism: first the erasure of her mother’s Chinese name, and then the transformation of the Portuguese woman Evelina Marques d’Oliveira to the English (although slightly exotic) Lena Edgar; in the same way, the English, insignificant in Europe and the wider world in 1500, gradually fought (quite literally and murderously) their way to world dominance, seeing off their final rival France in the blood-soaked Seven Years War (1756-1763).

In the nineteenth century, the British Navy really did rule the waves, and was thus able to add Hong Kong to the list of imperial possessions and force China to open up ports like Amoy (Xiamen) and Canton (Guanzhou) for trade.

Anyway, she didn’t get TB from her dying mother, and when her father remarried and moved to Fuzhou (or the other way round) she survived the pirates who plagued the sea route from Macao, where she was sent to school, and the family’s new home, where she returned in the holidays.  Fuzhou itself was a dangerous place. She told me her dad used to keep a gun in the house as protection against robbers.

She never said much about her father. Most often, if she mentioned him, it was to contrast her own liberal child-rearing regime (which, of course, as the fifties gave way to the sixties, I claimed to find neo-fascist, at least ) with his paternal strictness. He held, it seemed, clear and extreme views on all matters pertaining to children, and, I was assured, I would not have liked to have had to put up with his style of discipline. The same kind of conversations were going on in countless British houses, and mine at least had the advantage of a rather exotic flavouring.

Then, soon after the Japanese attack on Hong Kong (December 8th, 1941) she was introduced by her landlord to my father, who, he said, might be able to help her get some food. They quickly fell in love, and, although as the citizen of a neutral country she could have left for the relative safety of Macao, she chose to stay in Hong Kong and be interned alongside my father, and she survived that too.

She never expected to. I asked her once if she ever fantasized in Camp about what she’d do after the war. No, she replied, because the guards told them that the Japanese army was going to shoot all the internees when the Allies landed on the main Japanese islands. In circumstances that remain controversial, any planned massacre never happened. Both my parents believed until the end of their lives that they had been saved by the Atomic bombs.

After the war, they stayed on in Hong Kong. Here they are in 1948:

Evelina won the Hong Kong lottery with her dentist boss. They hired a whole floor of a major hotel (I think the Hong Kong Hotel) to celebrate, while the bulk of the money was saved and eventually used to buy a house in England outright.

In 1951, soon after my birth, the family decided to leave Hong Kong, partly so I could be educated in England. Our destiny henceforward was as British citizens, and insofar as my education was the real issue, interacts with the politics of the post-war period. I was educated until the age of 22 almost entirely without charge – in fact, while at university not only were my tuition fees paid by the state, most of my living expenses were too. My father had won a place at the Boys’ School I eventually attended in the 1920s, but his family couldn’t afford to pay for his uniform and books and in any case needed his income. By 1951 both major political parties were determined to put an end to this shocking waste of talent, so there was something  for us to come home to.

We lived first in Windsor, then in Portsmouth, then in Windsor again. This is the house my mother lived in from the mid 1950s until her death in 2005, the one bought with her lottery winnings.

 It was designed by my father, who who admired Chinese culture more than she did, and it embodies some of the ideas of Feng Shui that he’d learnt in Hong Kong. But there’s more to it than that. At first, because my father was a baker, they were interned outside Stanley, but eventually the Japanese decided to move all enemy civilians into Stanley, where they were housed, with many others, in a bungalow in the grounds of St. Stephen’s School:

 When I first saw a picture of these houses, I was stunned at the resemblance. Of course, there are differences, but you can see that my father hadn’t exactly tried to banish all memory of his experience in Stanley from his post-war life! That’s a story for a future blog.

In 1996 I’d visited Macao as part of my short trip to Hong Kong. On my recent visit I unfortunately didn’t have the time to go again, but after Hong Kong I spent six days in Xiamen looking at the buildings left by the colonialists there (while avoiding travel over Spring Festival) and then took the bus on to Fuzhou.

I knew from Bill Brown’s book on Fujian Province (The Fujian Adventure) that the old European area of Fuzhou was somewhere south of the Min River, but everyone I asked about Nantai Island had either never heard of it or directed me somewhere that wasn’t Nantai.

In the end, two forays south of the Min brought me no closer than this street sign for Nantai Lu (road):

 So I would have to use my imagination! I felt most able to sense my mother when I could see the Min River itself:

And on the second day of my search, the mist lifted a bit and I could see the hills more clearly:

I tried to imagine what it would have been like in about 1920; in my mind, I obliterated the high-rises, and tried to see gracious traditional Chinese buildings, the houses of the poor (sometimes wooden in this area) and the elegant European dwellings pictured in Brown’s book. Nothing very European in sight to help me – although I thought I could see the influence in the occasional balcony or other feature – but there were a few Chinese buildings that pointed my mind in the right direction:

Nothing I could be very confident was here in 1920 though.

 To get more of a sense of things she might have seen, I had to think back to a district north of the river that I’d been led to by Brown’s book (Lonely Planet is useless on Fuzhou, dismissing it as a ‘pit stop’ on the way to more interesting places like Xiamen). ‘Three Wards, Seven Streets’ is an area (just west of the city centre) that was originally built over 700 years ago, although most of what remains is Ming or Qing Dynasty (i.e from the mid-fourteenth to early twentieth century).  This time Brown did give clear directions, and when I got there I found something I’d seen in other Chinese cities: a modern version of an old city street:

 But in this case, there were arches leading off to the real thing:

Wuyi Square, about 20 minutes walk from my hotel, was another area which contained old buildings. It’s dominated today by a large statue of the man who played a crucial role in making modern China:

But close by is a Song Dynasty pagoda:

And part of the Ming city wall:

Notice the shoes and socks – there are people living behind the protective barrier.

The years my mother was in Fuzhou were troubled ones for China. The 1911 Revolution led by Sun Zhongshan (Sun Yatsen) overthrew the Qing Dynasty, but did not lead to a prosperous and progressive republic, as Dr. Sun had hoped. Rather, there was a period of warlordism and civil war, constant struggle between different factions as the Republicans did all they could to unify, modernize and stabilize China, while the centrifugal forces of personal ambition and politcial disagreement sought to pull it apart. In 1912 Sun Zhongshan visited Fuzhou, a visit recorded in the Hall of the Great Master, a building that was a temple in my mother’s time but is now mainly given over to commemorating the Republican dead:

This was a troubled time for my mother too: as I’ve said, her father remarried, and, starting a family with his new wife, sent my mother back to Macao to school, where she lived with her grandmother and must have felt all the anguish of a child seemingly rejected and cast out in favour of younger siblings. Her step mother wasn’t unkind, though. Years later, in Windsor, my mother received a letter from her, saying that her son hit her, that she had no money, she needed help….could her step-daughter send money? What followed taught me a lot about maleness and femaleness in 1950s England. My mother tended to make the day to day financial decisions in our household, and, like many husbands at that time, my father would immediately hand over most of his wage packet to her as ‘housekeeping’, but on this occasion she said nothing, just giving the letter to my father and waiting while he read it. Her back slightly bent to express humility, she let him finish and then said no more than, ‘She was good to me’. This was an out of the ordinary, a major,  financial matter, and therefore my father’s decision. We didn’t have much money for a middle class English family at that time, but he said we could spare a hundred pounds or so. I took little conscious interest in her life in China at that period – I was an English boy and my horizons were all local – but watching the way she acted in this situation I knew that huge things in my mother’s life had taken place somewhere very different to this well-ordered Berkshire town.

As for my grandfather, he was drinking heavily while they were in Fuzhou. Seeing what this was doing to him, when she was home she diluted his alcohol with water.  To no avail – in spite of her efforts he died a relatively early death.

No-one becomes who they are in isolation from the social processes around them. Society is keen to make us male or female, approved members of our class and nationality (or in some cases race). We are never left to our own devices! As a middle class girl in Macao, Evelina was not expected to work – a situation she found again when she lived in England in the 1950s. She responded by going to Hong Kong, where things were obviously easier, or at least easier for her. She sold gloves for a time: one of her customers liked to see her and the other female assistant wear them before he bought them for his wife. Her colleague didn’t like to do this, but my mother assured me that she understood he was just a harmless fetishist, so was happy to act as a model – after all, he always bought the gloves! Later, she sold jewellery, and here the processes of class and race came into play. She was paid less than the European girls she worked alongside – a neat saving for the boss, and a useful reminder of who was in charge in Hong Kong.

‘I’m a quiet person, but I didn’t think it was fair, so I demanded my rights’.

She got them.

And then, after the war and internment, came the move to England, where she lived first with her in-laws then in a flat squeezed between Portsmouth Football Ground and the NAAFI factory where my father worked. (NAAFI = Navy, Army and Air Force Institutes). Once again, she found that society is eager to ‘hail’ (Althusser’s word) men and women with messages about how they should live out their class and gender: ‘Hey, you – you’re a middle class woman, you don’t want to work, do you? You bring up children and make the house into a true home for the breadwinner, that’s right, isn’t it?’. Evelina could speak fluent English by this time (it was only when I rang home from college and heard her on the phone that I realized she had a slight American accent) as well as her first language, Portuguese. She knew something of two dialects of Chinese – the kind of Cantonese spoken in Hong Kong and what she called Fukienese, the language of Fujian Province. To her pre-war experience in sales, she had added work as a dental receptionist during the post-war reconstruction of Hong Kong (one of the most successful enterprises in the whole history of the British Empire). Like all the internees in Stanley, she had been forced to use her whole set of human resources in order to survive. But the mills of class and gender ground exceedingly small in 1950s England, so instead of using these talents and developing new ones, she stayed at home and hoovered and polished, pushed my pram (and eventually my brother’s) through Portsmouth’s still bomb-damaged streets and – surely – wondered why she had ever left the privileged and stimulating  life of Westerners in Hong Kong. In the mid 1950s we moved to Windsor, and I think life was somewhat better for her there than on that grim Portsmouth industrial estate.

Windsor’s also part of the London-centred heartland of British imperialism, and it has its own royal castle and statue of the Empress of India:

It was under Victoria’s rule that the second British Empire (the one that was acquired after the collapse of the original Empire brought about by American independence) reached the height of its popular appeal (and more or less of its geographical extent, although it did become a little bigger when the German colonies were taken after WW1). The hub of Hong Kong, the part now known as Central, was originally called Victoria.

I knew she sometimes thought longingly of Hong Kong (I could tell by the way she pronounced place names like ‘Aberdeen’ and ‘Kowloon’) but I now wonder if living by the Thames she had ever thought of that other river, of the Min at Fuzhou, bathed in the matchless light of East Asia, of the hills in the distance and that whole beautiful, dangerous, intensely alive Chinese world. She almost never spoke of it to me, but I couldn’t believe that such scenes could ever leave the mind of one who had once been a child amongst them.

I love the Thames, but it seems gray in contrast (‘gray’ was how that other former internee J. G. Ballard found England on his return there from China in the late 1940s – he fantasized that only a nuclear holocaust could restore the quality of light he’d lost in leaving Shanghai).


My mother was born too early to benefit from the Women’s Movement of the 1970s, and when I think about her life in Windsor it seems to me that I see another interaction  between the two social ‘variables’ of race and class. Hong Kong was a racist society, as almost any colonized territory has to be – otherwise what were foreigners doing there ruling ‘the natives’ in the first place? Many British regarded the Chinese as inferior, and that extended to Eurasians. The Eurasian division of the Volunteers suffered heavier casualties than any other in resisting the Japanese, yet some British residents of Stanley were heard to remark how much more of things there’d be for them if only ‘pure’ bloods were allowed to live in the Camp.

 She never talked about it, but, given the nature of British society in the 1950s and 1960s, she must have experienced some prejudice and suspicion.  I think that was one factor in her attempt to become ‘more English than the English’, to blend in perfectly with the middle class ‘white’ life she found in a quiet cul-de-sac in  the most royal town in ‘royal Berkshire’. I was brought up to be middle class, white, polite, male and respectable – the consequences of which I’ll write about later. My guess is that by the end of her life she genuinely didn’t know if she was half-Chinese or not, but she was absolutely certain of the correctness of all the behaviours associated with middle class status.

Ironically, I think it was her childhood immersion in the Chinese world that kept her fit (though not healthy – that’s another story) for so long. Until she was too weak to prepare the food she wanted, she ate mainly fish, white meat, fruit and vegetables – a nutritious diet from the Chinese seaboard, or so I like to think.

In her seventies she surprised me by suddenly saying, ‘I can still squat, you know’, and she did, in the lounge, right down, without coming up on her heels, something most English people can’t do past 20 but which Chinese people take for granted. Almost every day of her life in Windsor she walked into the town, although more and more reliant on her shopping trolley to support her as her eighties wore on. She died at the age of 92.

In a dream about three months ago I walked into a room and she was there.

‘I’m not 92 now,’ she told me – meaning, I knew, she was dead.

 ‘I know,’ I replied, ‘I wish you were’.

Now, sitting at my desk, I try to imagine what I would say not to the elderly English woman but to the Eurasian girl staring at the Min River and finding inspiration to grapple creatively with the apparently impossible challenges of daily living.

In any case, she lived a long, multi-coloured life, full of the unexpected, both good and bad.

I think of that young girl spiking her father’s booze with water to keep him a little more sober, a little better-tempered that evening, walking a little more slowly the path to an easily foreseeable death.

Of the woman choosing internment and all that it meant, growing vegetables to survive, while never believing that she would ever be allowed to walk free.

A life lived with spirit and resource, although not, of course, without problems and mistakes; as Marx has it, she made her history, although never in circumstances of her own choosing.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Thomas Edgar: Some Documentation

In the previous post I wrote about my father’s experiences as a baker in wartime Hong Kong. This post presents some more documentation of that period.

Firstly, I found in my father’s archive a tattered and decaying copy of what would now be called an advertorial  for the firm he worked for, Lane Crawford, placed in The Hong Kong Telegraph of November 26, 1938. It’s too big to scan easily so I’ve divided it into 6 parts (1-2-3 goes down the page, a-b-c goes across). What I’m particularly interested in is that in scan 3b you can see the words Exchange Building clearly there in the original – this is where my father was shown films by the humane Japanese oficer, Captain Tanaka (see my original post, and the further discussion on the  Gwulo Website:







Secondly, here are three photos of bakeries from his archive. They don’t seem like the Stubbs Rd. bakery; it’s possible they’re the old Lane Crawford Burrows Street premises, but it’s just as likley they’re of a Chinese bakery my father visited:




Thirdly, here’s a letter sent by the repatriated American Mr. Charles Winter to Thomas’s parents:

And here’s an article from his family’s local paper, the Windsor and Eton Express, which contains the same information and is a little easier to read. According to David Tett (Captives in Cathay, 2007, 144) letters sent from Hong Kong via the Gripsholm arrived in New York on August 5, 1942 and were then sent on to the UK; one letter he’s examined received a British postmark on October 12. The article on the Royal Berkshire’s Christmas away from home that’s visible in the cutting suggests a date in late November or early December; if so, it was just over six weeks before the paper were contacted with (or got to hear about) the news from Hong Kong.

Fourthly, here’s Thomas’s article in The British Baker. He’s wrongly called ‘E’ Edgar and the title is neither a quote nor an accurate representation of what he says. Sensationalism and inaccuracy aren’t confined to today’s tabloids! 


There’s an alternative version of this article with more about baking in Stanley amongst his papers:

Alternative unpublished version of ‘We Baked Bread to Japanese Orders’


 Prior to the outbreak of the Far Eastern War I was working with Dr. G. A. C. Herklots in producing a cheap siege biscuit that would contain the essential Vitamin (sic), would keep at least one year and be palatable to the Chinese and European population. In this we were very successful in that the biscuits when we came out of Stanley Internment Camp in 1945 were in excellent condition and 2 * ½ oz. biscuits contained enough B.1, B.2, Iron and Roughage for one day.  On the outbreak of war I was made Deputy Supplies Officer Bakeries, which actually meant that all bakeries in Hong Kong and Kowlooncame under my jurisdiction. After a few days I also took over the R. A. S. C. Bakery. My own firm {Brian’s note: Lane Crawford} were already responsible for the Navy bread, having held the Navy contract for (I think) over 75 years. Up till 21st December my firm’s bakery produced over 20,000-lbs. bread daily. The Japanese having landed on the Island of Hong Kong on the night if 18th December by the 21st December had made our bakery untenable. They had also taken the Power Station, thereby cutting off all electricity and water. I then decided to open five smaller bakeries and decentralize. I had already stocked various bakeries with wood, flour and hops (Yeast would not keep out of a refrigerator in such a hot climate). The Fire Brigade delivered water to the bakeries twice a day in a fire float. After the surrender on Christmas Day 1941 we were interned in Exchange Building.

 We received permission on 8th. January 1942 to produce bread for the hospitals. Later on we were interned in the French Convent (sic – in fact the French Hospital) and as we had plenty of rice I got a dealer to grind some on a Chinese Stone Mill and added ground rice up to 60% of the flour. The yeastw e were using was made by boiling 1g hops in 1 gallon of water for forty minutes then adding the mixture to 1-lb. flour that had already been slackened down  with cold water. This we kept going for about two years until our stock of hops ran out. Then we made quite a good yeast from sweet potatoes using the same method only using 1-lb sweet potatoes instead of 1g hops. We obtained the best results by using 60% of the rice flour and 20% of the wheat flour and 33% of the slat in a sponge.

 When we were interned in Stanley the flour ration was 4.22 oz. per person. We made 4 –ozs. Into bread, the remainder being used for kitchen work. We made straight Doughs (sic) until the flour was about 9-12 months old. After this the doughs used to go slack over night so I started using the sponge principle using 1/8 of the flour in the sponge and once again produced quite a good loaf. After the flour was two years old when the flour was added in the morning we had to mould it straight away as the dough used to crack and have a sour appearance. We could not cut down our sponge time as we had to be in our rooms before 8pm. and we could not leave them till 8am.

 We produced bread until 29 January 1944. Then all flour, meat and fish to the camp finished. We made for Christmas 1945 (sic) and 1st January a loaf for the people from an emergency stock that the Camp had managed to save. This flour was then nearly four years old. The wastage, weevils etc. was 3-5%. The Australian flour had kept a lot better than the American flour and the wastage was lower. The colour of the dough and bread being greyish and even in a very hot oven we had difficulty getting colour on the crust. At one time we managed to obtain rice polishings which we added to the bread at the rate of 1/8 oz. to 4 oz. flour. From time to time we managed to get maize and Soya beans which we roasted and added to the dough, obtaining the best results by using ¼ oz. to 4 oz. flour.

 Because of the poor food the health of the Camp generally was steadily getting worse and people started suffering from all sorts of minor ailments, one trouble being “CampEyes”. Again in conjunction with Dr. Herklots we experimented with six cases giving them doses of 2-oz. yeast (Hop) daily and in every case they showed an improvement. Thereafter 1-oz. yeast became a daily issue to the Camp.

 The last oven that we built I tried to make on the Hot Air principle, and although we had no cement, the top of the firebox being a manhole cover and the bottom of the oven roof tiles, our wood consumption was 6-ozs. for every 1-lb. of bread.

 After flour finished in the Camp we made a substitute bread from rice flour (ground in the Camp on Stone Mills). Although not very good it was better than nothing at all.

 Fifthly, here are two letters he sent home soon after the war came to an end:


Filed under Hong Kong, Hong Kong WW11, Stanley Camp

Thomas Edgar: A Baker in Wartime Hong Kong

Note: This is a preliminary sketch of Thomas’s life in the war years. Almost all of the issues it raises are discussed in much greater detail in later posts.

A different kind of summary can be found at:

More about Captain Tanaka:

Thomas and Evelina:

And a good example of the value of the internet as an ‘archive’: Chester Bennett, a heroic member of the Hong Kong resistance and a man almost certainly known to Thomas before and during the war, had almost vanished from history until American local papers began putting their earlier issues online!

Thomas Edgar grew up in a working class area of the small Berkshire town of  Windsor.  Arthur Road is close to the River Thames, and houses there sometimes got flooded.

His mother was a domestic servant,  her husband a soldier and later a driver. Tom was born in 1912, and his father was fighting in France for some of his early childhood. Like most children then, Tom was raised as a Christian, and went through the normal stages of religious socialisation:

Ironically, in view of what was to come later, he received a copy of G. A. Henty’s Tales of Daring And Danger as a Sunday School prize:

 This includes the story A Brush With The Chinese, which begins:

 It was early in December that H. M. S. Perseus was cruising off the mouth of the Canton River. War had been declared with China in consequence of her continued evasions of the treaty she had made with us, and it was expected that a strong naval force would soon gather to bring her to reason.

Hong Kong was filched from the Chinese as one of the spoils of a war whose primary purpose was to force Peking to allow British traders to sell opium on the mainland! The colonisers soon developed and modernised Hong Kong, and it wasn’t long before the colony became a place of economic and political refuge from the poverty and upheavals of late Imperial and early Republican China – by the time of ‘handover’ (1997) many analysts argued that the majority of the Chinese population would have preferred to stay under British rule. But the reconstruction of Hong Kong after WWII, one of the great success stories of the British Empire, was to be based, in part at least, on the realisation, won in the dark world’s fire of the Japanese occupation, that a Henty-style certainty about one’s own rectitude leads only to division, conflict and endless violence.

Britain in Thomas’s youth was a country slowly moving towards the idea of state responsibility for the welfare of its citizens. Balfour’s 1902 Education Act was meant to make schools a ‘ladder’ for the poor to climb higher in society. Tom won a scholarship to the nearby County Boys School, but his parents couldn’t afford the cost of the uniform, the books, and so on. They had five other children, all younger, to support, so Tom was apprenticed to a local baker.

In his teens and twenties he was one of the best amateur boxers in the Windsor area, having over a hundred fights and losing only one. I don’t know if he ever felt there was any contradiction between boxing and baking:

 Tom went to work all over the country to gain experience – Scotland, the east coast of England, Leatherhead….A reference from Bowkett’s of Margate, dated June 8, 1935 notes that he had been employed there since January of that year and was ‘sober, honest and willing and a good craftsman.’  He started a ‘stop me and buy one’ confectionery business, but was cheated by his partner and went bankrupt.

 Tom’s father had served in India, and like many before him, Tom thought of fleeing painful memories by heading out to the Empire. With the help of his mother, he paid off his debts, and then looked around for a job as distant from Britain as possible. He had two offers: one was from South Africa, and, if he had accepted it, someone rather like me would have been born a citizen of the apartheid state: when I describe the racism and other social imperfections of pre-war Hong Kong I do so as a historian, not a judge. My own  youthful attitudes were quite bad enough, even though I grew up in the relative liberalism of post-war Britain., and no doubt I and my bien pensant contemporaries hold beliefs that future generations will find shocking.

Thomas chose the other job because Hong Kong was further away than the Cape, and in 1937 or 38 became bakery manager at Lane Crawford Department store – he lied about his age to seem more experienced than he was. 

Thomas lived at 82, Morrison Hill Road, in Happy Valley:

File:Morrison hill road.JPG

Wikimedia: Morrison Hill Road Today

His first documented appearance in Hong Kong life was in the 1939 Jury Service List (information from the poster Moddsey on the Gwulo website

I have a number of postcards with his writing on the back, and, although they’re undated, I guess they were sent back to Windsor in the three or four years before WWII. They’re the kind of thing that you send home to show your family the exotic sites of your new home.

There’s one of a sedan chair, with the the probably joking comment, ‘this is how we travel’:

These two are of Chinese funerals; and he told his family that there was always a band, and they ‘made a devil of a noise’.

As the situation in the Far East darkened, he began to be drawn into preparations for the war that was to change his life forever.

Tony Banham has drawn my attention to this passage from Footprints, the autobiography of Selwyn Selwyn-Clarke,  Hong Kong’s Chief Medical Officer:

One of my first encounters with helpfulness from a Japanese officer concerned the reserve of four-gallon tins of biscuits, made of soya bean and wheaten flour with the addition of thiamine hydrochloride powder (against beri beri), which I had had baked in the leading department-store of Lane Crawford against the anticipated siege.

I’ll come back to that helpful Japanese officer later. My father was working on this baking project with a Mr. Meredith and Dr. G. A. C. Herklots, as he describes in an article he wrote for The British Baker in 1946.

Interestingly, Tom says that the plan was for the biscuit to be both high in nutritional value and palatable to the Chinese population. By the end of October, 1941, machinery that could produce 1.5 tons of biscuits a day had been installed: ‘by the end of December (sic – presumably November) we had machinery installed enabling us to double this output but manufacture was discontinued on December 15th.’

Selwyn-Clarke tells us what became of these biscuits:

By good fortune the Japanese had put Lane Crawford’s in charge of a certain Lieut. Tanaka, who allowed me to remove all the tins for distribution to the POW and civilian camps and to those Chinese hospitals which had not been closed by the Japanese forces.

 On December 8th, Tom was appointed Deputy Supply Officer Bakeries, which meant that all bakeries on Hong Kong Island and Kowloon were under his supervision. He was based at Lane Crawford’s bakery in Happy Valley, and, after the fall of Kowloon, he and his staff were caught between the rival armies as the defenders tried to hold up the Japanese advance. Before that, they had been producing 16-22 thousand pounds of bread a day.

When it became clear that the fall of Hong Kong was imminent, my father was one of those detailed to pour as much alcohol as possible down the drains to prevent it from further inflaming the victorious Japanese soldiers.

On December 265th., the dayHong Kong surrendered, Lane Crawford’s staff were told to report to the company HQ, Exchange House in Des Voeux Rd. The next day Captain Tanaka, the Japanese officer in charge of communications, took control of the building. Luckily, Tanaka was a humane and decent man – he is not the Tanaka who was sentenced to death by both the Allies and the Guomingdang for war crimes in China and Hong Kong. At some point Tom had torn up his shirt to bind the wounded, and was given permission by Tanaka to return to his lodgings to get another one. The Captain commandeered his high-powered binoculars, but not without giving him a receipt, which, he claimed, would lead to compensation from the Imperial Japanese Army after the war.

 In his British Baker article my father recorded his appreciation of Tanaka’s kindness, and noted that he organised film showings for him and his staff while they were interned in the bakery. 

During this period, Tanaka also gave him permission to resume baking.  As the bakeries in Happy Valley had been taken over by the Japanese, they decided to open Ching Loong (Green Dragon) bakery in Wanchai. They baked 590 pounds of bread a day – later stepped up to 3,000 pounds– then took it to the Hong Kong Hotel, from where it was distributed to the hospitals. Until May 7th. 1942 a little was also sent into Stanley – each internee got about 1 ounce of bread a day. After that date, a regular flour issue was made at the Camp. (In Chapter 2 of his book on the Stanley internment Geoffrey Emerson, citing the Stericker papers, explains that some flour was available in Stanley from the start, and that after April 1942 the ration was increased and the internees began to experiment with ‘ways of producing yeast so that bread could be made’.)

My father was interned in the bakery until February 1942, and then at ‘the French Hospital’ –  St. Paul’s hospital, which serves the Happy Valley–Wanchai area, rather than its Kowloon sister hospital St. Teresa’s, which, Wikipedia claims is sometimes known locally as ‘the French Hospital’. But he wasn’t just baking bread in those early days of the war and occupation.

About a week or so after the Japanese attack, at a time of fear and chaos, Tom was introduced to Evelina d’Oliveira, a Eurasian woman, by a mutual friend who thought that he might be able to help her get some food. They quickly fell in love, and she refused to return to the relative safety of Macao, as her Portuguese (neutral’s) passport entitled her to do.

In pre-war Hong Kong, Eurasians were generally mistrusted, discriminated against and even despised. To marry a Eurasian (or of course a Chinese) woman meant an immediate fall in social status. (See, for example, Gerald Horne’s study Race War! – this book is a good introduction to the race situation in old Hong Kong, but, as I shall show in a later post, it’s extremely selective in its use of sources and withholds from the reader a huge amount of information necessary to making a fair judgement on this controversial issue).  Perhaps it was because the war was already destroying the old world of the Hong Kong English, or perhaps Thomas had learnt how wrong it is to judge people by racial categories, or perhaps he was simply too much in love to care.

They were married on June 29th. 1942 at St. Joseph’s.

 It’s Captain Tanaka who’s the Japanese soldier in their wedding picture:

You can see that he’s trying to be unobtrusive, not to steal the limelight on other peoples’ big day. Sadly, Selwyn-Clarke reports a rumour that suggests Tanaka’s kindness proved his undoing:

Lieut. Tanaka subsequently disappeared, and rumour had it that he had been removed to Canton and there executed for displaying excessive concern for the Hong Kong prisoners. (Footprints, 74)

In a letter dated April 30, but in fact written on about May 8, 1943 Tom tells his family that he and Lena have finally been interned. Everything is well organised, but they don’t yet have jobs. The address on his cards from camp is room 1, Bungalow D, an address he shared with Hilda Selwwyn-Clarke, wife of Selwyn, and an important figure in her own right, and Lady Mary Grayburn, wife of the head of the HKSBC. 

In a card dated the next month, May 1943, he records the arrival of a letter from home dated October (presumably 1942) which he has only just received. The last card is dated 6/8/44. Obviously, he was not allowed to say very much, so all the cards do is assure his family they were both ‘keeping fit’  and ‘Getting enough food’, which is an equivocation – enough to stay alive. (Scans of his cards from Stanley can be read in three locations on the Yahoo Stanley Group Website, in an area accessible only by group members; the complete article in The British Baker can also be read there.)

The British Baker article tells us that he went on baking in Stanley, alongside Sgm Hammond, who along with another RASC baker S/S Sheridan, had assisted him at the Stubbs Rd. bakery before the surrender. Thomas’s article would seem to imply that Sheridan did not bake with him in  Stanley, and Tony Banham has established that this is because he managed to escape from Japanese captivity, winning a medal in the process! (

Some notes made by one of his brothers suggests difficulties in adjusting to the situation in Camp, one in which hierarchies and coalitions had already been formed. Furthermore, because of his relationship with Tanaka there might well have been suspicions that he’d been too friendly with the occupiers.

The earliest document in my possession that relates to his release after liberationion 1945  is a telegram sent on September 13 and received in Windsor the next day:

Arrived safely at Hong Kong Hope Be Home Soon Writing Address Letters Telegrams To Hong Kong Hotel Edgar

 Five days later, an official telegram from the Colonial Office confirmed the release of Evelina – any official notice of Tom’s release has been lost.

Tom and Lena, May 1948

After the war, Tom worked for Lane Crawford again, and then moved to the Garden Company, and the owners, the Cheung family, became life-long friends.  He took up some elements of his old life again, including the Freemasonry that he’d first become involved with in Scotland. The picture below is of a Masonic cocktail party in 1950:

I was born in the early winter of 1950, at the French Hospital in Causeway Bay that had once been the site of their internment.

On December 16th., 1950, I was baptised at St. Margaret’s church by the same priest who had married them more than 8 years earlier, Father Riganti, the rector of St. Joseph’s. What they thought or felt on that occasion I can only imagine. I know my  mother never expected to survive internment.

Early in 1951 Tom, Lena and I sailed for England. As a child I was always told that he wanted me to be educated in Britain, but I think that the outbreak of the Korean War was also a factor. It would have stirred uneasy memories for all former internees from the start (June 1950), but when Chinese troops moved into North Korea (October 25th., 1950) fears must have become much more intense.  A few years before she died my mother added another possibility: a big strike was planned in Hong Kong, and threats were made to the lives of foreign managers. I’ve never been able to find confirmation of this.

In any case, Thomas Edgar’s time in Hong Kong was over. He went back only once, as a guest of the Garden Company when it celebrated its fiftieth anniversary in 1976. But in some ways ‘my thirteen years in Hong Kong’ dominated the whole of the time that followed, and, as we shall see in due course, there was a strange and powerful return to them as his life drew to a close.


Leave a comment

Filed under Hong Kong, Hong Kong WW11, Stanley Camp