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.



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6 responses to “Two Pre-War Letters

  1. Pingback: The Reign of Terror (5): The Blow Falls | The Dark World's Fire: Tom and Lena Edgar in War

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