Today I’m publishing the only complete version online of a poem written by a former internee about the camp experience. It’s a fine poem, and I want it to be available in full.
The poet, Cuthbert James Norman, was later to become Hong Kong Commissioner of Prisons. Having experienced an inhumane regime of incarceration, he did all he could to improve conditions in the prisons under his control. I had long admired his poem, but felt that I was too close to the events he was describing to be able to judge its merits, so I showed it to a colleague at Exeter University, a man of huge reading and superb taste. He quickly pronounced the poem ‘distinguished’, which was my own view. Norman was obviously a man of high culture and intellect, as well as a skillful poet. He must have written other poems – almost no-one has ever produced work so good at their first attempt – but I’ve never come across them. Interestingly he should never have been in Stanley: he and his platoon of prison officers were captured in the uniform of the Hong Kong Volunteer Defence Corps, most of whose members were sent to Shamshuipo POW Camp. After agreeing to a Japanese request to stay at their posts in Stanley Prison during a short transitional period, they were interned in Stanley Camp, for reasons I’ve never seen explained. Another of their number was R. E. Jones, whose diary is frequently quoted in these posts.
A Farewell to Stanley
(with acknowledgements to Praed’s ‘Goodnight to the Season’)
A Farewell to Stanley! It’s over.
Of internees there isn’t a sign
They’ve left for Newhaven and Dover
For Hull and Newcastle-on-Tyne.
It’s dark in the Medical Clinic
There isn’t a quack to be seen
To administer pills to the cynic;
There are ghosts on the old Village Green.
No tales where the rumours once started.
The kitchen’s devoid of its queues.
The strategists all have departed
With the lies which they peddled as ‘News’.
No more of the lectures on Drama,
On Beavers and Badgers and Boats,
Or ‘Backwards through Kent on a llama’
And how to raise pedigree goats’.
In Stericker’s Sanctum Sanctorum
(‘You know such a nice boy, my dear’)
Where Committees would strive for a quorum,
Or adjourn to the following year,
There’s no sound but the cheep of the gopher
And C.S.O.’s oracle’s dumb
Where the staff would recline on a sofa
And dream of promotions to come.
So farewell to Stanley! It’s over.
The billets are empty and dim
Where only the babes were in clover
For they fed on fruit-juice and klim;
There’s nobody left at the Welfare
To hand out the needles and soap.
We’re finished with Japanese Hell-fare
And messages sent through the Pope.
No more do we carry sea water
And rations are things of the past.
Farewell to the Indian Quarter
For internment is over at last!
Notes: John Stericker was secretary to the Camp as a whole and also to Franklin Charles Gimson, who, as Chair of the British Communal Council, was the head of the internees. Before the war he had been Colonial Secretary. CSO = Colonial Secretary’s Office.
Sancta Sanctorum (Latin): Holy of Holies. The tone is, of course, ironic.
Klim: milk powder. The poet’s claim that children were treated well by the internees is supported by other sources.
Messages sent through the Pope: Towards the end of the war the internees received a small gift from the Vatican, but I’m not sure what particular ‘messages’, if any, were sent through this medium. My guess is that he’s referring to enquiries about internees from relatives that were made through a Catholic organisation based in Australia.
the Indian Quarter: usually ‘the Indian Quarters’; part of Stanley Camp consisted of the accommodation used by the Indian warders at Stanley prison before the war. The grounds of the prison in general were in the Camp, but the main building itself was not, as the Japanese continued its use as a prison, and internees only spent time there if they were deemed to have committed ‘crimes’.
The poem that Norman was starting from, Praed’s Goodnight to the Season, is a light-hearted look at ‘the season’: the fashionable entertainments – balls and suchlike – of the rich of early nineteenth century England. Norman’s poem mocks Stanley life for being as trivial, and as full of backbiting as the frivolous world of the aristocracy at play. His handling of the verse and stanza form is impeccable, and his use of language creative and amusing – ‘Backwards through Kent on a llama’, for example, pokes fun at the kind of lectures that people gave to while away the endless, hungry days of internment. Norman keeps the subject matter as light-hearted as the swinging meter and jokey rhyming, only hinting at the true nature of the internee’s experience, the ‘Japanese Hell-fare’ they had to endure.
Here’s the Praed poem:
Goodnight to the Season
So runs the world away. Hamlet
Good night to the Season! ‘Tis over !
Gay dwellings no longer are gay;
The courtier, the gambler, the lover,
Are scattered like swallows away :
There ‘s nobody left to invite one
Except my good uncle and spouse;
My mistress is bathing at Brighton,
My patron is sailing at Cowes :
For want of a better enjoyment,
Till Ponto and Don can get out,
I’ll cultivate rural enjoyment,
And angle immensely for trout.
Good night to the Season ! the lobbies,
Their changes, and rumours of change,
Which startled the rustic Sir Bobbies,
And made all the Bishops look strange;
The breaches, and battles, and blunders,
Performed by the Commons and Peers;
The Marquis’s eloquent blunders,
The Baronet’s eloquent ears;
Denouncings of Papists and treasons,
Of foreign dominion and oats ;
Misrepresentations of reasons,
And misunderstandings of notes.
Good night to the Season! the buildings
Enough to make Inigo sick ;
The paintings, and plasterings, and gildings
Of stucco, and marble, and brick;
The orders deliciously blended,
From love of effect, into one;
The club-houses only intended,
The palaces only begun ;
The hell, where the fiend in his glory
Sits staring at putty and stones,
And scrambles from story to story,
To rattle at midnight his bones.
Good night to the Season! the dances,
The fillings of hot little rooms,
The glancings of rapturous glances,
The fancyings of fancy costumes;
The pleasures which fashion makes duties,
The praisings of fiddles and flutes,
The luxury of looking at Beauties,
The tedium of talking to mutes;
The female diplomatists, planners
Of matches for Laura and Jane;
The ice of her Ladyship’s manners,
The ice of his Lordship’s champagne.
Good night to the Season! the rages
Led off by the chiefs of the throng,
The Lady Matilda’s new pages,
The Lady Eliza’s new song;
Miss Fennel’s macaw, which at Boodle’s
Was held to have something to say;
Mrs. Splenetic’s musical poodles,
Which bark ‘Batti Batti’ all day;
The pony Sir Araby sported,
As hot and as black as a coal,
And the Lion his mother imported,
In bearskins and grease, from the Pole.
Good night to the Season! the Toso,
So very majestic and tall;
Miss Ayton, whose singing was so-so,
And Pasta, divinest of all;
The labour in vain of the ballet,
So sadly deficient in stars;
The foreigners thronging the Alley,
Exhaling the breath of cigars ;
The loge where some heiress (how killing !)
Environed with exquisites sits,
The lovely one out of her drilling,
The silly ones out of their wits.
Good night to the Season! the splendour
That beamed in the Spanish Bazaar;
Where I purchased my heart was so tender
A card- case, a pasteboard guitar,
A bottle of perfume, a girdle,
A lithographed Riego, full-grown,
Whom bigotry drew on a hurdle
That artists might draw him on stone ;
A small panorama of Seville,
A trap for demolishing flies,
A caricature of the Devil,
And a look from Miss Sheridan’s eyes.
Good night to the Season! the flowers
Of the grand horticultural fete,
When boudoirs were quitted for bowers,
And the fashion was not to be late;
When all who had money and leisure
Grew rural o’er ices and wines,
All pleasantly toiling for pleasure,
All hungrily pining for pines,
And making of beautiful speeches,
And marring of beautiful shows,
And feeding on delicate peaches,
And treading on delicate toes.
Good night to the Season! Another
Will come, with its trifles and toys,
And hurry away, like its brother,
In sunshine, and odour, and noise.
Will it come with a rose or a briar?
Will it come with a blessing or curse?
Will its bonnets be lower or higher ?
Will its morals be better or worse?
Will it find me grown thinner or fatter,
Or fonder of wrong or of right,
Or married or buried ? no matter :
Good night to the Season good night !
(Winthrop Mackworth Praed, (1802-1839), 1827