In Praise of Bankers

By the end of January 1942 the pattern of life for the Hong Kong defeated was clear: most of the civilians were in Stanley Camp on one of the island’s southern peninsulas and most of the POWs were crammed into the former British barracks at Shamshuipo.

 They had survived the 18 days of bitter fighting and the dangerous period that followed, and now they all hoped to stay alive until the time came when the Allies were strong enough to re-take Hong Kong. The top priority, of course, was getting enough to eat, in particular getting the vitamins and other nutrients that are necessary to life. The Japanese were not interested in providing them. When the banker Hugo  Foy returned to the Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation’s building, which had been commandeered by the Japanese, a man he recognised as the doctor at Stanley Prison gave him the key to a safe, which Foy found to contain supplies of thiamine chloride, cod liver oil and malt – the very thing needed to ease the suffering or even save the lives of prisoners suffering from nutritional diseases like pellagra and beri beri.[1]

 For both civilian internees and POWs the food situation varied during the war. In Shamshuipo it seems to have been worse in 1942 than 1943, for example, and in Stanleythe Japanese stopped regular deliveries of fish, meat and bread in January 1944 (although one day the ration truck unexpectedly brought in a water buffalo carcase, and meat supplies seem to have been resumed for the last 8 weeks of interment[2]). But one thing seems to be clear: the Japanese rations were not enough to sustain weight, health and, in the, long run, life.  

 After Thomas was sent to Stanley in May 1943 he became involved in supplying food to the Camp, so I’ll discuss the question of rations at length in a future post. For now, I’ll just note that those civilian internees (and POWs) who had managed to get money into their camp could buy extra rations from official canteens and the black market – some like Thomas and Evelina sold rings and watches in a desperate attempt to raise money to buy food. They also followed others in becoming ‘gardeners’ and grew what vegetables they could.

 The contents of that safe in HKSBC came somewhere between the categories of ‘food’ and ‘medicine’, and when it came to medicines proper, one of the other essentials for survival, the Japanese were equally reluctant to waste supplies on their prisoners. In 1947 one of those responsible for causing deaths by medical neglect, Major Chuichi Sato (sometimes spelt Saito) was sentenced to execution, later commuted to 15 years in prison.

 So, deprived by the Japanese of adequate food and most things necessary for proper medical care, the outlook for the Hong Kong prisoners was grim, and it would have been grimmer still without one man in particular, the Colony’s former Medical Officer, Selwyn Selwyn-Clarke.

Selwyn-Clarke had been allowed to stay outside Stanley to carry on his work; luckily, his Japanese counterpart realised that if epidemic diseases swept through the Allied camps they couldn’t be stopped from spreading to the Japanese population as well. Selwyn-Clarke was a brave and determined man. He realised that to save Allied lives he would have to go beyond the bounds of what the Japanese had authorised him to do. He knew that other ‘Stanley stay-outs’ were engaged in resistance activities, co-ordinated by the British Army Aid Group from its base in southern China, but he decided that to carry out his mission he must confine himself solely to humanitarian work. He had no illusions that this would make him safe and he was certain that one day the Kempeitai (the Japanese equivalent of the Gestapo, as he himself called them) would arrest him, but until then he would do everything in his power to make the conditions of the prisoners more tolerable.

 He set up a network of volunteers – courageous men and women of all nationalities – to carry out his work. Sadly, the full story of this network and its activities will probably never be known. But we do know that Selwyn-Clarke’s ring smuggled drugs, medicine, extra food and money into the Camps. One woman, Ellen Field, who had evaded internment by burning her passport and pretending to be Irish, claimed to the Japanese that she was the secretary of a welfare organisation with large funds donated by local philanthropists – this was necessary to hide Selwyn-Clarke’s role.[3] In this guise she was able to get food parcels and even morale-boosting sports equipment into Shamshuipo. On one early visit to the Camp she was shot in the leg by a sentry, but refused to stop until she’d been granted an interview with the Camp Commandant, who insisted that she accompany him across the water from Kowloon to Hong Kong Island to get the authorisation of his superiors – only then did she seek proper treatment for her wound.[4]

 If the Welfare Association was a myth, what was the real source of the almost unlimited funds that Selwyn-Clarke seemed to have at his disposal? At one point, for example, he authorised her to buy what sounds like almost the entire contents of a Kowloon sports shop for equipment that would help maintain health and morale inside Shamshuipo![5] Some of the funds came from the British Treasury, but they didn’t send nearly enough to cover the needs of all the prisoners in the various camps (Oliver Lindsay, At The Going Down of the Sun, 1982, 153). Much more was needed. Who better to raise large sums of money than bankers?

 Members of the HKSBC had also been kept out of Stanley. They were living in a waterfront hotel, formerly a brothel, while they helped the conquerors loot the Bank’s holdings, a process which they did what they could to frustrate.[6] Every morning they were marched to work from their squalid accommodation:

File:Hk japo westerner.jpg

Although they were working under duress – threats were made to themselves and their families if they refused to co-operate – they were treated well by the civilian Japanese staff supervising them though.

 Two bankers, T. J. J. Fenwick and J. A. D. Morrison, made a daring escape to freedom with the help of Chinese operatives– ironically these pillars of finance capital were almost certainly assisted by the communist East River guerrillas, whose columns formed the most powerful force of the anti-Japanese resistance in Hong Kong and the adjacent area. The bankers carried with them important financialinformation which they passed on to the British authorities.[7]

 Those bankers who remained had plenty of time for activities more congenial but more dangerous than helping the Japanese acquire their banks’ money. C. F. (‘Ginger’) Hyde supervised a team of ‘money raisers’, consisting of the Portuguese attorney Marcus da Silva and the American Chester Bennett,[8] who would smuggle promissory notes from prominent internees out of Stanley, on the strength of which wealthy uninterned Hong Kong citizens would issue loans to be repaid after the war. This ‘slush fund’ was available to help British citizens outside the Camps,[9] and was the source of much of Selwyn-Clarke’s funding. It enabled him and his Medical Department to save lives and, as far as possible under the circumstances, maintain the health of many whose suffering would have been much worse but for the food and medicine sent into the camps. Grayburn and others paid out some of the funds to individuals in need and took responsibility for getting cash into Stanley.

And it was two unknown ‘European’ bankers – probably the citizens of neutral states – who helped Selwyn-Clarke rescue vital stores of Thiamin Chloride (Vitamin B1) from the vaults of the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank Building. The courage and daring of these two men, and the other involved, can only be appreciated if we rememebr that part of this building was in use as the Japanese military headquarters! (Footprints, 75). 

As we have seen, some of Selwyn-Clarke’s provision was made under the aegis of the mythical Hong Kong Welfare Society, and to that extent was known to the Japanese. However, some of the food and materiél had to be secretly smuggled in, as did some of the cash. The scene was set for tragedy, and the only question was exactly when it would occur and exactly who would be involved.

 I intend to tell this story – the dreadful events of February-December 1943 – in future posts. For the moment I want only to mention that three bankers lost their lives and at least two more spent time in Stanley Prison[10] under dreadful conditions. C. F.  Hyde was executed close to Stanley Beach on October 29, 1943 and two senior bankers died through malnutrition and medical neglect while in Stanley Prison:  Sir Vandeleur Grayburn, the Bank’s chief manager, on August 7, 1943, and D. C. Edmonston on August 29, 1944.[11]

I shall devote a future post to each of these brave men, who understood full well the risks they were taking when they set out to deceive the Japanese in order to help their fellows.


[1] Hugo Foy, affidavit, cited in The China Mail, April 2, 1947.

[3] Ellen Field, Twilight in Hong  Kong, 105.

[4] Field, 90-100.

[5] Field, 155-157.

[6] Selwyn Selwyn-Clarke, Footprints, 1975, 74.

[7] George Wright-Nooth, Prisoner of the Turnip Heads, 1994, 153.

[9] Emily Hahn, China To Me, 392.

[10] Note: Stanley Camp was an improvised civilian internment ‘facility’ where most Allied civilians were held from late January 1942; it included some outbuildings of Stanley Prison, which the Japanese took over form the British and used for anyone, including internees, whom they regarded as guilty of a crime. It was just outside the Camp and the internees could sometimes hear the screams of those being tortured inside.

[11] China Mail, April 9, 1947.

 

 

 

 

 

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7 responses to “In Praise of Bankers

  1. Pingback: The Reign of Terror (2): Fear in the French Hospital | The Dark World's Fire: Tom and Lena Edgar in War

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  6. Pingback: Marcus da Silva | The Dark World's Fire: Tom and Lena Edgar in War

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