Monthly Archives: December 2011

Reign of Terror (7) the July Arrests

On June 28, 1943 internees Walter Scott, William Anderson, Police Inspector Whant, Frederick Hall and Frederick Bradley were arrested by the Kempeitai.[1] On June 29 Thomas and Evelina were presented with an engraved plaque to mark their first wedding anniversary.[2]

The next day, June 30 1943, the gendarmes were out in Stanley again, continuing their investigations. Alec Summers and George Merriman, two members of MI6[3], were almost caught with their radio (they also had a gun stashed away). They managed to convince the Kempeitai that they had had a radio but threw it into the sea when the authorities announced they were forbidden. George Wright-Nooth, who was already terrified that his own involvement with radios and the smuggling of food and messages would be discovered,[4] had been in the room when the Japanese investigators came; he left speedily, even more scared. Later the ‘white faced’ pair called on him to insist that he tell the same story as them if questioned, and the three of them spent many anxious hours wondering if the explanation would be accepted.[5]

On Wednesday July 7 another four internees were arrested. There were two more men connected with the wireless: James Anderson and Douglas Waterton,[6] and another policeman, Sergeant F. Roberts. But the most surprising and worrying arrest was of senior government official John Fraser,[7] the most important man in the Camp after the Colonial Secretary, Franklin Gimson. Whatever illegal activities had been going on, Fraser knew all about them, and their perpetrators. The weeks and months to come must have tested the nerves of many people inStanley, from Franklin Gimson downwards.

George Wright-Nooth kept a diary which tells us what happened next on July 7:

The Gendarmerie were back on the rampage in camp today. All in plain clothes…

At about 1.30 pm (we) heard loud shouts in Japanese coming from the commandant’s house followed by screams. Later on Waterton came down with three Japanese and one Chinese. They were armed with spades. Waterton was made to dig a hole at the end of No 18 Block in the Indian Quarters. He was kept at it for about 2-3 hours and in the end a grey box was unearthed.[8]

At this point, another internee had a remarkable escape. A guard went to get former director of marine  A. J.(‘New Moon’) Moss, who shared a room with Waterton, and had helped him bury the radio set that had just been dug up. Wright-Nooth watched anxiously as the Kempeitai pressed Moss about this, and, rather surprisingly, accepted his explanation that he’d believed he was helping Waterton secure the family silver.[9] Moss was one of the party that had planned an abortive escape, just before internment[10] – along with Gwen Priestwood, who was eventually to succeed  in leaving Stanley – and, until he was certain the Kempeitai weren’t going to take him in for further questioning, he must have wished himself anywhere else but in Camp.

This incident shows something important: every arrest spread increased levels of risk and anxiety to a new group of people. Moss was drawn into the affair simply by sharing quarters with one of those involved and agreeing to do his room-mate a favour. Clifton Large, who lived with Alec Summers and knew all about the radio and the gun,[11] must have had a most anxious July. The same can be assumed about other people who, ‘innocent’ themselves knew of the ‘guilt’ of those they were living or associated with.  

Internee Jean Gittins doesn’t record any illegal activity until October,[12] when she bravely took her life in her hands as part of a last desperate attempt to help those arrested in June and July, most of who were by then facing death sentences, but she was a friend of Duncan Sloss, an academic in poor health, who had accepted the role of recipient of messages from the Hong Kong resistance, the British Army Aid Group, a post that meant certain torture and death if it were ever discovered.[13] To be the friend of anyone under Kempetai arrest was in itself dangerous; in fact, to be the friend of the wife of anyone under arrest was risky – Emily Hahn was advised by one of her Japanese ‘protectors’ to stay away from Hilda Selwyn-Clarke after her husband was taken into custody.[14]

Nevertheless Sloss’s future wife, Margaret Watson, had been a close associate of the Selwyn-Clarke’s, and in early May1943 she moved into a small servants’ room in Bungalow D with Hilda and her daughter Mary. Of course, we now know that the Kempeitai only rarely arrested European women and that, amazingly, at no point during her husband’s ten months of brutal questioning was Hilda held for interrogation,[15] but this is hardly what anyone would have expected at the time, and most people were very conscious of the possibility of guilt by association: when Andrew Leiper and a colleague were eventually summoned ‘up the hill’ for interrogation about their  activities before they came to Stanley those who passed by were too scared to even look at them.[16]

That was rather extreme, but after the war, the internees would have learnt the story of Norman (‘Lofty’) Lloyd at Shamshuipo, and realised that fear of terrible consequences from the actions of others was not in the slightest bit ‘paranoid’.[17]

But a surprising numbers of internees did have actions of their own to worry about. We wouldn’t know about the courageous role played by ‘Lannie’ Lanchester if her grandson John hadn’t become a writer.[18] In his memoir Family Romance Lanchester tells us that his grandmother was too upset and worried to even record the July 7 arrests and their aftermath in her diary, because she was a close friend of John Fraser, and had been helping him keep some of his papers from the Japanese. [19] These ‘papers’ were related to Japanese war crimes, and Mrs. Lanchester was one of those who could have expected a very hard time indeed if Fraser had cracked and revealed all that he knew.

We might also be getting a glimpse of John Fraser in this story from Andrew Leiper about a friend of his wife’s:

That the Japanese were on to something which had been happening received apparent corroboration from one of Helen’s friends. She told Helen that, the day before he had been arrested, one of her men friends had given her some papers and asked her to destroy them if anything happened to him.[20]

And what of mister Lanchester, the camp dentist?[21] He might reasonably have been worried for both his wife and himself – at the very least he probably knew of her ‘criminality’. And my guess is that he had another reason to worry, although his fear here would go back to early May when Dr. Selwyn Selwyn-Clarke was arrested at the French Hospital, shortly after Thomas and Evelina were sent from there into Stanley.[22]

The Imperial War Museum holds a picture (reproduced in Family Romance) of Jack Lanchester and an assistant at work in Camp. Naturally, the patient is seated in a dentist’s chair. But very little was ‘natural’ in Stanley camp. The internees didn’t find a fully equipped dental surgery in the bitterly fought-over grounds of St Stephens School or in one of the outbuildings of Stanley prison. We know, in fact, that they felt a desperate need for a proper chair and that Selwyn-Clarke and two volunteers from the French Hospital went to rescue one from a pre-war government Godown that was now in the hands of the Japanese Army, nearly getting caught in the process.[23] Unless another dentists’ chair was provided later under legal, less dramatic and therefore unrecorded circumstances, the one in the picture must be the one whisked away that night, and if Selwyn-Clarke had told all he knew then the Kempeitai might well have wanted to ask if Mr. Lanchester if he knew his chair had been stolen from the Japanese army. They mighty also have had questions to ask of all those doctors who had used medical materials smuggled in toStanley by the Medical Director in the 17 months or so before his arrest.

The list of the more than ordinarily worried might well have included the Camp’s many diarists, whose records of Stanley life could have been discovered if the Gendarmes decided on a full-scale search. Les Fisher in Shamshuipo expected death if his was found, and that seems a reasonable enough assumption, irrespective of content, which could of course have made things worse.[24] And who knew which of their anti-Japanese remarks and actions had been recorded by diary-keeping friends and what the gendarmes’ response to them would be?

There was another factor that heightened the fear that pervaded Stanley camp – at all times, but most intensely during 1943. In the last days of the fighting a day or so before the Christmas surrender, word started to spread around the ‘white’ community of Japanese atrocities – of rape, torture, and the bayonetting of  wounded soldiers. I’ll discuss these matters in a future post (which will focus on the internees’ fear of  a final massacre by the defeated Japanese army), but it should be borne in  mind that the inmates of Stanley Camp could never forget what those guarding them had done once and could never stop fearing what they might do in the future. Sometimes the constant hunger and discomfort, alongside the ever-present mutual irritations of those forced to share cramped living quarters, must have been useful in helping the internees keep their minds away from what their leader Franklin Gimson called ‘morbid thoughts’. Sometimes those thoughts must have proved unavoidable.

In another future post I’ll discuss the statistics of ‘the reign of terror’ (Emily Hahn’s half-mocking phrase) and they’ll bear out the claim[25] that the British got off lightly compared to the Chinese and that, as wartime experiences go, didn’t suffer too badly in absolute terms. But the facts and figures of what had happened by August 1945 don’t help us understand the feelings of the internees over spring and summer 1943. For the defeated in war it’s what might happen that determines emotions just as much if not more than what actually takes place, and people decide what might happen by looking backwards and sideways – they are, of course, unable to look forward to final outcomes. ‘Backwards’ in this case meant to the atrocities, some of which had occurred in the grounds of what was to become Stanley Camp, and ‘sideways’ meant to the treatment meted out to the Chinese, some of  which could be heard in the sounds that came to the Camp over the walls of Stanley Prison or seen in the wretcehd parties (one of which was viewed by Andrew Leiper as he walked through the Cemetery) being taken down to Stanley Beach for execution. Put these two perspectives together….

And who, in such a situation, could feel safe? Every ‘crime’ involved others who’d helped in it, knew about it, or simply shared a room or a friendship with the ‘criminal’. If one person told all they knew, then that would lead to several others, who in turn….No-one knew where the arrests would stop or what ‘trails’ might lead to them.

There was only one more arrest that summer though. On Sunday July 11, the Commissioner of Police John Pennefather-Evans was removed from church by the Kempeitai:

Wednesday 14th July 1943 – Another sensation was caused by the arrest of the Commissioner of Police Peinefether-Evans (sic) on Sunday when he was called out of the 9 o’clock communion service and taken away. Why he has been taken away beats us, but there it is and how he is doing about a change of clothing is unknown to us as his things have not been taken away altho’ in the case of the others theirs were taken.[29]

Pennefather-Evans was one of the lucky ones. He and Inspector Whant were to reappear in camp in August. All of the others under arrest on July 7 were to be sentenced to death or to long prison terms. The executions took place on Stanley Beach, in sight of the Camp, on October 29. It was to be one of the defining days in Thomas’s life.


[1] Generally described as the Japanese Gestapo. I use ‘Kempeitai’ and ‘Gendarmes’ interchangeably. For an account of the arrests of June 28, see https://brianedgar.wordpress.com/2011/12/22/reign-of-terror-6-first-wedding-anniversary-stanley-camp/

[4] George Wright-Nooth, Prisoner of the Turnip Heads, 146.

[5] Wright-Nooth, 150-151.

[7] He’s called the Defence Secretary by Stericker and Gittins. Others call him the former Defence Secretary, the former Attorney-General, and the Assistant Attorney General. In 1938 he was appointed Acting Attorney General while C. G. Alabaster was in the UK – Hong Kong Telegraph, February 5, 1938, page 4.

[8] Wright-Nooth, 163.

[9] Wright-Nooth, 163.

[10] A ‘key’ written in pencil on a blank page of the School of African and Oriental Studies copy of Gwen Priestwood’s Through Japanese Barbed-Wire plausibly makes this identification.

[12] Except for buying food on the black market, and, as almost everybody did the same and the Japanese authorities were involved, this was probably safe enough.

[13] Wright-Nooth, 114.

[14] Emily Hahn, China For Me, 407-408.

[15] Hahn, 407.

[16] G. A. Leiper, A Yen For My Thoughts, 191.

[18] His novel Fragrant Harbour is a distinguished contribution to the literature of wartime Hong Kong –

[19]John Lanchester, Family Romance, 190-194.

[20]  Leiper, 186.

[21] There’s a story about his work in Camp in Jean Gittins, Stanley: Behind Barbed Wire, pages 89-90. See also http://groups.yahoo.com/group/stanley_camp/message/1059

[23] Selwyn Selwyn-Clarke, Footprints, 75-76.

[24] Les Fisher, I Will Remember, 93.

[25] See Snow, 186-187.

[28] Sheridan, his fellow RASC baker, managed to escape from Hong Kong after convincing the Japanese he was Irish – http://groups.yahoo.com/group/stanley_camp/message/1194.

This story suggests the RASC men were baking in civilian clothes.

[29] George Gerrard’s Diary, available to members of the Yahoo Stanley Camp Discussion Group.

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News of Hong Kong in England (4); December 17, 1941

Hong Kong’s off the Mirror’s front page for Wednesday, December 17, but on page 2 that fine columnist William Connor (‘Cassandra’) finally comes up with a piece of uplift that’s totally realistic and, as you would expect from his nom de plume, prophetic:

 Page 2

Big Things

BIG things have happened since the first of the month. Big husky events as bold and as tough as the fall of France.

But whether the news is labelled Tokio. Borneo, Singapore, Guam, Oahu, Manila or Hong Kong—it is all secondary to what has taken place in Russia.

There, the greatest war machine of all time has stopped.

And Hitler didn’t put the brake on either.

 The reassurance provided by the war news article, continued on the back page from page 1, is much less convincing. The general headline is:

Chinese Aid Hong Kong

The sub-section begins with a gloomy report:

Kowloon Evacuated

HONG KONG.—All our forces in this hard-pressed colony have been withdrawn to the island from Kowloon across the narrow strait.

Berlin radio quoted Tokio reports last night that some of the Japanese had set foot on the island itself, but there is no suggestion of this from any other source.

It was also claimed that Japanese artillery had “silenced” the fortress.

‘Hong Kong is being continuously bombarded by Japanese planes,’ added this unconfirmed report.

Then follows the now familiar evocation of Chinese help:

 Yangtse Fighting

 The Chinese have intensified their attacks on the enemy in the area east of the

Pearl River near Canton, harassing the enemy’s movements along the Canton-

Kowloon railway being used for supplies in the attack on Hong Kong.

Fighting has flared up in the middle part of the Yangtse River, reported Moscow radio last night…

 The Express for December 17 had a report from a correspondent in Hong Kong Edgerton Gray

 HONGKONG, TUESDAY

 JAPANESE forces have occupied Macao, the Portuguese island at the mouth of the Canton river facing Hongkong from the west, it is learned tonight….

 So far Edgerton’s not covering himself in glory: Macao isn’t an island, and the Japanese never formally occupied it (although the Americans did bomb it late in the war, perhaps believing it was under enemy occupation).

 The Japanese shelled Hongkong last night and morning with air support, but the damage was negligible.

 All our troops are now on the island. Evacuation of the Kowloon leased territory on the mainland has been completed.

 Chungking despatches report that the Chinese armies are continuing their counter-attacks at Tamshui, 35 miles north-east of Kowloon and have gained new territory.

 The Express also provides a page 1 ‘War Front Round Up’, giving the news as of 3 a.m., and, as the reader is helpfully informed, taking 3 minutes to read. The section on Hong Kong begins:

 ALL the Allied troops have left the mainland. The investment of the island fortress is now complete.

The summary explains that what is needed is more aircraft and that the Chinese have few of them – although a much greater assault than their current ‘harassing attacks’ is in the pipeline.

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News of Hong Kong in England (3): December 16, 1941

Note: I’ve taken another look at Phillip Snow’s The Fall of Hong Kong and corrected my earlier statement that the relieving Chinese force was ‘a fantasy army’. As will be seen below, the army was real enough, although almost all descriptions of  its progress were imaginary, and many Hong Kong residents came to believe it had never existed, and at least one writer claimed to have made it up

 

On December 16 the Mirror provided some Hong Kong background and a war report for its readers.

Daily Mirror, Tuesday, December 16, 1941

Page 2

 Britons and Chinese Defend Hong Kong Together

 HONG KONG is in greater peril than Singapore. And less well protected. This small 32 square-mile island is our furthest Empire outpost — and the closest to Japan.

If we can hold it, it might well prove (failing Vladivostok) our best base for a Counter attack on Japan.

Esme Hartson goes on to explain that in spite of the work done since the Japanese denounced the Treaty of Washington in 1937 the bulk of British efforts have gone towards reinforcing the defences of Singapore, not Hong Kong.

 Then she offers this grim but realistic forecast:

 UNLESS fighter reinforcements can be spared from Singapore, unless Chiang Kaishek can speedily regain Canton – Japan’s nearest air base – Hong Kong will suffer grievously from the air.

 She tells the readers of ‘great tunnels’ built into the hillsides – one of which ‘will hold 10,000 people – but stresses that for Hong Kong to ‘transform itself an Alcatraz’ (presumably an island that is at once stronghold and prison) will be a last resort.

 Before that there will be a massive multi-national fight – British, Canadians and Chinese – to defend Hong Kong. Not surprisingly, that now familiar Chinese army marching to the relief of Hong Kong is invoked:

 Even now, 100 miles to the north-west, General Chiang Kai-shek is fighting desperately to relieve the island.

 Chiang Kai-shek (Jiang Jieshi) did declare war on the Japanese when they attacked Hong Kong, and was making preparations for an attack on the Japanese rear, but his army was never in a position to make any significant contribution to Hong Kong’s defence in the time available.[1] According to Captain Freddie Guest, he and others invented the rumour of a large Chinese army fighting its way down to Hong Kong on about December 17 to relieve the depression caused by news of the sinking of the battleships Repulse and Prince of Wales off Singapore.[2] But Phillip Snow, following Oliver Lindsay, believes that the rumour was created on December 12.[3] The early appearance of the rumour in the British press bears this out.

Then the article moves on to its main theme: the willingness of the Chinese to defend Hong Kong:

 Hundreds of seasoned regulars, interned in Hong Kong since their escape there from Japan’s first onslaught on Canton, have now been released to add to our fighting strength.

Over a year ago, the Chinese were volunteering eagerly to be trained in all A.R.P. services.

 Here and elsewhere the author tries to give a picture of the Chinese flocking to Hong Kong’s defence and being warmly welcomed by the authorities. In fact, the British seem to have been reluctant to take advantage of whatever willingness there was, and, in the words of a modern historian, ‘The large pool of Chinese manpower was not used to any serious extent’.[4] The BritishWar Office only agreed to accept Chinese volunteers in October 1941 and even then imposed standards of height and weight that meant only 35 out of 600 applicants were accepted.[5]

 The writer goes on to describe some of the contributions being made by Chinese fighters – working as sappers and miners and manning the MTB boats, for example – and goes on to ask:

 But why do they volunteer to save a tiny portion of our Empire?

Well, here’s one pretty good reason. Out of Hong Kong’s 2,000,000 inhabitants, fewer than 20,000 are British . . . the Chinese there are defending their own families and homes.

 There follows an idealised portrait of the racial order in Hong Kong. First the author hints that the Chinese themsleves wouldn’t expect complete equality:

 There are a dozen social grades among the Chinese themselves, from the coolie class—who work in the dockyards, run rickshaws, act as “housemaids” —- the street pedlars and small shop-owners, the clerical and professional grades . . . right up to the millionaire merchant, whose myriad courtyard house (sic) is more palatial than any a European out there could afford.

And anyway some of them are ‘more equal’ than the Brtitish:

 Several well-known Chinese families in Hong Kong could buy out most of the British residents.

 Money breaks down barriers, says the cynic. Well, there are remarkably few social barriers in Hong Kong to prevent white and yellow mixing freely.

True, the upper part of Hong Kong’s mountain peak is a European reservation but the University is open to all.

 Furthermore:

There are highly respected doctors, dentists, lawyers, engineers. There is a native optician so famous that the British go to consult him rather than one of their own race.

There follows a fantasy of female racial equality, in which exotically beautiful young girls grace European tea dances while their mothers – agile old ladies with feet long-since unbound – head off to play mah-jong with their European friends. There certainly was some private socialising of the kind Hartson describes, and she might well have come from an unusually liberal family, but the reality as far as public gatherings were concerned – attested by a multitude of other sources[6]– is described by Phyllis Harrop who was asked, ‘Would you be embarrassed to be seen in a public place with a Chinese?’[7]

 My point is not to excoriate the racism of the dead, nor do I write with the slightest sense of superiority, but to record the facts. Elsewhere on this blog I’ll try to show the change in the attitudes of the British community towards other races that were brought about by the shared experience of war and suffering.

 The article moves on to a picture of racial equality at the cinema, the racecourse and on the sports field, and then to a dramatic conclusion:

 YES, the Japs may go on releasing their bomb loads and their anti-British leaflets. But I’m betting my bottom dollar that the Chinaman in our Hong Kong garrison will be as tough in its defence as he has proved on his own mainland these past four years.

 And I ought to know. I was born and brought up in Hong Kong. My father has lived there over forty years. My mother is one of the very few British women who still remain in this beleaguered island fortress.

 Esme Harston

On page 8 there is a report of the fighting:

JAPANESE forces were last night bombarding Hong Kong with land artillery and warplanes.

But outside Canton, which the Chinese are attacking to ease pressure on Hong Kong, the Japanese have been forced to retire from some of their positions.

At the same time, a savage Chinese attack is making progress in the Samsui area, north of Hong Kong.

British troops are being withdrawn from Kowloon, on the mainland, to Hong Kong, it was stated authoritatively in London yesterday.

The Japanese are using very, powerful land, air and sea forces, but the British front lines are now less vulnerable to attacks and are better protected by artillery and planes. They extend now along the world-famous water-front facing the mainland, where the Japanese have captured 300 square miles of the leased territories.

Japan claimed that Fort Moh Sing Ling at Hong Kong had been destroyed

Rearguard Action

The Japanese have got little, however, for the British destroyed everything that could possibly be of use to the Japanese.

After fighting with the utmost gallantry a slow rearguard action and inflicting terrible punishment on the Japanese, the British forces, including Scots, Canadians and Indians, strengthened with 2,000 local defence volunteers, are now digging in on the island in accordance with plans laid down as far back as August, 1938.

The British womenfolk are remaining on the island. All have been conscripted into the nursing services and there is an unending supply of Chinese volunteer labour.

A glance over at the Express reveals a thoughtful page 1 article:

 

Hongkong, besieged and under shellfire

last night, sent this radio to London:

WE INTEND TO DO

OUR BEST

Express Military Reporter MORLEY RICHARDS

 FROM besieged Hongkong, shelled all day from short range and bombed without respite, this message was

flashed last n i g h t : ” We all thank you most sincerely for your heartening message. We intend to do our best.”

The message came from Hongkong’s Governor, 54-year-old Sir Mark Young . In reply to Mr Churchill’s message ‘We are all with you’.

 Tokyo radio yesterday predicted that the fate of Hongkong would be “decided in a matter of days”

 The Express is more realistic than the Mirror about the prospects of relief from the Chinese Army:

 Marshal Chiang Kai-shek’s offensive in the Canton area, though gaining ground, is still a long way from directly affecting Hongkong’s besiegers. It is directed more to harassing the enemy’s flanks.

 The paper reports that the Japanese are occupying Kowloon and predicts (wrongly of course) that they’ll try to take Hong Kongby siege and bombardment rather than direct assault:

 The enemy can draw on heavy reserves free from interruption and may decide that his best plan is to blast the garrison into submission while attempting a strict blockade to produce eventual starvation. Frontal assault would inevitably mean staggering losses to the Japs, and not necessarily success.

 There is an optimistic assessment of the Colony’s water supply now that the reservoirs have been captured. It seems to me that the Express is doing well at trying to be both informative and upbeat. This is going to be an increasingly difficult task.


[1] Phillip Snow, The Fall of Hong Kong, 74-75.

[2] Escape From The Blooded Sun, 39.

[3] The Fall of Hong Kong, 370.

[5] John M. Carroll, A Concise History of Hong Kong, 119.

[6] Gerald Horne’s Race War! gleefully assembles evidence of the racism of pre-warHong Kong and suggests ways in which it helped weaken the colony in the case of the Japanese.

[7] Hong Kong Incident, 61.

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Reign of Terror (6): First Wedding Anniversary, Stanley Camp

On June 29, 1943 Thomas and Evelina celebrated their first wedding anniversary; by that time they had joined the rest of the British community as internees in Stanley.

 June 29 began with the Camp blacked out due to a midnight curfew – American bombing raids, which greatly cheered the internees, had begun in October 1942.  R. E. Jones was sleeping on the roof of his quarters and he recorded heavy rain at 1 a.m. He might have been one of the few people who actually got wet, but my guess is that many of his fellow internees heard that shower hammering on their roofs. Many people must have slept uneasily that night, after the most disturbing day thus far in the history of Stanley.

 Thomas and Evelina had probably arrived in the Camp in late April, and it wouldn’t have been long before they started hearing disturbing rumours – on Friday, May 7 they would have met Mrs. Hilda Selwyn-Clarke and had their worst fears confirmed: Dr. Selwyn-Clarke had been arrested at the French Hospital on May 2.[1] Emily Hahn wrote:

 All over town, in the bankers’ hotel as well as in my house, in a hundred hovels and tenement rooms, were people holding their breath, terrified for Selwyn’s safety and their own.[2]

 That must surely have held true for Bungalow D in Stanley Camp as well, and there might have been something else that intensified their terror. It seems to be of this period that Jean Gittins is writing when she describes the sounds heard from the nearby Stanley Prison:

 When night came, one could hear scream after scream of those undergoing torture.[3]

 Quaker missionary William Sewell also describes this ghastly aspect of  the experience of internment, although, perhaps deliberately, he has made it impossible to assign an exact period:

 We knew that the noises we heard at nights from the prison were human. We would waken to hear piteous scream after scream; and in a cold perspiration from our helpless frustration and impotence we could but lie and listen until at last the cries died away, only to return again and again. The memory of those midnight interrogations with tortures and beatings would not fade, but haunted us throughout the day.[4]

 Bungalow D was on the opposite side of the camp to the prison, but if these grim sounds were heard in April and May they must have added an extra layer of fear to life in Stanley.

In May the Kempeitai made some key arrests: immediately following Selwyn-Clarke’s came that of the bankers Hyde and Edmonston,[5] in the middle of the month the American Chester Bennett and the Portuguese lawyer Marcus da Silva, two key British agents,[6] were taken into custody and on the last day, the most important operative of all, David Loie, the leader of the British Army Aid Group’s[7] organisation in Hong Kong was taken into custody (Loie bravely jumped to his death before torture so he could not betray others). Whatever news of the fate of these men, and of the many Chinese resistance workers who were picked up in April and May, reached Stanley must have added greatly to the feelings of unease. The Kempeitai ‘reign of terror’ was gathering pace.

 On June 28 that terror arrived at Stanley Camp itself.

 The Japanese knew that money was being smuggled into the Camp by the bankers who they’d kept outside to help them loot the holdings of the HKSBC and the other banks. Dr. Harry Talbot, an internee who’d been sent to be treated at the French Hospital, had been caught, probably around March 1, trying to get money back into Camp, and the head of the Bank and his assistant had volunteered a confession of their involvement, which led to their arrest on March 17.[8] The money was being used for extra food and medicines, but the Japanese were determined to punish any breach of discipline even if it had a humanitarian purpose. The Japanese had also learnt that messages were being smuggled in and out of Camp by the Chinese lorry drivers. They seem to have had accurate information about these messages, so would have known that they were largely humanitarian in nature and didn’t involve espionage.[9]

 What the Kempeitai were really interested in, though, was the possibility that the internees had a radio in Camp, and much of the brutality that was about to be unleashed was directed at those they suspected of involvement in wireless communication. They didn’t want the internees to listen to news of the Pacific War, but their biggest fear was the radios would be used to contact the BAAG, the resistance movement working in Hong Kong and southern China. Tony Banham, a leading historian of the war in Hong Kong, believes that there was no radio in Stanley capable of transmitting and receiving such messages, but the Japanese didn’t know this.

 Life in Stanley had always been crowded, primitive and filled with hunger and deprivation; on June 28 it became violent for a few and terrifying for all: as Jean Gittins put it ‘(the arrests)…spread an intense and nameless fear into the life of the camp’.[11]

 R. E. Jones’s diary entry for Monday, June 28th tells us that Meijima came in with ration lorry. Mr. Meijima was one of the officials at the Foreign Affairs Department (in September 1943 he became Camp commandant[12]) and his arrival was a sign that something sinister was about to happen.

 At noon, the Deputy Commissioner of Police, W. R. Scott was summoned ‘up the hill’ to see the commandant. He knew what to expect, but calmly finished his meal first. His mistreatment began at once, and his screams were heard by at least one other internee, a man who was soon to be arrested himself.[13]

 ‘Now’, George Wright-Nooth tells us describing the feeling in Camp after Scott’s arrest, ‘there was real fear’.[14]

 At 2.30 another policeman, Inspector Whant, was told to follow Scott to Japanese headquarters. At about 6 p.m. several Japanese in plain clothes took away Stanley Rees, a telephone engineer. At about the same time F. I. Hall and F. W. Bradley were removed.[15]

In another part of the Camp the Japanese came for William Anderson, also

a telephone engineer. They were briefly confused over the identity of the man they wanted, as there was another Anderson, also a wireless engineer, and the party diverted to his quarters in Bungalow F,[16] close to Thomas’s own ‘home’, but they soon returned. William Anderson’s brutalisation began in his own room, where they believed a radio was hidden. As the Japanese clearly knew of his involvement already, Anderson took them to the radio which was hidden in a store room.

 The internees had to be in their rooms by 8pm;[17] this gave plenty of time for the news of the latest developments to spread around the Camp. When Thomas heard them he must have felt sick to his stomach. He definitely had no connection with the radio – as we’ve seen,[18] he always believed that at least one of those executed was innocent, when in fact he was, from the Japanese viewpoint, guilty. What must have worried him deeply was the fact that two men connected with the ration lorry had been arrested. One of them even worked for the same company as him, Lane Crawford.

 F. W. Bradley was a health inspector who, while at Stanley, worked in the canteen. Frederick Ivan Hall was the Butchery Salesman at Lane Crawford,[19] and Thomas, the Bakery Manager, almost certainly knew him. Like Thomas he was recently married, even more recently, in fact – his wedding took place in Camp on March 6, 1943.[20]

 But what did rations and the canteen have to do with radios and smuggling? The Japanese knew that the Chinese drivers of the ration lorries were smuggling money and messages in and out of Camp. They also suspected that spare parts for the radio (in fact radios, as there were four[21]) were coming in by the same route, as they may well have been.

 If Camp Secretary John Stericker is right, the Japanese bust the system by a simple method: they found a driver who was being bribed to carry messages and offered a bigger bribe to reveal them. Soon they had a complete list of the senders and recipients both in Stanley and in town.[22] It’s equally possible that one of those arrested in April or May was forced to provide the information the Japanese wanted, or that a Kempeitai plant had infiltrated the relevant section of the BAAG.

 Thomas’s first letter home from Stanley (from the Hong Kong war, in fact) is dated April 30. It announces his recent arrival and states that he and Lenaare not yet working but thinks they soon will be. At some point he was baking in the Camp,[23] and he was surely right in believing that the Camp authorities would not leave his skills lying idle for long. By June 28 he was almost certainly at work; this meant that he, or someone working with him, had to collect the flour ration every morning – 4.22 ozs per internee. Directly or indirectly, he was linked to the ration lorry, and such a link was to prove fatal to two other men.

 And he probably had other reasons to be afraid.

 Fear plays a strangely small role in the literature of the Hong Kong camps. But it was all-pervasive nevertheless. The internees never forgot the atrocities that occurred in the last days of the fighting,[24] and those, like Thomas, who had spent some of the occupation in Hong Kong, had all seen what the Japanese could do to the Chinese.[25] It didn’t take much imagination to realise that although relatively little violence was being meted out to the British community, this could change at any time.

Later Thomas and Evelina would decide not to tell their children much about their wartime experiences. They didn’t want to burden them with their own suffering, and, in any case, like most internees they wanted to look to the future not back to the past. Thomas never spoke about the daily hunger, the boredom, the misery of having to share a crowded bungalow with a more or less random group of people. Sometimes he mentioned ‘camp trivia’  as it became relevant: when Brian started to grow a beard he told him he’d had one for a time in Stanley but shaved it off because it always made him feel dirty. There were only two things that he spoke about on more than a very occasional basis: the kindness of Captain Tanaka and the atrocities of the Japanese occupiers: the murders of Black and Whitney, the killings of the wounded and the rapes they were trying to avoid, the execution of Waterton, the junks filled with Chinese that the Japanese gunners sank for target practice and the suicide (to escape torture) of Ralph Shrigley. Thomas did not hold this against the Japanese as a nation, and when Brian thought about teaching English in Japan after university, he was enthusiastic about the plan.  He could never forget what had happened during the war, but Japan in the early 1970s was another matter.

When he spoke about the atrocities he seemed angry, and unable to comprehend that people could act in that way, but an unimaginable fear was obviously present underneath. This wartime fear had had its rhythms, as it’s not in human nature to be constantly strung up with terror for four years:

In reality, over any length of time, fear is like a bad smell. One gets used to it. Nobody can live indefinitely in a state of sustained horror.[26]

The days of late June and early July 1943 undoubtedly saw Thomas’s fear at one of its highest points.

And we do get glimpses of the terror in the literature: even Colonel Newnham in Shamshuipo, a professional military man who behaved with absolute heroism when it came to the ordeal itself, experienced apparently bizarre forms of anxiety when he contemplated the likely consequences of his resistance activity:

(E)vents to come cast their shadows upon him. He saw the fences grow enormously and press ever closer round him; their barbs were talons of some bird of prey, reaching out to seize him as he circled endlessly within the bounds of their embrace. Sentries on their towers became giants bent on his destruction. At first these moods were fleeting, quickly shaken off; but as the months passed by they intruded more persistently.[27]

Many in the Camp must have felt both dread and compassion as June 28 came to an end and the last of the suspects was taken into Japanese custody. I think that in such circumstances most people start to calculate their own vulnerability; they go over in their minds the illegal acts they’ve committed, or were simply aware of, they wonder what their friends have been up to, about the possibility of guilt by association…. When Thomas pondered his own ‘risk quotient’ it must have seemed hideously high.

Not only was he involved with the camp rations,[28] he had, from the Japanese point of view, another black mark against him: he’d been in town for over a year before being sent to Stanley, and the Kempeitai quite rightly suspected that many of the ‘stay-outs’ were involved in illegal activities, some humanitarian but others military. For example, the American Chester Bennett – someone else who Thomas almost certainly knew through the food trade – was gathering intelligence on Japanese shipping movements and relaying it to BAAG headquarters in Waichow, after which it ended up on the charts of American submarines, enabling them to exact a huge toll on Japanese naval resources.

When Thomas woke on his wedding anniversary, after whatever sleep he managed to get in the crowded bungalow, he must have been sick with worry. Who else would be pulled in? Who would be incriminated by those unfortunates suffering the unspeakable methods of the Kempeitai? Soon, as George Wright-Nooth put it, ‘the whole camp was in turmoil’.[30]

George Gerrard’s diary gives us another glimpse of this turmoil:

Wednesday 30th June 1943 –

The sensation of the season is the arrest of six internees by the Gendarmerie on Monday evening….There are all sorts or rumours of wireless sets and money and what not, but there is at the moment nothing definite as to the reason. It appears very strange and I don’t envy the lads.

 At some time during the day a few of the men and women of Stanley Camp tried to put aside their terror and think about a happier topic. Thomas and Evelina were presented with the engraved plaque in honour of their first wedding anniversary:

 Tommy Waller, in peace time an engineer working on the Peak Tram, was almost certainly one of the moving spirits behind the presentation. He was one of their closest friends in Stanley, and it was to be he who was proposed the toast twenty four years later, in a world unimaginable on that grim June day in 1943.[31]

 It had been a dreadful year since the wedding. I suspect that when Thomas married Evelina – on the same day as the Americans boarded the ship that was to repatriate them – he hoped that in the not too distant future he and Evelina would be on board a similar vessel bound for England. According to a Catholic writer who knew Evelina in Stanley, repatriation hopes were indeed given a great boost by the return of the Americans, and were even higher in October when a small group of Canadians (accompanied by a sick American Catholic priest) also sailed for home.[32] So Thomas must have been disappointed to be in Stanley at all.

 But in June 1942 the Allied civilians were still enjoying a relatively violence-free life. For them, although not for the Chinese, the brutality had more or less stopped soon after the surrender on Christmas Day 1941. Now the terror, which had begun in February, 1943 seemed to be reaching a crescendo and none of the people there could be certain they’d be out of the hands of the Kempeitai by the time the day ended.

 No doubt the friends who’d commissioned the plaque also managed to scrape together enough food for a small celebration. Inroads were made on precious food hordes saved from parcels sent by friends in the town, people gave a little from their scanty rations, or volunteered a few yen towards black market purchases.

 Yet how could any of those present forget what had happened the day before? Their minds must have been filled with compassion for those arrested and fear for themselves and their loved ones. In a previous post I’ve suggested some of the things that might have been going through Thomas and Evelina’s mind when they made the decision that led to their wedding.[33] It would be hard to believe that they didn’t feel that the way things were turning out meant that they’d made a huge mistake. At times that plaque must have seemed a mockery. 

 Just outside the Camp, behind the grim walls of Stanley Prison the six men arrested in Stanley the day before were deposited in G Block at Stanley Prison. William Anderson was able to communicate by sign language and tapping with Selwyn-Clarke and Alexander Sinton,[34] who’d been arrested in town.[35]

In the end, the values represented by that anniversary plaque – created by people who had lost almost everything but were willing  to give up a little of what they had left to honour and uplift their friends –  would triumph over the inhumanity that invaded Stanley on those late June days.

But that triumph lay long in the future and there was much more fear and deprivation to be endured first.

 As Thomas and Evelina’s anniversary day drew to an end and Stanley Camp settled down to sleep, many internees must have been wondering what tomorrow would bring.


[2] Hahn, 404.

[3] Gittins, 141.

[4] William Sewell, Strange Harmony, 122. Stericker is similarly unclear about the period he’s describing: Stericker, 183.

[5] Stericker; Mrs. Edmonston later gave the date as May 24 – China Mail, April 9, 1947.

[9]  Lindsay, 125.

[11] Gittins, 134.

[12] According to Geoffrey Emerson in Hong Kong Internment 1942–1945; Wright-Nooth, 159, spells his name Meijima and seems to suggest he was already commandant on June 28.

[13] Wright-Nooth, 160.

[14] Wright-Nooth, 160.

[15] Wright-Nooth, 160.

[16] Wright-Nooth, 154,160.

[20] Jones Diary entry.

[21] Wright-Nooth, 163

[22] Stericker, 181.

[24] Archer, 41.

[25] See e.g. G. A. Leiper, A Yen For My Thoughts, 116, 119.

[26] Freddy Bloom, cited in Bernice Archer, The Internment  of Western Civilians Under the Japanese, 21.

[27] Ralph Goodwin, Passport to Eternity, 145.

[28] In a future post I’ll give reasons for believing that Thomas was not involved with the use of the ration lorry to smuggle goods and messages.

[30] 151.

[32] Winifred Redwood, It Was Like This, 143, 156.

[34] Lindsay, 121.

[35] Wright-Nooth, 170.

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News of Hong Kong in England (2): December 15, 1941

On Monday, a week after the Japanese attack, Hong Kong gets its share of the page one headlines for the first time:

Daily Mirror, Monday, December 15

 Headline:

 Japs Push On Hong Kong, Burma, Malaya

 JAPANESE forces were last night launching offensives against three points of the British Empire—Burma, Hong Kong and Malaya. The size of the attacks on Burma and Hong Kong are not yet known, but a big battle is raging in the jungle around Kedah, North-West Malaya….

On the same page a map was provided, showing readers the location of ‘Senchuah’, which was said to be in the hands of the relieving Chinese army, who were now on their way to take the Canton-Kowloon railway, ‘which is the gateway to the fortified island of Hong Kong itself’.

 This relief force did exist, and was on its way to help Hong Kong, but even the vanguard never reached British territory, and the Japanese, in any case, knew of its existence and had efefctive plans for dealing with iit. (See Philip Snow’s The Fall of Hong Kong, 74-75).

 Part of the section on Hong Kong in the main article reads:

 Tokio radio said that Japanese land and air units started a “general offensive”at dawn yesterday.  As{the} city itself was being shelled by artillery British artillery opened up and shelled the Japanese gun positions.

 The G o v e r n o r, Major- General C.F. Norton, refused to surrender in response to a demand by the Japanese commander. General Norton. D.S.O., M.C., was leader of the Mount Everest expedition in 1924. which reached a height of 28.100 (?).

 Chang (sic) Kai Shek’s forces are attacking north and north-west of Canton in an attempt to ease Japanese pressure on Hong Kong….

 I’m intrigued by the reference to Norton. He was indeed a distinguished mountaineer, but he’s not on the Wikipedia Governors of Hong Kong list,[1] which records Sir Geoffry Northcote as being followed by the hapless Sir Mark Young, who arrived in December 1941 and spent most of his first term as Governor in various prison camps. However, Wikipedia does record Norton as ‘acting governor and commander-in-chief’ 1940-1941[2] so I wonder if he filled in between Governors? In any case he’s not in the index to Tony Banham’s Not The Slightest Chance, and it was certainly Young who rejected the Japanese requests to surrender, so I assume that Norton had left Hong Kong before December 1941.

 Also on page 1 was Churchill’s message to the defenders:

We are all watching day by day your stubborn defence of the port and fortress of Hong Kong. You guard a link long famous in world civilisation between the Far East and Europe.

We are sure that the defence against barbarous and unprovoked attack will add a glorious page to British annals.

All our hearts are with you in your ordeal. Every day your resistance brings closer our certain victory.

 Luckily Alice and Herbert didn’t know Churchill’s real thoughts, expressed in a minute of January 7, 1941:

 If Japan goes to war there is not the slightest chance of holding Hong Kong or relieving it. 

 Still, as Tony Banham points out, the defence of Hong Kong, although doomed to failure, was not pointless: Churchill’s plan was to exact as heavy a cost as possible on the Axis in every engagement, and this strategy eventually succeeded.[3]  But Banham also points to the ‘horrendous’ cost, and that was what must have been foremost in the minds of Alice and Herbert as the news got increasingly gloomy.

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News of Hong Kong in England (1): December 8-13, 1941

Thomas’s mother Alice had been a domestic servant and his father, Herbert was a soldier-turned-driver. In other words, an absolutely typical background, one shared by hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of British people over the ages.

They lived in a house in the ‘royal” town of Windsor that had been partly paid for by the proceeds of Thomas’s win on the Happy Valley Sweepstake.[1] They almost certainly read The Daily Mirror. This was the newspaper Thomas himself chose on his return to England in 1951 and The Mirror in the 1940s and 1950s could reasonably claim to be the main voice of the English working class. It had a huge circulation and its Labourite politics expressed perfectly the ideas of Thomas’s family. After the war Alice was to become one of the first ever Labour JPs in Windsor, appointed by the Attlee Government to provide some working class input into the Magistrates Courts in an overwhelmingly conservative town.

 In order to try to help myself imagine Alice and Herbert’s thoughts and feelings about their distant son, I’m going to provide summaries of and extracts from The Mirror’s coverage of the war in Hong Kong, supplemented where necessary by news from another influential wartime paper, The Daily Express.

 What comes across from the early days of the war coverage is that Hong Kong did not loom at all large in people’s minds – it wasSiam(Thailand), Malaya (Malaysia) andSingaporethat were important. And as we shall soon see, even reporters on major newspapers knew very little about the tiny Colony!

Alice and Herbert – and thousands of others with relatives in the Far East –  would have woken up on Monday, December 8, to some very upsetting news:

Daily Mirror, Monday, December 8

Page 1 headline:

 JAPANESE BOMB US NAVAL BASES IN THE PACIFIC

 JAPAN last night started the war in the Pacific by bombing the United States naval and air bases at Manila, in the Philippines, the Hawaiian base at Pearl Harbour and naval and military objectives on the chief island of Oahu.

 Thomas had raised the possibility of war in a letter he wrote back in 1938 when Japanese forces were close to the Hong Kong border,[2] but that’s care had soon died away; his parents might well have put the idea out of their minds until this shocking news.

 The main Mirror story was entirely focused on the attacks on Pearl Harbour, and they would have had to look carefully to get any news of Hong Kong at all – there was just this snippet on the final page:

 Page 8

 The Governor of Hong Kong issued a proclamation calling out volunteers.

 Well, humble as this little item is, it’s almost the last completely accurate information they’re going to get for some time!

 Sadly the Daily Mirror for December 9 is not available on the archive I’m using, so over to the Express:

 Daily Express, Tuesday, December 9, 1941

Page 1

‘Hongkong blockaded’

 HONGKONG, Monday. — Hongkong had two air raids today. The Japs dropped 1,000 pamphlets and a few bombs in the morning, begging the Chinese to attack us, and a few more bombs in the afternoon, causing some damage and casualties.

 The raiders—there were about a dozen—scattered as soon as they were fired on. One is reported to have been shot down over Green Island, off the western entrance to the harbour.

 At dawn several hundred Japanese approached the frontier, but found we had already blown up the strategic positions.

 A Tokyo broadcast picked up here claimed the destruction of 12 planes on the ground. It was also said that the Japanese Navy was blockading Hongkong.

 Don’t know why the Japanese are bothering really. Their planes either get shot down or turn tail as soon as they’re fired on and their land forces seem to have had a disappointing time of it too. That plane was shot down though, an early success for the heroic but doomed defenders; Tony Banham, in his definitive account of the unfolding of the Hong Kong fighting, gives the location of the ‘kill’ as Aberdeen, not Green Island – the poor old pilot was hammered into oblivion by no less than ten anti-aircraft sites simultaneously! (A cash prize was offered for every plane shot down, hence the deluge of claims.[3])

 Two short items on December 10:

Daily Mirror, Wednesday, December 10

 Page 1

 Japanese trying to cross Hong Kong’s mainland frontier have been halted by our artillery fire, it is announced officially.

The border was manned by British troops at 5.30 a.m. yesterday and we started the demolition of roads and bridges.

Berlin adds that two Japanese Divisions are attacking Hong Kong.

 And on page 4 a brief note that no news has come in about the fate of Far East missionaries, including those in Hong Kong.

 Alice and Herbert must have had a very happy breakfast indeed on December 11, especially if they didn’t bother to read beyond the headline:

Daily Mirror, Thursday, December 11

Jap attack on Hong Kong fails

 The Japanese attacking Hong Kong have suffered a reverse and a Japanese patrol has been wiped out.

 “Our land forces have halted a Japanese attack, although fighting is continuing,” stated a communiqué in Hong Kong yesterday.

 Chinese forces in Kwangtung Province are attacking Canton from east and west, thus relieving the Japanese pressure on Hong Kong, according to a dispatch to a Chinese language newspaper.

 Keep your eye on that Chinese army; it’s going to be fighting its way down through southern China until well after the surrender. Actually, this is interesting: I’ve got it in my mind that the story was invented by a British official in Hong Kong who couldn’t bear having to pass on such unremittingly bad news, so invented a Chinese army rushing to help the defenders, but I can’t remember where (or indeed if) I read that.  Anyway, here’s the story appearing at an early stage in the British press.

 On the last page Thomas’s parents would have read:

Page 8

 The King has sent messages to Sir Shenton Thomas, Governor of the Straits Settlements, and to the Governor of Hong Kong, expressing confidence in their leadership and in the “fearless determination” of the British defenders to crush the Japanese assaults.

 Notice that the ‘Governor of Hong Kong’ was not named. That was because the Mirror reporters didn’t know who he was. Give them a little time and they’ll find someone suitable for the job. 

Daily Mirror, Friday, December 12

Page 8

 Chungking radio announced last night that heavy fighting had been in progress for forty-eight hours….The Japanese had suffered heavy casualties, estimated so far at 15,000 with the Chinese forces attacking along the whole front.

 Sounds promising. And the Latest News section at the bottom of the page sounds better still:

 Chinese Cutting off Japs at Hong Kong

 General Chiang Kai Shek is personally directing large Chinese forces coming to the aid of Hong Kong.

Chinese are cutting off the Japanese from rear and flank, and the enemy power is diminishing.

 The weekend will soon be with us, and things are looking good.

 But on the next day came the first indication that perhaps things weren’t going quite so well, although The Mirror did its best to reassure its readers.

Daily Mirror, Saturday, December 13

Page 1

 In Hong Kong our advanced posts have been withdrawn, but Chinese are attacking the rear flank of the Japanese there.

 Page 8, Continued from page 1:

 Hong Kong Outposts Retired

Japanese pressure on our advanced positions at Hong Kong has caused us to withdraw in the direction of Kowloon, but this movement is from our advanced positions only.

Chinese forces under the direct command of General Chiang Kai Shek are cutting off the Japanese from the rear and back in their attempts to take Hong Kong.

 Of course we must remember that it was hard enough to get accurate information about the fighting in Hong Kong itself, and that all British papers were subject to draconian censorship (which The Mirror was sometimes famously willing to defy). But it’s no wonder that this style of extreme news management went out of fashion in later wars. The coverage so far was hardly preparing Alice and Herbert for the moment – less than a fortnight away – when they were to learn that their son (if he was still alive) was a prisoner of the Japanese.

 In any case, the reporting in The Mirror and Express was soon to get much better, and for that reason considerably less re-assuring.

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Interlude: Silver Wedding Celebration in Suburbia

Thomas and Evelina were married at a time when neither of them was interned in Stanley Camp: Evelina because she was a neutral Portuguese and Thomas because he’d been kept outside to bake for the hospitals. But by the time of their first anniversary they’d been sent to join the rest of the Allied civilians in Stanley, and their friends in Camp commissioned this plaque, which was presented on the big day:

On June 29, 1967 Thomas and Evelina celebrated their Silver Wedding anniversary. There was a gathering of family and friends, who enjoyed drinks and confectionery (baked by Thomas, of course) in the back garden of their bungalow in Windsor.

 Thomas had designed this bungalow himself, incorporating some of the principles of the Feng Shui he’d learnt in Hong Kong:

 The toast was proposed by their old friend Tommy Waller (internee 2116), who, at the key moment in a polished speech, pointed to the plaque and said,

 ‘It’s not like Tommy and Lena, it’s got a split in it’.

 Thomas had been getting more and drunk as the day wore on. He was always a drinker, but this was one of those rare occasions when he was out of control, and he felt compelled to interrupt the speaker with some incoherent remarks on an aspect of Camp life that he considered highly pertinent to the matter in hand. He seemed ready to volunteer several more observations, when Evelina, thinking of that split, interrupted the interrupter:

 ‘There will be one if you don’t be quiet,’ she said, with the full support of all those present.

 This didn’t mar the good-humour of the occasion; the post-war Thomas was generally a gentle, unaggressive man, and he remained so when drunk. He kept his historical commentary for later, and Mr. Waller, who was almost certainly one of those who commissioned and presented the plaque back in 1943, was allowed to finish without further interruption.

 His older son, Brian, was sixteen at the time and a ferocious baby-boomer radical, who had to be bribed by his grandmother to behave half-way decently at such gatherings. He looked on with cold contempt at what seemed one huge provocation: family, adults and the war were quite enough to put up with, without the antics of a drunken father!

 Officially Brian was in full 1960s revolt against anything that had to do with the past. But underneath something else was going on.

 Thomas and Evelina, like many other former internees, had decided to say very little about their wartime experiences to their children. It was a compassionate and correct decision – they didn’t want to burden the next generation with their own suffering, and I don’t believe that ‘opening up’ and ‘sharing’ would have been helpful in most cases, although that was later to become the orthodox recommendation for those dealing with the after-shocks of extreme trauma.

P1130718

 But such an experience doesn’t just disappear when it’s not given voice.

 The story of the war was passed on in every movement and every word; it made itself  heard when Thomas and Evelina got up in the morning, followed them during the day waiting for any chance to be told, and was sent resonating round the bedroom as they drifted off at night. (Brian was a fearful little boy who wouldn’t sleep on his own for much of his early childhood.)

 This ‘story-telling’ was not, of course, a conveying of events but of the experience of those events, and as he grew up Brian experienced his parent’s experiences. This was his own experience, in no way identical with Thomas’s and Evelina’s (which were not themselves the same in 1967 as in 1943 because of the perpetual re-making of memory in the process of living) but its origins lay nevertheless in the events of those four desperate years in Hong Kong.

 And one day, Brian knew somewhere on the fringes of his consciousness, he would have to revisit his childhood experiences of his parents’ time in the French Hospital and Stanley. And he knew that such a ‘revisiting’ would require every resource of body and mind he could muster.

 As that bright day in the early summer of 1967 unfolded he was looking for clues, for anything that would help him understand the thoughts and feelings of that first anniversary on June 29, 1943. Later he was to learn just how dark that day must have been.

One of the Bungalows in Stanley camp

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