British Army Aid Group

In previous posts I’ve discussed two of the three main targets of the Kempeitai crackdown of 1943 as it affected the British and Allied communities: the operation of secret radios on Stanley Camp and the military POW camps, and the humanitarian smuggling operation (of food, medicines etc.) carried out by the Medical Director Dr. Selwyn-Selwyn Clarke and financed by a group of senior bankers and their agents.  The third target was the British Army Aid Group, which organised resistance in Hong Kong from its bases in southern China. Hong Kong historian Tony Banham has been given access to the papers of Dr. Lindsay Ride, the founder and head of the BAAG, and in due course he will publish what will probably be the definitive account of this organisation. All discussions are likely to be made obsolete by Banham’s work (and it looks like Lawrence Tsui, son of the importnat agent Paul Tsui is also working on these papers) so this post should be regarded as even more tentative than usual. I offer this brief account only to provide the necessary background to Thomas and Evelina’s experience in 1943.

Lindsay Ride was a professor of medicine at Hong Kong Universitywho commanded an ambulance unit during the war. Francis Lee Yiu Piu was one of his students and also a member of this unit. Although he was Chinese, and therefore not liable to internment he chose to enter Shamshuipo POW Camp so as to use his knowledge and contacts to help Ride to escape. On Thursday, January 8, 1942, Lee jumped onto a sampan from a poorly-guarded jetty; on the evening of the next day he brought the Sampan back to the camp and Ride and two others sailed off to freedom.

Ride arrived in Chungking (Chongqing) the capital of Free China in February, and immediately set about organising what was to become known as the British Army Aid Group.[1] The main purposes of the BAAG were the facilitation of escapes, the gathering of intelligence, the smuggling of medical supplies into the camps, and the promotion of any acts of sabotage to then Japanese war effort that might be possible. American bombing of Hong Kong began in October 1942 and the BAAG was eventually to help 40 downed US airmen to safety.[2] To rescue these airmen, and in some of their other activities, the BAAG worked closely with the dedicated and well organised East River Column. This communist guerrilla movement was the only significant force to survive the events of 1943 – the Japanese caught some of their urban cadres, but the majority remained safe in their mountainous strongholds.[3]

By July 1942 the BAAG was ready to move, and Ride sent a letter into Stanley to Duncan Sloss, the Vice-Chancellor of Hong Kong University. This began a regular series of contacts using Chinese agents who in turn recruited people whose work took them into Stanley, for example truck drivers.[4] This will become significant when we return to Thomas’s story in the next post.

Ride was eager to promote mass escape of fit young men from Stanley with the idea that they would join the Allied war effort, but George Wright-Nooth, who, as a policeman, was just the kind of internee Ride wanted out of the Camp, judged the plan ‘weird and wonderful’, while Oliver Lindsay – an army officer as well as a military historian – considered a similar plan for a mass break-out from Shamshuipo ‘suicidal’.[5]

Probably planning escapes was not the BAAG’s most valuable function – even individual or small group break-outs, although more likely to be successful, were controversial, as they invariably resulted in direct punishments or worse conditions for those left behind.[6] It was their other activities that proved so important.

By March 1943 the BAAG had over 30 agents in Hong Kong– one estimate claims as many as 100[7] – providing a wide range of information:

They covered every significant branch of intelligence and their reports included the enemy’s army, naval, air and economic activities with details also on Japanese security, censorship and deception.[8]

Tony Banham has stressed the attention to detail of BAAG agents:

Even each individual Japanese ship visiting the port was sketched and reported.[9]

Two of the most important agents were Chester Bennett and Marcus da Silva, who I’ve discussed in a separate post.

Some people like to contrast Ride with Dr. Selwyn-Clarke: two great men, one magnificent in his fighting spirit, tthe other in his humanitarian  passion. This does less than justice to both. Although Ride’s main concern was to help win the war, he was well aware of the necessity for ‘illegal’ humanitarian actions as well –Japanese levels of food and medicine provision were so low that a huge number of deaths would have resulted if no additional supplies had been somehow got into the camps. The BAAG was involved in the smuggling of both cash and medicines, [10] and Edwin Ride’s book brings out well the fact that the imetus to Ride’s escape was the belief that if nothing was done huge numbers of the POWs would die of cholera and other diseases in the summer months: as he led to begin his journey to freedom, he said to his medical second-in-command, ‘Look out for medical supplies by March if we get through’ (Edwin Ride, British Army Aid Group, 1982, 26). The ‘Aid’ part of the organisation’s name wasn’t purely a cover, either: thousands of patients were fed and thousands more given medical treatment during a 1943 famine in western Kwantung, for example (Ride, 195). On the other side, it should be remembered that one of the first union jacks raised in liberated Hong Kong was hauled up the pole by Selwyn-Clarke. There were real differences between these Titans, and I’ll discuss them in a future post, but they were not of the kind that allows an easy contrast between the soldier and the doctor, the saviour of the innocent and the ruthless pursuer of the enemy.

Soon after March 1943 the BAAG in Hong Kong was to be crippled by the Kempeitai campaign that began in February and seemed at first to be aimed mainly at incriminating Selwyn-Clarke. In March this campaign took in the bankers who’d been supplying the former Medical Director with money for his new work as a smuggler and on May 2 it returned to Selwyn-Clarke himself, who was arrested at the French Hospital.

On April 13 some Chinese were executed close to Stanley Camp,[12] and these may have included BAAG agents, as most of the Hong Kong Nationalist resistance weren’t arrested until April 19.[13] On the last day of May the Kempeeitai arrested David Loie, a government chemist who had become the BAAG’s chief agent in Hong Kong.

On the day of his arrest David Loie jumped to his death from the Supreme Court building where the Japanese were preparing to torture him. He didn’t want to risk betraying others, and after the war he was awarded the King’s Police Medal For Gallantry to honour this courageous decision.[14] Nevertheless, in mid-June the Kempeitai began to detain the Chinese lorry drivers who took messages in and out of Stanley.

In the first quarter of 1943 Thomas was at risk from the Kempetai’s suspicion of Dr. Selwyn-Clarke. He was moved to Stanley, probably in April, and he was there when the Japanese attempt to destroy the BAAG brought them into Stanley Camp. He celebrated his first wedding anniversary the day after six of his fellow internees were arrested, at a time when ‘an intense and nameless fear’ pervaded the lives of the internees.[15]

[1]Oliver Lindsay, At The Going Down Of The Sun, 97.

[2] The Oxford Companion to the Second World War, ed.I. C. B. Dear and M. R. D. Foot, OUP, 1995, p. 163.

[3] Phillip Snow, The Fall Of Hong Kong, 185.

[5] George Wright-Nooth, Prisoner of the Turnip Heads, 115; Lindsay,

[6] Les Fisher, I Shall Remember, 38-39; Lindsay, 110.

[7] Wright-Nooth,152.

[8] Lindsay, 122.

[10] Wright-Nooth, 114; Ralph Goodwin, Passport to Eternity, 107.

[11] Snow, 179.

[12] Wright-Nooth, 159.

[13] Snow, 185.

[14] Wright-Nooth, 152.

[15] Jean Gittins, Stanley: Behind Barbed Wire, 134.



Filed under British Army Aid Group, Hong Kong, Hong Kong WW11, Stanley Camp

6 responses to “British Army Aid Group

  1. Pingback: The Reign of Terror (1): Prelude and Early Moves | The Dark World's Fire: Tom and Lena Edgar in War

  2. Pingback: The Reign of Terror (3): The Courage of Dorothy Lee | The Dark World's Fire: Tom and Lena Edgar in War

  3. Pingback: Reign of Terror (6): First Wedding Anniversary, Stanley Camp | The Dark World's Fire: Tom and Lena Edgar in War

  4. Pingback: The Reign of Terror: Conclusion on the Stanley Peninsula | The Dark World's Fire: Tom and Lena Edgar in War

  5. Jeff Leung

    Hi there, I am looking for amy documentation regarding Leung Kwok Tok as a BAAG (#37). Do you have any info?

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