The Reign of Terror (3): The Courage of Dorothy Lee

Emily Hahn claims that what she calls ‘the Reign of Terror opened with a bang’ in February, 1943.[1] The first action in the ‘reign’ to involve someone working directly for Selwyn-Clarke was the arrest, on February 11 of Dorothy Lee.

Dorothy Lee was a Hong Kong citizen of non-British origin and so not liable to internment. She lived with her family in Robinson Rd., and worked as a secretary. Because she had done voluntary social work before the war, Selwyn-Clarke asked her to help him look after about 40 Chinese wives of Allied POWs – he was supporting these women with a grant from the British Consulate in Chungking (Chongqing).[2]

 Lee was arrested on Queen’s Road in Victoria by two Chinese agents and taken to the Police Station, where she was questioned about Selwyn-Clarke and brutally beaten with a truncheon when her answers failed to satisfy the gendarme, the notorious Corporal Lishi, nicknamed ‘the killer’, and not metaphorically. She resisted her questioners for three hours, after which the beatings became more brutal.[3] Lishi took a dinner break at 6 p.m. and returned to continue his obscene work at 7. Miss Lee had been given no food or water that day,[4] a standard Kempeitai method to weaken the victim’s will to resist. These interrogations continued over the next week.

It could be that one of the reasons Dorothy Lee was arrested was that the Kempeitai thought it would be easy for one of their most feared interrogators to break such a young woman; if so, they couldn’t have been more wrong.

 While in prison, Miss Lee found herself in a cell next to Dr. K. W. Chuan.[5] She was suffering from severe dysentery but given no treatment, although she repeatedly asked for a doctor. Dorothy Lee, although in the middle of her own pain and fear, unselfishly smuggled bread[6] into Dr. Chuan’s cell. She was held in appalling conditions until her release on March 13. All this time this courageous woman refused to say anything to incriminate Dr. Selwyn-Clarke. According to the introduction to her article in China Remembers, she was not involved in his smuggling ring,[8] but in her own account she says she was arrested while waiting for the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank to open so that she could pass on a message from Selwyn-Clarke to one of the ‘expatriate’ staff; many of these messages concerned illegal activities and, even if Miss Lee knew absolutely nothing of such matters, the Kempeitai would have been happy to listen to fabrications, as they proved after Selwyn-Clarke’s own arrest.[9]

 Lee was eventually released and arrested again on May 6 and held for questioning until May 14, but this time without mistreatment.[10] The Medical Director had influential Japanese support at the time of Lee’s first arrest, so the Kempeitai obviously felt that they needed some ‘evidence’ before they proceeded against him. This support disappeared around the end of April, when two of his Japanese  ‘protectors’ were transferred away from Hong Kong, so Dr. Selwyn-Clarke was himself arrested and Miss Lee’s treatment when she was re-arrested probably reflects the fact that the Kempeitai expected to get Selwyn-Clarke’s own ‘confession’ so her evidence would have been relatively unimportant.

In her account of these events Miss Lee does not draw attention to the fact that her month of suffering in a Kempeitai prison obviously did not deter her from continuing to help Selwyn-Clarke in his work. In fact, she did voluntary work for most of the war, so she must have found a way to continue even when he’d been arrested.[11]

 After the war, she was sent to England on an Attlee Government scholarship to study social work. She returned to Hong Kong and became one of only four workers in the Social Welfare Office, concentrating on youth work.[12] She died on January 25, 2004.[13]

 Selwyn-Clarke makes no mention of this incident in his autobiography, but it further highlights his own bravery, as he must have known on March 13, if not before, that the Kempeitai were after him.


[2] Article by Dorothy Lee in Hong Kong Remembers, 26.

[3] China Mail, January 2. 1947, page 2.

[4] Hong Kong Remembers, 28.

[6] Or possibly one of the buns given to her by a Japanese Colonel who spoke in a kindly way to her and sent in a little food and drink every day for two weeks but did nothing to secure her release – Hong Kong Remembers, 28.

[7] China Mail, January 8, 1947, page 2.

[8] Hong Kong Remembers, 24.

[9] Selwyn-Clarke, 87.

[10]In 1947 the Kempeitai chief Noma was tried for war crimes and Miss Lee’s statement was read out at the trial, she being in England – China Mail, January 2, 1947, page 2.

[11] Hong Kong Remembers, 26.

[12] Hong Kong Remembers, 31.

[13]  Arthur E. Gomez Newsletter, February 1, 2004.

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5 responses to “The Reign of Terror (3): The Courage of Dorothy Lee

  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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  3. Pingback: Charles Hyde’s Resistance Work | The Dark World's Fire: Tom and Lena Edgar in War

  4. Pingback: Selwyn-Clarke’s Arrest Revisited | The Dark World's Fire: Tom and Lena Edgar in War

  5. Pingback: Frank Angus (and a note on the Angus family) | The Dark World's Fire: Tom and Lena Edgar in War

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