The Reign of Terror (5): The Blow Falls

Note: when I first wrote this post I believed that the date on the first letter home from Stanley was accurate: April 30, 1943. However, I’ve now learnt that this is not the case (see ) and have rewritten the post accordingly.

 Early on May 2, 1943, the long-awaited blow finally fell; the Kempeitai took the Medical Director Selwyn Selwyn-Clarke from the French Hospital and began the hideous process of trying to get him to confess that he was the British spymaster in Hong Kong. Some of his colleagues, including Doctors Nicholson and Bunje[4] were arrested too, while Dorothy Lee[5] and other non-British nationals were hauled in over the next few weeks.[6] It’s probable that Alexander Sinton, one of the public health workers living in the The French Hospital was arrested at that time – he was the only one of this group to be executed. The Hospital was completely locked down for almost a week, and then Hilda Selwyn-Clarke and the others not arrested were sent, if they were Allied nationals, into Stanley. 

That almost certainly included Thomas and Evelina. A letter dated April 30 but probably written May 7-9, announcesd an arrival in Camp so recent that Thomas, whose appointment as Deputy Supply Officer Bakeries on the day of the Japanese attack probably means that he was regarded as the senior European baker in Hong Kong, hadn’t yet been set to work.

It is hardly possible to imagine the fear that he and Evelina must have felt as the Japanese gendarmes rampaged through the hospital, arresting the man who was in effect his boss, rounding up about half a dozen others, and starting a full-scale search of the entire premises. And, even if  nothing was found on the premises, which was likely as they’d already been searched in March, and everybody was expecting Selwyn-Clarke’s arrest at some time, who would the detainees incriminate under torture? My guess is that all the men and most of the women in the French Hospital had things to worry about ; it was hardly possible to have been living so close to the centre of Selwyn-Clarke’s humanitarian procurement and smuggling operation without some degree of involvement.

And as Thomas went through all the experiences of intense fear about the immediate present – how many would the Japanese actually arrest that Sunday morning? What would they find as they took the Hospital apart? – he might well have reflected that even if he escaped this wave of arrests and their immediate aftermath, his prospects weren’t too bright. Everybody knew what would now be done to Selwyn-Clarke, and it could have hardly seemed likely that a fifty year old medical man would be able to withstand it.

If Thomas had known the full extent of Selwyn-Clarke’s suffering he would have been still more terrified. For ten months he was subjected to constant interrogations under torture. When he wasn’t the direct subject of the Kempeitai’s investigations he existed in a nightmare world of hunger, thirst, foul stenches, continuing pain and the screams of other wretched victims. No wonder some around him went mad while others sought to end their lives in any way possible. Who could have suspected that Dr. Selwyn-Clarke – by no means universally popular before the war, suspected of collaboration by some during it – should prove unbreakable? That he would never reveal a single name of all those who had helped him, that he would emerge – unexpectedly released late in 1944 – damaged in body but unshaken in mind and spirit? (see below).

Selwyn-Clarke was taken to the Kempeitai HQ at the Old Supreme Court

In an earlier post I discussed the question of Thomas activities at the French Hospital,[14]and suggested that, although there was no actual evidence of his involvement in the Medical Director’s humanitarian smuggling operation, it would have been hard for him to have been completely detached from it. In any case, he, and many others around him, believed that innocence was no protection when it came to the Kempeitai, who, some British people believed, simply arrested people associated with those they really suspected and forced them to implicate the intended victim.

Years later he spoke of something that, as far as I know, he can only have learnt about after the war, something that, like the execution of Douglas Waterton, who Thomas wrongly believed to have nothing to do with the hidden radio,[15] encapsulated his fear of guilt by association:

 The Japanese tortured ‘Lofty’ Lloyd to death and he didn’t do anything. They found his sheet on the wire after other people escaped.

 Here you have it:  the possibility of suffering terribly through an accident of association – in Lloyd’s case because, in the POW camp of Shamshuipo, he slept next to two escapers. This is how Shamshuipo inmate Les Fisher describes things

 Sleeping next to Pierce and Boussanquet {actually Bosanquet} in the same hut had been Lofty Lloyd, who I knew, a nice quiet fellow and a member of the Kowloon Cricket Club.

After Pierce and Boussanquet escaped a waterproof sheet was found on the barbed wire fence, and on it were the initials of Lloyd. He was taken out of camp for interrogation…and we never saw him again.[16]

 On November 26, Kawamoto Kaname was hung at Stanley Prison for bringing about Sergeant Lloyd’s death during the course of administering the ‘water torture’.[17]

 Thomas probably wrote asking to join the Volunteers in 1938, but was told that he should concentrate on getting the Lane, Crawford bakery ready for war instead;[18] his friend Charles ‘Chuckie’ Sloan, was a member, as were probably many others in his circle. He obviously felt that things wouldn’t have needed to be very different for it to have been him sleeping in that hut.

 In any case, Thomas’s fear of guilt by association was in no way ungrounded. Emily Hahn was told by one of her Japanese friends that it was dangerous even to associate with Hilda Selwyn-Clarke after May 2, advice which Hahn clearly took as she sent a ‘deputy’ in response to her friend’s requests for help.[19]

The gendarmes obviously found nothing to incriminate Thomas or Evelina, so they become part of the group of 18 from the French Hospital who were sent into Stanley on May 8. Thomas  was eventually (numbers weren’t assigned until late in 1944) to become internee number 2430 and Evelina number 2431.[1] In the Stanley Camp Log Thomas is categorised as a baker, Evelina as a housewife, and she’s listed with ‘Maria’ as middle name rather than the unusual but correct ‘Marques’ – Maria was her Chinese mother’s ‘Portuguese name’, so perhaps it was the one she herself gave rather than the result of a mishearing on the part of the ‘census’ taker.

 On this map the three Bungalows ‘D’, ‘E’ and ‘F’ make a triangle at the northern (Stanley Village) end of the Camp:


Bungalow D is at the north of the triangle’s base, and to the south is Bungalow F, where James Anderson, who was to be arrested a few months later (see forthcoming post) was living; at the apex of the triangle is Bungalow E, which was soon to be filled with bankers and their families, not yet in Stanley when Thomas and Evelina arrived.

According to George Wright-Nooth, the Bungalows had no doors or windows,[2] but this wouldn’t have been a problem in spring.  When they arrived Bungalow D wasn’t full, although that was soon to change.

On May 8 Gerrard’s diary records the arrival of eighteen French Hospital people the day before (Friday, May 7), a day otherwise marked by yet more rumours of repatriation:

 …Mrs Selwyn- Clarke and sanitary inspectors, doctors and bankers, 18 in all and they have been accommodated in ‘D’ bungalow near to us and are feeding with our block.

 Hilda and Mary went to live – with their friend Margaret Watson –  in Room 6, formerly occupied  by a Chinese servant, an amah.[11] Another diarist, R. E. Jones, gives the exact arrival time as 2p.m.[12]

  George Gerrard said of these arrivals:

 They are glad to be in here as conditions in town are pretty hopeless.[3]


 Of course they are more lucky than us in being able to bring all their clothes and goods and chattels whereas we only had what we stood up in.

 Thomas and Evelina were probably ‘wealthy’ by Camp standards, especially as they still had watches and rings, which they were later able to sell as the food situation deteriorated and black market purchases became more and more important in the struggle for survival.

Most of the ‘Stanley stay-outs’ report that it was a relief to get into Camp and feel the relative safety of being amongst Europeans again and away from direct contact with most of the Japanese occupiers. Even Quaker missionary William Sewell, who only stayed out for a couple of weeks after the majority had gone into camp, felt grateful to be at any rate no more vulnerable than anybody else. Thomas and Evelina must have felt this relief doubly: they had not been arrested during the terrifying search and lock down and their involvement with Selwyn-Clarke was over. Because of his courageous efforts on behalf of the imprisoned Allied communities, he was probably the most dangerous man to know in Hong Kong.

Even Dorothy Lee, who was not involved in any important way with his illegal activity had known back in February before her first arrest that simply to be associated with him was dangerous:

 As I was working for Dr. Selwyn-Clarke, I was always prepared that, one day, I would be a victim of an arrest….[7]

 And as for the Medical Director himself:

 He warned her {Hilda Selwyn-Clarke) time after time: ‘If ever I am taken up, do not attempt to do anything for me. Don’t try to communicate with me; don’t try to send food. You will only implicate yourself Just take care of Mary and wait for the end.’[8]

He was left free for so long because he had some important Japanese supporters, who realised that his public health work was essential for the well-being of the Japanese soldiers and civilians in the colony and who were ignorant of, or willing to turn a blind eye to, his illegal humanitarian activities. But in spring 1943 all that changed.

 One of Selwyn-Clarkes’ protectors, the head of Foreign Affairs,  Mr. Oda Takeo, was transferred from Hong Kong in April[9] and the Medical Director’s main patron, the man responsible for the health of the Japanese army, Colonel Eguchi, left sometime later that month. Selwyn-Clarke expected arrest soon after the Colonel’s departure, and, according to Emily Hahn, he didn’t have to wait even a week:

 It happened on a Sunday morning, so early that even Selwyn was not yet awake. He was given time to dress and to take some clothes with him, and then they took him away.[10] 

  Dr. Selwyn-Clarke was taken to a tiny cell, without windows or artificial lighting, and subjected to brutal interrogation over a period of ten months.[20]  Michal Horder’s excellent account – which supplements that in Selwyn-Clarke’s own autobiography with information from his family and friends – is wrong in one key detail:

 All this secured no admissions from him since there was nothing to admit[21]

In fact, although the Medical Director had been careful to confine himself to humanitarian work, he had organised a large network of people of all nationalities to help him acquire and smuggle into the camps drugs, vitamins and hospital equipment. Although some of the work he did was carried out with Japanese permission, he’d decided from the start that only illegal operations could come close to matching the scale of the need created by the Japanese indifference to the welfare of their prisoners.

He could, for example, have named Ellen Field, a brave English woman who kept herself out of Stanley by pretending to be Irish and helped him in his task of getting medical supplies (and even morale-building sports equipment) into Shamshuipo.[22] He could have named the Chinese chemist who helped him track down vital medicines, the English and European bankers who financed the operation, and he could even have provided his tormentors with at least one Japanese name, Kiyoshi Watanabe, the heroic interpreter who ran countless risks to help the military and civilian prisoners.[23]

 It’s impossible to convey in words the courage with which Selwyn-Clarke refused, in fact, to name anyone at all. Half-naked, legs shattered, crawled over by cockroaches, suffering unimaginably from his own torture, he would raise his voice to encourage his fellow victims in their agony. [24]

 After five months, Hilda Selwyn-Clarke persuaded the authorities to allow her husband (who had been an agnostic but became a non-Christian theist during his ordeal) to have a Bible, and later a Shakespeare. Although it was too dark to read most of the time, and the guards removed both volumes at whim, the Bible was a comfort to him, and he managed to commit much of Richard 111 to memory. He devised parallel stories in French and Latin with the idea that he’d eventually tell them to his daughter if they both survived internment.[25] With the help of such activity he survived torture, imprisonment in foul conditions, people descending into madness and despair around him, months of solitary confinement and the ever-present threat and death with his spirit and mental faculties intact.

 At the end of the war, when it was his former torturers who were now locked up, he paid for every prisoner to be given a tooth brush – he understood the importance of hygiene to the Japanese. Distrusting ‘victors’ justice’ he refused to play any part in the 1946/7 Hong Kong War Crimes Trials, except where he felt he could help the defence.[26]

 Bungalow D must have been a most uncomfortable place to be during May 1943. The day after Selwyn-Clarke’s arrest, according to Camp Secretary John Stericker, the bankers Charles Hyde and D. C. Edmonston were taken into custody.[27] Soon after that Hyde’s wife, Florence Eileen (‘Housewife’, number 2438), came to live in Bungalow D (room 5) with her son Michael Edward (2439, born 2/2/38).[28] At some point (accounts differ as to the exact sequence of events) Lady Mary Grayburn also moved into the Bungalow – her husband was also in a Japanese prison, and soon to be dead of malnutrition and medical neglect. All these women knew the anxiety and pain of having an imprisoned husband.

 And the situation for the Camp as a whole was also grim. The internees’ position after May 2 is summed up by military historian Oliver Lindsay:

 The arrest of Dr. Selwyn-Clarke on a charge of treason was to be the culminating blow, for the life line of extra foodstuffs and medicines was to be severed.  Not even the pessimists could imagine the horrors that lay ahead of them.[29]

[1] Annotated list of Stanley internees, Imperial War Museum, Misc 932.

[2] Wright-Nooth, 97.

[4] Various spellings.

[6] The British Army Aid Group was sent accurate information about these arrests – Tony Banham, We Shall Suffer There, entry for June 7, 1943.

[7] Dorothy Lee, in Hong Kong Remembers, 27. See also

[8] Hahn, 388-389.

[9] Geoffrey Emerson, Hong Kong Internment, Kindle Edition, 1355.

[10] Hahn, 1944, 404.

[11] Selwyn-Clarke, Footprints, 92.

[12] He notes five more arriving on May 19, presumably after further Kempeitai investigation

[13] Gittins, 141. Gittins conflates confirmation in Stanley of the arrests of Grayburn and Selwyn-Clarke, but this seems unlikely as the former had been arrested on March 17 and several inmates had seen him exercising in Stanley Goal in April.

[16] I Will Remember, 38. The memoir of David Bosanquet, one of the escapees, does not mention this sheet, let alone how it came to be on the barbed wire after an escape that didn’t take them through the fence, so the version of events believed by both Thomas and Les Fisher might, of course, be false. Bosanquet claims that 10 people, including Lloyd, were arrested ‘for no sensible reason’, and with an amazing lack of taste, goes on to engage in completely ungrounded speculations as to whether Lloyd – whose first name he gets wrong – might have brought about his own death by arrogance – Escape Through China, 124-5. According to historian John Luff, Lloyd and three others were questioned because they shared a room with Bosanquet – The Hidden Years: Hong Kong 1941-1945, 196-198.

 [17]  This summary of the evidence says that Lloyd was suspected of involvement in the escape of some ‘Indian POWs’.

[18] See

[19] Hahn, 407-408.

 [20] Selwyn-Selwyn-Clarke, Footprints, 86.

[22] See Field’s memoir Twilight in Hong Kong,

[23] See Liam Nolan, Small Man of Nanataki.

[25] Selwyn-Clarke, 89-90.

[27] Stericker 181; when Mrs. Edmonston gave evidence to a post-war War Crimes Trials she remembered the date as May 24 – China Mail, April 9, 1947, page 2.

[28] Imperial War Museum Misc. 932.

[29] At the Going Down of the Sun, 51.



Filed under Hong Kong WW11, Selwyn-Selwyn Clarke, Stanley Camp

10 responses to “The Reign of Terror (5): The Blow Falls

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

  2. Pingback: Reign of Terror (7) the July Arrests | The Dark World's Fire: Tom and Lena Edgar in War

  3. Pingback: 1944 (1): Towards Breakdown | The Dark World's Fire: Tom and Lena Edgar in War

  4. Pingback: 1944 (3): Second Wedding Anniversary and Evelina’s Birthday: the Hunger Gets Worse, the Fear Never Goes For Long | The Dark World's Fire: Tom and Lena Edgar in War

  5. Pingback: 1944 (4): Two Deaths, a Move and a Release | The Dark World's Fire: Tom and Lena Edgar in War

  6. Pingback: Thomas’s Work (3): Outside Stanley | The Dark World's Fire: Tom and Lena Edgar in War

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  10. Pingback: Dr. Frederick Bunje | The Dark World's Fire: Tom and Lena Edgar in War

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