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.

6 Comments

Filed under Hong Kong WW11, Stanley Camp

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

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

  2. Pingback: 1944 (2): Thomas’s birthday – In Praise of Illusion | The Dark World's Fire: Tom and Lena Edgar in War

  3. 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

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

  5. Pingback: Alexander Christie Sinton | The Dark World's Fire: Tom and Lena Edgar in War

  6. Pingback: Thomas’s Work (4): Baking In Stanley | The Dark World's Fire: Tom and Lena Edgar in War

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