Monthly Archives: January 2012

Evelina In ‘The War After’

It was obvious that the Hong Kong war would exact a toll on the health of all those involved. Almost four years of near starvation rations in Shamshuipo, Stanley and the other camps, compounded by the scarcity of medicine were bound to have an effect. In Stanley Camp, however, where the conditions were generally better than in the POW Camps, the fortunate presence of a large number of dedicated doctors and nurses kept health problems to the minimum possible under the circumstances. But what of ‘mental’ health? Inadequate food, restrictions on freedom, constant fear, and the pressure of over-crowded conditions could have been expected, at the very, least to upset the equilibrium of the most well-balanced of internees, and one might well predict much more serious consequences than that.

Internee leader Franklin Gimson wrote later about the time in Camp:

A few cases of mild mental disorder caused alarm but generally their absence evoked surprise.[2]

Gimson was understating the extent of mental disturbance in Stanley: George Wright-Nooth tells us that the hospital held ‘several characters who were certifiably mad’ (policemen like him earned extra rations by looking after them).[3] It’s not possible to know, of course, if they were driven mad by internment or by previous events. In any case, I think Gimson’s claim stands even if it needs to be modified a little: there was remarkably little ‘mental illness’ in Stanley Camp. What happened, though, in later years, during what Anne Karpf has called in her distinguished memoir ‘the war after’?[4]

According to The Prisoner Of War, The Red Cross Magazine for relatives of POWs and civilian internees, the wraith-like and bemused internees who stumbled out of Stanley to freedom sometime in August or September 1945 had one question more than any other on their lips:

Do we seem normal after our long imprisonment?[5]

 The honest answer was ‘No’. It wasn’t just their physical appearance – you could spot the gaunt form of a Hong Kong ex-internee a block away – but numerous sources attest to their slow-wittedness, their inability to concentrate and to answer questions with reasonable promptitude. But it didn’t take long for most people to get back to that longed-for ‘normal’.

In some cases, though severe psychological disturbances did result: I’m aware of at least two post-war psychoses, and two or three suicides probably resulting from the events of the Hong Kong war,[6] and there were no doubt more.

For many, though, it wasn’t a question of major pathologies but of unwelcome character changes that seemed to come from the experience of internment. I think that Jean Gittins spoke, with her usual candour, for the majority of internees, who never attracted the attention of the psychiatric profession but knew that the war had made them different people:

I do not deny that I am nervous and not a little unbalanced in my outlook….[7]

Of course, as Anne Karpf points out, any trait we might want to consider a result of wartime experiences, whether in the later lives of the survivors or in their children, is certain to exist abundantly amongst those who lived out those years in peace. My intention in this post is not to discuss this methodological problem but to describe one of the main events in Evelina’s post-war life. That my interpretation of those events is speculative will be obvious. So are all the alternative interpretations, although those that focus exclusively on the menopause, hormones and the central nervous system might sound more ‘scientific’.

The photos taken in Hong Kong between 1945 and 1951 seem to show a reasonably happy woman:

Thomas and Evelina played their part in the speedy rebuilding of Hong Kong: I’ll discuss Thomas’s work as a baker in a future post, and Evelina found employment as a dental receptionist. She was no doubt very happy the week she won a huge lottery prize and they hired a floor of the Hong Kong Hotel to celebrate. Some of that money was later to enable her and Thomas to buy a house in England, which Thomas designed himself, drawing on the principles of feng shui he’d learnt in Hong Kong. Then Evelina’s life changed, and not for the better. Thomas wanted a child from the start, and various stories were later told as to why it took so long for them to conceive, but in 1950 they were successful.

 Brian was born in the French Hospital in October. This was the scene of Evelina’s first internment, and of the terrifying ‘lock down’ after the arrest of Dr. Selwn-Clarke in May 1943,[8] and it was a difficult birth.

Thomas always said later that he returned to England to have his son educated there, but, precocious as Brian no doubt was, he had no imminent need for schooling at three months, his age when the family set sail.  The real reason probably wasn’t the good work being done back in Britain as a result of the 1944 Education Act, but a historical development of a very different kind: the outbreak and course of the Korean War (June 25, 1950-July 27, 1953). In the month of Brian’s birth, a huge army of Chinese ‘volunteers’ crossed the Yalu River to fight alongside the North Koreans. If things escalated, than a Chinese attack on Hong Kong could be expected, and the whole nightmare would begin again. A glance at the headlines of the China Mail on the day of Brian’s birth suggests the real reason for such haste: the news was dominated by the Korean War and almost every other front page story suggests violence and instability inAsia.

Whatever the reason for her exile, Evelina must have hated England. First they lived with Thomas’s parents in a large, old-fashioned Victorian house in Windsor, and then, when Thomas got a job managing the NAAFI bakery and the family moved to Portsmouth, she was stuck in an ugly flat with the NAAFI factory on one side, the squat, noisy social club on the other, and the black stands of Fratton Park Football Ground behind. When she left the featureless industrial estate, she moved through a rather grim city still showing signs of heavy wartime bombing. How she must have longed for her elite life in Macau or for the sunshine and the beauty of Hong Kong, with Chinese servants to boot.

Naturally, her son came to seem more like a gaoler than anything else, tying her to a life she hated, but she conscientiously pushed his pram past the bomb sites to the sea-front and to Portsmouth Zoo. Soon she was a mother for the second time.

Life got better for Evelina in 1956 when they moved back to Windsor, but this time to a smart new bungalow. Evelina liked this pleasant suburb a lot more than the NAAFI estate; she could talk to the neighbours, lose herself in the housework, and enjoy the comforts of middle class living. The couple still saw old friends from Hong Kong though, including Tommy Waller (internee 2116).

They hardly talked about the war to their children though. Brian knew from before he could remember that they’d been held prisoner by the Japanese, but Thomas rarely, and Evelina almost never, provided any details. Once she told her son him that one day in camp she’d gone to put on her shoes and discovered a centipede in one of them; she’d screamed for Tommy, who’d come and killed it. It was the (relatively!) light side of camp life, and that was all she was willing to talk about.

Two events from that period now seem significant.

Brian was an enthusiastic school sprinter and he was obsessed by the Rome Olympics (1960), especially the swimming and the athletics. On August 30, the family were watching the final of the 200 metres breaststroke on TV. Tsuyoshi Yamanaka, a 21 year old Japanese swimmer, won the silver medal. He and the other medal winners came out of the pool and acknowledged the applause of the crowd; the Japanese swimmer bowed in traditional fashion to his delighted home supporters, who responded appropriately:

Tommy, they’re waving the flag.

 Evelina’s voice had the tension of held in emotion, but also a questioning edge; she was looking to her husband for guidance. All he could do was agree. He too was plunged into thoughts and memories, into emotions that those of us who have never known war and occupation can hardly begin to understand.

It was about this time that Brian watched his mother opening an unexpected  letter. Evelina began crying before she’d finished. It told of the death of one of their closest friends  from Hong Kong. The friendship had continued after the war, and this death was a heavy blow, all the more so because the circumstances suggested suicide.

And then Lena began to experience the menopause, although no one said that at the time, in front of the children at least.

It was realized during the war that there was a close link between menstruation and trauma. A number of women reported cessation of periods in Stanley Camp,[9] and after the war this was studied scientifically by Dr. Annie Sydenham (the only woman to serve on a Camp Committee during internment!).[10] Sydenham discovered that over 60% of young women suffered amenorrhea and in over 50% the condition lasted for more than three months. She concluded that although undernourishment was an important factor in prolonged cases, many women began to cease menstruation in December, 1941 before this became an issue. She thought that these cases were caused by ‘The emotional shock of war and internment, with the change of environment and occupation’ (italics hers).

I believe that for Evelina this process worked in reverse: ceasing to menstruate brought about a situation in which the emotional force of the war surged up irresistibly. Later Brian was, for a brief period, to become an admirer of psychoanalysis, but you don’t have to be a Freudian to believe in the ‘return of the repressed’. You can watch it happening around you all the time.

One day, probably in 1960 or 1961, Evelina sat down on a chair in her kitchen:

Tommy, my knees won’t stop shaking.

The problem didn’t go away. Her knees started shaking uncontrollably every time she sat down. Soon she was overcome by feelings of depression and exhaustion. Medicine at that time tended to view such problems reductively; many women after all, had a tough time at ‘the change’. But Evelina’s experience wasn’t just a matter of a difficult hormonal adjustment complicated by a problem ‘coming to terms’ with the fact that she could no longer bear children. It was a life and death struggle with the blackest emotions from her past, and, although she didn’t understand it herself at the level of the everyday self (‘Lena’) her deeper self understood it perfectly, and was sending out a clear signal to anyone who cared to ‘receive’ it: what could be a more obvious sign of fear than knocking knees? Almost a joke, having been milked for comic effect in so many bad films.

 It wasn’t just fear, of course, but all the humiliations and deprivations of Stanley Camp– the crowded bungalow room without the slightest privacy, the endless queuing, the lack of freedom, the ever-present hunger…At some point, Evelina, like all the rest of the internees realized that she’d lost everything except what she could carry with her into Camp:[11] for most of us that would be a major trauma, easily the worst thing that ever happened in our lives, but the inhabitants of Stanley Camp soon came to understand that it was the least of their problems.

Most of the internees identified and overcame the real problems of internment – personal and psychic survival. Evelina got through Camp, brought up her children for as long as she could, and then, when it was safe to do so and when she was ‘weakened’ by hormonal changes, she collapsed into what some people call a ‘healing crisis’ – although that makes it sound far too comfy and far too certain to have a happy ending. This was a question of life and death, and nobody knew what its outcome would be.

The scene of the drama that now played itself out was the lounge of the family home, a bungalow by no means identical to but strangely reminiscent of the one in which they’d spent two years as internees:

Evelina lay on the sofa for almost all of the day, crippled by headaches and depression. Brian went to his grandmother’s for lunch. He was worried that his mother wouldn’t be able to look after him at all and he and his brother would have to go and live there full-time. Thomas, who had been working regular overtime, as the family was never very well off by the standards of middle class Windsor – and, in any case, work was his best way of keeping the experience of the war safely walled-off – got home as soon as he could and cooked the family’s evening meal. Later the relationship would deteriorate, but at this time he was a loving as well as dutiful husband; nevertheless, he could do little for Evelina except practical things like that. He looked like a man a long way out of his depth. And he too suffered as day after day went by and his wife never seemed to get any better.

Brian looked at her on the sofa and he was filled with fear. She seemed so weak, so fragile. She was losing weight, but it wasn’t just that. He could see the energy of life dwindling in her, crumpling up her body and dragging her mind into a dark pit of pointlessness and despair. He didn’t see how she could ever haul herself out.

The family had an excellent GP and he made all of the appropriate arrangements. The doctors thought of the experience in terms of Evelina’s ‘nerves’, and one day the consultant who specialized in the nervous system came round to the bungalow. Such interventions were well meaning but pointless. The problem didn’t exist at the level of synapses, reflexes and the like: it existed because of what Evelina had experienced, and, quite unconsciously, she had found a way to deal with that experience.

As she lay on the couch, Evelina was somehow able to work through what had happened to her, to allow it, in some indirect and symbolic way, to come to the surface and be partially at least resolved.[16]

The emotions of Stanley Camp! What do you feel when you hear the screams of torture and know that the next victim might be the man you love? Or even you yourself, brutally questioned to extract evidence against him? What goes through your mind when you’re aware of someone in the next room preparing a small parcel of food to send to a husband who’s slowly starving to death on prison rations? When a woman you like learns that her husband has been beheaded? Or has died two days ago of malnutrition without the chance of a final meeting?[17]

That was the kind of thing that went on in  Stanley Camp’s Bungalow D, the model of the hone in Windmill Close that my father had designed himself in th middle o the 1950s.

Such emotions are too powerful to be faced at the time; they can only be stored, waiting for the day when they can be allowed some form of consciousness.

But let’s forget everything that happened before – the executions, the screams coming from the prison, the over-crowding, the cold, the constant hunger and  a dozen other things – and just focus on the second half of August, 1945. First, a rumour sweeps the camp that all the internees and prisoners of war in Hong Kong and China are going to be shot in revenge for a dreadful new bomb that’s been dropped on a place called Hiroshima. Then they hear the news that the Japanese have surrendered, the war is over, but they musn’t celebrate too much in case it provokes the Japanese. And the internees start to realise that there are still thousands of armed Japanese soldiers in Hong Kong and it’s by no means certain they’ll all accept the surrender. No-one knows where the nearest Allied troops are, and fear returns to the minds of the inhabitants of Stanley, mixing with the continuing but now precarious joy. To die now, with freedom so close – wouldn’t that be the worst of all? On August 30 every internee who’s able to walk staggers up to the high ground in Stanley to watch Admiral Harcourt’s ships sail past on their way to anchor in the harbour:

File:Swiftsure 1945.jpg

Harcourt rounding North Point

At 5 p. m. Harcourt came to Stanley Camp, and one of the incidental happenings of the day was that the internees encountered a jeep (the word and the the thing) for the first time. A flag raising ceremony was held; one internee from every nationality in Stanley raised the flag of their country while the rest of the Camp looked on. It was an almost unbearably intense occasion:

The man raising the flag is Thomas’s friend, the Prison Officer R. E. Jones. Now, at last, the war really was over and the people of Stanley Camp felt safe for the first time since December 8, 1941.

Just this – two weeks out of three years eight months – is too much for the human heart to bear, too much fear and uncertainty, too much roller-coastering, too much even of joyful emotions, which, if they can’t be fully experienced, will one day exact a  price just as surely as fear and sadness will. Some Hong Kong hospital patients, in fact, are recorded as having died of joy, their weakened bodies unable to stand the force of the happiness that surged through them when they realised they were finally free.

And it wasn’t just the feelings left behind by Stanley either. Evelina had had a hard childhood, as did so many children of the apparently pampered colonial elites. Her mother had died of tuberculosis when her daughter was three; the night before her death she’d called for Evelina to be brought to her bedroom and she slept her final night with her daughter, while the servants worried that she’d pass on to her not just her love but her deadly illness. Was it a co-incidence that when Evelina fell in love it would, again, carry with it the threat of death, this time by preventing her, as a neutral, from escaping to the relative safety of unoccupied Macao?[12] In any case, Evelina’s father remarried and she was sent away: she went back to Macao to school and spent most of the rest of the time with her grandmother. When she did visit her father, she saw a man being slowly killed by alcohol. As a teenager, she took to spiking his booze with water to try to keep him a little better-tempered and alive a little longer.

No, she’d not had an easy life before the war. And did she ever wonder during internment if that grim life of pain, fear and restriction was worth living? She wouldn’t have been the only one: ‘Sometimes,’ internee Edith Hansom told her husband towards the end of the war, ‘I just want to curl up and die’.[13] And such despair might well have been intensified when a friendly guard told Thomas all the prisoners were going to be killed anyway, the day the Allies landed on one of the main Japanese islands. Nevertheless Evelina kept going, like almost everyone else. There was at least one suicide attempt in Stanley (reported by diarist M. L. Bevan on October 27, 1944), but that seems to have come out of the special circumstances of a blackmarketeer, and most people were unwavering in their determination to survive.

But, so much was being stored in the minds and hearts of the internees as they forced themselves, as far as possible, to keep optimistic, so much that had to be faced later. As Jean Gittins perspicaciously pointed out:

It is not war but its aftermath that imposes so relentless a demand on fortitude and endurance. In time of war we are buoyed up by a spirit of dedication and supported by a prop of comradeship. When it is over and we are left to our own resources, we might well wonder when things go wrong if our sacrifices have been worthwhile….In the years of weary rehabilitation following internment, many ex-internees faced trials and crises of a different nature and often these were more testing than the ones they had met in the camp.[14]

After the crisis was over, Evelina said she’d known what those people who take their own life must feel. It was the nearest she, as a loyal Catholic, could come to talking about what had been on her mind, about the thoughts of suicide that sometimes seemed the only way out. I doubt that she thought consciously about Stanley as she lay on the sofa. But, in some form or other, her mind was facing that blackness, acknowledging in some disguised and displaced form the dreadful emotions of the Hong Kong war.

Suddenly one day:

Tommy, I can sit down and my knees aren’t shaking

It was over. She was still ‘ill’, but from that day onwards she was obviously getting better. It wasn’t too long before she could be considered ‘recovered’, and not long after that before, on the surface at least, everybody had forgotten that it had happened.

 It wasn’t, of course, that the experience of the war had been left behind completely: that kind of ‘moving on’ and ‘drawing a line under what happened’ is  a fantasy –  and I don’t know why some people think such a forgetting of what’s made us who we are is a good thing anyway. No-one would say that Evelina was a particularly happy person thereafter, and she always remained someone for whom allowances had to be made by her friends. But she’d somehow managed to expel the worst of the poison from her system. The terrors and deprivations of the Japanese occupation of Hong Kong  would always affect her life but could not destroy her.

Evelina had survived the war. Now, drawing on all the resources of her deepest self, she had found a way to survive ‘the war after’. It was a magnificent achievement. But it had been a close-run thing.

[2] Franklin Gimson, Internment in Hong-Kong, hand-written introduction, page 13. Held at Rhodes House (Oxford), Ms.Ind. Ocn. S222.

[3] George Wright-Nooth, Prisoner Of The Turnip Heads, 1994, 213.

[4] Karpf’s parents were Holocaust survivors. Anne Karpf, The War After, 1996. I would like to take this opportunity to humbly acknowledge all those, survivors and children, connected to this experience. It should not need saying that these events were  infinitely worse than those of Stanley Camp. I also wish to state my conviction  that understanding the Holocaust should be at the centre of our European cultural enterprise in the first part of the twenty-first century. Of course ‘understanding’ involves removing the conditions for anything like a repetition.

[5] September 1945, page 8.

[6] Psychoses: – see note 193;  also Arthur E. Gomes, Newsletter, July 1, 1997, 5-6 – in this sad case a former internee believed that the Japanese were invading the peaceful Devon village where she was spending her retirement. Suicide – Tony Banham, Not The Slightest Chance, 2003, 373.; series of nervous breakdowns: Gomes, Newsletter, September 1, 1997, page 4.

[7] Jean Gittins, I Was At Stanley, 1946, 19.

[8] Early in the morning of May 2 the Kempetai (‘the Japanese Gestapo’) arrested about half a dozen doctors, including Selwyn-Clarke, who was in effect Thomas’s boss. Everyone else, including Thomas, Evelina and about 20 other Allied nationals, was kept prisoner in the Hospital for about five days while the Kempeitai searched the building for evidence of espionage. Selwyn-Clarke, who was not a spy but had been running a large network smuggling food and medicine into the internment camps, was tortured for 10 months but refused to name a single one of his helpers.

[9] See e.g. Jean Mather, Twisting The Tail Of The Dragon, 1994, 40.

[10] Bernice Archer, The Internment Of Western Civilians Under The Japanese: A Patchwork Of Interment, 2004, 127.

[11] I have in my possession a small Portuguese prayer book, held together by sticky tape, published in 1921, which may or may not have been bought before the war. Otherwise the only things that survived Stanley seem to have been a few photos, including one of her with her father.

[13] Allana Corbin, Prisoners Of The East, 2002, 274.

[14] Gittins, 1982, 163.

[15] Allana Corbin, Prisoners Of The East, 2002, 152.

[16] According to the (not always reliable) American professor Wenzell Brown, while he was in Stanley he experienced something slightly similar over twenty days. He’d fainted due to exhaustion, malnutrition and weakness brought on by dysentery, carried to his room, given medical care and tended by friends, he finds peace and sleep:

The tortured, hammering need that had kept me on my feet for the preceding week was gone and I could rest.

The next twenty days were healing days – there was healing of mind as well as body. Slowly the horrors of the siege, the filthy brothel and the camp receded. My mind had been glutted with violence – bombings, bayonetings, beatings. Now I sorted these scenes of violence and carefully put them aside – not to be forgotten but to be accepted as a part of the dreadful drama of war. Wenzell Brown, Hong Kong Aftermath, 1943, 180.


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Reality Check (1): ‘The Japanese’

Like all writers on the Pacific War I have to use the term ‘the Japanese’. In many cases this phrase is followed by the description of unreasonable or cruel behaviour If these statements are accurate, I have no hesitation in making them. But three things I would not wish to do are: 1) give the impression that there is a Japanese national or racial character that, throughout history, has been marked by cruelty; 2) encourage the slightest prejudice against today’s Japan and its people; 3) suggest that even in WW11 ‘the Japanese’ were a monolithic entity who behaved uniformly badly. Simply to mention the peaceful and constructive development of Japan since 1945 should be enough to dispose of the first two points, so it’s the third that I want to address here.  William Allister was one of the young Canadians sent at the last moment to reinforce the Hong Kong garrison. After the surrender, he was held in inhuman conditions at a camp at North Point and then in Shamshuipo. Finally he was transported to Japan to work as a labourer on starvation rations, painting freighters from scaffolding hung high above the China Sea and constantly in fear of a plunge to his death. This is what he has to say about the civilians he was working alongside, Japanese people who at first feared and despised the foreign ‘giants’:  We were adopted as part of the work force, not exactly one of them but – like the Koreans, the students, the reform-school kids – united in a common family. For our part, aware of the good and bad among the Japanese, we sensed that as a people their moral ratio was no different from our own.[1] Other Hong Kong POWs sent to work in Japan had women throwing them bread as they were marched through the streets to work – the guards beat these women , but that didn’t stop them (see Arthur Gomes, Newsletter, April 1, 2001, page 5).  When banker Andrew Leiper was kept uninterned in Hong Kong to help the Japanese loot his bank, he was well-treated by the civilian ‘liquidators’ who supervised his work. When one of them slapped him, apology and redress soon followed. When Leiper was sent to Stanley, one of them sent him in a parcel – even though it was paid for from bank funds, Leiper was grateful because he understood that providing any help at all to the enemy was a risky business, and years later in Japan he expressed  his thanks in person. In fact, Leiper, who stayed out for about 18 months, longer than almost everybody else, doesn’t often report an unpleasant encounter with any Japanese not in uniform. [2]  I am not of course denying that sometimes Japanese civilians acted with meanness and brutality towards enemy prisoners, but claiming that we need to make a distinction between the Japanese military forces and civilians because the general standards of behaviour were very different.  There’s no doubt that the Japanese soldiers were brutalised by the harsh treatment they themselves received – some sources claim the navy, many of whose officers had done some training in England, behaved better, but I don’t know enough to comment on this. There were plenty of soldiers, though, who are recorded as showing fairness and even compassion to the defeated. Captain Tanaka, who took charge of the Exchange Building on December 26 as Thomas Edgar and his fellows waited anxiously to learn their fate, is a case in point.[3] Three separate sources, including Thomas himself (verbally and in writing), testify to his good treatment of the defeated (Update: I now have more sources that show what a decent man he was.; one of them ,Staff-Segreant Sheridan’s Memoir, is the most detailed account yet – parts of htis can be read on Gwulo). When after months of brutal torture, three British officers, Newnham, Ford and Gray, were sentenced to death, the Japanese NCO taking them back to prison, who had always treated them humanely, was so upset he burst into tears. In one of those moments when the beauty of which the human spirit is capable suddenly illuminates skies of apparently unrelieved darkness, Colonel Newnham comforted him with the words, ‘Come on, cheer up, we aren’t dead yet’.[4]  The story of Kiyoshi Watanabe, the heroic interpreter who risked his liberty and life so often for the sake of the POWs and internees, is well known. But what is also clear from the accounts given by Liam Nolan and Ellen Field is that his activities were known to the Japanese authorities,[5] who abused him and eventually sacked him, but left him unpunished. On one occasion, Watanabe was caught by a sergeant smuggling medical supplies into Shamshuipo; he waited in trepidation for the summons to interrogation, which never came.[6] The former pastor put this down to miraculous intervention, but the most obvious explanation is that the officer either approved of what he was doing or didn’t disapprove enough to turn a fellow Japanese over to the gendarmes for it. Even more brutal than the rest of the Japanese Army was the Kempeitai, the military police. In Hong Kong they were in a more dominant position than in any other part of the Japanese Empire, using their power to outdo their fellow soldiers in rapacity and brutality. The other Japanese were afraid of them, and they were responsible for the torture and death of uncountable numbers of Chinese. Grim was the fate of almost all of the relatively small number of Europeans unfortunate enough to fall into their hands. Yet even here occasional acts of kindness by individual gendarmes are recorded. One of their number, Mr. Kawata, a warder at Stanley Prison, shared his rations with the prisoners and risked his life to help Dr. Selwyn-Clarke attend to the sick. After the war he was presented with a watch by Selwyn-Clarke and Major Charles Boxer in thanks for all he had done.[7] The Foreign Affairs Office, which was responsible for the Allied civilians in town and in Camp, and the Japanese Stanley Camp Commandants in 1942-43 (before Stanley was transferred to military control) seem to have generally tried to do the best they could for the internees, but were powerless to cross either the army or the Kempeitai. The first head of Foreign Affairs, Oda, was moved to tears when he visited Stanley by the sight of a former taipan reduced to onion peeling, and, more usefully, he sometimes lent the ‘stay-outs’ money from his own pocket.[8] At some risk to himself he’d arranged behind the backs of the Kempeitai for my parents’ best man, Owen Evans, to go to Macao to talk to the British Consul there about relief funds for Hong Kong (I don’t know if this trip ever took place). I don’t want to give the impression of going to the other extreme: I find it  incomprehensible that Emily Hahn, in an interview with Philip Snow (Fall of Hong Kong, 141), should have called the Japanese rule in Hong Kong ‘very mild’. It seems from the context that she was talking  about the handling of the Allied civilians left outside Stanley, and not about the treatment of the Chinese population, which no-one could possibly consider in the slightest bit ‘mild’.  By my calculation, those ‘Stanley stay-outs’ who were still in Hong Kong in February, 1943 when the Kempeitai crackdown began, had, if male, at the very least a ten percent chance of being arrested over the next year. If this rate were applied to adult UK males today roughly 2 million of them would be in prison, and the Home Secretary would not have to worry about being criticised for excessive mildness. Furthermore, the phrase ‘in prison’ could suggest a misleading equivalence of experience; I don’t share the Daily Mail view that our prisons today are no more than holiday camps, but there is a world of difference between being held in the kind of cell appropriate to the penal system of a civilised society and in the crowded, verminous, stinking holes provided by the Kempeitai. If the poor wretches held in such places, trying to survive on rations even lower than those in the Camps, received no more than a severe beating when they were being interrogated they could count themselves very lucky indeed. In fact, two of the ‘free’ Europeans died of malnutrition and medical neglect, and, as four more were executed, the number of deaths in contemporary UK prisons would have to be well over a million to match this ratio! Of course, absolute numbers count as much or more than relative numbers, and the Japanese were at war – by the time the arrests began American planes were attacking Hong Kong’s military and economic infrastructure, and submarines were taking a heavy toll of Japanese shipping, and the authorities were right to think that Allied civilian espionage was helping in all this. My point is that it is possible to make the opposite kind of error to the one I’m trying to avoid in this post.  Whatever their good intentions, moreover, Oda and his successor Hattori were presiding over a regime that was slowly starving to death over 2,500 men, women and children. It’s a telling fact that the Japanese tried to give criminal prisoners of their own nationality – who were at least as well fed as the internees – Wakamoto vitamin pills for as long as these were available,[9] yet gave the internees nothing. To its immense credit, the Red Cross sent some pills openly into the Camp, while Selwyn-Clarke and others risked their lives smuggling them in.  No, the Japanese occupation was brutal as regards the Allied nationals and unimaginably horrific as regards the Chinese. Nothing I’ve said is meant to deny that. It is not the actions of individuals but the systems of government and administration that must be judged, and, if one source is correct, the rules of that system, at least with regard to the dangerously low level of rations given to the POWs and internees, came right from the top, from Prime Minister Tojo himself.[10] The point of this post is that a clear judgement of wartime behaviour should not be accompanied by prejudice, stereotyping or over-simplification.

[1] William Allister, Where Life and Death Hold Hands, 1989, 130.
[2] G. A. Leiper, A Yen For My Thoughts, passim.
[4] Ralph Goodwin, Passport To Eternity, 189.
[5] Ellen Field, Twilight In Hong Kong, 216.
[6] Liam Nolan, Small Man Of Nanataki, 63-64.
[7] Selwyn Selwyn-Clarke, Footprints, 106.
[8] Philip Snow, The Fall Of Hong Kong, 2003, 140.
[9] China Mail, April 10, 1947, page 2.
[10] John M. Carroll, A Concise History of Hong Kong, 122.


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Note On Date Of Arrival In Stanley And Images of Places of Internment

I’d previously though that Thomas and Evelina were sent to Stanley Camp in late April, 1943, perhaps in preparation for the arrest of Dr. Selwyn-Clarke on May 2.

My evidence was the first communication they sent to Thomas’s parents in Windsor:

 However, I’ve just noticed this passage in shipyard worker George Gerrard’s diary:

We have been told {some time in the first week of May) that we can write a 200 word letter which will be dated 30 April and it is expected that we will be able to write monthly and by backdating the letter we’ll be able to send one for May.

Gerrard himself gave his letter in to the Camp Secretary’s Office on May 4.

This makes it highly likely that Thomas and Evelina were sent to Stanley as part of the group of 18 whose arrival Gerrard noted as taking place on Friday, May 7. He says that they were allowed to enter Stanley with ‘all their clothes and goods and chattels’ and that they are ‘feeding with our block’ (either 8 or 9).

Gerrard was correct: Thomas and Evelina were able to send another card in May.


Below are images of each of their three places of internment, Exchange House (Thomas only), the old wing of the French Hospital and Bungalow D in Stanley Camp:



Filed under Stanley Camp

The Reign of Terror: Conclusion on the Stanley Peninsula

Thomas would never have claimed to be a master of words. Back in England after 1951 his main reading matter was a daily paper, at first The Daily Mirror  – later, as he grew more right-wing and the Mirror was dragged down by competition with the Sun, he switched to the Daily Mail. Otherwise, he contented himself with occasional copies of the Reader’s Digest bought at jumble sales, never opening a book.

 But he also knew it was not his grasp of language that was the reason for his inability to express his thoughts and feelings about October 29, 1943. On that day he was with Mrs. Florence Hyde while her husband was being beheaded on Stanley Beach, and the way he told his son about it, some time in the first half of the 1960s, conveyed both his continuing anger and his sense that some human experiences are beyond words.

Given the vast  gap between bankers and bakers in Hong Kong’s hierarchy-obsessed social order, it’s not likely that he knew the Hydes personally before the war. It’s just possible that Thomas and Mr. and Mrs. Hyde got to know each other during the period (January 1942–April 1943) when they were all part of the small contingent of Allied nationals left in Hong Kong– just over 100 men and a relatively tiny  number of women and children. Although they weren’t by any means able to move around as they wished, they were allowed some freedom: Emile Landau, owner of the Parisian Grill, saw Mr. Hyde regularly at Sunday lunch, for example.[1] However, it’s more likely that Thomas’s acquaintance with the family began when he and Evelina, Mrs Hyde and her five year old son Michael were all assigned to Bungalow D (in the Edgars’ case on May 7).[2]  They were there because Charles Hyde had been arrested.

 ‘Ginger’ Hyde was one of those bankers kept outside Stanley to help liquidate their own banks, and he’d had been taken by the Kempeitai on suspicion of a whole raft of ‘crimes’. He was, to his immense credit, guilty of them all: he’d been raising money to provide extra food and medical supplies to be smuggled into Stanley to help meet the desperate needs of the internees. He’d been listening to an illegal radio with another banker, Mr. L.  Souza, and probably passing the news around the community of uninterned Allied civilians. He’d been ‘running’ Chester Bennett and the Portuguese solicitor Marcus Da Silva, two of the most effective of the British Army Aid Group’s[3] agents in occupied Hong Kong. And he himself had been in contact with the resistance.[4]

According to John Stericker, Hyde was arrested on May 3[5], although other sources givean unspecified date  in April.  Marcus da Silva and Chester Bennett followed him into custody on May 14.[6]  During this brutal interrogation, Mr. Hyde became so weakened that the Kempeitai called in a doctor to examine him.[8]  It seems that he never named his two agents, as Marcus da Silva managed to convince the gendarmes of his innocence and was released, while Chester Bennett, according to da Silva, was executed purely on suspicion in the absence of either a confession or the kind of hard evidence that Hyde could have provided.[9]

While the grim process of interrogation and the gathering of evidence was going on, life continued more or less as normal for the other internees – except, as Jean Gittins later wrote, a Camp that had been stagnating under the twin curses of confinement and malnutrition, now found that it was pervaded by an ‘intense and nameless fear’.[10]

In August Thomas began collaborating with his old ‘boss’ Doctor Geoffrey Herklots;[11] together they managed to grow yeast cultures and hold up the rise of cases of beri beri, caused by lack of the B vitamins, in Stanley. Ironically, while this battle was being won, the husband of one of the other women in Bungalow D was dying of vitamin deficiency in the prison just outside Camp.

A Stanley internee Dr. Harry Talbot had been caught – probably about March 3 – trying to smuggle money back into Camp after being allowed out for treatment at the French Hospital (where Thomas and Evelina had been living at the time). After a few days of pressure from the gendarmes, Sir Vandeleur Grayburn, the most senior banker in Hong Kong, perhaps in the whole of Asia, confessed that he had been the one who provided the cash, claiming that he had wanted it divided amongst some of the Camp nurses. After a two week delay – probably to ask for permission from Tokyo to arrest such an important man – on March 17[12] the Gendarmes took Sir Vandeleur to Happy Valley Police Station.

 C. M. Faure – a former member of the editorial staff of the Japanese-run Hong Kong News, who some believe had used his position to signal to the prisoners as much of the truth about the course of the war as he could – had been arrested on February 18 and was in the Happy Valley station when Grayburn was brought in. He testified that Sir Vandeleur was detained in a dirty ‘cage’: you had to crawl on all fours to get into it, there were sacks on the floor – presumably as bedding – and each prisoner was given just one bowl and one blanket. There were ten people to a cell, and the stench was so bad the warders had to hold handkerchiefs to their noses when they entered. There was not enough light to catch the lice that infested every individual. Washing facilities were always inadequate and at times there was no water at all. The food provided was so scanty that Faure estimated he lost half a pound in weight every day. Grayburn and his assistant E. P. Streatfield (who had also confessed) were held in a ‘similar’ cage: the only difference was that at this stage the two bankers were allowed to receive food from outside.[13]

Grayburn was badly beaten, but he obviously managed to convince his interrogators that he wasn’t involved in anything like spying, as there is no record of him having been given the ‘water treatment’, which was generally used on people suspected of espionage, and he was eventually sentenced to 100 days in prison, about as light a penalty as the Japanese ever gave.

Stanley internee George Wright-Nooth saw him, being brought into Stanley Prison on April 13, handcuffed to E. P. Streatfield, and other internees sometimes saw him taking exercise in the yard. Lady Grayburn either went to Stanley voluntarily or was sent there soon after her husband’s arrest and she too was assigned to Bungalow D, from which she conducted a vigorous campaign on her husband’s behalf, and sent him in extra food and vitamin tablets. George Wright-Nooth, working with a Chinese agent, smuggled both letters and vitaminized chocolate into the prison for the banker.[14]

The food given to prisoners was not enough to live on: those Chinese who had no families able to support them died slowly of starvation. Survival depended on two things: having people outside with the money to provide extra rations, and the willingness of the prison authorities to allow the prisoner to receive them. The smuggled rations, and whatever food sent in openly that the Japanese actually passed on, were not enough to maintain Sir Vandeleur’s health. He was admitted to the prison hospital, a hideous place where many people were sent simply to die unattended, where there was no attempt to maintain even the lowest standards of hygiene, and where the rations were still smaller – Streatfield later estimated they were about two thirds of the ‘normal’ prison ration[15] – to discourage ‘malingering’.

An Indian warder, Kader Bux,[16] made repeated requests for medical attention for the prisoner, but was always refused. Eventually Bux – who understood better than anyone what he was risking – took Dr. Talbot (the man whose arrest had started the whole chain of events and himself serving a hundred days for his role in the affair) to examine the patient. Talbot saw him twice. The first time he had a high fever and was slightly delirious: the courageous Bux smuggled sulphonamide drugs into the prison. The next day Grayburn was comatose and seemed beyond help. He’d been admitted to hospital suffering from boils and because of insufficient dressing he was squeezing them out himself, which, in Dr. Talbot’s view, had given him septicaemia. Without drugs Talbot could do nothing.

On Friday, August 6, one week before the end of his sentence, Sir Vandeleur died. He felt much better in the morning, and his appetite returned. After his evening ‘meal’ he spoke to Police Sergeant Morrison – who was in prison for attempting to escape – of his travels in Norway  and of his brother in India. But, according to Morrison’s account, as he was speaking, he seemed to age suddenly. He made two unsuccessful attempts to urinate, finally dropping the tin provided for this purpose and collapsing. The weakened Morrison helped him into bed as best he could. Grayburn’s last words – before falling into a coma – were, ‘That was very remiss of me’. [17]

Image: Wikimedia Commons

His wife was never told of his illness or brought to see her dying husband. His body was sent into Stanley Camp, where doctors performed the best post-mortem they could under the circumstances and decided that the cause of death was malnutrition.

Meanwhile the ordeal of those arrested earlier in the year was continuing, in Stanley Prison and elsewhere. Throughout the spring rumours appeared and disappeared  in Stanley Camp about the fate of these prisoners, but the full truth was not known until after the war.

Brutal torture, probably of all those arrested, began at once. A few names were given: George Wright-Nooth, one of those with most to fear, stressed no-one ever blamed those who were unable to resist, not even the people they implicated. All the more wonder that a man like John Fraser, a senior government official, who was singled out for continual violent interrogation because the Japanese rightly suspected he knew more or less everyone involved in ‘illegal’ activities, never gave away a single name. It’s a tribute to all these men that nobody named everybody: for example, the Japanese were eager to find evidence incriminating Franklin Gimson, the leader of the internees, but he was never implicated, even though he was the one who authorised most important ‘illegal’ operations.

On August 19 the Japanese prosecutor, Major  Kogi, decided that he had enough evidence to secure convictions of all concerned.[18] The torture that the unfortunate prisoners had been undergoing probably stopped, and Pennefather-Evans and Whant, two police officers against whom no evidence had been secured, were released. The remaining prisoners were kept in ’B’ block of Stanley Prison awaiting trial.

The trial took place on October 19. Those who were going to be given prison sentences had had their fingerprints taken two weeks before; this procedure was not carried out on those whose deaths had already been decided on.[19]

The trial itself was a farce, with a dozing and inattentive senior judge[20] and a guard who saw it as an opportunity for more brutality: the prisoners were forced to stand in a line throughout the proceedings and beaten if they made the slightest movement. Charles Hyde and the Canadian T. C. Monaghan were beaten with a sword scabbard for daring to talk.[21]

Fraser was a physical wreck by this time, but, according to the eye witness William Anderson, this is how he conducted himself in court:

Fraser replied boldly and clearly, his voice ringing resonantly through the courtroom, that he alone was responsible, that he acted solely on his own judgement.[22]

There was one session in the morning, another in the afternoon, and at the end the pre-decided sentences were read out: death for the majority, including Fraser, and long prison sentences for the four others.

There’s another amazing thing about John Fraser. Anyone who, as a very young man, had fought for two years and more in WW1 – he was awarded a Military Cross in 1916 and added a bar the next year[23] –  had later been singled out for repeated torture by the Japanese, and had just heard a sentence of death being passed, might well be forgiven for feeling that they’d had rather a raw deal in life. But, as the prisoners sat down to eat their midday ‘meal’ together, Fraser seemed unconcerned by all that had happened, chatting in a relaxed fashion, looking on the bright side, and showing not one ounce of self-pity.[24]

File:John Alexander Fraser.jpg

John Fraser: Image from Chinese Wikimedia

After the war, he was awarded a posthumous G.C. for his almost unbelievable fortitude. So was Captain Ansari, although the full story of this courageous soldier cannot be told here. I suspect that if all had been known about the conduct of the other prisoners, more  awards would have been made.

On October 29 a van was seen driving towards Stanley Beach by a group of British children.[25] A voice came from the van; the simple ‘Goodbye, boys’ was the final message from this group to their fellow internees.

There is some disagreement as to what happened next. A number of sources claim the victims were shot, but what I think are the two best published sources claim they were beheaded. Hal Boyle, the American war reporter, writing in 1946, claims the beheadings were competently carried out and soon over, while George Wright-Nooth provides a graphic description of a process that, apart from in the case of the first three victims, was bungled and bloody.

Interned policeman Norman Gunning adds that some internees could hear the shouts with which the Japanese soldiers greeted each beheading.[26] Many sources claim that a number internees witnessed the scene – from Bungalow C,[27] from the cemetery, from close to the cemetery[28] –  but I have never come across the account of anyone who claimed to have done so themselves.[29]

Official confirmation didn’t come until November 22.[30] A short notice given to the Camp Secretary Franklin Gimson noted the punishments meted out with scrupulous ‘correctness’: there was not surprisingly no mention of the Chinese prisoners,  of the military man Captain Ansari, or of the civilians arrested in Hong Kong (the American Chester Bennett, the Canadian T. C. Monaghan and the – probable – Englishman Alexander Sinton) for whom Gimson had technically speaking no responsibility. Details were provided of the fates, whether prison or death, of all those arrested in Stanley Camp. It named those executed as John Fraser, Douglas Waterton,[31] Stanley Rees, Walter Scott, F. W. Bradley, and Thomas’s fellow Lane Crawford employee Frederick Ivan Hall. The notice also mentioned the fifteen year sentences given to the two (unrelated) telephone engineers James and William Anderson, and to the policeman Frank Roberts. The execution of Charles Hyde was also recorded, as was the ten year sentence handed out to D. C. Edmonston, as, although arrested in the city, their wives were in  Stanley.

No appeal was allowed in respect of those serving prison sentences, and the internees were forbidden any collective response to the tragedies, and no appeals on behalf of the prisoners were allowed. A few days later diarist George Gerrard summed up the general reaction to the news:

It was a terrific shock to everyone and the whole camp was depressed….[32]

Of course, diarists had to be careful: they would have been in enough trouble already if their records were discovered, without making things worse by expressing anti-Japanese feelings. Writing after the war, Professor Lancelot Forster, one of those behind Stanley’s sophisticated educational services, described the other side to the feelings in the Camp when the news was announced:

(W)e felt very deeply our utter inability, a that moment, to do anything about it. We had a sense not of defeat but of bitterness and anger….We felt that the Camp was a menagerie with wild animals as guards.[33]

Those same feelings of impotence and anger radiated from Thomas, who was more closely involved than most with the day’s events, when he spoke about them years later.

Marcus Da Silva, one of those who could easily have been amongst the victims on Stanley Beach, claimed the Japanese probably wouldn’t have executed Chester Bennett just for financial ‘crimes’, but did so because of the arrival in September of Japanese ‘thought police’ from Tokyo ‘who put the harshest kind of penalties into effect’.[34] I’m not sure who these men were, but da Silva’s theory seems plausible, as this group of prisoners seems to have been treated particularly harshly. Most of the messages smuggled in and out of Stanley involved health not military matters,[35] Grayburn, Talbot and Streatfield had previously escaped with 100 days in jail for their share in the ‘illegal’ activities, and the Japanese had radio experts who could have told them that the sets in Stanley were not capable of sending out messages, so that any contact with the resistance through such means could have been, at most, one way only. Seven civilians were beheaded, whereas only three soldiers were to lose their lives for offences similar in kind but much more threatening to Japanese interests.[36]

In less than a year Mrs. Hyde too was dead. She was killed not by a Japanese sword but by cancer of the bowel. Many internees would have agreed with Jean Mather, who wrote that she died of a broken heart.[37] Her son, Michael, was adopted by the widowed Lady Grayburn, so he stayed in Bungalow D.

Thomas remembered the events of October, 29, 1943 for the rest of his life. In their unspeakable awfulness they seemed to crystallise his experience of the Hong Kong war. It wasn’t, of course, that it was all as bad as that or even that there was nothing good about it. After the war had ended, Thomas’s feelings about this time were far more complex than that, as were those of most internees. But October 29, 1943 was the day on which Thomas most painfully experienced the dark world’s fire. He had  thrust on him yet again the fact of his own vulnerability and that of  those he cared about. He understood that some situations are beyond redress, and that it is not in human nature to be able to respond adequately to those undergoing extreme trauma. And he knew that he had been changed forever by the experience.

Living with him in Bungalow D were now two women whose husbands had died in dreadful circumstances, and Hilda Sewlyn-Clarke, whose husband, whether or not she knew it, was matching John Fraser in his heroic refusal, whatever was done to him, to give away the names (and they almost certainly included Thomas’s) of those who had helped him in his humanitarian smuggling. The reign of terror was to claim the lives of three more British men, this time soldiers, who were shot on another of  Hong Kong’s beaches on December 18, and three more bankers were to be taken from a Bungalow close to D in January and February 1944. They were to come close to death through starvation and mistreatment in prison, but they survived, unlike their fellow D. C. Edmonston, sentenced to 10 years in the October 19 trial, who was to die in similar circumstances to Grayburn on August 29, 1944 (this time the wife was summoned, but arrived after her husband had fallen into a coma).

Although no-one could have known it at the time, the Kempeitai violence against the British civilians was  in fact diminishing after October 29, as it had achieved its aim of breaking the anti-Japanese resistance. But, as the months of  internment wore on two new fears became stronger and stronger: death from malnutrition as the food supply worsened, and the prospect of a final massacre which would wipe out the inhabitants of Stanley Camp completely.

[1] Emile Landau, the owner of a popular pre-war restaurant was one of those loaning money to the British through Hyde, and suffered greatly for it. George Wright-Nooth was, hopefully, not aware of this when he wrote the unpleasant section on him in Prisoners of the Turnip Heads.

[2] The Camp Log (IWM MISC 932) gives the Camp numbers as follows: Thomas 2430, Evelina 2431, Mrs. Hyde 2438, Michael 2439.

[4] Oliver Lindsay, At The Going Down Of The Sun, 121. See also

[5] Stericker, 181.

[8] Evidence of Frederick Tyndall at trial of Noma Kennusoke, reported in  China Mail, January 1947, page 2; see also the evidence of Rudy Choy.

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

[11] For the August dating of this collaboration see Geoffrey Emerson, Hong Kong Internment, Kindle Edition, Location 2526; for their pre-war work see 

[12] Evidence of Edward Streatfield at the trial of Sato Choici, reported in the China Mail, April 2, 1947, page 3.

[13] China Mail, January 3, 1947.

[14] Wright-Nooth, 46-147.

[15] China Mail, April 2, 1947, page 3.

[16] Evidence of Dr. Harry Talbot at the trial of Sato Choici, reported in the China Mail, April 4, 1947, page 2. Wright-Nooth states that a warder named Gholum Mohammed did his best to comfort Grayburn; I don’t know if this is the same man.

[17]Morrison’s account is quoted in Wright-Nooth, 175.

[18] Wright-Nooth, 177.

[19] Wright-Nooth, 179.

[20] Lindsay, 126-127.

[21] Wright-Nooth, 183.

[22] Cited Wright-Nooth, 181.

[24] Wright-Nooth, 173.

[25] Stericker, 181. Some accounts just say ‘internees’.

[26] Norman Gunning, A Passage to Hong Kong, 111.

[27] Sewell, 122.

[28] Gittins, 144.

[29] During my childhood I believed that Thomas had watched the executions with Mrs. Hyde. I now regard this as most unlikely. I’ve noticed that later memory seems to recreate ‘big’ events much more than ‘small’ ones, and particularly those involving horrific scenes. I believe that in this case it was my memory at fault, not my father’s.

[30] Given in full in Stericker, 182.

[32] Entry for November 4, 1943. Gerrard’s diary is viewable by members of the Yahoo Stanley Camp discussion Group.

[33]Tragedies in Stanley’, 2/44. Part of: Lancelot Forster, Five Folders of notes, essays, documents, held at Rhodes House, (Oxford), Mss. Ind. Ocn. S. 177, 1/2/3/4/5. This essay is in folder 5.

[35]  Lindsay, 125.

[36] Ralph Goodwin, Passport to Eternity, 190-191.

[37] Jean Mather, Twisting The Tail of the Dragon, 72.


Filed under Chester Bennett, Hong Kong WW11, John A. Fraser, Stanley Camp, Vandeleur Grayburn

News of Hong Kong in England (6) December 19, 1941

Hong Kong’s on the Mirror’s back page on December 19, and the news is ominous:

Daily Mirror page 8 (back page)

Japs claim Hong Kong landing

JAPANESE Army headquarters last night claimed that a Japanese force had landed on Hong Kong Island in face of fierce resistance.

 The Japanese Navy supported the troops in overnight operations. The troops were “now rapidly carrying out further operations.”

 The latest Hong Kong communiqué received in Chungking did not confirm the Japanese claims.

 “Another Japanese peace offer was flatly rejected this morning, to their evident surprise,” it stated.

 ” During the day the defending guns destroyed one section of the enemy’s artillery, located on Devil’s Peak, and another gun firing from Cub Hill.

 “Japanese mortars situated on the Kowloon waterfront maintained a heavy fire, which was returned. A number of enemy guns were silenced.

Over at the Express Edgerton Gray stays on the front page.

Daily Express, page 1


HONGKONG, T h u r s d a y.

WHILE a heavy shelling duel went on today between British guns in besieged Hongkong and Japanese batteries on the mainland, Sir Mark Young, Governor and

Commander-in-Chief, sent off this message to London:

 “All concerned in the defence of Hongkong have received with gratitude the message from H .M. Government. We are going to HOLD ON!”

Gray too reports the artillery successes: two enemy guns destroyed at no British cost. So far it’s the same mix as the Mirror, but he goes on to add two comments on the Chinese civilians who formed the vast majority of those inHong Kong:


Morale runs high not only among the British and Canadian defenders but among the Chinese population.

Most of the Chinese, he claims, were staying at home to play mah-jong as shells whistled through the skies above them.  Then Gray mentions, for the first time unless I’ve missed something, an important aspect of the fighting:

An attempt by a small clique to cause public uneasiness failed, and the offenders have been rounded up.

One of the things that made the defence of Hong Kong so difficult was the presence of a substantial ‘fifth column’ of Chinese supporters of the Wang Jing-Wei government. This was based in Nanjing and acted as a tool of the Japanese in the areas they controlled. The population of Hong Kong had been swollen by about a million people in December 1941 as refugees poured in to escape the fighting in southern China, and this gave the Japanese ample opportunity to infiltrate their Chinese supporters and increase the number of those willing to help sabotage the British war effort. They were far more than a small clique, and the fifth columnists remained active until the surrender.

On page 2 the Express ‘Opinion’ column has a brief comment on Hong Kong:

 U.S. Strength

OUR Chinese’ Allies are fighting gallantly to relieve the pressure on Hongkong. But the main relieving force throughout the Pacific must be the sea and air strength of America.

 It cannot strike at every threatened spot at once. Yet in any one direction in the South Pacific it has the power to strike decisively.

 For that reason Japan has scattered her attacks.

That’s sensible enough, although wildly optimistic as it turned out. Yet lest anyone think that Express opinion writers were sane, we’re given these interesting musings on the overall war situation:

 Certain victory

 TODAY Great Britain, with her independent but associated Dominions, and her wealthy Colonies, is forming, with the almighty United States of America and the conquering Russians, the greatest alliance that the world has ever seen against the enemy.

There are now solid roots and foundations for the belief of the certain destruction of our enemies.

You will see in this new alliance such a rapid mass-production of forces and equipment as never was before.

And when the powers of decency are ordered God help the devil.

God help the devil indeed; but first a little assistance to the writer would have been in order.

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News of Hong Kong in England (5) December 18, 1941

Hong Kong gets on the front page again today, December 18, and the Mirror provides a suitably tough looking image of the Governor – the real one, Sir Mark Young, not C. F. Norton, the mountaineer they’d elevated – hideous pun intended – to this position in an earlier report. Readers are informed he’s 55, which is hard to believe from the picture of a well-preserved 40 year old.

 The theme for the day is the Governor’s ‘no surrender’ stance.


 SIR MARK YOUNG, Governor and Commander-in-Chief of Hong Kong, sent this telegram to the Secretary of State for the Colonies yesterday:

 “After some further bombardment, I have received another letter signed by Japanese military and naval commanders-in-chief, asking me to confer about surrender on considerations of humanity.

 The following is the text of my reply:

 ‘ ‘ ‘ The Governor and Commander-in-Chief of Hong Kong declines most absolutely to enter into any negotiations for the surrender of Hong Kong, and he takes this opportunity of notifying Lieutenant-General Takaishi Sakai and Vice-Admiral Masaichi Niimi that he is not prepared to receive any further communication from them on the subject. ‘ “

 The Secretary of State (Note: Lord Moyne) replied:

 “Your refusal to consider the Japanese commanders’ request to negotiate terms of surrender of Hong Kong commands the respect and approval of his Majesty’s Government.

 “Your resolute leadership, and the stirring conduct of all defenders of the fortress, are being watched with admiration and confidence by the whole Empire and by our Allies throughout the world.”

 Helped by the Governor’s defiant stance, that Chinese army has fought its way to the top of the main story, which takes the form of a summary of news from different Asian fronts:



 CHINESE forces are battering the rear of the Japanese besieging Hong Kong.

Reinforcements of the Japanese going to the attack on our colony have had to be diverted…


“Advance towards Kowloon at any cost” is the order given to the Chinese Army, said Chungking radio last night.

 That report seems more realistic; as far as I can make out from Phillip Snow (The Fall of Hong Kong) and Dick Wilson (When Tigers Fight) the Chinese did manage to harass the Japanese rear, although they were prevented from doing much more by a cleverly timed assault on the major city of Changsha in Hunan Province.

 After briefly discussing other fronts, the article returns to Hong Kong:

 ‘Hong Kong last night was quiet apart from some shelling in the early hours of the morning, and has been followed by a day in which there has been no change,’ said a communiqué issued in Hong Kong yesterday.

Bomb explosions were occasionally shaking the city, it was reported, but little actual damage was done.

 The people are placing great faith in the British heavy batteries, which have retained superiority over the Japanese batteries in a sharp duel.

 We silenced two enemy gun positions in the morning and another in the afternoon. Our batteries suffered no damage.

 The article goes on to quote German radio to the effect that fires had started in some parts of Hong Kong. It returns to that Chinese army in a continuation that spills over onto the back page, claiming that the Chinese and British are fighting in close cooperation:

 Plans for such cooperation have been under discussion with the British military mission in Chungking and are already being put into effect.


 The Express leads with the Japanese invasion of Portuguese Timor, and runs a similar ‘no surrender story’ about Hong Kong:


Hongkong spurns surrender and London wires:

Hold on!

A FTER Sir Mark Young, Governor of Hongkong, had rejected another Japanese call to surrender yesterday, London telegraphed him to “Hold on!”

This is the reply Sir Mark sent to the Japanese military and naval commanders…(as in Mirror)


Express Special Correspondent A. C. Greeves reported from Hongkong yesterday that Japanese aircraft in addition to heavy bombing, scattered thousands of ‘surrender’ leaflets over  the island fortress.

Hongkong’s afternoon communiqué said: “No change in the situation. The artillery duel continues intermittently.”

 And the Chinese army’s had more successes north of Hong Kong, of course. In Hong Kong itself there were illusions about this army, some of which outlasted the actual fighting. But banker/Volunteer soldier Andrew Leiper knew the truth as early as December 16; after the war he recorded his private response when told about the advance of the Chinese Seventh Army marching towards Kowloon:

 Nobody said so, but I was sure they all shared the thought in my mind, that, even if the report was true, the Seventh Army would arrive too late.[1]

 The Express page one round up of Far Eastern war news is shaping up well. The local headline is Hong Kong Ordeal and there follows a disturbing assessment:

 COMMUNICATIONS with Hongkong silent since Friday, were restored yesterday….

 Hongkong’s ordeal has only begun. The Japanese will bring up many more siege guns to pound the citadel.

More air raids too will be coming as the enemy improvises airfields in the mainland behind Kowloon.


[1] G. A. Leiper,  A Yen For My Thoughts, 1982, 49.

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