1944 (3): Second Wedding Anniversary and Evelina’s Birthday: Hunger Gets Worse, Hopes Are Dashed, The Fear Remains


The two main sources for this post, the diaries of George Gerrard and Raymond Jones, can be read by members of the Yahoo Stanley Group. http://groups.yahoo.com/group/stanley_camp/messages

Gwulo.com is publishing the Jones diary and the Anslow diary (with annotations) day by day: http://gwulo.com/node/10010

For an overview of 1944 see: https://brianedgar.wordpress.com/2012/02/04/1944-1-towards-breakdown/

On June 29, 1944, the day of Thomas and Evelina’s second wedding anniversary, diarist Raymond Jones recorded something that must have plunged Thomas back into at least some of the fear that he experienced around the time of his first anniversary when the much-feared Kempeitai were in Stanley[1]:

Japs made special search of lorry

This lorry was the Stanley Camp lifeline. It brought in rations and newspapers – and, towards the end of the war, some of the black market food that kept many of the internees alive. Thomas must have been involved with it in some way, as he baked bread from the flour (by June 1944, the rice) that it brought in, but it’s not known if he personally collected his raw materials. On June 28, 1943 six men had been arrested by the Kempeitai: the reason for one arrest – Inspector Whant’s –  is unknown to me, and he was later released without charge, three men were linked to the operation of secret radios, while two were canteen workers who had regular contact with the ration lorry. One of these men was Frederick Ivan Hall, who like Thomas had worked for the food section of the huge department store Lane, Crawford.[2] When Thomas heard this news he must have been terrified, and the days which followed (the next day was his first wedding anniversary) would have been just as bad for him as the time he spent a prisoner in the French Hospital as the gendarmes searched it for evidence of espionage in the wake of the arrest of Dr. Selwyn-Clarke.[3]

It didn’t take much thought to realise that if messages were going in and out of Stanley the ration lorry was likely to be involved. In fact, the Japanese knew or suspected as much long before June 28, 1943. Two entries Jones made in 1942 suggest the Japanese were aware of what was going on but were content for the time to try to stop it rather than to catch and punish those involved:

Monday December 26

Lorry coolies ordered to hold no conversation with Internees.

Tuesday December 15, 1942

Coolies no longer come in on the lorry.

All those operating this system were at huge risk, and it was stopped after the arrests of June 28 and July 7 (except for a desperate attempt, probably in October, to get news of the forthcoming executions of some of those prisoners to the British Ambassador at Chungking.[4])  But the search on Thomas’s second wedding anniversary reminds us that as 1944 wore on, presenting ever greater challenges to the internees’ ability to endure increasingly harsh conditions, they didn’t stop having reasons to be afraid too. Hard as life in Stanley was, everyone understood how much tougher life was in the Prison next door – even without the near certainty of the beatings and torture that usually accompanied arrest, and the possibility of execution at the end of it.

Most of these messages sent through the ration lorry concerned such non-military matters as the health of the internees;[5] at his trial on October 19 Alistair Sinton, one of those who like Thomas had remained in town, was accused of sending a chit about medicines into Stanley to be received by Bradley, who replied swiftly through the same route.[6] For such ‘crimes’ Bradley and Sinton were beheaded; no wonder Thomas feared the Kempeitai. To be fair, the Japanese suspected that messages about replacement parts for the Camp secret radios had gone in and out by this means, although I don’t recall ever having seen a definite statement that this actually happened. In fact, the only comment on the matter I can recall at the moment is John Stericker’s claim that, perhaps without Selwyn-Clarke’s knowledge, radio parts and other ‘illegal goods’ were smuggled into Stanley (early in the Camp’s history) in the ambulance taking in the Medical Director’s ‘legal’  medicines. The parts were hidden at the bottom of sealed kerosene tins of army biscuits.[7]

We get a further glimpse of conditions in 1944 in another part of Jones’s diary entry for June 29:

Black-out ordered again, also an order prohibiting the collection of salt-water by people who go to the beach…people have been collecting quantities of salt water in bottles etc. for cooking purposes & now the lousy rats stop even that.

 The blackouts were an example of a paradox I’ve previously drawn attention to: the American bombing raids – which gave the internees so much hope and joy – were also making their lives much worse, mainly by interfering with Hong Kong’s power and food supplies. These blackouts weren’t so threatening as such interference, which was to hit the internees hard later in the year, but they were a real nuisance. They were frequent in 1944 and they meant that any evening activities involving light became impossible[8]: reading, for example, which was popular, as the Camp had been given many books from the American library after the June 29/30 repatriation. As George Gerrard put it, long days became longer still.

Today most of us are conscious of the dangers of too much salt in our diet, but in Stanleycamp the inhabitants had a problem much more typical of people over the ages: how to get enough and to avoid the symptoms (painful cramps, for example) of deficiency. Salt rations were issued from time to time, but these needed to be supplemented, and boiling rice and vegetables in water from the nearby sea was an ideal way of doing this. It’s not known why the Japanese prohibited it; the internees were still allowed, under guard, to swim at Tweed Bay beach, so no security concerns were involved. At least one former internee believed the Japanese used salt deprivation to keep their prisoners weak: early in internment, before the bathing beach was opened, some men risked their lives to go through the barbed wire to get salt water[9]. This is certainly a possible explanation for the later ban, although at the moment it’s only speculation.

George Gerrard, was happy on June 29. He got one of his frequent letters – ‘loving and glorious’ was his usual description – from his wife Nell, one of those women evacuated from Hong Kong in 1940. Letters came unpredictably and some individuals received dozens, others hardly any at all, and Gerrard was lucky to receive so many. The one he got on June 29, 1944 was dated 30 August, 1942 – it had taken almost two years to arrive, which was a little on the long side, but couldn’t be called unusual. It was a rare letter that was delivered within the year, although Red Cross cards tended to get to their destination more quickly, presumably because they were easier to censor. Gerrard’s response to this letter is to hope that soon he and his wife will be together as the news is good and he can’t see either the Japanese or the Germans holding out much longer[10] (he recorded this in one of his usual weekly ‘retrospectives’ on July 9).

Thomas’s experience was not so fortunate (if Evelina received any letters or cards, she didn’t keep them). The card he sent to his parents in late May 1943 told them:

Was very worried about you all as I had not heard from anybody for two years until your letter dated October just received.

 That could have been October 1941 or 1942

 The card of September 30, 1943 notes that he’s just received a letter from his brother Wilfred, ‘the first for two years’. The luck of the draw had meant that Thomas didn’t receive many of the letters his parents and five siblings undoubtedly sent him. He was always close to his family, and this must have been a huge additional pain.

 On March 18, 1944, he wrote, ‘Received Monica and Joyce’s card’s (sic) to-day’. But on August 6, 1944 he again records, ‘We have not heard from anyone lately’. That was the last card of his to make it home. It was increasingly difficult to get mail through the American submarine blockade, and some internees suspected the Japanese didn’t always try.

George Gerrard recorded nothing in his diary for Evelina’s thirty first birthday, July 10, but there’s a revealing entry made by Raymond Jones for that day:

Squally…No rations arrived today…weather cleared somewhat. Food situation getting rather tight. Japs issued 150lbs. beans in lieu of veg. etc. which works out at about 1 oz per head for 24 hrs. Black-out off.

On January 31, 1944, Stanley was handed from civilian to military control and officially renamed the Military Internment Camp. On January 28 the incoming military authorities stopped the flour ration of 4.22 ozs. and replaced it with the same amount of  rice: [11] this directly affected Thomas, as now he and the other bakers had to try to make as tasty a rice bread as possible:

After flour finished in the Camp we made a substitute bread from rice flour (ground in the Camp on Stone Mills).

They had some success in responding to gthe absence of flour, as Barbara Anslow testifies:

When the flour ration stopped, the kitchen staff ground dry rice into flour and made it into bread, we had one slice each a day and learned to love it as it had a slightly nutty flavour.[12]

On January 31 a parade was held to mark the transfer of Stanley Camp to military control. The army don’t seem to have taken actual control until August 1,[13] but there were still some hopes earlier in the year of an improvement in conditions as a result of the change. In his entry for February 13 Gerrard notes that that the quality of the vegetables has been slightly better and that fish is coming in every day, although the beef supply has ended, and he still feels that ‘the loss of the flour for bread is a serious business for us’. On 26 March he reported a new scale of rations, which was causing him some trouble as block quartermaster, as there were now 5 categories, with more food going to workers – ‘light’ like Gerrard himself in category 4 and ‘heavy’ in category 5.

One of the unexpected consequences of the new scales was a decline in interest in the Camp’s lively adult education system: more people now wanted to work and not study so they could draw the top categories of rations! Evelina didn’t work in Camp – except informally through a welfare group called Catholic Action, which I‘ll discuss in a future post, so she would probably have drawn category 3 rations (‘ordinary’) while Thomas would have qualified for category 4 or 5.

In spite of the continuing absence of meat, Gerrard feels things are getting better:

(T)he authorities are giving us good quantities of vegetables but small quantities of fish. Generally a lot of us have improved in weight and I have gained several pounds already

That’s what he wrote on March 26, but by July 9, the day before Evelina’s birthday, he’d become disillusioned:

 Food has not improved at all, what we are getting is sprats the cheapest from of fish…pumpkins, green marrow, water spinach and a little sweet potatoes, in other words ALL WATER.

Raymond Jones entry (cited above) for July 10 shows that the internees didn’t always get the emargre fare that they were theoretically entitled to, and Jones recorded some precise figures on the day after Evelina’s birthday:

Fish .96 oz. Veg (nil food value) 8.5 oz. per head daily. 

The only serious typhoon in the Camp’s history passed to the south of Stanley on July 22, 1944, leaving the internees’ vegetable gardens in a rather sorry state.[14] With this damage to their dwindling food supplies still being felt, the internees awaited the arrival of the military personnel to actually take charge of the Camp with some trepidation. People wondered if it would make things better or worse. The pessimists soon seemed vindicated: an order was issued to the effect that rice weighing would no longer take account of sacks. This meant an effective cut of about 5% in a daily ration that didn’t always reach its theoretical level of 12 ounces.[15] But two days later came support for the beleaguered troop of optimists: good quantities of sweet potatoes, yams and pumpkins were sent into Stanley.[16] At the same time, the new Camp boss, Hara, announced a reorganisation of the ‘gardening’ system and was soon planning an expansion of the poultry farm.[17] It does seem that the new administration was genuinely concerned to improve the food situation of the internees, but by the summer of 1944 the Japanese position in the war was such that this wasn’t really possible.

As early as August 6 George Gerrard, who, as a quartermaster was in a better position to judge than most, had come to a clear conclusion:

The new regime is a washout and we are kept hanging around for all hours waiting on the arrival of the van with rations, they often arrive so late as to be impossible to cook for that evening’s meal….

Jones’s entry for Sunday, August 20 is close to desperate:

Water only on 6-8 a.m. and 4-6 p.m. Fire wood reduced by 20%. We are reduced to a stage (sic – for ‘state’) of siege almost. The whole Camp cooking to be reorganized. We get Congee at 10 a.m. a meal at 5 p.m. & 4oz. dry rice….No papers…We are back to the early 1942 days again.

Congee was watery rice; the ‘early 1942 days’ were at the end of January when the Camp had not yet been properly organised.

In August the Camp’s electricity supply stopped, and there were general problems throughout Hong Kong. Eventually some power was provided, but anything like normal service was never resumed.

But when all seemed lost, the internees had one of their few pleasant surprises: the problems with the electricity supply meant that some frozen pheasants and partridges that would otherwise have gone rotten began to be sent in. Jones records the first consignment on August 21. Sometimes it was only one bird between 17 people,[18] but for the meat-starved Stanleyites manna – and on August 26 Jones records that they had half a partridge each, ‘lovely and succulent’.

This was a happy interlude in the story of gradually declining conditions. The decline was to continue in September, although there was to be more good cheer too, both for the Camp as a whole and the inhabitants of Bungalow D in particular.

[3] https://brianedgar.wordpress.com/2011/12/16/the-reign-of-terror-5-the-blow-falls/

[4] Jean Gittins, Stanley: Behind Barbed Wire, 1982, 143-144.

[5] Oliver Lindsay, At the Going Down of the Sun, 1982, 125.

[6] George Wright-Nooth, Prisoners of the Turnip Heads, 1994, 199 181.

[7] John Stericker, A Tear for the Dragon, 1958, 180.

[8] Or at least difficult. I’ll discuss one remarkable refusal to accept defeat in a future post.

[9] Laura Ziegler’s speech on returning to theUSA can be read by members of the Yahoo Stanley Group. http://groups.yahoo.com/group/stanley_camp/messages

[10] See  https://brianedgar.wordpress.com/2012/02/08/1944-2-thomass-birthday-in-praise-of-illusion/

[11] Jones diary; Thomas gave the date for this as January 29, but he was writing in 1946, so I prefer Jones’s contemporary dating – see  T. H. Edgar, Unpublished version of ‘We Baked Bread To Japanese Orders’, viewable at documents; for the substitution of rice, see the Gerrard diary, entry for January 30, 1944. .

[13] Wright-Nooth, 207.

[14] Jones diary; Geoffrey Emerson, Hong Kong Internment, 1973, 98.

[15] Wright-Nooth, 207.

[16] Wright-Nooth, 207.

[17] Wright-Nooth, 208.

[18] Emerson, 98.

1 Comment

Filed under Hong Kong WW11, Stanley Camp

One response to “1944 (3): Second Wedding Anniversary and Evelina’s Birthday: Hunger Gets Worse, Hopes Are Dashed, The Fear Remains

  1. Pingback: 1944 (4) Red Letter Day – George Gerrard and Rudolph Zindel | The Dark World's Fire: Tom and Lena Edgar in War

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