Thomas and Captain Tanaka (1) An Unpopular Name In Hong Kong

The first family member to take an interest in Thomas’s wartime experiences was his younger brother. Soon after Thomas’s death in January 1985 he interviewed Evelina, contacted other ex-internees (including Dr. Geoffrey Herklots, who worked with Thomas on issues of food and nutrition before and during the war) and drew up a provisional chronology. His annotations to this chronology suggest that Thomas and Evelina had suffered a degree of isolation in Camp because they were not ‘early settlers’: they were sent to Stanley on May 7, 1943, when most internees had been there for about 15 months. Thomas had spent most of this time in the French Hospital, baking bread with two other bakers for the Hong Kong hospitals, Evelina joining him after their wedding.

His brother’s notes hint at another reason that the couple might have experienced some problems in Stanley. At the top of this page is their wedding photo, taken on June 29, 1943 at St. Joseph’s (Catholic) Cathedral.

The Japanese officer in the second row is Captain Tanaka.  There are passages in his brother’s chronology that give me reason to believe that Thomas’s closeness to a Japanese officer might have led to some suspicion on the part of his fellow internees. But there is also confusion, that I think must have originated in Stanley Camp, as to who Captain Tanaka was.

Some people seem to have thought that Thomas’s wedding guest was Major-General Tanaka Ryosaburu, whose 229 Regiment were responsible for massacres during the 1941 invasion. At his war crimes trial  in 1946 the court decided that, ‘The whole route of this man’s battalion was littered with the corpses of murdered men who had been bayoneted and shot’.[1] He was sentenced to death, later commuted to life, and eventually to 20 years.

There was another prominent man of that name in Hong Kong: Lieutenant Tanaka Hitoshi. According to military historian Oliver Lindsay, this man was a guard at Shamshuipo.[2] He rose to the rank of Chief of the Information Bureau of the POW Camps and Commanding Officer at Argyle Camp. This Tanaka was to get three years for his wartime activities.

And any early prejudice against Thomas might have been strengthened in late 1944 the internees might have become aware of another man of that name who was later to face charges of war crimes, Tanaka Hisakazu.

This Tanaka was a commander in Chinaa and also Governor-General of Hong Kong from December 1944, was a war criminal who was sentenced to death by hanging (Allies) and by shooting (Chinese). It was the Chinese who got to carry out the sentence.[4]

It’s probably no accident that soldier’s wife Jean Mather, looking around for the name of the Japanese commandant of Stanley having forgotten the real one, hit on ‘Colonlel Tanaka’[3]. When Thomas and Evelina entered the camp the internees’ would definitely have known of one Tanaka who was to be tried as a war criminal, might possibly have heard mention of a second, and, in 1944, would almost certainly have become aware of a third. No wonder if they looked on a British citizen who would invite a ‘Tanaka’ to his wedding with distrust!

At least three Japanese officers called Tanakas in Hong Kong, and all three war criminals!

But none of these was the man at the wedding.  In  my next post and I’ll bring together all I’ve been able to find out about this Tanaka.


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Filed under Captain Tanaka, Hong Kong WW11, Stanley Camp, Uncategorized

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