Thomas’s Work (3): Outside Stanley

In  the early evening of December 25, 1941 Thomas and many of his fellow Lane, Crawford employees assembled at the Exchange Building, the company headquarters in Des Voeux Rd. The Japanese took over Hong Kong the next day; control of the Exchange Building was assigned to Captain Tanaka, who treated those interned there well.[1] Nevertheless, no Allied citizen was allowed in or out of the building in late December and early January.[2]

On January 4/January 5, 1942 enemy civilians were summoned by the Japanese to present themselves at the Murray Barracks Parade Ground in Victoria(now Central). From there they were taken off to hotel-brothels on the waterfront and interned there while their long-term future was decided. Thomas was one of those exempted from this process; he stayed a prisoner in the Exchange Building. It’s possible  that already on January 4/5 someone had the idea of keeping him out long term to make use of his skills as a baker. If so, perhaps the Colony’s former Medical Director, Dr. Selwyn Selwyn-Clarke, who was one of those allowed to carry on his work outside Stanley, was involved – we know he was in contact with Captain Tanaka at about this time,[3] and he was indefatigable in identifying needs and putting in place plans to meet them. However, as the Telephone Company workers also seem to have been kept in Exchange House at this time, it’s more likely that there’s some other explanation.

Bread for the Hospitals

But all that we know for certain is that on January 9 Tanaka gave permission to resume the baking of bread for the hospitals, and, as Lane, Crawford’s Stubbs Rd. Bakery had been taken over by the Japanese, Thomas opened the Green Dragon Bakery at 93, Queen’s Rd. East, Wanchai, in his opinion the biggest and best of the Chinese owned bakeries. Whatever the exact sequence of events leading to this development, Thomas firmly credited Tanaka with allowing the hospitals to receive bread.[4]

Chinese workers at an unknown bakery

 Production was 590 lb. of bread per day, and later this was increased to 3,000 lbs. per day. According to Thomas, at first, the bread was mainly for ‘emergency hospitals in the Hong Kong Hotel’. My guess is that these would have been shut down as quickly as possible, as the Japanese made full use of the main hotels for their own purposes. If I’m right, Thomas would soon have been baking for other hospitals and, until May 1942, for Stanley Camp (see below). In his escape statement, RASC baker Staff-Sergeant Sheridan mentions the Bowen Rd. Military Hospital and ‘a few other civilian hospitals’ as well as the Hong Kong Hotel civilian hospital.

On February 8, 1942 Thomas and the Volunteer (Drivers) Unit (see below) were moved to the French Hospital.[5] Later that year a British Army Aid Group document records him as living at the French Hospital with two other bakers: Hammond and Peacock.[6] Hammond, who was  a soldier passing for a civilian, had worked with Thomas during the fighting,[7] but all I know about Peacock is that his first name was Serge (Greg Leck’s Stanley Roll in Captives of Empire so lists him) and that Sheridan described him as a ‘confectioner’ and ‘pastry cook’.

At about the time he was moved, the supply of yeast allowed by Captain Tanaka ran out, so they asked the Medical Department to buy a supply, and from this made yeast, using about one gallon of water to an ounce of hops.[8] Soon flour became a problem, especially as by this time they were baking for the internees in Stanley camp as well: the flour issue grew less every day, and there was an urgent need to find a way to bake bread with less flour. The answer lay in the fortunate fact that the French Hospital had been a Government war time rice depot:[9]

(A)s we had plenty of rice I got a dealer to grind some on a Chinese Stone Mill and added ground rice up to 60% of the flour.[10]

 This bread – 60% rice, 40% flour – didn’t taste bad, as we shall see later. The account in the British Baker article adds that the type used was ‘red rice’, and that this method enabled enough bread to be baked for each internee to get a slice of approximately one ounce per day.

Thomas describes the method used to grow the yeast:

The yeast we were using was made by boiling 1g hops in 1 gallon of water for forty minutes then adding the mixture to 1-lb. flour that had already been slackened down with cold water.

 However, in the already harsh conditions of early 1944, when Thomas had been in Stanley for about 9 months, the hop supply ran out:

 This we kept going for about two years until our stock of hops ran out. Then we made quite a good yeast from sweet potatoes using the same method only using 1-lb sweet potatoes instead of 1g hops.[11]

The bakers used 13-15 hours straight doughs because they had to be back in their quarters by 6 p.m. and weren’t allowed out until 7 a.m. the next morning. They would prepare the mixture in the last part of the day, leaving it overnight and then finish their work in the morning:[12]

This produced a loaf that was very short and crumbly and took quite a good heat to colour; in the Hong Kong climate it soon went mouldy, but served its purpose as everybody got a little which would otherwise have been impossible.[13]

Bread for Stanley

Geoffrey Emerson, basing himself on Camp Secretary John Stericker’s manuscript Captive Colony, tells us that there was a flour issue in Camp from the early days, but that baking bread was not possible because of the absence of yeast. He adds that the flour issue was increased in April.[14] This means that from January 21, when most internees were sent to Stanley, to some time in April, the bread baked in the Qing Loong bakery was either the only bread in Camp or at least the only bread available in any quantity.

In fact, it would seem that bread was sent to the internees in the period (January 5-January 21 for the majority) when they were confined in the hotel-brothels on the waterfront before it was decided to send them to Stanley: Barbara Anslow recorded in her diary for January 12:

Medical Dept (?) have started to send bread daily – one slice each with butter or jam.[15]

 AndJohn Stericker credits Selwyn-Clarke with getting ‘bread and other supplies into these ghastly hotels’.[16]

 Writing much later, Barbara Anslow also remembered the bread that was eventually sent into the Camp:

How welcome was the meagre bread ration we received in Stanley in the early days.   It used to be delivered to the hospital office where I worked, and the doughy SMELL was like a meal itself.[17]

Escaped internee Gwen Priestwood mentioned this bread in her account of her short time in Stanley:

At this time Dr. Selwyn-Clark (sic), director of Civilian Medical Services, managed to get us a ration of bread, and the small piece each of us received tasted – to me anyway – better than cake.[18]

My guess is that she was right and the whole enterprise of the bakers remaining outside Stanley and sending in one slice per internee every day was due to Selwyn-Clarke. As the bulk of the bread went to the hospitals, and Thomas gives the figure of 2,515 Stanleyites[19] to provide for, this means that either the patients got more than a slice each or that there were a lot of them.

As to it tasting ‘better than cake’: we must remember that many internees report real difficulties in switching to a rice diet. Some regarded it contemptuously as ‘coolie food’ but even many of those with no such prejudices seem to have disliked rice and found it difficult to digest. The familiar taste of bread was important to the internees. Camp Secretary John Stericker:

The Japanese supplied us with limited rations each day….Above all, there was some bread. This enthusiasm regarding the latter will not appear so strange when it is realised that we came to the stage at which all meat, bread, and electricity ceased until the end of the war.[20]

Both the bread supply and the distribution of flour in Camp were not always reliable in these first months.  Wright-Nooth attests to the ‘scarce and erratic’ nature of the flour deliveries,[21] and it is not surprising given the difficult conditions of distribution reported by Gwen Dew (above); Thomas is probably describing this early period when he writes about the problems involved in production:

At this period, before the baking was properly organised, we were often reduced to our last bag of flour and last pound of firewood or we ran out of hops. If it had not been for the loyalty of Qing Loong’s staff, we could never have produced bread regularly. Later the volunteer unit managed to get permission for the regular supply of materials.

Barbara Anslow’s diary for Friday, January 16, 1942, reads:

No bread supplied today, but Tony had some and shared it.

 Fellow diarist R. E. Jones reports on Wednesday, January 28:

 Got bread for two days and it is as much as we had for one day yesterday.

And on Tuesday, February 24 he noted that an extra bread ration was received, whereas a month later on March 24 there was no bread at all, and the next day it was ‘rye bread’.  April 7 was another breadless day.

Repatriated American  Marion Dudley attests to both the erratic supply of the bread and the low quality of the materials that the bakers were sometimes forced to work with:

Tiny half slices of bread came from town spasmodically, sometimes whiskered with mould.

(Alan Birch and Martin Cole, Captive Years, 1982, 35.)

However, the Maryknoll Fathers (also American) seem to have had a more regular bread supply, recording in their diary entry for April 13, 1942:

The quality of our food seems to have increased slightly but the quantity is still meager. Our one piece of bread, issued daily or every other day, seems also to be dwindling in size, and becoming darker in color. At present our piece of bread is about three inches long by about one inch wide. Incidentally, the bread which we have been getting is being baked at the French Hospital, and we are getting it through the good offices and hard work of Dr. Selwyn Clark, the fotmer head of the Hong Kong Medical Department, who has been allowed his freedom, so far.

Another American, Norman Briggs, also reported an extremely erratic bread supply, which leads me to a speculation: Briggs claims that the Maryknoll Fathers, and the Sisters who followed their lead in everything, formed the core voting block that kept in power the businessman William Hunt, the effective but unscrupulous leader of the Stanley Camp American community. Hunt is known to have used food supplies to reward his supporters, and perhaps the bread sent into camp was distibuted so that Hunt loyalists got more than their fair share!

In March a new problem arose: the desire of the Stanley Supervisor, a Chinese called Mr. Chen, to make as much money as possible from the internees:

Bread ration has slumped – it no longer comes direct to us, but via the Chinese Chief Supervisor.[22] 

 No doubt Mr. Chen was holding back some of the bread supply and selling it on the black market. At one point, in his mercifully brief tenure of office, he tried to bill the internees for all but the most basic rations, and for their food and lodging during the nightmare period in the hotel-brothels![23]

It seems that there was a gradual phasing out of the Qing Loong bread supply to Stanley taking place in April and May. In her summary of recent events written on April 9 Barbara Anslow (then Redwood) records that more flour was coming into Camp but less bread, suggesting that the switch was underway. On April 27 she notes ‘heaps of flour’ coming in, and in an entry spanning May 5-8 she records her success in bread making using yeast. By May 17-19 ‘bread making’ is one of Anslow’s regular activities. Fellow diarist R. E. Jones presents a similar picture. He made his first ‘attempt’ at baking ‘small loaves’ on April 5, but without yeast or baking powder his efforts not surprisingly did not meet with much success! On Saturday April 25, he tells us that 11 ozs of flour were issued, which went up to a pound on May 1, fluctuating thereafter: 11 ozs on May 9 and 16 ozs on May 14. Jones also records occasional additional issues of sour bread in May, and this was probably baked in camp.

One more point about the bread sent into Stanley: on April 1 Barbara Anslow’s sick mother had her bread rusked at the Diet Clinic, a service usually provided for babies and toddlers but offered to her due to illness.

Thomas implies that he stopped baking for the Camp on May 7, 1942, as then a flour issue was made in Stanley. The evidence available to me at the moment suggests that what actually happened was that at about that time the increased flour issue of April could be turned into bread because of the success at growing yeast cultures. May 7 was the date in 1943 on which Thomas and Evelina were finally sent into Stanley Camp – this is possibly just a coincidence, but it might mean that he got the date slightly wrong by ‘contamination’ from the bigger event in his life.

In nay case, it seems that after this date (or one close to it) the bakers at the French Hospital were now baking only for the hospitals. This apparently small change might have saved the lives of Thomas and Owen Evans: messages were sent in and out of Camp using the drivers of the truck that took in the Japanese rations, and two internees – one of them, Frederick Hall, had been in the same company bowls team as Thomas – were executed for their role in the system. It’s likely that if bread deliveries to Stanley had continued those delivering and providing the supplies would have been implicated: a truck loaded under British supervision and driven by a British driver would almost certainly have seemed a safer bet for smuggling than one sent in by the Japanese.

The system of baking in the Camp using whatever flour was sent in by the Japanese continued until January 9, 1944, when the flour issue was stopped as conditions in wartime Hong Kong and hence the supply of food to Stanley deteriorated. I’ll discuss Thomas’s work in the Camp in a future post.

The Drivers

At first, Thomas and his fellow baker were escorted to work by a Japanese soldier, but later they were driven there by a driver from the largely American unit.[24] Thomas mentions Owen Evans (British, and later to be his best man), Dr. {Robert} Henry and Charles (Chuck) Winters (who was to write to his parents from the repatriation ship the Gripsholm giving them the first news that their son was alive – and on the brink of marriage!).

This relaxation is reflected in the case of the bankers, the other main group kept outside Stanley, who were at first marched through the streets under guard but after a few weeks – during which their chief, Sir Vandeleur Grayburn, got the transfer of one rather brutal soldier – they were allowed to walk through the streets unaccompanied, although they couldn’t deviate from the route without a pass.[25]

On February 8, 1942 Thomas and the drivers (and presumably the other bakers) were moved from the Exchange Building to the French Hospital, where Selwyn-Clarke and his medical team were either living or were about to be sent. The telephone company internees were sent to Shamshuipo on February 23,[26] and at some point Lane, Crawford was given to a Japanese company and re-opened as the Matsuzakaya.[27]

This is Gwen Dew’s account of the kind of thing likely to have been seen by the truck drivers who delivered Thomas’s bread in the first half of 1942:

They were free from camp – free to see two hundred Chinese die on the streets each twenty-four hours, from cholera, small-pox, dysentery, starvation, and Jap bullets.[28]

Dew also tells us:

They were threatened and mistreated many times, but bravely carried on in face of all obstacles.

They were brave men indeed, as some, perhaps all of them, were also involved in smuggling into Stanley; John Stericker records that radio parts were brought into camp in an ambulance. Emily Hahn records such parts being hidden in lard. Although it’s not clear if that was the method used in the ambulance or on a separate occasion.[29]

Dew mentions four other drivers, all Americans: John Norton, Carl Neprud, Eugene Pawley and Charles Schaefer; she also names Albert Fitch as a supply truck driver, although in a separate context. As Thomas doesn’t list these men, it’s possible they were not involved with bread delivery. As everyone but Owen Evans was repatriated on June 29/30 1942, either new volunteer drivers were sent out or Owen Evans work was supplemented by that of Chinese drivers. According to the historian of the Friends’ Ambulance Service, Owen Evans had nine months of ‘freedom’ (during which he was also involved with a Chinese children’s orphanage) before being sent into Stanley.[30]

Note: for more on the drivers see


In the early days at Stanley, Selwyn-Clarke and ‘the few others left “outside”…were termed “pro-Japanese” by some short-sighted internees’.[31] Dew thought that such people did not understand that the doctor and ‘the others who live din Hong Kong in the shadow of the ruthlessness of the Japs, were actually taking their lives in their hands daily to help their fellow-countrymen who were prisoners and could not help themselves’. She believed that these ‘stay-outs’ were ‘better understood and appreciated’ by the time she was repatriated at the end of June 1942.

Such sentiments, though, had been anticipated even by the Japanese. Selwyn-Clarke’s Japanese ‘boss’ had obtained the permission of the Colony’s former Governor, Sir Mark Young, to continue his work as Medical Officer for the good of everybody remaining in Hong Kong.[32]  This protected Selwyn-Clarke from accusations of collaboration, which were none the less made by some, including Lindsay Ride, Head of the British Army Aid Group.[33] The same ‘permission’ probably covered Thomas’s work, most of which involved baking for the hospitals.

Nevertheless, it wasn’t just the unnamed ‘short-sighted’ internees who felt that Selwyn-Clarke had acted wrongly. Colonel Lindsay Ride, former Dean of Medicine at Hong Kong University, who had quickly escaped from Shamshuipo Camp into Free China, where he founded a resistance organisation, the British Army Aid Group, arranged for a dossier to be compiled on a man he regarded as a ‘Japanese helper’, someone who was ‘clever, cunning, crooked and unscrupulous to a degree’ whose motivations for his work under the occupation was ‘to save his own skin’ and avoid the discomforts of internment in Stanley.[34]

In a letter[35] to Thomas’s parents from the repatriation ship the Gripsholm, Charles Winter says that Thomas had been offered his old job at Lane Crawford’s back but hadn’t yet decided what to do. Winter was communicating this information as part of his general plan: a kindly attempt to picture Thomas as getting on with his life in conditions of near normality. But such an offer was probably the last thing Thomas wanted now that Lane Crawford had become the Matsuzakaya. Baking for the hospitals was one thing, working outright for the enemy another. One of the few people to be charged with collaboration after the war was one Mr. Grover, who, amongst other things, stayed in his post at the Dairy Farm  (a retail food outlet in Peak Rd.) when the company was taken over by the occupiers. How difficult things were for those in town, and for those who later tried to call them to account, can be judged from the fact that one prosecution witness stated that Grover had drunk a toast to Japan when Singapore fell, while she (and others) had merely  stood up, while A. F. May, who described Grover’s work for the Japanese at the Dairy Farm, admitted under questioning that he’d installed water supplies for the occupiers on two occasions (one of them to the Dairy Farm), and that this might have been the reason he was allowed to ‘run loose’ (he was sent to Ma Tau-wai Camp in August 1944, one of the very last to be formally interned – in a future post I’ll describe the interesting role he played after the Japanese surrender). In the end, although Grover was committed for trial, the prosecutor abandoned the case,[36] and it seems that no-one was actually tried unless they’d willingly helped the Kempeitai in their campaign of arrest, torture and execution.

Luckily Thomas managed to avoid a transfer, otherwise the disapproval he seems to have encountered over his wedding invitation to Captain Tanaka[37] could have been a much more serious affair.

In any case, Thomas’s time in Hong Kong city came to an end soon after the arrest of Selwyn-Clarke.[38] On May 7, 1943 he, Evelina and 16 others were sent into Stanley. At first, they were without any assigned work, but soon he was baking again, under conditions that got more and more difficult as the months wore on.


[2] Article written by Thomas in the September 1946 issue of his trade journal, The British Baker (hereafter BB). Viewable at:

[4] BB.

[5] BB

[6] BAAG document, information kindly supplied by Tony Banham.


[8] BB.

[9] BB.

[10] Unpublished manuscript version of British Baker article (hereafter UBB). Viewable at:

[11] UBB.

[12] BB.

[13] BB.

[14] Geoffrey Emerson, Hong Kong Internment, 1973, 88.

[15] Anslow Diary, March 12. This important diary is being published day by day on the Gwulo website:

[16] John Stericker, A Tear for the Dragon, 1958, 146.

[18] Through Japanese Barbed Wire, 1943, p. 52

[19] BB.

[20] Stericker, 159. However, Emerson, cited above, follows Stericker’s manuscript in mistakenly suggesting that no bread was issued in the early days, so the book, written many years later, might be referring only to camp-baked bread, or might reflect a renewal of memory.

[21] George Wright-Nooth, Prisoner of the Turnip Heads, 1994, 96.

[22] Anslow diary, March 9

[24] BB.

[25] Frank King, History of the Hong Kong And Shanghai Banking Corporation, Volume 111, 1988, 574.

[26] Les Fisher, I Will Remember, 1996, 36.

[27] Paul Gillingham, At The Peak: Hong Kong Between The Wars, 1983, 14. The Café Wiseman became the Fuji Café  – Snow, 159.

[28] Dew, 117.

[29] Stericker, 180; Emily Hahn, China To Me, 1986, 416.

[31] Gwen Dew, 120.

[32] Selwyn Selwyn-Clarke, Footprints, 1975, 70.

[33] Philip Snow, The Fall of Hong Kong, 2003, 178-9.

[34] Snow, 178-179.

[36] For all these details see China Mail, August 15, August 17, September 20.



Filed under Hong Kong WW11, Selwyn-Selwyn Clarke

3 responses to “Thomas’s Work (3): Outside Stanley

  1. Pingback: Thomas’s Work (6) More on the Delivery Drivers | The Dark World's Fire: Tom and Lena Edgar in War

  2. Pingback: Levkovich As Driver, Selwyn-Clarke As Boss | The Dark World's Fire: Tom and Lena Edgar in War

  3. Pingback: How The Bakers Started Baking Again After The Surrender (2): Return to the Qing Loong | The Dark World's Fire: Tom and Lena Edgar in War

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