Monthly Archives: April 2012

Thomas’s Work (7): Post-war Reconstruction

Note: Copies of the two letters referred to can be found at the bottom of this post.

The Stanley internees naturally expected that the end of the war would bring a speedy return of freedom and normal living. They were sorely disappointed. Colonial Secretary Franklin Gimson posted a notice in Camp telling them to stay put and not provoke the Japanese by celebrating too uproariously. It was excellent advice: 20,000 or so Japanese soldiers were the only armed body in Hong Kong, and it wasn’t absolutely certain that all elements in the Imperial services were going to accept the surrender; New Zealand writer James Bertram, who’d been imprisoned with his fellow volunteers in Shamshuipo and then sent to work in Japan, reports fighting in Tokyo between ‘die-hards’ and ‘moderates’, and a move by the former to kill the American airmen imprisoned alongside him – for forty eight hours it was ‘touch and go’ around Tokyo he tells us.[1]

Hong Kong recovered from its wartime ordeal with remarkable speed – rationing was ended in November 1945, six years ahead of Britain. People deported to China moved back and by February 1946 the population was over a million once more.[2] But things didn’t look so rosy in the early days after the Japanese surrender (confirmed in Stanley on August 15/16) or even after the arrival of Rear Admiral Harcourt’s fleet on August 30.

Hong Kong, pounded by American planes since October 25, 1942, had been allowed to slip into a state of near anarchy as the Japanese occupiers gradually lost a hold that had always depended on little more than fear inspired by massive violence. In their final days the Japanese had encouraged triad gangs to loot at will.

Lord Kadoorie paints a vivid picture of Hong Kong at this time:

Hong Kong really took off from a base of being the most looted city in the world – there wasn’t a piece of wood to be seen in Hong Kong when I got back from Shanghai where I’d been a prisoner of war….And the whole city was, well, there was one cable across the harbour, there was some light in one or two buildings on this side (Hong Kong-side) and there was some light at the Peninsula Hotel, which was the Japanese headquarters. But other than that there wasn’t any light at all in the place. And it was black. Rats all over the place…and {the dogs} had become so wild that they had to get police with guns to shoot these dogs because it was so dangerous.[3]

Most Stanley internees stayed in Camp, where they created an unfavourable impression on journalist Russell Clark and others who’d come in with Harcourt’s fleet: Clark portrays them as whingeing endlessly at their continued confinement and the failure, as they saw it, of the authorities to look after them properly.[4]

Whatever the grievances, real or imaginary of the internees, back in Hong Kong, according to Clark, things soon started to improve:

By about 3rd or 4th September things were settling down nicely. We were all breathing rather more freely and some plan, purpose and, particularly, ‘drive’ in relation to the colony’s reconstruction was becoming evident.[5]

A few brave ‘pioneers’ like Colonial Secretary Franklin Gimson left Camp quickly. The first large group out were key government personnel, whose task was to help Gimson reclaim Hong Kong for the British before the Chinese could take it: on September 3 Jean Gittins and about twenty government servants left Stanley for the city.[6]

Food was now being parachuted in to the internees so there was no immediate problem, and, in any case, the state of Hong Kongin August 1945 meant that large-scale baking would have been impossible. Harcourt’s first statement, made about ten days after the re-occupation, explained what he’d done: labour had been engaged for road and drain clearance, public services, hospitals, light and water supplies and for the ‘preparation of dockyards and factories for early operation’. He added that ‘equipment in the workshops and factories had been shockingly neglected’;[7]  Thomas was about to find this out for himself.

My guess is that Thomas was sent from Stanley into Hong Kong either just before or after this speech – sometime between the 7th and 11th of September. The first surviving word of Thomas is a telegram dated September 13:

arrived safely at Hongkong hope be home soon.

He gives his postal address as the Hong Kong Hotel. That ‘safely’ is not just a formal assurance; Hong Kong was still a somewhat risky place at this time. According to his brother Wilfred, on some date before September 13 he’d written an undated letter, now lost, which informed his family of his release.[8]  The telegram was probably sent from the Gloucester Building, where Cable and Wireless were offering to despatch telegrams to any part of the British Empire for $1 a word.[9]

The position of workers like Thomas is summed up by Russell Clark:

Essential Service workers took over whole of Hong Kong Hotel where they lived on a communal basis. Europeans issued chits for everything until new currency arrived and lived off rations issued by the navy.

Thomas had lived ‘on a communal basis’ for most of the last 4 years, and now, at least, he was amongst friends and being properly fed. But anything like normal life in the Colony was a long way off indeed in those early days. Hong Kong’s Chinese majority were still having a dreadful time:

500 Chinese a day were still dying of starvation.[10]

And the Indians, although they had started the occupation as the most favoured nationality, with the best rations, by the end of it their emaciated looks made them stand out even amongst a ‘pitifully thin’ population.[11]

Even though he was one of the privileged minority, and he was probably delighted to get back in to town, and thrilled at the prospect of returning to work, Thomas might not have felt so happy about the conditions he found when he arrived. On September 12, the China Mail reported that, while things seemed good in Stanley – there was butter in quantity, cheese, oranges, apples, chocolate etc – these conditions could only be envied by the essential workers in town. They were promised shorts, shirts and shoes but didn’t get them – they had, it seemed, ‘the dirty end of the stick’.[12]

Still, there was a free dental clinic for the essential workers run by the former dental technician who had acted as a full dentist in Camp to great acclaim, ‘Sammy’ Shields and some RAF dentists.[13]

As Thomas was certainly in Hong Kong by September 13, he might well have attended the funeral of James Carson Fergusson, a Masonic district grand master, Scottish constitution.[14]  Thomas was an enthusiastic Scottish Constitution Freemason. If he did, this might have been the time he learnt about the death of Fergusson’s deputy, Ralph Shrigley. Thomas mentioned this terrible tragedy years later; he undoubtedly knew Shrigley through Freemasonry, and his suicide to avoid further torture stayed with him for a long time.[15]

The next day, September 14, he sent home a letter from Room 321, Hong Kong Hotel saying that he was continuing in charge of bakeries but longing to get home.[16] This letter is also lost.  As Evelina was obviously not an Essential Worker she stayed in Stanley a little longer: a Colonial Office telegram dated September 18 told Thomas’s family of her release; this presumably means ‘release from Camp into Hong Kong’.

Meanwhile, for the expatriate population, more help was at hand: relief stores that had arrived on HMS Vindex including contributions from the Australian Red Cross now awaiting distribution – they would go first to the ‘900 odd internees at Stanley’, second to essential services, and third to their dependants.[17] Whatever else Thomas got from these supplies, he acquired some Red Cross notepaper, as his only two surviving letters from this period are written on it.

On September 16, The Hong Kong Sunday Telegraph[18] listed some of the food delivered by the navy since the arrival of Harcourt’s fleet, and this included 31,500 tins of white flour, so somebody was needed to bake bread. However, there were probably naval bakers, so even this delivery wouldn’t have created any urgent need for Thomas’s services. Wherever, the baking took place, it wasn’t the Lane, Crawford bakery in Stubbs Rd., as we shall see.

There was a 10 p.m. curfew at this time – it had to be relaxed on September 16, a day of fireworks and celebrations at the official Japanese surrender.[19] On the same day Lord Kadoorie declared that Hong Kong had a future of unlimited hope as the war damage was ‘not nearly so severe as we’d been led to expect’. Nevertheless, the present realities were underlined by report of the successful looting of Australian Red Cross supplies of milk and shoes from Queen’s Building: a gang had taken advantage of the diversion of sentries caused by the surrender arrangements, and future guards were now to shoot ‘without mercy’.[20]

Thomas’s first recorded post-war product was a wedding cake; it’s not known exactly when he made it, but it was eaten, with or without his help, on September 17:

James Stuart Buchanan Bang Stuart decided at 9.30 a.m. he would get like to get married. Edith Alice Johnston was agreeable and the pair went to Hong Kong from Stanley and made all arrangements, being back in Stanley by 11.30 a.m. the same day!

Yesterday they were married at the Supreme Court by Mr. Leo d’Almada, the well-known solicitor, the witnesses being Mr. and Mrs. Owen Hamilton and Mr. and Mrs. George Halligan. The wedding cake was made by Tommy Edgar of Lane, Crawford’s (sic) and the reception was held in the mess of Stanley Prison where the bridegroom is employed.

Mr Stuart, who was one of the really willing workers during internment at Stanley….[21]

James Stuart had been in the ‘Stanley Platoon’ of warders during the fighting, and he was one of those in this detachment who had, for some reason, been interned in Stanley rather than the PoW Camp at Shamshuipo. George and Ivy May Halligan, like Thomas, are in British Army Aid Group records as uninterned in December 1942, but I don’t know why they were kept out or where they were living.

Slowly conditions began to improve. On September 25 The China Mail[22] reported a speech by Harcourt that said Hong Kong’s real problem was lack of coal but that a supply from Australia was expected soon.

On October 1 Thomas sent home his first surviving post-war letter, again from Room  321, of the Hong Kong Hotel. The letter was written on Australian Red Cross Society notepaper. He noted that he’d just received the letter of August 23rd, ‘the first since September, 1943.’ He continued:

Well I think it is pretty well official now that I can not come home till about Christmas, Everyone is shouting for bread.(we have not had bread, meat or fish since January 1943 {sic –  should be ‘January 1944’, but even this claim is false. }.

He claims to be ‘fit’ (as he had done throughout the war) and states that the Navy and the Australian Red Cross are ‘doing their stuff now’. He glances at his work:

am very busy getting bakery into working order.

His family would have to wait for the next letter for more details.

Thomas wasn’t the only Lane, Crawford employee working to get things going again: Exchange Building advert – tenants asked to report to A. W. Brown of Lane, Crawford’s on the first floor on Friday 6, October at 9.30 so as to inspect their premises.[23] The building where Thomas had begun his wartime internment was returning to its peacetime life. Brown was a company manager and a member of the same bowls team as Thomas. Another member of that team, Frederick Ivan Hall, had been executed by the Japanese for smuggling messages in and out of Stanley.

On October 7 the Sunday Herald[24] reported that there was the possibility of a shift in  food provision for Essential Service Workers which for the moment would continue at Mac’s Cafeteria on the ground floor of the Hong Kong Hotel – there was a possible shift to giving  them higher salary rather than mean provision. Dried food will still be given to those wishing to mess for themselves. It was also announced that accommodation at the Hotel would be tightened up – large rooms would expected to take 2 people, camp beds to be installed so hotel can accommodate 280 people. Arrangements were in the hands of the food control department. We also learn that the Army had a mess on first floor of hotel, the part formerly known as ‘the Gripps’.[25] On October 16 the China Mail reported a speech by Harcourt saying that changes might be made in provision of meals for essential service workers, who might in future be given the right to buy supplies at the NAAFI.[26]

It seems that this shift actually took place, or that the Essential Workers were allowed the best of both worlds. The China Mail for November 28, 1945 published a letter from Service Civvys (sic) complaining about ordinary civilians using NAAFI stores –  ‘How do they get the coveted ration card’? But he stressed that he didn’t mind ex-PoWs and internees buying from the NAAFI.

On October 17 Thomas wrote his second surviving post-war letter, also on Australian Red Cross Society notepaper. He claims to have put on 17lbs since leaving Stanley – a creditable rate of about 4lbs a week! He describes his problems getting the Stubbs Rd. Bakery working again: he’s got the help of four men from the naval repair ship HM. Resource, but things are a mess because the Japanese used the bakery as a button factory, a rattan basket factory and for salt fish. He hopes to get home before January or February.[27] This period in Hong Kong is not recorded in those online accounts of the work of HMS Resource that I’ve consulted.[28]

It seems that Evelina was also able to draw rations at this time: The China Mail for October 18, 1945[29] reported that Volunteers who have dependents ‘rationed’ by the Hong Kong Volunteer Defence Force must forward proof of relationship, for example, their marriage certificate.

On October 29 Thomas sent a telegram home: mum very fit busy writing. The letter he was composing is lost; the next communication to survive is an optimistic telegram sent on December 19 offering Christmas and New Year wishes and ending see you all soon.

However hard Thomas and his helpers worked, it was obviously not possible to resume normal bread production. On December 6, the China Mail reported complaints that you can’t get government bread at the fixed price and that the bread’s colour has changed from brown to white so people are now buying on the black market. One man found all bread sold out after queuing on each of 4 consecutive mornings. No wonder Thomas’s dream of taking his new (to his family) wife home for Christmas in England came to nothing!

However disappointed the general public was with the efforts of its bakers, appreciation from one source is recorded: in May 1946 a report (now lost) from Tung Wah Eastern Hospital notes their success and progress with the help of Cecil Harcourt, Fehilly[30] and T. H. Edgar of Lane Crawford.[31]

According to the introduction to Thomas’s article in The British Baker Thomas’s return to England didn’t take place until the summer of 1946, [32] and he chose the shorter air route – 10 days as against 35.[33] Whatever he found in England, it wasn’t enough to make him want to return, and he spent the next four years back in Hong Kong.

New Year’s Eve 1947, in a Hong Kong in which racial barriers, although far from disappearing, are much less sturdy than before the war: starting from the front left, we have Eurasian, a Swiss, a Chinese (probable), English, Eurasian, and Brazilian (probable)

 Update: A front page Editorial in the Hongkong Telegraph for Friday, November 25,  1949 throws an interesting light on the experience of Thomas and other Essential Service workers after the war. The Editorial was prompted by the failure of efforts to establish an Essential Workers Corps to act in an emergency, and it speculates that one reason for this was the failure to acknowledge the work done by this group in 1941:

(M)any of those who found themselves posted to the Essential Services and Key Workers Group in 1941 remember the invidious treatment they received  when the war finally came to an end. For many there was little or no recognition of their active services and they were made to feel neglected and forgotten people.


[1] James Bertram, The Shadow of a War, 1947, 273-274.

[3] Cited in Tony Banham, Not the Slightest Chance, 2003, 294.

[4] Russell Clark, An End to Tears, 1946, 77-78.

[5] Clark, 61.

[6] Jean Gittins, Stanley: Behind Barbed Wire, 1982, 154.

[7] Clark, 99.

[8] Chronology drawn up by Wilfred Edgar in 1985.

[9] The China Mail of September 18 reports on page 1that such a service had been established for ‘some days’.

[10]Clark, 100.

[11]Clark, 48.

[12] Page 2.

[13] China Mail, September 11, 1945.

[14] China Mail, September 13, 194, page 2.

[16] Chronology, 1985.

[17] China Mail, September 14.

[18] Page 6.

[19] China Mail, September 17, page 1.

[20] China Mail, September 17, page 1.

[21] China Mail, Tuesday, September 18, page 4.

[22] Page 4.

[23] China Mail, October 3, 1945,

[24] Page 6.

[25] Sunday Herald, October 7, 1945, page 6.

[26] Page 1.

[27] Post War Letter, 2, below.

[29] Page 2. This is confirmed by a story on page 2 of the October 31 edition.

[30] I think this is Colonel J. P. Fehilly, pre-war head of Kowloon Hospital.

[31] Chronology, 1985.

[32] Introduction to British Baker article, viewable at https://brianedgar.wordpress.com/2011/10/18/thomas-edgar-some-documentation/; as this gets his initial wrong, it might not be accurate.

[33] Paul Gillingham, At The Peak, 1983, 143. Thirty five and ten days are pre-war figures that probably give a good idea of the relative post-war durations.

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How Thomas Lived in England, How He Prepared To Die, And How He Died

In early 1951 Thomas, Evelina and Brian returned to the United Kingdom, making the month-long journey by ship:

 

At first they lived with Thomas’s parents in Windsor, in a large Victorian semi partly bought with the proceeds of Thomas’s big 1940 win on a sweepstake at the Happy Valley race course. Then they moved to the naval town of Portsmouth. Thomas was of the generation in which most men expected to work to support their families. In Portsmouth he was a junior manager for the NAAFI (Navy Army and Air Force Institutes). He lived in a flat surrounded on three sides:  by the dark stand of Fratton Park Football Ground (home to Portsmouth FC), by the long, low building of the NAAFI Social Club and by the large, noisy factory itself. He must have longed for the light and the beauty of far-away Hong Kong, but he was never one to complain.

To keep the old days in his mind there was a slow but steady stream of visitors from across the world:

In 1952 his second son was born; now his family was complete. A couple of years later he left the NAAFI because he wanted to join his parents and his brothers and sisters, who all lived in or near Windsor.

 Some time before leaving Hong Kong Evelina and her boss – echoing Thomas’s pre-war good fortune on the horses – had a huge win on a lottery. She and Thomas hired a floor of the Hong Kong Hotel to celebrate, but most of the money was put aside, enabling them to buy a house in Windsor outright.  Thomas designed it himself, incorporating some of the principles of Feng Shui – as far as I know it’s the first house in Britain to consciously use ideas from this system! It’s also strangely reminiscent of the bungalow in Stanley where he spent the time between May 1943 and August 1945: Thomas and Evelina lived through the great consumer boom of the 1950s and 1960s in a bungalow that must have reminded them of the one in which they’d spent two years slowly starving, crowded into a small room and lacking everything beyond what was needed for immediate survival.

It was in this house that Thomas was to live until his death in January, 1985. They filled it with things from Hong Kong. Thomas had owned three trunks full before the war, all of them looted of course, and the objects that filled the house were brought back in the one trunk that he’d collected post-1945. For most of the rest of his life he worked in one factory or another on the Slough Trading Estate –  made famous in Ricky Gervais’s TV comedy, The Office. He wasn’t particularly happy in any of them. For many years he was a manager in a factory making sweet cigarettes, which his sons thought an excellent arrangement, but he didn’t like his boss and the work didn’t appeal to him much. His last job as canteen manager in a large engineering works probably suited him best. In any case, he never stopped wanting to work. He’d begun his life in Hong Kong by claiming to be older than he was in order to get a job with Lane Crawford, and ended up changing his age in the opposite direction in order to avoid being compulsorily retired.

I think he was really happiest using the skills as a master baker he’d learnt during a hard 1920s apprenticeship, but that wasn’t the kind of work he was offered. Eventually he was able to make some use of these talents by giving popular baking classes at a further education college close to Windsor, and he was in great demand as a judge for local baking and cooking competitions.

He went back to Hong Kong once, as a guest of his last employers, the Garden Company, who celebrated their fiftieth anniversary in 1976:

Thomas, probably with T. F. Cheung, one of the founders of the Company and visitor to Windsor on at least one occasion

In late 1984, as the great miners’ strike was dividing the country, Thomas, by now as firmly conservative as he’d once been radical, was dying of bowel cancer. It was a situation reminiscent of that in Terrence Rattigan’s play In Praise Of Love: Thomas didn’t want to upset his family, so claimed that the doctors didn’t know what was wrong with him, while Evelina and the boys knew exactly what was wrong, but pretended to believe Thomas so as not to cause him further distress.

One Saturday Brian was walking with his wife Jane up the bottom part of the hill that makes up Windsor’s main street when he came upon Thomas, dressed in his best suit and waistcoat and sporting one of the elaborate tie pins he’d always favoured. He looked embarrassed – Brian was obviously going to ask him what he’d been doing to need such a special outfit. Nothing in particular, he was just out for a walk…Brian ended the conversation quickly, as he knew he’d put on his best clothes to walk for one last time along the street that meant so much to him, the commercial and social centre of the town he’d grown up in, and to which he’d  returned to bring up his children.

The other place his mind went back to as he prepared for death was Hong Kong. In his last weeks he woke up early because of the discomfort he was in; he’d get out of bed, leaving Evelina asleep, and go around the house picking up the vases, the statues, all the objects he’d brought back in 1951  to remind him of his time in the Colony. As he held these things in his hands a thousand memories must have filled his mind – times, places, people, all drenched in the rich light of the Far East:

He never spoke about this but Evelina knew he was doing it because he never put anything back in the exact place he found it!

Brian sat behind him in the taxi that took him away for the last time. As the taxi left the close, Thomas didn’t look back – he was keeping up the pretence he was ‘going in for tests’, so he didn’t want to show he knew he would never see his bungalow again. Brian was amazed at his self control.

Thomas entered what was still at that time the town hospital:

Every day Brian woke up crying; later he’d visit the hospital.  There was nothing unusual about the way Thomas died; it happens like that to all strong men and women who are gradually weakened by the relentless action of cancer and of the morphine that makes the pain tolerable. Each time Brian touched him the cold had spread further as the heat and life retreated to the core. Eventually, the hands that had once pounded opponents in the boxing ring and effortlessly slipped baking trays in and out of ovens found it hard to lift a tea cup. It wasn’t long before the family got the inevitable phone call telling them to come and say goodbye.

Thomas had been asleep for almost the whole of the previous two days. Brian feared that the goodbyes would be all one sided. After an hour or so he left Evelina, his brother and Jane by the bed while he went to get a cup of tea. The moment he returned, one of the most amazing things he’s ever seen took place.

 Suddenly Thomas woke up. His eyes found Evelina, who was sitting by the left side of his bed, not too far from his head. He looked at her. There was not a trace of morphine induced stupor in his look; on the contrary, it was totally alert. Thomas’s two sons were also close to the bed, but he knew, with utmost clarity, that his final business was only with Evelina. He held her eyes for a few seconds. There was no fear, no regret, none of the emotions we might expect in someone about to die. It was a gaze of lucid impersonality. Brian, watching amazed, understood intuitively what was happening, but it took years of contemplation and research before he could even begin to put this understanding into words.

Thomas was summoning Evelina and inviting her for a final time into the relationship that had begun amidst the shells and bombs of the Hong Kong war. He spoke to her – completely without words, of course– of the strange courtship in the brutal confusion of the early Hong Kong occupation. Of the hot day in late June 1942 when the Americans started their journey home and the two scared but hopeful lovers were married at St. Joseph’s Church. Of their growing hunger, of the hope and terror brought by the fierce American air raids, of their fear of the Kempeitai and the horror beyond words when they were kept prisoner in the French Hospital in the days following the arrest of Dr. Selwyn-Clarke.

That look contained their relief at being sent to Stanley, instead of hauled off to a torture chamber, and the way that relief turned back to horror when, the day before their first wedding anniversary, the Kempeitai came into Camp and took away Frederick Hall, a fellow employee of Thomas’s, and four other internees. It spoke of the black day, October 29, 1943, when they’d been with Mrs. Eileen Hyde while her husband was beheaded on Stanley Beach, alongside Alexander Sinton, who they’d lived with in the French Hospital, and 31 others.  All the rest of Stanley life was there too, the grim companionship, the failing food supply, the cold, dark winters, the bombs, the defiance and determination that kept most of the internees alive… The exhilaration of the Japanese surrender and of the first glimpse of the ships that came to finally rescue them, the celebration and mourning as lovers and friends met, or did not meet, in liberated Hong Kong…all this and so much more was summoned up in a gaze lasting no more than a few seconds in a hospital in a small Berkshire town, brought into the present with the total openness of a dying man with no reason to cling to, deny or distort his experience.

It was not that Thomas didn’t love his children; he was, by any standards, an excellent father. But they were irrelevant to this, the deepest part of his life. His final leave-taking could only be with Evelina. Nor was it that their marriage had been full of love in its final decades. At that bedside Brian learnt that there was something deeper than love, although he still doesn’t know what it is.

It was with love, and sorrow, that Evelina responded. She hugged Thomas and stayed with him until she felt the dying begin. But as Thomas’s muscles began to let go, his false teeth came out and started to choke him. Luckily Jane, his daughter-in-law whom he’d loved from the start, understood what had happened, opened his mouth and skilfully extracted the teeth. Thomas could now die undisturbed, and in less than a minute it was over.

Lucid impersonality is not for those whose lives will continue. The tears began at once, continued for a long time, but concerned Thomas no more.

  

My spirit will not haunt the mound
Above my breast,
But travel, memory-possessed,
To where my tremulous being found
Life largest, best.

Thomas Hardy

One of the small islands that surround Hong Kong:  ‘Below was a drop of about 400 feet’

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Sheridan’s Escape: His own Account

Elizabeth Ride, daughter of Sir Lindsay Ride, the founder of the Hong Kong resistance organisation the British Army Aid Group, has kindly sent me some documents from theRide Papers that throw interesting new light on the wartime experiences of Thomas and Evelina. One of these is the escape statement (dated July 1, 1942) of RASC Staff-Sergeant P. Sheridan. I can now correct the account I gave in https://brianedgar.wordpress.com/2012/03/22/thomass-work-2-the-fighting/

Sheridan was one of two RASC bakers who were sent to help Thomas during the fighting at the time when he took over baking for the Army when their own bakery fell on December 19. After the surrender they were interned in Exchange House, and started baking bread for the hospitals on January 9, alongside Thomas; when they were transferred to the French Hospital on February 8, Captain Tanaka ordered them to leave behind their army kit and ID. I’ll discuss this remarkable development in a future post; there’s  a story that shows militant hostility to the idea of letting a POW out of camp,[1] so my guess is that Tanaka was humanely trying to make sure that the bakers could carry on their work, while keeping them out of the terrible conditions in Shamshuipo. I’m sure he didn’t mean to be laying the groundwork for Sheridan’s escape.

 The Japanese had taken over the Lane, Crawford Bakery, so the hospital  bakers were using the Qing Loong bakery in Wanchai: a 1913 directory gives the address as 93, Queen’s Road East,[3] Sheridan’s statement as 41 Queen’s Rd – this location in is in Central (then Victoria) not Wanchai, so he must mean Queen’s Road East. The two possible addresses are just 1.1 kilometres apart, and might of course reflect the fact that the bakery had moved.

 Sheridan’s statement tells us that until April 15 he was living in Hong Kong on an enemy pass, but when the time came for renewal he claimed to be Irish. According to the story I reported earlier, he produced a passport in Gaelic, but this story seems to get many details wrong, and he doesn’t mention producing any evidence to support his claim in his statement. The Japanese reclassified him as neutral and in late May he asked for permission to go to Kwong Chow Wan. This was a French enclave on the south China coast in an area not occupied by the Japanese army and therefore part of an escape route to Chungking, the capital of Free China. The Japanese put an end to this by occupying the territory in February 1943.[2] At this time the Hong Kong authorities sometimes gave neutrals permission to go there or to Macao because they wanted to reduce the population they had to ration. Sheridan got permission to go on June 4 and sailed the next day. G. B. Endacott thinks he probably travelled via Macao or even Lantau, but he himself makes no mention of any stop before Kwong Chow Wan (Hong Kong Eclipse, 1978, 192), and I’ve found evidence of direct sailings at this time.

Before his escape, he was loaned $500 by Mr. Ng, ‘manager’ of the bakery. Mr. Ng. and his children became life-long friends of Thomas and Evelina, family members visiting them in England on more than one occasion. Every year the Ngs sent over Christmas cards and gifts. Evelina told Brian this was because Thomas had treated them fairly over a bakery when he could have taken it for nothing. Sheridan’s statement establishes this was the Green Dragon – I think Mr. Ng was owner rather than manager – and it’s most likely that the fair treatment relates to this period in 1942-1943. Thomas almost certainly took over the bakery during the fighting, but this was only for four or five days after the Lane, Crawford facility in Stubbs Road became unviable. Thomas praised the devotion to duty of the Qing Loong’s staff in the article he wrote for the British Baker in September 1946, and it seems that it wasn’t only the workers who deserve praise – that loan was an act of courage on Mr. Ng’s part, as no Chinese person could have been in any doubt as to the consequences of being caught in such an act. On February 16, 1947 the Hong Kong Sunday Herald (page 10) announced that Ng Yin-cheung would be presented with a certificate of merit for the assistance rendered to S-S Sheridan in his escape. In the post-war years the Ng family gradually moved to the West; one member became a doctor, another an art historian at a distinguished American university.

 At Machoung (probably the small town now called Machong in Guandong Province– there is still a customs post nearby) Sheridan received a further loan from Mr. Hopcroft, the Commissioner of Customs, who also entrusted him to two Chinese customs officers travelling to Chungking. He reported to the British Military Mission at Kweiyang (now Guiyang) and, when he wrote the statement, he was being helped to proceed to Chungking (now Chongqing).

 As I stated in a previous post, he was awarded the Military Medal for this escape and his subsequent exploits.

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Charles Hyde’s Resistance Work

In a previous post I wrote:

 ‘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 agents in occupied Hong Kong. And he himself had been in contact with the resistance.

(https://brianedgar.wordpress.com/2012/01/20/the-reign-of-terror-conclusion-on-the-stanley-peninsula/)

I’ve now got hold of a copy of Frank King’s history of the HKSBC (Volume 3) which reveals that there was even more to Hyde’s work than I’d guessed:

 In addition to his intelligence work Hyde had been collecting drugs from secret rendezvous and helping to arrange the escapes for certain Indian officers who were being threatened with mutilation by the Japanese.[1]

 Following Edwin Ride, King dates his arrest to some time in April (I gave the date provided by John Stericker, May 3, although I was aware that it was dubious) and attributes it to the interception by an Indian informer of a letter Hyde wrote to an inmate in Matauchang Camp (which contained a number of Indian POWs).[2] Ride gives the name of the addressee of Hyde’s letter as the courageous Captain Mateen Ansari;[3] both men were to die together on Stanley Beach on October 29, 1943.

 It seems that Hyde was also involved in the Talbot affair: he, as well as Grayburn and Streatfield had given Talbot money to smuggle into Stanley[4], but Grayburn, no doubt anxious to keep Hyde out of the hands of the Kempeitai, claimed responsibility for Hyde’s 1000 Yen contribution. Hyde managed to get a cover story to Talbot, which, although imperfect, passed muster with the gendarmes.[5]

Ride, basing himself on his father’s papers, writes:

 C. F. ‘Ginger’ Hyde passed particularly valuable  intellgence to the BAAG. Reports from Hong Kong indicated, however, that these valiant acts were carried out with a certain amount of openness, and there was concerning Waichow {BAAG field HQ} that they would end in disaster.

The context makes clear that it wasn’t just Hyde who acted too openly, but he was certainly the one whose resistance activities covered the greatest range. Another of the bankers, G. Lyon-Mackenzie wrote to the HKSBC Number 2 David Edmonston urging him to rein in Hyde. Lyon-Mackenzie was obviously concerned for his own safety and that of the other bankers. He was himself an extremely brave man: illness kept him out of Stanley, and even after the deaths of Grayburn and Edmonston in prison (aggravated malnutrition) and the execution of Hyde he continued to smuggle supplies into Camp.[6] King quotes what he calls Lyon-Mackenzie’s ‘blunt’ judgement:

Hyde definitely asked for it.[7]

King suggests that it was in part at least the strongly anti-Japanese atmosphere of occupied Hong Kong that led to the relative openness of the resistance network:

The atmosphere in Hong Kong was everywhere hostile to the Japanese, and thus the opportunity to conceive plans and attempt their execution using amateur methods and depending entirely on good fortune and loyalty made certain operations appear, as it were, too easy.[8]

This is plausible, but King goes on to make a rather ambiguous claim about the eventual arrests:

It was this betrayal of Hyde which led also to the arrests of D. C. Edmondston and Dr. P. S. Selwyn-Clarke.

I think his source for this is again Ride’s book, which puts it more clearly:

In the wave of arrests that followed the betrayal of contacts with Matauchang Camp, Edmonston was imprisoned, as was Dr. Selwyn-Clarke.[9]

In the accounts I’ve read, no-one whose name was given to the Japanese under torture ever blamed the victim, but I would like to make it clear that the record, insofar as I know it, does not support any claim that Hyde named anyone, even though he was subjected to more than usual brutality. We know that Hyde definitely did not name the two men who he was ‘running’ as espionage agents: one of them, the Portuguese lawyer Marcus da Silva, survived to become both witness and prosecutor at war crimes trials, and in 1946 he told the journalist Hal Boyle that his fellow agent, the American Chester Bennett, was executed in spite of the absence of either a confession or hard evidence as to his espionage activities, evidence that Hyde’s testimony would have provided.[10] The courageous and resourceful da Silva was arrested but managed to get himself released – a remarkable story which I’ll tell in another post.

Although it’s not relevant to the immediate topic of this post, it should also be noted that, contrary to Ride’s claim, Selwyn-Clarke’s arrest (May 2, 1943) is unlikely to have had anything to do with attempts to arrange escapes from Matauchang. Firstly, that was exactly the kind of ‘military’ activity he consistently refused to have anything to do with – his own conscience, and the need to stay free for as long as possible, dictated that he take part in purely humanitarian illegalities. Secondly, Emily Hahn – a friend of Hilda Selwyn-Clarke – implies that the Kempeitai were simply waiting for the doctor’s main ‘protector’, Japanese Medical Officer Colonel Eguchi, to be transferred from Hong Kong before arresting him – they struck within a week of Eguchi’s leaving.[11] They had begun arresting and torturing Selwyn-Clarke’s associates in February, 1943, trying to make someone link him to Allied espionage, as such a link would have enabled them to ignore Eguchi and arrest him anyway.[12]

Finally, what are we to make of the claim that Hyde was ‘asking for it’? Hyde’s fellow conspirator Marcus da Silva is a useful witness. After Hyde’s arrest, he and Chester Bennett were told that their names were on a Japanese ‘blacklist’ and advised to go into hiding:

(When) British bank accountant and ring leader of this small group of amateur volunteer espionage men was taken into custody by the Japanese, a Chinese secret agent employed by the gendarmerie came to Bennett. The Japanese have prepared a blacklist in Hong Kong of people they suspect, he warned, and you and Da Silva are both on it. You had better stay hidden.

Bennett and Da Silva talked it over soberly. They knew the odds were stacked heavily against them and that to continue their activities meant almost certain arrest. And they felt that arrest would almost as surely result in execution because the Japanese were growing sterner as the tide of war turned against them. But they decided the stakes were worth the gamble. Every ship they cost Japan was a step toward Allied victory. And hundreds of Stanley Camp internees would face lingering starvation if they failed to send in money for extra food raised by selling promissory notes to wealthy Indian and Swiss merchants.[13]

I think Hyde felt the same. Expecting arrest, torture and execution, he felt impelled to continue to do as much good as possible before the trap closed on him.

Tony Banham is currently working on the Lindsay Ride papers and I hope that the full story of Hyde’s activities will one day emerge. My guess is that they were even more extensive than I’ve been able to indicate here.  Alastair Sinton’s group, which is known to have smuggled messages in and out of Stanley, was linked with him,[14] as was Thomas Monaghan, a Canadian involved in helping escapers:

Mr. Hyde and others thought it their patriotic duty to form a branch of the British intelligence service… (and) Mr. Mongahan had joined.[15]

I suspect that there were few activities of the Hong Kong resistance that he didn’t take part in, give advice to, or at least know about.

I’ve been able to find out very little about the rest of Charles Hyde’s life.

He joined the HKSBC in 1924. In 1935 the Bank opened a Kowloon Branch in the Peninsula Hotel and he was working at the this branch in 1941.[16] At that time, the Bank operated a ‘ten years in the East before marriage’ policy;[17] Hyde’s age at death was 45,[18] and the age of his son Michael at the time was 5,[19] which fits with a relatively late marriage.

Before the war he used to go yachting, sometimes sailing with telephone engineer sLes Fisher and James Anderson in the ‘Tern’ – he ‘was always full of fun’.[20]

After his arrest, his wife, Florence Eileen, and their young son Michael were interned in Bungalow D alongside Thomas and Evelina. Thomas (and probably Evelina) was with Mrs. Hyde on the day of her husband’s execution.

Mrs. Hyde died of bowel cancer on September 7, 1944.[21] After his mother’s death, Michael Hyde was adopted by Lady Mary Grayburn, so he stayed in Bungalow D. He died in a freak firing range accident on his national service in 1956.[22]


[1] Frank King, History of the HKBSC,Volume 111, 1988, 624

[2]For George Kotewall another man arrested as a result of this betrayal see http://groups.yahoo.com/group/stanley_camp/message/133

[3] Edwin Ride, British Army Aid Group, 1981, 205.

[5] King, 621-622.

[6] King 621, 624.

[7] King, 624.

[8] King, 612.

[9] Ride, 205.

[11] Emily Hahn, China To Me, 1986 ed., 404.

[15] Father Burke, cited in Alan Birch and Martin Cole, Captive Years, 1982, 103-104.

[16] King, 626.

[17] King, 285.

[19] D. O. B. given as 2.2.38 on the Stanley Camp Log, IWM MISC 932.

[20] Les Fisher, I Shall Remember, 229, 240.

[21] IWM MISC 932.

[22] Tony, Banham, We Shall Suffer There, Kindle Location, 5049.

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Thomas’s Work (6) More on the Delivery Drivers

In a previous post[1] I wrote about the courageous truck drivers who worked for the Medical Department in the first half of 1942, delivering supplies to the hospitals, including the bread baked by Thomas and his fellow bakers. I’ve sometimes wondered why, with one exception, they were all American. (The exception, Thomas and Evelina’s best man, the Britisher Owen Evans, had early worked as a volunteer ambulance driver in the Sino-Japanese War, so he was an obvious choice).

It seems that Americans had already taken over transport duty during the fighting (December 8-25) because the network was in danger of collapsing due to the defection of many Chinese drivers, some of whom were fifth columnists, perhaps infiltrated into Hong Kong by the Japanese amongst the hundreds of thousands of refugees from the Sino-Japanese War who flooded into the colony after the conflict came close to the Hong Kong border in late 1938. Others probably didn’t see why they should risk their lives driving through shell fire and air raids for a racist imperial system. In any case, the defections left many gaps to be filled.

In a report to the American consul general in Hong Kong, quoted in the Miami News of September 13, 1942,[2] N. F. Allman, Provost of the American Internees’ Council at Stanley said:

During the war the transport of the medical department very soon began to fail. Likewise, the transport of the food control. The transport of both these departments was virtually taken over, reformed and kept going by American civilian volunteers.

Not all the Americans who worked with Selwyn-Clarke after the surrender were in place during the fighting, but it seems that some of them were, and there was already a ‘tradition’ of American drivers. It seems that although Americans are not absolutely forbidden to join foreign militaries (at least not today[3]) they are strongly encouraged not to, so voluntary service as a driver was obviously a popular option for those who wished to play a part in the defence of Hong Kong. They would have been particularly welcome because before the war the military had refused to withhold Europeans from the Volunteers to act as drivers, claiming that the length of the line they had to guard meant that not a single man could be spared for this service (M. F. Key, cited in John Luff, The Hidden Years, 1967, 134).

Charles Schafer remained behind to the last minute in Hong Kong to help wind up the affairs of the China National Aviation Corporation, a Chinese airline, but also an affiliate of his company, Pan Am. As the Japanese stormed into Hong Kong, CNAC managed to get a few transport planes into Kai Tak airport (all the planes there had been destroyed on the ground) and ferried many important Chinese politicians and officials, including Madame Sun–Yatsen, to safety in Chungking.[4] When Kai Tak Airport was finally destroyed by the British, any possibility of escape for Shafer disappeared. He caught the last ferry from Kowloon to the Island and joined a British medical detachment.[5] After the surrender he continued his association with the Medical Department, ending up working in Dr. Selwyn-Clarke’s team:

He (Selwyn-Clarke) immediately contacted the head of the Japanese medical service and offered the full support of his staff. He asked for passes for the doctors and for the truck drivers who would supply food and fuel for the hospitals and these were granted.[6]

In another deposition, he referred to himself as part of ‘Selwyn-Clarke’s motor corps’.[7] It seems that these drivers might have delivered wood as well as bread and medicines.[8] The Miami News article also has them moving hospital patients and driving Red Cross trucks (although whether these trucks belonged to the Red Cross before they were used by this team is another question).

Shafer and fellow driver Albert Fitch were involved in a daring piece of smuggling when the Americans were repatriated. The leader in this operation seems to have been John Morton. Thanks to these men (and unnamed helpers) the entire financial records of the Hongkong Bank’s last day of operations before the Japanese takeover were hidden in a typewriter and taken out of Hong Kong. Morton, Shafer, Fitch and other Americans preparing for repatriation gave a list of items they wished to take with them onto the ship to Mr. Oda of the Japanese Foreign Affairs Department. Most of the items were chosen so as to guarantee refusal – camers, trunks, radios and so on. They rightly reasoned that having said no so many times, Oda would nod through typewriters. The group purhased some identical models, and John Morton carefully secreted the Bank records – ‘typed on the thinnest onion-skin paper you could imagine’ – inside his. At one point, all seemed lost when a second round of searches led to the confiscation of all the typewriters on the grounds that Fitch had put some carbon paper into his and the typing visible on this was thought to contain coded messages. Luckily they found Mr. Oda who managed to over-ride the Army confiscators and just before sailing they saw a tug  transferring the typewriters on board:

Albert Fitch was, I think, as young as I was, but he was impetuous. He wanted to go right down and demand the typeriters, right then; but we restrained him.

Five days later the typewriters, hidden records intact, were restored to them. (Alan Birch and Martin Cole, Captive Years, 107-110)

Florida resident Eugene Pawley was another driver who was formerly with the CNAC and found himself stuck in Hong Kong. Rather surprisingly, he didn’t have high enough priority to get on the CNAC evacuation flights so was forced to stay behind in occupied Hong Kong.[9] This lack of priority is a little surprising because Eugene was the brother of William Pawley, the President of CNAC. With William and the third brother, Edward, he was involved in the setting up of the famous ‘Flying Tigers’ unit of American airmen, volunteers who helped the Chinese resist the Japanese in southern China until America itself entered the war.[10] Edward Pawley and his wife Idah were friends of the writer Emily Hahn, who mentions them a number of times in her memoir China To Me.[11] Eugene Pawley arrived in China in 1939 and after repatriation in late June 1942 eventually headed the China Desk for the Office of Strategic Services.[12] William Pawley became Ambassador to Brazil after the war; he seems to have been involved in promoting CIA (successor to the OSS) covert operations against Castro, and one conspiracy theorist has even suggested he put up the money for the assassination of John Kennedy!

It seems that another CNAC employee Max Lessner, who’s not in Gwen Dew’s list, was also a driver, but one who was allowed to leave for Macao in March.[13] Lessner was a Rumanian with business experience in China who eventually became Pan American’s airport manager at New Delhi.[14]

A fourth driver, Carl Neprud, was born in Coon Valley, Wisconsin in 1889. His old university,Wisconsin (class of 1912) provides some general biographical details:

(Neprud) was taken into the Chinese Maritime Customs in 1913 with which service he has been connected ever since. He has been stationed in different parts of China and held different posts such as appraising commissioner in Shanghai, tariff secretary and more recently, (since the war) as liaison officer between occupied and unoccupied China.[15]

The same source tells us a little about his work during the war:

During the war he and his group supplied First Aid for civilians (and soldiers in many cases) so he got to the front lines rather frequently…Living in a strong granite building on the waterfront he was across the bay from the Japs on the mainland, and at one time counted 14 Jap “hits” on the front of his building.

The description of the events after the fighting suggests that he wasn’t the only one of the American drivers to have been working for the Red Cross during the fighting:

After the surrender as the Jap army of occupation moved into Hongkong, Neprud and other members of his committee were allowed to operate for the relief of the civilians, as the Jap military had no machinery set up to care for civilians.[16]

It seems that the June 29/30 repatriation came as no surprise:

 Neprud early had the feeling that the American civilians would be repatriated soon, because the Japs would want their own people back. In each drive the Japs would pick a land wherein English was spoken, and their own people who had lived in America would be tremendously useful in translating documents.

But it seems there was still more to Carl Neprud. The St. Petersburg Times for October 24, 1943 reported:

As an agent of the Chungking government for several years, Neprud disguised himself as a city health service ambulance driver when the Japs invaded Hongkong for fear that he would be recognized.

So Neprud was one of those who hoped to get out of Hong Kong before the Japanese discovered who he was. My guess is that Eugene Pawley felt the same way, as he must have been nervous about the possibility of the occupiers getting to know of his family’s connection with the Flying Tigers.

Neprud continued his association with the Nationalist authorities:

 A Chungking agent for commercial and financial affairs in the Orient, Neprud is still representing the Chungking government at Washington, D.C., studying tariff and trade matters.[17]

This article in the St. Petersburg Times reports Neprud’s 1943 plan to drive the Japanese out of China with 500 planes. [18]

He was appointed to Economic Cooperation Administration[19] Mission to Austria in October 1951 and died in October 1976.[20] His daughter became a pioneer woman stockbroker.[21]

These drivers (with the exception of Lessner) are mentioned by Dew but not in Thomas’s 1946 article in The British Baker, which might mean that they were not very involved in delivering the bread he was baking in the Qing Loong Bakery. I’ve not as yet been able to find out any more than is contained in my original post about his best man, Owen Evans. Another American, Charles Winter, in the letter he wrote to Thomas’s parents, mentions his pre-war work with the Medical Department, but I’ve not been able to find out in what capacity. He might have been one of the ‘committee’ (see above) who worked alongside Neprud in the fighting and continued to drive for the Health Department after the surrender. I can find no other trace of  Dr. Robert Henry. Thomas calls the latter ‘Dr. Henry’ and the first name comes from Gwen Dew (and is confirmed by the Miami News article). Emily Hahn mentions ‘Dr. Jim Henry’ as President of the American-staffed Lingnan University, but it’s unlikely to be him. Research continues, and I’d love to hear from anyone who has more information about any of these men.

Update:

Elizabeth Ride has kindly sent me a June 1942 letter from her father, Lindsay Ride, the founder of the resistance organisation the BAAG, to Dr. Court, a contact in the French Hospital. In it there is an interesting reference to two of these drivers:

Will you kindly tell the bearer where he can find GENE PAWLEY and ALBERT FITCH who are supposed to be driving supply trucks. I have a message from Ed Pawley who wishes his brother Gene to come out…

Colonel Ride goes on to urge Court to make up a party with the two Americans and assures them they’ll be well looked after. But by this time the Americans were on the brink of repatriation, and Court never ‘came out’. He wasn’t one of those arrested at the French Hospital on May 2, 1943, though, so it seems that his contacts with the BAAG remained undetected.

Another document supplied by Elizabeth Ride confirms that only Dr. Henry, Charles Winter and Owen Evans delivered bread to the hospitals. It also contains something about Owen Evans that’s so interesting it deserves a post to itself.


[2] http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=2206&dat=19420913&id=MQYtAAAAIBAJ&sjid=T9QFAAAAIBAJ&pg=4602,2075440

[3] http://travel.state.gov/law/citizenship/citizenship_780.html. John Luff (The Hidden Years, 179) claims American men were legally forbidden to serve with the Hong Kong Volunteers, which may well have been the case as the conscription order of July 1940 was undoubtedly nationality specific. The current US position seems to be that their nationals are liable to call-up under the laws of any country they’re resident in, but should do their best, within the law, to avoid such service.

[6] Quoted in Alan Birch and Martin Cole, Captive Years: The Occupation of Hong Kong 1941-45, 1982, 24.

[11] E.g. 180-181 (1986 ed.).

[19] An organisation involved in implementing the Marshall Plan.

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Thomas’s Work (5) The ‘Siege Biscuits’

In a previous post[1] I’ve described Thomas collaboration with Dr. Geoffrey Herklots in the baking of a nutrition-rich ‘siege biscuit’ designed to help the population of Hong Kong withstand a siege of three months:

With the enthusiastic co-operation of a master baker and after about thirty trials, it was found possible to make a hard siege-ration biscuit from this meal and whole wheat flour. Each biscuit, which weighed half an ounce and cost half a cent, contained more than a man’s daily requirements of available iron, two biscuits enough nicotinic acid to prevent pellagra and four {biscuits} enough thiamin (sic) chloride to prevent beriberi on a polished rice diet.

After the surrender, Selwyn-Clarke was given permission by Captain Tanaka, the officer in charge of Lane, Crawford, to take and distribute these biscuits.

One of my first encounters with helpfulness from a Japanese officer concerned the reserve of four-gallon tins of biscuits, made of soya bean and wheaten flour with the addition of thiamine hydrochloride powder (against beri-beri), which I had had baked in the leading department-store of Lane Crawford against the anticipated siege.[2]

As the biscuits were clearly still in the hands of Lane, Crawford, my guess is that they were stored in the ‘big Lane and Crawford food warehouse’ from which volunteer lorry driver Gwen Priestwood picked up food to deliver during the fighting.[3]

Selwyn-Clarke had access to a supply of these biscuits. In October 1942 he was told about two Canadian missionaries who had avoided internment and were living in their flat in  Kowloon. He sent a representative, Miss L.,  to visit them:

Miss L. proved hesrelf to be as capable as she was charming and had come prepared to help, bringing with her some bread and a few ‘siege biscuits’. These biscuits had been compounded by a British dietician before the war, and were supposed to be sol nutritious that two biscuits would supply a man sufficient sustenance for a day.

F. D. & H. F. Collier, Covered Up In Kowloon, 1947, 68

However, one of the few certain things about the later history of these biscuits is that Selwyn-Clarke didn’t get all of them. Just before Thomas and Evelina were moved from the French Hospital to Stanley, those in the Camp had a surprise; former Colony hangman R. E. Jones recorded this in his diary for April 21, 1943:

1 lb. vitamin biscuits issued. The Japs gave them to us but they were ours in the first place & have been allowed to go musty. A rats (sic) nest was found in one tin.

In fact, the Japanese seem to have a huge supply of these biscuits:

The Hong Kong Government had prepared large stores of these in readiness for a lengthy siege, but the capitulation had come so quickly that few of them were used until later, when the Japanese put them on sale. Afterwards they were sold off readily, the price rising up to six yen per pound.

Colliers, 1947, 68

Dr. Herklots tells us that the siege biscuits had been sealed in petrol tins,[4] but these had obviously been removed and stored without proper protection.

Did any of these biscuits fall into the hands of the internees themselves? I think the evidence suggest that they did, but this is far from certain as there were at least two other kinds of biscuit in the Camp. Firstly, the Red Cross provided biscuits, which, both before and after the spring 1944 re-arrangement of the ration system, were part of the payment to those internees who did extra work.[5] Secondly, the Camp bakers, including Thomas of course, baked biscuits inside the Camp using soya flour, and it is these that are difficult to separate from the ‘siege biscuits’. We’ve already seen that Selwyn-Clarke believed the ‘siege’ biscuits to be baked from soya bean flour, while according to Herklots (who’s more likely to be correct) the flour was whole wheat mixed with fresh peanut oil. This suggests that we can’t necessarily trust those accounts that talk about soya bean biscuits!

Rations in Stanley Camp were bad enough, but those in Stanley Prison were so low and lacking in nutrients – just rice, salt, and if the prisoners were lucky a little vegetable matter – that anyone not receiving supplementary food, as was the case with Chinese prisoners without well-off friends outside, soon succumbed to one of the diseases of malnutrition. Allied prisoners were luckier: their wives or the Camp authorities were always willing to send in food. But sometimes there seems to have been a blanket ban on such parcels, at other times they were accepted but not delivered. Sir Vandeleur Grayburn and his deputy David Edmondston both died of malnutrition (and medical neglect) while in the Prison, Grayburn after a relatively short time,[6] and even after extra food was smuggled to him (see below).

Banker Andrew Leiper was held in Stanley Prison from January/February 1944 until June 1944, when the Allied prisoners were transferred to Canton, and he records that in late May 1944 the seven internee prisoners were allowed to receive ‘small packets of food’ from the Camp. These packets – ‘wrapped in coarse paper bags’ – included ‘two small soya bean biscuits’. The extra food ‘undoubtedly helped to save our lives’.[7]

Thomas mentions these beans, which he used to make bread:

From time to time we managed to get maize and Soya beans which we roasted and added to the dough, obtaining the best results by using ¼ oz. to 4 oz. flour.[8]

But there’s no reason to believe that he and the other bakers didn’t bake biscuits with this flour too, even this early. As we’ll see below, they certainly did so in 1945.

William Anderson, who was arrested on June 28, 1943[9] and taken to Stanley Prison the next day,[10] states that had ‘Vitamin biscuits’ and ante beri-beri pills sent daily into him from Stanley while in prison but didn’t always get them.[11] It’s possible that he was sent the ‘siege biscuits’ before Leiper joined him in Prison, but it’s also possible he was referring to the same soya biscuits, which were a useful source of Vitamin B.

Anderson and Leiper had these items sent in legitimately: police officer George Wright-Nooth smuggled in supplies to Sir Vandeleur Grayburn and four policemen who’d been imprisoned after a failed escape attempt. These foods included ‘vitaminized chocolate’ – itself smuggled in on the ration truck by the courageous Leung Hung[12] – and ‘small biscuits’. Chocolate and biscuits had the advantage that they were easily concealed and left nothing behind (tins, for example) that the prisoners would find difficult to conceal.

The only clear indication that the internees managed to get their hands on some of the siege biscuits – either by smuggling or through legitimate channels – is provided by Block 9 Quartermaster George Gerrard.

In late March, 1945, the Camp authorities started to prepare for an Allied landing on Hong Kong Island. They realised that this would obviously mean an end to the rations the Japanese sent into Stanley, and that, if they were lucky enough not to be killed outright, they would be strictly confined to Camp so that they couldn’t offer any assistance to the attacking forces. The Camp had already suffered accidental casualties from  American bombing, so measures were taken to prepare to meet problems caused by armed conflict as well as to ensure some kind of food supply. R. E. Jones ‘s diary gives us glimpses of this process:

March 22, 1945 1st. aid kits being prepared in Camp districts.

March 24 1st. Aid, Salvage & demolition squads being formed in each block in case of emergency.

March 25 Emergency rations issued to Blocks (1 Tin meat, 38 biscuits & 8 multi-vit. Tablets. North in talk reckons on things happening here between now & end of April.

 Mabel Redwood – who knew Evelina well from their joint involvement in Catholic activities in Stanley – tells us a little more about these biscuits:

 Over a period of time, each kitchen gradually built up a stock of gritty biscuits, made by mixing dry ground rice with soya bean flour, baked hard. These were to be our iron rations, and not entrusted to individuals….Each of us had to hand in an empty tin of stock size, which was filled with biscuits, then the whole block’s supply was put under lock and key in the block.[13]

 As Block 9 quartermaster, George Gerrard was directly involved in these preparations:

28 March, 1945 (W)e are making preparations in case there should be a landing here and food difficult to obtain during the first few days. I have taken charge of a tin of mutton per head and tins of {siege}[14] biscuits equivalent to 38 biscuits per head also other biscuits are being made in camp…

This does seem to imply that there were two kinds of biscuit, one baked in Camp, the other outside. But Thomas seems to suggest that he didn’t see the siege biscuits again until after he’d left Stanley:

 (T)he biscuits when we came out of Stanley Internment Camp in 1945 were in excellent condition…. [15]

This might indicate that the biscuits weren’t available for testing until after he’d left the camp. However, it’s also possible that he was referring a little loosely to the period that followed the Japanese surrender when the internees were technically free but forbidden to leave Stanley because of the very real dangers that would have awaited them in town – Japanese soldiers who refused to accept the surrender, looters, the absence of any organised services and so on. We do know that some biscuits, either ‘siege’ or soya bean flour, were released at this time. Barbara Anslow was kind enough to provide me with her memories of this issue:

Thank God these biscuits weren’t required under siege conditions, but they were issued to us after news of the Jap surrender but before the Fleet arrived 2 weeks later – they were very very hard, but still much appreciated[16]

But Barbara Anslow too is unsure as to the source of these biscuits:

In the last year in camp, when it seemed likely that the Allies might try to re-take Hong Kong, arrangements were made to store ‘siege biscuits’ in case the camp was cut off from food supplies. 

Perhaps these were some of the supplies Selwyn-Clarke was able to appropriate from Tanaka, but it’s more likely they were made from rice in our kitchens by your Dad!  Each separate block was given a small supply, which was somehow kept under lock and key (two keys, I believe, so that the issue had to be sanctioned by two separate trusted internees).   

I’m inclined to think that the internees did have access to a store of ‘siege biscuits’, but I think that the evidence I’ve been able to assemble so far is inconclusive.


[2] Footprints, 1975, 74. See also man in

[3] Gwen Priestwood, Through Japanese Barbed-Wire, 1944, 7.

[4] G. A. C. Herklots, ‘Food and War inHong Kong’, Nature, March 6, 1946.

[5] Geoffrey Emerson, Hong Kong Internment, 1973, 97.

[7] G. A. Leiper, A Yen For My Thoughts, 1982, 203-204.

[8] Unpublish manuscript of article in The British Baker, September 1946.

[9] George Wright-Nooth, Prisoner of the Turnip Heads, 1994, 160-161.

[10] China Mail, April 4, 1947, page 2

[11] China Mail, October 17, 1945, page 2.

[13] Mabel Redwood, It Was Like This, 2001, 179.

[14] Gerrard’s writing is difficult and the transcription was a heroic task; the word transcribed ‘seize’ here is presumably ‘siege’.

[15] Unpublished manuscript of British Baker article.

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‘Sail Away’ – the Stanley Camp Anthem

Barbara Anslow’s diary for July 25, 1942 records:

 Grand concert on Bowling Green.   Good new song – ‘We’re going to sail away, sail away etc.

It’s no accident that the song appeared just then: the American internees were repatriated on June 29/30, and the British were dreaming of following them. Lourenço Marques in Mozambique was neutral territory where they would switch from a Japanese to a western (in the case of the Americans Swedish) ship to take them home.

‘Sail Away’ quickly became the Camp anthem, a popular choice to end concerts. I think it was written by the Reverend Cyril Brown. Some accounts refer to Betty Drown as providing vigorous piano accompaniment, while others credit her with the composition (e.g. Alan Birch and Martin Cole, Captive Years, 1982, 48).

Sail Away

 We’ve seen your Stanley’s sights these many days & nights,

For England home & beauty how we pine!

We’re fed up now with roaming through graveyards in the gloaming,

But soon we’re going to leave it all, & we’ll gladly say, ‘Goodbye’.

We’re going to sail away, sail away

We hope internment here will end some day.

We want to go, tho’ we’ve got no dough

Yet we’re yearning to see the land that we love so.

We’re going to sail away, sail away,

And that and when this Camp embarks

There’ll be happy hearts and free

When we’re putting out to sea,

Afloat on a boat on the way to Lourenço Marques.

We’re ready for the trip, we can quickly pack our grip,

Our luggage is quite light & somewhat small,

We’ve lost our goods & houses, & we’ve lots of other grouses,

But still we’ve got our health & strength, so we haven’t lost our all.

We’re going to sail away etc.

Though we’re anxious soon to start, ‘twill be rather hard to part

With friends we’ll leave behind in loved Hong Kong.

But one day they’ll be learning they can look for our returning,

Who knows? Perhaps the time of waiting really won’t be long.

We’re going to sail away etc.

This number ends our show, but just before you go,

We’d like to day ‘Good Night’ & so to bed,

And if you’re feeling weary or just a little dreary

Remember there are sure to be some brighter days ahead.

We’re going to sail away etc.

 If you liked our last refrain

We’ll sing the song again,

Afloat on a boat on the way to Lourenço Marques.

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