Thomas’s Work (4): Baking In Stanley

Getting There

 On May 5 diarist R. E. Jones recorded that 18 people were on their way to Camp from the French Hospital. This means that the Japanese must have taken a decision quite early in the process of searching the Hospital in the wake of Selwyn-Clarke’s arrest that most of the Allied nationals interned there were not involved in what they genuinely (but wrongly) believed was the Medical Director’s espionage ring. Two days later, on May 7, at about 2 p.m. the 18 arrived and began their lives as dwellers in Bungalow D.

I’ve never seen an account of their journey from Causeway Bay, but my guess is that what they saw was pretty much the same as the scenes observed by banker Gerald Leiper who made a similar trip a month or two later:

The journey to Stanley was like a visit to some forgotten scenes of childhood, where everything, although recognisable, had changed.

The previously densely crowded streets of Wanchai were almost deserted. From Stubbs Road junction we continued our lonely progress through a landscape where only the occasional isolated Chinese could be seen on the hillside. On the rising approach road to Wong Nei Chong Gap, and on the reverse decline, the dense vegetation had encroached on the road from both sides, and at several places the road had disappeared under a carpet of lantana and other creepers.

The ruins of houses previously occupied by friends were barely discernible through the thick mass of jungle growth which engulfed them, and the only sign of human life was at Repulse Bay where a few Japanese officers were seen playing baseball in the grounds of the hotel.[1]

This suggests that Thomas and Evelina’s route would have been along the Wong Nai Chung Gap Road (passing the block of flats opposite the racecourse where they would live after the war) and down Repulse Bay Road to Stanley.

 If Thomas had been allowed to send any cards to his family in England from the French Hospital, they have not survived. Once in Camp, he rushed to take advantage of a scheme whereby the internees were allowed to send a letter, pre-dated to April 30, to enable another letter to be sent at the end of May.[2] Significantly, he came nowhere near to using the 200 words permitted.[3]

My guess is that he was still in terror as a result of the arrest of Dr. Selwyn-Clarke, who’d in effect been his boss for the last 15 months; but, for whatever reason, he didn’t have much to say. He got the card off so quickly that he hadn’t been assigned work, although there can have been little doubt what he was going to do now that he’d finally arrived in Camp

Food in Stanley: An Overview

 The bulk of the food consumed by the internees was provided by the Japanese; rations needed to be supplemented, and there were various means available: ‘gardens’, food parcels from friends in town (sent at the risk of torture and imprisonment), Red Cross parcels, the canteen, and, increasingly, the black market. The rations included flour until January 29, 1944[4] when the food sent in changed, either as a result of the transfer of Stanley from civilian to military control or the disruption of food supplies to Hong Kong caused by American action, or both.

Baking

In an earlier post I discussed Thomas’s situation at the end of June 1943, when a number of arrests were made in Camp, two of them because the men involved were canteen workers and part of a system of messages taken in and out of Camp by the ration lorry.[5] Although inextricably part of the ration system, Thomas might not have collected the flour himself:

Each morning the ration lorry drove into the camp and volunteers carried the large sacks of supplies to the various locations to be distributed.[6]

This source goes on to tell us that some of these ‘volunteers’ took the opportunity to steal part of what they were delivering. The food was delivered to a garage near the former Prison Warders’ Club.[7]

I don’t know for sure where Thomas baked his bread. There seems to have been a large kitchen in the Indian Quarters, and the Dutch, Norwegians and most of the smaller blocks had their own, St. Stephen’s and the Bungalows being served by a kitchen behind the College main building.[8] My guess is that Thomas worked in the last named. In August, 1944, the electricity supply in Stanley was cut off because of American bombing of Hong Kong, and was never reliable thereafter. The firewood ration was cut from 1 to 0.8 catties per day, so the Camp kitchens amalgamated.[9] As Emerson tells us that the ‘Victory tart’ (May 1945, see below) was baked by the St. Stephen’s bakers it was presumably this kitchen that was kept open.However, wherever it took place, baking does seem, as Emerson suggests, to have been organised on a block basis:

No. 10 block bakers busy making buns and cakes.[10]

Thomas tells us that he built his final oven in Stanley on the hot air principle. This implies that he built a series of ovens while in Camp. He describes this last one: 

 The last oven that we built I tried to make on the Hot Air principle, and although we had no cement, the top of the firebox being a manhole cover and the bottom of the oven roof tiles, our wood consumption was 6-ozs. for every 1-lb. of bread.[11]

Soon after the war, the Colonial Secretary Franklin Gimson left Hong Kong for London. In his farewell message he praised his fellow internees for their ingenuity and resourcefulness in using the scant materials available to them in Camp;[12] Thomas’s oven sounds like a good example of what he had in mind! On April 10, 1945 R. E. Jones notes ‘new baking oven’, and this might be the one Thomas describes. Jones, who was a prison officer and the Colony hangman before the war, and became one of the handymen in Camp, simply writes ‘baking oven’ as part of the next day’s entry, which possibly means he put some finishing touches to it.

In any case, Thomas tells us (see below) that the doughs had to be left overnight, and this suggests, if I’m right in thinking that bread making was block-based, there must have been at least one oven for each block.

At first the flour issue was 4.22 ozs per internee:

We made 4 –ozs. into bread, the remainder being used for kitchen work. We made straight Doughs (sic) until the flour was about 9-12 months old. After this the doughs used to go slack over night so I started using the sponge principle using 1/8 of the flour in the sponge and once again produced quite a good loaf. After the flour was two years old when the flour was added in the morning we had to mould it straight away as the dough used to crack and have a sour appearance. We could not cut down our sponge time as we had to be in our rooms before 8pm. and we could not leave them till 8am.[13]

Some times they managed to supplement the flour:

 At one time we managed to obtain rice polishings which we added to the bread at the rate of 1/8 oz. to 4 oz. flour. 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.[14]

Writing for his fellow bakers, Thomas doesn’t need to explain the reason for this practice: rice polishings provide crucial B Vitamins.[15] The deficiency of these vitamins in the diet caused much agony and some deaths in the POW Camp at Shamshuipo and were a constant problem in Stanley (see below). Soya beans were a form of much-needed protein and also contained other nutrients, being a particularly good source of potassium.[16] But they too had B vitamins, so when four policemen who’d spent two years in Stanley Prison for a failed escape attempt were released suffering from chronic malnutrition, they were treated with bran and soya beans in the camp hospital.[17]

George Gerrard tells us that on December 24, 1944, ‘soya bean flour’ was the basis for the breakfast congee, so it’s possible that not all of was turned into bread. But it’s not clear if Thomas’s soya bean flour was the stock being sold by the canteen ‘which we appreciate so much and goes so well with our rice and in our tea’.[18]

The flour issue lasted until early in 1944:

We produced bread until 29 January 1944. Then all flour, meat and fish to the camp finished.[19]

Thomas makes a similar claim in a letter home written soon after liberation.[20]  He’s not surprisingly right about the flour, and the re-appearance of meat towards the end of the war he probably judged as too small-scale to be worth mentioning. But he’s strangely wrong about the fish: there’s plenty of evidence that fish, albeit of low quality and in small amounts, was on the internees’ menu for another year or so.[21]

Diarist R. E. Jones provides evidence that the flour issue ceased one day earlier than recorded by Thomas: on January 28 he noted ‘no flour issued by Japs today’, and on the 29:

Military have taken over rationing from F.A.s {the Japanese Foreign Affairs Department} which explains no flour or sugar.

On January 30 he reported that ‘most blocks made rice biscuits’; however, ‘we’ (presumably his block, had a reserve of flour so got a half bread ration. and on the 31 that 8ozs of rice were issued in lieu of bread. This is further evidence that baking was organised in blocks.

The significance of the end of the flour ration is brought out by George Gerrard; in his diary ‘review of the week’ entry made on January 30, 1944, he wrote:

The Japs have stopped our flour ration (4 oz.) so our bread supply has gone west. They have given us an extra ration (4 oz.) of rice but that doesn’t compensate for the loss of the flour and consequently bread.

But, as so often, this was both good and bad news:

‘(O)f course the loss of the flour for bread is a serious business for us.

 However, it gives us the assurance that all is going well with our cause when the Japs cannot replenish stocks.[22]

In any case, once the flour ration was discontinued, Thomas’s experience making rice bread at the French Hospital came in useful:

After flour finished in the Camp we made a substitute bread from rice flour (ground in the Camp on Stone Mills). Although not very good it was better than nothing at all.[23]

 It seems as if some of at least of the stone mills were provided, after the end of the flour issue, by Mr. Zindel of the Red Cross.[24]

Former internee Barbara Anslow was kind enough to provide me with memories of this bread:

The Japs only sent flour into camp for a relatively short period.   During that time, the daily small bread roll was the highlight of our day!

When the flour supply stopped, the rice rations were ground and we each had a slice of rice bread every day: in fact it was more tasty than the roll and almost nutty in flavour.[25]

Anslow also records that the kitchen staff brought round the rolls daily to people’s rooms.[26]

 Dr. G. A. C. Herklots and The Yeast Prophylaxis

Life in Stanley was a daily struggle to get food and to stay healthy. Those with special skills were called on to give everything they had to help their fellow internees: medical personnel were frequently and rightly praised for their outstanding efforts, and working with them Dr. Geoffrey Herklots, not a doctor but a marine biologist with a broad and practically applicable range of scientific knowledge. Thomas had collaborated with him in pre-war days, trying to come up with a ‘siege biscuit’ which would be palatable to all races and contain the full daily requirement of basic vitamins.[27]

In the early days of Stanley, Dr. Herklots had been elecetd on to the Temporary Committee that ran the Camp until Colonial Secretary Franklin Gimson were sent there in March 1942. (G. B. Endacott and Alan Birch, Hong Kong Eclipse, 1978, 351.)  He lived with other medical staff in what had previously been a leprosarium (leprosy isolation unit), impressing them with his ability to keep cheerful under all circumstances although scaring them during the months he kept a poisonous bamboo snake in a glass-fronted biscuit tin beside his bed.[28]

Edith Hansom gives us another glimpse of Herklots:

A particularly intelligent internee named Mr. Geoffrey Herklots, a marine biologist, had a great knowledge about plants, and especially wild fruits and other bush cuisine. Mr Herklots gave generously of his time, teaching us what we could and couldn’t eat from the local berries and roots we found deep in the ground. I paid a great deal of attention to his instruction and was amazed to learn about the different vitamins and minerals contained in the plant life around the camp. This interesting and useful information enabled us to find a little extra to eat.[29]

Thomas’s brother, Wilfred, who was in contact with Dr. Herklots in 1985 and also had access to an article written by him and published in the Mass Education Bulletin of March 1946 states that Herklots former associate Mr. S. Y. Lin smuggled vitamin rich shark oil into Stanley. I’ve not been able to locate this article, but this story is plausible: other sources[30] state that shark oil was sent in via the Red Cross, but the provision of food, money and medicines through both ‘legal’ and ‘illegal’ sources was a familiar one during the Hong Kong occupation.

At the end of the war he emerged with a plan to rationalise and improve Hong Kong’s fisheries. In the spirit of post-war reform, he was able to put it into effect: S. Y. Lin was able to help him improve the measures he’d devised in Stanleyby reporting on structures imposed by the Japanese in one of the few positive manifestations of their rule.[31]

Thomas helped Herklots to grow yeast cultures, a valuable source of the B vitamins needed to ease the suffering of the chronically malnourished. His manuscript gives no date for this work, but Geoffrey Emerson discusses a yeast prophylaxis that began in August 1943 that sounds similar to the one outlined by Thomas.[32] {Note: the prophylaxis actually began in late June or early July and was organised by Dr Kenneth Uttley: http://gwulo.com/node/18290} They used part of the tiny issue of flour made by the Japanese (potatoes when that wasn’t available), boiled it up and added hops, left it to mature for 48 hours, added more boiling water and scalded flour, and 24 hours later they had yeast.[33]

Again in conjunction with Dr. Herklots we experimented with six cases giving them doses of 2-oz. yeast (Hop) daily and in every case they showed an improvement. Thereafter 1-oz. yeast became a daily issue to the Camp.[34]

They were using a stranded (or ‘immobilised’) ambulance, to which only Herklots had the key, as a laboratory.[35] As a result, the rapid increase of beri beri was slowed and new cases held to 1-2% of the population. The general yeast prophylaxis lasted until August 1944 when electricity was cut off.[36]

 Christmas 1944

The Camp always did its best to mark major festivals, even in the desperate conditions of the long winter of 1944-45. Thomas writes:

(We made for Christmas 1944 and New Year) a loaf for the people from an emergency stock that the Camp had managed to save. This flour was then nearly four years old. The wastage, weevils etc. was 3-5%. The Australian flour had kept a lot better than the American flour and the wastage was lower. The colour of the dough and bread being greyish and even in a very hot oven we had difficulty getting colour on the crust.[37]

Geoffrey Emerson tells us that the loaf was a quarter pounder, [38] and Quaker missionary William Sewell remembered it well:

From its last remaining stocks the camp also gave each of us a small loaf of real bread. The flour was pre-war and decidely musty. Even the weevils in it had died of malnutrition, yet it tasted as good as rich plum-pudding. we realized again that the true Christmas is not a matter of commercial enterprise. (Strange Harmony, 1948, 158).

It seems from  George Gerrard’s diary that it was actually issued on Chistmas Eve:

We have also had a flour and bran loaf issued to us today, the first bread we have had since early in the year when the flour stock ran out.[39]

However, Gerrard was a block quartermaster, so it’s possible that it was distributed to the internees until the next day. Gerrard also records the possibility of a rice flour ‘loaf’ being issued on Christmas Day itself as one of the ‘extras’.

R. E. Jones doesn’t mention Thomas’s bread: he’s too bust listing all the other excellent food that was served up that day! Most people had kept something from the Red Cross parcels distributed in September,[40] so the internees celebrated Christmas well. I suspect that most of them knew that, one way or the other, it would be their last in Camp.

Baking this loaf seems to have been the kind of challenge Thomas was referring to when he praised the help given by RASC baker Hammond at a time when ‘all the ordinary principles of bread-making had to be abandoned’.[41] Yeast in this final period in Stanley, when flour was no longer provided and the hops seem to have run out, was made from potatoes and taros (bean root).

The Victory Tart

In May 1945 the bakers at St. Stephen’s produced a ‘Victory tart’ for the camp in celebration ofGermany’s surrender:

This was made of ground rice with a large red ‘V’ coloured with mercurochrome.[42]

Thomas doesn’t mention this, but he must have been involved.

Conclusion

As I’ll explain in a future post, the British community of ‘old Hong Kong’ tends to get a bad press both before and after the war. Not surprising: whatever virtues it might have had, it was also racist, narrow and obsessed with hierarchy. It would, of course, be nonsense to claim that everything changed with the 1941 Christmas Day surrender, but the civilians in Stanley Camp and the ‘civilians in uniform’ in Shamshuipo did show a remarkable ability to leave behind their privileged pre-war lives and use what few resources they had available to survive. Thomas’s work before and after he entered Stanley forms a small part of this story.

.


[1] G. A. Leiper, A Yen For My Thoughts, 1982, 173.

[3] Gerrard Diary, entry for Saturday, May 1, 1943. This diary and that of R. E. Jones is available to members of the Yahoo Stanley Group:

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/stanley_camp/messages

The Jones diary is being published day by day on Gwulo:

http://gwulo.com/node/9660

[4] Unpublished manuscript of an article Thomas wrote for his trade paper, The British Baker, in September, 1946: hence UBB. Viewable at https://brianedgar.wordpress.com/2011/10/18/thomas-edgar-some-documentation/

[7] Geoffrey Emerson, Hong Kong Internment, 1973, 82.

[8] This account is pieced together from, Emerson, 1973, 98-99, Corbin, 164, and George Wright-Nooth, Prisoner of the Turnip Heads, 1994, caption to illustration facing page 81.

[9] Emerson, 99.

[10] Jones Diary, July 17, 1944.

[11] UBB.

[12] China Mail, September 14, 1945, page 2.

[13] UBB

[14] UBB.

[15] Rice polishings: ‘the inner bran layer of rice rubbed off in milling and used as a source of thiamin, riboflavin, and niacin’ – http://www.merriam-webster.com/medical/rice%20polishings

[17] Jones, Diary, June 20, 1944.

[18] Gerrard diary, entry of Feb 27, 1944.

[19] UBB

[22] Gerrard diary, entry made on Sunday, February 13, 1944.

[23] UBB.

[24] Emerson, 161.

[28] Bill Ream, Too Hot For Comfort, 1988, 37.

[29] Corbin, 170-171.

[30] Chronology, in the possession of Brian Edgar.

[32] Emerson, 153.

[33] Ream, 37-38.

[34] UBB.

[35] John Stericker, A Tear for the Dragon, 1958, 191; Ream, 38.

[36] Emerson, 153

[37]UBB.

[38] Emerson, 100.

[39] Gerrard’s diary

[41] Article by Thomas in The British Baker, September 1946, viewable at https://brianedgar.wordpress.com/2011/10/18/thomas-edgar-some-documentation/

[42] Emerson, 1973, 102.

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2 Comments

Filed under G. A. C. Herklots, Hong Kong WW11, Stanley Camp

2 responses to “Thomas’s Work (4): Baking In Stanley

  1. Pingback: Dr. George Graham-Cumming | The Dark World's Fire: Tom and Lena Edgar in War

  2. Pingback: Lesley William Robert Macey | The Dark World's Fire: Tom and Lena Edgar in War

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