Tanaka Again (and some speculations about the wedding)

THIS POST IS NOW OUT OF DATE – PLEASE SEE https://brianedgar.wordpress.com/2012/09/29/early-days-in-the-french-hospital-the-evidence-of-staff-sergeant-patrick-sheridan/


Elizabeth Ride has been kind enough to send me the long version of the escape statement of S/Sergeant Sheridan, one of the RASC bakers who worked with Thomas during the fighting and the subsequent occupation.

Captain Tanaka seems to have had the ability to surprise the internees by his good treatment of those under his command – by showing them films and sending them on their way with a bottle of whisky each, for example.[1] But a description of his biggest surprise was waiting for me in this typescript.

I’d always assumed that Sheridan and his fellow RASC man Sgm. Hammond were baking out of uniform and simply told the Japanese they were civilians, with or without Thomas’s active co-operation. The real story is much stranger:

We had to leave the Exchange Building on the 8th of February 1942 and our new abode was the French Hospital. Before we made the change, Captain Tanaka ordered Sgt. Hammond and myself to leave what Army kit (?)[2] we had, even our pay books and identity discs, behind.

In an earlier post[3] I expressed some scepticism as to the rumour, reported by Dr. Selwyn-Clarke, that Captain Tanaka was eventually executed for his kindness to internees and POWs; this story of Sheridan’s makes such a fate much more plausible. The only motive for his action that I can think of  is a humane desire to keep the two men out of Shamshuipo, which was a hell-hole for most of 1942. The Japanese certainly could be rather casual at times about the combattant/non-combattant distinction, but they could also be fierce in upholding it: later in February 1942 a uniform was found in the Exchange Building (it could even have been Hammond’s or Sheridan’s!) and all the members of the telephone company being held there were shipped off to Shamshuipo just in case.[4]

Sheridan was now effectively a civilian. Soon he was to go one better:

Enemy passes were issued to us. They allowed us to walk (?) about as well as to proceed to and from the Bakery. These passes were valid until 31st March, and were later extended to the 15th April. When the new passes (?) were being filled in, I changed my nationality to Irish and instead of army baker (??) as occupation I put Baker. A few days later I was issued with a neutral pass.

 Sheridan waited a little before making his next move. Several words are illegible in his explanation as to why, but he presumably paused so as not to arouse Japanese suspicions, to use his greater freedom as a ‘neutral’ to gather intelligence, and to give himself time to prepare (the clearest words in the illegible passage are ‘and to provide for’). When he was ready, he made another bold move – any attempt to leave the Colony risked arousing Japanese suspicions and Tanaka and perhaps others knew that he wasn’t really a civilian baker. Luckily the Japanese attitude at this time seems to have been that everyone who left Hong Kong was one less mouth to feed:

Then I applied for permission to leave the colony for KWONG CHOW WAN to seek employment as a baker (?).  It was granted on the 3rd June, a boat left next day, on which I bought a passage. (??)

One of his preparations involved finance:

Mr. NG, the manager of Qing Loong Bakery, 41, Queen’s Road, had given me $500 HK but would not risk any receipts or IOUs in case I[5] was searched or checked up on. (??)

Mr Ng I believe to have been the owner rather than the manager of the bakery and he and his family remained life long friends of Thomas and Evelina, sending Christmas cards and sometimes gifts almost every year. There were visits to England too. At some time Evelina told me that the basis of this close friendship was the fact that Thomas had treated Mr. Ng fairly over a bakery when he could have taken it for nothing, and this almost certainly relates to the Green Dragon (Qing Loong) at this period. It’s not clear who paid: the Japanese Health Department or Selwyn-Clarke using money raised by the Grayburn team of bankers.

There’s a letter in the BAAG archives stating that the authorities can’t repay Mr. Ng for the money he lent to Sheridan at the moment because he wouldn’t take a receipt – I’m sure that nothing suited him better than having the British Army forget about the debt until after the war!

In any case, from this point Sheridan’s escape was relatively easy. Kwong Chow Wan was a  French enclave in southern China, and at this time it was, unusually, ruled by the Free French not Vichy sympathisers, probably because it was in the middle of  Nationalist Chinese territory[6] (the Japanese occupied it in February,1943). Sheridan continues:

I had already secured a letter of introduction to the French authorities in KWONG CHOW WAN from the former Consul General in Hong Kong Monsieur Reynaud which requested that I be given every assistance passing through French territory. This was afforded me by the French customs, but I was questioned by some Japanese civilians when the boat docked. They particularly wanted to know if I was English and where I was bound for. I satisfied their curiosity when I produced the Japanese Gendarmerie permit to leave Hong Kong.

The journey through Chinese held territory to an air base from which he could fly to India was slow and frustrating but not particularly dangerous. I imagine that Sheridan was thoroughly debriefed when he arrived: as far as I know, his experience as a military man who’d spent six months in relative freedom on Hong Kong Island was, and remained unique. A July 21, 1942 General Headquarters, India, memo states that he was being retained in New Delhi for a short time in case anyone wnated to speak to him personally. This memo tells us he had nine years army service, and was ‘of an intellignet type’. A handwritten recommendation for an ‘award’ is added.

But now look at the wedding photo taken on June 29, 1942:

Captain Tanaka’s there, twenty five days after Sheridan left Hong Kong. Thomas, who hadn’t been in the Exchange Building since February 8 was obviously still in touch with him, and we know from Selwyn-Clarke’s autobiography that he was too, as he reports his sudden disappearance. I wonder what the Captain felt when he learnt that Sheridan had gone to neutral territory, to a place that offered a relatively safe route to New Delhi and back into participation in the war?

It’s even possible – although this is very speculative – that the choice of delivery driver Owen Evans as best man might have something to do with this affair. Thomas mentions Sheridan’s fellow RASC baker Sgm. Hammond in his 1946 British Baker article as having been particularly helpful, and the two baked together all the way though to the end of the war. If Hammond’s in that photo at all, he’s keeping a low profile. I wonder if he stayed away to avoid reminding Tanaka of his earlier decision and its outcome? In any case, Sheridan’s account reveals that Owen Evans had a secret of his own, and that will be the subject of my next post.

[1] Les Fisher, I Will Remember, 1996, 37.

[2] The text is hard to read in parts as it was clearly the product of degraded carbon paper. Luckily most of the important words in the relevant sections are clear, and the parts I’ve had to guess don’t alter the meaning much.

[4]  Fisher, 36.

[5] This word looks like I but the page is blotted here and he seems to make more sense.


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2 responses to “Tanaka Again (and some speculations about the wedding)

  1. Pingback: Thomas and Tanaka (2): The Man In The Photo | The Dark World's Fire: Tom and Lena Edgar in War

  2. Pingback: Louis Reynaud | The Dark World's Fire: Tom and Lena Edgar in War

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