Selwyn-Clarke’s Arrest: A Speculation As To The Timing

The arrest of Selwyn-Clarke and some of his associates at the French Hospital in Causewa Bay on May 2, 1943 was probably the most terrible event of Thomas and Evelina’s wartime experience. Emily Hahn, who was friendly with the Selwyn-Clarke’s at the time, gives us a dramatic account:

 The gendarmes didn’t wait a week after he {Japanese Medical officer Colonel Eguchi, Selwyn-Clarke’s ‘protector} had gone before they swooped down and arrested Selwyn. It happened on a Sunday morning so early that even Selwyn was not yet awake. He was given time to dress and to take some clothes with him, and then they took him away.

The job was done in really good style. They had planned it down to the smallest matter because, after all, they had been at it for a long time, for months and months. The entire hospital was closed off by police and soldiers. It happened that the former consul general, Reynaud,[1] lay dying there, but his doctor was not permitted to go in and see him. The gendarmes meant to find out everything they could about that hotbed of espionage, and no sick people were going to interfere with their work. It is not true, as some hysterical patients averred, that the soldiers came whooping over the wall as if they were attacking a fortress, but their entry must have been sufficiently melodramatic to put the fear of God and the devil into the French sisters and the rest of the staff.

We first heard it from Hilda’s {Hilda Selwyn-Clarke} cook, who brought a message from her that she would get in touch with me as soon as possible. They were all held prisoner: Hilda, Mary {her young daughter}, Helen Ho, who had been working with them and looking after Mary…and a number of others. In the course of the day Constance Lam was brought on and set down there, and a few other people showed up, Chinese doctors suspected of working in the espionage game with Selwyn and the like.[2]

 The general picture is confirmed by a British Army Aid Group (resistance organisation) report dated June 8, cited in Tony Banham’s We Shall Suffer There:

 ‘At the time of the recent arrests the French Hospital was surrounded for one week. Drs. SELWYN-CLARKE, BUNJEE, NICOLSON and other of their associates were all detained and interrogated. The first 3 were taken to Gendarmerie H. Q. BUNJEE was manhandled and fainted’.

 I suggested in a previous post[3] that the idea that Selwyn-Clarke was arrested as a result of the investigation into the plot to free Captain Ansari that cost the liberty and in some cases the lives of a number of BAAG agents was probably incorrect: the doctor kept himself away from all military operations so that he would be able to carry on with his humanitarian work for as long as possible. The Kempeitai had been trying to incriminate him since February, he always expected to be taken into custody one day, and the most parsimonious explanation is Hahn’s – they struck almost immediately after his main protector had left Hong Kong.

 In fact I think that it’s possible to speculate as to the precise reason for the timing of the arrest. It was obviously sensible to allow a day or two to pass after Eguchi’s departure, and Thursday April 29 and Friday April 30 were Japanese festivals – the Son of Heaven Festival celebrating the Emperor’s birthday and the Yasukuni Shrine Spring Festival commemorating Japanese soldiers who died in the Russo-Japanese War respectively.[4] The operation described by Hahn was a big one, involving the co-ordination of at least two services (three if by police Hahn means the civil police not the Military Kempeitai). Selwyn-Clarke’s own brief account has the raid as taking place just after dawn.[5] It’s easy to see why, given that the intended victims in theFrenchHospital were no doubt being watched carefully and weren’t going anywhere it might be better to wait a day rather than start an operation involving the assembly of a raiding party in the early hours of a day which followed a double holiday. Of course, if it had been necessary, the Japanese would have stormed into the French Hospital on the Saturday (or indeed on one of the holidays), but it wasn’t.

 Strangely the BAAG account doesn’t mention the arrest of Alexander Sinton. My guess it probably took place at the French Hospital where he’s recorded as living in December 1942,[6] as there’s no reason to believe he’d left it. Those who weren’t arrested, including Thomas and Evelina, were held prisoner and most or all of them were sent into Stanley on May 7. There’s no record of Sinton’s arrest in Stanley, and if he’d been arrested before Selwyn-Clarke he (or someone) would have mentioned it as a sign of what was about to happen. I think he was arrested on May 2 too, and, if so, he was the only one of this group to be executed.


[1] Probably the man who gave the RASC baker P. J. Sheridan a letter to help him pass freely through French territory on his escape.

[2] Emily Hahn, China For Me, 1986 ed., 404.

[4] Cheng Po Hung, Hong Kong During the Japanese Occupation, 2006, 99.

[5] Footprints, 1975, 83.

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2 responses to “Selwyn-Clarke’s Arrest: A Speculation As To The Timing

  1. Pingback: Selwyn-Clarke’s Arrest Revisited | The Dark World's Fire: Tom and Lena Edgar in War

  2. Pingback: The French Hospital Arrests: A Synthesis Of Sources | The Dark World's Fire: Tom and Lena Edgar in War

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