Edward Gingle At War

Note: All photos in this post are post-war and from Thomas’s archive. There are more photos of Gingle at: https://www.google.com/search?hl=en&q=gingle+source:life&sa=N&start=0&ndsp=20&biw=1311&bih=445&sei=ELGwT8-KBoml0QXe6fSjCQ&tbm=isch

One of the Hong Kong people Thomas talked about in later years was a restaurateur he called Gingles.[1] He used to speak with admiration of his ability to hold his drink. Gingle could, Thomas claimed, drink a crate of beer before breakfast, and often did.

The size of the man in the photos[2] gave this story some credibility, but Brian doubted it even then.[3] It seems now that Thomas was one of those creating ‘the Gingle legend’.

Edward Francis Gingle, like Thomas, was out of Stanley at a time when few other Allied citizens were, although in his case he was freed after a period in the Camp. I was intrigued by a reference to him in one of the war crimes trials, and this post is the result of the subsequent research and speculation.

According to one account, Gingle was born on August 17, 1884[4] in the small town of Ashland, Wisconsin[5]  (population in 2010, 8,695), but that he grew up in Junction City. Another source describes him as ‘Junction City’s best known native son’[6] – perhaps not such a huge achievement as in 2000 it had only 440 inhabitants.[7] Still another links him with the rather larger town of Green Bay,[8] and it’s also claimed that he reached beer drinking age in Milwaukee.[9] It seems that the family moved around, but only within Wisconsin. Gingle joined the Coast Guard when he was 17, migrating to the navy at the start of WW1, during which he was chef on the USS MacDougal, crossing the Atlantic in convoy.[10] After the war he sailed with the Pacific Fleet, and saw service in China. There’s a record of him, probably from 1934, as Chief Commissary Steward on board the Black Hawk, with a formidable reputation throughout the navy as a cook and disciplinarian.[11]

In one version of a story that, like many of those concerning Gingle has probably lost little in the telling, he came ashore in Hong Kong some time in 1936 planning to celebrate his discharge from the navy and imminent return to the USA. He woke up the next day having lost his ticket home and with a receipt for the 60 room Palace Hotel in Kowloon mysteriously lodged in his pocket.[12]

Other accounts challenge the year 1936 or leave a gap between his settling in Hong Kong and opening a hotel/restaurant.[13] [14] The truth is probably lost in the mythology that seems to have been created partly by the man himself, partly by journalists eager to entertain readers with accounts of a ‘colourful’ character or to boost local pride with claims about a small-town boy become a ‘legend of the Far East’.

Whatever the exact date and circumstances of his entry into the Hong Kong hospitality business, he first shows up in the jurors list for 1938.[15] The war found him with a wife and a young child- Susan and Mabel. Susan was Chinese, and one account has her as wealthy. Gingle is listed by Tony Banham as held in the Kowloon Hotel in January 1942[16], and all three are on record as interned in Stanley:

sort low to high sort low to high sort low to high sort low to high sort low to high sort low to high sort low to high sort low to high
View GINGLE EDWARD F CIVILIAN Asiatic Theatre: China Returned to Military Control, Liberated or Repatriated JAPAN Stanley Camp (Civilian) Hong Kong 22-114
View GINGLE MABEL CIVILIAN Asiatic Theatre: China Undefined Code JAPAN Stanley Camp (Civilian) Hong Kong 22-114
View GINGLE SUSAN MRS CIVILIAN Asiatic Theatre: China Undefined Code JAPAN Stanley Camp (Civilian) Hong Kong 22-114

Source: http://aad.archives.gov/aad/display-partial-records.jsp?dt=466&mtch=3&q=gingle&cat=WR26&tf=F&bc=,sl,sd&rpp=10&sort=11660%20desc

Gingle did the cooking for those Americans living in the American Club, and his ability to turn the sparse rations provided by the Japanese into delicious meals was much admired:

Food preparation was immediately taken over by Gingles, an ex-navy man who had had restaurants in Hong Kong for years. Because food was his hobby and he was cooking for such a small number, he could get better results with the rice and pull tricks with the small amounts of extras that were issued.[17]

Dew may well have known but wisely doesn’t mention that one of the ways he created his (relatively) tasty meals was to use his splendid network of Chinese food trade contacts to get things into the Camp[18] – some of this could have been done through legal means, but it’s possible that some smuggling was involved as well. Repatriated journalist Richard Wilson claimed that these efforts were so successful that they saved the Americans from the beri beri that had broken out in the British community.[19]

Gingle himself became diabetic in camp, and Dr. Talbot – British but attached to the Americans managed to get him some insulin (statement of George Baxter, information kindly provided by Philip Cracknell).

On June 30 most of the Americans sailed home in an exchange with the Japanese. About 40 stayed on, some of them because they had Chinese wives.  Dew (Prisoner of the Japs, 146) seems to suggest that it was the ‘restrictive’ laws of the Americans that kept these out of the repatriation. Gingle had both Chinese wife and Eurasian daughter, as well as business interests to keep him in Hong Kong, although he told Richard Wilson that he was staying behind to carrying on cooking for the remaining Americans.[21]

The members of the Maryknoll order, who also remained behind, seem to have provided the bulk of his new ‘customers’, and the Maryknoll Diary for July 2 shows Gingle taking over his duties:

Father Meyer turns the cooking job over to Mr. Gingles. Formerly, Mr. Gingles, a retired American Navy man, had a number of restaurants in Hong Kong and a hotel in Kowloon, and while in Camp he did the cooking for the group of Americans in the American Club building. His fame as a cook spread through the Camp and now that he is living with us, he has kindly consented to do the work again.[22]

Father Meyer’s meals had been popular, but not surprisingly the Maryknollers appreciated Gingle’s professional touch:

(July 3) Under the new hotel management, our meal hours undergo somewhat of a change. We Maryknollers (when we have the wherewithal) have coffee, bread and cereal about 8 a.m., then Mr. Gingles gives us tiffin at 12 and dinner follows as usual at 5.

Having heard a lot of our new chef’s abilities, we naturally looked forward to something different, and for our first tiffin, we were not disappointed. While we had only rice and a thick soup, the soup was chicken, and very delicious. It seems there must be some community stores still extant, hence this chicken soup. For supper, he gave us fried rice and a little pork. At the present time, for 41 people, we get from 9 to 11 pounds of meat, bones and fat included, mostly beef, and probably water buffalo at that. Our present issue of green vegetables consists of a few sweet potatoes  some very poor, wormy water spinach and chives, which Mr. Gingles frowns upon and usually throws away as unfit for human consumption.

There’s another glimpse of Gingle at work in the next day’s entry:

Mr. Gingles’ kitchen is a model of cleanliness and order, and everything is absolutely shipshape. No one is allowed in the galley and he takes great pride in his work. It is easily seen he has had Navy training. His clarion call for meals is: “Come and get it or I’ll throw it on the deck!” and that brings us all running with our plates and cups.

The diary at this point is devoted largely to food, perhaps under the impact of Gingle’s culinary skills – he’s the main topic of the July  5 entry as well

We are just getting on to Mr. Gingles’ method of feeding us. Our ordinary fare seems to be just rice with a thick gravy or soup, but every few days we get quite a delicious meal. It seems he saves up the best pieces of meat and vegetables for a few days and then gives us  a square meal, served in an appetizing manner. Today we had such a meal, with a real slice of meat, a whole sweet potato, some spinach, cooled in the refrigerator, and, of course, rice. For supper just rice and stew but stew with a flavor. It seems he darkens the gravy by the addition of a little burnt sugar.

However, it doesn’t look as if Gingle really stayed behind to do the cooking: the diary for July 6 records:

Rice and gravy for both meals, and there are “seconds” for those who wish. Mr. Gingles is certainly generous with what he has.

We try a little mint in our tea. Today, Mr. Gingles, Dr. Molthen, Mr. Salmon and Miss Dorrer, all Americans, sign papers for release, so we are going to lose our good cook!

These ‘papers’ were those necessary to be ‘guaranteed out’, and the diary records that British as well as American prisoners benefitted from this scheme in the summer of 1942. An internee had to get a neutral friend to promise that they wouldn’t work against Japanese interests and guarantee that their expenses would be met. [23] At no point does the diary mention that his wife Susan and daughter Mabel left with him; this might have been because they were considered Chinese and didn’t have to go through the same procedures to leave Camp, or that they stayed behind.

Meanwhile the other Americans who stayed behind were trying to get out too:

(July) 13—All Americans, except Maryknollers, are to report to “The Hill” tomorrow morning at 10:00 a.m. The four Americans who have already signed up are still waiting for final word.

14—The Americans called up were asked why they wanted to go to Hong Kong, and how they could support themselves.

Gingle carried on cooking while waiting to hear if he’d been successful. On July 8 he made ‘another good meal’ with meatballs, spinach and deelicious gravy, and the next day served up a treat of cinnamon buns. The diary references to Gingle tail off at this point: as David Bellis suggests, the Maryknollers probably got used to the high standard of his cooking – or perhaps the rations became too poor for him to do very much. There’s a final flourish towards the end of the month:

(July) 26—Sunday. Another Gingles meal of a real slice of meat, fried sweet potatoes, spinach and rice, with some Philadelphia rice scrapple for breakfast.

On August 4 he finally received the good news:

(T)he four Americans, Mr. Gingles, Dr. Molthen,[24] Mr. Salmon[25] and Miss Dorrer, are to leave Camp tomorrow at 10:00 a.m….We naturally regret losing our genial and efficient cook, but we rejoice with him in his good fortune.[26]

On August 5 Gingle left Stanley never to return. He was accompanied by three Americans and 14 others, presumably British.

On September 12 the Maryknollers were themselves released from camp, and moved to Bethany, a religious establishment in the Pokfulam area in the east of Hong Kong Island, and in October they recorded a visit by ‘our genial chef, Mr. Gingles’ and ‘his side-kick, Dr. Molthen’. That’s the last mention of him in the Maryknoll Diary, but it seems to suggest that he was reasonably free to move around Hong Kong.

The end of the war found Gingle re-interned, this time in the smaller and rather more comfortable Ma Tau-wai Camp. He was the cook and, after his release from prison on December 8, 1944, Dr. Selwyn Selwyn-Clarke was the Medical Officer. We know Gingle was there because once again his meals proved memorable. The daughter of one internee notes:

My mother says it was a blessing to be put in the camp because they were literally starving when they were on the outside.

She also tells us

My mother remembers an American cook (‘Mr. Jingle’).[27]

Mau Tau-wai (formerly Ma Tau-chung/chong) was used to house Indian soldiers until some time in 1944; the Indians were moved out, and Tony Banham thinks a BAAG report that 100 civilians were interned there between August 13 and August 15 refers to the first of the new type of internees,[28] so it’s most likely that Gingle was ‘free’ for the last five months of 1942, all of 1943 and part of 1944.

According to Tony Banham, not all the Americans in town were re-interned in Ma Tau-wai, but it’s not known why Gingle was sent there. He could have asked for this to happen, because he too was finding it hard to survive, or the authorities might have suspected he was up to something, but, unable to marshal any concrete evidence, decided to put him where he could do them no harm (contrary to a common belief both at the time and today the Gendarmes didn’t arrest or torture Allied civilians without plausible evidence of ‘illegal’ activity).

So what was Gingle up to in the period between his two internments, living as part of the small community of Allied civilians at large in Hong Kong? At some time or another all his businesses were destroyed. The Palace Hotel was destroyed by the United States Fourteenth Air Force during the occupation as the Japanese had used it as a military headquarters. During the three years and eight months two experiments in American food provision, Gingle’s Dixie Kitchen and Gingle’s Little Spot, were confiscated and wrecked. [29]

So he didn’t make a lot of money, but was probably trying to earn a living in one way or another, whether through these businesses or some other enterprise. The only hint as to his activities that I’ve been able to find comes in a fleeting reference in the committal proceedings for Fakir Mohammed Arculli, an Indian journalist who was eventually given three years hard labour for working as a Kempeitai informer. One of the witnesses was William Albert Shea, who said that on two occasions he took money to ‘Gingle’s’ for his boss (or business associate) Victor Needa. Shea said he wasn’t acting in a work capacity, and he was clearly giving some support to Needa’s story that he’d helped the Allies in various ways even though he’d been trading with the Japanese military.[30] Shea denies knowing anything about Needa’s claims to have taken part in other resistance activities or to have given financial assistance to particular individuals, so it’s possible that the money taken to Gingle’s restaurant was for the owner himself or for general relief purposes. Shea started with Needa at an unspecified time, although not right at the beginning of the occupation when he lived by selling his possessions, and stayed with him ‘until 1944’, so it’s impossible to know when the cash was delivered. The China Mail report is as I quoted it – ‘Gingle’s’ – so it’s possible that the money was taken to the restaurant but not to the man himself. However, it seems from the article quoted above that when he wasn’t running his businesses himself, Japanese people were, so I’ll discount that possibility.

Now comes the speculation. I mentioned above that while in camp Gingle used his contacts with the Chinese community to get nutritious food for the Americans. Another American in ‘hospitality’, Chester Bennett, left Camp on or around May 8 and, with Japanese permission, spent some Red Cross money that had been allocated to buy the Americans extra food.[31] Chester Bennett was part-owner of a number of bars and restaurants and had seventeen juke boxes scattered around Hong Kong.[32] He returned to Camp, announcing that he’d got married in town, was elected new chairman of the American community  on June 2, and on August 11 left Camp to carry on his work as a food purchaser.[33] At the request of Franklin Gimson he’d turned down the chance to be repatriated to stay and help the internees.[34] In an article based on interviewing Bennett’s wife, journalist Hal Boyle tells us that the basis of Bennett’s ability to act as an effective spy was the need to ‘circulate’ to carry out his task of food buying.[35]

Bennett joined the bankers in raising for and smuggling money into Stanley. Towards the end of the year he was approached by the Portuguese solicitor Marcus da Silva and the two began a courageous programme of spying and other resistance activities.

Now, I have no proof that Gingle knew Chester Bennett. But I think it very unlikely that two Americans in the same line of business were ignorant of each other in the small world of pre-war Hong Kong. Gingle was selling ‘Americanness’ as well as food, and at the very least it must have occurred to Bennett that here was someone who might be interested in renting a juke box.  But my guess is that they knew each other much better than that.

Similarly, I’ve no proof that when Bennett joined Gingle in town in August 1942 the two met, but I find it inconceivable that they didn’t: I think there were probably under 20 non-ecclesiastical Americans outside camp in late 1942, and probably fewer than 80 adult British.

If they did meet, it must have struck Bennett that Gingle would have been an ideal helper in both his legal and illegal campaigns. His knowledge of the food trade and his Chinese contacts would have made him the right man to consult about purchases of supplies for Stanley. I think it possible, although not of course certain, that the money Needa sent through Shea was not for Gingle himself but for buying food to be smuggled intoStanleyor for some similar purpose. As for spying: an ex-Navy man knew what was important militarily in the vicinity of the harbour and dockyards. And that network of Chinese friends and acquaintances could have been helpful for more than just the provision of condiments; finding reliable Chinese agents was a major task for any BAAG operative, as the Chinese community was split, some siding with the Japanese for reason of ideology or self interest.

I’m not suggesting that Gingle was a BAAG agent in the formal sense, but that Bennett might well have asked him to keep his eyes and ears open, to recommend trustworthy Chinese, or to use his contacts to get things into Stanley. As we shall see, Gingle doesn’t seem the kind of man to decline to serve the Allied cause.

There’s an intriguing although very tenuous link in a rumour recorded in the diary of Prison officer R. E. Jones:

Sat 15th {Jan 1944}

5 more Es {Europeans} ex. {executed} in town. Gingles, Chester-Woods, Pascoe, Da Silva & soares?

Marcus Da Silva was a Portuguese solicitor who worked as a BAAG agent with Chester Bennett. There was a senior police officer in Stanley called Chester-Woods, who, as far as I know, was never in town, and at one stage the rumour probably concerned Chester Bennett – he was executed on October 29, 1943, but it’s possible some internees didn’t know this as his name wasn’t on the official list released by the Japanese on November 2 as he wasn’t in Stanley and nor was his wife. In any case, Marcus Da Silva was undoubtedly Chester Bennet’s ‘partner’ in spying and smuggling; he was arrested in May 1943, but managed to talk his way out of prison. Boris Pasco was a bookseller who was arrested in 1943 for his role in illegal relief work, while  ‘Soares’ might have been F. X. Soares, a banker who was certainly involved in some resistance activity but managed to escape to Macao before being caught.[36]

What kind of a man was Gingle? Does he seem the type to have been involved in the resistance? Most of the evidence is post-war, but we do get a glimpse of his attitude during the war years. When soon-to-be-repatriated journalist Richard Wilson asked Gingle if he had any message for the American people, Gingle reply was in effect ‘Send over some bombers as soon as possible’.[37] This suggests his fighting spirit and some willingness to take risks, although he was probably right in calculating that the chance of the Japanese in Hong Kong getting to learn of anything reported in an American local newspaper was rather small!

After the war he contributed assiduously to the creation of his own legend, so it’s best to take any story about him as suggestive rather than definitive, but those that do exist suggest both a ‘tough guy’ attitude and links with the American military and intelligence services.

Gingle’s restaurant was frequented by American fliers, with whom he seems to have had a special affinity.[38] He also enjoyed contact with soldiers from the British garrison.[39] The restaurant had a ‘nickel jukebox blasting cowboy ballads’.[40]  According to the same source (page 11) Gingle’s best friend after the war was the pilot James McGovern, and it was Gingle who gave him the nickname ‘Earthquake McGoon’. When McGovern was captured by the Chinese communists in 1949, one article claims that Gingle withdrew his savings and mortgaged his restaurant and presented Chennault with $100,000, telling him to get ‘my boy out’’.[41] McGovern died while on a CIA mission to get supplies to the beleaguered French legionnaires in Dien Bien Phu (he wasn’t the only aviator who passed through Hong Kong who had links with the CIA or its predecessor the OSA). More importantly, it was said that Gingle himself was the best source for intelligence as to what was happening on the south China coast. He was also supposed to have made a lot of money through commission on funds smuggled out of Communist China.[42]

Gingle seems to have liked to act the part of a tough-guy bar owner.  The book Hostage to Fortune an autobiography by the well known author and aviator Ernest Gann describes his encounter late in the life of Gingle.[43] Gann describes how he was kept waiting by Gingle at his restaurant while being looked over by an ex-Marine barman with snake tattoos on his arms.  We also learn that later Gingle told Gann by phone to leave Hong Kong – and a ticket in Gann’s name was already at the airport for the next day’s Pan American flight. Gann ignored Gingles “get out of town” injunction and carried on looking for inspiration for a new novel, but such was the force of Gingle’s threat that he hired bodyguards. Sadly the online sources don’t reveal what made this friend of American aviators turn against Gann to such an extent.

All this proves nothing, of course. Mixing with CIA men before or after the war is no proof of spying during it, and the belief that Gingle was the best source of intelligence on the south China coast might have been one propagated by himself for reason of personal or commercial aggrandisement. And Shea’s reference to having taken money to Gingle’s might mean no more than the charitable Needa was helping out someone he’d known before the war. But I’d be surprised to ever come across definite proof that he never passed information on to Bennett or another agent and that he absolutely refused to have anything to do with smuggling money or medicines back into Stanley.

According to his mother, Gingle eventually gave up running the restaurant in favour of farm management because of arthritis,[44]  and the one man who knew the truth behind the stories died on the morning of Monday, June 20, 1960 at Sunnybrook Farm, Sheung Shui.[45]

[1] The best sources tend to call him Gingle. This is probably the correct form and I’ll use it from now on except when quoting directly.

[2] One source gives his post-war weight as 300 pounds – http://www.unz.org/Pub/Colliers-1951sep08-00020

[3] This site has a photo which looks as if Thomas’s claim came from Gingle himself: http://www.gstatic.com/hostedimg/60759d8d16606d45_large

[4] http://www.unz.org/Pub/Colliers-1951sep08-00020

[7] Information on Wisconsin towns from the Wikipedia entries.

[17] Gwen Dew, Prisoner of the Japs, 1943, 236-237. See also the comments in the Maryknoll diary – link at http://gwulo.com/node/2623

[22] There’s a link to the Maryknoll Diary at http://gwulo.com/node/2623

[23] Emily Hahn, China To Me, 388

[24] One of Hong Kong’s first chiropractors, and a man who at the end of the fighting displayed an unexpected talent for scuttling large numbers of ships. He might have been one of the two ‘doctors’ who Wilson reported to be among those assisting Gingle in camp cooking:


[25] Presumably Gingle’s manager E. P. (‘Red’) Sammon or Sammons.

[26] [http://gwulo.com/node/2623

27] Tony Banham, We Shal Suffer There, December 20, 1944.

[28] Banham, October 20, 1944.

[30] China Mail, September 18, 1946, page 4.

[33] For Chester Bennett’s activities, see the Maryknoll Diary for the dates given. Bennett seems to leave Camp, buy food, get married and return all on one day – Saturday, May 8. This seems unlikely, although not of course impossible.

[36] Information kindly supplied by Bel Palmer. There’s a reference to Soares’ exemplary conduct during the war in Volume 3 of Frank King’s history of the HKSBC.

[45] China Mail, June 20, 1960, page 1.

[46] China Mail, June 23, 1960.



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7 responses to “Edward Gingle At War

  1. Pingback: ‘Guaranteeing Out’: The Evidence of the Maryknoll Diary | The Dark World's Fire: Tom and Lena Edgar in War

  2. Pingback: Photos of Edward Gingle | The Dark World's Fire: Tom and Lena Edgar in War

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

  4. Pingback: Edward Gingle in Jerome Gann’s Autobiography | The Dark World's Fire: Tom and Lena Edgar in War

  5. Pingback: Gingle Becomes Tweedie – Ernest Gann’s Soldier of Fortune | The Dark World's Fire: Tom and Lena Edgar in War

  6. Glenn Black

    Very well written/researched archive for anyone who was curious about Ed Gimble or Pop’s in HK

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