Monthly Archives: June 2012

Two More Glimpses of Evelina


The cemetery at Stanley is very beautiful and many internee accounts testify to the, albeit temporary, feeling of peace it gave them to walk or sit there. So I was surprised when I asked Evelina, sometime in the 1990s, if she had any memories of it:

 We never went there. It was for people on the other side of camp.

 I thought this was an example of Evelina’s personal quirkiness – she had a strong sense of space, both her own and that of others. But then I found this passage in Derek Round’s book on the romance between Mutal Fielder (an internee inStanley) and Kenelm Digby (held in Sarawak):

 Looking back, it seems strange we did not see more of our Hong Kong friends while we were in the camp. One couple, who had been our closest friends we never saw at all. They live din another part of the camp, but it still seems odd we didn’t see them.[1]

 So other internees stuck to ‘their’ part of the Camp too, even when it came to visiting or not visiting friends. Emily Hahn seems to have got it right in the novel Miss Jill:

It was a crowded, insufficient sort of place, Stanley Camp, and yet somehow one drew smaller circles within the outer circle. One tried to save steps. One kept one’s working acquaintanceship within reasonable limits of distance.[2]


 It was sometime in the early 1960s. Evelina was feeling good about life:

 I wouldn’t take any of it back. Not even the time in camp.

 Thomas said nothing. He wasn’t so sure.

[1] Derek Round, Barbed Wire Between Us, 2002, 161.

[2] Emily Hahn, Miss Jill, 1948, 238.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Dr. George Graham-Cumming

I’ve been a fan of the Olympics since watching the Rome Games – the first ‘T.V. Olympics’ – as a boy of 10. Not surprising then that I love the film Chariots of Fire, a celebration of two British winners in the 1924 Olympics, Eric Liddell and Harold Abrahams. And that, plus my interest in civilian internment, made it inevitable that, during our time in China, I’d take the opportunity of visiting Weifang, the location of the Weihsien Camp where Liddell was interned during the war, dying in February 1945 of a brain tumour which many of his fellow internees felt was brought on in part at least by his selfless devotion to the welfare of others.

Eric Liddell Memorial, Weifang

So I was delighted to discover that there was one person in that small and increasingly beleaguered group of Britishers in the French Hospital[1] who was connected with Liddell:

I started my medical studies in the summer term of 1924 intending to become a medical missionary like my boyhood hero David Livingston and was admitted to 56 George Square, then a hostel for medical students intending to be medical missionaries…. One of the other residents was a broad-shouldered, rather stocky, not too tall individual with rather a large head and face. This was Eric Liddell who played Wing Three Quarter for Scotland in the Rugby International contests.[2]

The writer was George Graham-Cumming, one of the doctors who stayed out of Stanley to help Selwyn Selwyn-Clarke with his medical welfare work. Ironically, given the interesting life and distinguished career I’m about to outline, he seems best known on the internet for his playful ‘races’ with the future Olympic champion!

 Eric Liddell’s House in Tianjin

It seems that his connection with Liddell nearly ended in disaster:

One day…I got into a friendly tussle with Eric, put a judo leg-hold on his right knee and strained his right thigh. I won that fight but lost all respect and learned what it is to be thoroughly unpopular. Eric was training hard for the Olympic Games to be held in Paris in a few weeks! Fortunately he recovered quickly and showed no reduction in speed to my immense relief.[3]

Medical student high jinks almost deprived Liddell of the Olympic gold, Scotland of a national hero, and the present writer of one of his favourite films.

It’s obvious that from his youth Graham-Cumming had a passion for both Christianity and medicine, and he was preaching while still a student

We all took turns at open air preaching every weekend at the corner of the Cowgate outside that Dispensary.[4]

His admiration for David Livingstone suggests a desire for far away places as well, so he became a medical missionary in China, ending up as a doctor with the Overseas Medical Service in Hong Kong.[5]

He began his medical studies in 1924. After his training he applied to join the Church of England Presbyterian Foreign Missions.[6] In 1936 he wrote a letter to the BMJ describing an injury he’d inflicted on the neonate while carrying out a delivery during his midwifery training in Edinburgh during 1927-28. The letter is written from the English Presbyterian Mission in Shoka, Formosa (now Taiwan) and it refers to his six years practice in China, so he presumably went out in 1930 or thereabouts. [7] Formosa was part of the Japanese Empire at the time so the experience may have come in useful in Hong Kong. I’ve found documents in Chinese that have a short section about him and the years 1934-1937 by his name.[8] His name is linked with that of Dr. James Laidlaw Maxwell, Jr., a pioneering missionary to China and Formosa, and my guess is that 1934-1937 were his years of service in the latter, but it would obviously be wrong to draw any firm conclusions before translation.

Dr. Graham-Cumming was married with two daughters (one born in 1931 and the other in 1933). It seems that at the end of the December 1941 hostilities he and his family were among those who stayed in houses on the Peak and didn’t have to enter the sordid waterfront hotels where most ‘Europeans’ were kept before being sent to Stanley ( His family are not on the British Army Aid Group list of those living at the French Hospital in December 1942,[9] but they are on the Stanley Camp Roll that was probably drawn up around May 1942, so it seems that they were in Stanley from the start, something he might well have been grateful for as things in town got more dangerous from February 1943 onwards. It’s not clear if Dr Graham-Cumming was initially sent there with them and later taken out of camp to help with the public health work or if he was ‘out; from the start.

He was not one of those arrested on May 2, 1943[10] and was presumably sent to Stanley Camp on May 7 along with 17 others.[11] While in Camp, he no doubt assisted the other doctors in providing a medical service that’s been universally admired for its amazing achievements in the most difficult possible circumstances – a slowly starving, and malnourished population living in cramped and not very hygienic conditions treated with a small and diminishing supply of drugs, yet the death rate, according to internee leader Franklin Gimson was if anything lower than would have been expected in peace time Hong Kong.[12] One of the main ways in which the doctors achieved these results was through the practice of ‘nutritional medicine’ and the one specific activity of Dr. Graham-Cumming’s that I’ve been able to document so far is his role as medical overseer of the programme to grind peanuts into peanut butter. A camp notice of October 12, 1943 announces the inauguration of a grinding programme to replace the then exhausted supply of rice polishings: as Thomas explained in his 1946 article for The British Baker, rice polishing were used by the Camp bakers whenever they could get their hands on them[13] (they’re a good source of B Vitamins) and the peanut butter that replaced it was to be baked into biscuits given to labourers and those suffering from deficiency related eye problems.[14]

Dr. Graham-Cumming survived internment and after the war he seems to have stayed in Hong Kong for a number of years and to have resumed and succeeded in his medical career: on August 14, 1957[15] and November 20, 1957 he attended a meeting of the Legislative Council in the capacity of Acting Director of Medical Services.  This means that he reached the top position in the Hong Kong medical hierarchy, albeit on a temporary basis. It had been  Selwyn-Clarke’s post before the Japanese attack.

According to a report in the Winnipeg Free Press (May 14, 1969, page 24), in 1962 he migrated to Canada: at least he did if he’s the ‘Canadian husband’ of Lois Graham-Cumming (see below). The online ‘traces’ I’ve found fit this idea well, as between 1963 and 1965 he was continuing his religious activities as a lecturer for the Ottawa School of Theology and Spirituality.[16] He’s also documented as lecturing with the Ottawa Lay School of Theology during the same years.[17]

In his new country he worked for the Medical Services, National Health and Welfare Department, as Medical Liaison Officer, based in Ottawa.[18] He obviously specialised in the health of ‘original Canadians’: in the 1960s he published a number of articles on this topic, and in 1967 he wrote a study surveying the situation over the previous 100 years. A contemporary writer has criticised this article for maintaining that the indigenous population, medically weakened by isolation, now paradoxically posed a health threat to the later arrivals; the writer acknowledges that this was the generally agreed idea of the time,[19] and, although the critical analysis is undoubtedly accurate, it seems to me that Graham-Cumming’s involvement with the health of ‘original Canadians’ stems from the same humanitarian impulses that took him to China to care for people who would otherwise have had little access to modern medical treatment.

Also in 1967 he published a report on the health of ‘original Canadian’ babies. This links interestingly with his work in Stanley, as he argued that the fact that such babies had a mortality rate three times that of ‘whites’ was due to the ‘nutrition ignorance’ of their parents. (Winnipeg Free Press, Mach 30, 1967, page 17). 

He was also co-author an article on rodent control in the port of Montreal,[20] and it’s just possible that this gives a hint of the public health speciality that led to his being kept out of Stanley to work in Hong Kong.

I can find nothing online relating to his professional activities after the late 1960s, and it’s possible he retired about this time. But the chances of the internet have preserved a couple of things relating to his final years. In 1996 he was interviewed by Charles Roland for his study of health issues relating to Canadian POWs in Hong Kong and Japan,[21] and in 1997 he and Anne E.[22] Graham-Cumming are listed as donors to the United Nations Association in Canada.[23] He died in 1998.[24] His wife, Lois, a medical statistician[25] who became the part-time Executive Director of the Canadian Nurses Foundation,[26] died in 2003.[27] The obituary gives her date of birth as 1914, while the Stanley Camp Roll lists Mrs. Graham-Cumming as having been born in 1902, so this may indicate a second marriage.

So far I’ve only been able to get a few glimpses of what seems like  a fascinating man. I hope that future research will yield more.


[12] F. C. Gimson, hand-written introduction to typescript Internment in Hong-Kong March 1942 to August 1945, page 13. Rhodes House, Oxford, Ms.Ind. Ocn. S222.

[14] Notices reproduced in Jim Shepherd, Silks, Satins, Gold Braid And Monkey Jackets, 1996, 66-69.


Filed under Hong Kong WW11

Dr. Phillip Court

There were two men in contact with the British Army Aid Group (part of the Hong Kong resistance) in the French Hospital, where Thomas lived from February 8, 1942 to May 7, 1943 (Evelina joined him after their wedding on June 29).  One was Dr. Selwyn-Clarke, whose ‘antagonistic co-operation’ with the BAAG is well-known to those familiar with the literature of the Hong Kong war.[1] The second was Dr. Philip Court.

Phillip Francis Shelsey Court was a physician with the Hong Kong Medical Department before the war.[2] I don’t know at what stage he became associated with the French Hospital, but he was there on January 16:

I paid a visit to the French Hospital to-day for a general examination. Whilst I was waiting I watched Dr. Court amputate a leg of a Chinese woman who had been injured in the bombing. Their light had not yet been restored and he had had to operate in front of an open window to give him sufficient light.[3]

According to Emily Hahn, in the early stages of the occupation the entire Medical Department was allowed to stay outside Stanley working under Selwyn-Clarke, but one of the doctors broke his parole and escaped. As a result, most of the departmental members were interned, and the Medical Director was only allowed to keep out a skeleton staff, chosen by the Japanese, and all forced to live under one roof.[4] Hahn gives no date for this, but it is possible that the move to the French Hospital took place on or around February 8: this is the date on which the three bakers producing bread for the hospitals and the associated unit of drivers went there,[5] but Exchange House, their previous location, was not cleared of Allied civilians at this point, as the telephone company workers didn’t leave until February 23;[6] this suggests that there might have been a specific reason for sending out those associated with the Health Department on the 8th.

If this is correct, Dr. Court’s presence at the French Hospital on January 19 suggests that he worked there before the war or was sent there during the fighting.

The continuing presence of the health workers in the city was due to the championship of the Japanese medical officer Colonel Eguchi and a number of other influential supporters who managed to persuade the authorities that they were needed to prevent the outbreak of epidemic diseases amongst the Chinese, diseases that would threaten Japanese soldiers and civilians. But the Kempeitai (‘the Japanese Gestapo’) were deeply suspicious of these health workers and other uninterned enemy citizens, reckoning, correctly in some cases, that they would use their location in the city to spy on the Japanese military. They began to watch them carefully even during the early stages of the war when there wasn’t much of an Allied  threat to the Japanese in Hong Kong.  In June 1942 Colonel Lindsay Ride, the head of the HKVDC Field Ambulance, who was one of the earliest escapers from Shamshuipo, sent agents of his newly formed British Army Aid Group to try to make contact with the camps and the Allied citizens left outside them – as early as June 15 Ride reported that two agents had been sent to contact ‘North Point {POW Camp}, BMH {Bowen Road Military Hospital} and the French Hospital’.[7] As Ride seems to have known Dr. Court well, he was one of those specifically targetted in these attempts.[8]

Ride sent Court a letter in June. He began by asking him to help the bearer locate Gene Pawley and Albert Fitch, two American truck drivers, as he had messages from their families asking them to escape (as the repatriation of June 29/30 was already planned this came to nothing, but it proves that according to Ride’s sources these drivers, who were not part of the unit working on bread delivery, were also outside Stanley at this point and probably in the French Hospital – see note 4). Ride then turns to the question of Dr. Court’s own escape:

I am sure your wife not to mention Angela and Averil[9] (and even LTR[10]) want you to come too ever so badly.

He suggests that Court consider making up a party of three with Fitch and Pawley – ‘no money will be needed if you work through this man’ – and even suggests that Hilda Selwyn-Clarke and her young daughter Mary come along as well, assuring them they’d be well treated. Arrangements were at some point made by the BAAG for Court’s escape, but this fell through.

Japanese suspicions made contact between the BAAG agents and Court difficult. Ride reported to the Military Attaché on July 27, 1942:

{Agent}36[11] is back in Waichow;  he took a message to Dr. Court at the French Hospital and found it impossible to see him personally because Dr. Court is carefully watched.  36 saw a French nun who told him he could not see Dr. Court on his first visit.  On his second visit he was told by a Chinese sister (nun) he could not see him.

A BAAG report four days later suggests that the Hong Kong operatives had found a way round the problem:

Dr. Court receives out-patients in the hospital between 9-11 a.m. daily and they hope to be able to make contact through this channel in the near future. 

Philip Court was not one of those arrested when the Kempeitai raided the French Hospitalon May 2, 1943. They took away Selwyn-Clarke, Dr. Frederick Bunje, Dr. Murdo Nicholson and some of their Chinese colleagues.[12] He was presumably one of those who were held prisoner while the Kempeitai searched the premises for evidence of espionage and then were sent into Stanley on May 7. He’s on the Camp Roll in Greg Leck’s Captives of Empire, so he certainly went there at some time, and as 18 people went in on from the French Hospital on May 7[13] and those recorded by the BAAG as living there in December 1942 make up 17, not counting those known to have been arrested but including Court, it seems most likely he was one of those 18. Diarist R. E. Jones records a second party, this time of 5 ,coming from the Hospital on May 19; if he was right, then either these were people held back for further investigation or they were one of the group of generally elderly patients who’d been allowed there for treatment and who the authorities had now decided were now well enough to re-enter the internment camp.

So it seems that Dr. Court was in Stanley by May 19 at the latest, no doubt relieved that his contacts with the BAAG had not been discovered, but like many others wondering if his courageous actions would one day prove his undoing.

[1] See, for example, Philip Snow, The Fall of Hong Kong, 2003, 178-179.

[2] Greg Leck, Captives of Empire, 2006, Stanley Camp Nominal Roll.

[3] Phyllis Harrop, Hong Kong Incident, 1944, 115.

[4] Emily Hahn, China To Me, 1986 ed., 358. Hahn says that the enemy national Red Cross drivers were sent intoStanley with the majority of the health department at this point, but this is not true, of most of them at least – see below.

[5] British Baker article, viewable at

The date is confirmed by S-Sgt. Sheridan in his escape statement.

[6] Les Fisher, I Will Remember, 1996, 36.

[7] Edwin Ride, British Army Aid Group, 1982, 87.

[8] An extract of references to Dr. Court in the Ride papers and a copy of the letter from Ride to Court were very kindly sent to me by Elizabeth Ride on April 26, 2012.

[9] Court’s mother.

[10] Lindsay Tasman Ride himself.

[11] Lau Teng Ke, a student – Ride, 1982, 310. Another agent known to have been in touch with the French Hospital was Raymond Wong, who was also a member of the Communist East River Guerrillas.

[12] Tony Banham, We Shall Suffer There, 2009, entry for June 7, 1943.

[13] This arrival is recorded by both George Gerrard and R. E. Jones whose diaries are available to members of the Yahoo Stanley Group:

Only Jones records the second party mentioned below.


Filed under Uncategorized

Selwyn-Clarke’s Arrest Revisited

May 2, 1943 was probably the darkest day in Thomas and Evelina’s life. Early on that Sunday morning the dreaded Kempeitai – ‘the Japanese Gestapo’ – came knocking on the door of the French Hospital. They took away Selwyn Selwyn-Clarke, two other British doctors and a number of Chinese ones;[1] they were convinced – wrongly – that Selwyn-Clarke’s medical organisation was a front for a military spy ring. It’s also probable that Alexander Christie Sinton, another of the small group of men who’d stayed outside Stanley to perform important public health tasks, was arrested on that occasion – Sinton had been sending secret messages and probably drugs into Stanley, and it was this kind of activity, illegal in Japanese eyes but of no military significance, that Selwyn-Clarke and those working with him had really been engaged in.

 Sinton was to be executed on October 29, 1943, and Selwyn-Clarke was taken away to face prolonged torture during which he steadfastly refused to give his tormentors a single name of all those who’d helped him in his humanitarian smuggling.

 Public Health worker Leslie Macey was one of those in the French Hospital that morning:

 (O)ne Sunday morning early in May 1943, the Gendarmes swooped down on us, arrested several and the remainder were sent to the internment camp at Stanley where the other H.K. civilians had been interned since the occupation.[2]

Showing great consideration for his family, Mr. Macey doesn’t tell the full story. For five days or so after the arrests, he, Thomas, Evelina and about 15 other men and women were locked in the French Hospitalwhile the Japanese searched for evidence of spying. It’s hard to imagine a more terrifying situation. Everyone knew what being arrested by the Kempeitai meant, and at any moment something suspicious might be found, Selwyn-Clarke or one of the others might crack, or the Gendarmes  might just decide to torture all the foreigners until they told the truth (they really did believe the French Hospital harboured a British spy ring).

 May 2, 1943 was one of the most important days not just in the lives of Thomas and Evelina but in the story of civilian Hong Kong during the war. Sadly there’s not much information about it in those sources that are readily available in print and on the internet (and I doubt that there’s much in the archives that will add significantly to our knowledge, althoug h I will be exploring these in due course). Even the answer to the most basic question remains uncertain: what brought the Kempeitai to the  French Hospital on that day in particular?

 In a previous post[3] I argued for a version of the theory implied by Emily Hahn’s account:[4] there was no specific reason for the timing beyond the fact that Colonel Eguchi, the Japanese Medical Officer and Selwyn-Clarke’s protector, had left Hong Kong less than a week before. Hahn isn’t always completely reliable about timings, but she seems to have been the subject of a rough attempt at seduction (or even abduction) by Eguchi, who got very drunk at his farewell party, so, even though she was avoiding him, she probably did know exactly when he left Hong Kong.[5] So I accepted the position that the Kempeitai came knocking because they’d long suspected Selwyn-Clarke was the leading British spy in Hong Kong and now there was no reason not to act on those suspicions. Certainly none of the theories stated or implied by other writers – that it was something to do with the plot to free Indian prisoners that led to Charles Hyde’s downfall, or that it somehow followed on from the arrest of Dr. Talbot for smuggling money into Stanley – seemed to me to have much credibility. But I’ve now come across a much better theory as to the reason behind the arrest; it’s both plausible in itself and seems to come ultimately from Selwyn-Clarke himself. It’s in the book Captive Surgeon in Hong Kong by Donald Bowie

 (C)onditions became very hard in 1942 for his {Selwyn-Clarke’s} subordinates who were still working to improve the health conditions generally. When some of these had been reduced to burning their own furniture for fuel and had been forbidden to draw funds from their banks a number sought permission to leave the Colony and seek a life in Chinese mainland villages. Selwyn-Clarke had power to sign recommendations for permission to leave in the case of those who had served directly under him before and during hostilities. He suspected that one man severely wounded during the fighting, in whose case he had very slightly stretched the facts in his certificate because of his deep sympathy with his plight, was detected and stopped by the Japanese on his way to China. He was intensively questioned and eventually broke down and gave the answers his questioners wanted, answers relating to Selwyn- Clarke’s alleged spying activities which were quite untrue. Selwyn-Clarke was an upright man who would never break his word even to the Japanese occupiers and he told me subsequently that in the case of the certificate he gave to the man he suspects was immediately responsible for his arrest, this was the only occasion in his life that he had ever compromised on a matter of principle.[6]

 Selwyn-Clarke obviously told Major Bowie this after the war, which he unexpectedly survived after having lived many months under sentence of death. Although the account was only what he ‘suspected’ it does seem credible in that the ‘trail’ involves things he was actually doing – he would never have taken part in a plot with military implications like the one to free Captain Ansari, and he had no role of any kind in the Talbot money smuggling case.

 But even this account, which in any case only reflects what Selwyn-Clarke ‘suspected’, leaves two big questions unanswered.

 Frederick Bunje, a well-established Hong Kong doctor, Murdo Nicholson and a number of their Chinese colleagues were also arrested that day. Surely they can’t all have been incriminated by the same man or in the same week? The Kempeitai did not arrest a number of other doctors: one of them, Dr. Court, was, in fact, in touch with the BAAG, the British resistance movement inHong Kong. (The other two were Dr. Graham-Cumming, who’s documented in Stanley, and Dr. Griffith, who I’ve not so far found on a camp roll or any other document.) This means they must have had specific evidence against Bunje and Nicholson (Bunje was eventually given a prison sentence while Nicholson at some point was sent into Stanley).

 Secondly, was it just co-incidence that the Kempeitai had the opportunity of extracting a ‘confession’ almost the moment Colonel Eguchi left Hong Kong? They had, after all, been trying since February 1943 (at the latest) without any result.[7]

 Putting all this together my current position, which is not at all satisfactory because not supported by positive documentary evidence but which at least suggests answers to these two questions, is this: the Kempeitai had been gathering evidence – both genuine ‘leads’ and extracted confessions – for some time before Eguchi’s departure. This evidence related to a number of those in the French Hospital they suspected of spying. They held onto to it until the Colonel was safely out of Hong Kong and then swooped on all those who they believed guilty at the same time. The testimony of the former employee Selwyn-Clarke had helped by bending the truth a little was not the only piece of evidence against those arrested nor was it necessarily gathered in the few days between Eguchi leaving and May 2.

 In any case, Thomas, Evelina, their colleagues in the French Hospital, and many other people scattered around Hong Kong, owed an incalculable debt to the unimaginable fortitude of this one man.

[1] British Army Aid Group report, cited in Tony Banham, We Shall Suffer There, entry for June 7, 1943.

[2] Letter to his mother of September 3, 1945, kindly sent to me by Ruth Sale (Leslie Macey’s daughter).

[4] China To Me, 1986 ed., 404.

[5] China To Me, 1986 ed., 402-404.


Filed under Uncategorized

Final Massacre (3): Fears in Stanley

In previous posts I’ve discussed the fear of a final massacre that existed in all of the Far Eastern POW and internee camps as the war drew to a close. In this post I want to discuss this fear as it existed in Stanley.

 In fact, the idea that the Japanese might one day spare themselves the burden of feeding and guarding the prisoners by killing them didn’t have to wait until 1944 or 1945 – it occurred to some people at least even before the fighting was over:

 One day we were ordered to march outside and congregate in the compound. We’d heard that mass executions had already taken place at other internment facilities, and no explanation had been given for this assembly. Were our lives about to be ended, too?[1]

In fact, they’d been summoned to witness the humiliation of a group of Canadian soldiers marching into captivity.

The same fear existed from the very start of the internees lives in Stanley. On Saturday, February 14, 1942, less than one month after arriving in Camp, Barbara Anslow recorded in her diary:

Morning off from work, but had to spend it all being searched at Stephen’s Prep. School grounds by the sea

 Years later she provided this explanation:

 Japs got us all lined up, near where we first landed in Stanley.  There were armed soldiers all round us. We wondered if we were to be massacred, or sent off somewhere.  In fact, Japs used our absence to search through all the accommodation, presumably looking for wireless sets, weapons etc….[2]

Barbara Anslow describes a general search; Edith Hamson from Bungalow A tells us about an ordeal that seems to have been limited to the Bungalow dwellers:

 (T)here armed guards stormed into our room. They were fearfully angry and ordered us outside…I wondered what was in store for us. I tried to make sense of the events developing around us, but my thoughts were becoming irrational from fear.[3]

 The inhabitants of Bungalow A and the other Bungalows are driven into a valley, where, surrounded by grim-faced guards, they’re told to stand and wait. Some women start shrieking ‘Lord, have mercy!’:

 I looked up, and appearing on the hills around us were more guards, armed with larger guns mounted on tripods. They were pointing straight at us. Some people became hysterical, others began to cry, almost everyone was praying…I felt we’d been condemned without committing any crime. Was this to be a senseless mass execution? Would we be buried in a mass grave? We braced ourselves, expecting the worst, expecting to be showered with bullets at any moment, but nothing happened. Every second was agonising. If this was to be our end, let it happen.[4]

 After hours standing in the hot sun, they returned to their bungalow to find it’d been thoroughly searched. On Thursday, November 4, 1943 diarist R. E. Jones wrote ‘Bungalows being searched?’ and perhaps that was the day on which the Hamsons’ terrifying experience took place.

 If the fear existed from the very start, some people were at least able to turn it to good purpose:

‘As we might have been machine-gunned down at any time,’ recalled one interviewee, ‘we had the nerve to do things we’d never attempt normally…The freedom from pressure to behave in a modest and responsible way, to be for  a brief moment whatever they wanted, was a memorable, liberating experience for many of these women.[5]

There’s no doubt that the anxiety intensified as the war drew to a close: some internees believed, as did Thomas and Evelina, that the massacre would take place when the Allies landed on one of the main Japanese islands,[6] others expected it when the occupiers needed all their forces to defend Hong Kong against attack. Many, no doubt, thought that it would be triggered by whichever of these events happened first.

We know that the internee ‘government’ made plans to feed and shelter themselves during an Allied attempt to retake the colony. Food was stored, air raid tunnels dug, trench latrines allocated for disposal of bodies, and so on.[7] I’ve never seen any mention of plans to resist a final massacre but I believe they must have existed. On the final page of a hand-written introduction to the typescript of his camp diary internee leader Franklin Gimson wrote:

Secret plans were formed to meet any contingency which was thought might arise when the Japanese were forced to evacuate Hong Kong….(I)f hostilities had again broken out in the island, the fate of the internees was one on which it would have been morbid to contemplate.[8]

 In spite of what this passage might seem to suggest, I’m certain that Gimson, a man of huge courage and an unswerving sense of his obligations as the senior British official left in Hong Kong, was not put off from doing his clear duty by the fear of falling into a morbid train of thought! The massacres that occurred at the end of the Hong Kong fighting – one of the worst was in the territory of what was to become Stanley Camp – hung over the internees and made them realise what might happen to them if the fighting was renewed,[9] but they also showed how difficult it is to kill large numbers of people outdoors without leaving at least a few survivors. It was Gimson’s duty to ask someone with a military or police background to draw up plans to maximise the number of escapees – if only, as in the case of Bandoeng POW Camp[10] so that the story of what had happened to the men and women of Stanley Camp could go out to the world carried in as many hearts and minds as possible. Any plans for resistance would, of course, have been highly secret, as success, even of the modest kind envisaged here, depended on the Japanese being taken by surprise. I think we get a few glimpses of such preparations.

 The Camp was full of live ammunition left over from the bitter fighting that had taken place on the Stanley Peninsula in December 1941, and there were more subsantial items than bullets lying around too; on November 11, prison officer R. E. Jones risked his life by slipping through the barbed wire to retrieve a gun.[11] This was probably the special mission given him the day before by the Commissioner of Prisons,  J. L. Wilcocks. This gun might have been to help in future escapes, although none actually took place, but it seems likely that such weapons – and there was at least one other gun in Camp[12] – featured in the plans for a desperate resistance to any attempt to massacre the internees, especially as it seems that the Stanley ‘armourers’ were also collecting hand grenades and machine gun bullets, which were unlikely to feature in escape plans.[13]

 In any case, some internees felt that evasion was the best option in the event of impending mass doom and looked for places where they could hide in the event of an attempt to round-up the internees:

 There was also in the back of the minds of most of us what would happen in the event of a land attack on the Colony. We were sure that the Japanese would without hesitation, qualms or remorse try to exterminate all of us in the various camps. We in the mess did look around for possible places to hide. The choice was not great.[14]

 In the early spring of 1945 there came a development that ratcheted up the fear:

 We observed the activities of Japanese working parties on the nearby hillsides where they were building what appeared to be gun emplacements. From their position, the camp experts declared, they could only take guns which faced our location. Although others scoffed at this, there was the uneasy thought that our captors just might intend to wipe us all out if an attack came.[15]

 We know from George Gerrard’s diary that such work was going on in late March 1945:

 The Japs are preparing funk[16] holes or machine gun nests all along the coast covering the beaches in the event of an attack or a landing….Blasting into the rocks goes on all night and day[17]

The sound of these preparations, also recorded by R. E. Jones, made a sinister backdrop as March came to an end. The starving, ragged internees, half-demoralised by three and a half years of confinement in overcrowded conditions, faced an intensified terror.

 Thomas and Evelina, like so many of the prisoners of the Japanese, believed that their lives were saved only by the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima andNagasaki. Ten days after the dropping of the first bomb, news of the surrender was confirmed in Stanley, and there was naturally a huge sense of relief:

There had been rumours that we would not be handed over alive by the Japanese but would be taken into caves and machine-gunned. So when we heard that Japan had capitulated there was a great sense of relief, as well as a feeling of some incredulity.[18]

But the fear didn’t come to a complete end with the sudden Japanese surrender in mid-August.

Barbara Anslow writes:

{There was an} agonising 2 week gap in Stanley from the day we were told the war was over until the arrival of the British Fleet.   Those 2 weeks seemed to go on forever, and we couldn’t help wondering if the war really was over, and what would happen to us if the ‘surrender’ was suddenly revoked…[19]

Hong Kong policeman Norman Gunning had heard rumours that the Japanese were going to kill all the internees when the Allies ‘set foot on Japanese soil’, and he also refers to the ‘extremely tense and anxious days’ between surrender and the arrival of  Rear Admiral Harcourt’s fleet on August 30.[20]  Harcourt’s first official act was to drive down to Stanley and visit the internees. Prison Officer Bill Hudson began a long and deeply moving letter to his wife and family while waiting for Harcourt to arrive:

 My Darlings,

 I don’t know how to start this letter, I have so much to say – and I want to say it all at once.  Well my Sweethearts – thank the Lord we have pulled through successfully.  I never for one moment thought we would lose the War, but I had a horrid feeling they would do something to us.[21] 

Even now he can’t bear to spell out the terrible outcome he feared. Perhaps Mr. Hudson’s mind would have been even more uneasy if he’d known that Harcourt was about to make an initial landing with only 550 men![22]

 On arrival at Stanley, Harcourt presided over a ceremony in which the flag of every nation represented in camp was raised. The war really was over, although for the time being most of the internees were told to stay in camp for their own safety. Eeventually, they would stagger back into the world of freedom and responsibility outside Stanley, carrying with them a vivid and ineradicable memory of everything they’d experienced during their internment. Perhaps ‘memory’ is the wrong word: it implies a relegation of its content to a past that’s over and done with, and it puts the focus on things that actually happened. But few  situations in the unfolding of post-war life could ever have been as real and as encompassing as those fears of something that actually never took place, a final massacre of everyone in Stanley Camp.

[1] Allana Corbin, Prisoners of the East, 2002, 111.

[4] Corbin, 191-192.

[5] Bernice Archer, The Internment of Western Civilians Under The Japanese 1941-1945: A Patchwork of Internment,  2004,  136-137.

[7] George Gerrard’s diary is a good source for these preparations. It’s available to members of the Yahoo Stanley Group:

[8] Franklin C. Gimson, ‘Re-occupation’, Internment in Hong-kong (sic) March 1942 to August 1945, Rhodes House, Ms. Ind Ocn. S222.

[9]For the effect of the massacre of Australian nurses on Banka Island on the psyches of those who knew about it – there was one survivor – on their own fate, see


[11] Jones diary, November 11, 1942. Gwulo is publishing the diary day by day:

[14] George Wright-Nooth, Prisoner of the Turnip Heads, 1994, 191.

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

[16] The transcription reads ‘junk’ but R. E. Jones calls them ‘funk holes’, which was probably the name used by the internees generally. Jean Gittins describes them as ‘shelters and fox holes’ – Stanley: Behind Barbed Wire, 1982, 148.

[17] Gerrard Diary, entry for March 28, 1945.

[18] Mutal Fielder, in Derek Round, Barbed Wire Between Us, 2002, 173.

[20] Norman Gunning, A Passage to Hong Kong, 2009, 155, 158.

[22] China Mail, September 15, 1945, page 4.


Filed under Hong Kong WW11, Stanley Camp

‘Richards in the French Hospital’

Doctor J. P. Fehilly, formerly Hong Kong’s Senior Health Officer, and his wife, also a doctor, escaped from Hong Kong on October 25, the dramatic day of the first American air raids, and arrived at Chungking on November 24. On December 18 the BAAG sent out a summary of the information Dr. Fehilly provided to Colonel Lindsay Ride in his debriefing.[1] This is a fascinating document but one thing in particular attracted my attention:

 Richards in the French Hospital is said by Reeves H.B. M. Consul in Macao to be a Japanese agent. {Fehilly so informed Sloss in August}.

 Sloss is Professor Duncan Sloss who had previously co-edited the edition of William Blake’s Prophetic Books that I was to use as an undergraduate in the late 1960s! Judging from other information provided by Fehilly he seems to have been working closely with Gimson on affairs in Stanley.

 Richards is Joseph James Richards, a Eurasian, who eventually received a fifteen year sentence for his activities during the occupation. He’d worked for the Japanese before the war as a spy,[2] and continued to serve them after the occupation. He was a very dangerous man to be around, and the French Hospital (official name St. Paul’s) in Causeway Bay was where Thomas and Evelina were living at the time of Fehilly’s escape.  But what was Richards doing there, I wondered? None of the accounts of his work during the war suggested that he was involved with the hospitals in any capacity – he claimed to have made his living both before and during the war as a wine merchant,[3] and, as we shall see, there was some truth in this. His subsidiary activities seem to have involved things like spying on the British Consul in Macao[4] and helping the Kempeitai in its investigations – he was involved, for example, in gathering evidence against Charles Henry Basto,[5] who was eventually executed because the Japanese believed that bridge notes in his position were really coded espionage messages. Later in the war the BAAG reported him as in charge of selecting Eurasians of ‘bad character’ to be interned in Mau Ta-chung Camp (although such internment was no bad thing in 1944 and 1945, considering the twin threats of arrest by the Kempeitai and starvation faced by those remaining in Hong Kong).

 None of this gives me any clue as to Richards’ link with the French Hospital.

 I’ve found one possible answer in Francis Braun’s book The Banknote That Never Was. Braun was a Hungarian, and coincidentally Hungary declared war on Britain on December 5, 1941, just before the Japanese attack. Braun was rounded up and consigned to internment in Stanley Prison, where, a few days later he was joined by some nationals of Japan and suspected sympathisers:

 There was, among the wasteaways of the war, an internee who used to teach Chinese, or so he claimed, to the staff of the Japanese Consulate. Hence his present abode and predicament. He was put in a cell next to mine, appearing very ill, and ill indeed he was.

He had been in hospital, being treated for an overdose of alcohol. He was the first person I ever met with delirium tremens. The outbreak of the war made a short shrift of his treatment and landed him next to me in Stanley gaol. I helped him with food while he was bedridden and later we became very friendly.[6]

 Richards’ claim at his trial was that, far from being a spy before the war, he merely taught Chinese to the Japanese Consul,[7] so I think this is highly likely to be him – not many non-Japanese citizens were interned in Stanley Prison, so it’s unlikely that two such people were, or claimed to be, involved in language teaching to diplomats.

 It’s possible, of course, that Richards was billeted at the French Hospital by the Japanese: he would have been a useful spy there, as the Kempeitai were convinced that Selwyn-Clarke was the leader of the British espionage ring in Hong Kong. But there’s another possibility. Philip Snow tells us that Richards began his brokerage career in occupied Hong Kongby providing the Japanese with cameras, watches and radios, but later he switched to selling them alcohol.[8] I suspect he indulged in too much of his new product and ended up back in hospital for a continuation of the treatment that was brought to an end in December 1941, and that’s where he was in late October when the Fehillys escaped.

 In any case, it took the jury at his trial 80 minutes to find Richards guilty on seven out of eight accounts, and he was sentenced to fifteen years in prison.[9]

[1] A copy of this document was kindly sent to me by Elizabeth Ride.

[2] Gerald Horne, Race War!, Kindle Edition, Location 6648; China Mail, August 16, 1946, page 6.

[3] China Mail, August 15, 1946, page 5.

[4] China Mail, May 14, 1946, page 4; May 21, page 4.

[5] China Mail, August 14, 1946, page 4; August 15, 1946, page 5.

[6] Francis Braun, The Banknote That Never Was, 1982, 8.

[7] China Mail, August 16, 1946, page 4.

[8] Philip Snow, The Fall of Hong Kong, 2003, 122.

[9] Sunday Herald, August 18, 1946, page 4.


Filed under British Army Aid Group, Hong Kong WW11

‘Guaranteeing Out’ 3: The Evidence of Greg Leck’s Captives of Empire

For ‘guaranteeing out’ see

There are a number of people on Greg Leck’s Stanley Camp Roll (in Captives of Empire, 2006) who are described as having left camp for Victoria or for Hong Kong but whose names do not appear on any of the BAAG lists of uninterned Britishers in my possession. It seems probable that most of these left under the ‘guaranteeing out’ system.

Here are the names I’ve found on the list so far. Ages are for 1945. All nationalities are given as British. I’ve left out the American Maryknoll Order who all eventually left camp or were repatriated – they’re discussed in the post mentioned baove.

1) Ezra Abraham, a broker with Tester and Abraham Exchange brokers

Ezra Abraham was one of the signatories of the articles of incorporation of the Kowloon Cricket Club in 1930.[1] He was Vice President of the Kowloon Cricket Club Lawn Bowls section in 1940,[2] and there’s was a shield and dining room named after him at the KCC in the 1950s.[3] He’s probably the Ezra Abraham who died on December 7, 1946 and is buried in the Happy Valley Jewish Cemetery.[4]

2) Janet Broadbridge, 26, a stenographer with Gilman and Co. Ltd.

Janet Broadbridge was Eurasian, so might not have needed to be guaranteed out: she would undoubtedly have had to fill in paperwork, but I don’t know if she and other Eurasians had to find third nationals to ‘guarantee’ their expenses and good behaviour.  She went to work for[5] and eventually married the jockey and broker Victor Needa:

Veronica Needa:

My mother was Janet Broadbridge. A fleshy soft-featured Hong Kong Eurasian beauty – 15 years younger than my father.[6]

3) William Russell Crichton, 54 a foreman with W.S. Bailey and C. Ltd.

This was a shipbuilding company.

4) Doris Mabel Cuthbertson, 45 a secretary with Jardine Matheson, released in September 1942.

She was guaranteed out by a French national and lived with a Portuguese. Her pass was a neutral’s one with the strange description ‘semi enemy’ written on it in Japanese! The purpose of getting her out of Stanley was to organise relief for Jardine Matheson staff in the various camps. One of the people who helped her by allowing parcels to be sent in his name was Ezra Abraham (see above). I have a BAAG document relating to her work, so will post separately about her in the future. Some information at:

5) James Ferguson, 64, an accountant

6) Bishop Cuthbert Martin O’ Gara, 59, released 12 September 1942

Bishop O’ Gara needs a post to himself.

7) George Michael Gillard, 64, a hotel manager

8) George Gosling 64, retired

9) Rev. William Haughey, 37, missionary – on June 1, 1942 he and his fellow Salesian signed their papers and left camp (Maryknoll Diary).

10) Joseph Edgar Joseph, 63, retired

11) Phyllis Irene Owen, 57

12) Mrs.Florence A. Proulx, 41 (at time of the taking of Hong Kong – see ‘comment’  below)

Michael Proulx 14

Roger  Proulx, 9

Mrs. Proulx’s husband Benjamin made an early escape from Hong Kong. She and her two sons are recorded as having arrived safely at Macao at some time before July, 1944.[8] A report in a post-war Canadian newspaper seems to suggest that they were interned on Macao,[9] but as this source states wrongly that the Japanese had taken over the Portuguese Colony, perhaps it should be taken to indicate that the Proulx family went there with Japanese permission. After the war she explained clearly the main reason for the whole ‘guaranteeing out’ system:

Some time after the fall of the city, the Proulx family were allowed to leave Stanley Camp and report to the authorities regularly, ‘because that meant so many fewer mouths to feed’. China Mail, September 24, 1945, page 6.

13)Eileen Jeanette Stevens, 37, secretary

14)  Mrs. Clotilde Celeste Thirlwell, 26, wife of J. W. Thirlwell, a POW in the HKVDC

Margaret May Monica Thirlwell, 14

James ‘Sonny’ Thirwell was in Shamshuipo, after fighting in the No. 3 Machine Gun Company, and later drafted to Japan (15/12/43).
In Stanley were:
Mrs. Thirwell;
her son, who was in the Harbour Office and after the war became lighthouse keeper at Waglan Island;
Veronica (Ronny)
This information comes from Vic Russell, reporting the death (28 December 2000)of his brother’s wife, Millie Russell (formerly Thirwell), who does not seem to be one of this listed as in Stanley.
Source: Arthur Gomes Newsletter, 1 October 2001, 3
One Mrs. Thirwell was formerly Ivy Denton; sadly the information I have about this family is rather unclear.

15) Brother Bernard Tohill, 26, staff of the Aberdeen Industrial School. He left camp with Father Haughey on June 1, 1942.

16) Miss So Yu, 34 nursing sister

See comments on Janet Broadbridge.

The names on this list and those given in do not equal the number of people mentioned as having been guaranteed out by Geoffrey Emerson and the Maryknoll Diary. A number of people seem to have ‘disappeared’ into Hong Kong. However, I know of no evidence to support Emily Hahn’s claim that most of those guaranteed out were arrested by the Kempeitai some of them long term. The only two who were definitely arrested were Chester Bennett and A. E. Murphy, who ended up a patient in the French Hospital, from where he was taken to die in custody. There may of course have been arrests of which I am currently unaware.


Filed under Hong Kong WW11