The Free French in Hong Kong: (1) Louis Reynaud


I intend to post about as many as possible of the European men and women who, like Thomas, were living outside the internment Camps in late 1942 and early 1943. Today I focus on a brave man, whose story intersects Thomas’s in two small ways, and who, like the group of Free French of which he was a part, deserves to be better known to all those interested in the Hong Kong war. There’s very little about him in English,[1] but there’s an excellent post in French, and much of what follows is taken from it.[2] I gladly acknowledge a general debt to this article as well as the particular footnoted references. All translations from this and other sources are my own, and come with no guarantee! Corrections of fact are always welcome, and in this case of language too.


Louis Reynaud was appointed French Consul-General in Hong Kong in January 1940 after a long diplomatic career in China. On June 18, 1940, the day following the French surrender, General Charles de Gaulle made a historic Appeal (‘Appel’) to continue the struggle. Louis Reynaud, although by now physically frail,[3] was one of those who heard the call. Just two days later he wrote:

 Grouped around me, the Hong Kong French respond angrily to any idea of an armistice and separate peace and reject the thought of such a treason to our Allies and to humanity as a whole, one which would eternally dishonour France.[4]

He was already doing what he could, as a diplomat in an ambiguous position, to  aid the Allied cause. On June 21 it was reported that Reynaud had made the Japanese indignant by his (no doubt untrue) claim that no supplies had been sent to Chiang Kai-Shek through French Indo-China,[5] and it seems from a report in the (Melbourne) Argus of June 26, 1940 that he hoped for a widespread far eastern resistance to capitulation:

M. Louis Reynaud, French Consul-General at Hong Kong, confirmed this morning the report that the Governor-General and garrison of French Indo-China had decided to carry on independently and to ignore the Bordeaux Government. He said that Frenchmen in Manila, Shanghai, Hong Kong, and elsewhere would also carry on.[6]

From June 30, 1940, Reynaud was short of money because he and Vice Consul Charles Renner kept the  Treasury cheques in a draw[7] so as not to be hamstrung in their actions. It seems that, in any case, the money from France stopped later on in the year and Reynaud financed activities from his own pocket.[8]

On July 22 the Consulate staff learnt that Vichy had decreed that any Frenchman who enlisted in a foreign army faced a death sentence. On the same day, two Frenchmen and an associated Belgian in Hong Kong, Pierre Mathieu,  Carlos Arnulphy and Armand Delcourt joined the Hong Kong Volunteers. Consul General Reynaud and Vice-Consul[9]  Renner gave them their congratulations.[10]

The Committee of Free France (“Comité de la France Libre”) was set up on 19 September 1940. Out of the 120 members of the French community, 40 were to join it. All of them, in December 1941, took part in the defence of Hong Kong as volunteers in combat units or in support.[11]

But this small group of highly committed men were contributing to the war effort long before the fighting arrived at their doorstep. They assisted volunteers who wanted to get to an area held by the Free French,[12] for example, and they broadcast the news in French every evening to Indo-China. They did this so effectively that the Vichy authorities there were trying to get their hands on them as the fighting drew to an end.[13]

In these months following the Fall of France Louis Reynaud was one of the few diplomats who managed to remain at his post without swearing loyalty to the collaborationist Vichy regime. Instead he decorated his official correspondence with a colourful V for Victory sign![14]

 When the French Ambassador at Peking told him to stop doing this, because France was neutral, Reynaud unleashed a splendid tirade:

 Your Excellency is probably aware that  V for Victory is the rallying sign of all the peoples who, because they wish to remain free or shake off the odious yoke of the oppressor, fight with all the means at their disposal against Germany and her satellites and their plan to dominate and enslave the world. It seems to me that France couldn’t possibly remain indifferent to this movement, but if the order of the day is to consider France neutral in this conflict that’s tearing apart the world then I’d be grateful if Your Excellency would kindly tell me how the French Government can authorise and even encourage the recruitment of volunteers to fight for Germany against Russia.[15]

The Ambassador got the point, and from September 1940 the Hong Kong Consulate was frozen out of serious diplomatic contact with the other legations in China. The British government told Vichy that no Consul-General sent to replace Reynaud would be accepted[16]andAdmiral Darlan, the Vichy Foreign Minister, was reluctant to deprive France of all representation by breaking completely with the Consulate General,[17] so Reynaud clung on to his position, albeit in an attenuated form.

 As war in the Far East approached, Reynaud continued his propaganda activities. On July 14, 1941 he addressed a gathering at the Consulate. There was a known Vichy spy there – a churchman from Shanghai– but it didn’t stop him delivering a pro-Free French speech.[18]

 At the end of the Hong Kong fighting, Reynaud announced with some pride the number of French volunteers who helped defend the Colony and the number of prisoners and missing. He paid tribute to the Consulate’s James Dao, who was killed working as an ARP warden. He spoke also of the French Volunteers who’d helped defend the power station.

After the surrender, Reynaud seems to have co-operated with the occupiers as little as he could. One Sunday in February 1942 a man called G. J. Grover, who was allowed to remain out of Stanley on claiming Russian nationality, and was later accused of collaboration, took part in an altercation between the Consul General and two members of the Kempeitai, one an officer.[19] An ‘excited’ Reynaud was refusing to let them in, saying that the French Mission was a private house. At Grover’s post-war  committal proceedings, there was disagreement as to whether or not he’d tried to calm the Kempeitai officer down or to incite him to still greater anger, but it’s clear that he did try to extract as humble an apology from the Frenchman as possible: when threatened with arrest Reynaud offered his ‘excuses’, and a French dictionary was produced which affirmed that ‘excuses’ meant the same as ‘apologies’. Grover, it was claimed, insisted that this wasn’t enough for such a high-ranking officer and found a phrase translated as, ‘I beg a thousand pardons’ and insisted that the Consul use this. It’s not recorded if he did or not, and the whole thing might sound slightly farcical to anyone not aware of what being arrested by the Kempeitai might have meant.

In March 1942 the Japanese closed all neutral consuls, including the French,[20] promising to look after the interest of neutrals themselves. The diplomats were ordered to quit Hong Kong, but Reynaud dragged his feet. Eventually he managed to get the Japanese to agree to allow him to retire and remain in Hong Kong as a private individual. He carefully wound up the activity of his consulate and made provision for a number of former employees and French nationals.[21]  As late as October 1942, there were still 71 French men and women in Hong Kong, and Reynaud continued to do what he could for them.[22]

 And he continued to give assistance to the Allied cause even when he was supposed to be ‘a private individual’. Sometime after April 15, 1942 Thomas’s fellow baker, P. J. Sheridan, an RASC man who’d unexpectedly found himself able to pose as a civilian,[23] applied for a neutral’s pass on the pretence of being Irish. He planned to escape from Hong Kong and knew he was going into French territory so he approached Reynaud. Kwong Chow Wan, where Sheridan was headed, 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 (the Japanese occupied it in February,1943).Sheridan’s own account tells us of Reynaud’s  help:

 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.[24]

 Reynaud’s letter obviously worked, because Sheridan was able to travel on to Free China without too much trouble. His bold bid succeeded, and he was awarded the Military Medal.

 Reynaud was in the French Hospital (St. Paul’s) during the terrible events of early May 1943. On May 2, soon after dawn, the Kempeitai arrested Dr. Selwyn-Clarke and a number of his colleagues on suspicion of spying. Emily Hahn tells us what happened next:

The entire hospital was closed off by police and soldiers. It happened that the former consul general, Reynaud, 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.[25]

 Of course the Japanese had no reason to make special concessions to Reynaud. Thomas and Evelina were also amongst the small group of Allied nationals who were locked in the French Hospital during this fearful time.

Hahn’s belief that Louis Reynaud was dying wasn’t quite correct. He hung on a little longer and succumbed on July 6.[26] He was still at the French Hospital though,[27] so I assume that Hahn was right in believing that the events of the first week in May interrupted his care during his last illness. As M. Arnaud Barthélémy, the current French Consul General in Hong Kong, put it in a recent speech, he died of illness and exhaustion.[28]

 He was already frail when he responded to De Gaulle’s call, and I suspect that many people in his position would have headed for Kwong Chow Wan and a comfortable retirement, using ill-health as an excuse. But Louis Reynaud, whatever phrase he might have used to fob off the Kempeitai, was clearly not a man to make excuses!

Memorial to the Free French, Stanley Cemetery, erected 1948

[9] Charles Renner is described by one source as ‘Consul’, but it seems he was Vice-Consul. The Hong Kong Telegraph of April 19, 1941, pages 1-2, reports his transfer to Mukden (now Shenyang).


 [19] Report of Grover’s committal proceedings in China Mail, August 14, 1946, page 4.  One of the witnesses to this incident was Father Leon Vircondelet, a close friend of Reynaud and another supporter of the Free French (although a non-combatant one, because of his ecclesiastical position). After Reynaud’s death he took over some of the functions of the consulate:


[24]Sheridan’s statement is in the Lindsay Ride Papers and was kindly sent to me by Elizabeth Ride.

[25] China To Me, 1986 ed., 404-405.



Filed under French in Hong Kong, Hong Kong WW11

2 responses to “The Free French in Hong Kong: (1) Louis Reynaud

  1. Pingback: The Free French in Hong Kong (2): Raoul de Sercey | The Dark World's Fire: Tom and Lena Edgar in War

  2. Pingback: The Free French in Hong Kong (3) Jules Alexander Siron | The Dark World's Fire: Tom and Lena Edgar in War

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