‘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.

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3 Comments

Filed under British Army Aid Group, Hong Kong WW11

3 responses to “‘Richards in the French Hospital’

  1. Pingback: Marcus da Silva | 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

  3. Pingback: Duncan Sloss | The Dark World's Fire: Tom and Lena Edgar in War

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