Leslie William Robert Macey

Note: This is another post that deals with those men and women kept outside Stanley camp to work on public health issues with Selwyn Selwyn-Clarke. It deals with public health official Leslie Macey. Except where otherwise indicated, this post is based on material from Mr. Macey’s daughter, Ruth Sale, who very kindly sent me scanned copies of her father’s archive and supplied me with information from family tradition. There is another interesting and moving story to be told in a separate post: the determined efforts made by Mr. Macey’s widowed mother to find out what had happened to her son.

Leslie William Robert Macey was born in Frimley on September 19, 1905,[1] the eldest of 6 children. He grew up in the seaside town of Minehead in Somerset. His mother, Beatrice Anne, was widowed in 1925. When her husband, William Henry, died she was left in a difficult situation with her two youngest children still of school age. During the war she worked as a companion to elderly people in the Home Counties and London, and her son lost her latest address during the hectic seventeen days of fighting, which made communication even harder than for most of the other internees.

Much of Mr. Macey’s early working life was spent in the army, for whom he boxed. He first appears in the Hong Kong press in 1930 as a hockey player and  features regularly in the next year or so and occasionally thereafter in that capacity.  At some point he became a health inspector – his daughter considers this a rather surprising choice: when he married in 1948 he listed his job as Colonial Transport Officer and on returning to Britain he worked with figures, and public health officer  doesn’t seem an obvious station on such a career trajectory! However, he’s documented as having sat and passed an exam (‘Inspectors of Meat and Other Foods’) at Leeds University in 1937.[2] The Hong Kong health authorities obviously had an arrangement with Leeds, as Mr. Macey was one of four residents who passed that exam: the others were Stanley Poole, Arthur Foster, who was interned in Stanley, and Alexander Christie Sinton, who probably also lived in the French Hospital, and who was executed for his resistance activity on October 29, 1943.[3]

Mr. Macey was one of the Essential Workers, ‘reserved’ from fighting, during the 17 day Japanese assault:

(I) had quite an exciting time and one or two close shaves, but apart from losing all I possessed I managed to weather the storm alright.[4]

According to Tony Banham, there were 23 health inspectors in Hong Kong at about that time[5] and only five people recorded as probably[6] from the Sanitation Department on the December 1942 BAAG list of people living in the French Hospital.[7]

Leslie Macey’s letter to his mother of September 3, 1945 gives a good overview of the experience of all of the twenty or so adults in the French Hospital:

During the first eighteen months of the Japanese occupation about a dozen of us were not interned but were engaged in Public Health work under our M.O.H., Dr Selwyn Clarke who has now been awarded the C.M.G. During this time we were allowed to work in our offices during the daytime but had to return to our billets at night. This eighteen months was not very pleasant. We had difficulty in obtaining food and the Japs, who have a very strong spy complex, had us under suspicion the whole time, which was not very good for our nerves, as we were always expecting to be arrested by the local Gestapo at any moment.

I’ve written about fear of the Kempeitai (‘the local Gestapo’) in a number of posts,[8] and I’ll discuss the deteriorating food supply in occupied Hong Kong in the future. The two fears – of arrest and starvation – seem to have been widely, perhaps universally, felt amongst the ‘Stanley Stay-outs’.[9] The fear of arrest and subsequent torture was probably the stronger. The public brutality meted out to the Chinese from the start was a reminder of what might happen, but at first the Japanese treated the British civilians with caution, even respect.[10] To the best of my knowledge, the only ones arrested by the Kempeitai in 1942 were four escapers from Stanley Camp, and, although these experienced rough treatment in appalling conditions it’s probable (although not certain) that they weren’t actually tortured.[11] Even when Sir Vandeleur Grayburn and E. P. Streatfield were arrested in March 1943 for trying to send money into Stanley they weren’t tortured. It was only with the arrests of suspected spies in April and May 1943 that the brutality began, but, of course, none of the health workers in the French Hospital or the bankers in the Sun Wah Hotel knew that this was how things were going to work out, and they were, I’m sure, terrified right from the start, experiencing an intensification of fear as 1943 went on and the Kempeitai ‘strike back’ against ‘illegal’ activities got into its stride. We know from a number of sources that Selwyn-Clarke expected to be arrested from a relatively early stage in his operations and the same expectation must have been widespread in the French Hospital.

Unfortunately I’ve so far been able to find out nothing about the nature of the work carried out by Mr. Macey or any individual sanitation officer. Something is known, however, about the general Japanese public health measures introduced in 1942, and these too I’ll write about in the future, but as to Mr. Macey’s exact role in implementing them, only speculation is possible. Given the certificate in the inspection of ‘meat and other foods’ it’s possible that he helped oversee the attempt to move meat and fish sales from street hawking into markets, and then to set up a meat importing consortium.[12] But it’s highly likely he had other areas of expertise and, as by all accounts Selwyn-Clarke was allowed to keep out only a ‘skeleton staff’, it’s probable that all of the four inspectors carried out a number of different tasks.

It soon became clear to the uninterned British citizens that only a great effort on their part could avoid large scale deaths in Stanley and the POW camps – even with their help many POWS died in Shamshuipo in 1942, the worst year in that camp. The bankers, under the leadership of Sir Vandeleur Grayburn, the Chief Manager of the HKSBC, and the health workers in the French Hospital responded with great courage and resourcefulness. The bankers raised large sums of money which was spent by Selwyn-Clarke on medical supplies and essential foods which were then smuggled into the camps. It should be noted that much of this money came, at great personal risk, from wealthy Chinese and Indian residents, who helped out in spite of the fact that they had been the victims of the endemic racism of pre-war Hong Kong. Some of the money they contributed came as loans to be repaid after the war, and were a reasonable investment as they were made in Japanese Military Yen, which might well be worthless when the British returned, but would be repaid in Hong Kong dollars.  Much of it, however, was simply offered out of charity, slipped to the banker surreptitiously during a legitimate transaction.

Family tradition states that Leslie Macey was one of those who smuggled drugs into the camps, and although there is no documentary evidence that this is correct I think it almost certain that he acted in this way, courageously helping others in spite of the fearful consequences of being caught and never expecting any reward or even acknowledgment. One of the reasons for believing this tradition to be true is simple: the fact of the smuggling of medical drugs by the small group in the French Hospital is now well documented, but it’s not something that anyone unfamiliar with the literature of the war in Hong Kong would be likely to invent.

Both bankers and health workers paid a heavy price for their courage: the accountant Charles Hyde was executed (he was also a leading British spy), Grayburn and his deputy Edmondston died in prison, while five other bankers served sentences in hideous conditions; Selwyn-Clarke was tortured for months but refused to incriminate himself or anyone else, while doctors Bunje and Nicholson were arrested (Bunje ended up in prison, but Nicholson probably released – I’ll provide the evidence in a future post). An unknown number of Chinese doctors from the French Hospital and elsewhere were also taken by the Kempeitai.

Family information suggests that Mr. Macey’s boss was beheaded in front of him. One possibility is that this was his Chinese boss in the Sanitation Department – I am aware of a number of cases of summary execution of a Chinese national, and it was not unknown for the Japanese to execute even their own officials for spectacular failure. Another is that the ‘boss’ was Alexander Christie Sinton: many sources say that the executions on (or very close to) Stanley Beach on October 29, 1943 were at a spot visible from the camp, and some add that a number of internees actually witnessed them, and  it’s certainly possible that Mr. Macey was among them.

The same family source also says that the Japanese “pretended” they were about to chop off Mr. Macey’s  head too. From his own account (see below) he was not suspected of spying by the Japanese Gendarmes and military who searched the French Hospital after Selwyn-Clarke’s arrest – except no doubt in the general sense that the Gendarmes believed the Hospital was a ‘hotbed of espionage’[13] – so this terrifying threat was probably made at some point during the 16 or so months he was working in occupied Hong Kong. The reference to the ‘mental strain’ of the war years (see below) was obviously understated.

My guess is that the worst of that tension, almost unimaginable at the best of times, came in early May, 1943, when the Gendarmes arrived at the French Hospital to arrest Selwyn-Clarke, who they’d long believed to be the British spymaster in Hong Kong. They were wrong, he was only involved in non-military ‘illegal’ activities, but on May 2, 1943, the Japanese thought they were cutting off the head of the Allied resistance. This is Mr. Macey’s account, in a letter of September 3, 1945, of the dramatic events of that day:

(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. We felt much happier in the Camp, because there seemed to be safety in numbers and it was more pleasant to be living amongst British people rather than amongst hostile Japs and Chinese. Several of our party who had been arrested were eventually executed by the Japs and others received 15 years imprisonment. I was very lucky and, as far as I know was not suspected by the Japs and, apart from being placed in internment that was all that happened to me.

This is of great interest, as the only other eye-witness description of these events I’ve ever come across is that given by Selwyn-Clarke himself in his autobiography.[14] Mr. Macey shows a sensitive concern for his family by not describing the terror he and his colleagues must have felt at the early morning arrival of the Gendarmes, and the arrest of three of the small band of British citizens and an unknown number of their Chinese colleagues. I think that it was the same desire not to dwell on the most unpleasant parts of his wartime experiences that led to his telescoping of events by leaving out the five days locked in the Hospital while the Japanese searched for evidence of spying.[15] The documentary evidence as to this period, which ended on May 7, 1943 when 18 people were sent into Stanley, is solid, and there can be almost no doubt that Mr. Macey went though this dreadful ordeal. His relief on getting into Camp no doubt had a special quality because of the grim alternative possibility – counter-balanced by the continuing concern as to the outcome of the investigation of those arrested – but it seems to have been shared by most others who began the war outside Stanley:  from Gwen Dew, who was only in town for a short time, to Andrew Leiper, who was sent in a couple of months after the French Hospital people.[16]

In Stanley his camp number was 2441 and he lived alongside Thomas and Evelina in Bungalow D; he was in Room D3, they were in D1. Mrs. Eileen Hyde was in D5, Lady Mary Grayburn in D4, and Hilda Selwyn-Clarke in D6; all of these women had husbands in the hands of the Kempeitai during the first months in Stanley, only one of whom was to survive. Most of the bankers ended up in Bungalow E, but at least one of them, Alistair Mack, was in the same room as Mr. Macey.[17]

Mr. Macey’s first postcard (as far as I know it’s the only one to survive) is dated May, 1943. My guess is that he wasn’t lucky enough to be told immediately on arrival, as Thomas must have been, that the authorities were allowing a card pre-dated April 30 to be sent out so that another one could go out later in the month[18] – the May card sounds as if it’s the first written since internment. Mr. Macey informs his mother that he’s ‘very well’, which, in view of the post-war letter quoted below, might not have been too much of an exaggeration. Intriguingly part of the letter’s been blacked-out by the censor; I was always aware of the possibility of erasure by either the Japanese or British censor, but this is the first actual example I’ve seen. My guess, from the context, is that the forbidden words referred to the time before being sent into camp.

In the letter of September 3, 1945 Mr. Macey gives an excellent brief account of the 28 months that followed the journey, probably on the back of a truck,[19] down the Stanley Peninsula:

The life in the Camp was rather monotonous. The days seemed like weeks and the weeks seemed like years. Food was always very meagre and not the least bit nourishing. There were many cases of malnutritional disease, but apart from getting a little thin and a few minor sores and boils I managed to keep fairly fit. Actually in my own case the mental strain has been worse than the physical.

That last comment is very interesting; just a hint of the growing fear of those left in the occupied city, the terror of the five day lockdown in May 1943, and then the anxiety of the closing stages of the war when the internees were aware of the possibility they’d all be gunned down by the Japanese rather than allowed freedom.[20]

Perhaps to reassure his Roman Catholic mother he wrote:

We had two American priests in the Camp. They were both splendid fellows. We had daily mass and the usual Sunday Services the whole time.

Whether or not he actually attended these services, the tribute to Father Hessler and Father Meyer was well deserved – I’ll write about these men, who turned down both the chance of repatriation and of leaving the camp with the other Maryknoll Fathers, in a future post.

Conditions generally in Stanley Camp were better than in the other H.K. Camps. Having the women and children with us did much to keep up morale. We heard rumours of the finish of Japan about the 14th August but as we had heard the same sort of rumour for about two years , we were afraid to believe it at first, but within one or two days friendly planes flew over the Camp and then we realised that the news was true.

Rumours of a dreadful new bomb having been dropped on Japan, a story treated with some scepticism, are recorded by other internees on August 14.[21] This first letter he wrote on liberation gives a glimpse of what was going on in his mind at this joyful but still uncertain and unsettling time:

Released from Stanley Camp 31/8/45. I am in good health but very tired. I don’t think that I will be able to come home for some time. Have already started work and we are all busy trying to clear up the mess made by the Japs. Hope you and all the family are well. You have always been in my thoughts during these past three years and I am very anxious to see you all again as quickly as possible, but shortage of shipping and lack of fit men have made that difficult for the time being. (Letter to mother of September 2, 1945).

Naturally his first thought was as to how quickly he could get back to home and family, but, just as he’d been in Essential Services during the fighting, his public health expertise was required in the frantic efforts to make Hong Kong ready for something like normal life. The letter continues:

I will try and write a longer letter to you soon, but just for the moment the Postal System is disorganised because the Japs only cleared out from the main parts of the City last night, there are no stamps for sale and no proper money in circulation at the moment.

After liberation, he was in the ‘second wave’ of essential personnel to leave Stanley. Some brave pioneers – nurses and colonial staff, for example – went out into an anarchic and dangeerous Hong Kong to begin to restore some kind of normality before the arrival of Admiral Harcourt’s fleet on August 30. Mr. Macey left Stanley on 31st August – a time when Hong Kong was still far from safe and orderly – to help with the clear-up operation:

Working conditions are very hard and we are all finding it very difficult to start work again. The Japs are still in control of Kowloon but I think they will hand over to our Navy soon. (Letter of September 3).

That note of anxiety was justified: Harcourt had about 550 armed men to start with, and there were almost 20,000 Japanese just over the harbour in Kowloon!

We worked for three weeks trying to clear things up and get the Colony going again. It was a terrific strain and we were glad to see our relief arrive from home so that we could get away.

The letter was written from the Hong Kong Hotel, where Thomas and other essential workers were also billeted – I give some idea of the conditions for these personnel in https://brianedgar.wordpress.com/2012/04/30/thomass-work-6-post-war-reconstruction/

Mr. Macey left by aircraft carrier on 21st September 1945 but had an unexpected stop-over of a few weeks in Colombo as he was suffering badly from malaria:

Most of us are short of clothes and are rather ragged, but we hope that the Red Cross will fix us up with Winter clothes before we arrive. Otherwise do not be surprised if you see a scarecrow arrive.

He eventually left Colombo on 19th October 1945 on the Highland Monarch. He soon returned to Hong Kong – he’s documented there in August 1947, giving his address as c/o The Urban Council, Post Office Building, Hong Kong. The Urban Council worked with the Legislative Council to provide the legal framework for the activities of the health and sanitation departments.  He married in 1948 whilst on leave in the UK and returned to live in Kowloon. He left Hong Kong in 1950, and his daughter Ruth was born in 1956.

On return to the UK he continued in Local Government,  but now in a clerical  capacity and dealing with figures not foodstuffs. He eventually worked in the Treasurers Department of the District Council in Welwyn Garden City, Hertfordshire.

Like so many of those who passed through the dark world’s fire of occupied Hong Kong he didn’t speak about the war.


Ruth Sale has told me that recent family information suggests that Mr. Macey was also involved in the smuggling operations that enabled a number of radios to be set up in Stanley. Like all the other ‘traditions’ this is plausible because such activity is documented elsewhere. The same source claims that immediately after the war he still looked behind him as if he feared being followed – another reminder of the high price paid for such courage. For  interesting light on such a habit, see my forthcoming post on Marcus da Silva (and those with access to Emily Hahn’s No Hurry To Get Home might also look at her account of her final meeting with Mrs. Weston).


[2] Royal Sanitary Institute List, recording the results of an exam that took place on June 4/5, 1937.

[4] Letter to his mother, September 3, 1945.

[5] Information given to Ruth Sale.

[6] It seems that the names on the list were provided either by Dr. Court, or, more probably Dr. Selwyn-Clarke and that whoever typed them up for the BAAG added ‘thought to be SD’ after the names of five workers (one with a wife). A. C. Sinton is listed just below these names but without this annotation.

[7] BAAG documents kindly supplied by Elizabeth Ride and Tony Banham.

[9] See for example Andrew Leiper, A Yen for My Thoughts, 1982, 169-170.

[10] See Phillip Snow, The Fall of Hong Kong, 140-141; 186.

[11] This was the opinion of a British doctor who eaxmined them in prison.

[12] Robert S. Ward, Asia for the Asiatics?, 1945, 104-106.

[13] Emily Hahn, China To Me, 1986, ed., 405.

[14] Footprints, 1975, 83.

[17] Imperial War Museum Stanley Camp List.



Filed under Hong Kong WW11, Selwyn-Selwyn Clarke, Vandeleur Grayburn

5 responses to “Leslie William Robert Macey

  1. Pingback: John, Barbara and Maureen Fox | The Dark World's Fire: Tom and Lena Edgar in War

  2. mark b mcintosh

    I am extremely impressed with your research.I am looking for a man by the name of GS Kennedy-Skipton.He was a senior official of the colonial gvt.He states that when HK fell he was living on the Peak with some refugee families including Americans. He did not go to Stanley because he was an Irish national. Before the fall he had been running a project envolving moving night soil from HK to the NT for fertilizer, he continued that work until his escape. He escaped to Chunking in i think 42 possibly 43.In 1948 he was tried for treason. Any info is appreciated.

    • Thanks, Mark.
      I see you’ve had a reply from David Bellis on Gwulo that directs you to a useful China Mail article. I have a little more on Mr. Kennedy-Skipton, which I’ll put into a post as soon as I’ve finished the one I’m currently working on. His case really needs to be considered in the context of ‘collaboration’ and the post-war treatment of it. Meanwhile, here are a few points to add to the ones in the article:

      some sources say he kept himself out of internment to look after his wife, children and two Asian concubines;

      the 1948 (secret) tribunal found him not guilty of disloyalty to the Crown, but guilty of disloyalty to the service of which he was a member;

      his 1950 claim for wrongful dismissal and arrears of salary failed;

      his American wife had been a pre-war ‘troublemaker’, campaigning against the policy of evacuating women and children to Australia;

  3. Pingback: Early Days in the French Hospital: The Evidence of Staff-Sergeant Patrick Sheridan | The Dark World's Fire: Tom and Lena Edgar in War

  4. Pingback: Thomas’s Business Card and the Pains of Occupation | The Dark World's Fire: Tom and Lena Edgar in War

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