Monthly Archives: August 2012

The Free French in Hong Kong (2): Raoul de Sercey

Gaston Marie Raoul de Sercey was born in Beirut on 11 June 1898 to a long-established and prominent French family – ancestors were admirals, marshals and ambassadors, and his father and an older brother were counts.[1]There may have been a link with Asia, as his father was co-author of a late nineteenth century Mongol grammar,[2] and one of Raoul’s brothers died at Peking in 1931. On May 30, 1924 Raoul married Suzanne Louise Marie Bussiere in Peking. They had 2 children, a daughter Anne, born in 1926, and a son Phillipe.[3]

In 1941 he’d been in charge of the Chinese Postal Department in Hong Kong for 22 years.[4] From 1939 he was in charge of the Chinese Overseas Remittances Department;[5] another source says he was in charge of the Banque d ‘Epargne[6] (Savings Bank) run by the Chinese Posts, which probably means the same thing. I think that he had the important job of making sure that the huge number of remittances that were sent by Hong Kong workers to their families in China arrived safely.

After the Fall of France in June 1940, like other French nationals in the Far East he had the option of sitting out the war in a position of relative safety while waiting to see what happened. His actual choice was very different. He responded to de Gaulle’s ‘Appel’  of June 17, and by the time the Japanese attacked on December 8, 1941 he already had a history of commitment to the Allied cause: just before the outbreak of hostilities he’d figured on a ‘blacklist’ drawn up by the Vichy authorities in French Indo-China. He and the others on the list (which included former Hong Kong Consul-General Louis Reynaud[7]) were wanted for urgent questioning about their activities in broadcasting Gaulliste propaganda.[8]

After the surrender, he remained uninterned as a ‘third national’, and threw himself into a campaign of relief for the British POWs and internees. He escaped from Hong Kong sometime not long before April 5, 1944, the day he left Canton, arriving at the British Army Aid Group Advanced Headquarters at Waichow on April 8.[9] He was thoroughly debriefed by the BAAG and most of what follows comes from statements by or about him in The Ride Papers. The Ride Papers are held at the Hong Kong Heritage Project, and the relevant documents were kindly sent to me by Elizabeth Ride.

Mr. de Sercey’s major contribution during the occupation was to provide as much relief as he could to POWs and internees, particularly those who’d worked for the Chinese Maritime Customs and the major Hong Kong firm of Jardine Matheson.

His efforts for the Jardine’s staff sprung from his friendship with J. J. Paterson, and a general desire to help people treated ‘in a most despicable manner by the Japanese authorities’.[10] J. J. Paterson was the taipan (boss) of Jardine’s and he’d been the commander of the group of older men whose defence of North Point Power Station is often described as an ‘epic’ of the brief hostilities in Hong Kong. Paterson was one of the few survivors of that extremely courageous and determined defence, and he spent the war in the Shamshuipo and Argyle Street Camps.

Soon after the surrender, Mr. de Sercey  managed to send some parcels to J. J. Paterson and to other Jardine’s staff like D. L. Newbigging and Doris Cuthbertson (both in Stanley). In the early months his efforts were focused on Stanley, as ‘the situation was reported as appalling’.[11] It’s important to remember that this humanitarian relief work was in fact highly dangerous: parcels could only be sent in through the Japanese, and the sender’s name and address had to be supplied.  Any Chinese, Indian or ‘third national’ (European neutrals) who sent too many was likely to be suspected of pro-Allied sympathies and questioned by the Kempeitai. This could lead to torture, imprisonment and death. The company history mentions Henry Lo and other Chinese staff as also having taken part in these dangerous relief efforts.[12] Mr. Lo, whose role seems to have been of the first importance, sent in some of his parcels through Ezra Abraham, an elderly stockbroker and philanthropist[13] as it would have been too risky for him to send them in under his own name.

Mr. de Sercey realised he couldn’t give the required assistance to Jardine Matheson’s former employees: he was looking after over 40 members of the Chinese Maritime Customs, and others; he did not, moreover, as someone who wasn’t a company member, have the authority to raise funds in its name. He decided to ‘guarantee out’ J. J. Paterson’s secretary, Miss Doris Cuthberston. ‘Guaranteeing out’[14] was the system whereby people were allowed out of Stanley (and much more rarely Shamshuipo) if a neutral would promise to support them financially and guarantee that they would not act against Japanese interests. Miss Cuthberston came out of Stanley in September 1942 and began a vigorous campaign of relief. I’ll devote a future post to her work.

As Mr. de Sercey had guaranteed Doris Cuthbertson out of Stanley, he felt responsible for her safety, so told her to send parcels only to Argyle Street Camp and Bowen Road Hospital, as the numbers involved were small and less likely to attract Japanese suspicion. Stanley and Shamshuipo, he insisted, should be relieved only by money.[15]

In Autumn 1943 things looked grim for Jardine’s staff: Dr. Selwyn-Clarke, the main engine of humanitarian relief in Hong Kong, had been arrested and the bankers who’d funded his work were with him in gaol or interned in Stanley, while Mr. Pollock, who’d been sending down money from Shanghai, had also been interned (Allied nationals in that city were left ‘free’ for about a year before being sent to camps). Japanese regulations made financial transactions both difficult and dangerous. Mr. de Sercey tells us that he knew from his own experience that the first questions asked of those being interrogated were, ‘How much money have you got?’ and ‘Where is your money coming from?’[16]  With what seems like a characteristic underplaying of his own contribution, he makes no direct references to what must have been the terrifying experience of being questioned by the Kempeitai.

The situation was saved by the help of a Swiss businessman, Mr. Walter Naef, and the International Red Cross – I‘ll describe how in a future post.

Mr. de Sercey ends his letter by praising Miss Cuthbertson’s work and making some suggestions for future funding. He apologises for being somewhat vague in places, explaining that his memory has suffered during the 30 months he spent in occupied Hong Kong – my guess is that both malnutrition and the ‘nervous strain’ of constant fear played their part in this.

Another source shows us that humanitarian relief wasn’t Mr. de Sercey’s only contribution. Some time early in 1944 a BAAG agent had a conversation with Doris Cuthbertson. She told him that de Sercey was managing mail for the POWS from his office in the Stock Exchange Building in Ice House Street.[17] De Sercey was having difficulty getting access to 3,00 bags of mail for Shamshuipo and was constantly making representations about them.[18] This interview also confirmed that de Sercey was providing Miss Cuthbertson with living expenses.

On February 2, 1944 Mr. de Sercey received a secret message from his employers to report to Kukong for further orders. He decided that the route from Macao overland was well-known to the Japanese, who would almost certainly arrest any ‘third national’ leaving for Macao with luggage. Instead, he went to Canton, claiming that he was going to fly to north China to visit his wife, something he had done before – he doesn’t make this explicit, but I think that the point was if he’d followed this route he would not be leaving Japanese-held territory. Instead, from Canton he made his way to Waichow, and presented himself at the BAAG HQ, where he was known to a senior member. His final documented service to the POWs and  internees was to provide a long  report on their conditions – the BAAG summary takes up ten typewritten pages,[19] and he’s described as having given ‘much valuable information’. He’d obviously been gathering as much detail as he could about events and conditions in the camps with some such ‘debriefing’ in mind.  He  made it clear that he was eager to help those he’d left behind in Hong Kong, and to do anything he could ‘to further the downfall of the Japs’[20] and it’s possible that after the ‘good rest’ his hosts prescribed, he carried out other work.

After the war, he seems to have become a development banker, working for the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development. At the end of 1947 he undertook a three month tour of the Far East as the bank’s ‘field representative’. A report in January 1948 stated that he was impressed by Hong Kong’s economic stability and development.[21] It was probably during this tour that he represented the International Bank at a meeting (or meetings) of the United Nations Economic and Social Council.[22]  Like others who risked their lives in occupied Hong Kong, he seems to have sought no special recognition for what he’d done: I’ve never seen his name in a book, and the only material about him online relates to his family history or to his work with the IBRD.

He died on December 22, 1948 at the age of 50 in Saint-Mandé in the eastern suburbs of Paris.[23] He lived just long enough to see the marriage of his daughter.[24]

[4] Ride Papers, 9/3/58.

[5] Ride Papers, 9/3/58.

[9] Ride Papers, 9/3/58

[10] R Papers, 11/38/41.

[11] Ride Papers, 11/38/41.

[16] Ride Papers, 42, 43.

[17] Ride Papers, 10/15/31, KWIZ 38, March 3, 1944,

[18] Ride Papers, 11/38/32.

[19] Ride Papers, 10/13/04-13.

[20] Ride Papers, 9/3/58.


Filed under British Army Aid Group, French in Hong Kong, Hong Kong WW11, Stanley Camp

Levkovich As Driver, Selwyn-Clarke As Boss

Note: The full name is Robert Basil Levkovich.

A report by a young escaper, a Russian of naturalised British nationality, throws interesting light on some of the matters with which this blog is concerned.[1] This document was kindly sent to me by Elizabeth Ride, it’s from the Ride Papers, which are held at the Hong Kong Heritage Project:

Note: I’ve kept the initial discussion (below) as a way of providing some information about Mr. Levkovich, but the identification is now certain not tentative.

Elizabeth Ride has tentatively identified the writer of the letter as R. Levkovich. This is plausible: the details in the report match, with one easily explained exception discussed below, those mentioned in a letter from Inspector Goring of the Indian Police that explicitly names Levkovich. Another source tells us that Levkovich, like the author of the report, was a naturalised Britain.[2] The only two things I’ve been able to find about Mr. Levkovich on the internet also fit with what the author tells us about himself. He’s listed by Tony Banham as interned at the Kowloon Hotel after the fighting, and there’s a record of a Vasily Ivanovich Levkovich who died in 1944. The link with the Kowloon Hotel is in the report, and the writer has both parents alive at the time of writing.

The BAAG document is dated December 18, 1942,[3] and it seems that the author went to work for Selwyn-Clarke in March, escaping later that year, perhaps in September or October.

I shall refer to the author of the report as Levkovich; it makes no difference to anything I say if this is incorrect.

Levkovich begins by saying that he was originally in the police reserve, but moved to working for Food Control. He provides some interesting details about pre-war happenings there that I shall use in another post. He moves on to various hair-raising events during the fighting, which include an encounter with Dr. Selwyn-Clarke.

The end of hostilities finds him imprisoned with many others in the Kowloon Hotel. Levkovich was not sent to Stanley in the third week of January, as were most British nationals at the Hotel – this was probably because he had lost his passport and 1937 naturalisation papers during the fighting. In March, the Japanese began to release ‘third nationals’ (neutrals) but he was held because he’d been working for the British Government. He was freed later that month by a stroke of luck: Dr. Yamasaki, who’d known him since childhood and been the family dentist, turned out to be a Lieutenant-Colonel in the Japanese army – this is not the only illustration of the thoroughness with which the invasion of Hong Kong was prepared over many years– and ordered his release. The Japanese, he said, did not recognise naturalisation.

Now a ‘third national’, he had the same problem as the rest of this group: how to make a living at even the subsistence level to which most citizens of occupied Hong Kong were reduced. He stayed at home for two weeks, and then went to see Selwyn-Clarke, as he’d heard the doctor was free and working for the Medical Department:

I was enrolled by him, in the Ambulance Volunteer Corps, with Mr. Evans, and two Americans, Mr. Winter and Dr. Henry.

This team was assigned to bread delivery as one of its major tasks. Both Thomas and his fellow baker Sheridan use the word ‘volunteer’ in describing the unit, and Levkovich’s description suggests that they might have come together as ambulance drivers during the fighting. Donald Bowie, who during the occupation was left in charge of Bowen Road Hospital, tells us:

Readers will recall that early in the hostilities the Chinese ambulance drivers deserted, understandably enough especially to those familiar with the Japanese treatment of captured Chinese opponents. Thereafter ambulance cars were driven by Field Ambulance personnel usually drawn from the medical services.[4]

Owen Evans had been driving for the Friends’ Ambulance Unit in south China before getting caught up in the Hong Kong war[5]. Charles Winter was connected with the pre-war Medical Department, while Robert Henry is invariably referred to as ‘Dr.’.

We know that the team Levkovich joined was the one that delivered the bread baked by Thomas, Serge Peacock, and RASC men (in disguise) Sheridan and Hammond at the Qing Loong bakery.[6]

Levkovich adds something to our picture of the work of this unit:

 We had two trucks which we drove, and got food, and supplies, (Medical) for the Chinese hospitals, and the French Hospital.

 We received no pay, and ate the same meals as the internees (sick) in the French Hospital.

First of all, that ‘(sick)’ is correct. I comment on it in a note below.

Secondly, Levkovich states outright something that I’d assumed but up to now had lacked confirmation of: most of the bread was delivered to Chinese hospitals. This might seem obvious given its amount – 500 pounds rising to 3,000 per day[7] – but Thomas mentions only the temporary hospital in the Hong Kong Hotel, and Sheridan the Bowen Rd. Military Hospital,[8] while Charles Winter just says ‘the civilian hospitals’. The Hong Kong Hotel was used by the Japanese, and I doubt the patients stayed there long, while Bowen Road developed its own baking services,[9] so the bulk of the bread couldn’t have gone there. He also tells us that food was delivered to the French Hospital itself, a point I’ve commented on elsewhere.[10]

As Levkovich knows a few words of Japanese, and has the advantage of still being considered Russian, he goes with Selwyn-Clarke or alone  to  ‘various offices’ in order to get  petrol for the trucks by ‘wangling or begging’ it from the Japanese.  Later Selwyn-Clarke decides he can be more useful as a kind of roving investigator, so tells him to try to find unlooted Government offices and safes, and also to locate stores that haven’t yet been discovered by the Japanese and bring the contents to the French Hospital. He’s also given money to buy up any American currency he can, and tasked with discovering which Indians are reliable, and which not – Mrs. Rutonjee helps him greatly with this. Selwyn-Clarke records the arrest later in the war of the philanthropist J. H. Rutttonjee, his son Dhun, and the ‘latter’s very beautiful Chinese wife, Anne’[11]  but as this lady is described at one point as Dr. Ruttonjee this was probably Miss Parrin Ruttonjee, who was accepted on to the Register of those qualified to practise medicine and surgery in 1930.

Levkovich continues:

I beg to say that some of these tasks were getting exceedingly dangerous for my safety, and my friends….

For example, there was an unopened NAAFI safe, but it was located in the building where the Rutonjees live, so following Selwyn-Clarke’s instructions to ‘crack’ it would put them in danger as well as Levkovich himself.  Selwyn-Clarke obviously knew that he himself, and two volunteer helpers, had come close to execution during a raid on a godown to acquire a dentist’s chair for Stanley,[12] but he continued to run huge risks himself, and expected others to do so too. He told Levkovich to call Mrs. Ruttonjee and informed her that she must help in every way in getting the safe open as he urgently needed money for the camps! Selwyn-Clarke delegated this affair to Dr. Mackie, but rumours about the safe’s existence got around, and the Japanese removed it. This, by the way, is further indication that everyone in the French Hospital was involved in one or another of his illegal and highly risky activities. Mackie was probably one of those arrested on May 2, 1943, although he was soon released.[13]

Next Levkovich recounts an incident in which he commandeered a food store. The owner, whom he knew, asked to be taken to Selwyn-Clarke to get some kind of official recognition of the debt owed him. The upshot of the meeting was that, Selwyn-Clarke told Levkovich that he was personally responsible for a huge sum as he hadn’t been told to appropriate private stocks. Nevertheless, the Medical Department continued to make use of the food, which lasted two months.

Levkovich continued to carry out his assigned tasks to the best of his ability until Selwyn-Clarke told him that he was being sent into the interior: he ordered him to find the shortest and safest route and get the information back to Hong Kong, as he wanted to send nurses and medical supplies to Gordon King (who’d escaped on February 10 and remained active in various ways in south China). He was also to give ‘safe conduct’ (presumably just to escort and try to keep safe) a 31 year old masseuse from Kowloon Hospital called Maria da Roza, who had letters for Gordon King and Dr Lim.[14]  Levkovich says that he’ll do the job if necessary, but would prefer not to escape from Hong Kong in the company of a young woman carrying incriminating papers. Selwyn-Clarke replies that she’ll be less conspicuous than him, and, in any case, as he’s the only head of a government department not interned, Levkovich should obey his orders.

It seems that this is one of a number of occasions on which Selwyn-Clarke over-rode Levkovich’s sense that a mission was too dangerous. We should remember that Selwyn-Clarke was putting himself in almost as much danger as the escapees, – it’s unlikely the letters would not have been recognisable as from him, even their bearers resisted torture – and that he did so continually, fully expecting to be arrested and one day, and probably executed after a interrogation during which the well-being and lives of many people would depend on his ability to hold out. This, to put it very, very mildly, must have been a huge strain on his nerves, and it’s not surprising he comes across as unreasonable in Levkovich’s account (we don’t, of course, have his own for comparison).

This whole narrative gives us an idea of what Selwyn-Clarke expected from the drivers. After June 29, 1942 the only one left of the original two teams was Owen Evans,[15] as the two other bread delivery drivers were American, as were all the others delivering medical supplies (one or both groups also ran an ambulance service). I don’t know who replaced the Americans, but my guess is that it was employees of the Kowloon Bus Company, which at some point got the contract for driving rations into Stanley.[16] In any case, Selwyn-Clarke couldn’t handle Owen Evans in the same was as he handled Levkovich, as Evans wasn’t a pre-war government employee and he had an alternative source of rations – going into Stanley. In fact, it’s possible that it was something that Selwyn-Clarke did that led to his entering the camp, perhaps in September or October 1942, although the details of this are unclear.[17]

Maria da Roza seems to have revealed details of the plan to a former boyfriend, an Indian who had thrown in his lot with the Japanese. Mrs. Ruttonjee warns Levkovich, who passes on the message to Miss da Roza, who does nothing. It’s too late anyway, and she either flees or is arrested. Levkovich decides that he must tear up his pass – presumably because it carries incriminating evidence and go to the Supreme Court Gendarmerie to get a new one. When he arrives, the Gendarmes take him into custody, slap him around and hold him overnight in a stinking cell.

The next day he was questioned closely about da Roza and Sewlyn-Clarke. He denied that he knew anything about the latter, except in his capacity as boss. During the interrogation, he states that he delivered milk as well as bread, a new detail. ‘Is that all?’ snaps back the Gendarme, and there unfortunately Levkovich’s statement ends, at least until 2021, when the British Ministry of Defence’s restriction of the final page or pages comes to an end! Presumably he said something considered woundingly critical about someone.

Mr. Levkovich impressed his BAAG contact as someone worth more than an ordinary job with the Indian police, and he comes across to me as a principled, intelligent man and a reliable witness.

In any case, as well as providing some new information for those of us iinterested in the rather narrow topic of bread delivery from the Qing Loong Bakery, this report offers a valuable insight into the personality and methods of Dr. Selwyn-Clarke and another tantalising glimpse of the resistance activities of the people living in the French Hospital.


It’s possible that ‘sick’ for ‘sic’ was a slip of the typewriter brought about by the hospital context, or that it was a deliberately meant comment by Captain Jack. Some people in the BAAG – including Colonel Ride – believed that Selwyn-Clarke was motivated, in part at least, by the desire to avoid internment, and BAAG documents sometimes speak off him and those working for him in a similar position (like the bankers) as ‘uninterned’. At other times they’re called ‘Free Europeans’. In fact, there is no label that’s completely accurate: the women and children at the Sun Wah Hotel were, at first much less ‘free’ that their counterparts at Stanley, and at no time were the ‘stay outs’ all at liberty to do anything they wanted, although it is probable that they generally enjoyed better conditions that those in Stanley. This included more freedom, although it would be wrong to think of them as in any way able to do more or less what they wanted: one BAAG documents suggests that Dr. Mackie, who lived at Robinson Rd. rather than the FrenchHospital, was left to do more or less as he pleased, but he was an exception.

As to ‘internees’: Charles Winter, in his letter from the Gripsholm (August 18, 1942) assures Thomas’s family that he’s unlikely to be ‘interned’, describing only his initial period of imprisonment in the Exchange Building as internment, while Thomas himself describes being ‘interned’ in the French Hospital There is no obviously correct term for this group, which is why I often use Tony Banham’s ‘stay-outs’


[2] Ride Papers, Ride Interview with Fehilly, 18 December 1942, page 3.

[3] Except where another source is given all references are to this report: Ride Papers, 13/9.

[9] Bowie, passim.

[11] Footprints, 102.

[12] Footprints, 75.

[14] Presumably Robert Kho-seng Lim, who was providing medical services and training for the Chinese armies: ‘Dr. R. K. S. Lim does his best, does all he can…but there are no medical supplies and no food; the soldiers die like flies’ ( Han Suyin, Birdless Summer, 1982 ed., 39)

[16] George Wright-Nooth, Prisoner of the Turnip Heads, 1994,  149, 152.


Filed under Hong Kong WW11, Selwyn-Selwyn Clarke

The French Hospital Arrests: A Synthesis Of Sources

Note: This post is now out of date. A more recent account can be read in an article – ‘Witnesses to Horror’ –  I wrote for the South China Morning Post on October 8, 2017. This is available online but my settings won’t allow me to link to it.


Due to the kindness of Elizabeth Ride, I now have a number of documents from the files of the British Army Aid Group relating to the arrests at the French Hospital in early May 1943. As well as revealing new aspects of the events themselves, these provide a fascinating glimpse into the way in which the intelligence officers of the BAAG – the British resistance organisation in Hong Kong and south China – were able to gradually piece together a picture of what happened from reports sent out by courageous agents from the darkness and confusion of occupied Hong Kong. I’ve posted on these events a number of times, as they were central to Thomas and Evelina’s experience of the war, but as there is, to the best of my knowledge, no account in the public domain that attempts to synthesise sources, I’ll make the attempt here. To make a complex matter more easily comprehensible, I’ll organise the material as answers to a set of questions.

Note: WIS = Waichow Intelligence Summary. Waichow was the British Army Aid Group Advanced (i.e. close to Hong Kong) headquarters.

All documents so named and all others relating to the BAAG are from the Ride papers, held at the Hong Kong Heritage Project:

Who was arrested?

The simplest question is also the hardest to answer.

The BAAG agents in Hong Kong were quick to send news of such an important development to Field Headquarters at Waichow:

In a report received on 3 May 43, 42 {Ah Mui, who before the war had worked as a store foreman for the HK Volunteers[1]} states that the following have been arrested:

 Dr. Selwyn-Clarke

Dr. Bunje

‘Ginger’ Hyde.[2]

 If this report was received on May 3, it must have left Hong Kong on May 2, or early on May 3. Charles Hyde was a banker, and not living at the French Hospital.[3] Although the evidence is contradictory, I think he was probably arrested in late April. Five days later the BAAG received a more detailed report:

In a report dated 8 May 43, ‘M’ Group[4] states:

On 2 May 43, at 0.500 hours, the FRENCH HOSPITAL was surrounded by Japanese marines. Dr. Selwyn-Clarke was arrested together with F. A, Angus and Dr. Bunje; they were charged with having an unlicensed broadcast receiver fitted with shortwave intake.

Later in the morning of this same day A. C. Sinton (Sanitary Inspector) was arrested.[5]

Alexander Sinton was to be executed for his resistance activities on October 29, 1943.[6] This is the only mention I’ve seen of the arrest of Frank Angus, but it”s plausible: he was Selwyn-Clarke’s assistant, and an obvious person to be taken in for questioning, and he was involved in the money-raising and smuggling ring.
However, Angus is on a list of 10 of the 18 people sent into Stanley on May 7, and it was known in the camp as early as May 5 that there would be 18 new arrivals, and I think it unlikely that he was arrested, questioned and declared innocent in 3 days.

There’s also a report that the malariologist Dr. Mackie was arrested at this time (n a BAAG document of late 1942 Dr. Mackie is recorded as living not at the French Hospital but in Robinson Road; this has no practical bearing on these events).Heres’s the relevant extract:

Dr. Selwyn-Clarke, Dr. Mackie and the other doctors are said to be on a charge of illicit dealings in drugs.[8] (Report by agent 68 – this number was given to two operatives at different times[9]).

However, Mackie and his future wife, Molly Churn, are also on MacNider’s list of the May 7 internees, so an arrest is doubtful in his case too.

A document of June 7, 1943[10] lists doctors Selwyn-Clarke, Bunjee (sic – Bunje is the more usual form – see and Nicholson from the French Hospital, but not Dr. Mackie, Frank Angus or Alexander Sinton. It reports that they were taken to the Kempeitai’s headquarters in the former Supreme Court and that ‘Bunjee was manhandled and fainted’.[11] This report also lists other arrests that took place after May 2, or, in the case of Charles Hyde, probably just before. This is the only report known to me of Nicholson’s arrest, and as he is yet another listed as going into Stanley on May 7, I’m inclined to discount this report too.

So who actually was arrested? All sources agree that Selwyn-Clarke and Bunje were taken on May 2, and Sinton is known to have been executed on October 29, and there’s no reason to doubt that his arrest took place  later on the morning of May 2, although in a Japanese trial document later captured by the BAAG he’s recorded as living at a private address so he may or may not have been taken from the French Hospital. It would be surprising if the Kempeitai hadn’t questioned Frank Angus, Selwyn-Clarke’s assistant – although it’s worth bearing in mind that they never interrogated Hilda Selwyn-Clarke,[12] who is known to have been involved in her husband’s medical smuggling.[13] Nevertheless, the fact that he went into Stanley five days later suggests to me that he wasn’t formally arrested. The same goes for doctors Mackie and Nicholson.

However, there are two other tiny pieces of evidence which incline me to accept a higher figure than just the three certain arrestees. The first is that, in the only eye-witness account of the May 2 arrests except that of Selwyn-Clarke, health inspector Lesley Macey says that ‘several’ arrests were made.[14] The second is that there’s a figure quoted by the BAAG agent of about 75%  of prisoners released by June 7, and the more arrests there were, the closer the French Hospital statistics are to this figure:

Of the 173 arrests made during the recent purge only 47 are still being detained.[15]

I realise that all of this is far from conclusive. The fact that three of those reported arrested entered Stanley on May 7 does not conclusivley prove they weren’t arrested on May 2, so my working assumption needs to be probed further.

It seems certain that doctors and Graham-Cumming escaped arrest – ironically Dr. Court, a personal friend of Lindsay Ride, had been one of the first BAAG contacts at the French Hospital. Dr. Griffiths, who was listed as lving there in a BAAG document of late 1942, escaped to Macao in April 1943, and was helped by the BAAG to reach Free China. It seems that the only one of the health inspectors to be arrested was A. C. Sinton – we have Lesley Macey’s own statement that he was never suspected,  and there is no evidence that any of the other inspectors or the bakers (Edgar, Hammond and Peacock) were taken into custody.

Who Made The Arrests?

It seems that Mohammed Yussuf Shah, a pre-war police Lance- Segeant tried in early 1947 for collaboration, was present at the arrest, as was Major Siizawa Kuno, chief of the Gendarmerie’s Police Affairs, who gave evidence against Shah. (China Mail, February 25, 1947, page 2.). On the second day of his trial, Shah changed his plea to guilty.  In mitigation it was pointed out that he had helped a number of prisoners of the Japanese, and a letter from Selwyn-Clarke to that effect was read out (China Mail, February, 26, 1947, page 3). He received a  7 year sentence, which some regarded as harsh.

No other arresting officers are currently known to me.

What happened on the first day?

The only detailed account of May 2 itself comes from Emily Hahn, who was close to the Selwyn-Clarkes, especially Hilda. Hahn begins by dismissing some of the more colourful rumours about the incursion of the Japanese (‘the soldiers came whooping over the wall as if they were attacking a fortress’) but acknowledges that ‘their entry must have been sufficiently melodramatic to put the fear of God and the devil into the French sisters and the rest of the staff’).

The BAAG report of May 3 cited above states that doctors Selwyn-Clarke and Bunje were taken away at dawn, while A. C. Sinton was arrested later in the morning. Hahn records other developments as the day went on:

In the course of the day Constance Lam was brought in and set down there, and a few other people showed up, Chinese doctors suspected of working in the espionage game with Selwyn and the like.[19]

Hahn goes on to tell us that the Selwyn-Clarkes’ cook stayed outside the hospital and bought supplies for the household and handed them in through the barred gate, which was now kept locked. The cook also brought the first news of these events to Hahn and told her that Hilda Selwyn-Clarke would get in touch with her as soon as possible. She delivered three letters telling her to come down to the hospital at five o’clock so they could talk through the iron gate. Hahn was summoned to meet Mr. Hattori at the Foreign Affairs Office and told not to have any contact with the Selwyn-Clarkes. He told her he was trying to expedite Helen Ho’s release (which in fact happened about two weeks later). Hahn returned home to find four more notes from Hilda, asking her to use her contacts with the Japanese to get her husband’s release. Hahn heeded Hattori’s warning and didn’t go to the Hospital, and the notes kept pouring in – ‘Down in the French Hospital, Constance and Hilda ranted and said I was a traitor’. She sent a friend, Maria ,‘as a deputy’ and she had a brief conversation with Hilda through the iron gate before being chased off by a soldier – ‘After that, though, Hilda was not so sure I was a traitor’.[21]

It’s hard to believe all this took place on one Sunday, even if the Japanese ignored the English restriction on business on that day, a point I have no information about. I think Hahn, a writer first and a historian second, is probably operating a double time scheme: having described a single day packed with drama and incident, she later offers a summary of Hilda’s behaviour over ‘that week’[22] to give a sense of a continuing crisis. But did things really go on for that long?

How long did the lock down last for?

This is what ‘M’ group reported (May 8) happened on the day after the arrests (May 3):

(E)nemy nationals at large – i.e. Britishers employed by the Japanese – were ordered to attend at the Japanese Foreign Office Department and are all to be interned on 6 May 1943.[23]

The same group reported on May 11 that the hospital was re-opened on the third. On the other hand, the BAAG document of June 7 reports the lock-down lasted for a week, which is in line with what Hahn implies (although doesn’t actually state).

On May 5 R. E. Jones, a Stanley internee who kept a day-by-day diary, recorded that 18 people from the French Hospital were coming to live in Bungalow D. This suggests that someone in Stanley was told no later than May 5, and perhaps earlier, to get accommodation ready for 18 more people, which gives some support to the idea of a meeting at the Foreign Affairs Office on May 3, but only for the French Hospital people. No other ‘enemy nationals at large’ are mentioned as entering Stanley at this time; the other main group, the bankers, were sent there in two groups in the next two months. (Gerrard records that ‘bankers’ were in the group from the French Hospital but this is perhaps a mis-transcription for ‘bakers’, although it’s not impossible that a few bankers were interned at this time, as I know of at least two who lived in Bungalow D, while the majority were billeted in Bungalow E.) There was a group of uninterned workers at Pokfulam looking after what was left of a herd of cattle belonging to the Dairy Farm company, and there were isolated individuals all over Hong Kong: missionaries, older people, those who’d been guaranteed out[24], and various others in assorted categories. Two of them, the American cook Edward Gingle,[25] and the British electrical technician Arthur May[26] (who might or might not have been claiming to be Irish) ended up not in Stanley but in Mau Ta-chung Camp. I have no current record of any of the other uninterned Britishers being sent to Stanley in early May 1943. However, I think it’s significant that the French Hospital people did go into Stanley at about the time reported – although not the sixth, so there was presumably a day’s delay. This makes me think that the ‘M’ Group intelligence was probably accurate and a meeting of this kind did take place.

Both Jones and George Gerrard record the actual arrival of 18 people from the French Hospital on May 7  Gerrard telling us it happened about 2 p.m. Gerrard is an excellent source for these events, as he was quartermaster of his block, and Bungalow D people ate with them. He personally spoke to some to some of them, who told him they were glad to be in Stanley, as conditions in town were very bad – that was all he recorded anyway.

My guess is that the British nationals were confined to the Hospital until they were sent to Stanley on May 7, although allowed out on approved business, including a meeting at the Foreign Affairs Department, from May 3 onwards.

What Were The Charges?

 I think that Selwyn-Clarke’s account is the definitive one:

I was told that I was under arrest as head of British espionage in Hong Kong, that I had been sending messages to the British Army Aid Group in Free China and to Mr. John Reeves, the British Consul in Macao, and that these messages concerned the damage caused to Japanese ships by the U. S. Pacific Fleet, the movement of Japanese troops and other such matters.[27]

Other accounts have him charged with secretly sending drugs into Ma Tau-chung[28] or with illicit dealings in drugs generally.[29] It’s also suggested he was charged with hiding a short wave radio in the French Hospital (Kwiz/43/4). The first charge would almost certainly have been correct, but while he passed on and received messages through radio I doubt he had one at the French Hospital or at his office – they would have been the riskiest places possible to keep such an item. [30] It’s possible that the 40 included one or both of these charges.

Why Did The Arrests Occur When They Did?

I’ve tackled this problem before:

In another post ( I discussed the theory put forward after the war by Selwyn-Clarke himself. It’s recounted by Major Bowie, who was allowed to remain unimprisoned so as to run the Bowen Road Hospital:

Selwyn-Clarke had power to sign recommendations for permission to leave {Hong Kong} in the case of those {Chinese workers} 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. .. 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.[31]

In that previous post I indicated that I found this account convincing, but I now think it was probably the result of Selwyn-Clarke’s guilt at his tiny deviation from absolute truthfulness. When he came to write his autobiography (published in 1975) he gives no indication that these untrue statements were used against him. He himself had been expecting arrest since October 1942 (at the latest) because of his humanitarian smuggling[32], the Japanese had in fact been planning to arrest him in January 1943 (again, at the latest) because they believed he was the leading British spy in Hong Kong. His ‘protector’ Colonel Eguchi left in late April 1943, and the Kempeitai waited a few days and then put long-prepared plans into effect– in an earlier post[33] I suggested that the choice of Sunday, May 2 was determined by the fact that the previous Thursday and Friday were Japanese holidays, and the authorities decided, as there was no particular urgency, not to start an operation that must have begun at about 4 a.m. on the day after. Although this is conjecture, I still find it plausible.

In any case, the suggestion that’s sometimes made (see e.g. Philip Snow, The Fall of Hong Kong, 2003, 185) that somehow the ‘trail soon led on’ from the arrest of the bankers Grayburn and Streatfield on March 17 to the doctors who they’d been supplying with funds seems unsupported by any evidence. There’s no indication that Grayburn, Streatfield (or Dr. Talbot who was caught smuggling money into Stanley) told the Kempeitai anything about Selwyn-Clarke’s activities.

Was J. J. Richards responsible for these arrests?

One report claims that the Eurasian collaborator J. J. Richards gathered  the intelligence behind all these arrests.[34] In a previous post, I’ve discussed Richards (who was given a sentence of 15 years after the war) and his presence at the French Hospital.[35] Allegations of a role in these arrest was not mentioned in the reports of the trial in the China Mail, and I think that, given Selwyn-Clarke’s position in pre and post war Hong Kong, they would have been reported if made. And Richards was specifically charged with bringing about the arrest of Charles Henry Basto,[36] who was executed as a spy. Richards might well have claimed such a role during the war – he’s recorded as having boasted about the number of Portuguese people he’d had arrested, and his role in the forthcoming execution of Basto, for example.[37]  In fact, the ‘intelligence’ about Selwyn-Clarke seems to have been fundamentally false, although no doubt the 40 or so charges did contain some allegations that hit the mark, I feel certain that all of the British nationals in the French Hospital were ‘guilty’ of one thing or another, so they could equally well have arrested any of them.

However, not all of them were taking part in actual military espionage, and Alexander Sinton was, so it seems that someone found something precise in his case. He was part of that ‘M’ Group whose reports have been mentioned a number of times, and this section of the BAAG was betrayed after contacting the British Consul in Macao,[38] which was also one of the charges laid against Selwyn-Clarke (see above). Reeves seems to have specialised in investigating British activity in Macao, so it’s certainly possible he played a role in the arrests of Sinton and perhaps of the others. And we do know that he was gathering intelligence on a related matter at about the time of the arrests: father Maestrini, giving evidence at Richards’ trial, said that he called on Richards at about this time and that the Japanese wanted some information about the French Sisters, including their source of income, but that as a Catholic he was trying to keep them from getting involved.[39] It sounds as if the Kempeitai were investigating the possibility that the nursing sisters at the Hospital were paid by Selwyn-Clarke to help in espionage. (Maestrini says the arrests took place at ‘the French Convent’, a not uncommon mistake.)

What was the Aftermath of the Events of May 2?

Again, we can call on Emily Hahn to describe the atmosphere of occupied Hong Kong after the arrests:

 I walked home slowly. It seemed to me that everyone I met looked stunned. No one dared stop to speak to me; no one dared stop to speak to anyone. There were no little groups at the street corners. There were only isolated figures, hurrying along.[40]

This description is reminiscent of some of those of Russia during the Stalinist purges, and no doubt the instillation of obedience and passivity through fear was one aim of the Kempeitai. It seems that they might have known they were arresting more people than the evidence warranted, and did so in order to create the terror and consequent sense of isolation and impotence described by Hahn.

The events of May 2 were followed by more arrests, mainly of Chinese and Eurasians:

On 3 May 43 Dr. Arthur Woo, Dr. K. C. Yeo and Helen Ho were arrested.

On 4 May 43 George She, Dr. P. P. Tho (?) and Wai Pu Cheung were arrested.[41]

An ‘M’ Group report dated may 11 tells us:

The number of arrests out of Hong Kong persons arising French Hospital Affair risen to 200. Anyone who has connection after the War with DR. SELWYN-CLARKE  is  suspect.

….S. P. Wong and B. C. Randall (arrested). All Straits born Chinese working for Health Department and living at May Hall arrested as well as leader K. C. Yeo..[42]

The arrests of Allied Europeans that took place after May 2 were almost certainly not connected with this case: Chester Bennett on May 14,[43] and D. C. Edmonston on May 24.[44] At the moment I don’t know the date of T.C. Monaghan’s arrest, but it was obviously before the June 7 report, and probably before the arrest of Fathers Joy and Casey at Wah Yan College on the morning of May 24,[45] as one of their fellow Jesuits, Father Bourke, writing after the war suspected that the Canadian’s arrest was one factor in casting suspicion on those he’d been living amongst.[46]

The removal of Selwyn-Clarke brought to the end his wode-ranging programme of relief work, both open and secret. Nevertheless, courageous people outside – for example, the Australian Doris Cuthbertson, ‘guaranteed out’ in September, 1942 – managed to continue operating a supply route with the help of the Red Cross and Swiss businessman Walter Naeff.[48]

A newly formed BAAG unit, K group, reported that the elderly British patients in the French Hospital suffered severely from lack of food after Selwyn-Clarke’s arrest. Another BAAG document, a statement made by an escapee who worked for a time as a bread delivery driver,[49] tells us that bread was delivered to the French Hospital, so the internment of the three bakers probably exacerbated the situation for these people.[50]

Selwyn-Clarke himself faced months of torture, during which he steadfastly refused to provide the name of a single person who’d helped him. Much to his surprise, he was released to become medical officer of the small Ma Tau-chung Camp on December 8, 1944. His wife and daughter were moved from Stanley to join him. Dr. Bunje remained in prison until the end of the war. Alexander Sinton was executed alongside 32 others – including W. J. White, also of ‘M’ Group – on October  29, 1943.

Incidentally, the June 7 document contains the interesting statement that ‘for some reason’ nothing can be done to those arrested fro four months, but ‘then they will be for it’. In fact, with the exception of Selwyn-Clarke, all of the Allied citizens who stayed in detention long term were tried on October 19, 1943 and executed ten days later. That figure of four months seems uncannily accurate, and the reason for the delay needs looking into.

[1] Edwin Ride, British Army Aid Group, Hong Kong Resistance 1942-1945, 1982, 310.

[2] Ride Papers, WIS 30, Sheet 4.

[4] For more on ‘M’ Group, see below.

[5] Ride Papers, WIS 30, Sheet 4. Angus’s arrest is also mentioned in WIS 30, sheet 5, but I don’t think this counts as a separate report.

[8] Ride Papers, WIS, 33, Sheet 8.

[9] Ride, 311-312.

[10] The key part of this document can be read in Tony Banham’s We Shall Suffer There, 2009, entry for June 7, 1943.

[11] Report of June 7, quoted in Banham, 2009.

[12] Emily Hahn, China To Me, 1986 ed., 407.

[13] Selwyn Selwyn-Clarke, Footprints, 1975, 79.

[14] Letter of September 3, 1945. Kindly supplied by Ruth Sale.

[15] Ride Papers, WIS 33.

[16] R. E. Jones, Diary; this and the diary of George Gerrard can be read by members of the Yahoo Stanley Group:

[17] Footprints, 72.

[18] Footprints, 92.

[19] Hahn, 405.

[20] Hahn, 405.

[21] Hahn, 407.

[22] Hahn, 408.

[23] Ride Papers, WIS, 30.

[27] Footprints, 83-84.

[28] Ride Papers, WIS 32.

[29] Ride Papers, WIS 33.

[30] Ride Papers, WIS 32.

[31]  Donald C.Bowie, Captive Surgeon In Hong Kong – this can be read at The relevant pasage is on page 44.

[32] F. D. and H. F. Collier, Covered Up In Kowloon, 1947, 97-98. Selwyn-Clarke tells the Colliers to accept any help he can give them because ‘there is a sword hanging over my head, and it may fall at any time’.

[34] Ride Papers, WIS 30, sheet 4.

[36] China Mail, February 20, 1946, page 2.

[37] China Mail, May 14, 1946, page 4.

[38] – see entry for March 1, 2012.

[39] China Mail, August 17, 1946, page 4.

[40] Hahn, 408.

[41] Ride Papers, NA, NA/343/1/72, sheet 4.

[42] Report of June 7, cited in Banham, 2009.

[44] China Mail, April 9, 1947, page 2.

[45] Report of June 7, cited in Banham, 2009.

[46] Alan Birch and Martin Cole, The Captive Years, 1982, 104.

[47] Ride Papers, 11/38, 41, sheet 2.

[48] Ride Papers, 11/38/41, sheet 2-4.

[49] Ride Papers, 13/9/24. The escapee was R. B. Levkovich.

[50] Ride Papers, WIS 33.


Filed under Uncategorized

Thomas Christopher Monaghan’s Resistance Work


I’ve recently been able to update this post using material kindly supplied by Mr. Monaghan’s son Gerald and his grandson Michael. They provided me with documents, photos and information that have enabled me to completely re-shape this post. Michael Monaghan prepared a five page statement on his grandfather’s life in 2004 and I have drawn heavily on this for the period before the war.

I would also like to acknowledge the great help given to me by Sandra Neal, another descendant of Thomas Monaghan.

Elizabeth Ride, daughter of Sir Lindsay Ride, kindly sent me BAAG documents relating to the subject of this post. The Ride Papers are held at the Hong Kong Heritage Project.


Thomas Monaghan was one of thirty three people executed close to Stanley Beach on October 29, 1943. Mr. Monaghan was a Canadian who, after the surrender of Hong Kong, kept himself out of Stanley by claiming Irish nationality. As the war developed, he chose to run huge risks to help others and to further the Allied cause; as the police net grew closer, he refused to escape and stayed in Hong Kong to continue his work.  These choices can only have come from a courageous sense of duty and a humanitarian desire to help others. Both are attested directly and indirectly in the documents that relate to him.

Before The War

Thomas Christopher Monaghan was born in Quebec City, Canada, on December 12, 1890. His father, Michael Monaghan, was a professor at Dublin University; he taught Latin, Greek and French. One of his students – he also became a friend – was Eamon De Valera,[1] the Prime Minister of the Republic of Ireland in 1942, a fact of some relevance to his son’s activities in Hong Kong, as we shall see. Michael Monaghan emigrated to Canada, where he carved out a new career in life insurance; it seems that this strong-minded but sensitive man had a great influence on the development of his son.[2]

In 1913 Thomas went to work for the Canadian Pacific Railway at their Montreal headquarters. He was promoted to Banquet Manager at the Chateau Frontenac, a CPR owned hotel in Quebec City. While there he met and married Mary (‘May’) Bagmann on June 25, 1918.[3] Michael Monaghan tells us something about the background of his grandmother:

May was born February 6, 1894, in Pierre, South Dakota, USA. Her parents were German immigrants. Her only sibling, a younger sister, mother and father died in a Flu epidemic just before the turn of the century, leaving her an orphan at age 5. An older childless couple, friends of her parents, took her in. Their name was Huntsley and she was renamed Mary Dorothy Huntsley.

When they met she was the secretary to the American Consul in Quebec.  Their first child, Frank, was born in 1921.[4]

Another promotion took Mr. Monaghan to the post of Assistant Manager of the Chateau Frontenac.[5]  This must have been a responsible position; the Hotel catered for luxury travellers and it was a large and impressive building, as can be seen from this 1910 postcard:

File:Chateau Frontenac and Dufferin Terrace postcard.jpg

Image: Wikimedia

His work obviously impressed his employers, as in 1921 he was tasked with the establishment of crucial elements of the CPR cruise-line program in the Far East.  On leaving his job at the hotel in October 1921 he was presented with a handsome wardrobe trunk and a ‘well-filled’ purse of gold.[6] Mr. Monaghan expressed regret at leaving so many good friends, but said, ‘The Far East is a land of opportunity, awaiting further development’.

A new cruise route was being planned: from Vancouver through Hawaii and Japan and on to Hong Kong and other ports.[7] His job title is given by a number of sources as Provision Superintendent, but it seems to have been a lot more comprehensive than this might suggest. It took Mr. Monaghan almost three years to make all the necessary arrangements: warehouses for storage were acquired, contracts for docking, coaling and servicing were agreed – and the new Superintendent had to give his attention to something rather more surprising to modern readers.  The South China Sea was a lawless place at the time, and anyone sailing to or from Hong Kong ran the risk of pirate attack. The pirates were after loot and possible ransom money, and their predations sometimes resulted in deaths. Mr. Monaghan needed to establish good working relationships with the military in order to make sure the cruise ships would be protected. During the course of his negotiations – which resulted in British soldiers sailing on each ship – he made contact with the Consulate in Macao,[8] another fact that will be important later. The new cruise route wasn’t inaugurated until early1924.[9] It also seems that Mr. Monaghan’s work was of wider significance to the Company, whose chairman claimed that ‘through a recent re-arrangement of the ports of call in the Orient’ the Hong Kong-England route was now four days shorter.[10]

Mrs. Monaghan followed her husband to Hong Kong in late 1921, bringing their infant son, Frank. In 1924 their second son, Gerald, was born, and in 1928 their daughter Constance. Both were delivered by Dr. Black,[11] who was murdered on Christmas Day, 1941 while attempting to defend the staff and patients of the emergency hospital at St. Stephens College, Stanley.

There are a number of reports of Mr. Monaghan’s activities in the sporting pages of the China Mail. They suggest a talented all-rounder, particularly formidable as a tennis player and golfer.[12] It’s slightly strange that the first of these comes in 1930, as it’s hard to believe that after nine years in Hong Kong he suddenly began to make his mark on the sports field!

Mr. Monaghan’s initial assignment with Canadian Pacific in Hong Kong was for 5 years (1921-1926) and in 1926, he accepted a second 5-year assignment.[13] In 1929 he was ready to start making preparations to return home, but the Great Depression, which began in October 1929, wiped out job opportunities in the United States and Canada, making it his best option to stay in Hong Kong,[14] which was, of course, affected by the depression, but whose economy remained in reasonable shape. One of these effects was to lead to an important war-time contact, as we shall see.

The family were now committed to Hong Kong, but it was common at the time to send children to the home country to be educated. In 1930, Frank and Gerald were sent back to Canada to be educated at boarding school; Constance joined them in 1937. In late 1939 Mr. Monaghan sent his wife home for safety: the war in Europe had started, and the possibility of a Japanese attack was obviously real. Mrs. Monaghan lived in Montreal and the three children switched from boarding school to day school. Mr. Monaghan returned to Canada on leave in the spring of 1940, and moved his family to New York City before returning to Hong Kong in the autumn.[15]

The massive downturn in world economic activity that marked the nineteen thirties significantly cut foreign donations for the educational and charitable activities of Hong Kong’s Jesuits. The Irish Jesuit Fr. Thomas Ryan was one of the leading social activists in the pre-war Colony.[16] Mr. Monaghan came to know him, and agreed to provide his Order with surplus food and medical supplies from the CPR warehouses. I suspect that some or all of this was to help feed refugees from the Japanese war:

When Guangdong fell to the invading Japanese in 1938 and refugees began to  pour into Hong Kong, the task of providing relief for the refugees fell  largely on a four-member Refugee Committee. One of the members was Father Ryan, who was chiefly responsible for organising food and shelter.[17]

In any case, the two became friends, and once again this pre-war link was to become important during the occupation.

It’s worth pausing on the eve of the Japanese attack. The documents available to me paint a clear picture: Mr. Monaghan had been successful in his career and achieved a good measure of prosperity– the house he lived in from 1936 onwards was close to the top of the Peak, Hong Kong’s most prestigious residential area.[18] His aid to the Jesuits shows a willingness to use his authority for humanitarian purposes. In his spare time, like many others in Hong Kong, he took part in the Colony’s vigorous sporting programme and relaxed at one of the bathing beaches with friends: this photo was taken at Repulse Bay and it shows Mr. Monaghan with one of the daughters of Lindsay Ride, the eventual founder of the British Army Aid Group:

 T. C. Monaghan in 1937 – at Repulse Bay with one of the daughters of Lindsay Ride, the founder of the British Army Aid Group(Photo supplied by Elizabeth Ride)

None of this marks him out particularly strongly, although we might note the humanitarianism of his help to Fr. Ryan, and perhaps his early decision to send his wife out of the danger zone shows he was a little more perceptive than some. After the compulsory evacuation of summer 1940, many ‘bachelor husbands’ campaigned to get their wives back, although, to be fair, they were inspired to  some extent by the injustice whereby a number of prominent men seem to have managed to get round the evacuation order and kept their wives by their side. The literature is full of later expressions of gratitude from the ‘bachelor husbands’ for the safety of their wives.

But every person in Hong Kong was about to be tested by the Japanese attack and the events that followed. Some responded magnificently, but few can have shown anything like the courage, determination and capacity for sacrifice shown by Mr. Monaghan.

Thomas Monaghan In The War: Relief and Resistance

During the fighting, Mr. Monaghan served with the Hong Kong Volunteer Defence Force. Here’s the entry from Tony Banham’s Hong Kong War Diary website:

Monaghan, T.C. Private 770 BRH[19]

As a Canadian citizen, he was a genuine volunteer – service had been compulsory for the British since July 1940,[20] although of course many men had signed up before that. And that’s not all. A Certificate of Service dated 8th, August 1947 records his period with the Volunteers as lasting from December 7, 1941 to May 6, 1942.[21] This suggests that he joined up just before Hong Kong was attacked (at 8 a.m. on December 8, local time). Barring a huge coincidence, Mr. Monaghan must have realised that war was imminent and decided to take on the risks of uniformed service. He was in the ‘unallocated’ section of the Volunteers, which unfortunately means that we can only find out what happened to him if there’s a specific reference in some source to where he was sent, and I haven’t yet found one.

BRH in the entry above means Bowen Road Hospital, and that’s where he was held after the surrender, which might mean he was injured and treated there. The hospital was heavily shelled so it was only in use as a casualty clearing station and as soon as patients were fit to move they were transferred elsewhere.[22] This would suggest that Mr. Monaghan’s injury occurred towards the end of the war. It’s also possible, of course, that he wasn’t a patient at all but was on Volunteer duty at the Hospital on December 25.

A post-war newspaper article claims that Mr. Monaghan was in Stanley Camp when he fell ill and was sent outside for treatment; while in hospital, ‘a priest’ helped him obtain a neutral’s pass and freedom.[23] I regard this story as highly plausible and I think it establishes he manged to assert civilian status and get sent to Stanley after his time in Bowen Road Hospital.[24] Michael Monaghan tells us that the man who arranged the Irish documentation was Mr. Monaghan’s friend, Father Thomas Ryan.[25] The Jesuits did not give out Irish documents to anyone who wanted them,[26] so we might ask ourselves the reason for this assistance. As we’ve seen, Mr. Monaghan had helped Father Ryan before the war, and it’s possible that his father’s close association with Eamon De Valera also played a part. Sandra Neal, Mr. Monaghan’s great grand-daughter, has kindly sent me a copy of a statement by her grandmother, Connie Monaghan Coleman,[27] which tells us that he obtained forged documents with the help of his Chinese aide and the Bishop of Hong Kong (Eamon de Valera’s help is also mentioned). It’s certainly possible that these helped in some way too (if so the bishop was probably the Catholic one, Enrico Valtorta, who was a fellow Canadian).

It’s possible that the date of May 6, 1942 on the Certificate of Service marks the time he was accepted by the Japanese as an Irish citizen, as technically the Volunteers remained called up for the duration of the war and remained under military discipline even in the period following liberation in August 1945. That’s speculation, but however he came to finish his time in the Hong Kong Volunteer Defence Corps, he had other forms of service in mind, as we shall see.

Mr. Monaghan was now in a strong position: with a neutral’s pass and relative freedom to move around Hong Kong, he had excellent prospects for getting out of the Colony – I know of at least four ‘Irish’ escapers, two of whom went in the first half of 1942. However, after contacting John Reeves, the British Consul in Macao, he was persuaded to remain in Hong Kong.[28]

It seems that Mr. Monaghan was probably carrying out intelligence work at Reeves suggestion even before the establishment of the British Army Aid Group by Colonel Lindsay Ride – another friend, who was probably somewhere close when the 1937 photo above was taken. The first BAAG agents reached Hong Kong in June 1942 and Mr. Monaghan was certainly carrying out relief (at least) operations by that time. He wasn’t the only one, so it’s worth considering the context for his efforts.

About 100 adults who met the criteria for being sent to Stanley – being ‘white’ enemy civilians – were kept out of the Camp for one reason or another. Most of them were doing work useful to the Japanese, while others, like Mr. Monaghan, were claiming neutral nationalities. It soon became clear to the leaders of this group that unless something was done to help the people in Stanley, Shamshuipo and Argyle Street Camps, many would die of malnutrition and disease. Led by Sir Vandeleur Grayburn (the senior Hong Kong banker) and Dr. Selwyn Selwyn-Clarke (the former Medical Director) they began a courageous campaign of fund-raising, drug purchase and medical smuggling.[29] Mr. Monaghan clearly contributed to this illegal relief effort: my guess is that he began to work on his own but soon forged links with the other operatives. He certainly co-operated with the banker Charles Hyde later in the war.

But the Chinese majority were suffering far more than the ‘whites’ inside Stanley, where rations in early 1942 were pathetic, but at least were guaranteed. Almost from the start of the occupation, Chinese people were starving to death on the streets. There are reports of cannibalism as early as the spring of 1942. Connie Monaghan Coleman tells us of an activity that was almost certainly designed to help the Chinese:

He ran a soup kitchen with Ann Costello.[30]

Ann Costello was the godmother of Mr. Monaghan’s second son, Gerald.[31]  Her husband George (see above) is on my 1942 Stanley Camp Roll, but although there is a ‘Mrs. Costello’ on the Hong Kong War Diary list, she’s not on the Camp Roll. This suggests that either she managed to establish Irish nationality and he didn’t, or that they decided it would help them to have one in and one out of camp.

Moving amid scenes of great horror, Mr. Monaghan and Mrs. Costello did what they could to ease the suffering.  It should also be remembered that almost all the accounts of the uninterned Allied nationals and neutrals make it clear that even Europeans could not easily get enough to eat. Some understandably chose to concentrate on their own welfare. And, in fact, we have evidence that Mr. Monaghan did not find it easy to meet his own needs, which makes his commitment to helping others even more striking. George Kennedy-Skipton,[32] who’d also adopted Irish nationality after the surrender, escaped in January 1943, and while in the Chinese wartime capital Chungking reported on Mr. Monaghan’s situation to the British Embassy. The information was passed on to Mrs. Monaghan by the Canadian External Affairs Department:

Since then, {gaining freedom as an Irish national} Mr. Monaghan has been carrying on a miscellaneous retail goods business in an office he is allowed to have as treasurer to the Irish Association. His business consists chiefly in the selling of furniture and golf requisites, for which there is no great demand, so he makes just a bare living, and the future is uncertain.[33]

The letter goes on to mention yet more relief work:

 He also buys supplies for interned Irish policemen and Irish prisoners-of-war.[34]

The soup kitchen must have been Japanese-authorised, and they might well have known about his assistance to Irish POWs (in Shamshuipo) and police (in Stanley) as well. But Mr. Monaghan didn’t confine himself to authorised activity. A post-war newspaper article states that he smuggled ‘food, clothing and comforts’ into Stanley Camp and that at one point he received money to help in his work from the British Consul in Macao.[35] We have a further record of his illegal work in the testimony of Connie Monaghan Coleman:

He bartered to get money to buy needed medical supplies which were then smuggled back to those imprisoned in dire need of them.[36]

David Tett, in his postal history of the Pacific War, reproduces a postcard sent by Swiss national Vic (probably a woman) Naef to her friend Vera Armstrong in Stanley Camp. It’s dated September 8, 1942, and it begins:

Dear Vera,

Monaghan took sewing machine and carpets away, but could not sell any yet.[37]

There was an uninterned banker named P. J. Monaghan (no relation), but given that description of how T. C. Monaghan made a living, this is almost certainly a glimpse of him at work. It seems from the evidence that his bartering/reselling activities provided him with a living while also constituting a source of extra funds for his relief work. And some speculation: travelling around Hong Kong to inspect and purchase miscellaneous articles would provide the perfect cover for spying or making contact with people in his escape network. So would his position as Treasurer of the Irish society. His business card tells us that the Office was number 1c in the former Whiteaway-Laidlaw Building, called the Tamaya  Building during the occupation, and that the official name of the Society was the Hongkong Irish National Committee; it seems to have been connected to the Red Cross.

At some point Mr. Monaghan went to live at Wah Yan College[38] This was a Roman Catholic School run by predominantly Irish Jesuits. Both Junior and Senior branches had closed early on in the war, but the Junior school, located high on Robinson Road, looking across the harbour to Kowloon, re-opened with a smaller roll in May, 1942,[39] so it must have been after that Mr. Monaghan went there to live. Father Ryan, by the way, had left Hong Kong with Japanese permission in April.[40]

The Irish stockbroker W. J. Carroll, who was charged with collaboration after the war, claimed at his trial that he had given the use of his office to the Irish Society after Monaghan’s arrest so that people could draw rations from the Irish Red Cross there.[41] This suggests that Mr. Monaghan’s office had been the previous ration collection point; most people in Hong Kong were forced to live from a ration card, the details of which varied according to nationality.

Again, it’s useful to pause at a point six months or so into the occupation. Mr. Monaghan has gained a degree of freedom (relative of course – no one, certainly not a non-Japanese, could go just where they liked in occupied Hong Kong, and the Kempeitai were always on hand to ask you to justify your movements.) He could have used this freedom to escape, but instead he devoted himself to carrying out what seems to have been a wide-ranging programme of relief work. And it’s likely that even at this early stage he was providing military intelligence. It seems that in June 1942 he turned down the perfect opportunity to leave Hong Kong.

A family tradition stemming from Mr. Monaghan’s wife Mary, states that he had the promise of a place in the American repatriation from Hong Kong of June 1942, but he was persuaded by Colonel Ride to stay to help in their efforts – as we’ve seen, the two were friends before the war. After his escape from Shamshuipo POW Camp, Ride founded the British Army Aid Group, which sent its first agents into Hong Kong in June 1942. They obviously contacted Mr. Monaghan at an early stage, and he agreed to work for the new organisation, turning down his chance of sailing to safety on the Asama Maru (which took people out of Hong Kong to be picked up by the Swedish ship, The Gripsholm at Lourenco Marques).

Mr. Monaghan – code name Mysterious – [42] supplied intelligence to the BAAG on at least one occasion; it’s almost certain that he did this regularly, but I only have one example at the moment: a document dated March 23, 1943 states that Mr. Monaghan provided confirmation that the Norwegian community, previously allowed to remain uninterned, had been sent to Stanley.[43] This internment was the result of an escape that Mr. Monaghan himself had helped to organise (described below), and it seems that the most important part of his resistance work lay in helping people get out of occupied Hong Kong.

The first record of his involvement in an escape is a comment by Major Douglas Clague of the BAAG to the effect that Mr. Monaghan was the ‘direct’ European contact for the Chinese agent who arranged the flight of the bankers Fenwick and Morrison – ‘with Hyde behind the scenes’.[44] This escape began on October 18, 1942,[45] so it obviously didn’t take Mr. Monaghan long to make his presence in this field felt.

We get some details of Mr. Monaghan’s work on escapes in the memoirs of the BAAG agent Paul Tsui. This is the start of an account of a successful escape made by Ragnar Brodersen and a fellow Norwegian:

The Norwegians were then {after the fighting} officially neutral as far as the Japs were concerned, so we were allowed to “go home”. ……The building I had been staying in had several direct artillery hits, and I lost everything….I teamed up with some other Norwegians ….Things got worse and worse, and there was every indication that sooner or later we would be interned. Captain Halfdan Kvamso and I knew Mr. Monaghan, a Canadian of Irish descent, who claimed Irish neutrality so that he could accomplish the work as a go-between for people who wanted to escape, and he certainly did a magnificent job. He told us that he could not at that stage give exact details, as it was all hush-hush, but he arranged for a Russian, William Vallesuk, Chief Radio Engineer of China Electric Co. Ltd. (whom the Japanese would have liked to get their hands on because of an important invention he had made), and Kvamso and myself to be met by two Chinese in Kowloon on a certain afternoon in February 1943. {February 10[46]} We were not to speak to our guides, but to follow them.[47]

It seems that arrangements were made first for William Vallesuk’s escape, and Charles Hyde bemoaned the fact that no other Europeans wanted to take the opportunity to get out of what he called the ‘hell hole’ of occupied Hong Kong, but then the two Norwegians made their contact and were later included in the party.[48]

Mr.Vallesuk has also left an account of the episode. He was introduced to Mr. Monaghan by a young student friend, Mr. Zaitzeff; Mr.Vallesuk praises the Canadian for his caution and professionalism – he wasn’t told until the last minute what the escape route would be and which companions would accompany him.[49]After some hair-raising adventures the escapers were delivered to a BAAG forward post:

It was here that I met Major Clague and his team. I gave him a secret letter which Monaghan had asked me to hand over on arrival….

Mr. Brodersen claims that Mr. Monaghan stayed uninterned in order to help with escapes; this suggests that resistance work was the centre of his life, which was probably true, but, as we’ve seen the process of the development of his activity was more complex than this suggests.

Another account of Mr. Monaghan’s organisation of escapes comes from a completely different source: Father Burke,[50] one of that group of Jesuits who kept the Wah Yan College open during the occupation:

Mr. Hyde and others thought it their patriotic duty to form a branch of the British intelligence service. They’d enrolled some Chinese and, without our knowing it, Mr. Monaghan had joined. What their activities were I don’t know, but later we found out that occasionally some military escaped from the camps and there was some kind of organisation which directed them to Shaukiwan where they were able to get boats and make their way to some island with guides to lead them to Free China. It seems that Mr. Monaghan had something to do with these arrangements.[51]

So it seems from a number of sources that the main part of Mr. Monaghan’s resistance work involved escapes.[52] I’m sure he understood how dangerous all this was. At any time an escaper could have been caught and forced to reveal the names of all those who’d helped them, or the Japanese could have arranged for someone to pretend to want to escape so as to penetrate and unmask the organisation. In fact, it seems that it was something of the kind that led to the arrest of Charles Hyde and his associates, who were planning to help Indian POWs escape from captivity, and I know of at least one escape attempt that also met its doom due to the divided loyalties of the Indian community.[53]

After the arrest of Charles Hyde, which was probably on or about April 30, 1943,[54] Mr. Monaghan must have known that it was only a matter of time before the Kempeitai came for him too. He could have escaped using the routes he was himself operating,[55] but he courageously chose to continue his important work.  A BAAG document of June 7, 1943 records his arrest.[56] Evidence at a 1946 war crimes trial (see below) suggests he was interrogated alongside Charles Hyde, Chester Bennett and David Edmonston, whose arrests probably spanned the period late April to late May 1943. The testimony of Mrs. Coleman suggests that many of his friends had been arrested before him, so perhaps it came towards the end of this period – some support for this is given by William Carroll’s claim, at the trial mentioned above, that his arrest came in ‘May or June’, while a BAAG source gives late May. More recently, Lawrence Tsui, whose father was a BAAG agent with links to Wah Yan College, has given the date of May 24 for the arrest of Mr Monaghan, and of two Jesuit priests (Patrick Joy and Gerard Casey) on different charges ( The banker David Charles Edmondston was also arrested on May 24, which lends support both to the dating and to the hypothesis that Edmondston was also involved in organising escapes.

In any case, he was held for questioning at the former Supreme Court Building, which was then the headquarters of the Kempeitai. When the Japanese searched his lodgings on his arrest, they found his Canadian documents hidden in the fireplace.[57]

It emerged at a post-war trial that a member of the Portuguese community, Mr. E. D. d’Almeida, had been in communication with him aftre his arrest. Mr. d’Almeida said that this had been during April 1943 at ‘Stanley’.[58]  This must mean Stanley Prison. My guess is that ‘April’ is a slip of memory for ‘May’ or even ‘June’. Nothing is known about the nature or purpose of this contact.

His trial was in a group of 15 on the afternoon of October 19. If court procedures were the same as for the larger morning group, this was a brutal affair for all concerned: the accused were made to stand at attention for hours on end and hit if they moved. At one point Mr. Monaghan and Charles Hyde were beaten with a sword scabbard for whispering to each other. The judge fell asleep for half an hour, but that didn’t really matter as the verdicts were almost certainly decided in advance.  Mr. Monaghan was among those sentenced to death.[59]

He was executed by beheading alongside 32 others on Stanley Beach on October 29, 1943. His body was buried with the other victims in a communal grave close to the place where they were executed.

Developments After The Execution

After the war a memorial gravestone was erected in Stanley Military Cemetery; it records his age at death as 52 and the name of his wife as May Monaghan of New York City.[60] Mrs. Monaghan had been  informed of her husband’s arrest in a letter from the Canadian External Affairs Department dated July 28, 1943. The letter cited as its source ‘unofficial information’ emanating from the Refugee Relief Bureau, British Embassy, Chungking and passed on by telegraph by the Consul at Macao. The date given for the arrest is May. The same body also wrote on June 13, 1944 to tell her of her husband’s death. A death certificate was issued by the Colonial Office in London on April 14, 1945.  When news of the circumstances of his death was reported in a Quebec paper in May 1946, his parents were still alive and other relatives lived in the city.[61] His personal effects arrived in Vancouver on June 24, 1946 (presumably) en route to his widow in New York.[62]

Mr. Monaghan’s treatment seems to have been investigated by a Canadian Army War Crimes Liaison Detachment in 1946.[63]  Between August 2 and August 9, 1946 three men associated with the Kempeitai headquarters at the former Supreme Court were brought to trial, charged with the brutal interrogation of a number of BAAG agents, including Mr. Monaghan. Their names were Yabuki Rikie, Takemoto Otojiro and Ohtsuka Sekitaro. The first and third of these were cleared of this particular charge, while Takemoto Otojiro was convicted. He received a sentence of three years, later reduced to one year.[64]

2013 will see the seventieth anniversary of the execution of this extremely courageous man and his comrades in the Hong Kong resistance. The Canadian people in recent years have become much more aware of the achievements of the young soldiers who fought to defend Hong Kong in December 1941. I hope that this anniversary year will see many more Canadians come to take pride in this civilian hero, who stayed in his post until the end, and that freedom-loving people of all nationalities will  learn the story of Thomas Christopher Monaghan and his fellows, and honour the work they carried out under such fearsome conditions.

tcm (2)

Appendix One: The Jurors Lists

Mr. Monaghan first appears in the Jurors List for 1922, described as a Catering Superintendent; the address given is the Hong Kong Hotel – this was probably a postal address.[65] I give the locations in the Lists for the succeeding years, and it should be remembered that these too might be postal addresses or even second homes.

1923 – 13, Humphreys Building, Kowloon.

1924 – 4a, East View Building, Kowloon.

1925  – 5, Queen’s Gardens

1926 – 5, Queen’s Gardens

1927 – 5, Queen’s Gardens.

1928/29  – 292,  The Peak.

1930 – 303,  The Peak

1931 – 453,  The Peak.

1932 /33/34, – 456 The Peak.

1936/1937/1938/1939/1940 – 54, The Peak, (now Mt. Kellett Road).[66]

Appendix 2: Was T. C. Monaghan in Stanley Camp?

A post-war newspaper article claims that Mr. Monaghan was in Stanley Camp when he fell ill and was sent outside for treatment. While in hospital, the article tells us, ‘a priest’ helped him obtain a neutral’s pass and freedom.[67] I regard this story as highly likely, although there is no other verification of his presence in Stanley, as its source seems to be Mr. George E. Costello. Mr. Costello was in Stanley himself, and he was a fellow CPR employee.[68] As we’ve seen his wife Anne was close to the family before the war – which probably means he was too – and she worked with him in occupied Hong Kong.

As a uniformed Volunteer Mr. Monaghan should have been sent to Shamshuipo POW Camp, but there are a number of cases in which members of the HKVDC posed as or were treated as civilians. Mr. Monaghan had plenty of opportunity to ‘lose’ his uniform while he was in the Hospital.

Another factor that makes the story convincing is that the priest who helped him, Father Ryan, is known to have been living at the French Hospital, where Mr. Monaghan would most likely have been sent for treatment, in early 1942.[69]

A report sent on June 30 1943 from the Canadian External Affairs Department to Mr. Monaghan’s wife in New York states only that he was a prisoner in Bowen Road Hospital ‘until about January 20’, but this too fits into the chronology neatly, as most internees were sent to Stanley in the 10 days following January 20th. The source of this report, George Kennedy-Skipton, another figure who claimed Irish nationality to avoid internment, was never in Stanley so if Mr. Monaghan was in the camp he wouldn’t necessarily have known.

Appendix 3: Some Sources

It’s worth noting that G. E. Costello (see) worked for the CPR in New York after the war,[70] and I think it highly likely if not certain that he provided information about her husband’s wartime activities to Mrs. Monaghan. Assuming Anne Costello survived the war (I have no evidence either way, but most Canadians did), she would have been an even better source of information.

It’s also believed that correspondence from Mr. Monaghan to his wife was smuggled out of wartime Hong Kong: this is perfectly plausible, and the letter referred to in Mr.Vasseluk’s account could even have been such a missive. Mr. Gerald Monaghan had long conversations with his mother on his return from his own participation in the Pacific War, and much of the information in this post comes ultimately from these conversations, kindly passed on to me by his son Michael. Mr. Gerald Monaghan was also generous enough to answer my questions and help me in this way also to understand his father’s story.

[1] Information provided by Mr. Michael Monaghan – henceforth MM.

[2] MM.

[3] Information taken from a document drawn up in 2004 by Mr. Michael Monaghan – henceforth MM 2004.

[4] MM 2004.

[5] The Quebec Chronicle-Telegraph, May 29 or 30, 1946.

[6] Quebec Daily Telegraph, October 15, 1921; Quebec Chronicle of about that date.

[7] MM.

[8] MM 2004.

[9] MM 2004.

[10] China Mail, July 21, 1923, page 7.

[11] MM 2004.

[12] China Mail: March 10, 1930, page 3; April 9, 1935, page 5; September 5, 1941, page 14; Hong Kong Daily Press, April 9, 1935, page 10; Hongkong Telegraph, March 19, 1930, page 8.

[13] MM 2004.

[14]MM 2004.

[15] Everything in this paragraph from MM 2004.

[18] See Appendix.

[20] Tony Banham, Not The Slightest Chance, 2003, 6.

[21] Kindly provided by Sandra Neal.

[22]Donald C. Bowie, Captive Surgeon in Hong Kong, 1975, 159.

[23] The Quebec Chronicle-Telegraph, May 29 or 30, 1946.

[24] See Appendix.

[25] MM.

[27] Dated 10/5/06. and kindly supplied by Sandra Neal. Henceforth CMC.

[28] MM.

[30] CMC.

[31] MM.


[33] Letter from the External Affairs Department of Canada, dated June 30, 1943.

[34] Letter from the External Affairs Department of Canada, dated June 30, 1943.

[35] The Quebec Chronicle-Telegraph, May 29 or 30, 1946.

[36] CMC.

[37] David Tett, Captives In Cathay, 2007, 105.

[38] Alan Birch and Martin Cole, Captive Years, 1982, 104.

[39] Thomas F. Ryan, Jesuits Under Fire In The Siege Of Hong Kong, 1944, 4, 5, 174.

[40] Thomas J. Morrisey, Thomas F. Ryan S. J., 2010, 55.

[41] Hongkong Sunday Herald, November  10, 1946.

[42] Article in unknown Canadian newspaper, bye-line Vancouver, June 24 (probably 1946)

[43] Ride Papers, WIS 26, 7/4/43

[44] Informationn kindly supplied by Elizabeth Ride

[48] Ride Papers, 10/34/15

[49] Ride Papers, 10/34/14, page 2

[50] This is the form used in the source, but I think Bourke is more correct.

[51] Alan Birch and Martin Cole, Captive Years, 1982, 103-104.

[52] Connie Monaghan Coleman’s statement suggests that downed American airmen were also helped to freedom (American raids on Hong Kong began on October 25, 1942).

[55] CMC.

[56] Cited under that date in Tony Banham, We Shall Suffer There, 2009.

[57] MM.

[58] China Mail, February 26, 1947, page 3

[59] Details of trial from George Wright-Nooth, Prisoner of the Turnip Heads, 1994, 177-184

[61] The Quebec Chronicle-Telegraph, May 31, 1946.

[62] Article in unknown Canadian newspaper, bye-line Vancouver, June 24 (probably 1946)

[67] The Quebec Chronicle-Telegraph, May 29 or 30, 1946.


[70] Report with byeline Montreal, May 29, probably from the Quebec Chronicle Telegraph of May 29/30, 1946.



Filed under Uncategorized

From The Dark World’s Fire: Thomas’s Cards From Stanley Camp


On August 18, 1946 Thomas and Evelina began the journey by air – usually taking about ten days – to the United Kingdom.[1] It was Thomas’s first visit home since 1938 and Evelina’s first time outside the bustling and sometimes dangerous world of south China that she’d always known. Having lived in Macao, Fuzhou and then Hong Kong, she must have found the quiet streets  quite a shock. And she probably wasn’t ready for the rationing and continuing deprivation of post-war Britain either. Hong Kong was not quite back on even keel that summer, but it had come a lot further than Britain, which had, of course, spent and suffered far more during the life-and-death struggle in whose aftermath they were still living. In turn, she was something of a surprise to Thomas’s family – a sophisticated Eurasian woman who smoked Lucky Strike cigarettes – only Lucky Strike, and sometimes from a holder – and wore her hair in ways not then thought possible.

At some point, after the no doubt tearful reunions and slightly nervous ‘catching up’ – everyone was meant to be ‘putting the war behind them’, but how do you ignore the fact that your son and his new wife had been prisoners of the Japanese for almost four years? – Thomas would have been presented with a plain brown envelope.

Inside were the cards that he and Evelina had sent back to Windsor from Stanley Camp. He undoubtedly sent some that didn’t get through, but those that did had been preserved religiously. Alice Edgar was a strong-minded woman and she must have known that there was a good chance she’d never see her eldest son again, and that these short messages would be the final mementoes she’d have of him

It can be strange reading your old letters and cards in any circumstances, but in this case, doubly so, as they were written in a different world. And the demands of the censorship and the desire not to worry unnecessarily loved ones at home meant that the cards from the camps never told anything like the truth. At one point during my career as a teacher of literature the phrase ‘the text says what it does not say’ became almost a cliché, and an unhelpful one at that, licensing critics to read all kinds of recondite and implausible meanings into the works they were discussing; but it’s true in a very simple and obvious sense about these cards, at least when read by the original writers, who knew exactly what they’d have written if they’d been allowed to. The more inaccurate they were, the more the truth that was being kept out must have forced itself into the minds of the two people who’d written them.

The first one I sometimes find hard to read;. apparently bland and reassuring, it was written during a time of great upheaval and fear

Letter 1


Update: Internee William Carrie notes in his diary that they were not allowed to write anything in hand – even the signature had to be typed.

The first word Herbert and Alice Edgar had that their son had survived the fighting was a letter from American repatriate Charles Winter. Mr. Winter wrote from the Swedish ship the Gripsholm on August 18, 1942 and the letter – which also carried news of Thomas’s imminent marriage, probably arrived about November – at least that was when the Windsor and Eton Express got to hear about it, judging from the fragments of news that surround the clipping of the page that carried the article.[2]But they had to wait longer for a letter from Thomas himself, probably until some time in spring 1944, as letters of this kind seem to have taken up to a year to arrive.

The letter is deliberately misdated. This passage is from shipyard worker George Gerrard’s diary[3] (the diary is written in the form of letters to his wife):

We have been told {some time in the first week of May) that we can write a 200 word letter which will be dated 30 April and it is expected that we will be able to write monthly and by backdating the letter we’ll be able to send one for May.

Gerrard himself gave in his letter to the Camp Secretary’s Office on May 4; Thomas and Evelina almost certainly arrived from the French Hospital, alongside 16 others, on May 7. I imagine that someone told Thomas about the possibility mentioned by Gerard, so he and Evelina made sure they wrote something in time to be sent off with the batch of ‘April 30’ letters. Letters home from Stanley[4] in 1942 are known to have been sent, and the bankers of the Sun Wah Hotel are also believed to have been allowed to send more than one postcard,[5] and Sir Vandeleur Grayburn sent a letter, dated May 31 and postmarked June 27, with an American repatriate on the Gripsholm.[6] All this probably means that the ‘stay outs’ in the French Hospital were too, but nothing of Thomas’s has survived.

This letter doesn’t begin as if Thomas thought it would be the first his parents had heard from him; it sounds much more like a continuation. It is written on a lined sheet of camp headed note paper, folded many times to fit the envelope. According to David Tett, a cover was also provided but this has been lost (Tett also notes the same paper and cover were issued on July 24, but if Thomas wrote a letter at this time it too got lost[7]).The message is typed, probably by Evelina, who had secretarial training. The Japanese had confiscated all typewriters but at some point they provided two typewriters for the internees’ use,[8] perhaps in the camp office. The letter is 75 words long, which raises the question: why didn’t Thomas use the full 200 words?

I think the most likely explanation is simple: he had only just arrived in camp, and didn’t have very much to say about it, and he knew that almost anything he said about his life in the town would risk being cut by the censor. And given that he’d spent his last five days there locked inside the Hospital while the Japanese searched it for evidence of spying, both he and Evelina living in fear that at any moment they’d be dragged off to join Drs. Selwyn-Clarke, Bunje and Nicholson and Sanitation Department worker Alexander Sinton in a Kempeitai Prison, he probably wasn’t very keen to write about that time anyway. He might have used extra words to express his love for his parents , brothers and sisters, or to say something about Evelina – at this stage he probably didn’t know that Charles Winter’s letter had reached its destination – but my guess is that would have been too painful, as I don’t think he excepted to see his family again. It was obvious that Selwyn-Clarke and the others would be interrogated about the activities of those who’d been living there, and everyone had something to hide.  Who would have guessed that the middle-aged doctor would prove unbreakable under prolonged torture?

So all Thomas does is assure them he’s ‘keeping fit’ – a constant refrain in these cards – and give a brief picture of camp life that was not completely inaccurate yet certain to be passed by the censor. In fact, his comments are rather similar to those of Andrew Leiper who made the same journey from town toc amp a couple of months later:

(W)hen the banking contingent arrived at Stanley in the middle of 1943, we found a highly-organised community whose morale was high. We were told that, apart from a state of perpetual hunger and some anxiety regarding what might happen should the Americans or British mount a counter-attack on Hong Kong, life was at least bearable as long as one was sustained by the firm belief that liberation would come one day.[9]

 But my guess is that when Thomas and Evelina read the card in the peace and quiet of a post-war suburban street what came back to them was the horror of the spring and summer of 1943, the most terrifying period of their time in the dark world’s fire. Certainly when, 70 years later I read those first words – ‘We have at last been interned in Stanley…’ – my heart seems to congeal and I can feel sweat on the palms of my hands as I think about the five days that led up to that internment, the sudden panic of  the dawn raid of May 2, the agonised wait while the hospital was being searched and those arrested were undergoing interrogation, the relief when they were told they would be sent to Stanley, the continuing anxiety about what Selwyn-Clarke in particular would reveal under torture…. Yes, indeed – in this case and for this reader, the text says what it does not say.

Card 2

The next card to have arrived in Vansittart Rd. is dated May, 1943, but might have been written towards the end of June. George Gerrard’s diary for Saturday, June 26:

We have been allowed to write a 75 word postcard which I wrote on Thursday and handed it in to the C.S.[10] Office. This postcard is dated 31st May and we have been told we will be able to write a 200 word letter next month for June.

This is the only card not to give the exact date, I’ve seen one sent by fellow Bungalow D dweller Lesley Macey that also says simply ‘May 1943’, and David Tett reproduces a card sent by Lady Grayburn with the same dating.[11] Perhaps some internees thought the card should be dated ‘May 31’, others simply ‘May’. Alternatively, this might not be the misdated June card that Gerrard is referring to; but I can find no mention in either the Jones or Gerrard diaries of a card actually sent in May, so I think it’s most likely this is the June posting.

Again it’s short – 52 words in all when 75 were allowed – and written on a typewriter, the last to be so. It seems that Thomas had received no letter from home since one sent in May, 1941. I get the impression he wasn’t an assiduous letter writer, and he’d probably not replied very quickly, and the reply to the reply didn’t get through before the December 7 attack. But it must have been an additional pain to him to have to worry about the fate of his parents and siblings in the European war. Nothing, by the way, is known about any cards sent by Evelina during the war, or what communications, if any, she received from friends and relatives in Macao and Hong Kong.

But whether  the card was written in late May or towards the end of June, the situation in Thomas’s and Evelina’s minds must have been the same: continual worry about what Selwyn-Clarke might say, although probably easing somewhat if the June date is correct. Before the next surviving card was written, they were in  for a huge shock.

Card 3

The following card, dated 30/9/43 is the first to specify ‘Bungalow D, Room 1’, as the address within Stanley. It’s 70 words, counting everything, this time only a fraction short of the permitted limit. George Gerrard’s diary again:

Saturday 2nd October 1943 – Today I handed in to the C.S.O. another 75 word postcard to you. There is so little that one is allowed to say that you’ll wonder at the dearth of news in it when you receive it. However the day will come and we all hope soon, when free communication can be made.

Thomas says he’s just received a letter from his brother Wilfred, the first he’d got for two years – presumably from his brother, as he noted the arrival of a letter from his mother in his previous card. He’d obviously been told in one or both letters that he’d been sent parcels through the Red Cross. They hadn’t arrived, so he tries to stop the despatch of more, as whoever was eating the contents it wasn’t him. Sadly, this experience led to a lifetime’s prejudice against the Red Cross, in spite of the magnificent work they did in Stanley and the other Hong Kong Camps.

Either the typewriters have gone, or Thomas and Evelina couldn’t get access to one. But he does have use of a pen; things are going to get worse.

R. E. Jones also records posted a card on September 30, in his case to his wife. His diary entry gives us a sense of a normal day’s activities in Stanley, of the life out of which the cards came, as well as taking us close to a tragedy that Thomas and Evelina must have felt in some way involved in:

Thurs 30th

Painted initials for Rita. Rations by lorry again. Choir practice in Quarry 1PM. Allowance arrived. Dr Mrs Carnaval to town. Dr Talbot from gaol to Camp Hosp. Good news re food in Teia-Maru.[12] Talk with Steve[13] pm. E there too. Posted card to Marj. Read a couple of good books this month.

 Dr. Talbot had been caught smuggling money into camp after a time spent in the French Hospital for medical treatment. This led to the arrest of two senior bankers, Sir Vandeleur Grayburn and Edward Streatfield, both, like Thomas, amongst the 100 or so Allied nationals living outside camp in 1942 and early 1943. Grayburn had died of malnutrition and medical neglect in Stanley Prison (next to the Camp) on August 7, 1943. Lady Grayburn was living in Bungalow D with Thomas and Evelina. Like other released prisoners, Talbot went straight to the camp hospital, probably for general check ups and treatment for malnutrition.

And in between this card and the last the Kempeitai have come to Stanley camp and arrested 11 internees. Everyone knows they’ve been tortured, but at this stage no-one knows what’s become of them. Like almost everyone else, Thomas has personal knowledge of at least one of those internees now in Kempeitai hands: Ivan Hall, a fellow Lane, Crawford employee who, like him, played for the company bowls team.[14] He’d been arrested for his role in sending and receiving messages through the drivers of the ration truck; as Thomas was baking with rice and flour from that truck, this arrest (and that of Frederick Bradley for the same offence) must have revived the terror that would have been slowly subsiding as the weeks went by and Selwyn-Clarke was obviously refusing to incriminate anyone.

Card 4

The next card is dated 27/11/43. It seems that no October card was sent. George Gerrard:

We haven’t been able to write you since 30/9/43 but when the next repatriates go[15], we are hopeful of being allowed to write again.

Gerrard doesn’t record sending a card at the end of November, nor does Jones.

November 27 was an ordinary day in Stanley. R. E. Jones records nothing but a fine day, with a cold north east wind, the setting for the usual round of work, conversation with friends and worry about rising prices – although he was able to make use of Stanley’s well-organised social educational and cultural programme by going to choir practice.

But about a month before Thomas had undergone one of the worst days of his life: he’d been with Mrs. Florence Hyde on October 29 while her husband Charles was being beheaded on StanleyBeach – along with 32 others – for his role in the Hong Kong resistance. This is the last card from 1943, a year that changed Thomas forever.

Card 5

This is dated 15/2/44. ‘Stanley’ was crossed out on front and ‘Military ‘substituted. The Camp was renamed the Military Internment Camp on January 19, 1944, although the military didn’t take over day-to-day control until August 1.[16] This is the first card to be written in pencil, probably a sign of the deteriorating conditions in camp; when objects broke or wore out, it was hard to replace them.

‘Also getting enough food’ seems another way of saying ‘don’t waste money on sending Red Cross parcels’. The claim is particularly ironic in view of what Thomas wrote in a manuscript that was probably composed in the summer of 1946:

We produced bread until 29 January 1944. Then all flour, meat and fish to the camp finished.[17]

He repeats this claim in a letter written soon after liberation, but it’s not true. Meat did disappear (making an occasional re-appearance for unknown reasons towards the end of internment) but fish kept going for another year or so. Still, the food supply was meagre enough in 1944 and 1945, and perhaps Thomas had in mind a grim equivocation ‘enough food to just about stay alive’. Reading these words in an England that still had rationing, but in which everyone got enough food to maintain health and not go to hungry must have brought back to both Thomas and Evelina the deprivations of Stanley, and the constant fear that malnutrition would lead to illness.[18]

Thomas also writes that ‘Weather has been ideal’ : according to the Jones diary the weather that day was ‘fine, colder, cloudy’; it’d been fine but cold earlier that February, but the cloudier days were there to stay for a time. So either Thomas liked relatively cold weather or he was just filling up the space with mildly reassuring but not necessarily accurate chit-chat of a kind certain to get past the censor; probably the latter. He wasn’t the only one finding using the 25 words not quite as easy as you might expect to use up; on Feb 27 Gerrard wrote:

I wrote my February postcard of 25 words to you last week, but there is very little that we are allowed to say but I hope you receive them all right tho’ with the blockade of Hong Kong I hae my doots.

 And in the period that produced this card and the following one the old fear of the Gendarmes must have been revived. In January and February 1944 three bankers, probably living in the nearby Bungalow E, were arrested for ‘crimes’ committed during the fighting of December 1941 and the period in 1942 and early 1943 when, like Thomas and Evelina, they’d been outside camp. At least one banker and two wives were living in Bungalow D, so they would have known exactly what was happening.

Card 6

This card is dated 18/3/44. By this time the Red Cross have printed new cards with the ‘Military Internment Camp’ address. Only 25 words were allowed. Monica and Joyce were two of Thomas’s three sisters.

Gerrard wrote on March 25

I wrote my 25 word postcard to you on Thursday {March 23} and on it I said I had received your two Red Cross messages dated 8th March 1942 and 22nd March 1942 both of which have taken over two years in delivery. I received them on 23/3/44.

There’s not one word about Thomas and Evelina themselves in this card. As 1944 wore on, life was becoming a grim battle for survival, and there was very little that the censor would have allowed them to say.

Card 7


The card of 12/4/ 44 contains another warning against parcels – something of an obsession with Thomas, and a way of using up the words. The assurance that he’s ‘keeping fit’ is another standby of these cards; it was, in fact, true, in that neither Thomas nor Evelina is known to have had any serious illness by this time. Evelina needed an operation in January 1945, but that was after the last surviving card was sent.

Alexander Meredith was the Food Controller. Thomas mentions him in his British Baker article. He’s listed as a banker by profession in the CampRoll made up in early summer 1942. Presumably he sent a similar message in his own card.

R. E. Jones was practising his German, and wrote on April 14:

Ich schrieb postkarte zu die Mutter des Mariens.

(‘I wrote a postcard to Marie’s mother’.)

He seems to suggest it went on April 17. George Gerrard makes another complaint about the censorship:

Sunday 23rd April 1944 – Wrote my monthly 25 word postcard to you today. Wish we were allowed to write a proper letter and say exactly what we would like to say but of course as ‘dogs bodies’ we must conform to the Jap Military regulations.

 And  he shows us why Thomas doesn’t mention the weather:

The weather this month has been horribly wet and damp and last night there must have been a cloudburst, the rain falling in buckets.

Card 8

The final card is dated 6/8/1944 and contains 23 words, making it obvious the limit was still 25. R. E. Jones diary tells us that this card was written on a fine, hot day, one of optimism about an imminent German collapse. Thomas notes again that he’s received no letters, from his family. In a letter of October 1, 1945 he says he didn’t receive any family letters since September 1943, although one arrived in September 1945.

The next day, September 7, 1944, Florence Hyde died of bowel cancer in the camp hospital.[19] Some internees thought the real cause of death was what had happened to her husband in the previous year. Lady Mary Grayburn, in Bungalow D, Room 5, adopted her young son Michael.

That was it. No more cards arrived in Windsor, although some were undoubtedly sent. On June 2, 1945, Gerrard wrote:

I wrote another postcard to you last week the previous one being February last, but I hae me doots as to whether you’ll ever get it.

By 1945 the American submarine blockade made delivery of overseas mail unlikely. We know from Barbara Anslow’s diary that, whether or not they ever left Hong Kong, some of these postcards, written after the German surrender, got their writers into trouble:

7th JUNE

Some people had to go up hill {to explain themselves to the Japanese authorities} for putting ‘reunion soon’ or something like that on their postcards.

On August 14, 1945 news of the Japanese surrender was reported in the English papers. As the September issue of the Red Cross journal The Far East, to which Alice and Herbert subscribed, put it:

The long night is ended. The grim silence is broken. Cables are streaming in to their parents and wives from prisoners and internees announcing their release after years of captivity. Soon they themselves will follow.

But, as everyone understood, not all of them. If – and this is far from certain – the card of September 6, 1944 arrived before the end of the war, then Thomas’s family knew that he and the wife they’d never met were alive on that date, eleven long months earlier. And the anxiety that mingled with the joy must have been heightened if they got to learn of reports that the navy thought it might have to shoot its way into Hong Kong,[20] Like families all over the world, Alice, Herbert, Wilfred, Monica, Gwen, Joyce and Ivan held their breath.

The Edgar family was among the lucky ones. Some had the heartbreak of learning their loved ones had died since the last communication they’d received. The Foreign Office telegram announcing Thomas’s release has been lost, as has his first letter home; the two telegrams below merely confirmed the joyous news:

Knowing what I do – which is of course just the smallest fraction of what happened to Thomas and Evelina in those years – I can never pick up these cards without emotion – like so much else in my life, a pale reflection of the feelings experienced by Thomas and Evelina when they remembered, as readers of their own writing, the years spent in an internment camp on a southern peninsula of Hong Kong, the place the English call Stanley.

[1] Thanks to Barbara Anslow for this information:

[2]Both the letter and the article based  on it can be read at

[3] This and the diaries of R. E. Jones and Barbara Anslow can be read by members of the Yahoo Stanley Camp Group:

[5] David Tett, Prisoners in Cathay, 2007, 321.

[6] Tett, 290. Tett believes that the bankers were given the same postal rights as the Stanley internees; I think the evidence points in that direction, but isn’t yet conclusive.

[7] Tett,147.

[8] Geoffrey Emerson, Hong Kong Internment, 1973,  298.

[9] G. A. Leiper, A Yen For My Thoughts, 1983, 178.

[10] By this the internees understood Colonial Secretary and the Japanese Camp Secretary!

[11] Tett, 297.

[12] A repatriation ship that was also expected to bring Red Cross food parcels.

[13] Mr. E. Stevens, a fellow prison officer.

[14] Hongkong Daily Press, August 6, 1941, page 7.

[15] A group consisting largely of Canadians left Stanley on September 23, 1943. There were no further repatriations.

[16] George Wright-Nooth, Prisoner of the Turnip Heads, 1994, 201, 207.

[18] Franklin Gimson, Internment in Hong-Kong (sic), Ms. Ind. Ocn, S222, held at Rhodes House, Oxford, entry for Tuesday, September 21, 1943.

[20] Daily Express, August 23, 1945, page 1.


Filed under Hong Kong WW11, Stanley Camp