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Note: This post is now out of date.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.


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6 responses to “The French Hospital Arrests: A Synthesis Of Sources

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