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. 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. 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, 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.
Owen Evans had been driving for the Friends’ Ambulance Unit in south China before getting caught up in the Hong Kong war. 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.
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 – but Thomas mentions only the temporary hospital in the Hong Kong Hotel, and Sheridan the Bowen Rd. Military Hospital, 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, 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.
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’ 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.
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, 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.
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. 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, 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. 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.
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’
 Ride Papers, Ride Interview with Fehilly, 18 December 1942, page 3.
 Except where another source is given all references are to this report: Ride Papers, 13/9.
Sheridan escaped on June 4, 1942.
 British Baker article viewable at https://brianedgar.wordpress.com/2011/10/18/thomas-edgar-some-documentation/
 Bowie, passim.
 Footprints, 102.
 Footprints, 75.
 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)
 George Wright-Nooth, Prisoner of the Turnip Heads, 1994, 149, 152.