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] Rhttp://books.google.co.uk/books?id=yHXNMZJ2WGoC&pg=PA59&lpg=PA59&dq=j.j.+paterson+hong+kong+war&source=bl&ots=6zBJJSvhn1&sig=k0-XxmUsjWWxYnaBbl8GyE0bv-8&hl=en#v=onepage&q=j.j.%20paterson%20hong%20kong%20war&f=falseide 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.

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3 Comments

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

3 responses to “The Free French in Hong Kong (2): Raoul de Sercey

  1. Pingback: The Third Escape From The French Hospital: Dr. Gerard Griffiths | The Dark World's Fire: Tom and Lena Edgar in War

  2. Pingback: The Free French in Hong Kong (3) Jules Alexander Siron | The Dark World's Fire: Tom and Lena Edgar in War

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

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