Accusations of Collaboration 1) George Stacy Kennedy-Skipton

General Note:

All of those who, like Thomas, stayed outside Stanley in 1942 ran the risk of being considered ‘pro-Japanese’[1] or even as active collaborators. I shall consider the complex issues raised by their situation in a series of posts focused on particular individuals or groups. This first post is about a man who was considered by some during the war to have gone over to the enemy, but who was eventually judged to have betrayed his service but not his country; he refused to accept even this partial condemnation, but his efforts to clear his name completely ended in frustration.

Note on this post:

This is a complete re-write of something I posted a month or two ago. I would like to thank Don Ady, Philip Cracknell and Elizabeth Ride for providing or drawing my attention to new sources. All interpretations are my own, as is the responsibility  for any errors.

George Stacy Kennedy-Skipton seems to have come from a long-standing County Londonderry family.[2] The remarkable story of how in the eighteenth century the names Skipton and Kennedy came to be merged can be read here: http://www.derryjournal.com/news/local/now-it-can-be-told-the-story-of-the-skiptons-1-2147155.[3] The Stacy arrived when George Kennedy (Skipton) married Mary Stacy in 1815,[4] and given the confluence of these names, the link with Trinity College Dublin, and the assertion of Irish nationality during the war, it seems almost impossible that the subject of this post did not come from this family.

The most likely record I can find is for a birth in 1898 in Cheltenham, Gloucester, England.[5] This year of birth matches his academic career: he’s listed as having won an award to read Classics at Trinity College, Dublin in Michaelmas term 1916[6] and in 1917 he was a junior freshman there.[7] In 1920 he graduated in Classics and Mental and Moral Philosophy, listed as a Senior Moderator in both, which implies some kind of distinction.[8]  He began his career in the Hong Kong Civil Service over 20 years before the events that would lead to him becoming one of the most controversial figures in post-war Hong Kong. He was selected by examination in October 1921, with effect from December 31, of that year.[9] From October 1, 1923 he was working in the Department for Chinese Affairs; although he gained experience in other departments, he was to eventually return to this one as its head.[10] One pattern that’s clear from the HKGRO records of his career is a strong link with the New Territories – this was to become important during the war. He was promoted from Grade 2 to Grade 1 Cadet in December 1940;[11] on 21, February 1941 it was announced that he was to be Deputy Controller of Food,[12] and on September 6, 1941, Secretary for Chinese Affairs, one of the most senior posts in the Colony.[13]

I’ve not been able to find much about his activities outside work in these years, other than that his name is on the list of Committee Members for the Diocesan Boys’ School, for the years 1926-1928, although with a question mark after the second year.[14] (For his friendship with the Refo family, see below).  An American who, as a young boy, saw him around Hong Kong in the period just before the war describes him as a ‘tall, lanky, quiet man, sandy haired with the most magnificently wild eyebrows’.[15]

In fact, as Hong Kong prepared for war, it was not Mr. but Mrs. Kennedy-Skipton who was making waves. In June 1940 the Hong Kong Government decided that, in view of the threat of a Japanese attack, women and children should be evacuated to the safety of Australia. Many women didn’t want to go, and on October 26, 1940 The Hongkong Telegraph spread over two pages (one and five) reports of requests for exemption from evacuation, most vigorously and eloquently from Mrs. H. Kennedy-Skipton. She came from a large Iowa Quaker family which had at one time been farmers. The Le Grand Reporter for August 20, 1943 reported the death of Jesse Tow, who was survived by one brother and eight sisters, one of whom was ‘Mrs Kennedy Skipton (sic) of Hong Kong’.[16] She came to Hong Kong to teach,[17] but I don’t know how or when she met her future husband, except that a dughter’s baptism in St. John’s is recorded on September 10, 1930.[18]

Mrs. Kennedy-Skipton failed in her bid to be declared exempt from the evacuation order. Although she claimed to be American she travelled on a British passport[19] and this obviously weakened her case, because in spite of what one source called ‘a dramatic plea’ her appeal was rejected.[20] As she stayed in Hong Kong, this means that she defied the order, found a way around it, or left and came back. Whichever means she adopted to remain, she wasn’t the only one using it.

Meanwhile, her husband was living a less tumultuous life, only appearing in that part of the press that’s available online because on Friday, January 31, 1941, he lost his briefcase (containing $84 dollars and some bills) somewhere between the Hong Kong Club and the Exchange Building. The same report tells us that the couple were living on the Peak – number 565 – the most prestigious residential area in Hong Kong;[21] the house, now in Middle Gap Road, is the home of the HKSBC taipan.[22]

It seems that before the fighting (December 7-25) he lost his position as Deputy Food Controller: an account by a former employee, given to the BAAG after escape from occupied Hong Kong, states that he’d been replaced (alongside the Food Controller D. L. Newbigging) after it was discovered that the supplies of beans were rotten.[23] However, there is a discrepancy in the documentation here: the escapee names ‘J. Harrop’ as the new Deputy Controller, but the appointment of Mr. C. R. W. Thompson to that post is recorded officially as taking effect from September 21, 1941.[24] However, on May 12, 1941 Mr. Joseph Harrop was assigned to the Key-Posts Group in the Hong Kong Defence Reserve,[25] and it’s possible that at some point he acted, or seemed to be acting, as Deputy Food Controller. I think that the claim of a reshuffle is likely to be accurate: the escapee seems to be describing these events so as to validate his identity and establish his qualifications for some kind of official job, so he would have been unlikely to say anything he knew to be untrue; the replacement of Mr. Newbigging (by Mr. A. Meredith) happened as he described.[26]

We have an excellent account of some of Mr. Kennedy-Skipton’s activities during the hostilities, and it seems from this that he had been transferred to work on billeting. Sally Refo, a friend of  Mrs. Kennedy-Skipton, wrote a letter from the repatriation ship the Gripsholm describing some of her family’s experiences during the fighting. The two families had known each other well before the war: the Skiptons owned a ‘shack’ at a summer camp on Laan Tau Mountain and often allowed the Refos to stay there.[27]  I intend to quote copiously from this letter, as it gives a completely different picture of Mr. Kennedy-Skipton to that available elsewhere, and Sally Refo has an exciting story and tells it  in  prose that will make a welcome contrast to the dry writing of the restof this post.

The involvement of the Kennedy-Skiptons (who she calls the Skiptons) begins with the generosity shown by Helen:

Peggy[28] felt a bit heroic and phoned (Kennnedy-Skipton’s daughter to tell her about) our wild night. Later Helen Skipton…phoned me and suggested that we come up and sleep in their living room that night.  The Brownells[29] and Ruth Mulliken were already refugees in Helen’s home.  I told her that Gladys and Ann[30] were with us but she promptly said to bring them with us.  Then I remembered that I could not leave the servants and she generously included them.[31]

It’s not hard to imagine that even during war people forced to share their house with others, some previously unknown to them, might do so in a grudging spirit; not in this case:

Henry had agreed to go to the Skiptons for one night but the situation was so bad and the Skiptons so cordial that we decided to move in for the duration.[32]

The next morning Helen helps the new party carry some belongings to her house, and a few days later Mr. Kennedy-Skipton lends a hand by driving Henry back to his house to pick up various possessions and a cat. Their generosity as hosts in a time of trouble seems to know no bounds:

Counting the four Skiptons, three Brownells, two Lynns, one Mulliken, six Refos, their two servants, the Skipton’s servants and their dependents, we were now twenty-six. Then our numbers began to increase.[33]

People are added until the number in the house reaches 40, and all food has to be brought in by car. Once again, Mrs. Kennedy-Skipton shows her quality:

We had to store food for an indefinite time.  To me it seemed an impossible task, but Helen is a good Quaker and has more courage, physical strength, and resourcefulness than any woman I know, and was not dismayed.  We made out huge orders for food and Helen and Henry[34] drove down amid shot and shell and brought back load after load[35].

Perhaps the most daring of these journeys is undertaken by her husband:

Mr. Skipton daringly drove out to a food depot near the Naval Dock Yards, probably the hottest spot in Hong Kong, and got 200 pound sacks of rice.[36]

Meanwhile, he’s carrying on his work under difficult conditions:

By this time Henry had joined Mr. Skipton and Mr. Brownell in the billetting office down town.  They were constantly finding shelter for those whose homes were destroyed or about to be destroyed.  They worked under fire and when they left in the morning our prayer was that they would return at night.[37]

It would be good to have official confirmation as to the reason for Mr. Skipton’s removal from Food Control and of his assignment to billeting, but the two current sources seem to me reliable enough to adopt this scenario as a provisional account.

Sally Refo records another courageous action on his part:

One evening the others returned without Henry.  He had left the office earlier and they were surprised that he was not home yet.  The shelling was fierce.  I was terrified.  We all agreed that no one should endanger himself by going out to look for him, so we waited and hoped for his return.  I knew that anyone out after dark was likely to be shot.  I watched breathlessly.  Then we missed Mr. Skipton and knew that he had gone out after Henry. I couldn’t help being glad for I knew that if Henry was wounded on the roadside Mr. Skipton would find him.  Still I trembled for Mr. Skipton.  Soon they walked in together. Henry had found our house damaged and stayed longer than he realized fixing it up.  The shelling had slowed him up when he did start home.[38]

 On December 22 the occupants are told by retreating Allied soldiers to leave the house:

Ours was a wild flight, children, servants and excited adults all mixed in with the soldiers who were retreating in confusion. We feared the soldiers would be shelled or fired upon. We could not get away from them. The children were slow. We ran into barbed wire entanglements in the utter darkness. Mr. Skipton brought up the rear in his car and when we were able to turn from the soldiers’ line of march he overtook us and picked up the children.[39]

At Wanchai Gap they meet some captive Canadian soldiers:

Helen amazed us by asking the Japanese if she could give the soldiers some water and, to our surprise, they permitted it.[40]

They end up sharing the house of an absent Canadian with other refugees. Two days later there’s another risky car drive:

Christmas Eve the men went back to work. After work Henry and Mr. Skipton decided to go back to Mt. Cameron in the big car. Planes sighting it and supposing it to be an officer’s car dived and bombed it. Hearing the roar as the plane dived down, Henry and Mr. Skipton attempted to stop and get out. The first bomb landed some fifteen feet to the rear but struck the embankment above the car. Had it struck the road it would have been really serious.[41]

The families manage to get back to the Kennedy-Skiptons’ house, filthy and damaged by Japanese occupiers. Various groups of Japanese come round, and some of them want to help the group, with its many children and invalids, stay out of internment:

They asked us each to make a statement of what we were willing to do. We agreed that we were willing to do any constructive work for the Chinese in Hong Kong, and Mr. Skipton specified that he would like to help with agricultural work or disposal of night soil, work which he had done for the Hong Kong government before. They gave us all passes and Henry and Mr. Skipton went down to the Japanese office every day as guarantors for the group.[42]

He begins work, and on at least one occasion has occasion for an act of compassion:

Early one morning Mr. Skipton brought in a Chinese man who had staggered up the driveway in clothes drenched in blood. The man told us that he, with three others, had been carrying vegetables from Aberdeen, which is on the south side of the island to Wanchai market on the north side the night before when Japanese sentries stopped them at Wanchai Gap, about a mile from the Skipton’s house, and for some unknown reason bayonetted them.[43]

His two friends were killed, but Henry and Gladys manage to save the life of the survivor by devoted care.

One day the Japanese arrive when Mr. Kennedy-Skipton and others are absent. They’ve seen soldiers close to the house and are suspicious about some of the contents which seem to indicate a military presence:

Helen was not afraid, she never was. She spoke to them in Cantonese, which they understood much better than English. She was cool and polite. She called the group together and had the Japanese count us, then she had them count the beds, and they saw there were no more beds than people. Then being either satisfied or exhausted, they left after Helen had taken from them a big piece of chocolate, which they had picked up, and gave them each a small piece of it.[44]

The Gendarmes insist that the inhabitants should be sent to Stanley, although they’re sympathetic to a request from the Refos to live in their house on Bowen Road – they don’t want any English people on the Peak because the Japanese were never allowed to live there:

The Skiptons were allowed to stay on the Peak because they were Irish.

Quaker missionary William Sewell, whose family is mentioned in this account as amongst those given shelter, provided his own version of these events. If we assume that Sally Refo’s letter is basically accurate – and it certainly seems to be – then Professor Sewell’s account is heavily coded to make it impossible for most readers to identify the individuals named. The role played by Helen Kennedy-Skipton in the Letter is taken by Kate Shelley, ‘one of Hong Kong’s most striking women’. Kate is ‘tall, business-like (and) fearless’. She grew up on the Yorkshire Moors, which might have seemed a rough English equivalent of Idaho, and she’s ‘a widow with two teen-age children, Maureen and Jack’,[45] so Mr Kennedy-Skipton’s role is written out completely, and if Kate is Helen then she’s a composite figure, as she ends up in Stanley Camp, which Helen never did.

If this is indeed Helen Kennedy-Skipton, her courage is just as clear in this account:

Kate had mysteriously vanished, though we had seen her the night before. He turned up smiling a few hours later with her car full of bedding and food. She had guessed that the Japanese would not occupy Mount Cameron  at once and so, quite by herself, had returned over the long and dangerous road, into the no-man’s-land where her house stood.[46]

Butt even leaving aside Sewell’s account, it would be hard to imagine that the Kennedy-Skiptons could be shown in a better light than in Sally Refo’s letter. They are both represented as courageous, humane and resourceful. The impetus towards aiding others comes from Helen (her husband was of course busy at work) but he clearly concurs with all her acts of generosity and plays whatever part he’s asked. We mustn’t assume that he was just doing his duty as a prominent government official: many such did act with the same courage and unselfishness during the hostilities, but one senior member of the government turned away policeman Norman Gunning and his party (which included infants) from his large house on the Peak one evening soon after the surrender.

It would seem that, if Sally Refo’s narrative can be trusted, Mr. Kennedy-Skipton’s role in the hostilities would, if more widely known, have done him nothing but good after the re-taking of Hong Kong. It was what happened next that caused him so much trouble.

In an article written by a supporter in 1948, when Kennedy-Skipton faced an investigation into his war time activities, it’s claimed that shortly after the surrender he was living in his home on the Peak with a number of refugee families, mostly American.[47]  As we’ve seen, Sally Refo’s account confirms this – in fact,  there are a number of verbal resemblances between the letter and the article (including the words ‘impressed’ and ‘constructive’ quoted below) which make me suspect that the author is the same, or that the writer of the article had access to the letter. But whereas the article, coming when it did, might seem contentious, the letter is an unsolicited account written soon after the events described that entered the public domain decades later.

The article describes the way in which the Japanese inspection parties were ‘impressed’ by the fact that there were a number of women and children and two invalids in the group, and said they could stay out if group members volunteered to do voluntary work.  One of these invalids is named by Sally Refo as Mrs. Laird, recovering from a recent operation. The article further states that an American missionary from Canton and Kennedy-Skipton both agreed to do ‘constructive’ work; notes to Sally Refo’s letter, confirmed by Don Ady in a detailed and helpful private communication, show that several of those present had links with Canton.

Mr. Kennedy-Skipton suggested to the Japanese that it would help to address the food shortage if he continued work on a project that he’d been developing before the attack: the use of ‘night soil’ (i.e. human excrement) as a fertiliser in the New Territories  In October 1939 he’d been appointed to investigate the possibilities of ‘agricultural extension’ in the Colony,[48] and this scheme might have been the one he devised at this time. They liked the idea and gave him facilities and an office. One BAAG document tells us that the office was in Windsor House, and another that he was living in Mount Cameron Rd.[49] The supporter stresses that Mr. Kennedy-Skipton was stranded on the Peak and unable to get advice on what to do, and that no pre-war instructions had been given to civil servants as to conduct in the event of defeat.

The letter gives us a more accurate account than that normally offered as to how he kept out of Stanley – the common claim is that this was simply by asserting Irish nationality.[50] As we’ve seen, the agreement to do ‘constructive’ work came first, but later attempts to remove him from the Peak and perhaps to intern him were resisted by the Irish declaration– it doesn’t seem absolutely clear if this claim was in fact true, although I’m inclined to accept Don Ady’s statement that he had an Irish passport.[51] American diplomat Robert Ward was probably the first public domain source to mention Irish nationality (it was already in BAAG documents) and he also offers an account of his reasons for wanting to stay out in the first place:

(T)o escape internment one G. S. Kennedy-Skipton…asserted his Irish nationality and assumed neutral status.  He did this for the sake of his wife and children; the youngsters were for months the special pets of a squad of Japanese soldiery, who – from no evil motive – made special efforts to see that they had enough food and sometimes even brought them candy.[52]

William Sewell’s account also mentions gifts of sweets to the children, but has nothing to say about any work for the Japanese.[53] In his original 1943 text Ward leaves out the detail of the soldiers bringing food to the children, but says that Emily Hahn claimed Chinese nationality for ‘an even less selfish reason’ – this was in fact to send parcels to and generally support her injured and imprisoned lover Charles Boxer. It seems that Ward considered Kennedy-Skipton’s actions unselfish, although perhaps tinged with some concern for his own interest.[54]  But others take a less charitable view of his motives:

Other stray British appear to have been more concerned with promoting their own private interests. A government official named Kennedy-Skipton who returned to his desk proclaiming himself to be Irish was believed to have been intent on looking after his family and his two Asian concubines.[55]

Snow’s source for that last claim is a report made by an Irish escaper Dr. Fehilly to the BAAG.

Mr. Kennedy-Skipton had two daughters, one aged 10 the other aged 12 (in 1942) but there is evidence that he might also have had a child under three years old, and, if so, this might have been another reason for him to want to stay out of Stanley. But in fact all or most of the party he was with seem to have wanted to stay out of the camp for as long as they could,[56] as conditions there in the early days were considered grim, and rightly so.

On February 11, probably about 5 or 6 weeks after Kennedy-Skipton had gone back to work, this time for the Japanese, Franklin Gimson, the Colonial Secretary, dismissed him from his post. Gimson himself was not in Stanley at the time, but, with some of his staff, confined in Hong Kong while suitable quarters were prepared, and, perhaps relevantly, to help the Japanese civil authorities ‘in sorting out the chaos that exists’.[57] Why did he act in this way?

According to James Ward again,[58] three days after the surrender, Gimson had written to the Japanese suggesting they approach a man named (A. W.) Gibson who’d been in charge of petrol supplies, as he could be ‘of considerable assistance to you in arranging for conservation and the distribution of these supplies when necessary’. Gimson added that any plans made would have to be subject to his approval. Ward’s point is that Gimson and many other figures in the Hong Kong community misunderstood the nature of Japanese intentions with regard to what they soon came to call ‘the Captured Territory of Hong Kong’ – some people even expected Gimson to be Governor! However, Gimson’s approach to the Japanese does seem to show that he saw nothing disloyal in cooperation with the conquerors per se, at least in the early days of the occupation. In fact, it’s even been suggested that he tried to persuade the Japanese to ‘keep on the entire pre-war corps of British administrators’.[59] This does not necessarily mean he was wrong to suspend Kennedy-Skipton in February: as the senior figure in the Hong Kong British hierarchy after the isolation and then removal of the Governor, Sir Mark Young, it was his right and duty to make and re-make policy, and to issue orders about what was and was not acceptable at any given time. Further, given Gimson’s very recent arrival in Hong Kong, we can rule out the possibility that he was motivated by a long-standing personal grudge; it’s not even certain he’d met Kennedy-Skipton before February 11.

It seems that Gimson told him to cease his activities, Kennedy-Skipton refused to do so, and this prompted the February 11 suspension. This is the account given by Alan Birch, who precedes it with ‘apparently’[60] – as we shall see, the tribunal that examined these matters after the war was held in secret. But it is hard to believe that Gimson would have suspended him without trying first to get him to change his behaviour, and this is in line with the Tribunal ruling that Mr. Kennedy-Skipton was guilty of disloyalty to the service (not obeying Gimson) but not disloyalty to the Crown (his acts were not treasonous or unjustifiably helpful to the enemy in themselves). Birch also records that, in a private communication, Mr. Kennedy-Skipton told him he hadn’t accepted the authority of the Colonial Secretary because ‘I was his equal’. This was not, Birch adds, the argument he made at the Tribunal. But what did he mean by it?  One can only speculate, but a little background on Gimson’s position in early 1942 might be useful.

Mr. Kennedy-Skipton was obviously an intelligent man, and there’s no doubt that he understood the simple issue of relative rankings in the Colonial Civil Service perfectly well.  But we know that Franklin Gimson’s authority over the whole British community had been weakened by a number of factors, most notably that he only arrived in Hong Kong on December 7, 1941, just before the attack,[61] and that he and the whole government structure were widely regarded as having let the Colony down by the failure to mount a vigorous defence during the 17 days fighting. Personally, I think that the defence was much better conducted than might have seemed at the time, and that Franklin Gimson was a skillful leader who steered Stanley Camp through the war with huge resourcefulness and courage. But, even if I’m right, those judgements have the benefits of hindsight. Kennedy-Skipton wasn’t the only one defying his authority in early 1942: some people have called the atmosphere in Stanley Camp at its inauguration ‘revolutionary’, and when Mr. Gimson eventually arrived there in March he had to fight to regain government control of the camp,[62]  and even half way through 1943 he was using words like ‘subversive’ and ‘treasonable’ about his fellow internees in his diary.[63] It’s in this context of a general reaction against the authority of the pre-war rulers that Kennedy-Skipton’s case needs to be considered. Whatever we may think of his defiance, he wasn’t the only one ignoring or sidelining the hierarchy at the time.

Leaving aside the rather strange claim to equality, I think it’s reasonable to speculate that he might have felt that, under the conditions then existing, senior members of the Colonial Service had the right to decide their own actions for themselves. He had, after all, been working in the Department of Chinese Affairs and other branches of the Hong Kong Government for almost 20 years, so it might have seemed reasonable to believe that he knew better than a complete newcomer what was for the good of the Chinese population in those unparalleled times.

Whatever he was thinking and feeling, other Britishers soon came to suspect him: a BAAG document of  May 28, 1942 (kindly sent to me by Elizabeth Ride) states that ‘Reports indicate that Skipton has gone over to the Japanese completely’.[64]  BAAG intelligence was gathered by heroic individuals, mainly Chinese, who risked prolonged torture and eventual execution to help the Allied cause. Information gathered in the circumstances of occupied Hong Kong could not possibly be 100% reliable. This document tells us that some people in 1942 believed that Kennedy-Skipton had thrown in his lot with the conquerors; that’s all we can be certain of, and that in itself is a fact of some significance in view of the developments we’re discussing. The same BAAG document tells us that he was attempting to revive a pre-war scheme of Selwyn-Clarke’s for a refugee camp on Lantau Island. Another report to the BAAG claims that he was on an Internees’ Welfare Committee headed by the former Medical Director.[65]

Later the Japanese cooled on the agricultural ideas Kennedy-Skipton was promoting,[66] and that might have been one reason for his escape (although after he’d left his plans came back into favour, if the supporter whose article is quoted above is to be believed – and I think there’s a fair chance the article was written by the man himself).  In any case, for whatever reason Kennedy-Skipton decided he wanted to escape and sent a message to the BAAG to that effect through one of the Chinese friends who was eventually to lead him out of Hong Kong – ‘but,’ as a BAAG account put it, ‘it was not thought fit to place our organisation at his disposal’.[67] This is hardly surprising as the BAAG had previously believed  he had gone over to the Japanese. However, Captain Hooper’s reply seems to indicate that he thought that Kennedy-Skipton’s behaviour showed he wasn’t worthy of help rather than that he was an outright collaborator – he doesn’t suggest that any agent contacting him would have been in danger of betrayal to the Japanese. Nevertheless, instead of organisational help Captain Hooper sent Kennedy-Skipton a message telling him it was up to him and quoting the first two lines of their School Song. I’ve not yet been able to find which school it was they both attended, but the lines presumably encourage individual efforts to do the right thing!

Mr. Kennedy-Skipton responded almost immediately. On January 24, 1943 he and his wife and two children paid a visit to an orphanage at Taipo, run by two other ‘free British’ nationals Muriel Dibden and Ruth Little.[68] Coincidentally, the same tribunal that turned down Mrs. Kennedy-Skipton’s request to be exempt from evacuation also refused Miss Dibden permission to bring Miss Little into the Colony as her assistant! From there a Chinese friend guided him due east, and at 3 a.m. on the morning of January 25 he switched to a boat, eventually arriving at Waichow on January 27.[69] He left his wife and children behind hoping they’d be led out later by the same friend. I suspect that the Mrs. Weston met by Emily Hahn when she (Weston) was planning an escape with her two teenage daughters[70] is a disguised version of Helen Kennedy-Skipton – her husband is interned Manila and she’s living in a different area, but otherwise the details fit fairly well. However, Hahn doesn’t usually disguise her subjects so I may be wrong. In any case, it’s possible she escaped, but not certain.[71]

The second of February found Mr. Kennedy-Skipton still in Waichow waiting for news of his wife and family and for a visa to proceed further.[72] At some point he made his way to Chungking, the capital of wartime China. In March 1943 while still in Chungking he made some notes on conditions in Hong Kong.[73] On April 21, 1943 he received a letter, signed by C. M. Sedgwick on the direction of the British Ambassador at Chungking, saying that the suspension was confirmed by the Secretary of State for the Colonies until such time as he was able to advise the King on the matter[74] – presumably until the end of the war, or when Gimson and Kennedy-Skipton were both able to give their side of the story. I don’t know what happened to him between then and the end of the war.

It’s possible that the marriage didn’t survive the war. Philip Cracknell has found evidence that Mrs. Kennedy-Skipton and her two children returned to the UK on the Highland Monarch without her husband soon after the colony’s liberation. Her presence on the Highland Monarch, one of the first ships to leave Hong Kong after liberation, suggests that she probably didn’t escape, although this is by no means certain. There’s no record of her having travelled by ship to Hong Kong thereafter, although she could have made the journey by air. In any case, she seems to have spent the rest of her life in north London, while her husband remained in Hong Kong.[75]

In 1948 he was called before a tribunal to examine accusations of disloyalty. One of the witnesses on his side was Henry Refo,[76] whose first-hand knowledge of his behaviour during the hostilities has been described above. According to the article by a sympathiser (as I’ve suggested above, possibly Mr. or Mrs. Refo), the main evidence against him was a letter he’d had smuggled out of Hong Kong by a repatriated American revealing that some secret government files that were supposed to have been destroyed for security reason before the surrender were intact in the strong room of the Colonial Secretariat. Apparently the letter also detailed ‘such trivial services as he’d performed for the Japanese (and which) were necessary to get their consent for his agricultural proposals’. The China Mail, in an editorial that was broadly sympathetic to him but stopped short of outright support, pointed out that these tribunal proceedings came out of the blue.[77] The paper also threw its weight behind his demand for an open hearing, but to no avail, and the tribunal, whose main witness was Sir Franklin Gimson, met in secret. The verdict has been mentioned above: he was not guilty of disloyalty to the Crown, but was guilty of disloyalty to the Colonial Service. This was conveyed to him on April 2, 1948 – the China Mail report says 1949, but this is surely an error.[78]  In September 1948 he was officially dismissed from the Service as from February 11, 1942.[79]

In 1950 Mr. Kennedy-Skipton decided to challenge this verdict by starting an action for arrears of salary and wrongful dismissal. The judgement (September 20, 1950) was made on a ‘preliminary point of law’: the court accepted the defence submission that the plaintiff had no right ‘to remuneration which can be enforced against the Crown’.[80] The judge also decided, although this time ‘not without doubt’ that he (the judge) had no legal right to rule the Governor was acting ultra vires (beyond his authority) when he dismissed Kennedy-Skipton in 1942. Presumably Gimson was acting in the name of the Governor, Sir Mark Young, who was at that time held in isolation at the Peninsula Hotel.[81] The Judge’s rulings amounted to this: precedents establish that it’s not in the public interest for the courts to be able to over-ride a Crown decision to sack an employee, and although most of these precedents involve military cases, the same principle applies to civil servants. In other words, Mr. Kennedy-Skipton once again failed to get a public hearing of the case for his defence, as his action fell at the first hurdle on a point of law. He obviously took the matter to appeal, as the Court of Appeal issued a judgement confirming the verdict on May 28, 1951.[82]

Fivestar, posting on the Hong Kong History Website Gwulo, cites a record stating that Helen Tow Kennedy-Skipton died in Camden in 1982.[83] In 1970 he offered some recollections to somebody writing about Kowloon’s notorious Walled City.[84]  This bear out the claim that his work in Hong Kong was deeply engaged with the lives of the Chinese majority. According to Philip Cracknell’s careful research he died in Scotland in 1982 aged 84.[85]

My personal summing up of this difficult case is this: although regarded as having thrown in his lot with the Japanese by some people at the time, Mr. Kennedy-Skipton was judged as not having done anything disloyal to the Crown during the war. He was found guilty of disloyalty to the Colonial service, probably because he refused to obey Franklin Gimson’s order to cease his activities. His attempts to have his conduct openly debated in an official forum were frustrated.

I have a hunch that there are documents in an archive somewhere that will one day enable a more informed judgement to be made. But consideration of this case makes me profoundly grateful that, unlike Franklin Gimson and George Kennedy-Skipton, I make my moral decisions, such as they are, in a time of peace.


[1] See e.g. Gwen Dew, Prisoner of the Japs, 1943, 120.

[3] It seems that formal hybridisation didn’t take pace until 1801: http://boards.ancestry.com/surnames.skipton/38/mb.ashx

[5] http://www.genesreunited.co.uk/search/results/bmdindexedbirths/skipton/george

Philip Cracknell’s research also supports a birth date in 1898.

[9] China Mail, May 28, 1951, page 10. China Mail articles about Kennedy-Skipton have been helpfully scanned by Eatsea: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.3873471269773.2158851.1068396351&type=1&l=8f45eaf2bb

[11] Hongkong Telegraph, December 19, 1940, page 4.

[15] Don Ady, personal communication.

[17] Refo letter – for details of this, see below.

[19] Sunday Herald, October 26, 1940, page 44.

[20] Hongkong Daily Press, October 28, 1940, page 6.

[21] Hongkong Daly Press, Feb 3, 1941, page 5.

[23] The escapee was probably R. B. Levkovich. Ride Papers, 13/9.

[26] With effect from July 24, 1941. Newbigging resigned: http://sunzi1.lib.hku.hk/hkgro/view/g1941/305012.pdf

[27]Don Ady, personal communication. These shacks were looted during the war; when some members of the Refo family hiked up the mountain in 1989, they found that Mr. Kennedy-Skipton had repaired it.

[28] The Refos’ 11 year old daughter.

[29] Henry Brownell was a professor at Lingnan University, Canton.

[30] Gladys was a Presbyterian medical missionary and Anne was her daughter.

[31] Sally Refo’s letter is available to members of the Yahoo Stanley Camp Group: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/stanley_camp/messages

[32]Refo Letter.

[33] Refo Letter.

[34] Henry Refo, Sally’s husband.

[35] Refo Letter.

[36] Refo Letter.

[37] Refo Letter.

[38] Refo Letter.

[39] Refo Letter.

[40] Refo Letter.

[41] Refo Letter.

[42] Ref Letter.

[43] Refo Letter.

[44] Refo Letter.

[45] William Sewell, Strange Harmony, 1946, 16.

[46] Sewell, 1946, 20-21.

[47] China Mail, January 21, 1948, page 6.

[49] Ride Papers, Kukong Intelligence Summary No. 1, May 28, 1942; Waichow Intelligence Summary No. 10, October 23, 1942.

[51] Private communication.

[52] Robert Ward, Asia For the Asiatics?, 1945, 78.

[53] Sewell,, 1946, 37.

[54] Robert Ward, Hong Kong Under Japanese Occupation, 1943, 42.

[55] Philip Snow, The Fall of Hong Kong, 2003, 139.

[57] Phyllis Harrop, Hong Kong Incident, 1943, 103.

[58] Ward, 1943, 43-44; Appendixes, 21.

[59] Snow, 2003, 138.

[60]  G. B. Endacott and Alan Birch, Hong Kong Eclipse, 1978, 363.

[61] Tony Banham, Not the Slightest Chance, 2003, 15.

[62] There is an excellent account of these conflicts in Geoffrey Emerson, Hong Kong Internment, 1973; see e.g. 47, 49-50.

[63] F. C. Gimson, Internment in Hong-Kong March 1942 to August 1945, held at Rhodes House, Oxford, Page 16a, Ms. Ind. Ocn. S222.

[64] Ride Papers, Kukong Intelligence Summary No. 1, may 28, 1942.

[65] Ride Papers, Waichow Intelligence Summary No. 3, August 15, 1942.

[66] China Mail, January 21, 1948,  page 6.

[67] Ride Papers, Waichow Intelligence Summary, No. 17.

[69] Ride Papers, Waichow Intelligence Summary No. 17.

[70] See the chapter ‘Pilgrim’s Progress’, in No Hurry To Get Home, which I’ve read in the Kindle Edition.

[71]See Lawrence Tsui’s contributions to this thread: http://gwulo.com/node/12900

[72] Ride Papers, 7/5/58.

[73] Cited in Snow, 2003, 140.

[74] China Mail, September 21, 1950, page 3.

[75] Philip Cracknell, private communication.

[76] Don Ady, private communication.

[77] China Mail, January 281 1948, page 6.

[78] China Mail, May 28, 1951, page 10.

[79] China Mail, September 21, 1950, page 3..

[80] China Mail, February 21, 1950, page 3.

[81] Snow, 2003, 131.

[82] China Mail, May 28, 1951, page 10.

[85] Personal Communication.

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5 Comments

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5 responses to “Accusations of Collaboration 1) George Stacy Kennedy-Skipton

  1. Pingback: Thomas Christopher Monaghan’s Resistance Work | The Dark World's Fire: Tom and Lena Edgar in War

  2. Pingback: Gerald Horne’s Race War! (1) : The Eurasians | The Dark World's Fire: Tom and Lena Edgar in War

  3. Mbmcintosh

    Excellent work. I met Kennedy skip ton in the mid sixties and began looking got info last year. A couple of things I can add to: I don’t know if he had two concubines but he had at least one. She bore him a son right before the war. After the war the mother sped the boy on his father and KS raised him. In his declining years he needed care and his ex wife arranged for the son to care for him in Scotland . My source document is a letter from the son. How did me meet his wife? In the twenties KS was the district officer for the new territories which I clouded LAN tau island. A consortium of south china missionaries were looking for a site for a vacation spot. Lan tau was selectd. KS also had a shack there which he later donated to the Boy Scouts. After the war he supported himself as a teacher

    • Many thanks for the kind words and the extra information.
      I noted on Gwulo that Kennedy-Skipton is now known to have been in London in 1945, so the questions as to how he got there and when and how he went back to HK after the war need answering!

  4. Pingback: Mildred Dibden | The Dark World's Fire: Tom and Lena Edgar in War

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