Early Days in the French Hospital: The Evidence of Staff-Sergeant Patrick Sheridan

Introduction

In an act of great generosity, Helen Dodd and her sisters have sent me a copy of an account written by their father, Staff-Sergeant Patrick John Sheridan of the Royal Army Service Corps. This fascinating typescript covers his time as an army baker in pre-war Hong Kong, his experiences during the war, his internment in the Exchange Building and the French Hospital, and the daring escape that won him the Military Medal.[1] It was intensely moving for me to read this narrative, as my father, a fellow baker, features prominently in the final sections – and there’s a glimpse of his ‘friend’, later his wife and my mother, who unwittingly sets off the chain of events that led to the escape!

The Memoir is well written, too, and fascinating to read; the author’s  modesty and  honesty shine out from every page. And over and above my deep personal interest, Staff-Sergeant Sheridan’s account is historically important for a number of reasons. This is the first of a series of posts in which I’ll try to bring out some of the ways in which it adds to our knowledge of the Hong Kong war.

In this post I’ll look at his account of life in the French Hospital in Causeway Bay. A little is known about conditions there later on in 1942 because some time in June agents of the BAAG made contact with Dr. Court and Dr. Selwyn-Clarke and perhaps with other residents and sent back lists of names and short reports. But not much is known about life in the first half of 1942 outside Staff-Sergeant Sheridan’s account.

The French Hospital

Staff-Sergeant Patrick John Sheridan and Sergeant James Hammond, both of the Royal Army Service Corps, were sent to help Thomas bake bread for the army and the civilian population on the last two days of the fighting.[2] After the surrender the three of them were interned, alongside other bakers in the Lane, Crawford headquarters, the Exchange Building in Des Voeux Rd. Here they were lucky enough to come under the command of Captain Tanaka, who treated them and the many others in the building with great kindness – in fact I need to update my post on this officer[3], as Staff-Sergeant Sheridan provides many more examples of his benevolence. The bakers began by distributing bread already in the ExchangeBuilding, and then were allowed by Tanaka to re-open the Qing Loong Bakery in Queen’s Rd. East and produce much needed bread for the hospitals and eventually for Stanley Camp. This period lasted for about 6 weeks:

About 7th February 1942 we are informed by Tanaka that we must leave the Exchange Building next day. Hammond, Edgar, Peacock and myself are to move to the French Hospital in Causeway Bay to join Dr Selwyn-Clarke’s team i.e. Evans, Dr Henry and Winter.[4]

‘Peacock’ was Serge Peacock, a naturalised Russian who’d changed his name from Piankoff by deed poll.[5] Piankoff Senior was also working with the bakers during the fighting, but he seems to have avoided internment, probably because he was not a naturalised British citizen. Owen Evans was to be Thomas and Evelina’s best man: I’ve discussed him here https://brianedgar.wordpress.com/2012/05/08/more-on-owen-evans-in-1942/

…but this post also needs to be updated in view of the extra information in Staff-Sergeant Sheridan’s typescript. Charles (‘Chuck’) Winter was a Seventh Day Adventist Missionary and schoolteacher. On August 18, 1942, he wrote to Thomas’s parents from the repatriation ship The Gripsholm giving them news of their son and his imminent marriage – this was probably the first indication they’d had that he’d survived the fighting.[6] Robert Henry was a Doctor of Divinity, a missionary and ‘old China hand’.[7] This ‘team’ delivered the bread and general medical supplies.

Captain Tanaka visited the bakers in the evening before they were due to leave; the surprising events that ensued laid the groundwork for Staff-Sergeant Sheridan’s escape, although this was never Tanaka’s intention.I’ll discuss what happened in a separate post.

Next day Evans and co. move us in the Ambulance to the Convent in the French Hospital compound. The nuns allot us a small room in St Paul’s School. We get camp beds, clean sheets, and a blanket each. We dine in the former girls’ Hostel.[8]

Previously I’d assumed that Thomas was living in the French Hospital itself, but this passage makes the real situation clear. In fact, the bakers were billeted in what one source describes as ‘the little city’ of which the hospital was just one part:

 The Sisters {of St. Paul de Chartres} began the historic move to Causeway Bay in 1916, transforming the old cotton factory buildings into a convent and novitiate, an orphanage, the Anglo-French School and St Paul’s Hospital. In the middle of this little city would reign Christ the King enthroned in an imposing chapel dedicated and blessed on May 10, 1930.[9]

There is occasional confusion in the sources because the Sisters also had a convent with a school attached at a site in HappyValley – Le Calvaire,[10] which is sometimes also referred to as ‘the French Convent’. The Happy Valley site was actually taken over by the Kempeitai, the dreaded military police, during the war.

A good picture of the set-up in the Causeway Bay complex is given in what is in effect the Hong Kong Jesuit ‘hostilities diary: both the hospital and the school adjoining were used to treat casualties in the hostilities, both having room for about 300 patients, suggesting a very rough equivalence of size. There was also a convent building, and in December 1941 about 130 orphans were living there, as well as the sisters and ‘some boarders who were stranded by the war – the Jesuit estimate the total here as another 300. The Girls’ Hostel – presumably part of the convent? – was used for the lay nursing staff, and there was a creche with seventy babies and thirty women, some of whom were amahs and the others invalids. The population of the whole hospital enclosure is given as 500-600 with room for up to 600 patients. (Thomas F. Ryan, Jesuits Under Fire In The Siege of Hong Kong, 1944, 75-76.)

In those early days there was a lively community in the French Hospital with a vigorous social life. Firstly, there were former students of the French Convent School:

 There are a few Chinese girls still here mainly from Singapore and Penang who were stranded here when war came.[11]

It’s not clear if the doctors were actually living in the compound or the hospital itself; as Staff-Sergeant Sheridan says they ate with them in the hostel, which probably wouldn’t be worth noting if they were also billetted in a schoolroom, I’d guess the latter:

The doctors and nurses from the Hospital all dine in the Hostel. Drs, Court[12], Bunji, {Bunje[13]} Nicholson, Griffiths, Lang, all formerly of Queen Mary Hospital.

I have never come across Dr. Lang before, but there’s a Mr. J. C. Lang on Tony Banham’s list of civilians,[14] and a note on his source document says he’s Eurasian, which, if it’s the same man, would explain why he’s uninterned. Future posts will discuss doctors Nicholson and Griffiths – the latter, who also had Irish connections, escaped to Macao in April 1943. Staff-Sergeant Sheridan mentions Dr. Selwyn-Clarke, the ‘boss’ of the whole enterprise separately, so the only doctor on the BAAG list of those living in the French Hospital in December 1942 who he doesn’t mention is Dr. George Graham,-Cumming.[15] Selwyn-Clarke’s assistant Frank Angus[16] is also not mentioned; this gives a small amount of support to the claim that he was initially in Stanley and removed later to join the team, although it’s also possible that these two men simply didn’t come into Staff-Sergeant Sheridan’s mind when he was writing his memoir after the war.

There were other medical personnel present:

The nurses are mostly Chinese, one Philipino and some Eurasians, a few French, and one English,  Mrs Wood, wife of Capt. Wood R.A.S.C. who is interned in Sham Sui Po. Her two children, Rosemary and Sylvia are also here.[17]

Conspicuous by their absence are the public health officials who assisted Selwyn-Clarke: J. G. Hooper, E. C. Kerrison, F.W. Warburton, L. W. R. Macey,[18] John and Maureen Fox[19] and Alexander Sinton.[20] I believe these people to have been living in the French Hospital on May 2, 1943 when Selwyn-Clarke and others were arrested, but the evidence is not absolutely conclusive. I think Staff-Sergeant Sheridan’s failure to mention any of them suggests they weren’t there before his June 4 escape, and perhaps that he wasn’t aware of them – he mentions four American drivers who were living in May Rd. at the time, and it is clearly his intention to be as comprehensive as possible. I think they were living ‘in the field’, perhaps at a number of different addresses before being settled at the French Hospital.

Finally, there was a group of Jesuits, some of whom later took the same route out of Hong Kong as Staff-Sergeant Sheridan, although in their case ‘legitimately’ as they were Irish and not connected to the British Army (the Staff-Sergeant grew up in County Cork[21] and describes himself as Irish, but from the Japanese point of view this was irrelevant as he was a British soldier):

There are also some Irish Jesuit fathers billeted here. Fathers Grogan, Gallagher, O’Brien, Carey, Joy, Byrne, Ryan and a Father Moran who is not a Jesuit.[22]

The last statement seems to have been an error: Moran was in fact a Jesuit, and Staff-Sergeant Sheridan was to meet him again at the Jesuit Mission in Kwong Chow Wan after his escape.[23] He was also (Catholic) Military Chaplain to the Forces.[24] As well as Fr. Moran, at least two other Jesuits left Hong Kong, and some or all of the others ended up at Wah Yan College.[25] My guess is they left the French Hospital in May 1942, when one branch of the College (in Robinson Rd.) was re-opened.[26] Father Joy, who was to help Staff-Sergeant Sheridan with his escape, needs a post to himself.

Evenings in the compound were lively:

When we get back to the French Hospital in the evening we now have plenty of company, with Drs, nurses, Jesuits, missionaries, drivers and bakers. We all crowd into one big schoolroom and have plenty of discussions. One of the main topics is, how long will this last before the Japs decide to intern us at Stanley or maybe Sham-Shui-Po.[27]

It’s not surprising that the possibility of internment was discussed so often: conditions in Stanley were bad in the early days, and they were even worse in the military POW Camp at Shamshuipo, where, as army bakers, Staff-Sergeant Sheridan and Sgt.Hammond would have been sent if the truth about them was ever discovered. As it was the one escaped, and the other ended up in Stanley!

There was entertainment too:

At the French Hospital some evenings we have a little entertainment. A Eurasian named Stott plays the violin, a Chinese medical student plays the piano. Some of the Chinese nurses are good singers, especially Hilda Ho, who is very keen on Hammond. Father Gallagher, the Jesuit sings the Lost Chord in a powerful baritone, a few others give a turn as well.[28]

On August 11, 1942, R. E. Stott, a land bailiff, [29] was to begin a controversial escape from the Hospital.[30] He’d been sent there from Stanley’s Tweed Bay Hospital as it was thought the better food would speed his recovery from a ruptured duodenal ulcer.[31] It seems that although of Eurasian appearance and perhaps even claiming to be one this wasn’t his true ethnicity:

Had I been able to do so I would have endeavoured to pass as Eurasian, but unfortunately was too well known by local enemy agents to succeed….[32]

The internees at the French Hospital could take part in sport:

Conditions at the French Hospital are not bad, and as we make friends with the young children and the older girls, Chuck Winter introduces games of soft ball in the evenings before it gets dark. There are ten small children of various nationalities aged between 6 to 11 years, four older girls aged about 16 to 20 years.[33]

There was even the chance to engage in flirtation with some of the older pupils:

The older girls like a bit of fun, but the nuns do not like it if they become too familiar with the bakers.[34]

It seems as if the people living in the compound had free access to the hospital itself:

Sister Henry asked me one evening if I would like to go and talk to a patient in the Hospital. I find him a most interesting person, he is a Mr Arlington, an American over 80 years of age. He is the author of several books on Chinese life and drama.[35]

Mr. Arlington also impressed American writer Gwen Dew, and she mentions him a number of times in Prisoner of the Japs, giving his exact age in late 19441 as 83.[36] He was to prove useful to Staff-Sergeant Sheridan’s eventual escapee, telling  him about a patient in another ward who gives him important information, and, when the time comes, a letter of introduction to a crucial contact in Free China:

Another American who is a patient in the Hospital a Mr Neprud who knows that part of China. I go to see him in another ward and find him very willing to help.[37]

Carl Neprud was an American who worked for the Maritime Customs and was trying to prevent the Japanese from discovering he was an agent of the Chinese Government in Chungking.[38]

As well as taking part in the evening social life, the bakers had a privilege they seem to have shared with the health workers: Selwyn-Clarke brought them a Medical Department pass issued by Colonel Saito, the Japanese medical officer in charge of all prison camps – after the war his death sentence for medical negligence and brutality was commuted to 15 years in prison. This pass allowed them to move around Hong Kong, and even gave them free travel on the trams:

On one of our non-baking days Edgar and I take a trip on a tram.

They see signs of the new order everywhere:

All these {formerly British} barracks are occupied by Japanese marines or Naval landing parties. We see the Jap soldiers having bayonet practice on the parade ground at Murray Barracks. On the Hong Kong cricket ground the Japs are teaching about 200 former Indian Army troops bayonet fighting.

Staff-Sergeant Sheridan mentions only one such outing, and my guess is that the bakers didn’t make great use of their free passes: moving around occupied Hong Kong wasn’t necessarily very enjoyable, and could have been potentially dangerous – Staff-Sergeant Sheridan reports being threatened in the street by a Japanese officer who began to draw his sword when he was on the streets to conduct business concerned with his escape.[39]

It seems that the Hospital was a social centre for the small uninterned Allied community: according to Jean Gittins it was ‘a meeting place for internee-patients and their contacts’,[40] which suggests that those sent from Stanley to be X-rayed or receive medical treatment had plenty of visitors. Similarly banker Andrew Leiper tells us that he and his colleagues living at the Sun Wah Hotel nearly always had an excuse to go to the Hospital, as their life was conducive to frequent minor illnesses and they were always keen to visit the sick, as a way of getting out of their squalid surroundings and enlarge their very limited set of English speaking social contacts.[41] It seems these ‘excursions’ took place mainly at the weekends.  In October 1942 the head of the Honkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation was told by the Japanese liquidators that he must rein in the movements of his staff. On the letter that informed him of this, Grayburn wrote:

This ruling refers to all times, we are only allowed out for shopping and exercise. French Hospital may only be visited for real necessity not for softball.[42]

Ithink this means that the softball games continued after the American repatriation of June 29/30 and that the bankers (and perhaps other ‘outsiders’) came to the French Hospital to take part.

In Staff-Sergeant Sheridan’s post-escape debriefing, he said that news of conditions and events in Stanley Camp came to the French Hospital from patients who were sent there for X-rays or special treatment.[43] These patients were interviewed by Dr. Court, who told Staff-Sergeant Sheridan to pass on information about camp conditions to the when he’d escaped.[44]

The drivers would also have brought news back from the camp, at least until early May 1942 when the bread delivery was replaced by an increased flour ration.[45] On one occasion, Staff-Sergeant Sheridan was allowed to accompany Owen Evans into Camp, and while there he was able to take a look round and have a discussion with Lane, Crawford manager Mr. Brown.[46] This suggests that the drivers were allowed at least some contact with the internees. Dr. Selwyn-Clarke was allowed to visit the camp once a week, but on condition that he didn’t pass on any news.

In fact, things seem about as good as they could have reasonably hoped except for the absence of the humane Japanese officer they’d left behind in Exchange House:

There is one thing we miss here and that is the protection of Cpt. Tanaka.[47]

On June 4, Staff-Sergeant Sheridan escaped and the sources currently available to me tell us very little about life in the Hospital from then on until the arrests of May 2, 1943. But is does seem clear that the community described in the Memoir was a temporary one: the Jesuits left for Free China or Wah Yan College, the Americans were repatriated, and Stott escaped. But others came to replace them. On June 29, three and a half weeks after Staff-Sergeant Sheridan’s escape, Thomas got married to a woman the Memoir describes as his ‘friend’ – I’d always suspected the decision to marry was a rather sudden one!  According to Charles Winter, he and Evelina planned to live ‘on the compound of the French Hospital’. It seems that they either had a small room to themselves or were billeted with another married couple, while the two remaining bakers Hammond and Peacock were either allowed to stay in their room or forced to share with others.

After my next post on conditions in Exchange House immediately after the surrender, it will be obvious that Thomas and his fellow bakers were about as lucky as any members of the Allied community in the first six months or so of their time in occupied Hong Kong. But as the months wore on, things changed dramatically: in early 1943 the Kempeitai began to strike back against various forms of illegal activity carried out by enemy nationals. All those outside Stanley were under automatic suspicion of smuggling drugs and money into the camps, and, more seriously, of military spying. Matters came to a head in the terrible days of early May 1943, and when most of the dwellers in the French Hospital were sent into Stanley on May 7 there can have been few who weren’t relieved. But in late June the Kempeitai terror followed them into Stanley Camp.[48]

And when, sometime in September 1945, the three remaining bakers and their fellow civilians finally emerged to try to resume their lives, the place they had called home for over a year also bore  marks of the suffering and destruction:

Near the end of the war, tragedy struck the compound. Bombs from the Allied forces rained on the compound on April 4, 1945 destroying buildings and killing seven Sisters and many orphans and staff.[49]


[4] Patrick John Sheridan, Hong Kong Memoir, 91. Henceforth referred to as Memoir.

[5] Memoir, 83.

[7] Winters and Henry: Memoir, 89.

[8] Memoir, 92.

[11] Memoir, 92.

[17] Memoir, 92.

[21]  Memoir, 24.

[22] Memoir, 92.

[23] Memoir, 109.

[24] Thomas F. Ryan, Jesuits Under Fire in the Siege of Hong Kong, 1944, 166.

[25]  Alan Birch and Martin Cole, Captive Years, 1982, 102.

[26] Ryan, 1944, 174.

[27] Memoir, 93.

[28] Memoir, 99.

[29] Greg Leck, Captives of Empire, 20o6, 649.

[31]  Tony Banham, We Shall Suffer There, 2009, entry for August 14, 1942

[32]  Tony Banham, We Shall Suffer There, 2009, entry for August 14, 1942

[33] Memoir, 94.

[34] Memoir, 94.

[35] Memoir, 100.

[36] Gwen Dew, Prisoner of the Japs, 1943, 73.

[37] Memoir, 102.

[39] Memoir, 101.

[40] Stanley: Behind Barbed-Wire, 1982, 71.

[41] G. A. Leiper, A Yen For My Thoughts,  1982, 150.

[43] P. J. Sheridan, Escape Statement, Page 8. This document from the Ride Papers, held at the Hong Kong Heritage Project, was kindly sent to me by Elizabeth Ride.

[44] Memoir, 105.

[46] Memoir, 93.

[47] Memoir, 95.

3 Comments

Filed under French in Hong Kong, Hong Kong WW11, Selwyn-Selwyn Clarke

3 responses to “Early Days in the French Hospital: The Evidence of Staff-Sergeant Patrick Sheridan

  1. Pingback: Early Days in the French Hospital (2): The Evidence of Volunteer Stott | The Dark World's Fire: Tom and Lena Edgar in War

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

  3. Pingback: The Irish During The Occupation: A Brief History | The Dark World's Fire: Tom and Lena Edgar in War

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