Monthly Archives: October 2012

The Lane, Crawford Bakery In Stubbs Road (1): Before the War

On Wednesday, September 5, 1935, the Lane, Crawford shareholders assembled at noon for an Extraordinary General Meeting to reorganise the company. The Chairman, Sir William Shenton, told them:

Our bakery and cold storage plant is out of date, and if the Company is to maintain its position of supremacy in bakery products and to cope with the requirements for further cold storage facilities, it is essential that up-to-date plant should be acquired in the near future.[1]

The old one was in Burrows Street in Wanchai.[2] The Café Wiseman (the Lane, Crawford restaurant) had its own bakery on the premises, and my guess is that this work was transferred to the new bakery when it finally arrived – The Stubbs. Rd facility didn’t open until the second half of 1938.  The company chair, J. H. Taggart, told the ordinary yearly meeting at the Exchange Building on May 28, 1938:

Commodious and eminently suitable premises have been acquired in Stubbs Road and the preparation of the building and the installation of  plant are progressing with despatch. No expense is being sapred in the interests of public health and I confidently affirm that – when completed – the new bakery will be without equal in the Far East in the manufacture of bread, cake and confectionery under the most efficient and hygienic conditions. (Hongkong Daily Press, May 30, 1938, page 2).

The meeting was assured of the ‘complete modernisation’ of this ‘important branch of your activities’ and heard about the ‘most up to date methods of production based upon the latest mechanical methods employed by leading British and American bakers and confectioners’.

Harry Randall, later to be interned with Thomas in a small room in that very building, was one of the staff shareholders present, and it’s possible that the bakery manager himself was in the audience to listen to this glowing tribute to the premises he’d journied so far to take charge of. Thomas came to Hong Kong on the HMS Carthage, which left London bound for Yokohama on April 8, 1938[3]; mail from this ship was advertised as available in Hong Kong on May 11,[4] which suggests it docked either on that day or on May 10, which is consistent with a contract running from June 1. It’s possible that he was hired specifically to move the company into the new premises; in any case, it was under false pretences, as Thomas altered his birth certificate, and probably elaborated his CV, to seem more experienced than he was. 

An ‘advertorial’ in the Hong Kong Telegraph Weekend Supplement for November 26, 1938 seems to be connected to the recent or imminent opening of the bakery. (The illustrations from this advertisement can be seen at the bottom of this post.) It presents a picture of a bakery in which the very latest machinery creates bread of the highest quality in thoroughly hygienic conditions – ‘the mechanical wrapping of bread provides complete protection from handling before it is delivered to the consumer’. All bakery and delivery personnel were, it seems, examined weekly by the Company doctors – reassuring news for a disease obsessed expatriate population.

Thomas’s article in The British Baker (September 13, 1946) lists some of the equipment at the bakery:

Lane, Crawford’s bakery contained, besides bread-making equipment, 4 oil ovens (2 peel, 2 drawplate), 4 gas ovens (2 peel, 2 drawplate).[15]

Some of the ovens and the modern ‘bread-making equipment’ is described and illustrated in the ‘advertorial’ below. The exact location of the bakery is not known, but Staff-Sergeant Sheridan’s account gives us the rather surprising information that it was ‘up a very narrow passageway’ – narrow enough for a large van driven by frightened driver in wartime conditions to get jammed.[5]

S-S Sheridan’s first contact with the bakery and its manager came some time between may and September 1939  after the death of one of his RASC bakers from cholera:

Next morning what a panic! The Army and Civilian Medical and Hygiene were at the Bakery. All Chinese bakers and all European bakers were inoculated. Bread making was stopped. The Bakery was closed and disinfected from top to bottom. Even the doughs made during the night and the bread baked, of which Chan Ar had no contact had to be destroyed. The troops had a one day biscuit issue. Arrangements were made with a local Bakery owned by a firm named Lane & Crawfords to supply bread for 14 days. The Army supplied flour, yeast, salt etc. This was the job Hammond and I had to do every day, transport the materials and collect the breads from the Bakery in Happy Valley near the Racecourse. Lane & Crawford’s Master Baker was Tommy Edgar who came from Windsor. We became quite good friends. He as a bachelor and lived in a nice flat overlooking the Racecourse. It was owned by Lane & Crawfords. (Memoir, 29)

As we shall see, this was the start of what could have become a very close relationship with the Stubbs Rd. bakery!

In early 1940 the bakery staff had a stroke of luck. They clubbed together to buy 75 tickets in a sweep at the Happy Valley races. One of them carried the number 132569, which assigned the punters Satinlight, one of the favourites, who duly came in first ‘in smashing style’ after a thrilling race.[6] Thomas’s share worked out at about £28,000 in today’s money, and he quickly sent home some of it to help pay for his brother’s wedding. The Kowloon Amahs’ syndicate(s) which had won for the last four years[7] must have been disappointed but it’s nice to report that most of the money continued to go to ordinary Chinese workers. The bakery staff got very drunk on rice and then abandoned bread making to buy small plots of land where they could grow rice and live off the proceeds. Although Thomas was thrilled at his big win, he did note that he’d now have to train  new staff![8]

S-S. Sheridan’s memoir notes that he almost took over as Bakery manager in 1940 as Thomas wanted to go home when his contract ended in June.[9] There is a problem here: S-S. Sheridan says that Thomas’s three year contract was at end, but in fact he’d only been in Hong Kong two years in 1940; the obvious answer is that Sheridan made a mistake and that it was a two year agreement, and this is probably the case. But, given the cost of getting someone out to Hong Kong, I can’t help but feel that a three year contract was more likely.

In any case, why did Thomas want to leave Hong Kong? After the war, I never heard him say anything negative about ‘my thirteen years in Hong Kong’ and in fact I always got the sense he longed to be there still. And the letter that reported his big win to his family contains an insight into his feelings a little earlier in 1940, as well as a glimpse of a fascinating story which I’ll tell in a future post:

I went out to dinner last night with Chuckie + Jean they are both glad to be back in H. K as I think the cold & Blackouts had them beat.[10]

Chuckie (Charles) and Jean Sloan were two of Thomas’s best friends pre-war – Jean seems to have also worked for Lane, Crawford, and, surprisingly enough, they’d just returned from a visit to the embattled British Isles. Thomas’s comment hardly suggests a strong desire to rush back to his cold, blacked-out homeland! I think the most likely explanation for his plan to give up an excellent job in an interesting location is simple: he wanted to be back with his family and doping his duty in time of war. He was therefore all in favour of Lane, Crawford’s offer of his job as bakery manager to Sheridan. He’d been showing the Staff-Sergeant the impressive new American machinery at Stubbs Rd.[11] (some of which can be seen in the images at the foot of this post),  the two had become friends[12] and Thomas obviously respected his baking skills. S-S. Sheridan was impressed by the big increase in salary and the chance to move into that pleasant Thomas’s company flat at 82, Morrison Rd. – furnished, rent free and enjoying a view of the race course.

But there was an obvious problem: S-S. Sheridan was a soldier in the British army. Mr. A. W. Brown,[13] the Lane Crawford manager thought he had a solution; the RASC commanding officer, Lieutenant-Colonel Andrews-Levinge was a friend of his and he approached him on S-S. Sheridan’s behalf. It seems that the Lieutenant-Colonel was willing to go along with the plan, but the war Office would not release any army bakery in a time of war, so Mr. Brown had to try and persuade Thomas to stay.[14]

The bakery’s fortunes and that of the company generally in the new decade became linked to the progress of the war. On June 7, 1940 the ordinary yeraly meeting wa stold that although profits were down that year they should be considered satisfactory given the world situation and the problems obtaining supplies. The directors still felt able to recommend a staff bonus, and this seems to have been a regular part of company policy. (Hongkong Daily Press, June 10, 1940, pages 9 and 11). In early 1941 Lane, Crawfordwas running a ‘food parcels for relatives and friends in the UK’ scheme, although this seems to have been organised by the Grocery Department.[16] On June 21, 1941 the Company AGM was told that the sum approved last year had been written off against alterations at the bakery – this suggests that in spite of the long gestation period, the original building had been problematic in design or construction. The ‘conditions’ – that is the evacuation of many women and children – had led to a tough year’s trading in almost all departments, and profits were down –  this no doubt included the bakery. The meeting was also informed that the air conditioning at the Café Wiseman (in the Exchange Building) that had been installed in the previous September had proved worthwhile.[17]

On December 8, 1941, the day of the Japanese attack, Thomas was appointed Deputy Supply Officer Bakeries. A new period in the bakery’s history was about to begin.

[1] China Mail, September 25, 1935, page 9.

[3] Manifest accessed through Find My Past.

[4] China Mail, May 11, 1938, page 14.

[5] Memoir, 75.

[6] Honkong Daily Press, February 20, 1940, page 2.

[7] Hongkong Daily Press, February 21.

[9] Memoir, 30-31.

[11] Memoir, 31.

[12] Memoir, 29.

[14] Memoir, 32.

[16] Hongkong Daily Press, February 11, 1941, page 5.

[17] Hongkong Daily Press, June 23, 1941, page 5.


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G. W. Mortimer

George Mortimer was transferred from the ‘combatant’ to the ‘general’ group of Essential Service workers in the Hong Kong Volunteer Defence Corps on September 4, 1941.[1] He’d been moved in the opposite direction two months earlier,[2] and I guess this means some uncertainty as to how many bakers could be spared from the fighting if war broke out. His new ‘general’ status might have meant that he was assigned to bake rather than fight throughout the hostilities, and that he was one of the five European bakers Thomas said were working in the Stubbs Rd. bakery from December 8, 1941 to December 21 when the bakery had to be abandoned.[3] Or it might have meant that he was slated for combat in the early stages of the battle but with the possibility of being re-assigned to essential service work later. This is a point I am unclear about – I need to find out more about the terminology employed by the HKVDC.

The first certain reference to him is in Staff-Sergeant Sheridan’s Memoir[4] in a diary-style entry for Tuesday, December 23:

We distribute the equipment and supplies of flour, yeast, etc. to the two bakeries and get everything ready for a start next day. Edgar manages to recruit a few more bakers. We decide to put Hammond with seven Chinese in No. 62 and a chap named Mortimer with another seven in No. 84. {A‘pokey hole’ of a bakery at 84 Queen’s Rd. East.} Edgar and I with the van will keep supplies, and collect the bread from all four bakeries.[5]

At this stage, Staff-Sergeant Sheridan and Hammond, two RASC bakers, were helping the civilians open up small Chinese bakeries that operated by wood burning. It’s not clear if Thomas really did ‘recruit’ Mr. Mortimer – in other words, got permission from the authorities for him to leave his unit and start baking, or if he was working with him all along (Staff-Sergeant Sheridan only joined the Lane, Crawford team on December 23 and I don’t suppose that matters of historical record were much on anyone’s mind!)

The next reference is after the December 25 surrender:

Mr Brown, the manager tells me that there is an order from the Chief of Police to hand all weapons into the Gloucester Hotel next door. After doing this, I go with the van to the bakeries to collect Hammond and Mortimer.[6]

Staff-Sergeant Sheridan brought him to the Exchange Building, the Lane, Crawford headquarters, where the bakers were being held.

Mr. Mortimer doesn’t seem to have taken part in the distribution to the hospitals of the already-baked bread,[7] but he was one of the team that were allowed out to start baking again – mainly for the hospitals – in early January:

Tanaka {the Japanese officer in charge} agreed to provide transport and escort. The party was Edgar, Mortimer, Hammond, Leung Choy, Leung Tim, {Two RASC bakers}myself and Peacock (Russian) naturalised British and his father Piankoff. [8]

He carried on baking with the rest of them until the day the civilians in the Exchange Building were rounded up:

Now the Kempetai (Military Police) similar to the German Gestapo have now taken control. All British, Dutch and Americans have been rounded up and interned in Chinese Hotels on the waterfront. On that day while we were working the Bakery, Mortimer who was feeling sick stayed in the Exchange Building and was interned with the others.[9]

Messrs. Mortimer and Brown were all taken to the Mee Chow Hotel preliminary to being sent to Stanley: all the following listings are from Tony Banham’s Hong Kong War Diary[10] website, and based on Japanese records:

Brown,  A.W. Mr. Room 401 MCH

Mortimer,  G.W. Mr. Room 401 MCH

Room 403 of the same hotel also contained two Lane, Crawford employees:

Hall,  F. Mr. Room 401 MCH

Ogley Child Room 403 MCH

Ogley, W.C. Mr. Room 403 MCH

Ogley, W.C. Mrs. Room 403 MCH

As it happens, both butchery salesman Frederick Ivan Hall[11] and shipping manager W. C. Ogley[12] played bowls for the same company team as Thomas. I’ve not been able to find out if everyone in rooms 401-403 was from Lane, Crawford. Mr. Hall, who was executed by the Japanese for his role in sending messages in and out of Stanley, also lived close to Thomas in what was probably also company accommodation at 76,[13] Morrison Hill Rd. (Cecil Carr, another employee also lived at 76, Morrison Hill Rd, although a Dairy Farm employee has the same address as Thomas, number 82, which suggests either that the company rented some of these units themselves or that it rented them out to others).

When did this ‘round up’ take place? Thomas’s British Baker article says that the hospitals asked Captain Tanaka for permission to have the bakers back at work on January 9, and implies that work was begun soon after. In Staff-Sergeant Sheridan’s account it is A. W. Brown who approaches Tanaka,[14] and, although the dates are not given explicitly, my sense is that he places the start of baking a little earlier than that. On January 4 the civilians were told to assemble the next day on the Murray Parade Ground. Things were still rather chaotic at that time, and a fair number didn’t get the message or decided to risk ignoring it – but I don’t know why the people in the Exchange Building didn’t go to the Parade Ground, as they were living close to the centre of things and must surely have heard about the notices. In any case, I doubt that the Kempetai bothered to round up stragglers on that day, as the whole operation has an improvised feel, and, as I said, there were many people who failed to present themselves, and some even managed to go straight to Stanley without undergoing the nightmare period in the hotels first.

All in all, I think the most likely period for the removal of the people in the Exchange Building is January 7-January 14. At first, Mr. Mortimer probably cursed his luck in being ill that day. Staff-Sergeant Sheridan’s Memoir makes it clear that once they got to the French Hospital in early February, and probably before that while under Captain Tanaka’s protection, the bakers and their fellows considered that they were fortunate indeed in being out of Stanley, or in the case of the two RASC men, Shamshuipo. But by May 7, 1943, when Thomas, accompanied now by Evelina, and a party that included Sergeant Hammond (now posing as a civilian under Tanaka’s orders) and Serge Peacock made their way down to Stanley, Mr. Mortimer, if he knew anything about what had been going on in town, would have realised that the luck had been largely his. Staff-Sergeant Sheridan had escaped on June 4, 1942, but the other bakers had remained in the French Hospital to experience gradually worsening conditions and the dreadful Kempeitai crack down on the Hong Kong resistance that began in February, 1943. The terror had got closer and closer, until on May 2 a squad of sailors entered the Hospital and arrested at least three of the British citizens there, perhaps more, and kept the rest imprisoned on the premises while they searched it thoroughly for evidence of spying.[15] The initial advantages of greater freedom and access to a superior black market must have been more than wiped out by those last few months of fear, and the continuing anxiety that one of those being held by the Kempeitai would name others.

[3] Article in The British Baker, September 13, 1946.

[4] Kindly sent to me by Helen Dodd.

[5] Patrick John Sheridan, Memoir, 76.

[6] Memoir, 80.

[8] Memoir, 83.

[9] Memoir, 85-86.

[14] Memoir, 82.

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Duncan Sloss

Apart from my parents of course, the only former Stanley internee I can remember meeting while a child is Tommy Waller[1], an engineer on the Peak Tram and probably my parents’ closest friend in camp. So you could say that Duncan Sloss was the second ex-Stanleyite I encountered, although in this case not in person. Growing up in the sixties and immersed in literature, it was almost inevitable that I should be fascinated by William Blake (1757-1827), whose ideas – sexual freedom, political radicalism and a life lived beyond the limitations of reason – seemed an uncanny anticipation of some of the favourite themes of the Baby Boomers. At some stage I became aware of what everybody called ‘Sloss and Wallis’: this was an edition, first published in 1926, of Blake’s so-called ‘Prophetic Writings’, probably the most obscure and difficult works in the literary canon before the later writings of James Joyce.

I used it again when, in the 1980s, I wrote a thesis on Blake’s attitude to emotion, although I still had no idea of any connection to my own past: in fact, not only was Sloss an inmate of Stanley Camp, in 1949 he married a woman who lived in the same Bungalow as my parents (D) and I like to think of him as a regular visitor to their part of camp, although I have absolutely no evidence that the relationship went back that far!

Duncan John Sloss was born in the Toxteth Park area of Liverpool on June 19, 1881.[2] On an 1891 census list of Liverpool teachers we find:

SLOSS, Mary A Daughter Single F 23 school teacher Liverpool 297 Mill St, ToxtethPark Both parents born Scotland. Taught Ashfield St

This would seem to be an older sister, and if so, we learn that he was of Scottish origin and that he wasn’t the first member of his family to become a teacher. Another source describes her as an ‘infants’ mistress’,[3] so her younger brother went to the other end of the educational scale.

He attended Oulton School, which seems to have been a secondary school for intending teachers,[4] and studied at Liverpool University under the distinguished scholar Oliver Elton. He acquired an M. A., presumably also at this university. The two Blake editors state they began their work on the poet in 1906 at the suggestion of John Sampson, himself an editor, and Professor Elton,[5] and, this might have been the final year of Sloss’s M. A., although it’s of course possible he’d kept in touch with the Department after leaving. When he did depart, he didn’t go far.

One source claims Sloss had considerable experience teaching in English schools.[6] In 1907 he became a founder member of a Rugby Football Club known as The Aliens. At the time membership was restricted to schoolteachers (many not from Liverpool, hence the name) so this suggests Sloss was a schoolmaster at this time.[7] He was a regular player thereafter, occasionally being singled out by the local press for his performance: on January 25, 1909 he was commended for his play in the forward line, while on January 31, 1910 he scored a ‘smart try’, although sadly it was not converted.[8]

At some point he returned to his old university as a lecturer: in the 1911 Census he’s listed as a 29 year old university tutor at the University of Liverpool.[9] In 1913 Sloss was thanked for helping a German lecturer at Liverpool University improve the English of a dissertation on Gerhart Hauptman,[10] but according to one source he’d already left to begin a career in the Indian Educational Service by that time: a ‘tribute’ (by B. R. P.) after his death claims he taught at the Maharajah’s College, Travancore from 1912 onwards.[11] However, there is a clash of sources. ‘D. J. Sloss’ is minuted as attending an Aliens meeting on December 6, 1912.  My guess is that he attended this meeting, said goodbye, and soon after set sail for India.

On September 3, 1914, so many members had volunteered for active service in the war that the club suspended its operations.

The Blake editors tell us that they sent their manuscript to the press in late 1912, but ‘when the first proofs were expected, the war came’. They continue:

(A)nd subsequently the prohibitive cost of printing and the remoteness of the editors from the centre of things and from each other in widely sundered parts of the Dominions made it seem as if further progress with the work would be difficult if not impossible.[12]

J. P. R. Wallis was an assistant lecturer at Liverpool University[13] and there’s a photograph of him in army uniform in the Liverpool archives.[14]South Africa was given as his location when the book was published in 1926. In any case, the preface seems to confirm Sloss’s presence in India, but I think the evidence of the minutes suggests he went there at the end of 1912. The College began teaching honours English in 1914 and my guess is that Sloss was one of the teachers in that first year. He might even have been appointed before the outbreak of war and told by the authorities to take up his post – there was no conscription at the time in any case. It’s even possible given the wording ‘subsequently’ that he didn’t go to India until 1918, but I can find no mention of any wartime activity, and, as we shall see, further evidence from the Aliens minutes narrows his post-war service in India to such an extent as to make it unlikely he could have advanced to such a high position in Burma by 1923 if he’d stayed in England during the war.

But the post-war sources again clash. The tribute by B. R. P. has him move directly from India to Burma shortly after the end of WW11,[15] but according to a 1937 article in The Straits Times, in 1919-1920 he held a William Noble Fellowship (English Literature) in the University of Liverpool.[16]  The Aliens minutes record that Sloss attended a general meeting on September 12, 1919. This was his only post-war appearance. [17] As leave from India or Burma would be unlikely to have been granted after only one year,  I think the fellowship came between his Indian and Burmese service. Today it’s tenable for one year but potentially renewable.[18] However, if he was still in Liverpool in 1919-1920, he couldn’t have begun teaching in Burma before late 1920.

There are other mysteries: the Straits Times article mentions a spell at the University of Leeds, while one of the tributes refers to his ‘Oxford background’.[19] I think that the Oxford connection is probably an error, but the article reads like it’s all taken from an official press release, so I guess that he did fit in a year or two in Leeds at some point. The Aliens minutes don’t begin until 1912, so they’re no help here; I think 1909-1910, before the Census record of Sloss at Liverpool is plausible.

Once in the East things moved faster, and, if all these sources are accurate, he had achieved enough in three years to become a University Principal, and two years after that to be thought worthy of a British honour. He helped to establish and organise University College, Rangoon, and was Principal from 1923 to 1937.[20] He obviously made his mark quickly in the latter post, as his CBE – in the King’s birthday honours list – was gazetted on June 3, 1925.[21]

He’s recorded as having travelled from Rangoon to Southampton, arriving in January 1925.[22] In their preface the two Blake editors say that ‘means were found’ in the first half of 1925 to revise a work that was then over ten years out-of-date.[23] My guess is that either Sloss’s itinerary included a lengthy stop-over in South Africa or that Wallis was in the UK at the same time. In any case, the edition came out in 1926, and it represents the only academic publication credited to Sloss that I’ve been able to trace. It’s a distinguished piece of work – far more than  just a text – but this is not the place for a review.

Sloss built up the University at Rangoon from fewer than 500 students to well over 2000 in the 1930s, fighting both the distrust of Europeans who didn’t want the Burmese to be too well educated, and of Burmans who opposed on nationalist grounds a university based on the English model. As part of this expansion, he guided the University into a 400 acre campus to the north of Rangoon, and helped it survive the difficult economic conditions of the early 1930s.[24]

From the limited sources at my disposal, it would seem that Sloss began his tenure as Principal as a liberal colonial administrator. An attempt was made to provide a firm basis for the study of Burma’s past by archaeological research and collocation.[25] Further, having already helped set up the University itself, Sloss formed the Students’ Union hoping to influence it, although it later became his greatest opponent.[26] Such manoeuvres are typical of the kind of imperialist regime that gives limited recognition to nationalist feeling, while training its best minds to form a well-educated ‘local’ elite which identifies its interests with those of the colonizers. The motives of the functionaries of such a regime are not necessarily cynical, of course, and the evidence from his time in Hong Kong points to a genuine interest in Asian history and culture.

However, after a dozen or so years he ran into serious trouble:

(S)tudent discontent had been building up gradually over a number of years due to the arbitrary actions of Professor D. J. Sloss, principal of the University College from 1923 to 1937.[27]

According to this source, Sloss had the power to expel students without ‘recourse’, to determine the subject of their degree course, and to decide if on graduation they sat for the Indian or Burmese Civil Service exams. He was, moreover, the most important member of the Civil Service selection board, and the other board members were senior civil servants whose careers depended on him.

In short, Sloss had become the most crucial person in any student’s future.[28]

In a debate on January 30, 1936 a student named Ko Nu made a speech encouraging students to fight for both their own rights and national independence.[29] He criticised Sloss for his unfair interference in the personal affairs of students and claimed that some of them had an ‘inferiority complex’ because of his arbitrary actions. After the Rangoon Gazette demanded action, Ko Nu was expelled and soon he was followed by another student who’d published an article entitled The Hell-Hound At Large – the ‘hell hound’ appears to have been a senior member of the university staff, and in another part of the article Principal Sloss was criticised for doing nothing to curb his immoral activities.[30] It’s not clear from my sources if this expulsion contributed to the strike that began in February 1936 or inflamed it still further after it had already started.[31]

The strike spread all over the country and lasted until May 11, 1936, (Another source says until June.[32]).  It was called off after a negotiated settlement, which included the replacement of Sloss by a Burman[33] – a source  sympathetic to the students says that Sloss was ‘prevailed upon to resign’,[34] while a tribute written after his death by the Professor of Geology and Geography implies he felt compelled to go, probably unnecessary, due to his strong sense of honour![35]  The same tribute also claims that one of the student grievances were that the exams were too hard.[36] In any case, the strike seems to be widely regarded as ‘a milestone in Burma’s march to independence’.[37] If this judgment is correct, then Sloss provoked a movement that played a major role in the modern history of Burma. Nevertheless, lest it be thought that Sloss was too simply on the wrong side of history, we should remember that the expelled editor, Aung San, was part of a Japanese puppet government after 1942.[38] The Burmese nationalist movement switched to an anti-Japanese position in March 1945, and independence came in 1948.

Sloss, now unemployed, wasted little time in returning to England:

Departure: Rangoon, Burma Arrival: 21 Jul 1936 – London, England[39]

It was presumably from there that he applied for and was awarded his next appointment: Vice-Chancellor of the University of Hong Kong, succeeding Sir William Hornell.

Soon after his arrival in November 1937, a function was held to welcome him as Vice-Chancellor and Governor Northcote as Chancellor, while bidding farewell to Sir William.[40] The new Vice-Chancellor also became the Honorary Vice-President of the University Union, something that might well have stirred uneasy memories. Mrs. Sloss was not at first with him, being expected early in 1938 (she obviously arrived – see below). He described the university as ‘an outpost of western culture at the gates of the shrine of the most humane wisdom, and the most perfect art of the East’ and praised Hong Kong as ‘the most beautiful place that I have ever lived in’. He anticipated, ‘The most interesting work I have ever had the good fortune to face’.[41]

I only have the space to give the briefest of accounts of his achievements, before and after the war, as the Vice-Chancellor.

When he arrived he was confronted with a difficult situation:

(A) dismayed Senate, outraged Faculty Boards, and a constitution whose provisions he found obsolete, unworkable and distasteful.[42]

These constitutional problems included the excessive influence of the Governor and the colony hierarchy on university decision making, symbolised by the fact that the monthly meetings were held in the Legislative Council chambers. In his first two years Sloss was able to simplify this situation and create a smaller governing body – all the officials were dumped except the Colonial Secretary – which he, as Vice-Chancellor, chaired.[43]

The dismay and outrage referred to above seem to have stemmed largely from a report into the University that was released in 1937 before Sloss’s tenure but whose potentially disastrous effects he had to head off. In essence, the report stated that it was too expensive to fulfil the University’s original mission as a link between colonial Hong Kong and China and as a progressive factor in the latter’s history. Instead in order to save money it should seek merely to meet the – obviously limited – needs of Hong Kong for trained personnel.[44]

There was another official report that tackled this dilemma in 1939, but no resolution until after Sloss had stood down as Vice-Chancellor. As we’ll see, his own hopes were expressed in some public speeches he made at this time, but, although he had some success in getting a revised report – he chaired the committee himself – more favourable to his broader vision, he was doomed to fight for the funding this required times when money was tight, first because of the preparations for war, and later because of the war’s effects.

In the pre-war period, he was known as a ‘progressive force’ on campus,[45] and one way in which this manifested itself was in his support for the development of science teaching, which he saw as ‘the University’s most urgent need’. A Science Faculty with its own degrees was established in January 1939.[46]

He was soon faced with one of the consequences of the war on the mainland: Lingnan University, which had long had links with HKU, found that its position in Canton was precarious due to the Japanese occupation of the city. In 1938 Sloss engaged in ‘long and secret negotiations’ with the Lingnan authorities that enabled them to move their operations to Hong Kong and teach in HKU premises in the evenings.[47] The move was completed by the start of 1939, and the arrangement continued until the war arrived at Hong Kong. The presence of Lingnan placed a real burden on the university, so Sloss’s action should be seen as one of generous academic solidarity.

As in Burma, he was to become an important public figure, playing a role outside the life of the University, although my sources suggest that until a war in the Far East began to seem inevitable his main activities were not surprisingly connected with education. He was appointed to a two year stint on the Board of Education with effect from December 9, 1937.[48] This was extended for another two years in 1939.[49] In 1938 he was one of the signatories (alongside Lancelot Forster, who was to be head of education in Stanley) of a report that recommended significant changes to the system of teacher training in Hong Kong.[50]

In early July 1938 he presented the prizes at St. Stephen’s College in Stanley, the buildings of which were to form a part of Stanley Civilian Internment Camp. If he remembered the Warden’s words, they must have struck him as ironic, although not necessarily inaccurate:

At Stanley there exists a healthy site with sea breezes, sea-bathing and healthy sports fields to build up healthy bodies. All around are the beauties of nature, of mountain and sea, that cannot fail to fill a student’s mind and spirit with imperishable riches that nothing can ever take away.[51]

Vice-Chancellor Sloss’s own speech was also significant. It was made almost exactly a year after the ‘incident at Marco Polo Bridge’, which began the Sino-Japanese War:

China in these last months has attained a moral stature among the nations that cannot be paralleled in her recent history: in fact it is difficult to find a parallel in human records.

He went on to praise various qualities of the Chinese resistance, including the ‘willing submission of a whole people to a great leader’, but also the ‘dumb heroism’ of the Chinese peasants and poor who made up the bulk of the armies and experienced most of the suffering. He foretold a role for St. Stephen’s in the reconstruction after the failure of Japanese’s quest for the ‘subjugation’ of China, and hoped that it would ‘keep alive the memory of the Chinese common soldier who is I think the real hero of this war’.

In other words, he expressed outright support for the Chinese cause, and an admiration for the Nationalist leader Chiang Kai-shek which clearly distanced him from the Colony’s tiny circle of Leftists who looked primarily to Mao’s communists in the anti-Japanese struggle.[52]

At the end of the evening, there were the usual gifts:

Mr. Sloss was presented with a framed view of the School’s site at Stanley and Mrs. Sloss with a Chinese porcelain vase.[53]

This is the only direct reference to Mrs. Sloss I’ve been able to find apart from notices of her initial absence from Hong Kong and of her death. Sadly I don’t even know her name (see Comments below.) Judging from the ages of their two children, I’d say the Slosses were married at the end of WW1, but the date could be any time from about 1902 onwards.

In March 1939, visiting Wah Yan Jesuit College to present prizes, he told the pupils that, while exam results were important they could easily be achieved by focused teaching, and that other aspects of a school’s work were also important – for example, the ‘liveliness and sprit’ of one of the Jesuits in a Latin grammar class he’d observed. He praised the role of fathers Ryan, Kennedy and Donnelly in the ‘war relief’ effort and went on to laud the efforts of the boys inspired by their example. Once again, he praised the greatness of Chiang Kai Shek (sic) in welding China into a unity and the courage of ill-armed peasant soldiers. He spoke of the importance of sport – ‘the physical and moral training flowing whole-hearted participation in the game’ – and made the common point that the Colony needed more playing fields. He spoke approvingly of the Society of Jesus, calling them ‘highly educated, cultured men’, devoted to teaching for the young for the ‘highest reason of conscience’, and he mentioned by name some Fathers connected with the university.[54]

On May 16, 1939 Professor Sloss was in Chungking representing the University at a meeting of the Sino—British Cultural Association. He spoke of his vision of a China-orientatedUniversity:

The only justification for the University is to co-operate, sharing, giving and receiving from our fellows in the universities in China.

He admitted to previous shortcomings with regard to students from the mainland, but said that plans would now go into effect to give Chinese scholarship students free tuition, board and lodging at Hong Kong University.[55]

We get a picture of the private side of Vice-Chancellor Sloss in an article by Norman Mackenzie who came to teach English at Hong Kong University in August 1940. He reports that Sloss had the ‘generous’ custom of allowing new staff to stay with him for a few days, and, because MacKenzie got on so well with Sloss’s sons Geoffrey and John, this became an extended arrangement. It seems that Sloss was a polymathic conversationalist at the dinner table, and when the Professor of Physiology and Dean of the Faculty of Medicine Lindsay Ride came to stay Mackenzie soon found himself out of his depth. When exhibitions of oriental art visited Hong Kong, his host would unroll specimens of Chinese and Japanese art and discourse learnedly about them. He was a music lover, and it’s possible that in the past he’d given Bach music recitals. It seems that Sloss still had time to sail his yacht across the harbour at weekends.[56]

In private, he seems to have been an outgoing and friendly man. One lecturer from this period praises Sloss’s ‘warmth and accessibility’,[57] and these qualities are also suggested by his involvement in the visit to Hong Kong of two of the best British writers of the 1930s. In February 1938 the poet W. H. Auden and the novelist Christopher Isherwood were on their way to the mainland to write a book on the Sino-Japanese War. At first they lived in a luxurious bathing cabin at Repulse Bay, but then they moved in with Sloss, and Isherwood reported in a letter to his mother of February 25 that he was ‘extraordinarily kind’ and that he’d agreed to acts as a poste restante service for future letters.. I’ll post about this interesting episode in the future.[58]

But the outbreak of war in Europe and the increasing likelihood that it would spread to the Far East, returned him to a broader role in public life. A notice dated November 20, 1939 appointed him censor, assisted by physics professor William Faid[59]. It was noted that he’d resumed duty on April 25, [60] 1940 and again on February 26, 1941.[61] It was reported in the press that he’d returned from leave on the first of these days,[62] so this probably relates to his (and Professor Faid’s) absence from Hong Kong during university vacations. From May 31, 1941 he was appointed an official additional member of the Executive Council for so long as held the post of Censor.[63] He was now a part of the Colony’s governing body, and his work as censor, although unglamorous, was important: Hong Kong was full of Japanese spies and one of his tasks was to disrupt their lines of communication and try to limit the amount of useful information falling into their hands.

Not long after his initial appointment as censor, private tragedy struck, although the exact circumstances are unknown: on February 20, 1940, The Hong Kong Daily Press reported the death – ‘suddenly…. after a brief illness’ – of Mrs. Sloss in Oxford.[64]

In October 1940 he was a delegate to an Eastern Group Supply Conference held to discuss the supply of munitions and other goods. This conference led to the setting up of the Eastern Group Supply Council, permanently in session at New Delhi.[65] He still had time to intervene in education debates, though, and in July 1941 he argued for the creation of a practical school to supplement the work of Northcote Training College.[66]

I can find no record of his role during the fighting.

In my opinion, Sloss’s greatest achievement was not his work  in establishing the University of Rangoon, nor anything he did as Vice-Chancellor in Hong Kong before or after the war. It was his role after the surrender, when he held the university together, kept it functioning, and insisted on planning for a future beyond the occupation. It is an inspiring story: today Hong Kong University is one of the best in the world and vies with Tokyo University for the title of ‘best in Asia’.[67] In 1942 its students found that their courses no longer existed while the staff was scattered: those teachers who had fought with the Volunteers were mostly in Shamshuipo, from where Lindsay Ride, assisted by one of his students, Francis Lee, escaped to Free China and founded the British Army Aid Group, an important resistance organisation. Sloss was to enter Stanley camp alongside 16 of his staff, and it’s from that small nucleus that the current university was eventually to emerge into the post-war years.

Soon after the surrender, he persuaded the Japanese to allow non-combatant university staff to remain on campus.[68] He used this period to build morale, to signal his intention to keep some form of university going throughout whatever was to flow, and to carry out some useful measures on behalf of the students.[69] On December 31 1941 an emergency meeting of the Senate was held with Sloss presiding. It was decided to award degrees to those medical students sitting their final exams when war broke out; in January 1942 more medical degrees were awarded to final year students.[70]

Most of the university people were sent to Stanley at the end of January.[71] Sloss went with his son John, listed as ‘16, Schoolboy’. [72] Geoffrey Sloss, two years older, fought with the Volunteers and was wounded. He spent the war in Shamshuipo. Later he moved to Vancouver and married the cousin of another Hong Kong man.[73]

Sloss’s early planning was made easier by the fact that like most of his fellow internees he believed that the British would retake Hong Kong in about three months.[74]  This useful illusion not only kept up morale but also led to all kinds of planning, and it seems that in 1942 Sloss played a part in general preparations for the liberated Hong Kong that was believed to be just round the corner: Fehilly reported that in the opinion of Olsen and Sloss, Perdue was the man who should be in charge of the police when liberation arrives.

It seems that he was an important figure in Stanley at this time, working alongside the Colonial Secretary Franklin Gimson. This is what the escaped Irish doctor J. P. Fehilly told Lindsay Ride:

Without him {Gimson} and Sloss things would be very different in Hong Kong.[75]

Fehilly quoted his views as worth taking seriously, whether or not he agreed with them:

Sloss and Selwyn-Clarke maintain that the Japanese are not inflicting cruelties deliberately.[76]

Fehilly told Sloss in ‘August’ that ‘Richards in the French Hospital’[77] was a Japanese agent:[78] I think that this was probably when Sloss himself was in the French Hospital (see below).

In addition, Sloss was still in charge of a university that intended to carry on operating, however difficult the circumstances, and to carry out, to the best of its ability, the function of teaching, examining and planning.[79]

There was a vigorous teaching programme which Sloss himself took part in –  Franklin Gimson records a talk late in 1943 on Marlowe’s Dr. Faustus.[80] There’s no doubt that for a year or two this enhanced the life of the camp, although interest in the classes seemed to wane in the last year or so – one source puts this down to the fact that in mid-1944 a new rationing system was introduced which allocated more food to those who had a job. Sloss made another contribution to the cultural life of Stanley: he donated his collection of classical literature and a recent edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica to the library.[81]

It was agreed in January 1943 that matriculation exams would take place, and they began on May 5, 1943,[82] John Sloss was a candidate in the first batch; eventually the results were to be accepted by universities in other parts of the Commonwealth.

A special sub-committee of the senate was set up to carry out post-war planning, and this found itself once again considering the question as to whether the University should be focused on meeting the ends of Hong Kong or should set seek to play a role in the regeneration of China. Not surprisingly, the committee and then the senate endorsed the broader vision, and called for a ‘new start’ on a big scale, taking advantage of the ‘unique opportunity’ created by the circumstances of the war and occupation.[83]

At some point Sloss managed to smuggle a message to another university escape, Professor Gordon King, at that time in Chungking. On 4 September 1944 King sent a memo to the British Colonial Office stating that in the view of Vice-Chancellor Sloss, ‘who is still under Japanese confinement in Stanley Camp’, it is necessary to choose between a ‘local’ function for the University and one in which it was ‘an expression of British policy towards China and the Far East’.

One commentator – Anthony Sweeting – argues that the ‘Stanley talks’ were mainly significant for the boost they probably gave to the psychology of those taking part in them, as in 1945 the incoming Military Administration brushed aside most of the proposals of the then newly liberated internees. However, Sweeting goes on:

The fact that the Stanley talks enabled Duncan Sloss to draw up a set of recommendations lends them a special significance, however, beyond the merely psychological,, because Sloss’s message to the Colonial Office in late 1944 influenced developments in London even before the end of the War and when Sloss himself returned to Britain in the winter of 1945, he played a very instrumental role in the tortuous negations in Britain that eventually led to the re-opening of the University.[84]

The planning, too, proved useful: ‘the Stanley discussions’ envisaged a complete break with the past, particularly in the form of buildings, and the historian of the university Bernard Mellor has written that it was a remarkable ‘prospectus…of the developments which have actually taken place’, even though the actual course of events in China made some of the perspectives in which the thinking took place obsolete,[85] and, we might add, the financial restraints of the immediate post-war period meant that the most ambitious aspects of the plan had to be delayed.  The interned senate clearly committed itself to a vision of HKU as an institution that would promote British ideals and academic methods in the Far East, while fostering Anglo-Chinese friendship and playing a role in ‘moulding China’s destiny’,[86] and such aid was not wanted after the communist victory in 1949.

While he was involved in all these institutional activities, Sloss was faced with another challenge. On July 2, 1942 Colonel Lindsay Ride, now head of the BAAG, sent a message to Sloss, his old boss and occasional dinner companion:

This is an attempt to set up a regular news service between us. Relatives all over the world are very anxious to hear of you all and I trust this will be the quickest and safest method of getting news in and out. The Priestwood-Thompson party brought the British list but not the American or Dutch; at any rate that list is no doubt out of date and it was not altogether accurate. An up-to-date list…is very badly needed and also a report on the treatment, conditions and casualties in the camp. I am trying to arrange on the quiet the ‘escape’ or liberation of all children…

I understand you need money badly. Here is $100 from me as a trial; if it gets through you will know that the route is trustworthy, in which case I suggest those who want money from home should send me written authority to get money from their banks at home and I shall do my best to get it in.[87]

Sloss can’t have been in very good health at the time: earlier in the year he’d spent a number of months being treated in town (almost certainly at the French Hospital) for stomach problems.[88] Yet he accepted Ride’s proposal of regular communication.[89]

This was an act of great courage – there were few more dangerous ‘jobs’ in Camp than link with the resistance.

Ride’s reply shows that Sloss had also indicated his willingness to escape:

My Dear Sloss,

I can’t tell you how happy I was to hear that you are willing to come out….It is with great diffidence that I proceed to give my master in all things orders….

Ride goes on to explain that ‘a daring plan of escape for about 50 of you has been worked out’.  He stresses that the choice of men to escape must depend on their value to the Empire, and Sloss must put aside any reluctance to deprive Stanley of the talents of someone needed elsewhere. The letter ends:

And lastly, if you can’t get anyone to come with you, come yourself. I’ll be here to meet you.[90]

No escape took place. The mass escape plan was considered by George Wright-Nooth, one of those who would probably have taken part, completely impractical.[91] We don’t know why Sloss didn’t attempt to go on his own, but other senior figures decided to stay after considering the reprisals that the camp would suffer if they escaped.[92]

On June 28, 1943 the Kempeitai – the dreaded military police – came to Stanley and arrested 6 men, including the Assistant Commissioner of Police, Walter Scott.[93] The camp was in turmoil, with everybody worried about the fate of those arrested and many with good reason to fear their turn would come soon. Scott could well have known about Sloss’s role as BAAG contact, but even if he didn’t the former Defence Secretary John Fraser, one of those arrested when the Kempeitai returned on July 7 to take 4 more people, certainly did. Sloss must have been terrified for a long time, until it became obvious that the arrests had, for the moment at least, come to an end. At his trial on October 19, Scott was accused of having received ‘the Waichow letter’,[94] which he vigorously denied: Waichow was the BAAG Field Headquarters, and, as we’ve seen Sloss had received at least two letters from the BAAG, but Scott, like Fraser, refused to name anyone else, and Sloss was saved.

At the end of the war the internees were instructed to remain in Stanley Camp for their own safety, but there was a transport service into town, and many internees were desperate to get back to the city. One of these was Jean Gittins, a former university employee, who wanted to visit her family. As Professor Sloss had been appointed adjudicator on questions of priority, she felt certain of a sympathetic hearing:

Mr. Sloss insisted that priority had to be given to business people whose future livelihood might depend on their making an early visit: much as he wanted to help me, he could not allow personal reasons to influence his judgment.  Could see that he was sorry and I should have known that he could not have done otherwise, and yet I felt terribly let down.[95]

Sloss himself left camp to take part in forming a new administration on August 21:

Messrs. F. Gimson, H. R. Butters, D. Sloss, RR. Minitt  have gone to town today to confab. in Mr. Zindel’s office (Red Cross official).[96]

In those chaotic early days of freedom Sloss was re-instated as Censor-in-Chief, with an office in the former Gloucester Hotel. He also seems to have been appointed Publicity Officer for the new administration.[97] He gave a number of press conferences, presumably in the government’s rehabilitation plans[98].

Sloss had heard that Jean Gittins’ husband Billy had not survived as a POW in Japan but couldn’t tell her as he had no official confirmation of this. With Selwyn-Clarke he engineered a plan to stop her waiting in Hong Kong for news that would never come. The medical Department declared, without examination, that after years of internment she was not fit to work in Hong Kong, and as a result she went to join her children in Australia. Sloss took her on board and made sure that she had s a single-berth officer’s cabin when most were sharing six or eight berth cabins:

‘Good luck Jean’ he said. ‘Whatever happens don’t lose your courage. And remember, my dear, there are many in Hong Kong who will be thinking of you.’[99]

While Sloss was carrying out his public duties and finding the time for such acts of personal friendship, he was also working on behalf of the University. Soon after his release he inspected their buildings at Pokfulam and began to make estimates of how much it would cost to repair the damage and replace the looted equipment.[100] In mid September he convened and chaired a meeting at the Gloucester Hotel to decide the future of Lindsay Ride and five other professors now returned to Hong Kong.[101]

On September 18 he left Ride in charge and went to London. In a farewell to his students he said:

I should like to express for myself and for the University the satisfaction we feel at the achievements of past and present students of the University during these years of horrors….Those who stayed behind have helped us who were interned or prisoners of war in a way that meant the difference between survival and extinction, and this at great risks to themselves.

He added that his only reason for leaving Hong Kong was to try to assure the re-establishment of the university on ‘ampler, more generous lines’. Again, he spoke of his vision of university ‘turned towards a new China’ acting as a two way channel of communication between China and Britain.[102]

London responded by setting up a committee under Christopher Cox to examine the way the University should develop. This reported in July 1946, but a row ensued, which seems to have been over whether or not to make references to a possible Chinese take-over of Hong Kong, and by the time agreement was reached, Sloss decided the report had been overtaken by events so it was never published.[103] There ensued a long debate, which overlapped Sloss’s period as Vice-Chancellor as to whether the university should not be restored at all, be restored at its pre-war level of funding, or be restored at a more generously financed level.[104] Some teaching began in October 1946, but full-scale restoration did not take place until 1948.

In December Sloss returned to Hong Kong. He chaired numerous committees devoted to the difficult task of getting the university back into some kind of operational fitness. His last major act before he retired in March 1948 was to secure the largest private donation ever made to the university: one million dollars from Sir Robert Ho-tung to build a womens’ hall of residence.[105]

Some time in 1946 – probably around September – he wrote to the President of the Board of Trade Sir Stafford Cripps:

It must be recognised that in a hundred years, we have done almost nothing by education, social services or political education to foster a Hong Kong patriotism among the Chinese.

He suggested that the prevailing mood was one of disillusion, and this was being exploited by anti-British elements among the Kuomindang.[106] This letter reached the Colonial Office, who claimed that Dr. Sloss was out of touch!

In 1946 Sloss’s son John was studying at Pembroke College, Oxford.[107] Apart from the death of his wife in that city, this is the first link I’ve been able to find with the place where he was to spend his last years.

In 1947 Sloss made an interesting speech to the 130th Annual meeting of the Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation. In it he  praised the Bank for the honouring of ‘duress’ notes, saying it had done much to impress the Chinese; he believed that China should enjoy a just peace described himself as ‘one of those whose work aims at social betterment in Hong Kong’, He argued for the setting up by the Bank of  an ‘economic enquiries branch’ for the collection of agricultural and other statistics, and the terms in which he did so are significant: the purpose of the branch would be to provide statistics that would guide ‘the vast social experiments that the next generation would see’. He said that the Bank could erect a ‘lighthouse guiding men to the shores of social and economic sanity’. As for the university, he wanted it to promote a friendly British attitude towards China. ‘a really worthy British university for China here in Hong Kong’. He echoes Sir Arthur Morse’s support for an income tax – a hugely controversial issue in Hong Kong at the time – stating that direct taxation was fairer than indirect and the income tax the fairest from of all.[108] In 1938/39 Sloss had sat, alongside Sir Vandeleur Grayburn, on a committee examining methods of taxation in the Colony which had spent a lot of its time deliberating on the advisability of introducing an income tax to the Colony, which was one of only three important territories without it (the others being the Gold Coast and Malaya). They too had concluded that such a tax was the most ‘logical, equitable and remunerative’ possible, but they recommended that it not be introduced until the opinion that it could be fairly and efficiently administered in the particular circumstances of Hong Kong had won general acceptance.[109] He’d returned to the subject when, again alongside Grayburn, he’d sat on a committee examining the possibility of an income tax to raise money fro the Imperial war effort.[110] The committee decided against it but proposed taxes of about equivalent severity; the fear was always that too much taxation, particularly on personal income, would impede the flow of capital into the Colony.

All this suggest that he was man of the democratic left, although probably not nearly so radical as Hilda Selwyn-Clarke, close friend of the woman who was soon to become his wife.

In 1947 he was made an honorary graduate of his old University, Liverpool[111] and on November 21 his return to the Hong Kong Executive Council as an unofficial member was gazetted.[112] He’s recorded as chairing two committees for the Executive Council on 1948.[113]

1949 saw the end of his distinguished academic career; the departing Vice-Chancellor told the University Alumni Association that the 12 years in Hong Kong had been ‘the most pleasant period of (my) professional life’.[114] He said that in this time the University had performed its ‘supreme function’ of acting as instrument of good will and fellowship to China. Lindsay Ride presented him with a bronze plaque of himself.

On April 4, 1949 he remarried.[115] His wife, Margaret Watson, close friend of the Selwyn-Clarke’s and a dweller in Stanley’s Bungalow D, needs a post to herself. The new couple quickly moved to Oxford. Norman Mackenzie would visit them on research trips to the Bodleian and lively and wide-ranging discussions with Sloss would be renewed. In 1950 they had a very different visitor, the radical American journalist Agnes Smedley, a friend of Margaret’s from Hong Kong days who sought refuge after falling out with Hilda Sewyn-Clarke.[116] Smedley was in poor health, distrusted by the communist movement and facing moves to get her back to America to arraign her as a spy. She died in a nearby nursing home on May 5, As Duncan Sloss wrote to the US Consul-General on May 7, knowing the tabloid interest in Smedley, they asked the surgeon to carry out a post-mortem before notifying the press.[117] On May 8, 1950 ‘Mrs. D. J. Sloss’ announced Smedley’s death, but refused to say what she’d died of and claimed that no funeral arrangements had been made.

In a report dated June 13, the ‘author’s friend’ D. J. Sloss is said to have described as ridiculous allegations she was killed by the Cominform to stop her testifying about soviet espionage.[118]

Duncan Sloss died on July 29, 1964 in Oxford. His death certificate records he was living at 313, Woodstock Road.[119]

Lives like his had become impossible by the time he died. His university career had led him to a significant role in the administration of the British Empire. Instead of the endless grind of ‘research’ which is the lot of literary academics today, he’d faced (some would say partly summoned up) the force of anti-imperialist nationalism in Burma and then played a role in fighting the brutal rival imperialism of Japan.

Woodstock Road is one of the two routes out of Oxford to the North. It’s busy, but the life in north Oxford is quiet; the large Victorian houses are full of dons – it’s an easy bicycle or bus ride to the Bodleian Library or the central Oxford colleges and bookshops.  It’s a good place to reflect on the lessons one has learnt. Duncan Sloss experienced a life which the great themes of the twentieth century – nationalism, anti-colonialism and war – made rich and challenging. History took him from an engagement with the complex and obscure writings of William Blake to the anxious scanning of notes from the Hong Kong resistance that were crystal clear in their meaning but whose possession meant torture and death. He had a lot to reflect on.

Copyright Imperial War Museum

[5] D. J. Sloss and J. P. R. Wallis, The Prophetic Writings of William Blake, Volume 1, 1926, V11.

[11] The Times, August 21, 1964, page 10.

[12] Sloss and Wallis, 1926, V11.

[15] The Times, August 21, 1964, page 10.

[16] Article in The Straits Times, August 19, 1937, page 8:

[19] Tribute by L. Dudley Stamp, The Times, August 12, 1964, page 10.

[20] Article in The Straits Times, August 19, 1937, page 8:

[23] Sloss and Wallis, 1926, VII.

[24] The Times, August, 21, 1964, page 10.

[35] The Times, August 12, 1964, page 10.

[36] L. Dudley Stamp, writing in The Times, August 12, 1964, page 10.

[40] Hong Kong Daily Press, November 19, 1937, page 1.

[41] Hong Kong Daily Press, November 19, 1937, page 8.

[42] Clifford Matthews and Oswald Cheung, Dispersal and Renewal: Hong Kong University During The War Years, 1998, 62. Source says he arrived in 1935, which is probably a misprint.

[43] Matthews and Cheung, 1998, 65.

[44] Matthews and Cheung, 1998, 63-64.

[45] Matthews and Cheung, 1998, 442.

[46] Matthews and Cheung, 1998, 67.

[47] Matthews and Cheung, 1998, 13.

[51] Hong Kong Daily Press, July 7, 1938, page 7.

[52] See, for example, James Bertram’s The Shadow of A War, 1947, passim.

[53] Hong Kong Daily Press, July 7, 1938, page 8.

[54] Sloss’s speech is recorded on page 2 of a special Hong Kong Daily Press supplement,  issued on March  13, 1939.

[55] Hong Kong Daily Press, May 31, 1939, page 7.

[56] Matthews and Cheung, 1998, 27-29.

[57] Matthews and Cheung, 1998, 227.

[62] Hong Kong Daily Press, April 25, 1940, page 5.

[63] GA 19441, no. 716.

[64] Page 5.

 [66] Hong Kong Daily Press, July 18, 1941, page 5.

[68] Matthews and Cheung, 1998, 72.

[69] Matthews and Cheung, 1998, 72.

[73] Matthews and Cheung, 1998, 223-4.

[74] Ride Papers, Fehilly Conversation With Ride, page 1.

[75] Ride Papers, Fehilly Conversation with Ride, page 1.

[76] Ride Papers, Fehilly Conversation with Ride, page 4.

[78] Ride Papers, Fehilly Conversation With Ride, page 4.

[79] Matthews and Cheung, 1998, 78.

[80] Franklin Gimson, Internment in Hong-Kong, 40b. (Held at Rhodes House, Oxford).

[81] Jean Gittins, Stanley: Behind Barbed Wire, 1982, 86.

[82].Matthews and Cheung, 1998, 18.

[83]Matthews and Cheung, 1998, 401.

[84] Matthews and Cheung, 1998, 402.

[85] Matthews and Cheung, 1998, 79.

[86] Matthews and Cheung, 1998, 80.

[87] The full message can be read in Edwin Ride, British Army Aid Group, 1981, 134-5.

[88] Gittins, 1982, 126.

[89] George-Wright-Nooth, Prisoner of the Turnip Heads, 1994, 114.

[90] Ride, 136-137.

[91] Wright-Nooth, 1994, 115.

[92] John Stericker, A Tear for the Dragon, 1958, 182.

[93] Wright-Nooth, 1994, 162.

[94] Wright-Nooth, 1994, 181.

[95] Gittins, 1982, 153.

[98] Gittins, 1982, 154, 156, 157.

[99] Gittins, 1982,, 160.

[100] Matthews and Cheung, 1998, 425.

[101] Matthews and Cheung, 1998, 427.

[102] Matthews and Cheung, 1998, 108.

[103]Matthews and Cheung, 1998, 429.

[104] Matthews and Cheung, 1998, 429-430.

[105] Matthews and Cheung, 1998, 34.

[107] Matthews and Cheung, 1998, 223-224.

[108] China Mail, March 29, 1947, page 3.

[114] Hong Kong Sunday Herald, April 3, 1949, page 4.


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

Conditions at the French Hospital: More Evidence From The Ride Papers

Not much is known about conditions at the French Hospital between the escape of Staff-Sergeant Sheridan on June 4, 1942 and the arrest of Dr. Selwyn-Clarke on May 2, 1943.[1] However, there’s a little information to be gleaned from some BAAG reports kindly sent to me by Elizabeth Ride (the Ride Papers are held at the Hong Kong Heritage Project.) At about the same time as S-S. Sheridan was making his way to Kwong Chow Yan and onwards into Free China an earlier escaper, Colonel Lindsay Ride, now head of the resistance organisation going under the name of the British Army Aid Group, was sending the first agents into occupied Hong Kong. The FrenchHospital, after the Sun Wah Hotel where the bankers were quartered, contained the second largest group of Allied civilians outside Stanley, so it was naturally one of the first places to be contacted. The main source of knowledge about the Hospital, however,  comes from an interview Colonel Ride conducted with Dr. Fehilly, an Irish national who had been living independently with his wife until they both escaped on October 25, 1942.

The leader of the 15-20 non-patient Hong Kong and British citizens living at the Hospital was Dr. Selwyn Selwyn-Clarke, and the BAAG sources show that there was some suspicion as to the motives of this strong-minded man – but that complex matter, which is too often misunderstood as a contrast between Ride’s focus on victory whatever the cost and Selwyn-Clarke’s humanitarian scruples requires a post of its own. In this one I’ll write mainly about other matters.

According to Emily Hahn, most of the pre-war Health Department were allowed to stay out of Stanley at first and continue their work, but then a doctor broke parole and escaped so most of these workers were interned; a small number, selected by the Japanese not Selwyn-Clarke, were allowed to stay out but forced to live together at the French Hospital.[2] The only escape I know of by a doctor at this time was Gordon King’s; this began on February 10, 1942, although the Japanese didn’t learn about it until three days later.[3] King was a professor at Hong KongUniversity, where he was living at the time, and not directly connected with the Medical Department, but I don’t know of any other medical escape at this early stage. It should also be mentioned that at least one detail of Hahn’s account is not accurate: she says that the truck drivers were sent into Stanley at this time, whereas both teams – one in the French Hospital and the other in May Road – remained uninterned.

Dr. Fehilly told Colonel Ride that in the earliest days the doctors had one main role:

Except for Mackie all doctors at first used as scavengers.[4]

In other words, they were working to arrange the clearance and burial of the many dead bodies left on the hills after the fighting. This is not surprising as the situation was dire. This is the description given by leading surgeon Li Shu-Fan of conditions just before the surrender:

Malignant malaria, cholera, and other diseases were breaking out, and the hospital was getting its first quota of these. One had only to glance at the Hong Kong streets to see the reason for the epidemics. Stagnant pools of water, filthy tin cans, broken vessels and cesspools – all these, everywhere, were excellent breeding places for mosquitoes. The Sanitary Department had ceased to function and the coolies refused to work since the streets were unsafe during battle; so, too, anti-malarial squads stopped work and the scavenging coolies abandoned their rounds. Garbage and filth, accumulated in heaps everywhere, bred an unprecedented number of flies; and the thousands of decaying bodies scattered on the hillsides were additional breeding grounds….The swarms {of flies} brought on a wave of the four major bowel complaints – cholera, typhoid, dysentery, and diarrhoea.[5]

Some members of the pre-war Sanitary Department were also kept uninterned to help deal with these health hazards; half a dozen of them were still outside Stanley in May 1943, and I’m fairly sure that at some point they came to live in the French Hospital, but the evidence suggests that they weren’t there at first – they are, for example, not mentioned in Staff-Sergeant Sheridan’s detailed account of life there between February and June 1942.

Fehilly also discussed the situation of doctors Court,[6] Griffiths[7] and Nicholson:

These are all in the French Hospital, where there is very bad feeling. Griffiths had beri-beri and hates Selwyn-Clarke.[8]

I discussed Dr. Griffith’s 1943 escape in a previous post. But in 1942 it was Dr. Court who was though most likely to leave Hong Kong; Ride had written to him earlier inviting him to ‘come out’ and was clearly disappointed at his failure to do so:

Court’s refusal to come out may have been due to the very bad reaction over Stott’s escape[9]It was said that… the Japanese clamped down on communication with Stanley and stopped the inflow of goods. Dr. Fehilly did not think that Court had given any parole…. Dr. Fehilly said that Sloss[10] approved of Court going. In Macao Levcovitch (sic) told Dr. Fehilly exactly how Court was proposing to escape.[11]

R. B. Levkovich was a naturalized Briton of Russian origin who acted as a driver and agent for Dr. Selwyn-Clarke until his escape sometime around September 1942. Dr. Court never escaped and ended up in Stanley Camp. Soon after arriving in Chungking, Dr. Griffiths wrote to Court’s wife Judy assuring her that her husband continued ‘to tick over ok’.[12]

As for Dr. Murdo Nicholson:

Nicholson was sore that he did not get away with the Americans.[13]

Dr. Fehilly himself had also tried and failed to get out of Hong Kong as the medical officer on the June 29/30 repatriation. He eventually escaped with his wife on October 25, 1942. Dr. Nicholson was one of those who was probably arrested alongside Selwyn-Clarke on May 2, 1943, but he was soon released and sent into Stanley Camp.[14]

Fehilly also provided information about Dr. Frederick Bunje,[15] who was a Eurasian and therefore allowed some freedom while living at the French Hospital, but who was treated brutally when an escape plan was revealed to the Japanese by a disgruntled employee.[16]

Dr. Mackie was said by Fehilly to be the most free of all the doctors, and he’d done good anti-malarial work, including at Stanley. He planned to ‘come out’ if there was a threat to intern him.[17] Dr. Mackie was living in Robinson Rd. in late 1942, not the French Hospital, but my guess is that he was sent into Stanley alongside the other doctors on May 7, 1943.

Interestingly Dr. Fehilly doesn’t mention Dr. Graham-Cumming ( and nor does S-S. Sheridan – this makes me think that perhaps he was sent to the French Hospital later than the other doctors, although this is of course only  only one possibility.  Dr. Fehilly gave an account of the leader of this increasingly embattled group:

Selwyn-Clarke is surrounded by puppets and traitors and is expected to be interned at any moment. He is not allowed to speak on the phone, has to go straight from the French Hospital to his office, and is watched all the time. He is suspected by the Japanese of being the head of the British Service and everybody taken by the gendarmes is closely questioned about him. He retains his freedom through his friendship with Colonel Uguchi.[18]

Amazingly Selwyn-Clarke stayed out of the hands of the Gendarmes for more than 6 months after Dr. Fehilly’s late October escape.[19]

[2] Emily Hahn, China To Me, 1986 ed. (1944), 356-358.

[4] RideInterview with Fehilly, 18 December  1942, page 3

[5] Li Shu-Fan, Hong Kong Surgeon,  1964, 103-104.

[8] Ride Interview with Fehilly, 18 December  1942, page 3.

[10] Vice Chancellor of Hong Kong University and the subject of a forthcoming post.

[11] Ride Interview with Fehilly.

[12] Letter from Griffiths to Ride, page 1, Ride Papers.

[13] Ride Interview with Fehilly, 18 December  1942, page 3.

[16] Ride Interview with Fehilly, 18 December 1942, page 3.

[17] Waichow Intelligence Summary No. 10, October 23, 1942, Free Europeans, Page 6.

[18] Ride Interview with Fehilly, 18 December  1942, page 3

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The Third Escape From The French Hospital: Dr. Gerard Griffiths

Note: except in a few obvious cases, this post is based on documents in the Ride Papers, held at the Hong Kong Heritage Project, and kindly sent to me by Elizabeth Ride.

As far as I know, there were three escapes by Allied nationals from the French Hospital: Staff-Sergeant Sheridan’s (beginning June 4, 1942 – ), Volunteer Stott’s (beginning August 11, 1942 -  ) and Dr. Gerard Griffiths’ (beginning late March or early April, 1943).

Dr.  Gerard V. A. Griffiths was in charge of the Queen Mary Hospital during the fighting; he ended up at the French Hospital, presumably after the Japanese took the QMH over for their own wounded. A BAAG report describes the atmosphere at the French Hospital in late 1942: [1]

These are all {doctors Court, Griffiths and Nicholson} in the French Hospital, where there is very bad feeling. Griffiths had beri-beri and hates Selwyn-Clarke.

Emily Hahn felt that even before the war relations between doctors had been poor, even by medical standards, so it’s not surprising that under the strain of confinement in cramped and unpleasant conditions they grew still worse. For whatever reason, some time in spring 1943 Dr. Griffiths decided to escape from Hong Kong.

It’s not known how Dr. Griffiths got to Macao, but he is described as Irish-British in one BAAG document,[2] so it’s likely he used a claim to Irish nationality to get official permission to go there. The Japanese, as we shall see, were aware that many Allied nationals used Macao as a jumping off place for an escape into Free China, and by early 1944 it had become dangerous to even apply for permission to go there,[3] but in this case it seems to have been granted. In Macao Griffiths presumably contacted the British Ambassador John Reeves, and through him the British Army Aid Group. Reeves’ secretary, Joy Wilson, the wife of  a police officer interned in Stanley, is on the list of escapers in Dr. Griffith’s party, although it seems that she decided to stay on for awhile. She was at the time the senior British Army Aid Group agent in Macao. (Information on Joy Wilson kindly supplied by Elizabeth Ride.)

The escape group began  moving with their Chinese guerrilla escort on April 5, but the Japanese, who were watching out for escapers, learnt of them on April 6 and were only two lis ( a li = roughly a kilometre) behind. They were forced to march speedily across the hills from 5 p.m. until next morning. Fleeing by river, they were chased and shelled by Japanese gunboats, but protected by guerrilla leader Commander Leung’s forces they made it through safely, although three Chinese personnel were killed when a boat capsized[4] One American later said:

It was really a miracle we managed to run the enemy blockade by man-powered wooden boats.[5]

Dr. Griffiths arrived at Samfou in BAAG Forward Area 11 with the rest of his large party (37 in all) on April 10, 1943, where a welcome telegram from Ride awaited him. It seems like the main problem for the BAAG was not the size of the party but the 70 or so pieces of luggage they brought with them and the delay of this luggage in arriving![6] Captain F. W. Wright, the agent responsible for the escape arrangements, decided to split the group into three. Dr. Griffiths was in the second of the three parties into which this group was split, alongside American Ray O’Neil,[7] who had escaped in a group that fled Stanley by boat on March 18, 1942. It seems that the party were told they could take anything they wanted with them, and Wright notes that a missionary called (E. C.) Bernard was not satisfied with taking out her adopted Chinese child but also took her sewing machine. Not surprisingly Wright – who had to find the funds to transport the luggage – suggested that in future escapers from Macao be told only to bring with them what was necessary.[8] He noted that the escape was ‘costing a mint’.[9] Dr. Griffith, however, was not to  blame: he only brought out one brown leather suitcase, a white duffel bag, and two small ‘Hong Kong’ baskets.[10]  In a letter to Colonel Ride, cited below, he explains that this luggage included his papers and a fair quantity of medicine.

During his journeying through China he spent a weekend with an earlier medical escapee at his hospital and training school.[11] Records made up to account for the BAAG’s expenditure of public funds show that he stayed with them for 11 days in May.[12]

The last known (probable) location for Dr. Griffiths is Calcutta – he gives an address there to Colonel Ride on page 2 of the letter cited above, and on the first page he announces that he will go there from Chungking on the next morning. The same letter records that ‘by chance’ he’d received a letter from his wife that came via Macao.  David Tett’ s ‘postal history’ includes another letter (undated but presumably early) from her, sent through the Australian Red Cross and  addressed to Queen Mary Hospital; it went to Stanley Camp, but the sorters there knew of his escape and sent it on to Macao, where it received a back stamp on March 24, 1944.[13] It would be interesting to know where he as at that time, almost exactly a year after his escape, and if he’d been reunited with the sender!

[1] Ride Interview with Fehilly, 18 December  1942, page 3

[2] Memo from F. W. Wright to Lindsay Tasman Ride, 1943.

[4] Translation of Chinese Newspaper 11/4/43 (1).

[5] Translation of Chinese Newspaper 11/4/43 (2),.

[6] Memo from F. W. Wright to Lindsay Tasman Ride, 1943.

[7] Memo from Wright to Ride, April 16, 1943.(1)

[8] Memo from Wright to Ride, April 16, 1943.(2)

[9] Letter from Wright, April 17, 1943.

[10] List of Baggage Brought Over by the 2nd.Party, April 27, 1943.

[11] Griffiths Letter to Ride,   May 26, 1942, page 2.

[12] BAAG ‘Guests’ List.

[13]  David Tett, Captives in Cathay, 2007, 119.

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How The Bakers Started Baking Again After The Surrender (2): Return to the Qing Loong

Note: all citations, unless otherwise referenced are from pages 83-85 of Staff-Sergeant Sheridan’s Hong Kong Memoir, kindly made available to me by Helen Dodd and her sisters.

In my previous post I described the way in which, at the suggestion of Lane, Crawford manager A. W. Brown and with the permission of Captain Tanaka, the bakers were allowed out of the Exchange Building to deliver bread stored at the Lane, Crawford depot before it became inedible:

After a couple of days, all the bread was all delivered, and again it was A. W. Brown who approached the Japanese officer in command, Captain Tanaka:

As the bread had now run out we had a discussion and it was suggested that Brown approach Tanaka to allow the Bakers out under escort to the Ching Loong Bakery in Queens Road East to bake bread for the inmates of the Exchange Building and for a lot of wounded troops and civilians in the Hong Kong Hotel which was being used as a temporary Hospital.

Thomas considered the Qing Loong (Green Dragon) bakery the best of the Chinese bakeries and this was the first one he’d opened,[1] probably on December 21, after the capture of the North Point power station and other developments made it impossible to continue using the Lane, Crawford

Bakery in Stubbs Rd. In his Escape Statement S-S. Sheridan mentions baking bread for the Bowen Road Military Hospital and ‘some other civilian hospitals’ as well as the Hong Kong Hotel.[2] Thomas’s British Baker article also mentions the temporary hospitals in the Hotel. The Memoir is the only source that mentions that bread was baked for those living in the Exchange Building as well. Barbara Anslow, who like most Allied civilians was crammed into a room at one of the insalubrious brothel hotels on the waterfront waiting to hear what her long-term future would be, noted in her diary for January 12:

Medical Dept (?) have started to send bread daily – one slice each with butter or jam.[3]

I don’t know if the question mark was in the original diary or added when Barbara edited it for online publication. There is no mention in either of the documents written by the two bakers that bread went into the hotels, and initial bread production was only 590 lbs a day[4]– nowhere near enough for the emergency hospitals and the 2,000 plus hotel dwellers. In her summary for the immediately preceding period, 8-12 January,  Barbara wrote:

Eric Himsworth and Tony (Cole) used to buy bread somehow, and invited me to share it with them at 4pm, plus either jam or butter – it was wonderful.[5]

My guess is that the two men bought some of the bread from the Exchange Building store that the bakers had been delivering, and that it was for sale because some of the recipients decided it was more to their advantage to sell it on the black market!

In any case, once again, it was the humane Captain Tanaka who made the enterprise of baking fresh supplies possible:

Tanaka agreed to provide transport and escort.

Thomas dates his agreement to January 9.[6] I’d previously thought that Dr. Selwyn-Clarke, who is known to have been in touch with Tanaka at an early stage to get his permission to make use of the ‘siege biscuits’[7] stored at Lane, Crawford, had something to do with the resumption of baking. However, neither S-S.  Sheridan nor Thomas mentions his involvement. Nevertheless, according to Emily Hahn, at some point Dr. Selwyn-Clarke did play a part in the process. Selwyn-Clarke is explaining to his wife why he needs to carry large sums of money around:

‘Only yesterday I had to keep the baker out of internment. I had to pay those people off, you know. We need a baker in town. I gave them two hundred dollars.’’

‘Two hundred dollars!’ Hilda wailed.

‘Bread is needed,’ Selwyn said, reasonably. ‘They need bread at Stanley and there are no ovens there. I couldn’t allow him to be interned’.[8]

Hong Kong Holiday is a semi-fictionalised source, but this seems plausible. If this bribe was indeed paid, it must have supplemented Captain Tanaka’s efforts and kept all the bakers uninterned.

The baking squad consisted of Thomas, S-S Sheridan and his fellow RASC master baker Sgt. James (or John) Hammond, Serge Peacock (the Lane, Crawford confectionery baker), his father Mr. Piankoff , G. W. Mortimer, who seems to have been recruited to the enterprise in the last few days of the fighting, and two Chinese bakers also with the RASC:

 The party was Edgar, Mortimer, Hammond, Leung Choy, Leung Tim, myself and Peacock (Russian) naturalised British and his father Piankoff. The son had changed his name to Peacock by deed poll.

The main problem in the Exchange Building was boredom, so the opportunity to do something, especially something constructive, is welcome:

We are all pleased at being allowed out to do some work. With Brown’s permission Edgar and I enter the large food store in the basement and fill up a large basket with tinned food, tea, sugar, butter, etc, as well as yeast for breadmaking, We know that there was a certain amount of flour left at the Ching Loong Bakery on Xmas Day, we hope it is still there.

The movements of Allied civilians are by now severely restricted and few are allowed on the streets:

Before we leave the Exchange Building Tanaka gives each one of us an armband to wear, it has Japanese characters on it. Leung Choy can read the characters, but does not speak Japanese. He says the characters describe us as the servants of Tanaka. We are escorted on a truck to the Bakery and given strict instructions not to leave the building until the escort arrives about 6p.m.

 A further advantage of being interned in Hong Kong’s largest department store is revealed:

 The weather had now turned quite cool and as Hammond and I were in KD {Khaki Drill} slacks and shirt, Brown gave us a green woollen pullover each to wear. We also dispensed with our Army headgear so that now we looked like any other civilian, although we both wore army boots.

 There is good news when they arrive at the Qing Loong:

On arrival at the Ching Loong Bakery we found that the manager and part owner, Mr Ng, had kept all the supplies and equipment. He was very glad to see us and could not have been more co-operative. Through lack of materials no work had been carried out since Xmas Day.

On February 6, 1947, the Hongkong Sunday Herald (page 10) reported that Ng Yin-cheung was to be presented with a certificate of merit for the assistance rendered to S-S. Sheridan in his escape.[9] He remained a close friend of Thomas after the war, and he and his wife – and later their grown-up children – visited him and Evelina in England.

But the bakers did find at least one major problem – the regular water supply had not yet been resumed. This was because the electricity supply was not restored at the time, and until it was (later in January) even the city centre only received water two or three days a week:[10]

Our first problem was water, and now we could not call on the Fire Brigade. Mr Ng showed us a well at the back of the Bakery. On uncovering it we found it was a sump and not a spring well. On sampling its contents we round it stagnant and foul smelling. So here we had all the facilities to produce bread excepting the water supply.

Luckily the process of bread-making itself solves the problem of hygiene:

Edgar and I had a discussion and came to the conclusion that the water could be used if it could be boiled. But we had no means of doing this. Then it struck me that bread baked at nearly 500ºF for 55 minutes should kill any germs harmful to human beings. The first dough was mixed by hand, the water looked like black sewage when poured on the white flour and it really did stink. We mixed some more doughs, weighed off and moulded up the first one and set the loaves in a wood fired oven. The steam escaping from the oven gave off a faint smell of the stagnant water but when the bread was baked and withdrawn from the oven it looked first class. After about an hour’s cooling we cut some loaves and gave them to some coolies who were begging for food near the Bakery. By 6p.m. when the escort came to collect us and the bread, the coolies were still there and clamouring for more bread.

The work goes on until the end of the first week in February:

We continued this existence for some weeks and turned out a fair amount of bread which was distributed to various Hospitals and some orphanages.

We had many visits to the Bakery by Jap patrolling troops. Tanaka’s arm bands seem to satisfy their curiosity and we were not molested in any way, in fact they seemed to take a great interest in what we were doing. Everyone mucked in and did their fair share of the work.

I think it was at this time that Thomas met Evelina:

There were quite a number of different nationalities who up till now had not been interned by the Japs, i.e. Swiss, Portuguese, French, Irish and others. It soon got round that we were making breads, and as it had not been possible to get any for weeks, some visited the Bakery and were prepared to pay any price for a loaf. We did our best to discourage their visits as it may mean the loss of our jobs. Some were friends of Edgar’s whom he helped at great risk to us all, but he never took a cent in payment.

I’m not yet sure about this, but I suspect that one of the Swiss or Portuguese friends was the landlord who introduced Evelina to Thomas as someone who could get her some food. In any case, Thomas’s dilemma was to be faced by many people during the occupation: would they help others when this posed a real risk to themselves? And what about possible harm done to other people? Thomas could have been sent to Stanley, where conditions were bad enough, but S-S. Sheridan and Sgt. Hammond were RASC men and at this stage would have been sent to Shamshuipo, where life in 1942 was nightmarish. No doubt some of the emotion he felt at the Qing Loong Bakery came back to S-S. Sheridan as he wrote his Memoir, but he describes Thomas’s actions with his characteristic objectivity.

It seems clear from S-S. Sheridan’s testimony that whatever Selwyn-Clarke did behind the scenes – and it’s possible and even probable that he did things that are not recorded in any of the sources currently available to me – the resumption of baking was on the initiative of A. W. Brown and the bakers themselves, and that Captain Tanaka made it possible. When the bakers were sent to live at the FrenchHospital with the delivery drivers (February 8) they joined the Medical Department as a functioning unit.

S-S. Sheridan escaped on June 4, 1942. The other bakers continued to work at the Qing Loong until May 7, 1943 when they were sent to Stanley in the wake of Selwyn-Clarke’s arrest. In the final post in this series I’ll look at the work of the bakers in the period after their resumption of work.

[7] Selwyn Selwyn-Clarke, Footprints, 1975, 74. Some of the contact between Selwyn-Clarke and Tanaka is fictionalised by Emily Hahn in the story ‘Silicon Dioxide’ in Hong Kong Holiday (1946). She calls Tanaka Yamaguchi.

[8] Emily Hahn, Hong Kong Holiday, 1946, 122.

[9] See also G. B. Endacott and Alan Birch, Hong Kong Eclipse, 1978, 192.

[10] Cheng Po Hung, Hong Kong During the Japanese Occupation, 2006, 147.


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How The Bakers Started Baking After The Surrender (1): Delivering Old Supplies


Note: All quotations unless otherwise referenced are from pages 82-83 of Patrick John Sheridan’s Hong Kong Memoir, kindly sent to me Helen Dodd and her sisters.

We know that eventually the four bakers – RASC men Staff-Sergeant Sheridan and Sergeant Hammond, and Lane, Crawford employees Thomas Edgar and Serge Peacock – became part of Selwyn-Clarke’s skeleton Health Department working in occupied Hong Kong. Partly because of Selwyn-Clarke’s pre-war meeting with the Japanese Medical Officer Colonel Eguchi, in which he impressed his future patron as an Englishman who treated an Oriental visitor with an unusual courtesy, and partly because most senior Japanese personnel could see the danger to their own nationals posed by possible outbreaks of epidemic disease, a small number of  British doctors and public health officials were allowed to remain outside Stanley to carry on – and in some cases even to extend – their work. Staff-Sergeant Sheridan’s Memoir makes it clear that the bakers went back to work largely because of the good-will of Captain Tanaka to the Allied and Chinese population, and, although another source suggests that Selwyn-Clarke was perhaps involved in the process,[1] they joined the Health Department as a fully-functioning and independent operation.

The last day of the fighting saw the four bakers (assisted by Serge Peacock’s father Mr. Piankoff,[2] G. W. Mortimer and a number of Chinese bakers including Leung Choy and Leung Tim) desperately struggling to produce the required amount of bread from small Chinese bakeries with wood-fired ovens. On news of the surrender, they went to the Lane, Crawford HQ, the Exchange Building in Des Voeux Rd, where they were already living.[3] The next day (December 26) the Building was taken over by the Japanese officer i/c of communication, Captain Tanaka.  The bakers gradually came to understand that this man was very different to most Japanese officers: in later years Thomas almost never spoke about the war without showing signs of fear and anger, but his continuing affection for Tanaka was obvious.

For a few days the bakers were confined to the Building; the conditions were insanitary and the life boring, but at least they had decent food compared to most of their fellow nationals, and could sleep on the comfortable mattresses previously offered for sale at the Lane, Crawford Department store! The first step in getting the bakers back making bread was taken by A. W. Brown, the manager of Lane, Crawford:

There are thousands of loaves of bread in the main store in the basement going stale. Brown makes a suggestion to Tanaka that it be distributed to the Hospitals before it becomes unfit for consumption. Tanaka agrees and provides a lorry and armed escort.

Lane, Crawford had been an HQ – perhaps the HQ – of the Food Control operation during the hostilities, and also a major food depot. I think these loaves of bread suggest that, although the bakers were not able to produce as much bread as required while working at the Chinese bakeries, the main problem had been distribution – the transport problems faced by the British during the hostilities are well-documented.

Three of the bakers load up and set out to deliver the bread:

Edgar, Hammond and myself load up the lorry. We set off up Garden Road and pass hundreds of British troops all lined along the roadside all carrying what kit they could. There were hundreds of Japs with rifles and bayonets fixed, acting as escorts. They call out to us and say they are going to Queens Pier en route for Shan-Shui-Po, which is the former barrack camp of the Middlesex Regiment. It was the most disheartening sight I have ever seen.

As far as I can make out, the bakers saw these men en route to Shamshuipo on either December 29 or December 30,[4] which ties in with Staff-Sergeant Sheridan’s statement that they were ‘stuck in the building for a few days’, and also makes sense considering the need to deliver bread baked on December 24/25 before it became stale. The soldiers present Staff-Sergeant Sheridan and Hammond with a heart-breaking dilemma:

 A lot of these men were comrades I had soldiered with for nearly five years. They called out to Hammond and I, and begged some bread, but we dare not give them any as the two Jap escorts on the back of the lorry made it clear they did not like us even talking to them. The Jap soldiers are very quick to use the rifle butt or the bayonet if they do not like your attitude, or if you do not conform when they give any orders.

The bakers finish the bread delivery:

We distributed some of the bread to the Canossa Convent in Caine Road, and the remainder between St Joseph’s College in Kennedy Road and the French Hospital at Causeway Bay, all were badly in need for the many sick and refugees they were caring for.

They get their first glimpses of occupied Hong Kong:

We notice the bomb damage, the deserted streets, only Jap sentries at crossings or street corners. Tram wires, bricks and debris litter the streets, some dead bodies about also. We pass a large batch of Japanese Infantry carrying the ashes of dead comrades in white sacks strapped to their chests.

This goes on for a few more days:

In the next few days we distributed all the remainder of the bread that was in store.

On January 8 or 9 (Thomas gives both date in different places) Tanaka gave permission for bread distribution to become bread production.[5]

[1] See post 2 in this series, forthcoming.

[2] Both were Russian, but Serge had British citizenship by naturalisation and changed his name by deed poll.

[4] Tony Banham, We Shall Suffer There, 2009, Kindle Edition, Location 443.


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