Internment in the Exchange Building: Staff-Sergeant Sheridan’s Account

In my last post I discussed Staff-Sergeant Sheridan’s uniquely detailed account of life in the French Hospital in early 1942; the subject of today’s post, his description of conditions in the Exchange Building in the six weeks or so following the surrender, is also a rich account of an episode that was previously known to me only in the scantest outline.

This building, at 14 Des Voeux Road, was the headquarters of Lane, Crawford, and the location of its department store. The company also ran the restaurant in the basement: they attempted to popularise the name the Lane, Crawford Café, but the old name stuck, and even employees like Thomas referred to it as the Café Wiseman. The Telephone Company leased the top floor and part of the fourth floor.

During the fighting the Exchange Building[1] acted as a communications HQ and a food control centre and depot. Until December 19 Thomas, who was appointed Deputy Supply Officer Bakeries when the Japanese attacked on December 7, was producing bread for the whole colony – or at least that part of it out of Japanese hands – at the Lane, Crawford Bakery in Stubbs Rd. I haven’t yet been able to find the exact location of the bakery, but I think it was about 4 miles from the Exchange Building. On December 19, the North Point Power Station fell into Japanese hands, and the electric ovens at the bakery became unusable, so on December 21 Thomas opened up two Chinese bakeries with fire heated ovens in Queen’s Rd. East. Two Royal Army Service Corps bakers, Staff-Sergeant Sheridan and Sergeant James Hammond, were sent to work alongside Thomas in opening up more Chinese bakeries on the last two days of the fighting (December 24-25). They were based at the Exchange Building during this period:

 In the Exchange building our sleeping accommodation was on the Mezzanine Floor which is normally the bedding and furniture showroom. We have single mattresses to sleep on, quite a luxury. Evening meal and breakfast in the basement Café Wiseman.[2]

The Building was opened in 1926, and the keynote seems to have been modernity:

Several interesting features new to Hong Kong are incorporated in the construction of the building…The whole of the front elevation is carried out in cream terra-cotta blocks. As the building is not built over the sidewalk as is usual in Hong Kong, a bronze canopy with wired glass top is to be constructed at the level of the mezzanine floor extending across the width of the pavement to afford protection from the weather to pedestrians using the sidewalk..

It is with the idea of preserving a clean and attractive front that verandahs have been done with on the building. It is modern in every way…[3]

 On December 25 this place was home to many people:

 The Mezzanine floor which is the main furniture and bedding dept. is now occupied by a large number of people sleeping on mattresses on the floor.[4]

 As far as I can make out there were three groups there at and soon after the surrender. Firstly, general refugees:

 There are now a lot of people in this building including some women and children. There are quite a number of different nationalities, who must have taken refuge here when the air attacks were on. Some are people who normally live over in Kowloon City but had fled across the harbour before the Japs overran Kowloon.[5]

 Secondly, Lane, Crawford employees and those working with them like Staff-Sergeant Sheridan himself and Sergeant Hammond. Two more he mentions later are Robert Bauder, a Swiss national in the watch department, and Herbert (‘Harry’) Randall (see below). Of course, these two groups were not mutually exclusive: Robert Bauder lived in Kowloon’s Austin Rd., and might well have fled to the Exchange Building just before the Japanese occupied the mainland, and stayed there because his house had been requisitioned or was otherwise unavailable to him (for the treatment of those in this position, see below).

 The third group were employees of the Telephone Company.  Staff-Sergeant Sheridan describes the lay-out of the ExchangeBuilding:

 The top floor being the main Hong Kong telephone exchange, which employs quite a number of European engineers, etc.

 Telephone engineer Les Fisher, in his excellent memoir I Will Remember, seems to locate both the exchange and the Café Wiseman in the basement; Staff-Sergeant Sheridan’s account is confirmed by a writer in the China Mail, reporting the Building’s 1926 opening.[6] Some Telephone Company workers, both civilian and those called up to serve in the Fortress Signals Company of the Hong Kong Volunteers, are held in the Exchange Building. One of the latter, Sgt. Farrell, managed to convince the Japanese he was Irish. He fled Hong Kong with his wife and family, returning at the end of the war as a major.[7]

 The man in charge, until the arrival of the Japanese, was Mr. A. W. Brown, the manager of Lane, Crawford, the owners of the Exchange Building:

 An order comes through from the Police Chief Pennefather-Evans to get rid of all liquor. Mr Brown the manager calls all the men in the Exchange Building and explains that there is a large stock of liquor, wines and spirits stored in the basement. He asks for volunteers, so we set to work opening hundreds of cases of whisky, gin, brandy, port, wines, champagne, etc. smash the neck of each bottle and pour the contents into buckets and carry them up to street level and pour it down the drains. Mr Brown tells everyone that if they want a bottle or two to drink take it now.[8]

 In later years, Thomas was to claim that he took full advantage of Mr. Brown’s offer! But Staff-Sergeant Sheridan (who didn’t himself drink) has a different story:

 Amongst the 15 males were quite a few noted boozers, but they were so shocked at the surrender I saw nor heard of one taking as much as a bottle. I think it was a reaction or kind of daze of not knowing what was going to happen tomorrow, and the fact of seeing so much good liquor go down the drain.[9]

Thomas was one of those noted boozers – he and two friends were nicknamed ‘the three terrors of Hong Kong’ for their alcohol-fuelled exploits – and his claim to have got drunk on the evening of surrender might well have been inaccuarte. Staff-Sergeant Sheridan’s account has the ring of truth to it, although, in Thomas’s defence, it should be pointed out that next door in the Gloucester Hotel members of the police force were managing to put aside their feelings of shock and do some pretty vigorous drinking as they poured away the hotel’s copious stocks![10]

 Staff-Sergeant Sheridan describes the dreadful conditions in Hong Kong at the time of the Christmas Day surrender:

 There is a grave shortage of water, and the toilets are in a dreadful state at present.

 But he goes on to point out something that becomes clearer and clearer as his account develops:

 However, we were a lot more fortunate than a lot of people as at least we have a place to sleep and can still get a reasonable meal in the Café Wiseman.[11]

 Bad as things were, at least Hong Kong’s largest Department Store had bedding, food and, when needed, clothing.

 As he settled down for the night on December 25, Staff-Sergeant Sheridan like everyone else must have been anxious as to what the next day would bring, but he still managed to sleep well:

 I must have slept sound during the night but everything seemed very quiet on waking. No shooting or bombing. No chance of a wash or shave.[12]

 The next morning he saw for the first time a man who was to be important during his time in occupied Hong Kong, and who, unwittingly made possible his escape:

On going downstairs I find a Jap captain and a group of soldiers in conversation with Brown the Manager and some of his henchmen….

The Jap Captain speaks fairly good English, his name is Tanaka, he is a communications officer and all his men are technicians. He has come to take over the Telephone Exchange and spends a lot of time with the staff on the top floor. [13]

 It seems that Captain Tanaka[14] was also in charge of the civilians in Marina House, which backed on to the Exchange Building, and conditions there seem to have been awful:

 At Marina House the screams of children, the stench, and the condition of the aged were appalling.[15]

 The same source –HKDC officer Lewis Bush – tells us that his wife, the Japanese Kaneko Bush, was acting as Tanaka’s interpreter, and she’s linked to the ExchangeBuilding on 26, December.[16] Kaneko told Lewis that a society woman, furious at the surrender, managed to overawe the Japanese and get at least some ‘order out of chaos’ in Marina House.

 At first everybody in the Exchange Building was held prisoner:

 Meanwhile he {Tanaka} tells Brown to make out a list of names of all the people in the Building. As we look out the windows on to the street we see Jap sentries at every corner, no one is allowed to move about other than Japs.[17]


 There are two sentries on the front door, and the side doors are locked, no one is allowed to enter or leave the building. We are stuck in the building for a few days with no interference from the Japs.[18]

 Thomas also mentions this period of complete imprisonment in his much briefer account in an article for The British Baker published in September, 1946.[19]

 At first life is boring and smelly but tolerable:

 It is of course a very boring existence, but we manage to get at least two meals a day, but the shortage of water is very acute and we are beginning to smell a bit.

 Some of the interned Telephone workers, after arriving at Shamshuipo, told Les Fisher the food was ‘good’.[20]

 And the boredom was soon to be alleviated: in a separate post I’ll describe the process by which the bakers began baking again and how this eventually kept them out of Stanley and Shamshuipo. Suffice it to say for the moment that they are soon allowed out of the ExchangeBuilding, first to deliver bread and then to bake it, and this enables them to see some of the things that go on in the immediate aftermath of the surrender. The two RASC bakers and Thomas set off on a lorry under armed escort. They see the heartbreaking sight of defeated British soldiers on their way to the POW camp at Shamshuipo:

 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. 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 order.[21]

 They become aware of the general appearance of 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.[22]

 Most of the Allied civilians were taken to squalid waterfront hotels on January 5, 1942, and from there, after a nightmare three weeks of neglect and cramped confinement. Either on the same day or soon after the Japanese came to the ExchangeBuilding: Staff-Sergeant Sheridan, Thomas, Hammond and Serge Peacock were working in the Green Dragon that day:

 When we got back to the Exchange Building we found that Brown, the manager and all Lane & Crawfords staff had been interned. Hammond, Edgar and I went to see Tanaka about our position. He said, “you stay here make bread I fix”. During the time we were at work the mezzanine floor had been cleared out, and all our blankets and bedding had been removed by the Jap troops. Edgar and I went to see Tanaka about this. He gave out camp beds and blankets to everyone who had lost theirs.[23]

 Another baker, G. W. Mortimer, was not so lucky: he felt ill that morning, so stayed in the Building and was interned like the rest.

 The bakers continue to learn of the changes brought about by the occupation. News comes through of Shamshuipo:

 We are now into a new year and have been hearing some horrifying tales of the beastly treatment of British troops interned in Sham-Shui-Po camp.[24]

 Like almost everyone else with any freedom to move around Hong Kong in the early days of the new order, they witnessed atrocities against the Chinese:

 We have also witnessed some savage treatment of Chinese by the hated Kempetai. They caught two Chinese stealing. They were tied up with wire, to the railings of the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank, with feet off the ground and left there for 24 hours, with notices in Chinese round their necks stating what they were being punished for.[25]

 They are moved to less commodious accommodation:

 We have been moved to a small office on the second floor. It was used as a rice control food Dept. There are hundreds of samples of rice on shelves, and quite a few mice for company. We are a very cosmopolitan crowd here. Myself Irish, Edgar and Hammond English, Randall Eurasian, Bowder Swiss, Peacock is Russian origin, Patara Greek, Almeida is Portuguese from Goa, Siron French, and two Chinese whose names I have forgotten.[26]

 Herbert (Harry) Randall also worked for Lane, Crawford. Like Thomas he played fro the company bowls team (skippered by A. W. Brown[27]). He remained a close friend of Thomas and Evelina after they’d returned to England in 1951. Robert Bauder is in a white suit in the front row of their wedding picture. They visited him in Switzerland in about 1953, and he came to England at least once in the years that followed. Mrs Almeida was Thomas and Evelina’s Maid of Honour; it’s not known if she was the wife of this Almeda or if he’s the man on the far end of the front row. For the courageous Jules Siron, see a forthcoming post.

 There’s entertainment in this small room….

 We all get on very well considering how cramped our room is. We play cards at night or swap yarns, as all are English speaking.[28]

 …and down in the Café Wiseman too:

The telephone staff are still in the Exchange building but don’t seem to have anything to do. Tanaka gets one of the engineers to fit up the film and sound equipment from the Film Censor’s office. We have a few film shows at night in the Café Wiseman. They are quite modern films, some of which had not as yet been released by the Censor. There were some Japanese films also (not propaganda), Tanaka gave a commentary on the story.[29]

 Eventually the bakers join the Medical Department which was operating in ‘skeleton’ form in occupied Hong Kong:

 A new set up has come into being and we the bakers have become part of it.

The Japs have allowed a sort of Medical or Health Dept. to be set up to help the local hospitals and homeless refugees of many nationalities. The man who formed it is the former Director of Medical Services of Hong Kong, a Dr Selwyn-Clarke. He has the assistance of a Mr Owen Evans, an Englishman, and two Americans – a Dr Henry DD and a Mr Chuck Winter. They have an ambulance and operate very much like the International Red Cross.[30]

 If Emily Hahn can be trusted, it wasn’t just Tanaka’s influence that kept them uninterned: she claims that at some point Selwyn-Clarke had to pay a bribe to keep ‘the baker’ out of Stanley.[31]

 Conditions improve:

 Tanaka now tells us we are no longer to be escorted, but will be picked up in the ambulance each morning and be brought back at night. However, we are still not allowed on the streets, and Tanaka says he is trying to obtain permits from the Kempetai to replace the armbands. We all like the new set up, and having heard of the grim conditions in the internment camps Hammond and I decide to do our best to stay out as long as possible.[32]

 Staff-Sergeant Sheridan admires Selwyn-Clarke and describes his difficulties:

 Dr Selwyn-Clarke and his team are doing a fine job, but the Japs on the whole are not very co-operative. Men like Cpt. Tanaka are very rare indeed, very few Japanese hold his humane views towards their enemies. The Dr. and some of his team have been made to bow and scrape in order to get any concessions for the sick and needy and indeed at times have been subject to face slapping by the Japs.[33]

 The telephone workers are to leave, and Tanaka, recognising that although the are in the uniform of the Volunteers, they didn’t take part in the actual fighting, arranges for them to be interned as civilians:

 We hear that the Telephone Exchange staff are leaving soon for internment at Stanley. Tanaka realising that they are civilians in uniform because of the war, makes arrangements for them and their families to be moved to Stanley camp. He also tells them to get into civilian clothes. We have a bit of a concert one night before they are due to leave, also a meal in the Café Wiseman. Patara the Greek and his Chinese cooks turn out a splendid meal.[34]

 But things don’t go according to plan:

 An unfortunate incident happened as the Telephone Staff were about to leave for Stanley. The “Kempetai” arrived and searched their baggage and some sam brown belts and uniforms were found. The Kempetai said these men Army must go to Sham Shui Po. There being no argument about it they had to go, whereas their wives and families went to Stanley. Tanaka was very upset about this. It seems he got a dressing down from the Chief of the Kempetai for favouring Britishers.[35]

This ‘dressing down’ is, strangely enough to work in Staff-Sergeant Sheridan’s favour later, as I’ll explain in a forthcoming post on his escape. The head of the Kempetai at the time was the dreaded Colonel Noma, who was later executed for war crimes.

 Les Fisher dates the arrival of these workers at Shamshuipo as 23 February.[36] However, this is after the bakers were sent to the FrenchHospital, so I think Staff-Sergeant Sheridan’s account probably proves it happened before February 8 – the first volume of Fisher’s diary was buried and eaten by white ants, so he was writing from memory, albeit immediately after the end of the war.

 The Building’s still full of people, and once again Tanaka shows his kindness:

 There are still quite a lot of people in the Exchange Building, of many nationalities, who seem to have no homes to go to. Tanaka had a special launch provided to take them over to Kowloon to view their homes, many of which were looted, damaged or occupied by Jap troops. Those who could not find a place were brought back and given temporary accommodation and food in the Exchange Building until they could find a place or gain a passage to Macau, the Portuguese Colony on the South China coast.[37]

 Eventually all of these people leave:

 When the last lot were leaving he gave them a dinner and a concert. Everyone in the building was present. Two Portuguese girls were good singers. Broderson, a Norwegian was a good tap dancer, while Petelin, the Russian played the piano and the accordion.[38]

 Ragnar Brodersen escaped on February, 10, 1943 with two others.[39]

 Soon there’s almost no-one left, and the bakers must have realised there time in the Exchange Building was drawing to an end – apart from anything else, the department store was being transferred into Japanese hands and was eventually reopened as the Matsukaya.

 The crowd has now thinned out and there is left, the Russians and their families, four bakers, Hammond, Edgar, Peacock and myself. Our Chinese bakers had gone to live with their families. Rumours are circulating that we all must move out soon. We are worrying about the passes promised us. Edgar speaks to Tanaka about it and the answer he gets is “Don’t be anxious we’ll get soon”.[40]

 Staff-Sergeant Sheridan gives us a glimpse of very early smuggling into Stanley Camp:

 Tanaka hands out another kindness, he sends for Mr Evans and Chuck Winter and tells them to load the ambulance with food stuffs, i.e. tea, sugar, butter, tinned goods etc. and take it to the Beach Hospital for the patients. This is a godsend as they have been living on a small rice ration and a slice of bread a day. Evans and Winter manage to smuggle some of the food into Stanley Camp where it is needed just as badly.[41]

 I don’t know where the ‘Beach Hospital’ was.

 The bad news finally comes:

 About 7th February 1942 we are informed by Tanaka that we must leave the Exchange Building next day. Hammond, Edgar, Peacock and myself are to move to the French Hospital in Causeway Bay to join Dr Selwyn-Clarke’s team i.e. Evans, Dr Henry and Winter. Tanaka orders us to make out a list for each man for a week’s supply of tinned goods, which he issues from the store the night before we go.[42]

 Thomas’s British Baker article confirms that the bakers left the Exchange Building on February 8, 1942. Tanaka issues each of them with a week’s supply of tinned goods, and in the evening he comes to their room to say goodbye. Then comes something of a bombshell:

 We thank him for his kindness and later he comes up to our room. Then he sees some of mine and Hammonds Army kit, which seems to give him a bit of a shock. I am sure he had forgotten that we were military servicemen. He tells us that if we take our Army kit out and the Kempetai search and find it, we would be sent to the Military camp at Sham Shui Po, and also that he would be in trouble for keeping us. He orders us to leave everything military behind even our pay books AB64 and identity discs. He takes us down to the Dept. clothing store and we select a civilian outfit and a pair of shoes each. He tells us if we are ever questioned by the Kempetai to deny ever being a soldier.[43]

 So when Staff-Sergeant Sheridan leaves the Exchange Building he’s effectively a civilian and it won’t be long before he’s thinking about escape.


Telegraph Company personnel in the Exchange Building: from lists provided by Tony Banham on his Hong Kong War Diary website.


 Ascough Mrs. HKTC

Ascough, H. 45, Cable & Wireless Ltd. HKTC

Farrell Mrs. HKTC

Farrell Child 1 HKTC

Farrell Child 2 HKTC

Fuller, R.G. 33, Marconi China Limited [24] HKTC

Griffin Miss HKTC

Lloyd Mr. HKTC

Lloyd Mrs. HKTC

Paterson Mrs. (mother of Mrs. Farrell) HKTC

Sherry, C.M

Simmons Mrs. HKTC

Tollan Mrs. HKTC


 Fortress Signal Company

 Sherry, John Patrick Major Exchange building Commanding

 Clark, Walter Charles Captain Exchange building

Dalziel, James McDonald Sergeant 3802 Exchange building (XD5)

Davis, Thomas Sergeant 4289 Exchange building (XD5)

Farrell, R.E. Sergeant 3803 Exchange building – Left camp

Hatt, Charles Sergeant 4513 Exchange building BRH

Geall, William James Sergeant 3805 Exchange building BRH

Griffin, William George Sergeant 3806 Exchange building SSP

Kirkwood, Robert CSM 3808 Exchange building (XD5)

Needham, Charles Francis Sergeant 2818 Exchange building (XD5)

Simmons, Ben William Sergeant 3809 Exchange building SSP

Tollan, D. Sergeant 4398 Exchange building BRH

[2] P. J. Sheridan, Memoir, 78.

[3] China Mail, August 17, 1926.

[4] Memoir, 82.

[5] Memoir, 81.

[6] China Mail, August 17, 1926.

[7] Les Fisher, I Will Remember, 1996,  248.

[8] Memoir, 81.

[9] Memoir, 80.

[10] John Stericker, A Tear For The Dragon, 1958, 131.

[11] Memoir, 81.

[12] Memoir, 81.

[13] Memoir, 82.

[15] Lewis Bush, The Road to Inamura, 1972, (1961), 144-145.

[16] Tony Banham, We Shall Suffer There, Kindle Edition, Appendix: Kane Bush.

[17] Memoir, 82.

[18] Memoir, 82.

[20] Fisher, 36.

[21] Memoir, 83.

[22] Memoir, 84.

[23] Memoir, 86.

[24] Memoir, 87.

[25] Memoir, 88.

[26] Memoir, 87.

[27] Hongkong Daily Press, August 6, 1941, page 7.

[28] Memoir, 87.

[29] Memoir, 87.

[30] Memoir, 88.

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

[32] Memoir, 88.

[33] Memoir, 89.

[34] Memoir, 89-90.

[35] Memoir, 90.

[36] Fisher, 1996, 36.

[37] Memoir, 90.

[38] Memoir, 90.

[40] Memoir, 90.

[41] Memoir, 91.

[42] Memoir, 91.

[43] Memoir, 91.


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4 responses to “Internment in the Exchange Building: Staff-Sergeant Sheridan’s Account

  1. Pingback: How The Bakers Started Baking After The Surrender (1): Delivering Old Supplies | The Dark World's Fire: Tom and Lena Edgar in War

  2. Pingback: The Lane, Crawford Bakery In Stubbs Road (1): Before the War | The Dark World's Fire: Tom and Lena Edgar in War

  3. Pingback: Herbert Edward Lanepart (1) Theosophy in Old Hong Kong | The Dark World's Fire: Tom and Lena Edgar in War

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

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