Early Days in the French Hospital (2): The Evidence of Volunteer Stott

Note: unless otherwise referenced, all information is drawn from R. E. Stott’s escape statement of October 6, 1942. This was kindly sent to me by Elizabeth Ride; it’s part of the Ride Papers, which are held at the Hong Kong Heritage project.

Staff-Sergeant Sheridan describes a ‘Eurasian’ called Volunteer Stott playing the violin as part of the evening entertainment for those interned at the French Hospital in the first half of 1942.  R. E. Stott wasn’t in fact Eurasian, but he might well have looked it, because one of his escape plans was to pose as such. This proved impossible because he was too well known to ‘local enemy agents’ – my guess is he meant Chinese and Indians living on the French Hospital compound who supported the Japanese. Instead, he was to make one of the most determined but controversial escapes of the Hong Kong war. Volunteer Stott’s escape statement provides valuable information as to life in the French Hospital to set alongside Staff-Sergeant Sheridan’s account (discussed at https://brianedgar.wordpress.com/2012/09/29/early-days-in-the-french-hospital-the-evidence-of-staff-sergeant-patrick-sheridan/ ).

In the list compiled by Greg Leck for his book Captives of Empire, Volunteer Stott is described as a land bailiff working for the Hong Kong Public Works Department;[1] he calls himself a ‘civil servant’.  In an article he write for the China Mail (published on December 31, 1946, 4-5) he says that he’s been with the Chinese people for twenty six years, suggesting he arrived in Hong Kong about 1920. The 1922 marriage (see below) and the appearance in the 1923 Jurors List also support this dating.

At the end of the fighting he found himself with the HKVDC on the Peak, and, alongside his fellow Volunteers, he went to their Garden Road HQ, divested himself of his weapons, and waited to find out what would happen next. . He was moved around, ending up at Shamshuipo, where it was discovered that after the strain of a long march loaded with extra supplies he was suffering from a ruptured duodenal ulcer. The next day he was taken to La Salle College in Boundary Rd., where he was cared for by doctor Alan Barwell, and when that was taken over by the Japanese to Tweed Bay Hospital in Stanley Camp. A month later, on February 20, 1942, he was sent with a party of other patients, all of whom, it was hoped, would benefit from the better diet provided at the French Hospital.

This is his description of the conditions he found there:

We were housed in what was formerly a school building where sanitary conditions of the lavatory were appalling. There were two closets for about 100 or more Chinese, Indians and Europeans, both male and female. Rations were worse than at Stanley. On arrival we were simply given a plate of boiled rice.

The only advantage, he claimed, was the fact that friends and relatives were allowed to bring food to those in the hospital, and he was fed ‘from outside’ during his time there. Volunteer Stott’s picture of life in the French Hospital compound is much grimmer than Staff-Sergeant Sheridan’s. I think the detail about the squalid and inadequate lavatory conditions is almost certainly correct, but I doubt that the rations were consistently worse than in Stanley, particularly the Stanley that Volunteer Stott had known: in the early days the situation in the camp was chaotic, but by the time Volunteer Stott escaped in August it was much improved. The ration system was working reasonably well, and the American repatriation on June 29/30 had made some of the best accommodation in camp available and eased the overcrowding.  Andrew Leiper, one of the bankers living in the Sun Wah Hotel, the largest concentration of British nationals outside Stanley, reports that in late 1942 or early 1943 an excuse was found to bring 6 male bachelor bankers from Stanley ‘so that they might benefit from our slightly better conditions’.[2] This doesn’t refer just to food, but my guess is that both at the Sun Wah and the FrenchHospital rations were roughly the same as at Stanley, but that it was easier for those who could raise the money to supplement them in Hong Kong than at the Stanley canteen. But Volunteer Stott might well be correct nevertheless, and more accounts are needed before a firm conclusion is possible.

As the plan to escape by poising as a Eurasian was never possible, Volunteer Stott tried to get a neutral’s pass by claiming to be Irish – this was the plan adopted by Staff-Sergeant Sheridan to make escape easier. Both men had become in effect civilians through chance, and sought o take advantage of this to escape. Volunteer Stott got as far as filling in the form, but no further, and failed to get Father Joy, leader of the Irish community and also a FrenchHospital resident, to intervene on his behalf. He was about to attempt to swim out, when a relative in the transportation business arrived from Chungking and took over the escape plans. According to David Bellis, Volunteer Stott was married to a Chinese woman,[3] and this seems to have been what made his escape possible.

Arrangements were made to provide guides and shipping, so all Volunteer Stott had to do was to get out of the Hospital. The way he did so tells us a little about the geography of the complex. There was a rear wall and behind it an alleyway that was used mainly by prostitutes and their clients. Leaning up against the wall was a gardener’s shed. On August 11, 1942, at dusk – before people’s eyes were properly adjusted to the dark – Volunteer Stott walked past some patients sitting in the Hospital entrance, scaled the shed and took a leap – he needed to jump blindly down into the lane to clear the broken glass at the foot of the wall. He sprained both heels but managed to crawl alongside a nullah (drainage ditch) running past the hospital; he got through some barbed wire and continued until he found some rope left there by friends; with the help of the rope he lowered himself to the bottom of the nullah  and  continued to drag himself along the bottom towards the typhoon shelter into which the nullah emptied  He had to hide when the prostitutes arrived; most of their clients were former Indian soldiers, many of whom had thrown in their lot with the Japanese. Eventually he reached the nullah mouth, where ‘a woman’ was waiting for him in the darkness. She escorted him to a sampan which took him to a slightly larger shrimp boat which conveyed him to Macao, although he had to transfer (at extra cost) to a fishing junk before he was actually landed. On August 13 he was carried into a hotel by friends, and sought the help of a Chinese herbalist to treat his injured heels.

Why was this courageous and determined escape so controversial? It was followed by the usual retaliation against those who remained: in this case, patients were forbidden to leave Stanley camp for X-rays at the French Hospital. The diary of the Maryknoll Order records that this privilege was granted at the end of April, and one of their own, Father Allie, took advantage of it on May 20.[4] The patient, the diary tells us, was taken in the Red Cross Ambulance and only allowed to stay a day or two (the diarist wrongly but understandably believed that Volunteer Stott was at the Hospital for X-rays).   Duncan Sloss, Hong Kong University Vice Chancellor, reported another piece of retaliation to the BAAG: Selwyn-Clarke was no longer allowed to visit Stanley.[5] This is borne out by Barbara Anslow’s diary: she records a visit by the doctor on July 29 and August 7, but nothing further until October 13.[6] Anslow’s entry for October 10 states that patients were allowed to go to the French Hospital for X-rays again, so these punishments seem to have lasted two months. The next ‘big’ event involving the French Hospital was the arrest of Dr. Talbot sometime in February 1943 for trying to smuggle money into Stanley on returning from such a stay.

However, this kind of retaliation was always expected, and there’s evidence to suggest that many people, although understandably nervous about the possible consequnces, wished the escapees well anyway. But according to a letter from Captain Hooper dated  October 7, 1942,  the BAAG had heard that Volunteer Stott had given his word to Selwyn-Clarke that he wouldn’t escape, and the latter had gone ‘’bail’ for him to the Japanese on this basis. The doctor and his wife had almost been interned as a result of the escape. Captain Hooper says that Volunteer Stott denied this, and in his escape report he’s explicit about Selwyn-Clarke’s studied neutrality:

I discussed my idea of escaping with Dr. Selwyn-Clarke…(who) listened intently but made no suggestions to help neither did he request me not to escape. (punctuation sic).

Whatever the truth of the matter, Selwyn-Clarke demanded that the BAAG return Volunteer Stott to Hong Kong, as the Japanese were making his public health work difficult in the wake of the escape. In the letter already cited, Captain Hooper notes that he was detaining the escaper at Kweilin (Guilin) until the return of Colonel Ride. When Ride did learn about the affair, he was astounded that there was some sympathy for Selwyn-Clarke’s position and he ordered that any plans to send Volunteer Stott back to Hong Kong should be abandoned.[7]


Stott was married in 1922 and his wife died in 1967:

Elizabeth Stott/ loving and faithful wife of/ R E Stott/ married 1st November 1922/ born 23rd December 1891/ died 8th November 1967


[1] Greg Leck, Captives of Empire, 2006, 649.

[2] Andrew Leiper, A Yen For My Thoughts, 158.

[5] Edwin Ride, British Army Aid Group, 1981, 180.

[6] http://gwulo.com/node/10675. The October 13 visit is also mentioned by diarist R. E. Jones: http://gwulo.com/node/13402

[7] Edwin Ride, British Army Aid Group, 1981, 180.



Filed under British Army Aid Group

3 responses to “Early Days in the French Hospital (2): The Evidence of Volunteer Stott

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

  2. Pingback: Conditions at the French Hospital: More Evidence From The Ride Papers | The Dark World's Fire: Tom and Lena Edgar in War

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

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