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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2 Comments

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2 responses to “How The Bakers Started Baking After The Surrender (1): Delivering Old Supplies

  1. Pingback: How The Bakers Started Baking Again After The Surrender (2): Return to the Qing Loong | The Dark World's Fire: Tom and Lena Edgar in War

  2. Pingback: G. W. Mortimer | The Dark World's Fire: Tom and Lena Edgar in War

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