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

  1. Pingback: Emily Hahn As Source (1): Walking With Frankie Zung | The Dark World's Fire: Tom and Lena Edgar in War

  2. Pingback: Hong Kong bakeries around the time of WW2 – The Industrial History of Hong Kong Group

  3. Pingback: Ching Loong Bakery (正隆餅家) 1889 – 1963 – The Industrial History of Hong Kong Group

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