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.


1 Comment

Filed under British Army Aid Group, Hong Kong WW11

One response to “The Third Escape From The French Hospital: Dr. Gerard Griffiths

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

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