Conditions at the French Hospital: More Evidence From The Ride Papers

Not much is known about conditions at the French Hospital between the escape of Staff-Sergeant Sheridan on June 4, 1942 and the arrest of Dr. Selwyn-Clarke on May 2, 1943.[1] However, there’s a little information to be gleaned from some BAAG reports kindly sent to me by Elizabeth Ride (the Ride Papers are held at the Hong Kong Heritage Project.) At about the same time as S-S. Sheridan was making his way to Kwong Chow Yan and onwards into Free China an earlier escaper, Colonel Lindsay Ride, now head of the resistance organisation going under the name of the British Army Aid Group, was sending the first agents into occupied Hong Kong. The FrenchHospital, after the Sun Wah Hotel where the bankers were quartered, contained the second largest group of Allied civilians outside Stanley, so it was naturally one of the first places to be contacted. The main source of knowledge about the Hospital, however,  comes from an interview Colonel Ride conducted with Dr. Fehilly, an Irish national who had been living independently with his wife until they both escaped on October 25, 1942.

The leader of the 15-20 non-patient Hong Kong and British citizens living at the Hospital was Dr. Selwyn Selwyn-Clarke, and the BAAG sources show that there was some suspicion as to the motives of this strong-minded man – but that complex matter, which is too often misunderstood as a contrast between Ride’s focus on victory whatever the cost and Selwyn-Clarke’s humanitarian scruples requires a post of its own. In this one I’ll write mainly about other matters.

According to Emily Hahn, most of the pre-war Health Department were allowed to stay out of Stanley at first and continue their work, but then a doctor broke parole and escaped so most of these workers were interned; a small number, selected by the Japanese not Selwyn-Clarke, were allowed to stay out but forced to live together at the French Hospital.[2] The only escape I know of by a doctor at this time was Gordon King’s; this began on February 10, 1942, although the Japanese didn’t learn about it until three days later.[3] King was a professor at Hong KongUniversity, where he was living at the time, and not directly connected with the Medical Department, but I don’t know of any other medical escape at this early stage. It should also be mentioned that at least one detail of Hahn’s account is not accurate: she says that the truck drivers were sent into Stanley at this time, whereas both teams – one in the French Hospital and the other in May Road – remained uninterned.

Dr. Fehilly told Colonel Ride that in the earliest days the doctors had one main role:

Except for Mackie all doctors at first used as scavengers.[4]

In other words, they were working to arrange the clearance and burial of the many dead bodies left on the hills after the fighting. This is not surprising as the situation was dire. This is the description given by leading surgeon Li Shu-Fan of conditions just before the surrender:

Malignant malaria, cholera, and other diseases were breaking out, and the hospital was getting its first quota of these. One had only to glance at the Hong Kong streets to see the reason for the epidemics. Stagnant pools of water, filthy tin cans, broken vessels and cesspools – all these, everywhere, were excellent breeding places for mosquitoes. The Sanitary Department had ceased to function and the coolies refused to work since the streets were unsafe during battle; so, too, anti-malarial squads stopped work and the scavenging coolies abandoned their rounds. Garbage and filth, accumulated in heaps everywhere, bred an unprecedented number of flies; and the thousands of decaying bodies scattered on the hillsides were additional breeding grounds….The swarms {of flies} brought on a wave of the four major bowel complaints – cholera, typhoid, dysentery, and diarrhoea.[5]

Some members of the pre-war Sanitary Department were also kept uninterned to help deal with these health hazards; half a dozen of them were still outside Stanley in May 1943, and I’m fairly sure that at some point they came to live in the French Hospital, but the evidence suggests that they weren’t there at first – they are, for example, not mentioned in Staff-Sergeant Sheridan’s detailed account of life there between February and June 1942.

Fehilly also discussed the situation of doctors Court,[6] Griffiths[7] and Nicholson:

These are all in the French Hospital, where there is very bad feeling. Griffiths had beri-beri and hates Selwyn-Clarke.[8]

I discussed Dr. Griffith’s 1943 escape in a previous post. But in 1942 it was Dr. Court who was though most likely to leave Hong Kong; Ride had written to him earlier inviting him to ‘come out’ and was clearly disappointed at his failure to do so:

Court’s refusal to come out may have been due to the very bad reaction over Stott’s escape[9]It was said that… the Japanese clamped down on communication with Stanley and stopped the inflow of goods. Dr. Fehilly did not think that Court had given any parole…. Dr. Fehilly said that Sloss[10] approved of Court going. In Macao Levcovitch (sic) told Dr. Fehilly exactly how Court was proposing to escape.[11]

R. B. Levkovich was a naturalized Briton of Russian origin who acted as a driver and agent for Dr. Selwyn-Clarke until his escape sometime around September 1942. Dr. Court never escaped and ended up in Stanley Camp. Soon after arriving in Chungking, Dr. Griffiths wrote to Court’s wife Judy assuring her that her husband continued ‘to tick over ok’.[12]

As for Dr. Murdo Nicholson:

Nicholson was sore that he did not get away with the Americans.[13]

Dr. Fehilly himself had also tried and failed to get out of Hong Kong as the medical officer on the June 29/30 repatriation. He eventually escaped with his wife on October 25, 1942. Dr. Nicholson was one of those who was probably arrested alongside Selwyn-Clarke on May 2, 1943, but he was soon released and sent into Stanley Camp.[14]

Fehilly also provided information about Dr. Frederick Bunje,[15] who was a Eurasian and therefore allowed some freedom while living at the French Hospital, but who was treated brutally when an escape plan was revealed to the Japanese by a disgruntled employee.[16]

Dr. Mackie was said by Fehilly to be the most free of all the doctors, and he’d done good anti-malarial work, including at Stanley. He planned to ‘come out’ if there was a threat to intern him.[17] Dr. Mackie was living in Robinson Rd. in late 1942, not the French Hospital, but my guess is that he was sent into Stanley alongside the other doctors on May 7, 1943.

Interestingly Dr. Fehilly doesn’t mention Dr. Graham-Cumming ( and nor does S-S. Sheridan – this makes me think that perhaps he was sent to the French Hospital later than the other doctors, although this is of course only  only one possibility.  Dr. Fehilly gave an account of the leader of this increasingly embattled group:

Selwyn-Clarke is surrounded by puppets and traitors and is expected to be interned at any moment. He is not allowed to speak on the phone, has to go straight from the French Hospital to his office, and is watched all the time. He is suspected by the Japanese of being the head of the British Service and everybody taken by the gendarmes is closely questioned about him. He retains his freedom through his friendship with Colonel Uguchi.[18]

Amazingly Selwyn-Clarke stayed out of the hands of the Gendarmes for more than 6 months after Dr. Fehilly’s late October escape.[19]

[2] Emily Hahn, China To Me, 1986 ed. (1944), 356-358.

[4] RideInterview with Fehilly, 18 December  1942, page 3

[5] Li Shu-Fan, Hong Kong Surgeon,  1964, 103-104.

[8] Ride Interview with Fehilly, 18 December  1942, page 3.

[10] Vice Chancellor of Hong Kong University and the subject of a forthcoming post.

[11] Ride Interview with Fehilly.

[12] Letter from Griffiths to Ride, page 1, Ride Papers.

[13] Ride Interview with Fehilly, 18 December  1942, page 3.

[16] Ride Interview with Fehilly, 18 December 1942, page 3.

[17] Waichow Intelligence Summary No. 10, October 23, 1942, Free Europeans, Page 6.

[18] Ride Interview with Fehilly, 18 December  1942, page 3


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Filed under British Army Aid Group, Hong Kong WW11, Selwyn-Selwyn Clarke

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