G. W. Mortimer

George Mortimer was transferred from the ‘combatant’ to the ‘general’ group of Essential Service workers in the Hong Kong Volunteer Defence Corps on September 4, 1941.[1] He’d been moved in the opposite direction two months earlier,[2] and I guess this means some uncertainty as to how many bakers could be spared from the fighting if war broke out. His new ‘general’ status might have meant that he was assigned to bake rather than fight throughout the hostilities, and that he was one of the five European bakers Thomas said were working in the Stubbs Rd. bakery from December 8, 1941 to December 21 when the bakery had to be abandoned.[3] Or it might have meant that he was slated for combat in the early stages of the battle but with the possibility of being re-assigned to essential service work later. This is a point I am unclear about – I need to find out more about the terminology employed by the HKVDC.

The first certain reference to him is in Staff-Sergeant Sheridan’s Memoir[4] in a diary-style entry for Tuesday, December 23:

We distribute the equipment and supplies of flour, yeast, etc. to the two bakeries and get everything ready for a start next day. Edgar manages to recruit a few more bakers. We decide to put Hammond with seven Chinese in No. 62 and a chap named Mortimer with another seven in No. 84. {A‘pokey hole’ of a bakery at 84 Queen’s Rd. East.} Edgar and I with the van will keep supplies, and collect the bread from all four bakeries.[5]

At this stage, Staff-Sergeant Sheridan and Hammond, two RASC bakers, were helping the civilians open up small Chinese bakeries that operated by wood burning. It’s not clear if Thomas really did ‘recruit’ Mr. Mortimer – in other words, got permission from the authorities for him to leave his unit and start baking, or if he was working with him all along (Staff-Sergeant Sheridan only joined the Lane, Crawford team on December 23 and I don’t suppose that matters of historical record were much on anyone’s mind!)

The next reference is after the December 25 surrender:

Mr Brown, the manager tells me that there is an order from the Chief of Police to hand all weapons into the Gloucester Hotel next door. After doing this, I go with the van to the bakeries to collect Hammond and Mortimer.[6]

Staff-Sergeant Sheridan brought him to the Exchange Building, the Lane, Crawford headquarters, where the bakers were being held.

Mr. Mortimer doesn’t seem to have taken part in the distribution to the hospitals of the already-baked bread,[7] but he was one of the team that were allowed out to start baking again – mainly for the hospitals – in early January:

Tanaka {the Japanese officer in charge} agreed to provide transport and escort. The party was Edgar, Mortimer, Hammond, Leung Choy, Leung Tim, {Two RASC bakers}myself and Peacock (Russian) naturalised British and his father Piankoff. [8]

He carried on baking with the rest of them until the day the civilians in the Exchange Building were rounded up:

Now the Kempetai (Military Police) similar to the German Gestapo have now taken control. All British, Dutch and Americans have been rounded up and interned in Chinese Hotels on the waterfront. On that day while we were working the Bakery, Mortimer who was feeling sick stayed in the Exchange Building and was interned with the others.[9]

Messrs. Mortimer and Brown were all taken to the Mee Chow Hotel preliminary to being sent to Stanley: all the following listings are from Tony Banham’s Hong Kong War Diary[10] website, and based on Japanese records:

Brown,  A.W. Mr. Room 401 MCH

Mortimer,  G.W. Mr. Room 401 MCH

Room 403 of the same hotel also contained two Lane, Crawford employees:

Hall,  F. Mr. Room 401 MCH

Ogley Child Room 403 MCH

Ogley, W.C. Mr. Room 403 MCH

Ogley, W.C. Mrs. Room 403 MCH

As it happens, both butchery salesman Frederick Ivan Hall[11] and shipping manager W. C. Ogley[12] played bowls for the same company team as Thomas. I’ve not been able to find out if everyone in rooms 401-403 was from Lane, Crawford. Mr. Hall, who was executed by the Japanese for his role in sending messages in and out of Stanley, also lived close to Thomas in what was probably also company accommodation at 76,[13] Morrison Hill Rd. (Cecil Carr, another employee also lived at 76, Morrison Hill Rd, although a Dairy Farm employee has the same address as Thomas, number 82, which suggests either that the company rented some of these units themselves or that it rented them out to others).

When did this ‘round up’ take place? Thomas’s British Baker article says that the hospitals asked Captain Tanaka for permission to have the bakers back at work on January 9, and implies that work was begun soon after. In Staff-Sergeant Sheridan’s account it is A. W. Brown who approaches Tanaka,[14] and, although the dates are not given explicitly, my sense is that he places the start of baking a little earlier than that. On January 4 the civilians were told to assemble the next day on the Murray Parade Ground. Things were still rather chaotic at that time, and a fair number didn’t get the message or decided to risk ignoring it – but I don’t know why the people in the Exchange Building didn’t go to the Parade Ground, as they were living close to the centre of things and must surely have heard about the notices. In any case, I doubt that the Kempetai bothered to round up stragglers on that day, as the whole operation has an improvised feel, and, as I said, there were many people who failed to present themselves, and some even managed to go straight to Stanley without undergoing the nightmare period in the hotels first.

All in all, I think the most likely period for the removal of the people in the Exchange Building is January 7-January 14. At first, Mr. Mortimer probably cursed his luck in being ill that day. Staff-Sergeant Sheridan’s Memoir makes it clear that once they got to the French Hospital in early February, and probably before that while under Captain Tanaka’s protection, the bakers and their fellows considered that they were fortunate indeed in being out of Stanley, or in the case of the two RASC men, Shamshuipo. But by May 7, 1943, when Thomas, accompanied now by Evelina, and a party that included Sergeant Hammond (now posing as a civilian under Tanaka’s orders) and Serge Peacock made their way down to Stanley, Mr. Mortimer, if he knew anything about what had been going on in town, would have realised that the luck had been largely his. Staff-Sergeant Sheridan had escaped on June 4, 1942, but the other bakers had remained in the French Hospital to experience gradually worsening conditions and the dreadful Kempeitai crack down on the Hong Kong resistance that began in February, 1943. The terror had got closer and closer, until on May 2 a squad of sailors entered the Hospital and arrested at least three of the British citizens there, perhaps more, and kept the rest imprisoned on the premises while they searched it thoroughly for evidence of spying.[15] The initial advantages of greater freedom and access to a superior black market must have been more than wiped out by those last few months of fear, and the continuing anxiety that one of those being held by the Kempeitai would name others.

[3] Article in The British Baker, September 13, 1946.

[4] Kindly sent to me by Helen Dodd.

[5] Patrick John Sheridan, Memoir, 76.

[6] Memoir, 80.

[8] Memoir, 83.

[9] Memoir, 85-86.

[14] Memoir, 82.


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