The Free French in Hong Kong (3) Jules Alexander Siron

I’ve written before about the Free French in Hong Kong:

https://brianedgar.wordpress.com/2012/08/27/the-free-french-in-hong-kong-2-raoul-de-sercey/

https://brianedgar.wordpress.com/2012/06/01/louis-reynaud/

These men could have remained neutral – the Japanese classified them as ‘third nationals’, which means that they weren’t treated as enemies – and got on with their lives as best they could in the difficult conditions of occupied Hong Kong, but they chose to help the Allied cause instead. In today’s post I set out what little I know of the life of Jules Siron, a courageous man who undertook the riskiest service of all, choosing to act as an agent for the resistance organisation the British Army Aid Group.

Jules Alexander Siron was aged 32 in 1946 and had been in the Colony for 18 years. Prior to the occupation, he’d worked as a sales representative for the Central Meat and Dairy Supply Company.[1] Perhaps this was what led him into his job during the hostilities, working with Food Control. He was ‘stationed at the Lane Crawford Building, where members of the different services went to get their rations.’[2]

After the surrender, he remained in the Exchange Building, the Lane, Crawford HQ in Des Voeux Rd. He was presumably billeted  on the mezzanine floor, as were the other inhabitants, but as people gradually left – for their own homes, Stanley or Shamshuipo – the few remaining who, included Thomas and his fellow bakers, were moved to less commodious accommodation. One of the bakers, Patrick Sheridan, describes conditions in his post-war Memoir:

We have been moved to a small office on the second floor. It was used as a rice control food Dept. There are hundreds of samples of rice on shelves, and quite a few mice for company. We are a very cosmopolitan crowd here. Myself Irish, Edgar and Hammond English, Randall Eurasian, Bowder Swiss, Peacock is Russian origin, Patara Greek, Almeida is Portuguese from Goa, Siron French, and two Chinese whose names I have forgotten.[3]

After the occupation he was unemployed;[4] he seems to have survived by running a café in Kowloon’s Nathan Road: in evidence to a War Crimes trial he said that the accused, a Chinese man known as Hector Lee who worked for the Japanese Gendarmes, came to this café to drink coffee with him in June 1942.[5] He describes meeting Lee in Nathan Rd. – although perhaps in the street not his café – between January and February 1942,[6] which suggests he left the Exchange building before the end of January. He met Lee again three months later at his (Lee’s) shop in Kowloon, and again in 1943 when Lee asked him for a photo of William Chang. Siron denied having one,[7] for good reason:

I heard of the BAAG in Waichow from a Chinese Jamaican friend of mine, William Chang, who was based there.  This man offered me a job at the AHQ, Waichow, but I decided to stay in Hongkong because I had my family there.[8]

Mr. Chang went to Free China in May 1943 and the Kempeitai raided his home while he was away;[9]  my guess is that he didn’t return (openly at least) to Hong Kong after that, so Mr. Siron’s recruitment took place before that time. Before I describe the work he’s likely to have done, I need to say a few words about the situation of the resistance in 1943-1944.

In the spring of 1943 the Kempeitai broke the BAAG organisation in Hong Kong in a series of arrests and executions, which also destroyed the Nationalist Chinese opposition, leaving only the communist East River Column, which was based safely away from the city in mountainous areas. The BAAG remained an effective force as far as such things as the recue of downed pilots went, but its ability to communicate with and gather information with Hong KongIsland and Kowloon was greatly reduced. However, it wasn’t wiped out completely; by the end of 1943 its original British contacts were either dead (Hyde, Bennett, Grayburn,), in prison (Selwyn-Clarke, Edmonston) or interned in Stanley (all the French Hospital people were sent there in May and the bankers followed in June or early July). This means that it had to rely on ‘third nationals’ (neutrals) like Mr. Siron and those British and Hong Kong citizens who, because of their ethnicity, were allowed to remain uninterned- the Japanese in some ways reversed the pre-war British policy of favouring ‘pure European blood’ and allowed blacks and Eurasians to stay out of Stanley if they wanted. Most agents, of course, continued to be Chinese, and although some were executed in 1943, others remained, and new recruits were forthcoming.

Siron told a 1946 War Crimes trial about his work for Chang:

Mr. Siron told the court he assisted William Chang in his BAAG work, and after Mr. Chang escaped to BAAG Field Headquarters at Waichow he worked for him indirectly.[10]

William Chang/Cheng/Khan (Agent 21) is mentioned at least 50 times in the Ride Papers (the main source of BAAG documents). He was a ‘w/t technician’ (I think that means he worked with radios) who joined the BAAG in July 1942, making him one of its earliest agents in occupied Hong Kong. His main work was in organising the escape of Indian POWs, so it seems likely that Mr. Siron also had something to do with this.[11]

Elizabeth Ride was kind enough to list for me his other BAAG contacts:

His work with the BAAG mentions threads of connection to Lai Chak Po, John Power, Frank Lessen, Narindar Singh amongst others.

Frank Leeson (or Lessan, or Lee) was a black BAAG agent who was sent from Waichow to Hong Kong.[12] He worked as a ‘sub agent’ for William Chang. Lai Chak Po was also arrested and mistreated in 1944. I have no information about Narindar Singh at the moment.

John Power was also a third national although I don’t know which country he was from. He was arrested on June 19 and his wife Violet Mary Power and Gonzalo Sang the day after.[13] It seems that the Japanese believed that these people were operating radio transmitters;[14] it’s possible that they were and that this was also one of Mr. Siron’s activities. However, it wasn’t just transmitting that the Japanese were worried about; more than one source testifies to their initial indifference to news of the war in Europe being circulated amongst the Allied community, but after D-Day (June 6, 1944) they changed their attitude and at least two people were brutally tortured for disseminating news of the Allied landings. It seems Mr. Siron’s name was given under torture, and as he was arrested on June 8, perhaps the unfortunate victim was one of the first victims of the new policy. However, I have no evidence of any arrests happening that soon after D-Day, so this might be a coincidence.

The June 8 arrest was with 15 others; Mr. Siron was beaten ‘about eight times’ in the street because the arresting gendarme was angry.[15] He was interrogated that same afternoon; the gendarme explained that he had to act quickly because permission had to be sought from HQ before arresting a third national and details of the offence had to be reported as soon as possible.[16]

Mr. Siron survived what was presumably a period of imprisonment. His occupation as a witness in the war crimes trials is given as typist or stenographer,[17] which suggests he didn’t resume work as a salesman. He obviously emigrated to Canada at some point, presumably to British Columbia:

Six Chinese Canadians who were subject to the Japanese occupation of Hong Kong attended the Conference {of The Rt. Hon. Sir Winston Spencer Churchill Society of British Columbia}.  Mr. Jules Siron, aged 93, gave the most heartrending address telling of his work in the British Army Aid Group in Hong Kong until he was arrested by the Japanese and tortured in innumerable ways, including the water torture.[18]

This was in 2007. He died four years later:

SIRON, Jules Joseph Alexandre With sadness, Jules passed away June 16, 2011 at the age of 97 in Richmond, BC. Jules is survived by his wife (and) daughter,  predeceased by his first wife Mary Pauline Siron.[19]


[1] China Mail, September 24, 1946, page 2.

[2] Information kindly supplied by Elizabeth Ride from correspondence with Mr. Siron in the 2000s.

[3] Patrick John Sheridan, Hong Kong Memoir, page 87. See https://brianedgar.wordpress.com/2012/10/08/sheridan-exchange-building/

[4] China Mail, September 24, 1946, page 2.

[5] China Mail, December 17, 1946, page 3.

[6] China Mail, September 24, 1946, page 2.

[7] China Mail, September 24, 1946, page 2.

[8] Information supplied by Elizabeth Ride.

[9] Ride Papers, Statement by William Chang, 14/10/45.

[10] China Mail, September 24, 1946, page 2.

[11] Information from Elizabeth ride; see also http://www.galaxylink.com.hk/~john/paul/memoirsxiii.htm

[12] China Mail, December 17, 1946, page 3.

[13] China Mail, May 23, 1946, page 8.

[14] China Mail, may 24, 1946, page 35.

[15] China Mail, July 5, 1946, page 5.

[16] China Mail, July 5, 1946, page 5.

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Filed under British Army Aid Group, French in Hong Kong, Hong Kong WW11

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