A version of this post with footnotes and the image of the names on the cell walls can be read at:
William John White was a Portuguese national who worked as a chauffeur and mechanic for the Public Heath Section of the Japanese administration during the occupation. Mr. White was a member of the ‘M Group’ of the British Army Aid Group, and it seems the members of this section were arrested after the Japanese discovered evidence of communication with John Reeves, the British Consul in Macao.
A Japanese trial document captured by the British Army Aid Group after the 1945 surrender gives us the best picture available of Mr. White’s work.
Some time in 1943 he was approached by Loie Fok Wing (David Loie), one of the most important BAAG agents in Hong Kong, and asked to take part in espionage. He agreed and set up a wireless post in his home in Wanchai Road. Between February and May 1943 he received and passed on a number of messages for Mr. Loie from BAAG Field HQ in Waichow. In May he made a report on the organization of the Public Health Section for him. He was also asked to get in touch with Stanley Camp, and he did this by enlisting the help – through Alexander Sinton, an uninterned British health inspector who was also an ‘M Group’ member – of Leung Hung, the chief driver of the truck that took rations into camp. He was thus able to maintain liaison between Waichow and Stanley, getting in messages to ‘former HONGKONG Government Police Superintendent EVANS’ and ‘Police Chief’ Walter Scott. Scott, who also died on October 29, was in fact Assistant Commissioner and the Commissioner himself John Pennefather-Evans was arrested but later released, so he presumably convinced his interrogators that he had received the message unknowingly and done nothing with it.
The document goes on to state that in December 1942 Mr. White had been asked by his friend Luis Souza, a Portuguese banker, to listen to the London news on a secret radio and pass on what he heard.
The report on the Health Department is not in the Ride Papers, but I suspect that one part has been preserved: brief comments on most of the British inspectors and their leader, Selwyn Selwyn-Clarke. This is what someone (who I think is almost certainly Mr. White) has to say about the Director of Medical Services:
Funny man to deal with. Gives help to ones that do not need it and does not help those that really deserve it. No change from the old wasp.
Of course this is not a full assessment of the heroic doctor, whose selfless activities saved countless lives, but he certainly had a difficult side, as evidenced by the statement of Robin Boris Levkovich:
Mr White was probably arrested in May and he was one of those tried in the first and largest batch of prisoners, 27 in all, on October 19, 1943. He was sentenced to death and executed on Stanley Beach alongside 32 others on October 29, 1943. While awaiting execution, he wrote onto the wall of his cell as many of the names of his fellow condemned as he knew:
I think that the ‘HD’ after his name means Hong Kong Dockyard, but I’m not sure about this. In any case, as he waited to die, Mr. White’s mind turned to the desire to record what was happening, to pass on the names of those who were about to sacrifice everything. We can have no clearer indication of the importance of historical investigation, the endless probing of sources in the attempt, which can never be fully successful, to establish the truth. William White’s list of those facing death – and his fellow condemned James Kim and Douglas Waterton also left a record on the walls of their cell – remains, as we approach the seventieth anniversary of these executions, a powerful call to a certain kind of memory.
The 33 victims were buried in a common grave close to where they died. Their first memorials came after the war, stones erected in the small Victorian cemetery a little way up the hill. Mr White’s reads:
WHITE, Volunteer, WILLIAM JOHN, British Army Aid Group. 29th October 1943. Husband of M. White of Hong Kong.