Did Charles Hyde Fool The Japanese?

I learnt a little about Hyde’s case whilst in prison, and we all came to the conclusion that he had been tortured several times and finally “broken”. Apparently, towards the end, he “came clean” on the understanding that he was to be set free and thus involved D. C. E. {David Charles Edmondston, the HKSBC number 2} and the rest of us. Hyde on several occasions had advised others to come clean and told them that it was the only thing to do.

Hugo Foy, Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation, arrested January 1944

The case of resistance agent Charles Hyde is further evidence for historian Tony Banham’s suggestion that the Hong Kong war archive is a particularly difficult and confusing one.

The evidence that Hyde confessed under torture and implicated others seems overwhelming. As the initial quotation from his fellow banker Hugo Foy shows, many of the British prisoners thought so. He’d told a number of others that there was nothing for it but to ‘come clean’ so it would seem highly likely he did so himself.

It wasn’t just the British prisoners who thought that Hyde had broken. The Canadian Thomas Monaghan, who was arrested on May 24, 1943 for his work in organising escapes from Hong Kong, told Boris Pasco he blamed Hyde for his ordeal. The Hong Kong Eurasian Rudi Choy, a resistance agent who moved between Hong Kong and Macau, also believed that Hyde was responsible for his arrest.

In fact, as we’ve seen, Hugo Foy even thought that Hyde had named others on the understanding that he himself would be freed. Similar reports reached the British Army Aid Group – a British-led resistance group based in Free China. On August 19, 1943 they noted that an informant claimed that Hyde had ‘let out everything’, while in March 1944 a different informant told them that he had been imprisoned alongside Hyde in the previous year and was frequently asked by the Japanese to confirm what the banker had said. This informant provides a detailed and generally accurate picture of the situation, and there is no reason to doubt his claim that Hyde’s ‘nerves had gone to pieces’ after severe torture. Dr. Selwyn-Clarke, who was also imprisoned in the former Supreme Court building at this time, tells us that Hyde was an extravert, and that life in prison was particularly hard for him to bear – the doctor opined that he almost found his eventual execution a release.

So, as well as the reports to the BAAG, we have three prisoners who believed that Hyde had given their names to the Japanese. The two survivors, Foy and Choy, both suggest that Hyde had told everything he knew to his tormentors, Foy adding that this was the general opinion of the banker-prisoners, some of whom had heard Hyde advise others to ‘come clean’. Any historian would be justified in stating as a fact that Hyde was broken by torture and told his interrogators all they wanted to know. As policeman George Wright-Nooth, a Stanley internee who avoided arrest and interrogation by a whisper, tells us, no-one should blame anyone who broke under Japanese torture, and even those they implicated took a generally forgiving attitude. Nevertheless it is of course the duty of the historian to establish the facts insofar as that is possible, and as I’ve known about Charles Hyde since childhood I felt impelled to try to do so in this case. My father rarely spoke about his time in the Hong Kong war, but he did tell me how dreadful it was to be with Mrs Eileen Hyde on October 29, 1943 while her husband was being beheaded – alongside 32 other BAAG agents including Thomas Monaghan- close to the beach beneath Stanley Camp.

And strangely enough this apparently conclusive set of testimonies starts to crumble to bits on closer examination. In fact, the evidence is better explained by another hypothesis: Hyde avoided betraying anyone and managed to fool the enemy into believing he was ‘coming clean’ when, like other prisoners, he was careful to tell them only what they already knew. However, I shall show that this hypothesis is also open to doubt.

If Hyde told all, who did he get arrested? He was involved in almost every illicit activity, humanitarian and military, so if he had been broken, mass arrests would have been inevitable.

One arrest he was certainly responsible for was that of the Russian bookseller Boris Pasco, but that was by accident. Pasco put down his imprisonment to a remark of Hyde’s that was misinterpreted by his interrogators. Perhaps Hyde was careless, perhaps he wasn’t, but Pasco does not suggest that he was deliberately betrayed by Hyde. He was, by the way, ‘guilty’ of allowing his bookshop to be used by the resistance, but he doesn’t seem, to have been tortured and was released after about two weeks, so it seems that he was able to talk himself out of the situation.

Pasco’s arrest is the only one certain to have been brought about by Hyde.

The banker was ‘running’ two other agents, the American Chester Bennett and the Portuguese solicitor Marcus da Silva. Both were arrested on May 14, 1943: the most likely date for Hyde being taken is April 29, so this might seem to fit in with the belief that he was giving names.

But Marcus da Silva was released after a month or two, in complex and unclear circumstances, and escaped to Macao in November – this was after Hyde’s execution so he could not have betrayed da Silva or he obviously would not have been freed or would have been re-arrested before he could leave. After the war, da Silva investigated as carefully as he could the fate of his friend and fellow spy Chester Bennett, and he told the American reporter Hal Boyle that Bennett had been unbreakable – he incriminated nobody and admitted nothing. Usually the Japanese did not like to execute ‘whites’ without a confession, but some new Gendarmes from Japan wanted Bennett dead even though they could only prove he had been sending money into Stanley illegally, an offence which should have got him a spell in prison. So Hyde did not betray Bennett either – if he had done, the Japanese would have had no doubts that he was a spy. This means that, at the very least, Hyde did not ‘come clean’ or ‘let out everything’.

As we’ve seen Hugo Foy, believed Hyde had been responsible for the arrest of David Edmondston, who died in prison in August 1944 while serving ten years for spying. But Edmondston himself told fellow banker Andrew Leiper that he’d been caught because of his correspondence with Consul John Reeves in Macao – the Embassy was constantly watched by spies and security was not always tight anyway. It seems that Rudy Choy was also caught through his contacts with Reeves. Leo d’Alamada e Castro was arrested after being seen by a Gendarme going into the Consulate, and he believed that Choy was taken for that reason too. Another resistance agent, Wu Wai, made the same claim. Eventually the BAAG became so concerned at the ‘leakiness’ of the Consulate that they established their own organisation in Macao, separate from Reeves, and warned those who worked for it to stay away.

What of Foy’s claim that he himself was one of those arrested because of Hyde? That’s most unlikely to be true. Foy wasn’t taken into custody until January 11, 1944 more than two months after Hyde’s death. Andrew Leiper and two other bankers were arrested about the same time, probably as a result of information discovered during a Kempeitai campaign against Portuguese bankers. Earlier in the war, while still un-interned, Foy had been involved in illegal radio-listening with some Portuguese colleagues, and this might well have been the cause of his arrest. It’s true that the Japanese interrogators knew about his illegal fund-raising, but there were many people other than Hyde who could have told them about that, and, in any case, others involved in the bankers’ illegal operation like George Lyon-Mackenzie were never arrested. Selwyn-Clarke’s assistant Frank Angus was the enterprise’s accountant, and he wasn’t arrested even after his boss was taken on May 2 (or, if he was, he was released to go into Stanley on May 7). This means that as Edmondston and Foy were probably suspected for other reasons, not a single one of the bankers and those who worked with them suffered for their humanitarian work because of Hyde (Grayburn and a colleague were arrested on their own confession more than a month before Hyde.)

That leaves Thomas Monaghan, who definitely believed that Hyde was responsible for his arrest.

Monaghan was taken on the same day as Edmondston and Choy – although that doesn’t prove the reason was the same, it certainly establishes that possibility, and, as we have seen, the most likely cause of the arrest of the other two men was their contact with the Macau Consulate. Boris Pasco heard Monaghan being tortured a day or two after his arrest, and heard someone screaming at him, ‘Will you speak, will you tell?’. Pasco had to be careful not to seem to be listening too carefully, but he thought the interrogators were asking about the British Consul – more evidence it was not Hyde who betrayed him.

Bearing all this in mind, I was about to publish a version of this post that was reasonably confident in the claim that Hyde had betrayed no-one. Then an incident occurred that reminded me of of something that the historian Anne Ozorio has often emphasised: make sure you use as many archives as possible. On a completely unrelated quest, I was looking through some documents I’d photographed last year in the Swiss Federal Archive in Berne. These are mainly diplomatic and administrative records, and I certainly would not have expected them to cast any light on the grim events I’ve been discussing.

After a bit of diplomatic to-and-froing the Swiss minister in Tokyo, Camille Gorgé, was designated as the representative of the ‘Protecting Power’ in charge of looking after British interests in the territories conquered by Japan. Gorgé was asked by the British to look into the cases of the people arrested in 1943, and in March 1945 he reported that the Japanese had informed him that Monaghan’s arrest was on account of his work organising escapes: if Hyde had told the Japanese anything, it would have been about that, as he had helped Monaghan find candidates for a February 1943 escape. Of course, Monaghan might have just as well have told the Japanese himself: if he knew that none of the people who helped him were in any danger, then it would have been a reasonable thing to do, as the escapers were long gone, and like everyone else, he tried to find things to tell the Japanese that would not lead to further arrests.

Nevertheless, there is a real possibility that Hyde was involved in Monaghan’s arrest. A further small pointer is the timing of the one arrest we have no reason to doubt was down to him: Boris Pasco was taken into custody on the same day as Monaghan.

But even if Hyde did reveal details of Monaghan’s escape work, that’s a long way from having ‘come clean’. Why then did he give that advice to his colleagues? We must remember that there were spies in almost every cell that held political prisoners, so Hyde could have relied on word of what he said getting back to his interrogators. It’s possible that he was trying to fool the Japanese into thinking that he had no more left to tell them, an obviously sensible strategy.

So, in summary, my answer to the question in the title is, ‘Yes, to an extent at least’. I do think it possible that Hyde named Monaghan, although as we have seen, that’s far from certain. What is certain is that he didn’t tell anything like all he knew. And it’s likely that others like Choy and Foy who believed he was responsible for their arrest were wrong.

Once again the Hong Kong war archive shows it’s complex and contradictory nature. And yields the possibility that Hyde went to his death on that dreadful day in late October 1943 with at least the consolation of knowing that he’d completely fooled his tormentors.

 

 

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