The tragic story of Mr A. E. Murphy

In this previous post I explained that some time in the immediate post-war period my parents rented an apartment in Wong Nai Chung Road. I pointed out that according to some theories this was strange: they should have been trying to forget the horrors of the occupation, so why choose to live next to a former Gendarmerie, a centre of the injustice, violence and torture that characterised Japanese rule?

It was only while reading evidence at a war crimes trial about the tragic fate of Mr. A. E. Murphy that I realise the full significance of the particular Gendarmerie in WNC Road in my parents’ wartime experience.

Alfred Murphy was an overseer who had been in Hong Kong for many years when the Japanese attacked. He asserted Irishness to avoid internment, or, according to one account, to get released from Stanley. Like most people outside the camps, he found it hard to make a living. He worked as a broker – buying and selling items of use – but he was eventually forced to go the Lassallians for help. They gave him a  battery recharger to sell to buy rice, but tragically the recharger was one that could be used on radio batteries, so when the Japanese came upon it, they arrested Mr Murphy on suspicion of being in wireless communication with British forces outside Hong Kong.

My parents spent most of the early part of the occupation in the compound of St Paul’s Hospital in Causeway Bay.  On May 7, 1943 they were sent to Stanley in the wake of the arrest of Dr Selwyn-Clarke, who was also living at the hospital and who the Japanese (wrongly) believed was the leading British spy in Hong Kong. Mr Murphy entered the same hospital as a patient in May 1944 because he was unable to properly digest food due to colitis. When his gastric problem had been cured by medication and a special diet, he asked the Mother Superior if he could live in the hospital as a boarder because he had no place to stay outside. The request was granted and he moved into a room on the first floor of the hospital itself. In December 1944 he and the hospital’s telephone operator (Jean Chung was his French name) were arrested. There is no single definitive account of the circumstances, but putting accounts together, it seems most probable that Murphy was wrongly named as a spy by an Indian who had broken under interrogation, and Mr Chung was either named by the same man or otherwise incriminated.

In February 1945 they were both released, and Mr Murphy returned to the hospital in a ‘pitiful’ condition, suffering from the effects of his brutal treatment. He was immediately given a lysol bath, as his clothes were covered with lice, and put to bed. He was in an advanced state of malnutrition and craved food. The sisters gave him a lot of milk and some toast, as that was all his stomach could bear. All to no avail: he had arrived at the hospital at 7.30 in the evening, and he died at 2 p.m. the next day.

The Gendarmerie at which Mr Murphy was so badly mistreated was the Eastern headquarters – Le Calvaire. Sister Marie was one of those who tried to save Mr Murphy. In her evidence at the War Crimes trial she describes that Gendarmerie as ‘near’ to St Paul’s, and Google Maps shows that it’s under a mile by road. If my parents had been arrested that’s where they would have been taken, and they must have spent long hours thinking about this place with some degree or other of conscious awareness. It’s nightmare presence must have infused their sleep even when they were dreaming of other things. Yet they chose to live next door. They decided that the best place to deal with their feelings was close to the heart of zdarkness.

And now, more than 70 years after Hong Kong was liberated, Mr Murphy’s story still seems to me to carry an unimaginable load of pathos.

Sources:

Father Bourke, Steering Neutral, HKMS100-1-6

WO 235/1007.

 

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