Category Archives: Captain Tanaka

Charles Ernest ‘Chuck’ Winter

Charles Ernest Winter was one of the American truck drivers who volunteered to stay outside Stanley camp to help the Medical Department in its public and community health work.

He was a Seventh Day Adventist missionary and teacher:

Mr Chuck Winter is an American Seventh Day Adventist missionary school teacher and ran a school over on the mainland near Clearwater Bay

This school was presumably the forerunner of today’s Hong Kong Adventist Academy and the Hong Kong Adventist College for older students, both in Sai Kung.2 Seventh Day Adventist educational efforts in south China go back to 1903, and by 1935 there was a successful ‘Canton Training Institute’ in the city now known as Guangzhou. As a result of the outbreak of the Sino-Japanese War in 1937, the school was moved to Hong Kong, first operating in Shatin. It merged with another Adventist institution to become the ‘China and South China Training institute’ and 40 acres of land were bought at Clearwater Bay. After the Japanese invasion, the school returned to Guangdong province.3 (For more on Seventh Day Adventist Schools see

The Japanese attacked on December 8, 1941. It wasn’t long before the British ran short of drivers, and this shortfall was made up by American volunteers,4 keen to do something to help but forbidden by their constitution to enlist in a foreign militia. Mr Winter was one of a ‘brave group’ who worked for the Medical Department and ‘drove throughout the war under shell- and machine-gun fire and continued as drivers up to the time of repatriation’.5

Mr Winter was delivering bread when he fell into enemy hands and made a spirited escape:

Charles Winter, one of our drivers, was captured. One morning as he was delivering bread to the French hospital in the Happy Valley area he was suddenly surrounded by a platoon of Jap soldiers who told him politely, ‘You are captured; prease (sic) stay here.’ Then in a hurry to join their advance they did not stop to tie him up, just left him sitting in the truck with the threat, ‘We come back.’ Winter waited just long enough for them to march out of sight beyond a bend in the road, then turned and drove like a bat out of Hades back to town.6

After the surrender (December 25, 1941) and internment of most ‘white’ Allied civilians (January 21, 1942) Mr Winter and his fellow drivers agreed to stay outside Stanley to carry on their work. Patrick Sheridan, an RASC baker, who was initially held in the Exchange Building with my father and two other bakers, describes the situation in early January 1942:

The Japs have allowed a sort of Medical or Health Dept. to be set up to help the local hospitals and homeless refugees of many nationalities. The man who formed it is the former Director of Medical Services of Hong Kong, a Dr Selwyn-Clarke. He has the assistance of a Mr Owen Evans, an Englishman, and two Americans – a Dr Henry DD and a Mr Chuck Winter. They have an ambulance and operate very much like the International Red Cross.7

After the surrender, the Medical Department seems to have regrouped at Queen Mary Hospital in Pokfulam:

Evans, Winter and Doc Henry were formerly based at the Queen Mary Hospital but the Japs took it over for their own sick and wounded and turned everybody out. They are taking over all the best and modern hospitals for themselves and not concerned where the patients go when they throw them out.8

American writer Emily Hahn, who was sheltering there with her baby, dates the expulsion to January 20 or 21.9 The Japanese wanted the uninterned Medical Department personnel all to live under the same roof, and the next we see of them, they’re in St Paul’s Hospital (aka the French Hospital) in Causeway Bay, which had a huge ‘compound’ of associated buildings, including one of the island’s two French Convent Schools:

Evans and co. are now accommodated at the French Hospital at Causeway Bay. They live in the former girls’ school in the Convent grounds.10

The bakers joined the drivers there on February 8,11 and Mr Winter’s work brought him into regular contact with them:

We are now producing bread for all the Hospitals including Bow(e)n Road Military Hospital and also some for Stanley Internment camp. Evans(,) Winter and Doc Henry bring us supplies of materials. They also collect and distribute the bread, and ferry the bakers to and from the Bakery. They also distribute milk, rice, beans and fuel to the Hospitals. In fact they are three conscientious, hard-working, unselfish men.12

Mr Winter was involved in one of the earliest documented episodes of smuggling by outsiders into Stanley Camp:

{Captain}Tanaka13 hands out another kindness, he sends for Mr Evans and Chuck Winter and tells them to load the ambulance with food stuffs, i.e. tea, sugar, butter, tinned goods etc. and take it to the Beach Hospital for the patients. This is a godsend as they have been living on a small rice ration and a slice of bread a day. Evans and Winter manage to smuggle some of the food into Stanley Camp where it is needed just as badly.14

This must have been before February 8 when the bakers were living at the Exchange Building with Captain Tanaka in charge. Mr Winter continued to drive into Stanley with bread baked at the Ching Loong Bakery in Wanchai:15

Evans, Chuck Winter or Doc Henry make a daily trip to Stanley internment camp to deliver bread, milk, etc. 16

Bread deliveries to Stanley were gradually replaced by an internee flour ration in April/May 1942 but the drivers continued to take bread to the hospitals.

The drivers didn’t always find their work easy; we hear of another team of drivers (former American pilots living in May Road) getting rough treatment and slaps during Japanese searches, and this almost certainly happened to the French Hospital group as well:

{Charles} Schafer and four other American citizens managed to escape internment by securing passes to work for the Hong Kong Medical Dept. During the next six months, they trucked 350 cubic tons of food and supplies to the internees and 800,000 lbs of firewood to Hong Kong’s hospitals. But though they had a form of freedom, they never knew when they would be slapped or kicked, or their loads confiscated by the Japanese. Once, a guard slapped Schafer so hard his head rang for hours. They lived on the internee’s rice-beans-salt rations, and managed to avoid catching beriberi only by buying other foods outside at enormously inflated prices.18

Mr Winter made a mark on life at the Hospital that survived his repatriation:

Conditions at the French Hospital are not bad, and as we make friends with the young children and the older girls, Chuck Winter introduces games of soft ball in the evenings before it gets dark. There are ten small children of various nationalities aged between 6 to 11 years, four older girls aged about 16 to 20 years.19

Henry Ching, the young son of the former editor of the South China Morning Post, remembers joining in these games in 1944.20

We get a final glimpse of Mr Winter in early June, 1942 as Staff-Sergeant Sheridan is about to make his escape from Hong Kong (for which he was awarded the Miitary Medal):

I say farewells to Dr Selwyn-Clarke, Dr. Henry, Chuck Winter and Mr Evans and hope they will be able to continue the fine relief work they are doing.21

On June 29, the day of my parents marriage, the Americans in town were driven to Stanley to board the repatriation ship, the Asama Maru. In late July they were transferred to the Swedish ship the Gripsholm for the rest of the voyage home. On August 18, Charles Winter, still on the Gripsholm, typed a letter to my father’s parents in Windsor. It was the first news they’d had of his survival, and it also told them of his marriage.22

My knowledge of Mr Winter’s activities after the war is sketchy in the extreme. At some point he became the chair of the Department of Microbiology at Loma Linda, a Health Sciences university in Southern California with Adventist affiliations ( In 1963 he was Activities Committee Chairman (

That’s all I know at the moment, but I hope to learn more in future. This is the letter that Mr Winter wrote to my grandparents from the Gripsholm. It tells us that his first destination in the US was Homer, Minnesota;



1Patrick John Sheridan, Hong Kong Memoir (unpublished), 89.




5Norwood Allmann, Shanghai Lawyer, 1943, 265. See also,2075440

6Allmann, 1943, 266.

7Sheridan, 88.

8Sheridan, 88.

9Emily Hahn, China To Me, 1986 ed., 307-308.

10Sheridan, 89.


12Sheridan, 88.


14Sheridan, 91.


16Sheridan, 93.

17Sheridan, 100.

18 Ian Johnson, in a Pan-American in-house journal of 1942 – passed on by Tony Banham

19Sheridan, 94.


21Sheridan, 105.

22The letter can be read at


Filed under Captain Tanaka, Hong Kong WW11

Thomas and Tanaka (2): The Man In The Photo

In the late afternoon or the evening of December 25 Thomas and the staff of Lane Crawford’s Stubbs Rd. bakery were told to go to the company headquarters, Exchange House[1] in Des Voeux Rd.[2] That evening Thomas helped out in efforts to dispose of as much of the Colony’s alcohol supply as possible, probably at the nearby Gloucester Hotel.[3] And, then, like the rest of the Allied nationals he waited nervously for the next day when the victorious Japanese would take possession of Hong Kong Island.

Thomas discovered quite quickly that the man assigned to take charge of the Exchange Building was a reasonable and even humane one. In the last days of the fighting stories of Japanese atrocities had been circulating amongst the defenders,[4] and, although some were more optimistic than others, everyone knew the dreadful fate that might await them. Years later Thomas remembered Tanaka’s kindness:

My shirt was badlly torn. He told me to go back to my lodgings and get another shirt.

What had happened to your shirt?

I’d had to tear it up to help bind the wounded.

I t was a cold winter by Hong Kong standards, and no doubt the trip back to 82,Morrison Hill Rd. enabled Thomas to gather together other useful items. Perhaps including his high performance binoculars: Tanaka confiscated these at some point, but gave him a chit for them, saying the Japanese army would compensate him for the loss after the war. Thomas never held this against him, telling the story in a wry, ‘but I never got that compensation, you know’ manner.

In September 1946 when Thomas wrote an article for his trade paper The British Baker he was keen to record Tanaka’s behaviour:

During our stay in the main building, Captain Tanaka proved both helpful and generous. Besides ensuring that bread continued to be baked for the hospitals, he gave us cinema shows in the Café Wiseman; these shows usually consisted of European films with an occasional film for his soldiers who were stationed in the building.

Thomas gives Tanaka the rank of Captain, Selwyn-Clarke (see below) the slightly lower one of Lieutenant. The article also notes that Tanaka gave them permission on January 9th to bake bread for the hospitals and allocated them a supply of yeast.

I know of two other accounts that must be of this Tanaka because both link him to Exchange House. Les Fisher, a Volunteer imprisoned at Shamshuipo, records the arrival of some of his fellow Telephone Company workers at the POW Camp in his 1997 edition of his wartime diary. The Café Wiseman had been the centre of thee Hong Kong telephone network during the battle, so the staff of the Telephone Company were detained there to be joined by Thomas late on Christmas Day. Fisher passes on what he was told by his colleagues:

(They had been) treated well by a Captain Tanaka who was in charge.

The new arrivals also told Fisher about the film shows, and said that they were given ‘good food’ and managed to gather together ‘all kinds of useful tinned stuff and foods’.  Tanaka even gave each of them a bottle of whisky when they were leaving, and Fisher was also able to benefit from this kindness! As civilians they were destined for Stanley Camp, but at the last moment a uniform was found amongst them so they were sent to Shamshuipo instead, arriving on February 23.[5]

The third account is by Selwyn Selwyn-Clarke, the Colony’s Medical Officer, who remained out of Stanley to work on public health:

 One of my first encounters with helpfulness from a Japanese officer concerned the reserve of four-gallon tins of biscuits, made of soya bean and wheaten flour with the addition of thiamine hydrochloride powder (against beri beri) which I had had baked in the leading department-store of Lane Crawford against the anticipated siege. By good fortune the Japanese had put Lane Crawford’s in charge of a certain Lieutenant Tanaka, who allowed me to remove all the tins for distribution to the P. O. W. and civilian camps and to those Chinese hospitals which had not been closed by the Japanese forces.[6]

Selwyn-Clarke adds: ‘Those vitamin biscuits were of real value’. I’ll be describing the complex history of these biscuits, devised by Dr. Herklots and baked by Thomas, in a future post!

The Japanese authorities must have been considering a role for the bakers in the days leading up to January 5 when the vast majority of the Allied civilians were assembled at the Murray Parade Ground before being consigned to squalid hotels and eventually packed off to Stanley Camp. Thomas, his fellow bakers and a team of drivers were kept back and eventually granted permission to start baking on January 9th. On February 8 Thomas and the others were sent to the French Hospital to join Selwyn-Clarke and his team of doctors and public health workers.

Selwyn-Clarke also records the rumour that Tanaka was later executed for his kindness to the prisoners:

Lieut. Tanaka subsequently disappeared, and rumour had it that he had been removed to Canton and there executed for displaying excessive concern for the Hong Kong prisoners.[7]

This may, of course, be true, but I’m inclined to doubt it. The wedding photo proves Tanaka was still in Hong Kong on June 29, 1942 – on the back of one of the copies he’s specifically identified, along with the other main guests, and this information can only have come from Thomas or Evelina. The Telephone Company personnel left the Exchange Building on February 23, and after that there was no reason for him to have any dealings with internees in Hong Kong. His role was probably accidental in the first place: he took over Exchange House because he was officer in charge of communications,[8] and that’s where the telephone exchange was, as well as the Lane Crawford HQ, bringing the biscuits under his control. British civilians who remained in the city were not treated badly in the early days,[9] and it seems unlikely that in July or sometime after he was killed for actions taken in January and February: actions which, insofar as they are now known, amount to no more than some generous decisions, a few bottles of whisky and the showing of some European films. Kiyoshi Watanabe, the well-known interpreter, performed many acts of kindness for the defeated, and although he was mocked, shouted at and eventually sacked he suffered no physical punishment. Of course, the existence of a rumour of this kind makes it highly likely that much about Tanaka’s benevolence has gone unrecorded, so he might indeed have been punished as Selwyn-Clarke describes– it’s even possible that his attendance at Thomas and Evelina’s wedding was cited in evidence against him. But his execution would have been the kind of thing that Thomas would have mentioned in later years if he’d believed it had happened: it would have been a good example of the incomprehensible cruelty of the Japanese,[10] something he did mention on a number of occasions.

Captain Tanaka reminds us of the importance of remembering that not all Japanese acted badly during the occupation, and some manifested great kindness and compassion.


For more about Tanaka see


Filed under Captain Tanaka, Hong Kong WW11, Selwyn-Selwyn Clarke, Uncategorized

Thomas and Captain Tanaka (1) An Unpopular Name In Hong Kong

The first family member to take an interest in Thomas’s wartime experiences was his younger brother. Soon after Thomas’s death in January 1985 he interviewed Evelina, contacted other ex-internees (including Dr. Geoffrey Herklots, who worked with Thomas on issues of food and nutrition before and during the war) and drew up a provisional chronology. His annotations to this chronology suggest that Thomas and Evelina had suffered a degree of isolation in Camp because they were not ‘early settlers’: they were sent to Stanley on May 7, 1943, when most internees had been there for about 15 months. Thomas had spent most of this time in the French Hospital, baking bread with two other bakers for the Hong Kong hospitals, Evelina joining him after their wedding.

His brother’s notes hint at another reason that the couple might have experienced some problems in Stanley. At the top of this page is their wedding photo, taken on June 29, 1943 at St. Joseph’s (Catholic) Cathedral.

The Japanese officer in the second row is Captain Tanaka.  There are passages in his brother’s chronology that give me reason to believe that Thomas’s closeness to a Japanese officer might have led to some suspicion on the part of his fellow internees. But there is also confusion, that I think must have originated in Stanley Camp, as to who Captain Tanaka was.

Some people seem to have thought that Thomas’s wedding guest was Major-General Tanaka Ryosaburu, whose 229 Regiment were responsible for massacres during the 1941 invasion. At his war crimes trial  in 1946 the court decided that, ‘The whole route of this man’s battalion was littered with the corpses of murdered men who had been bayoneted and shot’.[1] He was sentenced to death, later commuted to life, and eventually to 20 years.

There was another prominent man of that name in Hong Kong: Lieutenant Tanaka Hitoshi. According to military historian Oliver Lindsay, this man was a guard at Shamshuipo.[2] He rose to the rank of Chief of the Information Bureau of the POW Camps and Commanding Officer at Argyle Camp. This Tanaka was to get three years for his wartime activities.

And any early prejudice against Thomas might have been strengthened in late 1944 the internees might have become aware of another man of that name who was later to face charges of war crimes, Tanaka Hisakazu.

This Tanaka was a commander in Chinaa and also Governor-General of Hong Kong from December 1944, was a war criminal who was sentenced to death by hanging (Allies) and by shooting (Chinese). It was the Chinese who got to carry out the sentence.[4]

It’s probably no accident that soldier’s wife Jean Mather, looking around for the name of the Japanese commandant of Stanley having forgotten the real one, hit on ‘Colonlel Tanaka’[3]. When Thomas and Evelina entered the camp the internees’ would definitely have known of one Tanaka who was to be tried as a war criminal, might possibly have heard mention of a second, and, in 1944, would almost certainly have become aware of a third. No wonder if they looked on a British citizen who would invite a ‘Tanaka’ to his wedding with distrust!

At least three Japanese officers called Tanakas in Hong Kong, and all three war criminals!

But none of these was the man at the wedding.  In  my next post and I’ll bring together all I’ve been able to find out about this Tanaka.


Leave a comment

Filed under Captain Tanaka, Hong Kong WW11, Stanley Camp, Uncategorized