Category Archives: French in Hong Kong

Doris Cuthbertson

Note: This post should be read with

All unattributed quotations are from the statement of made by Raoul de Sercey on June 2, 1944 to the British Army Aid Group. This statement is part of the Ride Papers (held at the Hong Kong Heritage Project) and it was kindly sent to me by Elizabeth Ride.

The relief work of Dr. Selwyn-Clarke, financed by money raised by the uninterned bankers under the leadership of Sir Vandeleur Grayburn, is well-known. But less is known about some of the efforts that supplemented this, and which continued after his arrest on May 2, 1943. In today’s post I tell a pleasingly multi-cultural story of humanitarian co-operation involving one Australian woman, two Swiss, a Frenchman, several Portuguese families, a Chinese man and woman and three British. It should be remembered that almost every act described in this post carried the risk of imprisonment, torture or even death, and that no-one  but the three British (assuming they were in fact English) could have been confident they faced no ethnic or national prejudice in pre-war Hong Kong.

Doris Mabel Cuthbertson was born on August 27, 1897 in South Australia.[1] She worked as a secretary until after her mother died in 1930, then took a job in England. From there she moved to Shanghai, working for the shipping company Jardine Mattheson.[2] Ironically she went to Hong Kong seeking refuge from war.

On August 15, 1937 the British Government took the decision to evacuate women and children living in Shanghai to Hong Kong because of the outbreak of hostilities between Japan and China in the previous month. Miss Cuthbertson is documented as one of the trained nurses who helped the doctor in charge at a clinic for the evacuees. [3] She stayed in Hong Kong as private secretary to Jardine’s managing director, J. J. Paterson.

During the hostilities she worked for the Food Control Unit. After the surrender she was held in the Nam King Hotel before being sent to Stanley Camp.[4] Most of what we know about what happened thereafter is contained in a statement made to the British Army Aid Group on June 2, 1944 by the French national Raoul de Sercey, who escaped from Hong Kong on April 23.

Soon after the surrender, Mr. de Sercey managed to send some parcels to his friend J. J. Paterson, Jardine’s managing director and now a POW,  and to Jardine’s staff in Stanley, such as D. L. Newbigging and Doris Cuthbertson herself. In the early months his efforts were focused on Stanley, as ‘the situation was reported as appalling’. The Jardine company history mentions Henry Lo and other Chinese staff as also having taken part in courageous relief efforts.

What seems like harmless humanitarian work was in fact highly dangerous: parcels could only be sent in through the Japanese, and the sender’s name and address had to be supplied.  Any Chinese, Indian or ‘third national’ (European neutral) who sent too many was likely to be suspected of pro-Allied sympathies and questioned by the Kempeitai. This could lead to torture, imprisonment and death.

Mr. de Sercey realised he couldn’t give the required assistance to Jardine Matheson’s former employees: he was already looking after over 40 members of the Chinese Maritime Customs, and others; he did not, moreover, as someone who wasn’t a company member, have the authority to raise funds in its name. To better meet the needs of Jardine’s staff, he decided to ‘guarantee out’ Miss Cuthbertson. ‘Guaranteeing out’[5] was the system whereby people were allowed out of Stanley (and much more rarely Shamshuipo) if a neutral would promise to support them financially and guarantee that they would not act against Japanese interests (but see below).

Mr. de Sercey explained why he’d chosen her:

As Private Secretary to MR PATERSON I had had opportunity to know of her excellent qualities as an organiser, and knew that she had probably the most complete knowledge of the staff in the firm.

Guaranteeing her out wasn’t a smooth process:

The story of MISS CUTHBERTSON’S release was, as usually with the Japanese, a mixture of dramatic and grotesque events…but she finally came out of Stanley on the 12 September, 1942 with the last batch of internees allowed out.

 It seems she was released along with the members of the Maryknoll religious order:

I may point out here that MISS CUTHBERTSON has not had to sign any undertaking towards the Japanese authorities besides signing on her pass which is exactly the same as that delivered to neutrals in HONG KONG. The only difference is that below the stamp indicating her Australian nationality is added in Japanese the rather surprising remark ‘Semi-Enemy’.

As soon as she was out, she began making plans for her work.  Through Charles Hyde[6], who seems never to have been far away when works of relief or resistance were taking place, she got back in touch with Mr. Newbigging in Stanley, and presumably through his authorisation she was given $7,000 in instalments. At the same time, Mr. de Sercey got in touch with Selwyn-Clarke, who agreed to let him send in as many parcels as he wanted under the auspices of the Informal Welfare Committee – as far as de Sercey could work out, this seemed to consist solely of Selwyn-Clarke!

Miss Cuthbertson also carried out relief work for Jardine Mattheson employees in Shamshuipo. She asked the company’s Portuguese staff for help, and every one responded unreservedly, sending in a parcel for a ‘foreigner’ alongside each one they sent to a family member:

The effort was thus made less conspicuous, a very important point, since, the money being obtained through forbidden channels, had the Japanese become wise to it, serious consequences for all concerned would have certainly taken place.

Dr. Selwyn-Clarke was arrested on May 2, 1943. Mr. de Sercey’s statement adds to our knowledge of what happened to relief efforts after that date.

Miss CUTHBERTSON had to stop sending parcels in large number into Stanley but continued with the funds at her disposal to send the SHAMSHUIPO fortnightly ones until September, 1943, when a new wave of terror and the lack of funds forced her to stop temporarily.

My guess is that this new ‘wave’ involved a crackdown on the Portuguese community, possibly in the wake of the discovery of incriminating documents at the Portuguese social centre, the Club Lusitano.

At a time Mr. de Sercey was unable to remember exactly, but was probably in late 1942 or the first part of 1943, funds were sent from Shanghai to the International Red Cross for Jardine employees. After consultations between Miss Cuthbertson and the Red Cross, most of it was delivered in cash to internees and POWs. Miss Cuthbertson at all times acted with Mr. Zindel, the Red Cross representative in Hong Kong and received unreserved support from him.

The situation for Jardine’s staff appeared gloomy in autumn 1943. Funds were exhausted, the man sending the funds from Shanghai had been interned, and the authorities were tightening their control over all activities of any sort. The Japanese, wrote de Sercey, made monetary transactions difficult to increase their control over individuals; their first question in an interrogation was ‘How much money have you got?’ and they always wanted to know where it had come from. Fortunately Miss Cuthbertson got to hear that arrangements had been made in Shanghai for a Swiss firm, presumably  the chemical company CIBA, to supply money to Mr. Newbigging through their Hong Kong representative Walter Naef. She got in touch with Mr. Naef and these two, together with Rudolf Zindel and Newbigging, seem to have negotiated division of the cash, Miss Cuthbertson obtaining funds for the Argyle Street Camp and the Bowen Road Military Hospital.

Thanks to Mr. Naef, who’d provided about 10,000 Military Yuan by the time Raoul de Sercey escaped, and the help of Mr. Zindel, Miss Cuthbertson was able to continue to provide cash regularly to Shamshuipo and Stanley and parcels to Argyle Street and Bowen Road. Mr. de Sercey went on to point out that the arrangement  involving Walter Naef was most dangerous for all parties; it breached Japanese exchange regulations and if found out would have lead to ‘serious if not fatal trouble’. In other words, all those who got involved in this humanitarian activity were risking death.

Mr. de Sercey went on to make some suggestions, arrived at after consultations with Miss Cuthbertson, for further Jardine’s relief efforts. He says that he’d left some money with her for personal needs, but with the sky-rocketing cost of living this wouldn’t be enough and he suggested adding 800 Military Yuan to each remittance for her own use. If this wasn’t possible, he thought that Miss Cuthberston, who was now guaranteed out by another French national, would be allowed to return to Stanley. This is significant. Miss Cuthbertson had already gone through two waves of Kempeitai terror. after the first one – February-July 1943 – there were very few Allied citizens left uninterned in Hong Kong, and one of those helping her, Dr. Selwyn-Clarke, was experiencing months of brutal treatment in a Kempeitai cell. The second (in the final months of 1943) would also have come close to her: it hit the Portuguese community, and we’ve seen that she was working with Portuguese families to get parcels into Shamshuipo, and, as we shall see, her links were even closer than that suggests. Just after Mr. de Sercey’s escaped, another ‘wave’ of arrests began, as the Japanese, who’d previously not cared if people knew about events of Europe, were panicked by the D-Day landings (June 6, 1944) and started hunting for radios. Miss Cuthbertson certainly stayed out of Stanley during the first two periods, in spite of the obvious huge danger she was in. In a moment I’ll present evidence that she stayed out through the third wave of arrests and remained at her post until the end. She was an astonishingly brave woman.

View cuthbertson doris.jpg in slide show

Photo of Miss Cuthbertson courtesy of Christobel Botten

Mr. de Sercey ended with a tribute to Miss Cuthberston’s efforts: some Jardine’s POWs released from Shamshuipo said that company members there were the best cared for in the Camp.

Not long after liberation, Miss Cuthbertson met an Australian reporter, and her story was featured in the Melbourne Argus on November 16, 1945 (page 8). The report identified her as the sister of Mr M. R. Cuthbertson of Malvern.[7] The paper tells us that after leaving Stanley she’d lived with a Portuguese family in their flat and that her ‘parcel service’ went on for three years, which suggests she did remain out of Stanley until the end of the war. The reporter says that Miss Cuthbertson told her she was helped by Helen Ho, who she considered ‘the heroine of Hong Kong’.  Miss Ho was getting parcels into ‘the Military Hospital’ –  Bowen Rd.[8]

Miss Cuthbertson also paid tribute to her house ‘

boy, Ma Ba Sun, who went everywhere with her for three years and slept outside of her door every night. On April 15, 1947 a ceremony was held at Government House to present various forms of honour to a small number of the people who had rendered courageous service to others during the occupation. Ma Ba Sun was awarded the British Empire medal. The citation reads in part  ‘in recognition of your loyal and devoted conduct in the period of the enemy occupation… when you, like many others who had been in domestic service, ran the greatest risks and performed services of incalculable value in aiding  those who had been interned by the enemy’. (China Mail, April 16, 1947, page 2).

I presume that at some point after the war Miss Cuthbertson emigrated to Canada, as she died in 1968 in British Columbia.[9] This must have been after February 13, 1949, as she’s recorded playing in a Fanling Golf tournament on that date (China Mail, February 15, 1949, page 12).


Filed under British Army Aid Group, Charles Hyde, French in Hong Kong, Hong Kong WW11, Portuguese in Hong Kong, Selwyn-Selwyn Clarke, Stanley Camp

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

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

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

[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

[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.

Leave a comment

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

Early Days in the French Hospital: The Evidence of Staff-Sergeant Patrick Sheridan


In an act of great generosity, Helen Dodd and her sisters have sent me a copy of an account written by their father, Staff-Sergeant Patrick John Sheridan of the Royal Army Service Corps. This fascinating typescript covers his time as an army baker in pre-war Hong Kong, his experiences during the war, his internment in the Exchange Building and the French Hospital, and the daring escape that won him the Military Medal.[1] It was intensely moving for me to read this narrative, as my father, a fellow baker, features prominently in the final sections – and there’s a glimpse of his ‘friend’, later his wife and my mother, who unwittingly sets off the chain of events that led to the escape!

The Memoir is well written, too, and fascinating to read; the author’s  modesty and  honesty shine out from every page. And over and above my deep personal interest, Staff-Sergeant Sheridan’s account is historically important for a number of reasons. This is the first of a series of posts in which I’ll try to bring out some of the ways in which it adds to our knowledge of the Hong Kong war.

In this post I’ll look at his account of life in the French Hospital in Causeway Bay. A little is known about conditions there later on in 1942 because some time in June agents of the BAAG made contact with Dr. Court and Dr. Selwyn-Clarke and perhaps with other residents and sent back lists of names and short reports. But not much is known about life in the first half of 1942 outside Staff-Sergeant Sheridan’s account.

The French Hospital

Staff-Sergeant Patrick John Sheridan and Sergeant James Hammond, both of the Royal Army Service Corps, were sent to help Thomas bake bread for the army and the civilian population on the last two days of the fighting.[2] After the surrender the three of them were interned, alongside other bakers in the Lane, Crawford headquarters, the Exchange Building in Des Voeux Rd. Here they were lucky enough to come under the command of Captain Tanaka, who treated them and the many others in the building with great kindness – in fact I need to update my post on this officer[3], as Staff-Sergeant Sheridan provides many more examples of his benevolence. The bakers began by distributing bread already in the ExchangeBuilding, and then were allowed by Tanaka to re-open the Qing Loong Bakery in Queen’s Rd. East and produce much needed bread for the hospitals and eventually for Stanley Camp. This period lasted for about 6 weeks:

About 7th February 1942 we are informed by Tanaka that we must leave the Exchange Building next day. Hammond, Edgar, Peacock and myself are to move to the French Hospital in Causeway Bay to join Dr Selwyn-Clarke’s team i.e. Evans, Dr Henry and Winter.[4]

‘Peacock’ was Serge Peacock, a naturalised Russian who’d changed his name from Piankoff by deed poll.[5] Piankoff Senior was also working with the bakers during the fighting, but he seems to have avoided internment, probably because he was not a naturalised British citizen. Owen Evans was to be Thomas and Evelina’s best man: I’ve discussed him here

…but this post also needs to be updated in view of the extra information in Staff-Sergeant Sheridan’s typescript. Charles (‘Chuck’) Winter was a Seventh Day Adventist Missionary and schoolteacher. On August 18, 1942, he wrote to Thomas’s parents from the repatriation ship The Gripsholm giving them news of their son and his imminent marriage – this was probably the first indication they’d had that he’d survived the fighting.[6] Robert Henry was a Doctor of Divinity, a missionary and ‘old China hand’.[7] This ‘team’ delivered the bread and general medical supplies.

Captain Tanaka visited the bakers in the evening before they were due to leave; the surprising events that ensued laid the groundwork for Staff-Sergeant Sheridan’s escape, although this was never Tanaka’s intention.I’ll discuss what happened in a separate post.

Next day Evans and co. move us in the Ambulance to the Convent in the French Hospital compound. The nuns allot us a small room in St Paul’s School. We get camp beds, clean sheets, and a blanket each. We dine in the former girls’ Hostel.[8]

Previously I’d assumed that Thomas was living in the French Hospital itself, but this passage makes the real situation clear. In fact, the bakers were billeted in what one source describes as ‘the little city’ of which the hospital was just one part:

 The Sisters {of St. Paul de Chartres} began the historic move to Causeway Bay in 1916, transforming the old cotton factory buildings into a convent and novitiate, an orphanage, the Anglo-French School and St Paul’s Hospital. In the middle of this little city would reign Christ the King enthroned in an imposing chapel dedicated and blessed on May 10, 1930.[9]

There is occasional confusion in the sources because the Sisters also had a convent with a school attached at a site in HappyValley – Le Calvaire,[10] which is sometimes also referred to as ‘the French Convent’. The Happy Valley site was actually taken over by the Kempeitai, the dreaded military police, during the war.

A good picture of the set-up in the Causeway Bay complex is given in what is in effect the Hong Kong Jesuit ‘hostilities diary: both the hospital and the school adjoining were used to treat casualties in the hostilities, both having room for about 300 patients, suggesting a very rough equivalence of size. There was also a convent building, and in December 1941 about 130 orphans were living there, as well as the sisters and ‘some boarders who were stranded by the war – the Jesuit estimate the total here as another 300. The Girls’ Hostel – presumably part of the convent? – was used for the lay nursing staff, and there was a creche with seventy babies and thirty women, some of whom were amahs and the others invalids. The population of the whole hospital enclosure is given as 500-600 with room for up to 600 patients. (Thomas F. Ryan, Jesuits Under Fire In The Siege of Hong Kong, 1944, 75-76.)

In those early days there was a lively community in the French Hospital with a vigorous social life. Firstly, there were former students of the French Convent School:

 There are a few Chinese girls still here mainly from Singapore and Penang who were stranded here when war came.[11]

It’s not clear if the doctors were actually living in the compound or the hospital itself; as Staff-Sergeant Sheridan says they ate with them in the hostel, which probably wouldn’t be worth noting if they were also billetted in a schoolroom, I’d guess the latter:

The doctors and nurses from the Hospital all dine in the Hostel. Drs, Court[12], Bunji, {Bunje[13]} Nicholson, Griffiths, Lang, all formerly of Queen Mary Hospital.

I have never come across Dr. Lang before, but there’s a Mr. J. C. Lang on Tony Banham’s list of civilians,[14] and a note on his source document says he’s Eurasian, which, if it’s the same man, would explain why he’s uninterned. Future posts will discuss doctors Nicholson and Griffiths – the latter, who also had Irish connections, escaped to Macao in April 1943. Staff-Sergeant Sheridan mentions Dr. Selwyn-Clarke, the ‘boss’ of the whole enterprise separately, so the only doctor on the BAAG list of those living in the French Hospital in December 1942 who he doesn’t mention is Dr. George Graham,-Cumming.[15] Selwyn-Clarke’s assistant Frank Angus[16] is also not mentioned; this gives a small amount of support to the claim that he was initially in Stanley and removed later to join the team, although it’s also possible that these two men simply didn’t come into Staff-Sergeant Sheridan’s mind when he was writing his memoir after the war.

There were other medical personnel present:

The nurses are mostly Chinese, one Philipino and some Eurasians, a few French, and one English,  Mrs Wood, wife of Capt. Wood R.A.S.C. who is interned in Sham Sui Po. Her two children, Rosemary and Sylvia are also here.[17]

Conspicuous by their absence are the public health officials who assisted Selwyn-Clarke: J. G. Hooper, E. C. Kerrison, F.W. Warburton, L. W. R. Macey,[18] John and Maureen Fox[19] and Alexander Sinton.[20] I believe these people to have been living in the French Hospital on May 2, 1943 when Selwyn-Clarke and others were arrested, but the evidence is not absolutely conclusive. I think Staff-Sergeant Sheridan’s failure to mention any of them suggests they weren’t there before his June 4 escape, and perhaps that he wasn’t aware of them – he mentions four American drivers who were living in May Rd. at the time, and it is clearly his intention to be as comprehensive as possible. I think they were living ‘in the field’, perhaps at a number of different addresses before being settled at the French Hospital.

Finally, there was a group of Jesuits, some of whom later took the same route out of Hong Kong as Staff-Sergeant Sheridan, although in their case ‘legitimately’ as they were Irish and not connected to the British Army (the Staff-Sergeant grew up in County Cork[21] and describes himself as Irish, but from the Japanese point of view this was irrelevant as he was a British soldier):

There are also some Irish Jesuit fathers billeted here. Fathers Grogan, Gallagher, O’Brien, Carey, Joy, Byrne, Ryan and a Father Moran who is not a Jesuit.[22]

The last statement seems to have been an error: Moran was in fact a Jesuit, and Staff-Sergeant Sheridan was to meet him again at the Jesuit Mission in Kwong Chow Wan after his escape.[23] He was also (Catholic) Military Chaplain to the Forces.[24] As well as Fr. Moran, at least two other Jesuits left Hong Kong, and some or all of the others ended up at Wah Yan College.[25] My guess is they left the French Hospital in May 1942, when one branch of the College (in Robinson Rd.) was re-opened.[26] Father Joy, who was to help Staff-Sergeant Sheridan with his escape, needs a post to himself.

Evenings in the compound were lively:

When we get back to the French Hospital in the evening we now have plenty of company, with Drs, nurses, Jesuits, missionaries, drivers and bakers. We all crowd into one big schoolroom and have plenty of discussions. One of the main topics is, how long will this last before the Japs decide to intern us at Stanley or maybe Sham-Shui-Po.[27]

It’s not surprising that the possibility of internment was discussed so often: conditions in Stanley were bad in the early days, and they were even worse in the military POW Camp at Shamshuipo, where, as army bakers, Staff-Sergeant Sheridan and Sgt.Hammond would have been sent if the truth about them was ever discovered. As it was the one escaped, and the other ended up in Stanley!

There was entertainment too:

At the French Hospital some evenings we have a little entertainment. A Eurasian named Stott plays the violin, a Chinese medical student plays the piano. Some of the Chinese nurses are good singers, especially Hilda Ho, who is very keen on Hammond. Father Gallagher, the Jesuit sings the Lost Chord in a powerful baritone, a few others give a turn as well.[28]

On August 11, 1942, R. E. Stott, a land bailiff, [29] was to begin a controversial escape from the Hospital.[30] He’d been sent there from Stanley’s Tweed Bay Hospital as it was thought the better food would speed his recovery from a ruptured duodenal ulcer.[31] It seems that although of Eurasian appearance and perhaps even claiming to be one this wasn’t his true ethnicity:

Had I been able to do so I would have endeavoured to pass as Eurasian, but unfortunately was too well known by local enemy agents to succeed….[32]

The internees at the French Hospital could take part in sport:

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.[33]

There was even the chance to engage in flirtation with some of the older pupils:

The older girls like a bit of fun, but the nuns do not like it if they become too familiar with the bakers.[34]

It seems as if the people living in the compound had free access to the hospital itself:

Sister Henry asked me one evening if I would like to go and talk to a patient in the Hospital. I find him a most interesting person, he is a Mr Arlington, an American over 80 years of age. He is the author of several books on Chinese life and drama.[35]

Mr. Arlington also impressed American writer Gwen Dew, and she mentions him a number of times in Prisoner of the Japs, giving his exact age in late 19441 as 83.[36] He was to prove useful to Staff-Sergeant Sheridan’s eventual escapee, telling  him about a patient in another ward who gives him important information, and, when the time comes, a letter of introduction to a crucial contact in Free China:

Another American who is a patient in the Hospital a Mr Neprud who knows that part of China. I go to see him in another ward and find him very willing to help.[37]

Carl Neprud was an American who worked for the Maritime Customs and was trying to prevent the Japanese from discovering he was an agent of the Chinese Government in Chungking.[38]

As well as taking part in the evening social life, the bakers had a privilege they seem to have shared with the health workers: Selwyn-Clarke brought them a Medical Department pass issued by Colonel Saito, the Japanese medical officer in charge of all prison camps – after the war his death sentence for medical negligence and brutality was commuted to 15 years in prison. This pass allowed them to move around Hong Kong, and even gave them free travel on the trams:

On one of our non-baking days Edgar and I take a trip on a tram.

They see signs of the new order everywhere:

All these {formerly British} barracks are occupied by Japanese marines or Naval landing parties. We see the Jap soldiers having bayonet practice on the parade ground at Murray Barracks. On the Hong Kong cricket ground the Japs are teaching about 200 former Indian Army troops bayonet fighting.

Staff-Sergeant Sheridan mentions only one such outing, and my guess is that the bakers didn’t make great use of their free passes: moving around occupied Hong Kong wasn’t necessarily very enjoyable, and could have been potentially dangerous – Staff-Sergeant Sheridan reports being threatened in the street by a Japanese officer who began to draw his sword when he was on the streets to conduct business concerned with his escape.[39]

It seems that the Hospital was a social centre for the small uninterned Allied community: according to Jean Gittins it was ‘a meeting place for internee-patients and their contacts’,[40] which suggests that those sent from Stanley to be X-rayed or receive medical treatment had plenty of visitors. Similarly banker Andrew Leiper tells us that he and his colleagues living at the Sun Wah Hotel nearly always had an excuse to go to the Hospital, as their life was conducive to frequent minor illnesses and they were always keen to visit the sick, as a way of getting out of their squalid surroundings and enlarge their very limited set of English speaking social contacts.[41] It seems these ‘excursions’ took place mainly at the weekends.  In October 1942 the head of the Honkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation was told by the Japanese liquidators that he must rein in the movements of his staff. On the letter that informed him of this, Grayburn wrote:

This ruling refers to all times, we are only allowed out for shopping and exercise. French Hospital may only be visited for real necessity not for softball.[42]

Ithink this means that the softball games continued after the American repatriation of June 29/30 and that the bankers (and perhaps other ‘outsiders’) came to the French Hospital to take part.

In Staff-Sergeant Sheridan’s post-escape debriefing, he said that news of conditions and events in Stanley Camp came to the French Hospital from patients who were sent there for X-rays or special treatment.[43] These patients were interviewed by Dr. Court, who told Staff-Sergeant Sheridan to pass on information about camp conditions to the when he’d escaped.[44]

The drivers would also have brought news back from the camp, at least until early May 1942 when the bread delivery was replaced by an increased flour ration.[45] On one occasion, Staff-Sergeant Sheridan was allowed to accompany Owen Evans into Camp, and while there he was able to take a look round and have a discussion with Lane, Crawford manager Mr. Brown.[46] This suggests that the drivers were allowed at least some contact with the internees. Dr. Selwyn-Clarke was allowed to visit the camp once a week, but on condition that he didn’t pass on any news.

In fact, things seem about as good as they could have reasonably hoped except for the absence of the humane Japanese officer they’d left behind in Exchange House:

There is one thing we miss here and that is the protection of Cpt. Tanaka.[47]

On June 4, Staff-Sergeant Sheridan escaped and the sources currently available to me tell us very little about life in the Hospital from then on until the arrests of May 2, 1943. But is does seem clear that the community described in the Memoir was a temporary one: the Jesuits left for Free China or Wah Yan College, the Americans were repatriated, and Stott escaped. But others came to replace them. On June 29, three and a half weeks after Staff-Sergeant Sheridan’s escape, Thomas got married to a woman the Memoir describes as his ‘friend’ – I’d always suspected the decision to marry was a rather sudden one!  According to Charles Winter, he and Evelina planned to live ‘on the compound of the French Hospital’. It seems that they either had a small room to themselves or were billeted with another married couple, while the two remaining bakers Hammond and Peacock were either allowed to stay in their room or forced to share with others.

After my next post on conditions in Exchange House immediately after the surrender, it will be obvious that Thomas and his fellow bakers were about as lucky as any members of the Allied community in the first six months or so of their time in occupied Hong Kong. But as the months wore on, things changed dramatically: in early 1943 the Kempeitai began to strike back against various forms of illegal activity carried out by enemy nationals. All those outside Stanley were under automatic suspicion of smuggling drugs and money into the camps, and, more seriously, of military spying. Matters came to a head in the terrible days of early May 1943, and when most of the dwellers in the French Hospital were sent into Stanley on May 7 there can have been few who weren’t relieved. But in late June the Kempeitai terror followed them into Stanley Camp.[48]

And when, sometime in September 1945, the three remaining bakers and their fellow civilians finally emerged to try to resume their lives, the place they had called home for over a year also bore  marks of the suffering and destruction:

Near the end of the war, tragedy struck the compound. Bombs from the Allied forces rained on the compound on April 4, 1945 destroying buildings and killing seven Sisters and many orphans and staff.[49]

[4] Patrick John Sheridan, Hong Kong Memoir, 91. Henceforth referred to as Memoir.

[5] Memoir, 83.

[7] Winters and Henry: Memoir, 89.

[8] Memoir, 92.

[11] Memoir, 92.

[17] Memoir, 92.

[21]  Memoir, 24.

[22] Memoir, 92.

[23] Memoir, 109.

[24] Thomas F. Ryan, Jesuits Under Fire in the Siege of Hong Kong, 1944, 166.

[25]  Alan Birch and Martin Cole, Captive Years, 1982, 102.

[26] Ryan, 1944, 174.

[27] Memoir, 93.

[28] Memoir, 99.

[29] Greg Leck, Captives of Empire, 20o6, 649.

[31]  Tony Banham, We Shall Suffer There, 2009, entry for August 14, 1942

[32]  Tony Banham, We Shall Suffer There, 2009, entry for August 14, 1942

[33] Memoir, 94.

[34] Memoir, 94.

[35] Memoir, 100.

[36] Gwen Dew, Prisoner of the Japs, 1943, 73.

[37] Memoir, 102.

[39] Memoir, 101.

[40] Stanley: Behind Barbed-Wire, 1982, 71.

[41] G. A. Leiper, A Yen For My Thoughts,  1982, 150.

[43] P. J. Sheridan, Escape Statement, Page 8. This document from the Ride Papers, held at the Hong Kong Heritage Project, was kindly sent to me by Elizabeth Ride.

[44] Memoir, 105.

[46] Memoir, 93.

[47] Memoir, 95.


Filed under French in Hong Kong, Hong Kong WW11, Selwyn-Selwyn Clarke

The Free French in Hong Kong (2): Raoul de Sercey

Gaston Marie Raoul de Sercey was born in Beirut on 11 June 1898 to a long-established and prominent French family – ancestors were admirals, marshals and ambassadors, and his father and an older brother were counts.[1]There may have been a link with Asia, as his father was co-author of a late nineteenth century Mongol grammar,[2] and one of Raoul’s brothers died at Peking in 1931. On May 30, 1924 Raoul married Suzanne Louise Marie Bussiere in Peking. They had 2 children, a daughter Anne, born in 1926, and a son Phillipe.[3]

In 1941 he’d been in charge of the Chinese Postal Department in Hong Kong for 22 years.[4] From 1939 he was in charge of the Chinese Overseas Remittances Department;[5] another source says he was in charge of the Banque d ‘Epargne[6] (Savings Bank) run by the Chinese Posts, which probably means the same thing. I think that he had the important job of making sure that the huge number of remittances that were sent by Hong Kong workers to their families in China arrived safely.

After the Fall of France in June 1940, like other French nationals in the Far East he had the option of sitting out the war in a position of relative safety while waiting to see what happened. His actual choice was very different. He responded to de Gaulle’s ‘Appel’  of June 17, and by the time the Japanese attacked on December 8, 1941 he already had a history of commitment to the Allied cause: just before the outbreak of hostilities he’d figured on a ‘blacklist’ drawn up by the Vichy authorities in French Indo-China. He and the others on the list (which included former Hong Kong Consul-General Louis Reynaud[7]) were wanted for urgent questioning about their activities in broadcasting Gaulliste propaganda.[8]

After the surrender, he remained uninterned as a ‘third national’, and threw himself into a campaign of relief for the British POWs and internees. He escaped from Hong Kong sometime not long before April 5, 1944, the day he left Canton, arriving at the British Army Aid Group Advanced Headquarters at Waichow on April 8.[9] He was thoroughly debriefed by the BAAG and most of what follows comes from statements by or about him in The Ride Papers. The Ride Papers are held at the Hong Kong Heritage Project, and the relevant documents were kindly sent to me by Elizabeth Ride.

Mr. de Sercey’s major contribution during the occupation was to provide as much relief as he could to POWs and internees, particularly those who’d worked for the Chinese Maritime Customs and the major Hong Kong firm of Jardine Matheson.

His efforts for the Jardine’s staff sprung from his friendship with J. J. Paterson, and a general desire to help people treated ‘in a most despicable manner by the Japanese authorities’.[10] J. J. Paterson was the taipan (boss) of Jardine’s and he’d been the commander of the group of older men whose defence of North Point Power Station is often described as an ‘epic’ of the brief hostilities in Hong Kong. Paterson was one of the few survivors of that extremely courageous and determined defence, and he spent the war in the Shamshuipo and Argyle Street Camps.

Soon after the surrender, Mr. de Sercey  managed to send some parcels to J. J. Paterson and to other Jardine’s staff like D. L. Newbigging and Doris Cuthbertson (both in Stanley). In the early months his efforts were focused on Stanley, as ‘the situation was reported as appalling’.[11] It’s important to remember that this humanitarian relief work was in fact highly dangerous: parcels could only be sent in through the Japanese, and the sender’s name and address had to be supplied.  Any Chinese, Indian or ‘third national’ (European neutrals) who sent too many was likely to be suspected of pro-Allied sympathies and questioned by the Kempeitai. This could lead to torture, imprisonment and death. The company history mentions Henry Lo and other Chinese staff as also having taken part in these dangerous relief efforts.[12] Mr. Lo, whose role seems to have been of the first importance, sent in some of his parcels through Ezra Abraham, an elderly stockbroker and philanthropist[13] as it would have been too risky for him to send them in under his own name.

Mr. de Sercey realised he couldn’t give the required assistance to Jardine Matheson’s former employees: he was looking after over 40 members of the Chinese Maritime Customs, and others; he did not, moreover, as someone who wasn’t a company member, have the authority to raise funds in its name. He decided to ‘guarantee out’ J. J. Paterson’s secretary, Miss Doris Cuthberston. ‘Guaranteeing out’[14] was the system whereby people were allowed out of Stanley (and much more rarely Shamshuipo) if a neutral would promise to support them financially and guarantee that they would not act against Japanese interests. Miss Cuthberston came out of Stanley in September 1942 and began a vigorous campaign of relief. I’ll devote a future post to her work.

As Mr. de Sercey had guaranteed Doris Cuthbertson out of Stanley, he felt responsible for her safety, so told her to send parcels only to Argyle Street Camp and Bowen Road Hospital, as the numbers involved were small and less likely to attract Japanese suspicion. Stanley and Shamshuipo, he insisted, should be relieved only by money.[15]

In Autumn 1943 things looked grim for Jardine’s staff: Dr. Selwyn-Clarke, the main engine of humanitarian relief in Hong Kong, had been arrested and the bankers who’d funded his work were with him in gaol or interned in Stanley, while Mr. Pollock, who’d been sending down money from Shanghai, had also been interned (Allied nationals in that city were left ‘free’ for about a year before being sent to camps). Japanese regulations made financial transactions both difficult and dangerous. Mr. de Sercey tells us that he knew from his own experience that the first questions asked of those being interrogated were, ‘How much money have you got?’ and ‘Where is your money coming from?’[16]  With what seems like a characteristic underplaying of his own contribution, he makes no direct references to what must have been the terrifying experience of being questioned by the Kempeitai.

The situation was saved by the help of a Swiss businessman, Mr. Walter Naef, and the International Red Cross – I‘ll describe how in a future post.

Mr. de Sercey ends his letter by praising Miss Cuthbertson’s work and making some suggestions for future funding. He apologises for being somewhat vague in places, explaining that his memory has suffered during the 30 months he spent in occupied Hong Kong – my guess is that both malnutrition and the ‘nervous strain’ of constant fear played their part in this.

Another source shows us that humanitarian relief wasn’t Mr. de Sercey’s only contribution. Some time early in 1944 a BAAG agent had a conversation with Doris Cuthbertson. She told him that de Sercey was managing mail for the POWS from his office in the Stock Exchange Building in Ice House Street.[17] De Sercey was having difficulty getting access to 3,00 bags of mail for Shamshuipo and was constantly making representations about them.[18] This interview also confirmed that de Sercey was providing Miss Cuthbertson with living expenses.

On February 2, 1944 Mr. de Sercey received a secret message from his employers to report to Kukong for further orders. He decided that the route from Macao overland was well-known to the Japanese, who would almost certainly arrest any ‘third national’ leaving for Macao with luggage. Instead, he went to Canton, claiming that he was going to fly to north China to visit his wife, something he had done before – he doesn’t make this explicit, but I think that the point was if he’d followed this route he would not be leaving Japanese-held territory. Instead, from Canton he made his way to Waichow, and presented himself at the BAAG HQ, where he was known to a senior member. His final documented service to the POWs and  internees was to provide a long  report on their conditions – the BAAG summary takes up ten typewritten pages,[19] and he’s described as having given ‘much valuable information’. He’d obviously been gathering as much detail as he could about events and conditions in the camps with some such ‘debriefing’ in mind.  He  made it clear that he was eager to help those he’d left behind in Hong Kong, and to do anything he could ‘to further the downfall of the Japs’[20] and it’s possible that after the ‘good rest’ his hosts prescribed, he carried out other work.

After the war, he seems to have become a development banker, working for the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development. At the end of 1947 he undertook a three month tour of the Far East as the bank’s ‘field representative’. A report in January 1948 stated that he was impressed by Hong Kong’s economic stability and development.[21] It was probably during this tour that he represented the International Bank at a meeting (or meetings) of the United Nations Economic and Social Council.[22]  Like others who risked their lives in occupied Hong Kong, he seems to have sought no special recognition for what he’d done: I’ve never seen his name in a book, and the only material about him online relates to his family history or to his work with the IBRD.

He died on December 22, 1948 at the age of 50 in Saint-Mandé in the eastern suburbs of Paris.[23] He lived just long enough to see the marriage of his daughter.[24]

[4] Ride Papers, 9/3/58.

[5] Ride Papers, 9/3/58.

[9] Ride Papers, 9/3/58

[10] R Papers, 11/38/41.

[11] Ride Papers, 11/38/41.

[16] Ride Papers, 42, 43.

[17] Ride Papers, 10/15/31, KWIZ 38, March 3, 1944,

[18] Ride Papers, 11/38/32.

[19] Ride Papers, 10/13/04-13.

[20] Ride Papers, 9/3/58.


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

The Free French in Hong Kong: (1) Louis Reynaud


I intend to post about as many as possible of the European men and women who, like Thomas, were living outside the internment Camps in late 1942 and early 1943. Today I focus on a brave man, whose story intersects Thomas’s in two small ways, and who, like the group of Free French of which he was a part, deserves to be better known to all those interested in the Hong Kong war. There’s very little about him in English,[1] but there’s an excellent post in French, and much of what follows is taken from it.[2] I gladly acknowledge a general debt to this article as well as the particular footnoted references. All translations from this and other sources are my own, and come with no guarantee! Corrections of fact are always welcome, and in this case of language too.


Louis Reynaud was appointed French Consul-General in Hong Kong in January 1940 after a long diplomatic career in China. On June 18, 1940, the day following the French surrender, General Charles de Gaulle made a historic Appeal (‘Appel’) to continue the struggle. Louis Reynaud, although by now physically frail,[3] was one of those who heard the call. Just two days later he wrote:

 Grouped around me, the Hong Kong French respond angrily to any idea of an armistice and separate peace and reject the thought of such a treason to our Allies and to humanity as a whole, one which would eternally dishonour France.[4]

He was already doing what he could, as a diplomat in an ambiguous position, to  aid the Allied cause. On June 21 it was reported that Reynaud had made the Japanese indignant by his (no doubt untrue) claim that no supplies had been sent to Chiang Kai-Shek through French Indo-China,[5] and it seems from a report in the (Melbourne) Argus of June 26, 1940 that he hoped for a widespread far eastern resistance to capitulation:

M. Louis Reynaud, French Consul-General at Hong Kong, confirmed this morning the report that the Governor-General and garrison of French Indo-China had decided to carry on independently and to ignore the Bordeaux Government. He said that Frenchmen in Manila, Shanghai, Hong Kong, and elsewhere would also carry on.[6]

From June 30, 1940, Reynaud was short of money because he and Vice Consul Charles Renner kept the  Treasury cheques in a draw[7] so as not to be hamstrung in their actions. It seems that, in any case, the money from France stopped later on in the year and Reynaud financed activities from his own pocket.[8]

On July 22 the Consulate staff learnt that Vichy had decreed that any Frenchman who enlisted in a foreign army faced a death sentence. On the same day, two Frenchmen and an associated Belgian in Hong Kong, Pierre Mathieu,  Carlos Arnulphy and Armand Delcourt joined the Hong Kong Volunteers. Consul General Reynaud and Vice-Consul[9]  Renner gave them their congratulations.[10]

The Committee of Free France (“Comité de la France Libre”) was set up on 19 September 1940. Out of the 120 members of the French community, 40 were to join it. All of them, in December 1941, took part in the defence of Hong Kong as volunteers in combat units or in support.[11]

But this small group of highly committed men were contributing to the war effort long before the fighting arrived at their doorstep. They assisted volunteers who wanted to get to an area held by the Free French,[12] for example, and they broadcast the news in French every evening to Indo-China. They did this so effectively that the Vichy authorities there were trying to get their hands on them as the fighting drew to an end.[13]

In these months following the Fall of France Louis Reynaud was one of the few diplomats who managed to remain at his post without swearing loyalty to the collaborationist Vichy regime. Instead he decorated his official correspondence with a colourful V for Victory sign![14]

 When the French Ambassador at Peking told him to stop doing this, because France was neutral, Reynaud unleashed a splendid tirade:

 Your Excellency is probably aware that  V for Victory is the rallying sign of all the peoples who, because they wish to remain free or shake off the odious yoke of the oppressor, fight with all the means at their disposal against Germany and her satellites and their plan to dominate and enslave the world. It seems to me that France couldn’t possibly remain indifferent to this movement, but if the order of the day is to consider France neutral in this conflict that’s tearing apart the world then I’d be grateful if Your Excellency would kindly tell me how the French Government can authorise and even encourage the recruitment of volunteers to fight for Germany against Russia.[15]

The Ambassador got the point, and from September 1940 the Hong Kong Consulate was frozen out of serious diplomatic contact with the other legations in China. The British government told Vichy that no Consul-General sent to replace Reynaud would be accepted[16]andAdmiral Darlan, the Vichy Foreign Minister, was reluctant to deprive France of all representation by breaking completely with the Consulate General,[17] so Reynaud clung on to his position, albeit in an attenuated form.

 As war in the Far East approached, Reynaud continued his propaganda activities. On July 14, 1941 he addressed a gathering at the Consulate. There was a known Vichy spy there – a churchman from Shanghai– but it didn’t stop him delivering a pro-Free French speech.[18]

 At the end of the Hong Kong fighting, Reynaud announced with some pride the number of French volunteers who helped defend the Colony and the number of prisoners and missing. He paid tribute to the Consulate’s James Dao, who was killed working as an ARP warden. He spoke also of the French Volunteers who’d helped defend the power station.

After the surrender, Reynaud seems to have co-operated with the occupiers as little as he could. One Sunday in February 1942 a man called G. J. Grover, who was allowed to remain out of Stanley on claiming Russian nationality, and was later accused of collaboration, took part in an altercation between the Consul General and two members of the Kempeitai, one an officer.[19] An ‘excited’ Reynaud was refusing to let them in, saying that the French Mission was a private house. At Grover’s post-war  committal proceedings, there was disagreement as to whether or not he’d tried to calm the Kempeitai officer down or to incite him to still greater anger, but it’s clear that he did try to extract as humble an apology from the Frenchman as possible: when threatened with arrest Reynaud offered his ‘excuses’, and a French dictionary was produced which affirmed that ‘excuses’ meant the same as ‘apologies’. Grover, it was claimed, insisted that this wasn’t enough for such a high-ranking officer and found a phrase translated as, ‘I beg a thousand pardons’ and insisted that the Consul use this. It’s not recorded if he did or not, and the whole thing might sound slightly farcical to anyone not aware of what being arrested by the Kempeitai might have meant.

In March 1942 the Japanese closed all neutral consuls, including the French,[20] promising to look after the interest of neutrals themselves. The diplomats were ordered to quit Hong Kong, but Reynaud dragged his feet. Eventually he managed to get the Japanese to agree to allow him to retire and remain in Hong Kong as a private individual. He carefully wound up the activity of his consulate and made provision for a number of former employees and French nationals.[21]  As late as October 1942, there were still 71 French men and women in Hong Kong, and Reynaud continued to do what he could for them.[22]

 And he continued to give assistance to the Allied cause even when he was supposed to be ‘a private individual’. Sometime after April 15, 1942 Thomas’s fellow baker, P. J. Sheridan, an RASC man who’d unexpectedly found himself able to pose as a civilian,[23] applied for a neutral’s pass on the pretence of being Irish. He planned to escape from Hong Kong and knew he was going into French territory so he approached Reynaud. Kwong Chow Wan, where Sheridan was headed, was a  French enclave in southern China, and at this time it was, unusually, ruled by the Free French not Vichy sympathisers, probably because it was in the middle of Nationalist Chinese territory (the Japanese occupied it in February,1943).Sheridan’s own account tells us of Reynaud’s  help:

 I  had already secured a letter of introduction to the French authorities in KWONG CHOW WAN from the former Consul General in Hong Kong Monsieur Reynaud which requested that I be given every assistance passing through French territory.[24]

 Reynaud’s letter obviously worked, because Sheridan was able to travel on to Free China without too much trouble. His bold bid succeeded, and he was awarded the Military Medal.

 Reynaud was in the French Hospital (St. Paul’s) during the terrible events of early May 1943. On May 2, soon after dawn, the Kempeitai arrested Dr. Selwyn-Clarke and a number of his colleagues on suspicion of spying. Emily Hahn tells us what happened next:

The entire hospital was closed off by police and soldiers. It happened that the former consul general, Reynaud, lay dying there, but his doctor was not permitted to go in and see him. The gendarmes meant to find out everything they could about that hotbed of espionage, and no sick people were going to interfere with their work.[25]

 Of course the Japanese had no reason to make special concessions to Reynaud. Thomas and Evelina were also amongst the small group of Allied nationals who were locked in the French Hospital during this fearful time.

Hahn’s belief that Louis Reynaud was dying wasn’t quite correct. He hung on a little longer and succumbed on July 6.[26] He was still at the French Hospital though,[27] so I assume that Hahn was right in believing that the events of the first week in May interrupted his care during his last illness. As M. Arnaud Barthélémy, the current French Consul General in Hong Kong, put it in a recent speech, he died of illness and exhaustion.[28]

 He was already frail when he responded to De Gaulle’s call, and I suspect that many people in his position would have headed for Kwong Chow Wan and a comfortable retirement, using ill-health as an excuse. But Louis Reynaud, whatever phrase he might have used to fob off the Kempeitai, was clearly not a man to make excuses!

Memorial to the Free French, Stanley Cemetery, erected 1948

[9] Charles Renner is described by one source as ‘Consul’, but it seems he was Vice-Consul. The Hong Kong Telegraph of April 19, 1941, pages 1-2, reports his transfer to Mukden (now Shenyang).


 [19] Report of Grover’s committal proceedings in China Mail, August 14, 1946, page 4.  One of the witnesses to this incident was Father Leon Vircondelet, a close friend of Reynaud and another supporter of the Free French (although a non-combatant one, because of his ecclesiastical position). After Reynaud’s death he took over some of the functions of the consulate:


[24]Sheridan’s statement is in the Lindsay Ride Papers and was kindly sent to me by Elizabeth Ride.

[25] China To Me, 1986 ed., 404-405.



Filed under French in Hong Kong, Hong Kong WW11