Category Archives: John A. Fraser

Seventy Years Ago Today: A Personal Account

Not long after 2 pm. on October 29, 1943 – seventy years ago today – 33 lives were brought to a brutal end on Stanley Beach.1

32 men and one woman were executed by beheading. Their trial had been held in two sessions on October 19, and the interpreter provided by the court made little effort to convey to the prisoners what was going on, but at one point he did offer a rather feeble English summary of the proceedings. William Anderson, the Stanley Camp Quartermaster and one of those in the dock during the afternoon session, was able to pick up the gist of the accusations:

Anderson’s understanding was that it was primarily to do with the prisoners hindering the Japanese in bringing about a new order in Asia.2

Yes, indeed. They had all done so through contact of one sort or another with the resistance organisation, the British Army Aid Group. Most had been agents, but the one military man on trial that day, Captain Mateen Ansari, of the 5/7 Rajputs, had been a POW in Ma Tau-wai Camp and some of his fellow prisoners had been caught when a plan to free him was betrayed (it’s possible that the whole idea was conceived by the Japanese in order to trap members of the resistance).

By the end of October 19, 33 people received the death penalty; the rest, including William Anderson, got 15 years – this was simply a slower death sentence, even when it was reduced to ten later, as conditions in the Kempeitai jails were so bad that British prisoners who came out after two years were barely clinging on to life even though they’d received extra rations both openly and through smuggling. But happily most of this group were alive at the end of the war – although not David Edmondston, the number two at the Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation, who died of malnutrition and medical neglect in 1944.3

Like so many others my parents made the decision not to pass on the burden of suffering by telling their children about what happened to them during the war; my mother occasionally spoke about the (relatively!) lighter side of things – for example, finding a centipede in her shoe and calling my father to kill it – while my father was occasionally forced by the pressure of emotion to speak about his grimmest experiences.

It was clear to me even as a child that for him the worst time of the Hong Kong war was not the hostilities, with their constant threat of sudden death from the incessant shelling and frequent air raids, but the occupation that followed. And it wasn’t the hunger, the cramped conditions, the lack of decent sanitary and washing facilities, or the restricted life he was forced to lead that had scarred him the most: it was the fear of the Kempeitai.

No wonder. To be arrested by the Gendarmes was to enter a world of deprivation and terror that it’s hard for those of us who have known only peace-time conditions to even imagine. The cells themselves were torment enough: prisoners were packed tightly into rooms far too small for their number, the stench was foul – one or more of them was almost certainly suffering from dysentery – and it was not unknown for newcomers to find themselves forced to squeeze in next to the body of a poor wretch who had succumbed to mistreatment and neglect. In the Happy Valley Gendarmerie – where my father would probably have been taken if arrested during his time of greatest risk4 when he was outside Stanley, living in the French Hospital in Causeway Bay and baking bread for the hospitals – no bedding was provided – you had to wait for a cell-mate to die, be transferred or released.5 Some cells had natural light, others didn’t.

The food, as I’ve already indicated, was not enough to keep anyone alive for long: it seems to have varied at different times and in different prisons, but I think that a typical daily ration would be about 12 ozs of rice, salt, and a little vegetable marrow. But the inmates couldn’t expect even this much food to be served regularly: the gendarmes used starvation to ‘soften up’ prisoners, so interrogation would often take place when the last meal was nothing but a distant memory; sometimes longer periods of food deprivation were applied.6 For similar reasons, at least one prison was kept deliberately cold. In most cases prisoners were expected to spend much of the day cross-legged, silent and staring at a wall. Beatings were handed out for the slightest deviation.

And those already enduring these unendurable conditions lived with the pain of previous interrogations and the fear of future ones. I do not intend to describe these hideous occasions in any detail; suffice it to say that a session might begin with a beating (an amazing variety of objects were used for this) and proceed to worse measures if this failed to get the desired co-operation.

It’s probable that most or all of the people who died on October 29 had been interrogated under torture. I argued in a previous post7 that in general the Kempeitai, although brutal, treated ‘European’ prisoners with a great deal of procedural scrupulosity: they were not routinely tortured, but they almost always were if they were suspected of spying, and there’s evidence that the severity and extent of the brutality depended on the degree of involvement in espionage suspected by the interrogators. Most of those today were not ‘European’ anyway, and those who were, had taken part in activities such as military espionage, the operation of secret radio sets, and the passing on of messages, some of which were from the BAAG.

The 33 who died reacted differently to this ordeal. Two are known for certain to have been unbreakable and to have told their tormentors nothing – I think it highly probable that many more also said nothing, or only admitted to what was already known, trying to give the impression of providing information without putting anyone else at risk. We can be sure that, whatever was wrung out of them, almost nobody told everything they knew: there were many people involved in resistance whose activities were known to some of these prisoners, who were never suspected. Only one man is believed to have broken completely and attempted to spy on his fellows for better conditions and in the hope of a reprieve (which was not granted). Those who are certain they would never have done the same may wish to condemn him.

Most of those who died seventy years ago today had been arrested in the period from late April to late June – as far as I know at the moment Charles Hyde was the first and Thomas Monaghan the last, but I have very little information about the arrests of the non-Europeans. The main investigations ended around August 19.8 After that, the prisoners were probably left to await trial and then the carrying out of the sentence.

At about 2 pm on October 29 the condemned were taken out of solitary confinement and assembled inside Stanley Prison. They were refused a visit from a priest, but were allowed five minutes together to compose themselves. Captain Mateen Ansari gave an impromptu talk:

We will die strong and healthy for an ideal; not as traitors but nobly in our country’s cause.9

Wong Shiu Pun, who had worked at St. Paul’s College, led prayers. Then it was time to go.

The prisoners had their hands tied behind their backs and were roped together in groups of three. They were taken to the prison’s administration compound and put into the large prison van.10 They set off on the short drive to Stanley Beach soon after 2 pm; the blinds were pulled down, and the van was followed by two Japanese staff cars.

The American Chester Bennett was briefly interned in Stanley before being released to buy extra food for the Camp. War reporter Hal Boyle tells the next part of the story from Bennett’s perspective:

He gave the note ((a final message to his wife)) to a friendly guard and soon it was time to go. The crowded black van pulled out from the steel gates of Stanley Prison and moved slowly down the rough, narrow road leading to the small bay where British redcoats had planted the empire flag more than a hundred- years before.

As the van passed a number of internees toiling up the slope someone put his face up to the rear wire grill and called out: “Goodbye boys. We shan’t be seeing you again.” ((Believed to be Scott or Fraser.))

At the bottom of the hill the prisoners were forced to dismount and follow a trail winding around the edge of the bay. It must have been torture at every step to Chester Bennett. Rope burns on his left leg had become badly infected, the leg had become gangrenous and needed amputation. But he walked upright and limped only slightly. To all outward appearances he was utterly calm. The prisoners marched in single file to a small clearing. Ringing the hills around them were scores of Chinese gravestones. Before them in the center of the clearing the prisoners saw two trenches dug by Indian warders and knew how they were to die.11

They were all blindfolded. Captain Ansari, Walter Scott and John Fraser ward led forward first. The others followed, also in groups of three. The whole business lasted about an hour. The beheadings began, but the executioner tired and the swords lost their sharpness: some of the victims had to be finished off with bullets – some internees heard the shots and believed that the prisoners had all been executed by firing squad. Anne Ozorio describes the unflinching demeanour of Wong Shiu Pun as these dreadful events were playing themselves out:

By the time it came to him the swords were blunt. But he kept praying.12

There was no intention on the part of the executioners to cause their victims additional suffering; just incompetence and indifference.

There were 33 victims in total: seventeen Chinese, eight British, four Indians, one Canadian, one American, one Portuguese, one Eurasian. 32 were male; Lau Tak Oi, the wife of resistance leader David Loie, was the only woman.13

After it was all over, the Indian guards filled in the graves, while the Japanese became very serious, and bowed deeply as water was sprinkled on the graves. Then they returned to the prison for a raucous celebration.14

October 29, 1943 was one of the few war-time experiences my father spoke to me about. He could obviously never forget this day on which he was with Mrs Florence Hyde while her husband Charles was being executed on Stanley Beach.

My memory is that my father told me that the victims were forced to dig their own graves. I now know this wasn’t true – the graves were pre-dug, but I don’t know if the mistake in memory was mine or my father’s. And did he actually watch the executions? My memory is that he told me he did, but I find it hard to believe that Mrs Hyde chose to do so. I’ve read a few accounts that link her death from bowel cancer in 1944 to the terrible events of 1943 – her husband’s arrest, brutal torture and execution. But none of these accounts mention that she actually watched the beheading. Nevertheless, Wright-Nooth makes it clear that some internees did see the prisoners leave the van and march with their guards to the place of execution, and most sources agree that this could be seen from some parts of the camp. I’ve never read a first-hand account written by anyone who claims to have actually witnessed the beheadings, though, so I have an open mind as to whether my father actually saw them or if my memory betrayed me.

He had presumably got to know Mrs Hyde during the time they shared in Stanley Camp’s Bungalow D, although it’s possible the acquaintance began before they were sent to Stanley, when he was living in the French Hospital and she in the Sun Wah Hotel. He must also have felt a strong affinity with another of the brave men who went to their deaths today – his fellow Lane Crawford employee Frederick Ivan Hall. Mr Hall was in the company butchery department and at some point was living almost next door to my father in Morrison Hill Road (they probably had company flats). They were both also in the Lane Crawford bowls and cricket teams. And both had married Eurasian women earlier in the occupation.

The events of that day still haunted my father more than twenty years later. Why bring them back now? There are many reasons, one of them to me absolutely compelling.

While awaiting execution Douglas Waterton scratched a calendar on the walls of his cell – every morning he wrote the date and crossed out – ‘EXECUTED DATE CALENDER15 STOPS’.

Mr Waterton also recorded some basic facts:

ARRESTED STANLEY CAMP JULY 7 1943
COURT MARTIALLED OCTOBER 43 AND CONDEMNED DEATH
NO DEFENCE

His fellow prisoner, William John White, did something similar: he inscribed all the names he knew of the condemned with sometimes a little information – for example, after Alexander Sinton’s name he put ‘SD’ for Sanitation Department. (Both of these document can seen at the alternative version of this post:
http://www.blogger.com/blogger.g?blogID=865422869407099982#editor/target=post;postID=5702523406503006879;onPublishedMenu=allposts;onClosedMenu=allposts;postNum=0;src=postname)

These men, and I’m sure the 31 others who died alongside them, wanted their story to be told. In the grimmest of circumstances, with a hope of survival gone, they began the process of historical recording that those of us who live in the world made possible by their courage and sacrifice must continue in humility and gratitude. Thank you for reading this post.

1 For some of these people see:

https://brianedgar.wordpress.com/2012/03/31/alexander-christie-sinton/

https://brianedgar.wordpress.com/2012/08/07/thomas-christopher-monaghans-resistance-work/

https://brianedgar.wordpress.com/2012/04/20/charles-hydes-resistance-work/

https://brianedgar.wordpress.com/2011/11/16/chester-bennett-the-american-hero-of-hong-kong/

https://brianedgar.wordpress.com/2013/10/14/lau-tak-oi-gladys-loie/

2 George Wright-Nooth, Prisoner of the Turnip Heads, 1994, 182.

3https://brianedgar.wordpress.com/2012/02/13/1944-4-two-deaths-a-move-and-a-release/

4February 1942 to May 1943.

5http://gwulo.com/node/8235

6https://brianedgar.wordpress.com/2011/11/16/part-4-of-hal-boyles-series-on-chester-bennett/

7https://brianedgar.wordpress.com/2013/08/11/how-did-the-kempeitai-treat-british-civilians-in-hong-kong/

8Wright-Nooth, 1994, 177.

9 Wright-Nooth, 1994, 186.

10Wright-Nooth, 1994, 186.

11https://brianedgar.wordpress.com/2011/11/16/part-4-of-hal-boyles-series-on-chester-bennett/

12https://www.facebook.com/groups/308617469269780/

13https://brianedgar.wordpress.com/2013/07/17/the-executions-of-october-29-1943-update/

14Wright-Nooth, 1994, 187.

15 Sic.

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Filed under British Army Aid Group, Charles Hyde, Chester Bennett, Hong Kong WW11, John A. Fraser, Portuguese in Hong Kong, Stanley Camp

The Reign of Terror: Conclusion on the Stanley Peninsula

Thomas would never have claimed to be a master of words. Back in England after 1951 his main reading matter was a daily paper, at first The Daily Mirror  – later, as he grew more right-wing and the Mirror was dragged down by competition with the Sun, he switched to the Daily Mail. Otherwise, he contented himself with occasional copies of the Reader’s Digest bought at jumble sales, never opening a book.

 But he also knew it was not his grasp of language that was the reason for his inability to express his thoughts and feelings about October 29, 1943. On that day he was with Mrs. Florence Hyde while her husband was being beheaded on Stanley Beach, and the way he told his son about it, some time in the first half of the 1960s, conveyed both his continuing anger and his sense that some human experiences are beyond words.

Given the vast  gap between bankers and bakers in Hong Kong’s hierarchy-obsessed social order, it’s not likely that he knew the Hydes personally before the war. It’s just possible that Thomas and Mr. and Mrs. Hyde got to know each other during the period (January 1942–April 1943) when they were all part of the small contingent of Allied nationals left in Hong Kong– just over 100 men and a relatively tiny  number of women and children. Although they weren’t by any means able to move around as they wished, they were allowed some freedom: Emile Landau, owner of the Parisian Grill, saw Mr. Hyde regularly at Sunday lunch, for example.[1] However, it’s more likely that Thomas’s acquaintance with the family began when he and Evelina, Mrs Hyde and her five year old son Michael were all assigned to Bungalow D (in the Edgars’ case on May 7).[2]  They were there because Charles Hyde had been arrested.

 ‘Ginger’ Hyde was one of those bankers kept outside Stanley to help liquidate their own banks, and he’d had been taken by the Kempeitai on suspicion of a whole raft of ‘crimes’. He was, to his immense credit, guilty of them all: he’d been raising money to provide extra food and medical supplies to be smuggled into Stanley to help meet the desperate needs of the internees. He’d been listening to an illegal radio with another banker, Mr. L.  Souza, and probably passing the news around the community of uninterned Allied civilians. He’d been ‘running’ Chester Bennett and the Portuguese solicitor Marcus Da Silva, two of the most effective of the British Army Aid Group’s[3] agents in occupied Hong Kong. And he himself had been in contact with the resistance.[4]

According to John Stericker, Hyde was arrested on May 3[5], although other sources givean unspecified date  in April.  Marcus da Silva and Chester Bennett followed him into custody on May 14.[6]  During this brutal interrogation, Mr. Hyde became so weakened that the Kempeitai called in a doctor to examine him.[8]  It seems that he never named his two agents, as Marcus da Silva managed to convince the gendarmes of his innocence and was released, while Chester Bennett, according to da Silva, was executed purely on suspicion in the absence of either a confession or the kind of hard evidence that Hyde could have provided.[9]

While the grim process of interrogation and the gathering of evidence was going on, life continued more or less as normal for the other internees – except, as Jean Gittins later wrote, a Camp that had been stagnating under the twin curses of confinement and malnutrition, now found that it was pervaded by an ‘intense and nameless fear’.[10]

In August Thomas began collaborating with his old ‘boss’ Doctor Geoffrey Herklots;[11] together they managed to grow yeast cultures and hold up the rise of cases of beri beri, caused by lack of the B vitamins, in Stanley. Ironically, while this battle was being won, the husband of one of the other women in Bungalow D was dying of vitamin deficiency in the prison just outside Camp.

A Stanley internee Dr. Harry Talbot had been caught – probably about March 3 – trying to smuggle money back into Camp after being allowed out for treatment at the French Hospital (where Thomas and Evelina had been living at the time). After a few days of pressure from the gendarmes, Sir Vandeleur Grayburn, the most senior banker in Hong Kong, perhaps in the whole of Asia, confessed that he had been the one who provided the cash, claiming that he had wanted it divided amongst some of the Camp nurses. After a two week delay – probably to ask for permission from Tokyo to arrest such an important man – on March 17[12] the Gendarmes took Sir Vandeleur to Happy Valley Police Station.

 C. M. Faure – a former member of the editorial staff of the Japanese-run Hong Kong News, who some believe had used his position to signal to the prisoners as much of the truth about the course of the war as he could – had been arrested on February 18 and was in the Happy Valley station when Grayburn was brought in. He testified that Sir Vandeleur was detained in a dirty ‘cage’: you had to crawl on all fours to get into it, there were sacks on the floor – presumably as bedding – and each prisoner was given just one bowl and one blanket. There were ten people to a cell, and the stench was so bad the warders had to hold handkerchiefs to their noses when they entered. There was not enough light to catch the lice that infested every individual. Washing facilities were always inadequate and at times there was no water at all. The food provided was so scanty that Faure estimated he lost half a pound in weight every day. Grayburn and his assistant E. P. Streatfield (who had also confessed) were held in a ‘similar’ cage: the only difference was that at this stage the two bankers were allowed to receive food from outside.[13]

Grayburn was badly beaten, but he obviously managed to convince his interrogators that he wasn’t involved in anything like spying, as there is no record of him having been given the ‘water treatment’, which was generally used on people suspected of espionage, and he was eventually sentenced to 100 days in prison, about as light a penalty as the Japanese ever gave.

Stanley internee George Wright-Nooth saw him, being brought into Stanley Prison on April 13, handcuffed to E. P. Streatfield, and other internees sometimes saw him taking exercise in the yard. Lady Grayburn either went to Stanley voluntarily or was sent there soon after her husband’s arrest and she too was assigned to Bungalow D, from which she conducted a vigorous campaign on her husband’s behalf, and sent him in extra food and vitamin tablets. George Wright-Nooth, working with a Chinese agent, smuggled both letters and vitaminized chocolate into the prison for the banker.[14]

The food given to prisoners was not enough to live on: those Chinese who had no families able to support them died slowly of starvation. Survival depended on two things: having people outside with the money to provide extra rations, and the willingness of the prison authorities to allow the prisoner to receive them. The smuggled rations, and whatever food sent in openly that the Japanese actually passed on, were not enough to maintain Sir Vandeleur’s health. He was admitted to the prison hospital, a hideous place where many people were sent simply to die unattended, where there was no attempt to maintain even the lowest standards of hygiene, and where the rations were still smaller – Streatfield later estimated they were about two thirds of the ‘normal’ prison ration[15] – to discourage ‘malingering’.

An Indian warder, Kader Bux,[16] made repeated requests for medical attention for the prisoner, but was always refused. Eventually Bux – who understood better than anyone what he was risking – took Dr. Talbot (the man whose arrest had started the whole chain of events and himself serving a hundred days for his role in the affair) to examine the patient. Talbot saw him twice. The first time he had a high fever and was slightly delirious: the courageous Bux smuggled sulphonamide drugs into the prison. The next day Grayburn was comatose and seemed beyond help. He’d been admitted to hospital suffering from boils and because of insufficient dressing he was squeezing them out himself, which, in Dr. Talbot’s view, had given him septicaemia. Without drugs Talbot could do nothing.

On Friday, August 6, one week before the end of his sentence, Sir Vandeleur died. He felt much better in the morning, and his appetite returned. After his evening ‘meal’ he spoke to Police Sergeant Morrison – who was in prison for attempting to escape – of his travels in Norway  and of his brother in India. But, according to Morrison’s account, as he was speaking, he seemed to age suddenly. He made two unsuccessful attempts to urinate, finally dropping the tin provided for this purpose and collapsing. The weakened Morrison helped him into bed as best he could. Grayburn’s last words – before falling into a coma – were, ‘That was very remiss of me’. [17]

Image: Wikimedia Commons

His wife was never told of his illness or brought to see her dying husband. His body was sent into Stanley Camp, where doctors performed the best post-mortem they could under the circumstances and decided that the cause of death was malnutrition.

Meanwhile the ordeal of those arrested earlier in the year was continuing, in Stanley Prison and elsewhere. Throughout the spring rumours appeared and disappeared  in Stanley Camp about the fate of these prisoners, but the full truth was not known until after the war.

Brutal torture, probably of all those arrested, began at once. A few names were given: George Wright-Nooth, one of those with most to fear, stressed no-one ever blamed those who were unable to resist, not even the people they implicated. All the more wonder that a man like John Fraser, a senior government official, who was singled out for continual violent interrogation because the Japanese rightly suspected he knew more or less everyone involved in ‘illegal’ activities, never gave away a single name. It’s a tribute to all these men that nobody named everybody: for example, the Japanese were eager to find evidence incriminating Franklin Gimson, the leader of the internees, but he was never implicated, even though he was the one who authorised most important ‘illegal’ operations.

On August 19 the Japanese prosecutor, Major  Kogi, decided that he had enough evidence to secure convictions of all concerned.[18] The torture that the unfortunate prisoners had been undergoing probably stopped, and Pennefather-Evans and Whant, two police officers against whom no evidence had been secured, were released. The remaining prisoners were kept in ’B’ block of Stanley Prison awaiting trial.

The trial took place on October 19. Those who were going to be given prison sentences had had their fingerprints taken two weeks before; this procedure was not carried out on those whose deaths had already been decided on.[19]

The trial itself was a farce, with a dozing and inattentive senior judge[20] and a guard who saw it as an opportunity for more brutality: the prisoners were forced to stand in a line throughout the proceedings and beaten if they made the slightest movement. Charles Hyde and the Canadian T. C. Monaghan were beaten with a sword scabbard for daring to talk.[21]

Fraser was a physical wreck by this time, but, according to the eye witness William Anderson, this is how he conducted himself in court:

Fraser replied boldly and clearly, his voice ringing resonantly through the courtroom, that he alone was responsible, that he acted solely on his own judgement.[22]

There was one session in the morning, another in the afternoon, and at the end the pre-decided sentences were read out: death for the majority, including Fraser, and long prison sentences for the four others.

There’s another amazing thing about John Fraser. Anyone who, as a very young man, had fought for two years and more in WW1 – he was awarded a Military Cross in 1916 and added a bar the next year[23] –  had later been singled out for repeated torture by the Japanese, and had just heard a sentence of death being passed, might well be forgiven for feeling that they’d had rather a raw deal in life. But, as the prisoners sat down to eat their midday ‘meal’ together, Fraser seemed unconcerned by all that had happened, chatting in a relaxed fashion, looking on the bright side, and showing not one ounce of self-pity.[24]

File:John Alexander Fraser.jpg

John Fraser: Image from Chinese Wikimedia

After the war, he was awarded a posthumous G.C. for his almost unbelievable fortitude. So was Captain Ansari, although the full story of this courageous soldier cannot be told here. I suspect that if all had been known about the conduct of the other prisoners, more  awards would have been made.

On October 29 a van was seen driving towards Stanley Beach by a group of British children.[25] A voice came from the van; the simple ‘Goodbye, boys’ was the final message from this group to their fellow internees.

There is some disagreement as to what happened next. A number of sources claim the victims were shot, but what I think are the two best published sources claim they were beheaded. Hal Boyle, the American war reporter, writing in 1946, claims the beheadings were competently carried out and soon over, while George Wright-Nooth provides a graphic description of a process that, apart from in the case of the first three victims, was bungled and bloody.

Interned policeman Norman Gunning adds that some internees could hear the shouts with which the Japanese soldiers greeted each beheading.[26] Many sources claim that a number internees witnessed the scene – from Bungalow C,[27] from the cemetery, from close to the cemetery[28] –  but I have never come across the account of anyone who claimed to have done so themselves.[29]

Official confirmation didn’t come until November 22.[30] A short notice given to the Camp Secretary Franklin Gimson noted the punishments meted out with scrupulous ‘correctness’: there was not surprisingly no mention of the Chinese prisoners,  of the military man Captain Ansari, or of the civilians arrested in Hong Kong (the American Chester Bennett, the Canadian T. C. Monaghan and the – probable – Englishman Alexander Sinton) for whom Gimson had technically speaking no responsibility. Details were provided of the fates, whether prison or death, of all those arrested in Stanley Camp. It named those executed as John Fraser, Douglas Waterton,[31] Stanley Rees, Walter Scott, F. W. Bradley, and Thomas’s fellow Lane Crawford employee Frederick Ivan Hall. The notice also mentioned the fifteen year sentences given to the two (unrelated) telephone engineers James and William Anderson, and to the policeman Frank Roberts. The execution of Charles Hyde was also recorded, as was the ten year sentence handed out to D. C. Edmonston, as, although arrested in the city, their wives were in  Stanley.

No appeal was allowed in respect of those serving prison sentences, and the internees were forbidden any collective response to the tragedies, and no appeals on behalf of the prisoners were allowed. A few days later diarist George Gerrard summed up the general reaction to the news:

It was a terrific shock to everyone and the whole camp was depressed….[32]

Of course, diarists had to be careful: they would have been in enough trouble already if their records were discovered, without making things worse by expressing anti-Japanese feelings. Writing after the war, Professor Lancelot Forster, one of those behind Stanley’s sophisticated educational services, described the other side to the feelings in the Camp when the news was announced:

(W)e felt very deeply our utter inability, a that moment, to do anything about it. We had a sense not of defeat but of bitterness and anger….We felt that the Camp was a menagerie with wild animals as guards.[33]

Those same feelings of impotence and anger radiated from Thomas, who was more closely involved than most with the day’s events, when he spoke about them years later.

Marcus Da Silva, one of those who could easily have been amongst the victims on Stanley Beach, claimed the Japanese probably wouldn’t have executed Chester Bennett just for financial ‘crimes’, but did so because of the arrival in September of Japanese ‘thought police’ from Tokyo ‘who put the harshest kind of penalties into effect’.[34] I’m not sure who these men were, but da Silva’s theory seems plausible, as this group of prisoners seems to have been treated particularly harshly. Most of the messages smuggled in and out of Stanley involved health not military matters,[35] Grayburn, Talbot and Streatfield had previously escaped with 100 days in jail for their share in the ‘illegal’ activities, and the Japanese had radio experts who could have told them that the sets in Stanley were not capable of sending out messages, so that any contact with the resistance through such means could have been, at most, one way only. Seven civilians were beheaded, whereas only three soldiers were to lose their lives for offences similar in kind but much more threatening to Japanese interests.[36]

In less than a year Mrs. Hyde too was dead. She was killed not by a Japanese sword but by cancer of the bowel. Many internees would have agreed with Jean Mather, who wrote that she died of a broken heart.[37] Her son, Michael, was adopted by the widowed Lady Grayburn, so he stayed in Bungalow D.

Thomas remembered the events of October, 29, 1943 for the rest of his life. In their unspeakable awfulness they seemed to crystallise his experience of the Hong Kong war. It wasn’t, of course, that it was all as bad as that or even that there was nothing good about it. After the war had ended, Thomas’s feelings about this time were far more complex than that, as were those of most internees. But October 29, 1943 was the day on which Thomas most painfully experienced the dark world’s fire. He had  thrust on him yet again the fact of his own vulnerability and that of  those he cared about. He understood that some situations are beyond redress, and that it is not in human nature to be able to respond adequately to those undergoing extreme trauma. And he knew that he had been changed forever by the experience.

Living with him in Bungalow D were now two women whose husbands had died in dreadful circumstances, and Hilda Sewlyn-Clarke, whose husband, whether or not she knew it, was matching John Fraser in his heroic refusal, whatever was done to him, to give away the names (and they almost certainly included Thomas’s) of those who had helped him in his humanitarian smuggling. The reign of terror was to claim the lives of three more British men, this time soldiers, who were shot on another of  Hong Kong’s beaches on December 18, and three more bankers were to be taken from a Bungalow close to D in January and February 1944. They were to come close to death through starvation and mistreatment in prison, but they survived, unlike their fellow D. C. Edmonston, sentenced to 10 years in the October 19 trial, who was to die in similar circumstances to Grayburn on August 29, 1944 (this time the wife was summoned, but arrived after her husband had fallen into a coma).

Although no-one could have known it at the time, the Kempeitai violence against the British civilians was  in fact diminishing after October 29, as it had achieved its aim of breaking the anti-Japanese resistance. But, as the months of  internment wore on two new fears became stronger and stronger: death from malnutrition as the food supply worsened, and the prospect of a final massacre which would wipe out the inhabitants of Stanley Camp completely.


[1] Emile Landau, the owner of a popular pre-war restaurant was one of those loaning money to the British through Hyde, and suffered greatly for it. George Wright-Nooth was, hopefully, not aware of this when he wrote the unpleasant section on him in Prisoners of the Turnip Heads.

[2] The Camp Log (IWM MISC 932) gives the Camp numbers as follows: Thomas 2430, Evelina 2431, Mrs. Hyde 2438, Michael 2439.

[4] Oliver Lindsay, At The Going Down Of The Sun, 121. See also https://brianedgar.wordpress.com/2011/11/24/in-praise-of-bankers/

[5] Stericker, 181.

[8] Evidence of Frederick Tyndall at trial of Noma Kennusoke, reported in  China Mail, January 1947, page 2; see also the evidence of Rudy Choy.

[10] Jean Gittins, Stanley: Behind Barbed Wire, 134.

[11] For the August dating of this collaboration see Geoffrey Emerson, Hong Kong Internment, Kindle Edition, Location 2526; for their pre-war work see  https://brianedgar.wordpress.com/2011/10/18/thomas-and-evelina-edgar-in-the-hong-kong-war-a-chronology-1/ 

[12] Evidence of Edward Streatfield at the trial of Sato Choici, reported in the China Mail, April 2, 1947, page 3.

[13] China Mail, January 3, 1947.

[14] Wright-Nooth, 46-147.

[15] China Mail, April 2, 1947, page 3.

[16] Evidence of Dr. Harry Talbot at the trial of Sato Choici, reported in the China Mail, April 4, 1947, page 2. Wright-Nooth states that a warder named Gholum Mohammed did his best to comfort Grayburn; I don’t know if this is the same man.

[17]Morrison’s account is quoted in Wright-Nooth, 175.

[18] Wright-Nooth, 177.

[19] Wright-Nooth, 179.

[20] Lindsay, 126-127.

[21] Wright-Nooth, 183.

[22] Cited Wright-Nooth, 181.

[24] Wright-Nooth, 173.

[25] Stericker, 181. Some accounts just say ‘internees’.

[26] Norman Gunning, A Passage to Hong Kong, 111.

[27] Sewell, 122.

[28] Gittins, 144.

[29] During my childhood I believed that Thomas had watched the executions with Mrs. Hyde. I now regard this as most unlikely. I’ve noticed that later memory seems to recreate ‘big’ events much more than ‘small’ ones, and particularly those involving horrific scenes. I believe that in this case it was my memory at fault, not my father’s.

[30] Given in full in Stericker, 182.

[32] Entry for November 4, 1943. Gerrard’s diary is viewable by members of the Yahoo Stanley Camp discussion Group.

[33]Tragedies in Stanley’, 2/44. Part of: Lancelot Forster, Five Folders of notes, essays, documents, held at Rhodes House, (Oxford), Mss. Ind. Ocn. S. 177, 1/2/3/4/5. This essay is in folder 5.

[35]  Lindsay, 125.

[36] Ralph Goodwin, Passport to Eternity, 190-191.

[37] Jean Mather, Twisting The Tail of the Dragon, 72.

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Filed under Chester Bennett, Hong Kong WW11, John A. Fraser, Stanley Camp, Vandeleur Grayburn