Category Archives: Selwyn-Selwyn Clarke

Wystan Auden, Christopher Isherwood and Vandeleur Grayburn (2): Grayburn’s Story, Part 1 – Loss, Relief and Resistance

A version of this post with public image illustrations can be read at:

Those who called Sir Vandeleur Grayburn ‘the King’ of Hong Kong weren’t far wrong. As well as head of the Colony’s most important business, the Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation, he was (or had recently been) a member of the University Court1 The Exchange Fund Advisory committee, 2The Taxation Committee,3 and the War Revenue committee,4 a JP5 and from July 1941 an Unofficial Member of the Executive Council.6 Probably of much else as well.

In spite of his position at the centre of Hong Kong life, Sir Vandeleur showed no particular foresight in the immediate run up to the war. On Sunday, December 7, 1941 the HKVDC (Volunteers) were mobilised along with the rest of the garrison amid compelling evidence that an attack was imminent. When HSBC employee M. G. Carruthers informed his boss he’d been called up, Sir Vandeleur looked at him in horror and told him he couldn’t go – ‘this is going to blow over’.

He shouldn’t be blamed too much for this: at the start of the month Governor Mark Young and the garrison’s commanding officer Major-General Maltby had joined forces to convince him that if the Japanese started any trouble a naval force would sail up from Singapore ‘and everything would be hunky-dory’.7 On December 2 plans for Grayburn to go with other senior staff to Singapore and set up head office there had been approved, and the Governor appealed to Sir Vandeleur not to leave the Colony as he feared it would have a serious effect on morale.8 He agreed to stay at his post fro a second time – he should really have stepped down in 1940, when it had been planned to replace him with David Charles Edmondston, who’d been appointed Hong Kong Manager in 1936. Because of the serious situation in the Far East, Sir Vandeleur had agreed to stay.9 A minute of the HSBC Board of Directors (meeting in Stanley Camp soon after Grayburn’s death) recorded that he could have retired after a successful term as head of the bank ‘but he chose to remain at his post and see the war through’.10By the time the Pacific War began, some colleagues considered he was ‘rundown with overwork’.11

During the hostilities he was either in the Essential Services Group– someone who was tasked with working at their normal job12 – or perhaps because of his age and eminence simply exempted in order to provide advice and leadership. We know he was at ”the Bank’ (as the HSBC was often called) on day one of the attack (December 8) as Colonel Harry Hughes reported that he went there that day and even Sir Vandeleur couldn’t get him Chinese currency13 On December 11, focusing on the bank’s future in case of defeat, Grayburn requested that the Governor seek an Order in Council to transfer the HSBC head office not to Singapore but London. Governor Young forwarded the request, but pointed out that ‘the contingency is not contemplated’. Frank King implies he still had hopes of holding the Colony at this stage.14

Like everyone else whose house was in a place deemed (sometimes wrongly) to be relatively safe, the Grayburns had their house on the Peak (‘The Cliffs’, no. 355) designated a billet for evacuees from more dangerous or exposed areas. One of his HSBC employees, Doris Woods, alongside her two sisters was amongst them, and Miss Woods tells us that by December 14, in the midst of continuous shelling and regular aerial bombardment, the electricity had failed, they couldn’t listen to the world news, food was running short, and the strain on everyone’s nerves was leading to frequent quarrels. Lady Grayburn was probably still in the house – I can see no reason for her to have been moved – but her husband was likely to have been sleeping in the bank.15 In any case, on that December 14, another air raid started and Doris and her twin sister (and partner in a popular singing duet) ran to take shelter in the pantry, where they sat for hours repeating the 91st Psalm. When the shelling stopped, they emerged and inspected the effects: the front of the house had been damaged and the Grayburns’ private sitting-room was in ruins.16 In a letter dated May 31, 1942 (see below) Sir Vandeleur told his daughter that Cliffs was ‘badly damaged’ and their ‘possessions all gone’.17

The Bank shut at noon on Christmas Day and the staff went up to the mess on the seventh floor for a simple meal; they learnt shortly after of the Colony’s surrender18 (which took place at about 3.15 p.m.). On December 26, the Japanese, under the orders of the former manager of the Yokohama Specie Bank, entered the HSBC building and assembled the staff. Grayburn was questioned at length, and all the banks keys were surrendered and the safes and treasuries sealed.19 The Building itself, ‘Grayburn’s Folly’, became the seat of the Japanese administration.

What happened next is perhaps controversial. Grayburn almost certainly played a leading role in the decision of some bankers, include himself, to stay uninterned and help the Japanese ‘liquidate’ their banks. It’s sometimes said that this decision was made under ‘duress’ but in fact threats to the bankers and their families came later -in spring1942– to force them to sign unissued HSBC banknotes (see below). The initial agreement to stay out was partly to help the Chinese and other uninterned nationals but I think mainly to look after the interests of the HSBC and the other banks whose staff were involved. In any case, refusal to help wouldn’t have stopped the Japanese plundering the banks, and a number of sources testify that, as well as making records of, or at least keeping an eye on, what was happening, the bankers dragged their feet as much as possible.

Both during and after the war, it was Dr Selwyn-Clarke and the team of public health workers he led that bore the brunt of criticism on the grounds of collaboration. This was partly because Selwyn-Clarke, although he did co-operate with the resistance, had an uneasy relationship with it, while, as we shall see, the British Army Aid Group received enthusiastic help from the HSBC staff (although they were disappointed that some of the younger bankers refused to escape and were even unsure about being repatriated because of pressure from ‘seniors’ to remain in Hong Kong, presumably to re-open the Bank quickly after liberation20). After the war, the deaths of the two most prominent HSBC staff, and of one other, executed for resistance activities, and the imprisonment of another HSBC employee and three members of the Chartered Bank, left the bankers effectively beyond criticism. Nevertheless, George Endacott, a distinguished historian, who is clearly sympathetic to those experiencing the dilemmas of the occupation, has written that these people ‘were presumably collaborators and could, and perhaps should, have refused to assist in the handing over of the banks, and gone into Stanley internment earlier than they did’. But he goes on:

But their remaining out enabled them to see that records were preserved and information about accounts and notes in circulation were up-to-date, and this materially assisted the British take-over in 1945.21

We should also note that the Chartered Bank people consulted the Financial Secretary (probably R. R. Todd, who was acting FS on October 9, 194 22) and the bankers of other nationalities (American, Dutch and Belgium) who agreed to stay out did so after consulting their consular staff.23 Our source for this, Chartered Bank employee Andrew Leiper, doesn’t tell us what Grayburn did, but there’s no reason to believe he wouldn’t have got the same advice if he thought it necessary to consult anyone. Accounts both by bankers themselves and those who used their services make it clear how important their work was to the ordinary people of Hong Kong during the chaotic first months of the occupation,24 and, in my opinion, this would have justified the decision even without the contributions made by the bankers to the ongoing relief efforts that will be discussed in the rest of this post. One of the Chinese who benefited from their services noted:

The Japanese cannot do anything in the banks without (British) help. If the British are asked to do something contrary to their sense of justice, honesty and honor, their answer is ‘Send us to Stanley Internment Camp’. Since their help is absolutely necessary, the Japanese have to treat them honourably.25

We know from both Chartered Bank and HSBC sources that their staff bent or broke all the rules of banking to help out, for example, unquestioningly paying to spouses from the accounts of those who’d died.

On January 5 the HSBC bankers joined the rest of the Allied civilian community at the Murray Parade Ground. Those destined for Stanley, 126 of them, were marched to the Nam Ping Hotel, those needed for the liquidation to the Sun Wah. At first the two groups were allowed to mingle, but then the Sun Wah people had their movements tightly controlled (until July, when their situation eased – see below)26

Now the scene was set for the drama that was to play itself out ‘in town’ for the next 18 months. There were under 100 men who met the criteria for internment (healthy ‘white’ Allied civilians) but who were kept out of Stanley, usually with their families, to do essential work, and these men, in some case their wives and in at least one case their children, were going to provide the spearhead of the non-Chinese relief and resistance movements.

The most important of these in this respect was the former Director of Medical Services, Dr. Selwyn Selwyn-Clarke, who was almost the only Briton in the Colony who had a clear vision of his role in the occupation. With the help of a senior Japanese military medical officer who’d been impressed by his racially egalitarian courtesy when he’d visited Hong Kong in the past, he was allowed to stay out and carry on his work – in the short term, the dead bodies scattered around Hong Kong posed serious risks of epidemic disease that would hit the Japanese as hard as any other group, so action was urgently needed. In addition to organising public health measures, Selwyn-Clarke quickly realised that the conditions in Stanley and the POW Camps (primarily Shamshuipo, Argyle Street, Ma Tau-Chung and Bowen Road Military Hospital) were such that a massive relief effort was necessary to prevent large-scale suffering and death.

In the dreadful financial conditions of the occupation, raising the money to pay for food and medicine was a major problem. Some better-off people of all the uninterned nationalities started to give the doctor money directly or to take other personal actions, at great risk to themselves.27 Even sending a food parcel to a friend ran the risk of attracting the attention of the Gendarmes, who were always on the look out for evidence of Allied sympathies. But individual acts of charity were not enough to meet the huge need; what was required was a systematic money-raising campaign, and it was a huge stroke of luck for the beneficiaries that a swathe of Hong Kong’s bankers were out in town to organise it. It didn’t prove to be lucky for the bankers themselves, though, and this group (at its maximum 80, including women and children) suffered more than any other in terms of members arrested, tortured, died or executed.

Sir Vandeleur was almost certainly the leader in the effort to raise money to give to Selwyn-Clarke to buy desperately needed food and medicines for the camps. Like Selwyn-Clarke, the bankers probably started by receiving spontaneous charity – depositors would come into the bank to make a withdrawal and whisper to the cashier to hold back some of the cash for Stanley – but it doesn’t seem to have been long before they started working more systematically to raise funds.

The cashier for these efforts, Samuel Perry-Aldworth28 tells us:

…(David) Edmondston and Grayburn and Hugo Foy….arranged with some of the Indian and Chinese constituents, who were paying in every day to pay off their overdrafts and all that, to divert a bit of it…29

These ‘diversions, proved inadequate, but to explain what happened next I need to remind the reader that on January 9, 1942 Lindsay Ride of the HKVDC Ambulance Unit escaped from Shamshuipo POW Camp with the help of his Chinese employee Francis ‘Chicken’ Lee. Ride and Lee were aided in their escape by communist guerillas. After reaching the war-time Chinese capital Chunking (Chongqing), Ride was able to set up the British Army Aid Group (BAAG), a multi-faceted organisation that carried out a wide variety of resistance tasks in southern China and occupied Hong Kong. The organisation worked closely with the guerillas (who are best known under the name of the East River Column) and depended for the most part on Chinese agents who could move relatively freely in and out of the former colony. In June 1942 the first BAAG agents arrived in Hong Kong. The earliest contacts of which I’ve seen evidence were with men known to Colonel Ride at the University and the French Hospital, but it wasn’t long before agents reached the Sun Wah – the initial contact seems to have been David Edmondston, who also had known Ride pre-war.30

It’s hard to know how much of a risk Grayburn thought he was taking in his ongoing relief work. He might have felt that the Japanese would turn a blind eye to the attempts of the most prominent financier in the Far East to raise money for purely humanitarian purposes, and, as we shall see, the Gendarmes did treat him in a relatively lenient way when they found out (the Japanese liquidators had known for a long time, but, like most Japanese civilians in Hong Kong, they were decent people and did no more than warn the bankers they would not be able to help them if the Kempeitai found out31).But when the agents of the Hong Kong resistance made contact with the bankers at the Sun Wah, he can have been in doubt as to the consequences of getting involved. Nevertheless, in his early 60s and not in particularly good health, Sir Vandeleur became a BAAG agent, code named Night. Now he must have understood that all the prestige in Asia wouldn’t save him from torture and execution if he was caught. And the conditions they were working under were difficult; Leiper says they identified at least one Chinese as having been sent so spy on them,32 and, although they probably weren’t watched as carefully as Selwyn-Clarke’s team, there are likely to have been many more clandestine observers.

It wasn’t long before Grayburn was deeply involved with the BAAG. It seems messages were soon passing back and forth from the Sun Wah on a routine basis. On July 31, 1942 Grayburn sent a message to a Chunking banker through BAAG agent 36 (Lau Teng Ke) asking, ‘Is it possible to draw on you’? Obviously he was hoping to be able to use Chunking funds to supplement those raised locally for the relief work. What seems to have been the same communication asked the British Embassy in that city to ensure the honouring of financial instruments (‘Rupee and Sterling drafts on paper dated 23/12/41’) that the bankers were selling secretly to raise money. After a period of confusion – the authorities in London were aware that the bankers had been signing ‘duress’ notes since the spring (see below) so felt that not all their financial transactions should be accepted – the Rupee and Sterling drafts were indeed honoured.33 Interestingly Grayburn added that the scheme had the approval of Colonial Secretary Franklin Gimson, which suggests that he was able to get messages into and out of Stanley, unless the idea went back to the period before March 13 when Gimson had been interned.34

The full story of the bankers’ work will probably never be known, as neither Grayburn nor Edmondston survived (Hugo Foy kept a diary but so far this has not been made generally available). One thing that’s worth adding, though, is that it wasn’t just the bankers who raised money, as we know that two BAAG agents, the American Chester Bennett and the Portuguese Marcus da Silva arranged loans, guaranteed by wealthy citizens interned in Stanley.35 But I think it’s clear that it was the bankers, under Grayburn’s leadership, who raised most of the cash for Dr Selwyn-Clarke’s work. Another thing we’ll never have much idea of is how many lives were saved and how much suffering was eased.

The bankers kept some of the money for their own relief efforts in the city itself. Conditions in occupied Hong Kong were bad enough at the start, but they began to deteriorate as early as June 1942, and soaring prices soon meant that only the very wealthiest had no worries about feeding themselves and their children. With Edmondston and perhaps others, Grayburn administered a fund to provide illegal loans to distressed Allied nationals who’d not been interned: when Edmondston refused to lend money to American writer Emily Hahn, in protest at her adulterous affair with Charles Boxer, Grayburn lent her the money from his private account.36

While all this was going on, the bankers were liquidating their own banks. In the spring the Japanese discovered a stock of unsigned banknotes, and they set Grayburn and his colleagues to work signing them for their use – ‘unbacked, unlawful, distinguishable only by their serial numbers from the genuine ones’.37 According to Oliver Lindsay, who provides no source for the claim, they were made to sign only 500 a day, half an hour’s work.38

We have a few glimpses of the conditions in which Sir Vandeleur and Lady Mary were living during the occupation. In late May 1942 Grayburn learnt he’d be able send out a letter through a soon to be repatriated American, and on May 31 he wrote one in which he tried to tell the unadorned truth, or a little of it at least, to his daughter Elizabeth:

(W)eight dropped from 200 to 160 lbs. Mary is somewhat thinner. Our cubicle is tiny, we sleep on a single mattress. Had no proper bath since December.

These words were blacked out by the Japanese censor.

A domestic detail did get through:

Mary cooks every Thursday for whole community of 80. Some soup maker!!39

One of the repatriated American bankers, Theodore Lindabury, wrote to Elizabeth himself:

During that time (the Grayburns) were working every day in the liquidation of the Bank and were able, by various means, to secure a sufficient supply of food, other than the rice given by the Japanese.40

The ‘various means’ probably meant buying extra food on either the open or the black market, and Lindabury stressed how lucky they were not to be in Stanley. In spite of this understandably upbeat picture, Sir Vandeleur was seen ‘looking as gaunt and grey as a timber wolf’.41

Other repatriated bankers gave a general account of conditions at the Hotel to journalist Vaughn Meisling, himself a Stanley repatriate. They described the Sun Wah as ‘a fire trap well-stocked with vermin’ and said that many of their number had needed treatment for dysentery, malnutrition and insect bites. They were marched a mile and a half to and from their work every day – the notorious ‘chain gang’ – escorted by soldiers, although after the Americans had left the remaining bankers were spared this indignity. They were often slapped and humiliated by their captors, the worst of whom they called ‘Slaphappy Joe’ because he was never happy except when hitting someone. At afternoon roll call he would box their ears until they learnt to answer in Japanese. My guess is that this was the guard who subjected the bankers to ‘additional indignities’ who Grayburn got transferred by complaining to the Finance Department in March.42 The American bankers often felt they were being sniped at as bullets hit or entered the hotel.43

According to Andrew Leiper, who was in the Sun Wah with two of his colleagues from the Chartered Bank, there was no electricity until March, but when it came it greatly cheered the residents44 – this restoration had been requested by Grayburn at the same time he complained about the guard.45 Before the July easing of conditions, the bankers suffered badly from boredom – it was worse for the women and children who seemed to have been confined to the Sun Wah. The women (all British, Dutch and Belgian as there were no American wives) spent the early weeks cleaning and disinfecting46 what had once been a squalid boarding house which, if it was like most of the hotels used to house Allied nationals before they were sent to Stanley, had doubled as brothel after the pre-war Government had launched a futile drive against prostitution. At first the residents had nothing to read except banking reference books and the Japanese-produced Hong Kong News. The highlights of the week were ‘bath night’ – 6 inches of hot water, so you can see why Sir Vandeleur complained he’d not had a proper bath and ‘rations night’ when Leiper and the Dutch banker Hugo Bakkeren handed out weevil-ridden rice and flour, peanut oil, salt and wong tong47 to representatives of each ‘mess’.48

Emily Hahn tells us that to get away from the Sun Wah, Sir Vandeleur and his wife sometimes visited French banker Paul de Roux, who had arranged a flat for himself at the top of the Bank d’Indochine building. They were also able to take a bath there.49 De Roux was also (or later became) a resistance agent, and on February 19, 1944, he jumped from that flat in order to escape arrest by the Kempeitai.50

More about the lives of the Sun Wah bankers, and about Grayburn’s leadership role, is shown by a development of late 1942. On December 10 he received a note from one of the Japanese Liquidators:

I have to advise you sincerely that all Foreign Officer (sic) of the Bank at present working under the liquidation and their families should refrain from moving about freely on Saturday afternoons, Sundays or any other holidays, especially during the evenings and nights.
Should there be any necessity to go out, permission must first be obtained from the Liquidators.
I wish to emphasize that this is a matter of serious importance and that should one single person get involved in trouble, all the others will suffer the consequences as a result.

The Japanese were often anxious to prevent ‘contamination’ of the Chinese by Allied nationals, and Leiper and others were once ejected from a cinema, but my guess is that this tightening of the rules was a response to the October escape of two HSBC staff, which I’ll discuss in the next post. Grayburn got all the bankers at the Sun Wah to initial the document, having first written on it:

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.

The bankers had been allowed very little freedom at first, but in July 1942, as a reward for ‘good behaviour – ironically this was about the time that some of them were making contact with the BAAG – they were allowed passes that gave them some right to move about the town, for example, to shop in Central or to go to the French Hospital ‘in case of need’ or to visit relatives and colleagues there.51 They were also given an allowance of $300 a month for food, probably at this time.52 Weekend ‘excursions’ to the Hospital to visit or take food to any Sun Wah resident there became popular as they provided the chance to get away from the hotel and enjoy a walk in the fresh air,53 and it would seem from Sir Vandeleur’s comment that some bankers also went to take part in the softball games started by one of the American Health Department drivers before his repatriation.

According to postal historian David Tett, whose source was undoubtedly Grayburn’s family Sir Vandeleur ‘took no heed’ of the risk himself, so presumably he ignored his own instructions and continued to visit the French Hospital.54 Andrew Leiper tells us that it was the health workers who kept the bankers ‘in touch with what was happening at Stanley’,55 and, although he’s discussing an earlier period, my guess is that the soft ball and the visits enabled those bankers working for the BAAG to pick up useful information.

Given the hunger and squalor of his daily life and the dangers that he faced, why didn’t Grayburn try to escape from the unguarded hotel? Lindsay Ride, indeed, devised plans for a mass escape of the bankers, but these were over-ruled on political grounds: it was felt that it would be embarrassing to get the bankers out while leaving almost everyone else under Japanese rule.56 But what of Grayburn’s personal attitude to remaining in Hong Kong? In the message of July 31 previously referred to, he wrote:

Staff requests make every endeavour repatriate self as only person who can clarify present situation.57

That, however, referred to an authorised repatriation, and it seems that Grayburn never wanted to try his luck in an illicit escape. This might have been because, as T. J. J. Fenwick and David Edmondston believed, the chances of a tired, 61 year old with gout and general debility getting out of Hong Kong were low. One source claims that his health was so poor at this time meant he never appeared at the bank unless required.58 However, King suggests that his illness might have been part diplomatic – to keep him out of his office where he could do little and might annoy the Japanese.59 Others have suggested he was afraid of reprisals against Lady Mary, which would have been a perfectly reasonable attitude to have taken – one Portuguese escaper had his ex-wife arrested! But it seems that an important, perhaps the main, reason for his remaining was he believed that it was in Hong Kong that he could do most good. Lady Mary later testified:

(W)hile we were prisoners (Sir Vandeleur Grayburn) was repeatedly asked to make his getaway and all plans were made and organized by people in Free China to this end, but he always refused because his argument was that he was doing more good in Hong Kong than he would do if he were away from it.60

Once again Grayburn – now sick, tired, hungry and facing the gravest dangers imaginable – stayed at his post.


1GA 1939, no.. 320 .

2GA 1938, no. 807.

3Report of the Taxation committee, SP 1939.

4Report of the War Revenue committee, SP1940.

5GA 1941, no. 521.

6GA 1941, no. 885.

7Philip Snow, The Fall of Hong Kong, 2003, 47.

8 King, 568.

9King, 1988, 403.

10David Tett, Captives In Cathay, 2007, 302.

11Frank King, History of the Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation, Volume 3, 1988, 617.

12See Andrew Leiper, A Yen For My Thoughts, 1982, 8.


14King, 1988, 572.

15See King, 1988, 572.

16John Luff, The Hidden Years, 1967, 136-137.

17Tett, 2007, 291.

18King, 1988, 572.

19 King, 1988, 572-573

20Waichow Intelligence Summary, No. 25, 27 March 1943, Ride Papers.

21G. B. Endacott and Alan Birch, Hong Kong Eclipse, 1978, 240.

22Minutes of the Finance committee meeting for that date.

23Leiper, 1982, 102-103.

24Leiper, 1982, passim; Alice Y. Lan and Betty M. Hu, We Flee From Hong Kong, 2000 ed (1944), 48.

25Lan and Hu, 2000 ed (1944), 48.

26King, 1988, 573.

27Selwyn Selwyn-Clarke, Footprints, 1975, 73.

28There seems to be a photo of him taken in 1961 in the National Portrait Gallery –

29Cited King, 1988, 612-613.

30King, 1988, 614.

31 King, 1988, 613.

32 Leiper, 1982, 169.

33King, 1988, 613-614.

34Some sources give March 11.


36Emily Hahn, China To Me, 1986 ed, 392-393.

37Snow, 2003, 152.

38Oliver Lindsay, At The Going Down of the Sun, 1982, 112.

39Tett, 2007, 291-292.

40Tett, 2007, 294.

41Snow, 2003, 141.

42King, 1988, 574.

43 Billings Gazette, August 26, 1942, page 2.

44Leiper, 1982, 134.

45King, 1988, 574.

46Leiper, 1982, 117.

47Similar words mean both brown sugar and dumplings. My sense is that in Hong Kong WW11 sources it usually means sugar.

48Leiper, 1982, 141.

49Hahn, 1986 ed, 376.


Another account has him die on February 19 in a Kempeitai prison as a result of mistreatment.

51Leiper, 1982, 147-148.

52King, 1988, 574.

53Leiper, 1982, 150.

54Tett, 2007, 295.

55Leiper, 1982, 143. Leiper says that they heard reports about the Kowloon POW Camps ‘from the same source’ .

56King, 1988, 616.

57King, 198, 617.

58King, 1988, 613-614.

59King, 1988, 617.

60King, 1988, 616-617.

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Filed under British Army Aid Group, Emily Hahn, Hong Kong WW11, Selwyn-Selwyn Clarke, Stanley Camp, Vandeleur Grayburn

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

Conditions at the French Hospital: More Evidence From The Ride Papers

Not much is known about conditions at the French Hospital between the escape of Staff-Sergeant Sheridan on June 4, 1942 and the arrest of Dr. Selwyn-Clarke on May 2, 1943.[1] However, there’s a little information to be gleaned from some BAAG reports kindly sent to me by Elizabeth Ride (the Ride Papers are held at the Hong Kong Heritage Project.) At about the same time as S-S. Sheridan was making his way to Kwong Chow Yan and onwards into Free China an earlier escaper, Colonel Lindsay Ride, now head of the resistance organisation going under the name of the British Army Aid Group, was sending the first agents into occupied Hong Kong. The FrenchHospital, after the Sun Wah Hotel where the bankers were quartered, contained the second largest group of Allied civilians outside Stanley, so it was naturally one of the first places to be contacted. The main source of knowledge about the Hospital, however,  comes from an interview Colonel Ride conducted with Dr. Fehilly, an Irish national who had been living independently with his wife until they both escaped on October 25, 1942.

The leader of the 15-20 non-patient Hong Kong and British citizens living at the Hospital was Dr. Selwyn Selwyn-Clarke, and the BAAG sources show that there was some suspicion as to the motives of this strong-minded man – but that complex matter, which is too often misunderstood as a contrast between Ride’s focus on victory whatever the cost and Selwyn-Clarke’s humanitarian scruples requires a post of its own. In this one I’ll write mainly about other matters.

According to Emily Hahn, most of the pre-war Health Department were allowed to stay out of Stanley at first and continue their work, but then a doctor broke parole and escaped so most of these workers were interned; a small number, selected by the Japanese not Selwyn-Clarke, were allowed to stay out but forced to live together at the French Hospital.[2] The only escape I know of by a doctor at this time was Gordon King’s; this began on February 10, 1942, although the Japanese didn’t learn about it until three days later.[3] King was a professor at Hong KongUniversity, where he was living at the time, and not directly connected with the Medical Department, but I don’t know of any other medical escape at this early stage. It should also be mentioned that at least one detail of Hahn’s account is not accurate: she says that the truck drivers were sent into Stanley at this time, whereas both teams – one in the French Hospital and the other in May Road – remained uninterned.

Dr. Fehilly told Colonel Ride that in the earliest days the doctors had one main role:

Except for Mackie all doctors at first used as scavengers.[4]

In other words, they were working to arrange the clearance and burial of the many dead bodies left on the hills after the fighting. This is not surprising as the situation was dire. This is the description given by leading surgeon Li Shu-Fan of conditions just before the surrender:

Malignant malaria, cholera, and other diseases were breaking out, and the hospital was getting its first quota of these. One had only to glance at the Hong Kong streets to see the reason for the epidemics. Stagnant pools of water, filthy tin cans, broken vessels and cesspools – all these, everywhere, were excellent breeding places for mosquitoes. The Sanitary Department had ceased to function and the coolies refused to work since the streets were unsafe during battle; so, too, anti-malarial squads stopped work and the scavenging coolies abandoned their rounds. Garbage and filth, accumulated in heaps everywhere, bred an unprecedented number of flies; and the thousands of decaying bodies scattered on the hillsides were additional breeding grounds….The swarms {of flies} brought on a wave of the four major bowel complaints – cholera, typhoid, dysentery, and diarrhoea.[5]

Some members of the pre-war Sanitary Department were also kept uninterned to help deal with these health hazards; half a dozen of them were still outside Stanley in May 1943, and I’m fairly sure that at some point they came to live in the French Hospital, but the evidence suggests that they weren’t there at first – they are, for example, not mentioned in Staff-Sergeant Sheridan’s detailed account of life there between February and June 1942.

Fehilly also discussed the situation of doctors Court,[6] Griffiths[7] and Nicholson:

These are all in the French Hospital, where there is very bad feeling. Griffiths had beri-beri and hates Selwyn-Clarke.[8]

I discussed Dr. Griffith’s 1943 escape in a previous post. But in 1942 it was Dr. Court who was though most likely to leave Hong Kong; Ride had written to him earlier inviting him to ‘come out’ and was clearly disappointed at his failure to do so:

Court’s refusal to come out may have been due to the very bad reaction over Stott’s escape[9]It was said that… the Japanese clamped down on communication with Stanley and stopped the inflow of goods. Dr. Fehilly did not think that Court had given any parole…. Dr. Fehilly said that Sloss[10] approved of Court going. In Macao Levcovitch (sic) told Dr. Fehilly exactly how Court was proposing to escape.[11]

R. B. Levkovich was a naturalized Briton of Russian origin who acted as a driver and agent for Dr. Selwyn-Clarke until his escape sometime around September 1942. Dr. Court never escaped and ended up in Stanley Camp. Soon after arriving in Chungking, Dr. Griffiths wrote to Court’s wife Judy assuring her that her husband continued ‘to tick over ok’.[12]

As for Dr. Murdo Nicholson:

Nicholson was sore that he did not get away with the Americans.[13]

Dr. Fehilly himself had also tried and failed to get out of Hong Kong as the medical officer on the June 29/30 repatriation. He eventually escaped with his wife on October 25, 1942. Dr. Nicholson was one of those who was probably arrested alongside Selwyn-Clarke on May 2, 1943, but he was soon released and sent into Stanley Camp.[14]

Fehilly also provided information about Dr. Frederick Bunje,[15] who was a Eurasian and therefore allowed some freedom while living at the French Hospital, but who was treated brutally when an escape plan was revealed to the Japanese by a disgruntled employee.[16]

Dr. Mackie was said by Fehilly to be the most free of all the doctors, and he’d done good anti-malarial work, including at Stanley. He planned to ‘come out’ if there was a threat to intern him.[17] Dr. Mackie was living in Robinson Rd. in late 1942, not the French Hospital, but my guess is that he was sent into Stanley alongside the other doctors on May 7, 1943.

Interestingly Dr. Fehilly doesn’t mention Dr. Graham-Cumming ( and nor does S-S. Sheridan – this makes me think that perhaps he was sent to the French Hospital later than the other doctors, although this is of course only  only one possibility.  Dr. Fehilly gave an account of the leader of this increasingly embattled group:

Selwyn-Clarke is surrounded by puppets and traitors and is expected to be interned at any moment. He is not allowed to speak on the phone, has to go straight from the French Hospital to his office, and is watched all the time. He is suspected by the Japanese of being the head of the British Service and everybody taken by the gendarmes is closely questioned about him. He retains his freedom through his friendship with Colonel Uguchi.[18]

Amazingly Selwyn-Clarke stayed out of the hands of the Gendarmes for more than 6 months after Dr. Fehilly’s late October escape.[19]

[2] Emily Hahn, China To Me, 1986 ed. (1944), 356-358.

[4] RideInterview with Fehilly, 18 December  1942, page 3

[5] Li Shu-Fan, Hong Kong Surgeon,  1964, 103-104.

[8] Ride Interview with Fehilly, 18 December  1942, page 3.

[10] Vice Chancellor of Hong Kong University and the subject of a forthcoming post.

[11] Ride Interview with Fehilly.

[12] Letter from Griffiths to Ride, page 1, Ride Papers.

[13] Ride Interview with Fehilly, 18 December  1942, page 3.

[16] Ride Interview with Fehilly, 18 December 1942, page 3.

[17] Waichow Intelligence Summary No. 10, October 23, 1942, Free Europeans, Page 6.

[18] Ride Interview with Fehilly, 18 December  1942, page 3

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Filed under British Army Aid Group, Hong Kong WW11, Selwyn-Selwyn Clarke

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

Levkovich As Driver, Selwyn-Clarke As Boss

Note: The full name is Robert Basil Levkovich.

A report by a young escaper, a Russian of naturalised British nationality, throws interesting light on some of the matters with which this blog is concerned.[1] This document was kindly sent to me by Elizabeth Ride, it’s from the Ride Papers, which are held at the Hong Kong Heritage Project:

Note: I’ve kept the initial discussion (below) as a way of providing some information about Mr. Levkovich, but the identification is now certain not tentative.

Elizabeth Ride has tentatively identified the writer of the letter as R. Levkovich. This is plausible: the details in the report match, with one easily explained exception discussed below, those mentioned in a letter from Inspector Goring of the Indian Police that explicitly names Levkovich. Another source tells us that Levkovich, like the author of the report, was a naturalised Britain.[2] The only two things I’ve been able to find about Mr. Levkovich on the internet also fit with what the author tells us about himself. He’s listed by Tony Banham as interned at the Kowloon Hotel after the fighting, and there’s a record of a Vasily Ivanovich Levkovich who died in 1944. The link with the Kowloon Hotel is in the report, and the writer has both parents alive at the time of writing.

The BAAG document is dated December 18, 1942,[3] and it seems that the author went to work for Selwyn-Clarke in March, escaping later that year, perhaps in September or October.

I shall refer to the author of the report as Levkovich; it makes no difference to anything I say if this is incorrect.

Levkovich begins by saying that he was originally in the police reserve, but moved to working for Food Control. He provides some interesting details about pre-war happenings there that I shall use in another post. He moves on to various hair-raising events during the fighting, which include an encounter with Dr. Selwyn-Clarke.

The end of hostilities finds him imprisoned with many others in the Kowloon Hotel. Levkovich was not sent to Stanley in the third week of January, as were most British nationals at the Hotel – this was probably because he had lost his passport and 1937 naturalisation papers during the fighting. In March, the Japanese began to release ‘third nationals’ (neutrals) but he was held because he’d been working for the British Government. He was freed later that month by a stroke of luck: Dr. Yamasaki, who’d known him since childhood and been the family dentist, turned out to be a Lieutenant-Colonel in the Japanese army – this is not the only illustration of the thoroughness with which the invasion of Hong Kong was prepared over many years– and ordered his release. The Japanese, he said, did not recognise naturalisation.

Now a ‘third national’, he had the same problem as the rest of this group: how to make a living at even the subsistence level to which most citizens of occupied Hong Kong were reduced. He stayed at home for two weeks, and then went to see Selwyn-Clarke, as he’d heard the doctor was free and working for the Medical Department:

I was enrolled by him, in the Ambulance Volunteer Corps, with Mr. Evans, and two Americans, Mr. Winter and Dr. Henry.

This team was assigned to bread delivery as one of its major tasks. Both Thomas and his fellow baker Sheridan use the word ‘volunteer’ in describing the unit, and Levkovich’s description suggests that they might have come together as ambulance drivers during the fighting. Donald Bowie, who during the occupation was left in charge of Bowen Road Hospital, tells us:

Readers will recall that early in the hostilities the Chinese ambulance drivers deserted, understandably enough especially to those familiar with the Japanese treatment of captured Chinese opponents. Thereafter ambulance cars were driven by Field Ambulance personnel usually drawn from the medical services.[4]

Owen Evans had been driving for the Friends’ Ambulance Unit in south China before getting caught up in the Hong Kong war[5]. Charles Winter was connected with the pre-war Medical Department, while Robert Henry is invariably referred to as ‘Dr.’.

We know that the team Levkovich joined was the one that delivered the bread baked by Thomas, Serge Peacock, and RASC men (in disguise) Sheridan and Hammond at the Qing Loong bakery.[6]

Levkovich adds something to our picture of the work of this unit:

 We had two trucks which we drove, and got food, and supplies, (Medical) for the Chinese hospitals, and the French Hospital.

 We received no pay, and ate the same meals as the internees (sick) in the French Hospital.

First of all, that ‘(sick)’ is correct. I comment on it in a note below.

Secondly, Levkovich states outright something that I’d assumed but up to now had lacked confirmation of: most of the bread was delivered to Chinese hospitals. This might seem obvious given its amount – 500 pounds rising to 3,000 per day[7] – but Thomas mentions only the temporary hospital in the Hong Kong Hotel, and Sheridan the Bowen Rd. Military Hospital,[8] while Charles Winter just says ‘the civilian hospitals’. The Hong Kong Hotel was used by the Japanese, and I doubt the patients stayed there long, while Bowen Road developed its own baking services,[9] so the bulk of the bread couldn’t have gone there. He also tells us that food was delivered to the French Hospital itself, a point I’ve commented on elsewhere.[10]

As Levkovich knows a few words of Japanese, and has the advantage of still being considered Russian, he goes with Selwyn-Clarke or alone  to  ‘various offices’ in order to get  petrol for the trucks by ‘wangling or begging’ it from the Japanese.  Later Selwyn-Clarke decides he can be more useful as a kind of roving investigator, so tells him to try to find unlooted Government offices and safes, and also to locate stores that haven’t yet been discovered by the Japanese and bring the contents to the French Hospital. He’s also given money to buy up any American currency he can, and tasked with discovering which Indians are reliable, and which not – Mrs. Rutonjee helps him greatly with this. Selwyn-Clarke records the arrest later in the war of the philanthropist J. H. Rutttonjee, his son Dhun, and the ‘latter’s very beautiful Chinese wife, Anne’[11]  but as this lady is described at one point as Dr. Ruttonjee this was probably Miss Parrin Ruttonjee, who was accepted on to the Register of those qualified to practise medicine and surgery in 1930.

Levkovich continues:

I beg to say that some of these tasks were getting exceedingly dangerous for my safety, and my friends….

For example, there was an unopened NAAFI safe, but it was located in the building where the Rutonjees live, so following Selwyn-Clarke’s instructions to ‘crack’ it would put them in danger as well as Levkovich himself.  Selwyn-Clarke obviously knew that he himself, and two volunteer helpers, had come close to execution during a raid on a godown to acquire a dentist’s chair for Stanley,[12] but he continued to run huge risks himself, and expected others to do so too. He told Levkovich to call Mrs. Ruttonjee and informed her that she must help in every way in getting the safe open as he urgently needed money for the camps! Selwyn-Clarke delegated this affair to Dr. Mackie, but rumours about the safe’s existence got around, and the Japanese removed it. This, by the way, is further indication that everyone in the French Hospital was involved in one or another of his illegal and highly risky activities. Mackie was probably one of those arrested on May 2, 1943, although he was soon released.[13]

Next Levkovich recounts an incident in which he commandeered a food store. The owner, whom he knew, asked to be taken to Selwyn-Clarke to get some kind of official recognition of the debt owed him. The upshot of the meeting was that, Selwyn-Clarke told Levkovich that he was personally responsible for a huge sum as he hadn’t been told to appropriate private stocks. Nevertheless, the Medical Department continued to make use of the food, which lasted two months.

Levkovich continued to carry out his assigned tasks to the best of his ability until Selwyn-Clarke told him that he was being sent into the interior: he ordered him to find the shortest and safest route and get the information back to Hong Kong, as he wanted to send nurses and medical supplies to Gordon King (who’d escaped on February 10 and remained active in various ways in south China). He was also to give ‘safe conduct’ (presumably just to escort and try to keep safe) a 31 year old masseuse from Kowloon Hospital called Maria da Roza, who had letters for Gordon King and Dr Lim.[14]  Levkovich says that he’ll do the job if necessary, but would prefer not to escape from Hong Kong in the company of a young woman carrying incriminating papers. Selwyn-Clarke replies that she’ll be less conspicuous than him, and, in any case, as he’s the only head of a government department not interned, Levkovich should obey his orders.

It seems that this is one of a number of occasions on which Selwyn-Clarke over-rode Levkovich’s sense that a mission was too dangerous. We should remember that Selwyn-Clarke was putting himself in almost as much danger as the escapees, – it’s unlikely the letters would not have been recognisable as from him, even their bearers resisted torture – and that he did so continually, fully expecting to be arrested and one day, and probably executed after a interrogation during which the well-being and lives of many people would depend on his ability to hold out. This, to put it very, very mildly, must have been a huge strain on his nerves, and it’s not surprising he comes across as unreasonable in Levkovich’s account (we don’t, of course, have his own for comparison).

This whole narrative gives us an idea of what Selwyn-Clarke expected from the drivers. After June 29, 1942 the only one left of the original two teams was Owen Evans,[15] as the two other bread delivery drivers were American, as were all the others delivering medical supplies (one or both groups also ran an ambulance service). I don’t know who replaced the Americans, but my guess is that it was employees of the Kowloon Bus Company, which at some point got the contract for driving rations into Stanley.[16] In any case, Selwyn-Clarke couldn’t handle Owen Evans in the same was as he handled Levkovich, as Evans wasn’t a pre-war government employee and he had an alternative source of rations – going into Stanley. In fact, it’s possible that it was something that Selwyn-Clarke did that led to his entering the camp, perhaps in September or October 1942, although the details of this are unclear.[17]

Maria da Roza seems to have revealed details of the plan to a former boyfriend, an Indian who had thrown in his lot with the Japanese. Mrs. Ruttonjee warns Levkovich, who passes on the message to Miss da Roza, who does nothing. It’s too late anyway, and she either flees or is arrested. Levkovich decides that he must tear up his pass – presumably because it carries incriminating evidence and go to the Supreme Court Gendarmerie to get a new one. When he arrives, the Gendarmes take him into custody, slap him around and hold him overnight in a stinking cell.

The next day he was questioned closely about da Roza and Sewlyn-Clarke. He denied that he knew anything about the latter, except in his capacity as boss. During the interrogation, he states that he delivered milk as well as bread, a new detail. ‘Is that all?’ snaps back the Gendarme, and there unfortunately Levkovich’s statement ends, at least until 2021, when the British Ministry of Defence’s restriction of the final page or pages comes to an end! Presumably he said something considered woundingly critical about someone.

Mr. Levkovich impressed his BAAG contact as someone worth more than an ordinary job with the Indian police, and he comes across to me as a principled, intelligent man and a reliable witness.

In any case, as well as providing some new information for those of us iinterested in the rather narrow topic of bread delivery from the Qing Loong Bakery, this report offers a valuable insight into the personality and methods of Dr. Selwyn-Clarke and another tantalising glimpse of the resistance activities of the people living in the French Hospital.


It’s possible that ‘sick’ for ‘sic’ was a slip of the typewriter brought about by the hospital context, or that it was a deliberately meant comment by Captain Jack. Some people in the BAAG – including Colonel Ride – believed that Selwyn-Clarke was motivated, in part at least, by the desire to avoid internment, and BAAG documents sometimes speak off him and those working for him in a similar position (like the bankers) as ‘uninterned’. At other times they’re called ‘Free Europeans’. In fact, there is no label that’s completely accurate: the women and children at the Sun Wah Hotel were, at first much less ‘free’ that their counterparts at Stanley, and at no time were the ‘stay outs’ all at liberty to do anything they wanted, although it is probable that they generally enjoyed better conditions that those in Stanley. This included more freedom, although it would be wrong to think of them as in any way able to do more or less what they wanted: one BAAG documents suggests that Dr. Mackie, who lived at Robinson Rd. rather than the FrenchHospital, was left to do more or less as he pleased, but he was an exception.

As to ‘internees’: Charles Winter, in his letter from the Gripsholm (August 18, 1942) assures Thomas’s family that he’s unlikely to be ‘interned’, describing only his initial period of imprisonment in the Exchange Building as internment, while Thomas himself describes being ‘interned’ in the French Hospital There is no obviously correct term for this group, which is why I often use Tony Banham’s ‘stay-outs’


[2] Ride Papers, Ride Interview with Fehilly, 18 December 1942, page 3.

[3] Except where another source is given all references are to this report: Ride Papers, 13/9.

[9] Bowie, passim.

[11] Footprints, 102.

[12] Footprints, 75.

[14] Presumably Robert Kho-seng Lim, who was providing medical services and training for the Chinese armies: ‘Dr. R. K. S. Lim does his best, does all he can…but there are no medical supplies and no food; the soldiers die like flies’ ( Han Suyin, Birdless Summer, 1982 ed., 39)

[16] George Wright-Nooth, Prisoner of the Turnip Heads, 1994,  149, 152.


Filed under Hong Kong WW11, Selwyn-Selwyn Clarke

Dr. Frederick Bunje

Doctor Frederick Bunje, another member of Selwyn-Clarke’s ‘team’, came from what seems to have been a well-established Hong Kong family (for a note on the family, see a future post).

I’ve not been able to find much about his early life. On January 1, 1917 The Hongkong Daily Press announced that Mr. F. Bunje was one of two men appointed Public Vaccinator. The title ‘Mr.’ and the position awarded might suggest he was in medical training at this time but not yet qualified  You didn’t need to be  a doctor to become a Vaccinator. He became qualified to practise in Hong Kong on February 25, 1927 (

My sources relating to the inter-war years deal with non-professional matters. In September 1936 Dr. F. Bunje was one of three judges in a Hongkong Telegraph photographic competition, giving a talk on the winning entries at the Gloucester Hotel[1] In 1939 he visited South Africa, spending more than two months travelling widely in Cape Province; The China Mail for March 21, 1939 reports his return on the steamer Boissevain.[2] He was greatly struck by ostriches and ostrich farming; he talked on this subject to a Rotary luncheon on May 2.[3] One incident during a visit to an ostrich farm led him to mention the old saying about ostriches sticking their heads in the sand when they wished not to see something unpleasant, which may or may not have been a comment on Hong Kong’s reluctance to face up to the inevitability of a Japanese attack! Towards the end of his talk the doctor advocated a revival of the ostrich feather industry, purportedly killed because hats big enough for such adornments couldn’t be easily carried in motor cars.

Tony Banham’s website, Hong Kong War Diary, has two listings that probably refer to him. The first places him, plausibly, as a senior member of Lindsay Ride’s Field Ambulance Unit:

Bunje, F. Major[4]

It seems he was appointed Major on May, 19, 1941  (

The second suggests that after the surrender he was held at St. Paul’s Hospital (aka The French Hospital):

Bunje, F. 44, Doctor SPH[5]

This entry is from the Nonuniformed Civilians list, but this isn’t necessarily a problem, as the Japanese were surprisingly relaxed about the distinction between combatants and civilians, at least in the days following the surrender, and sometimes status was determined solely by being in or out of uniform at the surrender. Ironically his wife seems to have been classed as a combatant nurse, as she’s on the Uniformed Civilians list:

Bunje, Mrs. M.L. (St. Paul’s Hospital)[6]

She was in the Auxiliary Nursing Service, stationed at St. Paul’s. On the BAAG list of Britishers living there in December 1942, Mrs. Bunje is the only recorded wife, apart from Hilda Selwyn-Clarke, so it might have been the case that the the Bunjes found themselves together there at the start of the years of occupation.

According to a British Army Aid Group report, Dr. Bunje was a Eurasian and therefore allowed some freedom while living at St. Paul’s. He applied for a permit to go to Kwang Chow Wan – for escapes by this route see the post on Staff-Sergeant Sheridan –  but unfortunately while waiting he was approached by his chauffeur, who asked for a certificate saying that he (the chauffeur) had served as a volunteer driver during the war. Bunje refused, presumably because he knew this to be untrue, and in revenge the chauffeur went to the Japanese and said that Dr. Bunje had paid $8,000 for an escape. Bunje was arrested and for two days wasn’t allowed to sleep; instead, he was beaten with a baseball bat, chased with dogs, and forced to run around. Dr. Fehilly said that at the time of his own departure from Hong Kong Bunje was waiting for his September pass to be renewed, and ‘it would be necessary to help him out’ – presumably to assist his escape rather than give him financial aid (Ride Interview with Fehilly, 18 December  1942).

On June 7, 1943, a BAAG report listed those who’d recently been arrested. Dr. Bunje is reported to have been taken by the Kempeitai from the French Hospital on May 2, the day of Selwyn-Clarke’s arrest:

The first 3[7] were taken to the Gendarmerie H. Q. Bunjee (sic) was manhandled and fainted.[8]

The H.Q. was in the former Supreme Court Building. The fact that he was taken there means he was probably tortured, but I have so far not been able to find any details of his interrogation, trial and sentencing.

His arrest and subsequent imprisonment mean that he was very likely helping Selwyn-Clarke in his medical smuggling operation, but I think that everyone in the French Hospital was playing a part, and I don’t know why he was one of those suspected by the Kempeitai.

Those not arrested – including Mrs. Bunje, already no doubt traumatised by her husband’s arrest – were subjected to a terrifying ‘lock down’ as the Kempeitai searched the Hospital for evidence of spying. Those not implicated, 18 in number, were sent to Stanley on May 7, bringing news of the arrests:

Frid 7th

Fine. People from French Hosp arrived 2 PM. Drs Selwyn-Clark & Burgie/Bungie [?] detained in town in connection with money swindle?[9]

Perhaps R. E. Jones was being cautious. Or perhaps his informants from the Hospital were, as some at least of those arrested were suspected of espionage, something the Japanese took much more seriously than financial irregularities. Mrs. Bunje seems to have been allowed to carry on living out of camp, as I can find no record of her in Stanley.

Japanese Medical officer Colonel Saito said at his war crimes trial that there were three doctors in Stanley Prison: Selwyn-Clarke, Talbot and Bunje.[10] I think this means that Dr. Bunje was the ‘well-known’ Hong Kong doctor who befriended imprisoned banker Andrew Leiper, as Talbot wasn’t in prison for long enough to match the account, and there are a number of reasons for ruling out Selwyn-Clarke. Saito also said that he made as much use of the doctors as possible, but that might have been because he was  accused of criminally neglecting his medical responsibilities. Leiper was able to share in some of the benefits acquired by the doctor for his occasional medical assistance to the Japanese.[11] He notes that his friendship with the doctor continued for several years after liberation.

Dr. Bunje resumed his practice after the war. When policeman Norman Gunning wanted to return to the UK, it was Dr. Bunje who examined him and declared him healthy for travel. He was practicing on the fourth floor of the York Building in Chater Rd.[12]  The China Mail for August 24, 1950[13] announces a forthcoming talk by him on the subject of euthanasia. Interestingly, in an audience containing a number of clerics, Dr. Bunje makes no religious arguments in his opposition to euthenasia, (sic) but claims, as many doctors still do today, that legalisation would ‘strike at the very heart of our medical profession’. He felt that morphine could control pain and that soon science would have the cure for all diseases anyway.[14]

So far, that’s all I know.

[1] The Hongkong Telegraph, September 29, 1936, page 7 and October 27, 1936, page 23.

[2] The report seems to be on page 1, but it’s listed as page 25.

[3] Hong Kong Telegraph, May 3, 1939, page 5. See also The Hongkong Daily Press, May 3, 1939, page 7.

[7] Doctors Selwyn-Clarke, Bunje and Nicholson. Nicholson is documented in Stanley Camp later in the war so he was presumably released without charge or served a relatively short sentence.

[8] Tony Banham, We Shall Suffer There, entry for June 7, 1943.

[9] Diary of R. E. Jones.

[10] China Mail, April 12, 1947, page 3.

[11] G. A. Leiper, A Yen For My Thoughts, 1982, 209-210.

[12] Norman Gunning, A Passage to Hong Kong, 203.

[13] Page 3.

[14] Hongkong Daily Press, November 8, 1939, page 6.


Filed under Hong Kong WW11, Selwyn-Selwyn Clarke

Leslie William Robert Macey

Note: This is another post that deals with those men and women kept outside Stanley camp to work on public health issues with Selwyn Selwyn-Clarke. It deals with public health official Leslie Macey. Except where otherwise indicated, this post is based on material from Mr. Macey’s daughter, Ruth Sale, who very kindly sent me scanned copies of her father’s archive and supplied me with information from family tradition. There is another interesting and moving story to be told in a separate post: the determined efforts made by Mr. Macey’s widowed mother to find out what had happened to her son.

Leslie William Robert Macey was born in Frimley on September 19, 1905,[1] the eldest of 6 children. He grew up in the seaside town of Minehead in Somerset. His mother, Beatrice Anne, was widowed in 1925. When her husband, William Henry, died she was left in a difficult situation with her two youngest children still of school age. During the war she worked as a companion to elderly people in the Home Counties and London, and her son lost her latest address during the hectic seventeen days of fighting, which made communication even harder than for most of the other internees.

Much of Mr. Macey’s early working life was spent in the army, for whom he boxed. He first appears in the Hong Kong press in 1930 as a hockey player and  features regularly in the next year or so and occasionally thereafter in that capacity.  At some point he became a health inspector – his daughter considers this a rather surprising choice: when he married in 1948 he listed his job as Colonial Transport Officer and on returning to Britain he worked with figures, and public health officer  doesn’t seem an obvious station on such a career trajectory! However, he’s documented as having sat and passed an exam (‘Inspectors of Meat and Other Foods’) at Leeds University in 1937.[2] The Hong Kong health authorities obviously had an arrangement with Leeds, as Mr. Macey was one of four residents who passed that exam: the others were Stanley Poole, Arthur Foster, who was interned in Stanley, and Alexander Christie Sinton, who probably also lived in the French Hospital, and who was executed for his resistance activity on October 29, 1943.[3]

Mr. Macey was one of the Essential Workers, ‘reserved’ from fighting, during the 17 day Japanese assault:

(I) had quite an exciting time and one or two close shaves, but apart from losing all I possessed I managed to weather the storm alright.[4]

According to Tony Banham, there were 23 health inspectors in Hong Kong at about that time[5] and only five people recorded as probably[6] from the Sanitation Department on the December 1942 BAAG list of people living in the French Hospital.[7]

Leslie Macey’s letter to his mother of September 3, 1945 gives a good overview of the experience of all of the twenty or so adults in the French Hospital:

During the first eighteen months of the Japanese occupation about a dozen of us were not interned but were engaged in Public Health work under our M.O.H., Dr Selwyn Clarke who has now been awarded the C.M.G. During this time we were allowed to work in our offices during the daytime but had to return to our billets at night. This eighteen months was not very pleasant. We had difficulty in obtaining food and the Japs, who have a very strong spy complex, had us under suspicion the whole time, which was not very good for our nerves, as we were always expecting to be arrested by the local Gestapo at any moment.

I’ve written about fear of the Kempeitai (‘the local Gestapo’) in a number of posts,[8] and I’ll discuss the deteriorating food supply in occupied Hong Kong in the future. The two fears – of arrest and starvation – seem to have been widely, perhaps universally, felt amongst the ‘Stanley Stay-outs’.[9] The fear of arrest and subsequent torture was probably the stronger. The public brutality meted out to the Chinese from the start was a reminder of what might happen, but at first the Japanese treated the British civilians with caution, even respect.[10] To the best of my knowledge, the only ones arrested by the Kempeitai in 1942 were four escapers from Stanley Camp, and, although these experienced rough treatment in appalling conditions it’s probable (although not certain) that they weren’t actually tortured.[11] Even when Sir Vandeleur Grayburn and E. P. Streatfield were arrested in March 1943 for trying to send money into Stanley they weren’t tortured. It was only with the arrests of suspected spies in April and May 1943 that the brutality began, but, of course, none of the health workers in the French Hospital or the bankers in the Sun Wah Hotel knew that this was how things were going to work out, and they were, I’m sure, terrified right from the start, experiencing an intensification of fear as 1943 went on and the Kempeitai ‘strike back’ against ‘illegal’ activities got into its stride. We know from a number of sources that Selwyn-Clarke expected to be arrested from a relatively early stage in his operations and the same expectation must have been widespread in the French Hospital.

Unfortunately I’ve so far been able to find out nothing about the nature of the work carried out by Mr. Macey or any individual sanitation officer. Something is known, however, about the general Japanese public health measures introduced in 1942, and these too I’ll write about in the future, but as to Mr. Macey’s exact role in implementing them, only speculation is possible. Given the certificate in the inspection of ‘meat and other foods’ it’s possible that he helped oversee the attempt to move meat and fish sales from street hawking into markets, and then to set up a meat importing consortium.[12] But it’s highly likely he had other areas of expertise and, as by all accounts Selwyn-Clarke was allowed to keep out only a ‘skeleton staff’, it’s probable that all of the four inspectors carried out a number of different tasks.

It soon became clear to the uninterned British citizens that only a great effort on their part could avoid large scale deaths in Stanley and the POW camps – even with their help many POWS died in Shamshuipo in 1942, the worst year in that camp. The bankers, under the leadership of Sir Vandeleur Grayburn, the Chief Manager of the HKSBC, and the health workers in the French Hospital responded with great courage and resourcefulness. The bankers raised large sums of money which was spent by Selwyn-Clarke on medical supplies and essential foods which were then smuggled into the camps. It should be noted that much of this money came, at great personal risk, from wealthy Chinese and Indian residents, who helped out in spite of the fact that they had been the victims of the endemic racism of pre-war Hong Kong. Some of the money they contributed came as loans to be repaid after the war, and were a reasonable investment as they were made in Japanese Military Yen, which might well be worthless when the British returned, but would be repaid in Hong Kong dollars.  Much of it, however, was simply offered out of charity, slipped to the banker surreptitiously during a legitimate transaction.

Family tradition states that Leslie Macey was one of those who smuggled drugs into the camps, and although there is no documentary evidence that this is correct I think it almost certain that he acted in this way, courageously helping others in spite of the fearful consequences of being caught and never expecting any reward or even acknowledgment. One of the reasons for believing this tradition to be true is simple: the fact of the smuggling of medical drugs by the small group in the French Hospital is now well documented, but it’s not something that anyone unfamiliar with the literature of the war in Hong Kong would be likely to invent.

Both bankers and health workers paid a heavy price for their courage: the accountant Charles Hyde was executed (he was also a leading British spy), Grayburn and his deputy Edmondston died in prison, while five other bankers served sentences in hideous conditions; Selwyn-Clarke was tortured for months but refused to incriminate himself or anyone else, while doctors Bunje and Nicholson were arrested (Bunje ended up in prison, but Nicholson probably released – I’ll provide the evidence in a future post). An unknown number of Chinese doctors from the French Hospital and elsewhere were also taken by the Kempeitai.

Family information suggests that Mr. Macey’s boss was beheaded in front of him. One possibility is that this was his Chinese boss in the Sanitation Department – I am aware of a number of cases of summary execution of a Chinese national, and it was not unknown for the Japanese to execute even their own officials for spectacular failure. Another is that the ‘boss’ was Alexander Christie Sinton: many sources say that the executions on (or very close to) Stanley Beach on October 29, 1943 were at a spot visible from the camp, and some add that a number of internees actually witnessed them, and  it’s certainly possible that Mr. Macey was among them.

The same family source also says that the Japanese “pretended” they were about to chop off Mr. Macey’s  head too. From his own account (see below) he was not suspected of spying by the Japanese Gendarmes and military who searched the French Hospital after Selwyn-Clarke’s arrest – except no doubt in the general sense that the Gendarmes believed the Hospital was a ‘hotbed of espionage’[13] – so this terrifying threat was probably made at some point during the 16 or so months he was working in occupied Hong Kong. The reference to the ‘mental strain’ of the war years (see below) was obviously understated.

My guess is that the worst of that tension, almost unimaginable at the best of times, came in early May, 1943, when the Gendarmes arrived at the French Hospital to arrest Selwyn-Clarke, who they’d long believed to be the British spymaster in Hong Kong. They were wrong, he was only involved in non-military ‘illegal’ activities, but on May 2, 1943, the Japanese thought they were cutting off the head of the Allied resistance. This is Mr. Macey’s account, in a letter of September 3, 1945, of the dramatic events of that day:

(O)ne Sunday morning early in May 1943, the Gendarmes swooped down on us, arrested several and the remainder were sent to the internment camp at Stanley where the other H.K. civilians had been interned since the occupation. We felt much happier in the Camp, because there seemed to be safety in numbers and it was more pleasant to be living amongst British people rather than amongst hostile Japs and Chinese. Several of our party who had been arrested were eventually executed by the Japs and others received 15 years imprisonment. I was very lucky and, as far as I know was not suspected by the Japs and, apart from being placed in internment that was all that happened to me.

This is of great interest, as the only other eye-witness description of these events I’ve ever come across is that given by Selwyn-Clarke himself in his autobiography.[14] Mr. Macey shows a sensitive concern for his family by not describing the terror he and his colleagues must have felt at the early morning arrival of the Gendarmes, and the arrest of three of the small band of British citizens and an unknown number of their Chinese colleagues. I think that it was the same desire not to dwell on the most unpleasant parts of his wartime experiences that led to his telescoping of events by leaving out the five days locked in the Hospital while the Japanese searched for evidence of spying.[15] The documentary evidence as to this period, which ended on May 7, 1943 when 18 people were sent into Stanley, is solid, and there can be almost no doubt that Mr. Macey went though this dreadful ordeal. His relief on getting into Camp no doubt had a special quality because of the grim alternative possibility – counter-balanced by the continuing concern as to the outcome of the investigation of those arrested – but it seems to have been shared by most others who began the war outside Stanley:  from Gwen Dew, who was only in town for a short time, to Andrew Leiper, who was sent in a couple of months after the French Hospital people.[16]

In Stanley his camp number was 2441 and he lived alongside Thomas and Evelina in Bungalow D; he was in Room D3, they were in D1. Mrs. Eileen Hyde was in D5, Lady Mary Grayburn in D4, and Hilda Selwyn-Clarke in D6; all of these women had husbands in the hands of the Kempeitai during the first months in Stanley, only one of whom was to survive. Most of the bankers ended up in Bungalow E, but at least one of them, Alistair Mack, was in the same room as Mr. Macey.[17]

Mr. Macey’s first postcard (as far as I know it’s the only one to survive) is dated May, 1943. My guess is that he wasn’t lucky enough to be told immediately on arrival, as Thomas must have been, that the authorities were allowing a card pre-dated April 30 to be sent out so that another one could go out later in the month[18] – the May card sounds as if it’s the first written since internment. Mr. Macey informs his mother that he’s ‘very well’, which, in view of the post-war letter quoted below, might not have been too much of an exaggeration. Intriguingly part of the letter’s been blacked-out by the censor; I was always aware of the possibility of erasure by either the Japanese or British censor, but this is the first actual example I’ve seen. My guess, from the context, is that the forbidden words referred to the time before being sent into camp.

In the letter of September 3, 1945 Mr. Macey gives an excellent brief account of the 28 months that followed the journey, probably on the back of a truck,[19] down the Stanley Peninsula:

The life in the Camp was rather monotonous. The days seemed like weeks and the weeks seemed like years. Food was always very meagre and not the least bit nourishing. There were many cases of malnutritional disease, but apart from getting a little thin and a few minor sores and boils I managed to keep fairly fit. Actually in my own case the mental strain has been worse than the physical.

That last comment is very interesting; just a hint of the growing fear of those left in the occupied city, the terror of the five day lockdown in May 1943, and then the anxiety of the closing stages of the war when the internees were aware of the possibility they’d all be gunned down by the Japanese rather than allowed freedom.[20]

Perhaps to reassure his Roman Catholic mother he wrote:

We had two American priests in the Camp. They were both splendid fellows. We had daily mass and the usual Sunday Services the whole time.

Whether or not he actually attended these services, the tribute to Father Hessler and Father Meyer was well deserved – I’ll write about these men, who turned down both the chance of repatriation and of leaving the camp with the other Maryknoll Fathers, in a future post.

Conditions generally in Stanley Camp were better than in the other H.K. Camps. Having the women and children with us did much to keep up morale. We heard rumours of the finish of Japan about the 14th August but as we had heard the same sort of rumour for about two years , we were afraid to believe it at first, but within one or two days friendly planes flew over the Camp and then we realised that the news was true.

Rumours of a dreadful new bomb having been dropped on Japan, a story treated with some scepticism, are recorded by other internees on August 14.[21] This first letter he wrote on liberation gives a glimpse of what was going on in his mind at this joyful but still uncertain and unsettling time:

Released from Stanley Camp 31/8/45. I am in good health but very tired. I don’t think that I will be able to come home for some time. Have already started work and we are all busy trying to clear up the mess made by the Japs. Hope you and all the family are well. You have always been in my thoughts during these past three years and I am very anxious to see you all again as quickly as possible, but shortage of shipping and lack of fit men have made that difficult for the time being. (Letter to mother of September 2, 1945).

Naturally his first thought was as to how quickly he could get back to home and family, but, just as he’d been in Essential Services during the fighting, his public health expertise was required in the frantic efforts to make Hong Kong ready for something like normal life. The letter continues:

I will try and write a longer letter to you soon, but just for the moment the Postal System is disorganised because the Japs only cleared out from the main parts of the City last night, there are no stamps for sale and no proper money in circulation at the moment.

After liberation, he was in the ‘second wave’ of essential personnel to leave Stanley. Some brave pioneers – nurses and colonial staff, for example – went out into an anarchic and dangeerous Hong Kong to begin to restore some kind of normality before the arrival of Admiral Harcourt’s fleet on August 30. Mr. Macey left Stanley on 31st August – a time when Hong Kong was still far from safe and orderly – to help with the clear-up operation:

Working conditions are very hard and we are all finding it very difficult to start work again. The Japs are still in control of Kowloon but I think they will hand over to our Navy soon. (Letter of September 3).

That note of anxiety was justified: Harcourt had about 550 armed men to start with, and there were almost 20,000 Japanese just over the harbour in Kowloon!

We worked for three weeks trying to clear things up and get the Colony going again. It was a terrific strain and we were glad to see our relief arrive from home so that we could get away.

The letter was written from the Hong Kong Hotel, where Thomas and other essential workers were also billeted – I give some idea of the conditions for these personnel in

Mr. Macey left by aircraft carrier on 21st September 1945 but had an unexpected stop-over of a few weeks in Colombo as he was suffering badly from malaria:

Most of us are short of clothes and are rather ragged, but we hope that the Red Cross will fix us up with Winter clothes before we arrive. Otherwise do not be surprised if you see a scarecrow arrive.

He eventually left Colombo on 19th October 1945 on the Highland Monarch. He soon returned to Hong Kong – he’s documented there in August 1947, giving his address as c/o The Urban Council, Post Office Building, Hong Kong. The Urban Council worked with the Legislative Council to provide the legal framework for the activities of the health and sanitation departments.  He married in 1948 whilst on leave in the UK and returned to live in Kowloon. He left Hong Kong in 1950, and his daughter Ruth was born in 1956.

On return to the UK he continued in Local Government,  but now in a clerical  capacity and dealing with figures not foodstuffs. He eventually worked in the Treasurers Department of the District Council in Welwyn Garden City, Hertfordshire.

Like so many of those who passed through the dark world’s fire of occupied Hong Kong he didn’t speak about the war.


Ruth Sale has told me that recent family information suggests that Mr. Macey was also involved in the smuggling operations that enabled a number of radios to be set up in Stanley. Like all the other ‘traditions’ this is plausible because such activity is documented elsewhere. The same source claims that immediately after the war he still looked behind him as if he feared being followed – another reminder of the high price paid for such courage. For  interesting light on such a habit, see my forthcoming post on Marcus da Silva (and those with access to Emily Hahn’s No Hurry To Get Home might also look at her account of her final meeting with Mrs. Weston).


[2] Royal Sanitary Institute List, recording the results of an exam that took place on June 4/5, 1937.

[4] Letter to his mother, September 3, 1945.

[5] Information given to Ruth Sale.

[6] It seems that the names on the list were provided either by Dr. Court, or, more probably Dr. Selwyn-Clarke and that whoever typed them up for the BAAG added ‘thought to be SD’ after the names of five workers (one with a wife). A. C. Sinton is listed just below these names but without this annotation.

[7] BAAG documents kindly supplied by Elizabeth Ride and Tony Banham.

[9] See for example Andrew Leiper, A Yen for My Thoughts, 1982, 169-170.

[10] See Phillip Snow, The Fall of Hong Kong, 140-141; 186.

[11] This was the opinion of a British doctor who eaxmined them in prison.

[12] Robert S. Ward, Asia for the Asiatics?, 1945, 104-106.

[13] Emily Hahn, China To Me, 1986, ed., 405.

[14] Footprints, 1975, 83.

[17] Imperial War Museum Stanley Camp List.


Filed under Hong Kong WW11, Selwyn-Selwyn Clarke, Vandeleur Grayburn