Category Archives: Stanley Camp

Walter Richardson Scott

Before the War

Walter Richardson Scott was born on December 15, 1899.1 His career as a policeman whose career went back to 1920 when he served in Ireland as part of the final desperate British attempt to hold back the independence movement.2

He joined the Hong Kong Police on November 4, 1922 and appointed a Superintendent on May 4, 1933. In the early 1920s he probably spent time in Peking; George Wright-Nooth, a fellow Hong Kong police officer, tells us his wife, an American called June Samson, used to run an antiques shop in that city. Her sister Maurine married Mr Scott’s best friend,3 Alexander Grantham, who was posted to Hong Kong in 1922 and returned as a post-war governor,4 but who met his wife in Peking in 1925.5 This meeting was during Mandarin lessons, and as Mr Scott also understood this language (see below), it’s possible he was already working in Hong Kong and both men were sent to Peking for study.

He was obviously successful in police work and by the middle of the 1930s he’d achieved Hongh Office and a role in the broader life of Hong Kong. In 1933 he was appointed a Superintendent of Police, with effect from May 4.6 In 1934 he’s listed as as an Official Justice of the Peace.7 In May of the same year he was appointed a member of the committee to administer the Mercantile Marine Assistance Fund of Hong Kong.8 His salary in 1935 was £930 p.a. In 1938 he was chairman of the Air Raid Precautions Sub-committee until the arrival of Wing Commander A. H. S. Steele-Perkins as Air Raid Precautions-Officer.10 He was first appointed appointed Deputy Commissioner of Police with effect from March 18, 1939,11 again with effect from September 20, 194012 and finally with effect from July 28 1941.13 This means he was acting Deputy when the war broke out. His salary in 1941 had risen from a starting point of £450 to £120014 – that’s worth just over £50,000 in today’s UK values, and prices in Hong Kong were generally much lower.

What exactly were his responsibilities? Geoffrey Emerson describes him as head of the police ‘Intelligence Department’,15while according to Wright-Nooth, his ‘substantive post was head of Special Branch’.16 This was a small section that worked with Superintendent Frank Shaftain’s CID to counter ‘internal subversion17 – for example, the efforts of the numerous Chinese fifth columnists who had been infiltrated into Hong Kong by the Japanese under the guise of refugees fleeing the fighting in south China.

Before I describe his wartime service, I’ll say a little more about Mr Scott’s pre-war life. I strongly suspect that he was the ‘Walter’ who went hunting with American writer Ernest Hemingway (a future Nobel laureate) on May 3, 1941. Here’s a description in Hemingway’s unmistakeable style:

This Kowloon is a fine city and you would like it very much. It is clean and well laid-out and the forest comes to the edge of the city and there is very fine wood pigeon shooting just outside the compound of the women’s prison. We used to shoot the pigeons, which were large and handsome, with lovely purple shading feathers on their necks, and a strong swift way of flying, when they would come in to roost just at twilight in a huge laurel tree that grew just outside the whitewashed wall of the prison compound. Sometimes I would take a high incomer, coming very fast with the wind behind him, directly overhead and the pigeon would fall inside the compound of the prison and you would hear the women shouting and squealing with delight as they fought over the bird and then squealing and shrieking as the Sikh guard drove them off and retrieved the bird which he then brought dutifully out to us through the sentry’s gate of the prison.18

It’s certain that many Hong Kong policemen hunted, but the name ‘Walter’ (given in a letter by Hemingway to his wife), and the fact that Mr Scott is known to have been a hunter make me think of him, while the prison guard’s helpfulness strongly suggests an officer of high rank.

On November 16, 1941, Mr Scott was on a hunt close to Junk Bay in the New Territories with Chinese surgeon Li Shu-fan. They heard the sound of a formation of planes and Scott told Li that they were protecting a transport loaded with Canadian troops:

We climbed to the top of the hill in silence, and looked down upon a huge, three- funnel Canadian Pacific transport steaming toward the entrance of Hong Kong harbor. Walter commented that these would probably be the only reinforcements allotted to us

The Deputy Commissioner was apologetic – he’d known about the arrival in advance, but Dr Li, who was prominent in the British-supporting Chinese ‘gentry’ and might have been expected to be informed, had been kept in the dark. Later that day Mr Scott wrote to his wife, who’d returned to the United States.19 The Scotts are reported to have been living together in Mount Cameron Road in 1938 ( so perhaps she left in summer 1940 as part of the general evacuation.

A Glimpse in the Fighting

Dr Li came across his ‘old friend’ during the hostilities. He went to the Gloucester Building – police HQ after Central Police Station was bombed – hoping he’d get some ‘encouraging news’:

When I arrived he was dashing all over the place, giving orders. Just as I was about to give up my attempts to find him, we met on the staircase.
‘Any news of reinforcements?’ I asked at once.
Walter shook his head. ‘Remember the Canadians we saw on that big three-funnel steamer?’
‘Of course.’
‘Well, they’ve been putting up a splendid fight, but they can’t possibly hold out against such odds.’
I then asked the question which was in everybody’s heart, ‘Can we hope for a relief force?’
Walter answered honestly, ‘There’s no hope of that

Life in Stanley Camp

On February 2, 1942, about ten days after most Allied civilians were sent to the improvised internment camp at Stanley, Morris ‘Two-Gun’ Cohen, a ‘general’ in the Chinese army who’d been working with Special Branch, was taken from the camp by the Gendarmes and held at a prison in Kowloon for interrogation. He notes that other ‘Special Branch’ men were there Seymour Major, A. H. Elston, Frank Shaftain and Rex Davis.21 He does not report seeing Mr Scott – it’s possible he was interrogated elsewhere or that the Japanese were not aware of his true role so left him alone at this point.

Mr Scott shared a tiny room in the Indian Quarters with ASP Booker and George Wright-Nooth.22 Stanley was an egalitarian place and his high rank almost certainly made no difference to his rations – he would have shared the same deprivations as everyone else. In fact, the Indian Quarters were sometimes called the ‘slums’ of the camp. Apart from the black marketeers, the best off internees were those who had friends outside Stanley (generally Chinese or neutrals) who could send them food parcels. It’s highly likely that Mr Scott was one of the ‘close friends’ that Dr Li (his hunting companion) sent regular parcels to (some in the name of his secretary who was Swiss by marriage) until this became too dangerous.23 Dr Li also records that when in Stanley Mr Scott sent him a cheque for $500 to be cashed, not realising that the HKSBC had been seized as enemy property24 – or perhaps hoping that his friend’s Chinese ethnicity and high status (he had a reputation even in Japan) would enable him to have the rules bent.

It seems that Mr Scott was a considerable linguist: an official listing gives his languages as Cantonese, Urdu, Punjabi (all useful for dealing with Hong Kong’s police, most of whom were Chinese or Indian) and Mandarin. But his talents weren’t confined to learning Asian languages: in Camp he taught German as part of the lively education programme (about 1 in 3 internees took part at one tie or another). Diarist R. E. Jones notes that he began lessons with Mr Scott on June 3, 1942 and that he ‘retrieved’ a German grammar book from is room after his arrest.25

Resistance in Stanley and its consequences

Anything like the full story of the courageous men and women who carried on the anti-Japanese struggle in Stanley Camp will probably never be written, but from what is known at the moment Mr Scott played an important part, under the direction of Colonial Secretary Franklin Gimson and Defence Secretary John Fraser:

Scott was a key figure. He knew most of what was going on.26

In particular, he knew about the operation of a secret radio set by Douglas Waterton, Stanley Rees and others, and about a system of messages carried by the truck that brought the camp’s daily rations which linked Stanley with the resistance in town. I’ve described both of these activities in previous posts:

Stanley contained a number of informers and the agents in town were constantly spied on so to have anything to do with the resistance took the highest courage, as no-one doubted what would happen to anyone who was caught.

In March 1943 the Japanese sent a well-known Chinese collaborator into Stanley, presumably to try to extract information about the resistance. This man, variously known as Tse Chi, Howard Tau or Howard Tse spent a lot of time talking to Mr Scott,27 an ominous sign. In February 1943 the Kempeitai had begun to ‘strike back’ all over Hong Kong against various forms of resistance activity, and they clearly didn’t intend to leave Stanley out and had already marked Mr Scott as someone likely to be involved.

The blow fell on June 28, and Mr Scott was the first to be arrested:

At about noon on the 28 June, 1943, I was present when our Chinese supervisor, Yip, arrived at our room and announced to Scott that he was wanted ‘up the hill’. Slowly, without any outward sign of the turmoil of doubt and fear that must have seethed within him, he calmly finished his meal of bully beef. Waiting outside was{Gendarme} Yoshimoto.28

Mr Scott was taken by Yoshimoto, two other Japanese and a Chinese interpreter to ‘House Number 2’, which was occupied by the Chinese Camp Supervisors. There he was brutally interrogated.29 According to George Wright-Nooth there was ‘real fear’ in Stanley after Mr Scott’s arrest: he was a ‘key figure’, who knew many of the people involved in ‘illegal activities’ including Wright-Nooth himself.30 The three men who had handled a crucial message from the resistance to Stanley (see below), Messrs Anderson Hall and Bradley, were arrested at about 6 p.m. on the same day.31 William Anderson was also involved with the radio operators, one of whom, Stanley Rees, was arrested. At the end of the day, Scott and the five other prisoners were taken to the Gendarme station in Stanley village. It only remained for the Japanese to extract by torture the names that led to a second round of arrests on July 7. For a number of reasons, it is not believed that Mr Scott was the source of any of this information.

On June 29 he was taken with the others to a cell on the top floor of ‘G’ Block in Stanley Prison. At one point he was slapped by a Chinese warder for crying out for treatment for his diarrhoea.32 An Indian prisoner who seems to have been offered inducements to inform on the others, asked Mr Scott for favours for his collaborator father after the war; he refused, as did John Fraser and William Anderson, so all three were dropped from the prison cleaning party organised by this man– cleaning was a popular activity as it enabled the prisoners to leave their cells and talk to each other.33

Mr Scott was tried in the first and largest batch of prisoners on the morning of October 19, 1943. This is what a Japanese trial summary, captured by the BAAG after the war, has to say about this ‘crimes’:

The accused Walter RICHARDSON SCOTT {capitalisation sic} was chief of police HONKONG, before the war, and was interned when HONGKONG fell. In April 43 when the former Assistant Superintendent of Reserve Police Force LOOIE FOOK WING {David Loie, an important resistance agent in town} secretly sent him a document concerning the establishment of Radio communication between the Internment Camp and the British organisation at WAICHOW {The British Army Aid Group, a resistance organisation}, he did his best to achieve this, in cooperation with FRASER.34

The section on John Fraser stipulates that they ‘conspired’ to have Stanley Rees get in communication with the Waichow organisation – the British Army Aid Group, a resistance group led by Colonel Lindsay Ride, which was hoping to sponsor a mass break-out from Stanley. It seems that Mr Scott had his own plans for escape: Wright-Nooth tells us he planned one with Defence Secretary John Fraser, radio operator Douglas Waterton and Police Sergeant Frank Roberts,35 while Camp Secretary John Stericker claims that ‘John Fraser and Scott had made almost foolproof plans to escape. They were asked not to go because of the mass punishments which had been vested on the camp as a result of earlier escapes.’36

But the Japanese knew nothing of this; it was that message from the BAAG that was to prove his downfall, and we have an account of it from another source. George Wright-Nooth tells us that in March 1943 Leung Hung37 (‘Jimmy’) an assiduous smuggler of messages through his ration truck told William Anderson to expect a highly secret message which he should give to Mr Hall, who would know what to do with it. The message was given to Mr Anderson inside a cigarette and he passed it on as requested. It contained instructions from the BAAG to listen in on the 40 metre band for radio messages.38 The Japanese trial summary tells us what happened next:

In April of that year {1943} he {Frederick Bradley} was asked by the accused HALL to hand the former Police Chief SCOTT a message concerning W. T. {wireless transmission} code from the British organisation in WAICHOW, which LOOIE FOOK WING was getting in through {Alexander} SINTON39. Knowing quite well the import of what he was doing, he agreed to this and some days later handed the message to SCOTT.40

The same document’s section on Portuguese agent William White41 tells us more:

He {White} was thus {through the driver of the Stanley ration lorry, Leung Hung} able to maintain liaison between the camp and the British organisation at WAICHOW, getting its messages to the former HONGKONG Government Police Superintendent {Pennefather-} Evans and the Police Chief Scott.42

It’s not clear if Mr White was part of the Sinton-Looie network or if he was transmitting messages to Scott independently.

In any case, the crucial message about radio contact was the only thing Mr Scott was question about at his trial, where the prosecutor called it ‘the Waichow letter’. He vigorously protest his innocence43 – the prisoners hadn’t been asked to enter a plea as it was assumed that this had been established by the Kempeitai investigation. He got a beating with a sword scabbard for his heated denial, which can have been no surprise as the accused were expected to stand stock still throughout the trial except when being personally questioned and they were hit every time they moved. Mr Scott was almost certainly ‘guilty’ as charged, and of much more in the way of resistance activity, and he can have been under no illusions as to efficacy of his protest. I think it possible that in fact his intervention was a sign to any of his fellow accused who survived the war that, in spite of brutal interrogation, he had incriminated neither himself nor others.

Because Mr Scott’s actions involved military resistance – contact with the BAAG – they were more than enough to guarantee the death sentence. In fact, both the verdict and the sentence had been decided beforehand,44 the first being standard Japanese procedure, the second unusual and perhaps brought about by the arrival of new Gendarme officers from Tokyo. Those not sentenced to death got 15 years (later reduced to 10).

The prisoners were sent back to Stanley Prison to serve their sentences or to await execution. Their fellow internees made a courageous, but desperate, effort to save them. Jean Gittins, who could write Chinese, was asked to translate a message which was written on a piece of cigarette paper and pasted on the back of a matchbox tray:

Fraser and Scott sentenced to death. Others in grave danger. Request immediate intervention by British Ambassador in Chunking. Most urgent.45

Mr F. Shaftain, head of CID, was still in touch with the resistance, in which some of his former Chinese detectives were working. He had revived the secret route through the ration lorry workers that had been broken in the spring of 1943, so he was quite right to warn Mrs Gittins that ‘there is considerable risk attached’.

No doubt Mr Scott and the others prepared themselves for death in the ways they thought best. One fragment of information probably relates to this time. While in Stanley he’d had a close friendship – nothing more – with well-known Australian broadcaster Dorothy Jenner – he asked a friend to give her his police uniform, badge and arm-tags after his execution.46 Other condemned men managed to smuggle out messages, and I think this means that Mr Scott probably did too.

At about 2 pm on October 29 the 32 condemned men and one woman were taken out of solitary confinement and assembled inside Stanley Prison. They were refused a visit from a priest, but were allowed five minutes together to compose themselves. Captain Ansari47 gave an impromptu talk, and Preston Wong48 led prayers.

At about 2 p.m. they were driven out of the prison in the official van. Although accounts differ, there is general agreement that as they were leaving the prison either Mr Scott or John Fraser shouted ‘Goodbye, boys’, or something similar, to a group playing close by. Their last journey was short: to Stanley Beach, at a point close to where the internees had disembarked in January 1942:

The prisoners marched in single file to a small clearing. Ringing the hills around them were scores of Chinese gravestones. Before them in the center of the clearing the prisoners saw two trenches dug by Indian warders and knew how they were to die.49

They were all blindfolded. Mr Scott, Captain Ansari, and John Fraser were led forward first – it looks like the Japanese were allowing precedence to rank even in death. The others followed after, also in goups of three. George Wright-Nooth tells us that Mr Scott faced death ‘silently and with dignity’.50 He was obviously a man of high courage who, when his duty demanded he run the most appalling risks, carried it out unflinchingly.

1List of Senior Government Officers Retired or Died During the War, 34 – available to members of the Yahoo Stanley Camp Group.

2George Wright-Nooth, Prisoner of the Turnip Heads, 1994, 35.

3Information supplied by Mr Scot’s grandniece to Tony Banham –



6The Hong Kong Government Gazette, October 6, 1933, 671.

7The Hong Kong Government Gazette, June 22, 1934, 456.

8The Hong Kong Government Gazette, May 25, 1934, 396.

9Civil Establishment of Hong Kong, 1935, J47.

10Report On Air Raid Precautions For 1938, 1. Steele-Perkins was to become embroiled in one of the biggest scandals of pre-war Hong Kong.

11The Hong Kong Government Gazette, March 17, 1939, 188.

12The Hong Kong Government Gazette, September 20, 1940.

13The Hong Kong Government Gazette, August 29, 1941.

14List of Senior Government Officers Retired or Died During the War, 34 – available to members of the Yahoo Stanley Camp Group.

15Geoffrey Emerson, Hong Kong Interment, 2008, Kindle Edition, Location, 2885.

16Wright-Nooth, 1994, 35.

17Wright-Nooth, 1994, 47.

18Peter Moreira, Hemingway on the China Front, 2007, 38, 67; Ernest Hemingway, Islands in the Stream, 1970 (posthumous), 280 – this source is a novel, but the part cited is generally agreed to be strongly autobiographical.

19Li Shu-Fan, Hong Kong Surgeon, 1964, 92.

20Li, 1964, 101.

21Charles Drage, The Life and Times of General Two-Gun Cohen, 1954, 291.

22Wright-Nooth, 1994, 101.

23Li, 1964, 141.

24Li, 1964, 141.

25Diary of R. E. Jones, June 3, 1942; July 5, 1943.

26Wright-Nooth, 1994, 160.

27Wright-Nooth, 1994, 156-157.

28Wright-Nooth, 1994, 159.

29Wright-Nooth, 1994,160.

30Wright-Nooth, 1994,160.

31Wright-Nooth, 1994,160.

32Wright-Nooth, 1994, 176.

33Wright-Nooth, 1994, 178-179.

34Captured Enemy Document, Page 6. Part of the Ride Papers, and kindly sent to me by Elizabeth Ride.

35Wright-Nooth, 1994, 156.

36John Stericker, A Tear for the Dragon, 1958, 182-183.


38Wright-Nooth, 1994, 155.


40Captured Enemy Document, Page 5.


42 Capture Enemy Document, Page 4.

43Wright-Nooth, 1994, 181.

44Wright-Nooth, 1994, 184.

45Gittins, 1982, 144.

46Dorothy Jenner and Trish Shepherd, Darlings I’ve Had A Ball, 1975, 214.




50Wright-Nooth, 1994, 255.


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

John Alexander Fraser

There is an excellent article on John Fraser in the Chinese Wikipedia. I would like to acknowledge how helpful it’s been, in machine translation, in preparing this post.1

The voice of the accused was bold and clear, ringing resonantly through the courtroom. The prosecutor was keen for him to implicate others, but he refused to do so. He had, he insisted, acted solely on his own judgement, in the interests of the internees in Stanley Camp.2 The clarity of the voice and the measured defiance were all the more remarkable as the speaker was emaciated and bent, crippled by torture and repeated beatings – that very morning he had been cruelly hit with a truncheon by a warder because of his efforts to sponge himself clean after an attack of dysentery.3
No suffering and no mistreatment could break John Fraser’s spirit. But how had a ‘mild-looking civil servant of 47’4 found himself in a position where the fates of so many – he was lying when he said he worked on his own – depended on his fortitude?
Early Life
John Alexander Fraser was born in Edinburgh on February 12, 1896.5 He was educated at Trinity Academy, Leith where he was the Dux (best student) in 1913.6 He enrolled to study for a BA at Edinburgh University in 1914 and was in the School’s Officer Training Corps (Infantry) from April to September 1915, when he volunteered (conscription had not yet been introduced) to join the 9th Royal Scots Fusiliers as a second lieutenant. My source, the Edinburgh University Roll of Honour, states he was promoted to lieutenant in October,7 but this seems to be contradicted by the citation quoted below, unless the move to the 105 Machine-Gun Company8 in March 1916 involved a loss of rank. It was while he was in this Company that he was awarded the Military Cross in July 1916; the citation reads:

Temp. 2nd Lt. John Alexander Fraser, R. Sc. Fus.
For conspicuous gallantry during operations. When the enemy was working round the position, he took his machine-guns up to a position in the open in a shell-hole. Here he remained for four hours, and materially he remained for four hours, and materially assisted, first in checking, and then in stopping the enemy’s attack

Now definitely a full lieutenant,10 he was awarded a bar to his M.C. October 191711. My source claims he was promoted to Major in March 1918. However, it seems that he was demobilised on November 3, 1919 and at that point was granted the rank of Major, which he was presumably allowed to use in civilian life; it seems he ended the war as ‘Temporary Lieutenant’.12 A Japanese summary of his trial (discussed below) claims he was on the army Reserve List as a major.
He’d been wounded in August 1918 and was invalided away from the fighting – the wound was in his leg and he was lame thereafter.13

Civil Servant in Hong Kong
The 1920s: Broad Experience with a New Territories Focus

It wasn’t long before he’d left Scotland and Europe behind. In October 1919, he began his work as a Cadet (gazetted December 11, 1919;14 a Cadet was a fast track civil servant).
His career in the Government falls into three stages. In the first, he was gaining experience in a variety of fields, focusing on administration the New Territories (both North and South Districts),15 16 17 but also working for the Sanitation Department,18 The Department of Chinese Affairs19 20 and acting as a Police Magistrate.21 His salary in 1922 was £400 p.a.22
His rise in the first five years was steady; on May 10 1923 he was made acting Head of the Sanitary Department during a leave of absence.23 With effect from September 18, 1925 he was appointed Assistant Superintendent of Imports and Exports.24 This seems to have been a full-time post, as the 1925 New Territories Annual Report25 lists three other men as in charge of the North and South Districts during this year.
But in 1926 he was ‘in charge’ of the Northern District of the New Territories again – from February 20 onwards. This meant he was responsible for relocating those villagers displaced by the Shing Mun Waterworks Scheme;26 this seems to have been a precursor of the huge Shing Mun Reservoir, built in the mid-1930s, and Mr Fraser was again District Officer in 1929 when most of the work was competed. Interestingly, he praises the engineers responsible for the new settlements in which the displaced villagers were relocated for ‘meeting as far as possible’ the objections raised by the villagers on the grounds of ‘fung shui’, which he calls ‘a pseudo-science which trivial as it may seem to Western eyes, has an all-important bearing in the question of selecting or forming a site for Chinese village dwellings’.27 In spite of this lack of sympathy, not unusual at the time, for ‘fung shui’, I get the impression that Mr Fraser had a real interest and concern for the Chinese people whose lives it was his job to oversee. On indication of this is that in November 1933, when he was no longer working in the New Territories, he bought a house there: Tai Po Lookout, which is now a Grade 11 listed building.28 I wouldn’t be surprised if he also owned a property on the island, especially as the Lookout is in a remote location but, to the best of my knowledge, there weren’t many senior ‘European’ Hong Kong figures with a presence in the Chinese dominated (and sometimes wild) New Territories at all. He was obviously proud of his property, because he mentioned it to Gladys Loie when they were imprisoned together in 1943.29 With a savage irony this was used by the Japanese as a torture chamber.30 Another indication of his concern is that while District Officer for the Northern New Territories, he founded the 21st Hong Kong in Taipo in 192731. This was probably the first time scouting had been made available to rural boys.

The 1930s: A New Direction

As we’ve seen, he was already a magistrate in 1922, and he was empowered to hold small debts courts in the New Territories.32 33 34 This was to prove the basis of a new specialism: he went on leave from his work in the New Territories on March 14/15, 193035 and travelled to London to study law. In 1930 he’s listed as being part of the Colonial Secretary’s Department (D/O Northern District) and having an annual salary of £1000 while having been absent from the colony for 9 months and 11 days during the year;36 in 1931 he was absent for seven months and 15 days.37
He became a barrister of the Middle Temple in 1931.38 39 40During the next decade he rose up the hierarchy of Government legal officials, starting with appointment as Police Magistrate for Kowloon with effect from 18 July 1931.41On October 8, 1932 he was made Assistant Attorney General42 with a salary of £1,100; he was now a senior Government legal officer. He was made Cadet Officer Class 1 with effect from 29th December 1936.43 In 1937 he was appointed to be editor of the new editions of the Ordinances and the Regulations of the Colony.44 He was made First Police Magistrate in addition to his other duties with effect from 7th January, 1937.45
It seems that during 1936-1938 he switched between senior posts in the Attorney General’s and Crown Solicitor’s Departments as needed.46 47 From August 6, 1936 he was acting Crown Solicitor during the leave of the incumbent,48 and was appointed to act as Crown Solicitor from February 1, 1937. With effect from February 5, 1938 he was acting Attorney General during C. G. Alabaster’s leave.49
His eminence brought responsibilities and rewards. He was one of two men appointed to the Directors of the Widows’ and Orphans’ Pensions with effect from 18 January, 1937 (2 others from December 1936).50 In 1937 he was awarded the King’s Coronation Medal in the category ‘Administrative and Professional Services’.51 He was appointed to a Commission to inquire into the sinking of fishing junks brought into Hong Kong on the Scharnhorst and Kaying.52 He was made a member of the Court of the University during an absence with effect from February 25, 1939.53 He was allowed to quit the HK Defence Reserve on 26th January1940,54 no doubt because he was considered an ‘essential worker’ who would be needed in a crisis.
Between 1938 and 1941 his career continued to flourish. He was appointed Proctor on July 29, 1938.55 During G. C. Alabaster’s leave he became an Official Member and Vice-Chairman of the Licensing Board.56 From August 4, 1939 he was a temporary additional judge in the Supreme Court57 and a member of the Public Services Board.58
In 1939, the last year for which full information is available, he’s described as ‘attached to the Attorney General’s Office’, on a salary of £1650, one of the top half dozen or so people in the Government.59

The Crucial Shift

Then something rather surprising happened: having retrained in the law, and pursued a legal career with some success for ten years, he executed a complete change of direction: with effect from April 26, 1941 he was appointed Defence Secretary60 (from May 31 he became an ex officio ‘additional Official Member’ of the Executive Council).61
A search for ‘Defence Secretary’ in the online Hong Kong Government Reports turns up only 7 uses, two of which relate to the appointment of Mr Fraser and his Executive Council seat. A third is dated August 7, 1941,62 a fourth to October 20, 1941,63 and a fifth to October 17, 194164 (confirmed at the Legislative Council meeting of November, which makes the sixth record65). All relate to the powers of the Defence Secretary – that he organised the General Group Essential Services, for example. These were men exempted from military service with the Volunteers so that they could be assigned to carry out the kind of work they did in peace time – there was another group for those who would stay in the exact same job if war broke out. Finally, a note of October 2, 1941 tells us that a woman was appointed to advise the Defence Secretary on the allocation of women to the defence services.66
In other words, all the documents relate to Mr Fraser, and they show us very little of his work. The first point suggests to me that the post was a new one, while the importance of secrecy is not hard to grasp. (For the one indication I’ve been able to find that Mr Fraser might have had a predecessor in the post, see the Note below.) I suspect that the post was created in 1941 and that perhaps Fraser was pressed to take the position and felt it his duty to accept. However, he might simply have wanted the job, or even felt that it was reasonable for him to hope for a future Colonial Secretaryship or even Governorship (he was only 45) and that a third field of experience would stand him in good stead.
I think that historian G. B. Endacott give us an idea of Mr Fraser’s main task: Hong Kong’s preparations for war ‘were co-ordinated by a Defence Secretary with a Defence Committee comprising representatives from the Armed Services and government departments most concerned with defence policy. It’s actual membership was never divulged’.67 The only other indication of Mr Fraser’s role that I’ve been able to find is also provided by Endacott: in November 1941, as part of a drive to get people (especially the Chinese) to sign up for civil defence work, he announced that members of the Civil Defence Services and their families would have preference over non-members for billets, food and medical attention, and that a scheme of compensation for war injuries would be applied to all members.68
His job was co-ordinating and organising defence measures with the secretive Defence Committee and will probably never be known in any detail.

After The Surrender

As yet, I have come across no references to his work during the hostilities, but he comes back into focus in the period after the Christmas Day surrender when he was living in the Prince’s Building alongside recently arrived Colonial Secretary Franklin Gimson and other members of the former Government.
On January 1, 1942 Fraser, accompanied by R. A. C. North (Secretary for Chinese Affairs) and the Attorney General C. G. Alabaster called on Sir Robert Kotewall and Sir Shouson Chow in the China Building and asked them to co-operate with the Japanese for the sake of the Chinese population.69
Hong Kong was generally crime-ridden during the occupation, and never more than in the early days before the Japanese had established full control. On the afternoon of January 4, 1942 Phyliis Harrop, who was also living at the Prince’s Building, went shopping for supplies for with secretary Barbara Budden and Mr. Fraser; an attempt was made to steal her shipping basket, a scuffle ensued as Harrop courageously defended the precious goods. She seems to be rather misleading when she writes, ‘John Fraser came to my rescue’ as it seems that the person in need of salvation was one of the two would-be robbers, whose head she was vigorously banging on the ground – ‘John said he could not pry me loose’. The incident had a happy outcome: the thief suffered no worse than wounds to his head and nose, which bled profusely, while a passer-by managed to retrieve the stolen goods from the second offender and ten minutes later returned them to Miss Harrop.70 Fraser’s concern for her is also shown by his advice to leave the Gloucester Hotel, where she was associated with the police and ‘the Chungking people’ (nationalists who would have been in great danger from the Japanese) and join the rest of the Government staff.71
However, what was perhaps Mr. Fraser’s main work at this point was in making sure that the future internees would be able to keep in touch with the outside world by radio. W. H. P. Chattey, an army officer who found himself in the civilian camp, reported after the war:

The original plans to establish and maintain a wireless set in Stanley civilian internment camp (caps sic) were made by Mr. J. Fraser…and certain members of the Cable and Wireless Company, immediately after the capitulation of Hong Kong…and during the interim period, before the Japanese authorities interned all the British subjects inside the camp. As a consequence, arrangements were made for all of the component parts of the wireless sets to be brought into the internment camp, hidden in the baggage of various civilians, mostly employees of Cable and Wireless, who were moved into the camp by the Japanese authorities in late January and early February 1942…72

According to lists published by Tony Banham, there were 8 Cable and Wireless staff who were held after the surrender at the Prince’s Building:they included T. W. Addingley, J. S. Logan, Stanley Rees, and Douglas Waterton, who are all known to have taken part in the radio operation,73 so it was almost certainly during this period that the arrangements were made.74
On January 25 Phyllis Harrop noted in her diary that Mr Fraser was one of a party leaving the Prince’s Building ‘mess’ to go into Stanley and ‘as an advance party to prepare the way for us and to establish some sort of accommodation for living and offices’.75 As Franklin Gimson stayed in the Princes Building until May, he became in effect the Government representative in Stanley, a tough task as, rightly or wrongly, camp opinion was violently anti-Government, blaming it for what was seen as the failure to put up an effective resistance.

Life and Work in Camp

While in Stanley, Mr Fraser’s high rank did not spare him from suffering the same deprivations as almost everyone else. He write to his old friend Dr Li Shu-fan describing his ‘failing vision and loss of weight’ and adding that the camp doctors said the internees’ diet was deficient in vitamins. Dr Li, who was helping other friends, responded generously:

I sent Fraser some capsules of carotene, Vitamin A pills, and cod-liver oil compounds, and included a tin of of precious tobacco and a small towel. The last was an item valued beyond words by the internees.76

At first, like most internees, he believed that Hong Kong would soon be recaptured – he estimated they’d be out of Stanley by late October, 1942.77Nevertheless, he supported attempts to get the British repatriated in a speedy exchange of prisoners. He represented Gimson on the Camp Temporary Committee, which operated until February 18, 1942. He was elected as an Executive Officer of the Committee on January 2478 and on the same day this question of repatriation was discussed:

Speaking with reference to the possibility of securing repatriation for men over military age, Mr Fraser expressed the opinion that such could be affected by arrangement between the two sovereign sates concerned, made through diplomatic channels.79

Of course, the British were never repatriated for reasons that do not concern us here.
In February the committee faced a crisis: the Chinese Camp Superintendent, Mr Cheng, demanded, with some Japanese support, that internees with bank accounts in Hong Kong withdraw $50 to cover rations of meat, fish and vegetables (everything but rice and salt).80 Mr Fraser, representing Gimson, refused and instead demanded full access to their bank accounts for the internees. Cheng, who regarded his position as an opportunity for private enrichment, threatened to stop sending in rations, and in the end two HKSBC bankers drew up an agreement for the money to be withdrawn. In the end a cheque was given to the Superintendent, for rations and for ‘rent’ with respect to the hotel-brothels that had been used to house the future internees before they were sent to Stanley. The cheque was returned uncased after he left his post,81 which suggests that the Japanese Foreign Affairs Department, which generally tried to be fair to the British, had second thoughts about supporting his actions.
The Temporary Committee was replaced by the British Communal Council on which Mr Fraser acted as senior Government representative, and a member of the Executive Committee. As the committee often clashed with his boss, Franklin Gimson, his must have been a difficult role, but sadly I have no details of how he filled it at the moment.

Resistance in Stanley

But it was the late move to Defence Secretary that determined his role in the occupation. Franklin Gimson, who arrived to take up the post of Colonial Secretary on December 7, 1941, took overall responsibility for resistance activities,82 but it was Fraser who was in day to day charge.
The two best documented activities he was responsible for are the operation of secret wireless sets and the organisation of escape plans, but I’m sure he also knew about, and had a hand in, the smuggling of food into Stanley prison, the use of the ration lorry for conveying secret messages in and out of camp, and the contacts with the British resistance – the British Army Aid Group.

Secret Radios

The report of W. H. P. Chattey, part of which was cited above, gives an idea of the nature of Mr Fraser’s work and the care with which he carried out:

Mr J. Fraser…then organised the procedure whereby every morning he would transcribe these hastily written notes {BE’s note: radio operators Rees and Waterton et al. would listen in for much of the night and write down the most important pieces of news as they were hearing it} into longhand on his typewriter, one copy only at an appointed rendezvous. Mr Fraser detailed me to act as his staff officer in this respect. I prepared situation maps of the western, middle-east, and eastern fronts, which were kept as up-to-date as possible…I also had to arrange the rendezvous mentioned above and carried verbal messages to the various members of the wireless inner circle. By this procedure, the key people avoided being seen talking together, a precaution which served us in good stead for many months in a camp where, if two or three people had talked together for any length of time, it was bound to be commented on.83

A Japanese trial summary, captured by the BAAG after liberation, has this to say about his resistance work – my notes are in {}.

The accused John Alexander FRAZER {sic} was a major on the reserve list and was Assistant Public Procurator-General in the former HONGKONG Government. On the fall of HONGKONG he was placed in the Internment Camp, and acted as representative of the British Internees. Up to about April 1942 he caused the accused Waterton and Rees to listen in secretly to broadcasts from London and other places on a radio set they had and to report to him on what they heard. About May 1942 he caused a certain American (who has since returned to America on exchange) secretly to introduce a radio receiving set into the internment camp. About April 1943, acting on information received from the above-mentioned LOIE FOOK WING, {the late David Loie, a senior BAAG agent} he conspired with SCOTT to have REES arrange radio liaison between the camp and the British organisation at WAICHOW {the BAAG}.84

Another section of the Document specifies that Fraser got the unnamed American (probably Hill, Dwyer or Hunt) to bring in the set from outside.85 In fact, it’s possible that the American who provided the radio was still in Hong Kong, although the exact details of the American radios after repatriation aren’t clear.86 In any case, assuming the BAAG translation is accurate, the Japanese had been thoroughly confused as to Mr Fraser’s pre-war post; a number of sources, including his George Cross citation, get this wrong and I wonder if part of his ‘cover’ in camp was the story that he’d been ‘Acting Attorney General’ or something similar?
The significance of radios was twofold: firstly, they enabled the internee leaders to learn news of the war, which was an important aid to decision making and might also have had military significance: Gimson tells us that plans had been made for ‘all contingencies’ that might arise if the Japanese were forced to abandon Hong Kong, and this must have included an attempt to massacre the internees, something which was on the mind of everyone in Stanley; although Gimson didn’t hold out much hope in such an eventuality,87 any chance of saving a few lives depended on having an idea of when such a massacre might be imminent. Secondly, it enabled the internees to communicate with the BAAG: the captured Documents states that in April 1943 Fraser received a letter from their Field HQ at Waichow and that thereafter Stanley was in radio contact with the resistance.88
In spite of Fraser’s caution, rumours of radios circulated in camp.89 It seems that some of the operators became over-confident, perhaps because of having carried out their duties so successfully for so long, and talked about their work and even used a second radio set without authorisation.90
According to internee Canon Martin, there were at least three sets working, although only two became known – he believed through informers.91 According to another internee source, there were in fact four radios in Stanley.92 I think one was brought in by Cable and Wireless employees, the other was passed on by an American leaving Stanley either for home or after being ‘guaranteed out’ into Hong Kong, and a third was operated by M16 men George Merriman and Alex Summers and hidden in the wall of Summer’s room in the Married Quarters; they listened almost every night and asked George Wright-Nooth to pass on important information to Gimson.93 The fourth, according to the Captured Enemy Document, was found by Police Sergeant Frank Roberts in one of the buildings in Stanley Camp soon after the internees’ arrival; he kept it for a time, then handed it over to Rees and Waterton.94 However, the account given by Wright-Nooth is more plausible: Police Sergeant Roberts brought the radio in to camp with him, reported it to Fraser, who was at that time the senior Government officer in Stanley; the latter consulted with camp quartermaster William Anderson, and then gave the set to Messrs Rees and Waterton.95


I think that the full extent of Mr Fraser’s work in planning escapes will never now be revealed. We know that he plotted escapes with Assistant Police Commissioner Walter Scott, radio operator Douglas Waterton and Police Sergeant Frank Roberts;96 the source, police officer George Wright-Nooth, found it surprising that two such senior figures would co-operate in this way with a mere sergeant, but he, rightly in my view, accepts Roberts own testimony. Camp Secretary John Stericker gives more details of the escape plans with Scott:

A further tragedy lay in the fact…that John Fraser and Scott had made almost foolproof plans to escape. They were asked not to go because of the mass punishments which had been vested on the camp as a result of earlier escapes.97

Two sources98 claim that Fraser had a role in planning both sets of escapes on March 18, 194299 It’s almost certain he had nothing to do with the American party, which was led by the Marxist journalist Israel Epstein and seems to have been organised without any involvement of the camp authorities,100 but he might well have had helped with the flight of the British pair, policeman W.P Thompson and Gwen Priestwood.

Other Activities

As I said above, although Mr Fraser’s roles in overseeing the operation of secret radios and in planning escapes are the best documented, he undoubtedly knew about and engaged in other ‘illegal’ activities. We get a glimpse of this in Family Romance, a book in which novelist John Lanchester tells his family”s story. Two grandparents, Jack and ‘Lannie’ Lanchester were in Stanley:

John Fraser, in his capacity as Assistant Attorney-General, {B.E’s note:. A common mistake, possibly resulting from an attempt to conceal Fraser’s role from the Japanese.} had some of the paper-work with him when he went into the camp, hidden in his personal belongings. He didn’t think he would be able to keep it a secret indefinitely, so he asked my grandmother to hide it for him. Lannie was able to do that because the Japanese always searched the camp in the same order, so there was notice between their first arrival in the camp and the time they reached the laundry where she worked; she managed to hide the papers inside sheets that had been folded over the clothes lies. In this way Lannie kept the documents safe for the duration of the war.101

Fraser was one of the closest friends of the Lanchesters, and ‘Lannie’ never forgave the Japanese for his treatment.102
According to his George Cross citation,103 picked up by an article in a post-war China Mail, Fraser was not only the ‘brains’ behind the escapes and organiser of the radios, but he also sent ‘vital information’ to the outside world.104 If Tony Banham is right in thinking that no radio in Stanley was capable of transmitting,105 then this must have been through a system involving messengers – the camp ration lorry, perhaps, or BAAG agents.

Personal Character

John Stericker, who as Camp Secretary must have worked regularly with him, calls him ‘brave, inflexible, little John Fraser’106 and I’ve already quoted Wright-Nooth’s characterisation of him as ‘mild mannered’. But the longest account I’ve been able to find is by internee Jean Gittins:

Mr Fraser lived in our block. He was a retiring person, well-liked and highly respected. I cans till recall his iron-grey hair and kindly face and his slight, trim figure always clad in well-pressed grey shirt and khaki shorts on his way to and from the food queues.107

The testimony of Phyllis Harrop, quoted above, also suggests a kindly man, who was concerned about the welfare of his subordinates.
He was married to K. E. Fraser, of South Kensington, London.108 Mrs Fraser wasn’t with him in Stanley; perhaps she was one of those evacuated from Hong Kong in the summer of 1940.

Arrest, Interrogation, Trial and Execution

He was arrested on July 7, 1943 on the evidence, of a wireless technician who’d been arrested on June 28 and subjected to severe torture – he and the others whose names were given never blamed this man.109 Mr Fraser was held in ‘a filthy makeshift cell…in a garage’ in the Gendarmerie in Staley Village and subjected to interrogations under torture, sometimes in his cell, after being sometimes taken away in the middle of the night, returning semi-conscious and covered in blood.110 The Japanese rightly regarded him as the main organiser of the Stanley resistance, so he was given particularly brutal treatment; he knew the names of almost everybody involved, but gave none of them.111
One Sunday in early August he was thrust into cell number 10 in Stanley Prison where he was seen by town resistance worker Gladys Loie:

He was of small stature, wore a blueish badly torn shirt, and a pair of shorts also torn. He had long hair, a grey beard, eyes were sunk in his head, cheeks hollow and an emaciated body.’Poor devil,’ I thought, ‘I don’t know where you have come from but you sure have had a hell of a time’.112

The Allied prisoners spent a couple of months in B Block awaiting trial. By a quirk of Japanese regulations, the civilians wee allowed to receive food parcels, but not the soldiers. Parcels were sent in regularly to the Stanley internees, but they were often intercepted by the Japanese at camp headquarters, who it seemed had a particular liking for those sent to Fraser and Scott. Nevertheless, when Fraser received his first parcel, he gave half to Colonel Newnham, a POW resistance leader.113
It seems that during this time one of the prisoners was persuaded by the Japanese to try to gather information about the others in return for better conditions and a reprieve (which was not actually granted). This prisoner was also put in charge of the organisation of the daily cleaning parties – this work was popular as it gave some relief from sitting cross-legged staring at the wall. Mr Fraser, along with Walter Scott and William Anderson, were dropped from these details because they were unwilling to offer post-war guarantees of protection for this man’s father, who’d made pro-Japanese broadcasts.114
Mr Fraser was tried in the largest of the Japanese trials of Allied nationals, which took place on the morning of October 21. I began this post by quoting from William Anderson’s account of bis courageous demeanour at this trial. Just as he had done under torture, he refused to implicate anyone else, and in particular resisted the prosecutor’s attempts to get him to admit to the role played by Franklin Gimson.115
He was sentenced to death, alongside 32 others in the two trials that day. His behaviour after this verdict continued to be remarkable. After the court adjourned for lunch, the accused from the first trial were all served a ‘meal’ of rice, the first food they’d had since 4.30 pm. The previous day.116 Nevertheless, many of those sentenced to death were understandably too upset to eat; luckily, the warders were sympathetic and allowed the dejected group to converse freely. William Anderson tells us that ‘Fraser was quite unperturbed and chatted as they ate’.117Some people felt that the fact that the chairman’s last words were ‘the court is adjourned’ meant that there might be future developments, and on reflection Mr Fraser supported this view, which lifted the mood a little.118 It turned out, he’d simply meant that the court would reconvene to try the second group of prisoners, but there is something a little strange here: Japanese procedure usually allowed for a review of the sentence by the same judges who’d passed it. In theory, the penalties could be made more or less severe, but greater leniency seems to have been the usual direction. This does not seem to have happened on this occasion, which perhaps supports the claim by BAAG agent (and former prisoner) Marcus da Silva that some extra-tough ‘thought police’ (probably senior Gendarmes) had come in from Tokyo and were imposing tougher treatment on ‘criminals’
The prisoners were sent back to Stanley Prison to serve their sentences or to await execution. Their fellow internees made a courageous, but desperate effort to save them. Jean Gittins, who could write Chinese, was asked to translate a message which was written on a piece of cigarette paper and pasted on the back of a matchbox tray:

Fraser and Scott sentenced to death. Others in grave danger. Request immediate intervention by British Ambassador in Chunking. Most urgent.119

Mr F. Shaftain, head of CID, was still in touch with the resistance, in which some of his former Chinese detectives were working. He had revived the secret route through the ration lorry workers that had been broken in the spring of 1943, so he was quite right to warn Mrs Gittins that ‘there is considerable risk attached’. The message was never heard of again, and it’s doubtful the Ambassador could have done anything even if he’d received it.120
At about 2 pm on October 29, 32 condemned men and one woman were taken out of solitary confinement and assembled inside Stanley Prison. They were refused a visit from a priest, but were allowed five minutes together to compose themselves. Captain Mateen Ansari said a few words of encouragement and then Mr Wong Shiu Pun was asked to say prayers.
The prisoners, bound together in threes, were loaded into a van for the short drive to Stanley Beach. Once there they were lined up in single file, told to sit down, and blindfolded by the guards. They came forward in groups of three to be beheaded. The Japanese seem to have given rank a grim precedence in death, and Mr Fraser, Walter Scott and Captain Ansari were the first to die.121

George Cross

The full citation for his George Cross was published in a supplement to the London Gazette of 25 October 1946 and read:

St. James’s Palace, S.W.1, 29th October, 1946.

The KING has been graciously pleased to make the undermentioned awards of the GEORGE CROSS: —

John Alexander FRASER (deceased), lately Assistant Attorney-General,122 Hong Kong.
Fraser was interned by the Japanese in the Civilian Internment Camp, Stanley, and immediately organised escape plans and a clandestine wireless service. He was fully aware of the risks that he ran but engaged continuously in most dangerous activities and was successful, not only in receiving news from outside, but also in getting important information out of the Camp. Eventually he was arrested and subjected to prolonged and severe torture by the Japanese who were determined to obtain information from him and to make him implicate the others who were working with him. Under this treatment he steadfastly refused to utter one word that could help the Japanese investigations or bring punishment to others. His fortitude under the most severe torture was such that it was commented upon by the Japanese prison guards. Unable to break his spirit the Japanese finally executed him. His devotion to duty, outstanding courage and endurance were the source of very real inspiration to others and there can be no doubt the lives of those whom the Japanese were trying to implicate were saved by his magnificent conduct.

Note: The only indication of a pre-Fraser Defence Secretary I have been able to find is the statement by George Endacott that the Defence Secretary was a member of a War Taxation board set up in 1940; 123 John Fraser was a member of this committee124 while he was still a legal officer and perhaps that misled Endacott. The first reading of the relevant Ordinance refers to the composition of the Board as ‘the Financial Secretary and four other members appointed by the Governor, of whom not more than one shall be an official in the employment of the Government’.125
The original members were Fraser, Eric Macdonald Bryden, an auditor, Lo Man-kam, a Eurasian Solicitor and George Gwinnett Noble Tinson.126 Only the last named, who did have a Military Cross, is a plausible candidate for Defence Secretary, but, if he was in this post, it was kept very secret indeed, as his appearances in the online records relate only to such things as his membership of the Medical Board and his status as a Magistrate.127 I suspect that Endacott was misled by Fraser’s membership of the board and assumed he was there ex officio.
The highly reliable Chinese Wikipedia article on Fraser128 considers his final post a ‘New Creation’, so I regard the matter as settled unless more evidence emerges.



2George Wright-Nooth, Prisoner of the Turnip Heads, 181.

3Wright-Nooth, 1994, 144; 180.

4Wright-Nooth, 1994, 144.



7John E. Mackenzie, University of Edinburgh, Roll of Honour 1914-1919, Mackenzie, 307.


9 Supplement to the London Gazette, 20th October, 1916, 10181.

10 I assume that the designation ‘Temp’ or ‘T’ before rank, which is common with these recipients means that they were not career army officers.

11Supplement to the London Gazette, 17th December 1917, 13180.

12Supplement to the London Gazette,November 2, 1920, 32110.


14Hong Kong Government Gazette, December 19, 1919, 513.

15Civil Establishments of Hong Kong, for the Year 1922,, J 55.

16The Hongkong Government Gazette, June 15, 1922, 240.

17The Hongkong Government Gazette, August 31, 1928, 396.

18Civil Establishments of Hong Kong, for the Year 1922, J31 notes he also worked in Chinese Affairs from January 4 to April 20.

19Report of the Secretary for Chinese Affairs, Appendix C, 15.

20Hongkong Government Gazette, January 6, 1922,

21Annual Report 1922, Police Magistrates Courts, Appendix H.

22Civil Establishments of Hong Kong, for the Year 1922.

23The Hongkong Government Gazette, May 11, 1923, 140.

24The Hongkong Government Gazette, September 25, 1925, 448.

25J1; J13.

26Annual Report, New Territories, 1926, J1; J5.

27Annual Report, New Territories, 1926, J2.


29Wright-Nooth, 1994, 173.


31Paul Kua, Scouting in Hong Kong, 1910-2010, 2011, 150.

32The Hongkong Government Gazette, June 15, 1922, 240.

33The Hongkong Government gazette, November 9, 1922, 425.

34The Hongkong Government Gazette, February 26, 1926 68.

35He’s listed as being ‘in charge’ of the Southern District until March 14 and having gone ‘on leave’ from the Northern from March 15- Report On the new Territories for the Year 1930, J1 and J10

36Civil Establishments for Hongkong for the Year, 1930, J58.

37Civil Establishments for Hongkong for the Year 1931, J62.


39Civil Establishments for Hongkong for the Year 1930.

40The Hong Kong Government Gazette, December 24, 1936, 1138.

41The Hongkong Government Gazette, July 17, 1931, J129.

42The Hongkong Government Gazette, October 7, 1932, 681.

43The Hong Kong Government Gazette, July 23, 1937, 569.


45The Hong Kong Government Gazette, January 8, 1937, 15.

46Civil Establishments of Hongkong for the Year 1936, J43.

47The Hong Kong Government Gazette, January 29, 1937.

48The Hong Kong Government Gazette, August 7, 1936, 766.

49The Hong Kong Government Gazette, February 4, 1938, 72.

50The Hong Kong Government Gazette, December 24, 1936, 1139.

51The Hong Kong Government Gazette Extraordinary, May 14, 1937.


53The Hong Kong Government Gazette, February 24, 1939, 153.

54The Hong Kong Government Gazette, July 26, 1940, 1225.

55The Hong Kong Government Gazette, July 29, 1938, 536.

56The Hong Kong Government Gazette, March 18, 1938, 145.

57The Hong Kong Government Gazette, August 4, 1939, 696.

58Civil Establishments for Hongkong for the Year 1939, J3.

59Civil Establishments for Hongkong for the Year 1939, J2.

60The Hong Kong Government Gazette, June 20, 1941, 929.

61The Hong Kong Government Gazette, June 13, 1941, 905.

62The Hong Kong Government Gazette, August 8, 1941, 1218.

63The Hong Kong Government Gazette Extraordinary, October 20, 1941 (No. 65).

64The Hong Kong Government Gazette, October 17, 1941, 1505.

65Legislative Council Minutes, 218.

66The Hong Kong Government Gazette, October 3, 1941, 1471.

67G. B. Endacott and Alan Birch, Hong Kong Eclipse, 1978, 43.

68Endacatt and Birch, 1978, 55.

69Endacott and Birch, 1978, 242-243; Philip Snow, The Fall of Hong Kong, 2003, 108.

70Phyllis Harrop, Hong Kong Incident, 1943, 103.

71Harrop, 1943, 95.

72Birch and Cole, 1982, 128.

73Wright-Nooth, 1994, 156.


75Harrop, 1943, 126.

76Li Shu-fan, Hong Kong Surgeon, 1964, 142.


78Endacott and Birch, 1978, 351.

79Minutes, cited in Geoffrey Emerson, Hong Kong Internment, 2008, Kindle Edition, Location 1560.

80Emerson, 2008, Location 1520.

81Emerson, 2008, Location 1533.

82Wright-Nooth, 1994, 156.

83Birch and Cole, 1982, 128-129.

84Captured Enemy Document, page 6 – kindly sent to me by Elizabeth Ride.

85Captured Document, page 5.


87F. C. Gimson, Internment in Hong-Kong (sic) March 1942 to August 1945, unpaginated hand-written introduction, section headed ‘Re-occupation’ (Rhodes House, Ms. Ind. Ocn s222).

88Captured Document, page 5.

89Allana Corbin, Prisoners of the East, 2002, 208.

90Wright-Nooth, 154-155.

91Alan Birch and Martin Cole, Captive Years, 1982, 131-132.

92Wright-Nooth, 1994, 153.

93Wright-Nooth, 1994, 147.

94Captured Enemy Document, page 6

95Wright-Nooth, 1994, 153-154.

96Wright-Nooth, 1994, 156.

97John Stericker, A Tear for the Dragon, 1958, 182-3.

98Birch and Cole, 1982, 95. Endacott and Birch, 1978, 194.


100Israel Epstein, My China Eye, 2005, 140-145.

101John Lanchester, Family Romance, 2007,193-194.

102 Lanchester, 2007, 190.

103Given in full below.

104China Mail, October 30, 1946, page 1.


106John Stericker, A Tear for the Dragon, 1958, 182-3.

107Jean Gittins, Stanley: Behind Barbed Wire, 1982, 143.


109Wright-Nooth, 1994, 162.

110Wright-Nooth, 1994, 173.

111Wright-Nooth, 1994, 156.

112Wright-Nooth, 1994, 172.

113Wright-Nooth, 1994, 179.

114Wright-Nooth, 1994, 179.

115 Wright-Nooth, 1994, 181.

116Wright-Nooth, 1994, 182-183.

117 Oliver Lindsay, At the Going Down of the Sun, 1982 (1981), 127.

118Wright-Nooth, 1994, 83.

119 Gittins, 1982, 144.

120 Gittins, 1982, 144.

121Wright-Nooth, 1994, 186-187.

122 This is of course a mistake.

123Endacottt and Birch, 1978, 43; 32.

124The Hong Kong Government Gazette, May 3, 1940, 672.

125GA 1941 (suppl) no. 265, No S. 188, 414.

126The Hong Kong Government Gazette, May 3, 1940, 672.

127Mr. Tinson was killed by a sniper on December 19, 1941.



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

Seventy Years Ago Today: A Personal Account

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mr Waterton also recorded some basic facts:


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

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

1 For some of these people see:

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


4February 1942 to May 1943.




8Wright-Nooth, 1994, 177.

9 Wright-Nooth, 1994, 186.

10Wright-Nooth, 1994, 186.




14Wright-Nooth, 1994, 187.

15 Sic.


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

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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Francesca Rhydderch’s The Rice Paper Diaries – A Personal Review

Francesca Rhydderch’s The Rice Paper Diaries, a story of the Hong Kong war and its aftermath, is an astonishing work. It’s hard to believe this is her first novel as it’s so stylistically accomplished, ambitious in conception and successful in execution

Anything like a proper account would involve detailing some of the novel’s secrets, and, as Rhydderch has an unfailing sense of what to reveal, half-reveal, hint at or withhold, I’ll do my best to write about it without giving away too much – but those who hate to know anything that’s going to happen should take this as a mini spoiler alert!

One of the reasons I called the book astonishing is that the author is able to create five convincing centres of consciousness through which to tell her story: the main narratives are preceded by a short section set in a hospital in 1996, where a woman is being treated for an unspecified disease – the patient is Elsa, a character presumably based on the author’s great-aunt, whose experiences inspired her interest in wartime Hong Kong;[1] the first long section is set in the period leading up to the Japanese attack and it too is seen though Elsa’s consciousness. She’s newly arrived in the Colony and ‘again’ is in hospital – for a Caesarean which fails to save her first baby. The second long section, which includes the 1941 hostilities, is narrated by Lin, Elsa’s amah,[2] an economic migrant from south China, but one who’s also glad to escape the heavy hand of her father at ‘home’. The third part covers the first few months in Stanley, which are described through the ‘log book’ of Elsa’s naval husband, Tommy Jones,[3] and it ends with him being taken out of the camp charged with a serious offence. The fourth and final long section takes the story into the post-war years; it’s seen from the viewpoint of Mari, the Jones’s daughter, born in March 1941, and growing up in the small Welsh town of New Quay. We end with a short but very important return to Elsa in hospital in 1996.

Elsa young and old, the Cantonese Lin, the resistance-minded Tommy and the child Mari – each one has their own rich consciousness and idiom, and the minor players are superbly rendered too – I found the character of Lin’s ‘man’ Wei, a street writer of letters on behalf of the illiterate, very sensitively handled and moving. Rhydderch’s stylistic command is dazzling and she has an ability to create pictures that are subtle, unexpected yet perfectly appropriate. This is just one example, a description of the British milling around Murray Parade Ground waiting to be registered by their conquerors:

The parade ground was covered with people from end to end. They looked as if they had been bleached of colour overnight. Everything about them seemed unfinished. There were women wearing coats without belts, and men in shirts that didn’t do up. Hair that was normally oiled back sprung away from foreheads, and painted-on lips that usually pouted their way in and out of conversations had faded back into thin pale lines on their owners’ faces.[4]

Those images of ‘bleached’ and ‘unfinished’ people and the women’s disembodied lips register perfectly the devastation that defeat has already brought about, suggest that there’s much more to come, and hint at some of the ways in which life in British Hong Kong distorted women.

Rhydderch makes it clear in the Acknowledgments that she’s written a ‘fiction’ not a ‘reconstruction’ and that the reader shouldn’t expect a historically accurate account of the Hong Kong war. That’s fair enough, and the description of the first six months of Stanley camp is at any rate more accurate than J. G. Ballard’s portrait of Lunghua Civilian Internment Centre in Empire of the Sun, which outraged some former inmates by what they regarded as its sensationalising of their experience. Ballard’s novel and its follow up, The Kindness of Women, are likely to remain the greatest ever works of fiction inspired by the internment of British civilians by the Japanese, but they were written by an experienced novelist at the height of his powers, and it amazes me that Rhydderch’s debut bears comparison with Ballard’s achievement.

However, readers of this history-focused blog should be aware that the hostilities in this novel begin (rather than end) on Christmas Day, 1941 and that Japanese soldiers are rounding up western civilians from the Peak right from the start (in reality this happened at the very end of the fighting after the mainland and most of the island had been conquered). We see the – considerably shortened – hostilities through the eyes of the Cantonese Amah, Lin, and it seems to me that Rhydderch’s main interest in the fighting is as the cause of some of the book’s many disjunctures and displacements.

Although it’s irrelevant from the point of view of the novel’s art, I would be very interested to know if the descriptions of Elsa and Tommy playing bridge with the Japanese camp authorities are adapted from Geoffrey Emerson’s account of Stanley, one of Rhydderch’s acknowledged sources, where the bridge player is ‘leader of the internees’ Franklin Gimson.[5] Whatever the case, Rhydderch has an excellent sense of the real experience of camp life:

It’s a toss-up between hunger and fatigue most nights. If I stay up too long after we’ve had our evening meal I can’t sleep. I end up chewing the bloody blankets to fill my mouth with saliva, in the hope it will make me feel something in my stomach. But if I go to bed straight after supper, there’s not time to see or talk to anyone, even Elsa, especially Elsa, no human interaction to distinguish one day’s hard labour from the next.[6]

Tommy’s attempt to refuse to accept the implications of defeat is the kind of ‘masculine’ response analysed by historians like Bernice Archer:[7] he dreams of growing vegetables so as to be ‘completely self-sufficient…no more kowtowing to the Japs’[8] and smuggles in radio parts to facilitate a family escape.

Although, as I’ve said, issues of historical accuracy are not particularly important, I feel I should say in deference to my own family history that Bungalow D wasn’t open in the first 6 months (when one of the characters is said to be living there) and that there was no camp hierarchy with high status people given superior accommodation in the Bungalows! (For the socially varied nature of Bungalow D dwellers see – Rhydderch’s is a plausible although mistaken assumption, but to discuss the nature of camp (in)egalitarianism would take me too far afield).

If historical verisimilitude is not her intention, what has the author made of the real-life experiences that seem to have been her starting point? What I think she does is portray Hong Kong and West Wales at particular historical ‘moments’ in such a way as to probe two intertwined questions: who are we? how do we relate to the places that form us and which we help to form? The provisional answer suggested in both cases is more complex – and for some people a little more disturbing – than we might expect.

The answer to the first question might almost be that of Shakespeare’s Iago – ‘I am not what I am’. Perhaps that’s always been the case, or perhaps it’s a product of the fluidity of the modern world, but in any case, the Cantonese amah Lin, someone you might expect to be ‘rooted’ in the rural world of southern China, gives us a fine image for the self in the age of forced migrations, the intermingling of peoples and the disruptions of war, an image in which the belief (which might always have been an illusion) that we are one ‘person’ with a clear centre of consciousness at the middle is shown to be no longer tenable:

I looked up at the mirror. There was a hole in the middle of it the size of a coin where the bullet must have hit it. I saw a confused face broken up into shards that ran from the centre to the edges of the kidney-shaped glass: an eye here, a cheekbone there. It took me a moment to recognise it as mine.[9]

There you have it: there is a ‘hole’ in the centre of the ‘me’, the experience of the body is necessarily fragmentary – yet we are still recognisably ourselves, for all that war and other contingencies can do to us. Yet, ironically, to force too much unification on the heterogeneous matter of the self, is to be untrue to its nature:

I sat in my cubicle and surveyed the contents of my life….I thought to myself, even if I wanted to go home now, where would that be – the Pearl River Delta, Sheung Wan,[10] the Peak? There’s a little of me that has been scattered through them all and taken root there, and to try to cut the shoots that have pushed their way out like sweet potato leaves and bring them together in one harvest would make me someone else entirely. Whoever that person would be, she wouldn’t be me.[11]

Times and places all have their effect in the creation of a complex and contradictory ‘person’. War is the best place to study this, as the changes it brings about are so quick and so massive.

And yet, when Elsa (in 1996) greets Lin:

At the sound of her name, Lin smiles, as if willing all that she was and is to come together and crystallise under the parasol of those three letters. She’s forgotten how to mark the character in Chinese, but it is still her name, and the way Elsa throws it at her like a fisherman flinging out his fine white nets, with a blind faith beyond her pockmarked memory, reels Lin in.[12]

In other words, for all the disruptions, migrations, and contradictory experiences that have formed us, we can never abandon the idea of a unity and identity symbolised by our name.

It’s not just wars that make us who we are of course. Elsa’s daughter, Mari, we learn in the concluding 1996 section, opened a fashion shop in the King’s Road –if we’d followed her life, we’d have seen her being moulded by the cultural fashions of the 1960s, a reminder that the different ‘epochs’ of peace time as well as the intensified experience of the war play their role in self-fashioning. Every person – and every place – is a palimpsest bearing marks from many different epochs.

If the self is never just one thing, what of the places that have contributed to form it? It’s no surprise that colonial Hong Kong, famously a colony full of both Chinese and British transients there to make money before going somewhere else, and contemporary London, now seeking to market itself as a ‘global city’, should be places where the ‘authentic’, the ‘local’ and the ‘rooted’ are hard to find, but what of New Quay? The book’s longest – and to me most powerful – section is set in this small West Wales coastal town, whose current population is only about 1200 (it’s sometimes considered one of the inspirations for Dylan Thomas’s Llareggub). Here, in the heartlands of ‘Welsh-speaking Wales’, we might expect to find a place that ‘is what it is’, where authentic and traditional living is possible.

It turns out that even during the war New Quay had a little of the fluidity of Hong Kong: there was an unhappy evacuee there, and a German POW ends up marrying and settling. And at first, far from providing anything in the nature of home, Mari, who was born just before the war, finds it hostile and unsettling after the confined but safely familiar world of Stanley Camp. (Here, by the way, Rhydderch is staying close to the real history, as there are many accounts of the relatively good life of the camp children, at least one of whom expressed a desire for the war to start up again so they could go back to Stanley.)

But ironically this New Quay that had seemed so hostile when she arrived there from Stanley Camp, does eventually enable Mari to find a sense of ‘home’. But this is only in a town that’s experienced even more displacement, with properties falling into the sea, half the houses turned into holiday homes, and the fields full of caravans (useful symbols of temporary and mobile living).[13] Laura Wainwright, in a perceptive review,[14] is illuminating as to aspects of the book’s Welshness, but, perhaps to sabotage any uncritically nationalist readings, Rhydderch has Mari only return after losing most of her Welsh (just as Lin has achieved some sense of identity only after she’s forgotten ‘what she is’ in Chinese). Nevertheless, it turns out that Elsa’s husband Tommy, who is unable to see the traditions of Wales as anything but ‘Gloomy Welsh myths’[15] has lost something valuable. In this book that seems to have its origins in fascination with the endurance of a real woman in Stanley Camp and which celebrates the affection of sisters, aunts, mothers and daughters, we might see this as a sign of Tommy’s ‘male’ inability to be properly nurtured (or nurturing, as the failure of his horticultural enterprise in Stanley suggests).[16]

Rhydderch also shows us that when a place is the locale for a set of overwhelming experiences then it exercises a strange effect on the future, and events from the Hong Kong war seem to shape events in New Quay in ways which don’t always admit to rational understanding: both the commonest Japanese torture and method of execution[17] reappear in transmuted but recognisable forms. And the ‘now’ that we’re so often exhorted to live in turns out to be not only the present and not even entirely ours – Mari is not only drawn back to Stanley, she finds she ‘likes doing the things that Elsa and Nannon[18] used to do’.[19]

So New Quay turns out to be a place where it is in some sense possible to live a life rooted in Welsh and family tradition, just as back in Hong Kong, the letter-writer Wei was able to show Lin the character for her own name and eventually teach her to write, providing her with a genuine and precious link to ‘Chineseness’. But, as I have been seeking to suggest, any relationship to family and cultural tradition is complex and uncertain, and the more we want to make it count in our lives the more we have to be willing to lose it in the fluidity of living. Lin ends up, as we have seen, forgetting even the character for her own name, a real loss, but she finds much else as she creates a role in the ‘global city’.

What’s wrong with the novel? Well, I must confess that, although I recognise the right of an author to do what they want with history, I feel a little uneasy at Rhydderch’s representation of pre-war Hong Kong. I’ve criticised over-done accounts of the racism of old Hong Kong,[20] so I’m glad that she doesn’t fall into that trap, but I can’t help but feel that she lets the colonial system off a little lightly. True, the semi-apartheid system of much of Hong Kong life is hinted at – ‘Chinese sit downstairs’[21] – but discrimination was so wide-ranging that I would have preferred it to have been registered more strongly in the lives of the characters.

There are other things about pre-war Hong Kong that seem underplayed too. Lin goes there from Canton as an economic migrant,[22] seemingly only dimly aware of the murderous conditions created by the Japanese attack (starting in October 1938) on this part of south China and she finds a city pretty much living normally except for the absence of some evacuated women and children. In fact, most of the women and children were in Australia, the ‘Bachelor Husbands’ were conducting a vigorous campaign to get them back (or at least to have something done about the wives of senior officials who’d dodged the evacuation), and the streets were full of Chinese refugees – well over half a million by the time of the attack – most of whom had fled the war in South China. I can’t help thinking that a more accurate picture of this community under the severe strain created by these contradictory movements and the ineluctable threat of war would have strengthened Rhydderch’s presentation of her themes.

Some people, I think, will find the sophistication of Lin’s consciousness unrealistic, but personally I like the way in which the novel grounds some of its most subtle insights in the experience and thinking of a young woman from rural China. Rhydderch has a scholarly background,[23] but the novel is not limited but strengthened by this – it’s not ‘academic’ in any pejorative sense of the word, but it is itself ‘rooted’ in the author’s understanding of some important philosophical debates.

A final point: I’m no horticulturalist, but the way in which Tommy’s Stanley Camp ‘crime’ is uncovered doesn’t sound convincing to me.

I could well be wrong about this, and in any case I’m nit-picking as no reviewer likes to be accused of uncritical admiration. This is simply a magnificent book that anyone who enjoys first-rate literary fiction should consider reading. Personally I cherish the hope that Rhydderch will continue to develop her craft with more novels on different themes and then return to the civilians in the Hong Kong war, perhaps in Ballardian hommage giving us an account of Mari’s experiences growing up in the post-war world. In that case, my long held and almost axiomatic belief that no-one will ever produce better internment-inspired books than Empire of the Sun and The Kindness of Women might come crashing down.

I certainly hope so, but the development of a writer of this talent has to be unpredictable so I’ll be happy just to be surprised.

I was yet again made aware of the foolishness of a purely historical approach to analysing fiction on a recent trip to the Hong Kong archives. My statement that Bungalow D wasn’t in use in the first six months was based on at least two good sources, but I found a better one which said it was opened at the start of internment, then closed for some reason, then opened again in May 1943 for the group that included my parents! History is just the starting point and a novel that keeps close to the recorded facts (which in this case have just changed) is no better or no worse for that reason than one which shifts things around.



[2] Domestic servant, but often used specifically for a nanny.

[3] For some information about the real-life Elsa and Tommy see this thread:

[4] Francesca Rhydderch, The Rice Paper Diaries, Seren, 2013, 97. All future references are to this book unless otherwise indicated.

[5] Geoffrey Emerson, Hong Kong Internment, 1942-1945, Kindle Edition, Location 555-557. An edition of the original 1973 thesis with important new material is available from Hong Kong University Press:

[6] 121.

[7]Archer’s The Internment of Western Civilians under the Japanese (2002), pioneered the study of issues of gender and age in internment and remains the only substantial comparative account of civilian internment in the Pacific War.

[8] 118.

[9] 84.

[10] Part of Hong Kong where she’s taken Tommy and Elsa’s daughter Mari.

[11] 76-77.

[12] 235.

[13] 233.


[15] 50.

[16] New Quay is imagined as the teats of a sow in a vision of Wales in the shape of a pig – 15.

[17] 196; 202-203.

[18] Mari’s aunt.

[19] 233

[20] and

[21] 42.

[22] 76.


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Bungalow D Dwellers

Bungalow D was opened on May 7, 1943 for the people sent in from the French Hospital in the wake of Selwyn-Clarke’s arrest on May 2. However, not all the 18 people from the Hospital were assigned there, and not all those on the list below came in on May 7, and not all from the French Hospital. Lady Grayburn, for example, was sent to Stanley from the Sun Wah Hotel on May 18. Margaret Watson had been in camp from the start, so she was obviously allowed to move to live with her friend Hilda Selwyn-Clarke and her daughter in the amah’s room in the bungalow.

Largely through the work of Philip Cracknell, I now have what I think is a complete list of the people living in Bungalow D.  Rooms where I know them.


Thomas Edgar (D1)

Evelina Edgar (D1)

John Fox (D1)

Barbara Fox (D1)

Maureen Fox (D1, born January 1945)

Albert Compton (D2)

Mathilde (Mimi) Compton (D2)

Leslie Macey (D3)

Alistair Mack (D3)

Lady Mary Grayburn (D4)

Florence Hyde (D5, died 7, September 1944)

Michael Hyde (D4 – presumably after the death of his mother)

Margaret Watson (D6)

Hilda Selwyn-Clarke (D6, moved to join her husband in Ma Tau-wai Camp, December 6, 1944)

Mary Selwyn-Clarke (D6 moved with her mother on December 6, 1944)

John (or James) Hammond (D7)  

John Mackie (D8)

Molly Mackie (D8)

Ian Mackie (D8)

Serge Peacock (D9)

Joseph Stewart Anderson (D9, died December 30, 1944 

Evelyn Pearce

Hubert Philips

Edward Warburton

John Hooper

Edward Kerrison

Harry Hawkins

That’s about 25 people crammed into a family Bungalow with a tiny servant’s room.  I’ve written about many of these people before, and will discuss them all eventually. Two comments for now.

Firstly, three of the women (Hilda Selwyn-Clarke, Lady Grayburn and Mrs. Hyde) had husbands in the hands of the Kempeitai or in prison, which was of course dreadful for them and must have given a particular edge of suffering to life in the Bungalow.

Secondly, the often commented on egalitarianism of camp life is clearly visible in the Bungalow. Thomas was Serge Peacock’s peace time boss, and neither would have moved in circles anywhere near those of Lady Grayburn, whose husband was considered by some to be ‘the Governor’s governor’, the real ruler of Hong Kong. Similarly, Hilda Selwyn-Clarke, wife of the Medical Director and a political associate of Madame Sun Yat-sen in her own right, was one of the Colony’s most important figures. Mr. Compton was a person of similar standing: the taipan of Sassoon’s, and on the Board of other companies including the HKSBC. And Mrs. Pearce’s late husband was also on the HKSBC Board. But everyone in Bungalow D had a similar amount of space and ate roughly the same rations. If anyone had neutral or Chinese friends in town who were willing to take the risk involved in sending them regular parcels, then that person, whatever their pre-war status, would have been the envy of the other Bungalow dwellers.

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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

Duncan Sloss

Apart from my parents of course, the only former Stanley internee I can remember meeting while a child is Tommy Waller[1], an engineer on the Peak Tram and probably my parents’ closest friend in camp. So you could say that Duncan Sloss was the second ex-Stanleyite I encountered, although in this case not in person. Growing up in the sixties and immersed in literature, it was almost inevitable that I should be fascinated by William Blake (1757-1827), whose ideas – sexual freedom, political radicalism and a life lived beyond the limitations of reason – seemed an uncanny anticipation of some of the favourite themes of the Baby Boomers. At some stage I became aware of what everybody called ‘Sloss and Wallis’: this was an edition, first published in 1926, of Blake’s so-called ‘Prophetic Writings’, probably the most obscure and difficult works in the literary canon before the later writings of James Joyce.

I used it again when, in the 1980s, I wrote a thesis on Blake’s attitude to emotion, although I still had no idea of any connection to my own past: in fact, not only was Sloss an inmate of Stanley Camp, in 1949 he married a woman who lived in the same Bungalow as my parents (D) and I like to think of him as a regular visitor to their part of camp, although I have absolutely no evidence that the relationship went back that far!

Duncan John Sloss was born in the Toxteth Park area of Liverpool on June 19, 1881.[2] On an 1891 census list of Liverpool teachers we find:

SLOSS, Mary A Daughter Single F 23 school teacher Liverpool 297 Mill St, ToxtethPark Both parents born Scotland. Taught Ashfield St

This would seem to be an older sister, and if so, we learn that he was of Scottish origin and that he wasn’t the first member of his family to become a teacher. Another source describes her as an ‘infants’ mistress’,[3] so her younger brother went to the other end of the educational scale.

He attended Oulton School, which seems to have been a secondary school for intending teachers,[4] and studied at Liverpool University under the distinguished scholar Oliver Elton. He acquired an M. A., presumably also at this university. The two Blake editors state they began their work on the poet in 1906 at the suggestion of John Sampson, himself an editor, and Professor Elton,[5] and, this might have been the final year of Sloss’s M. A., although it’s of course possible he’d kept in touch with the Department after leaving. When he did depart, he didn’t go far.

One source claims Sloss had considerable experience teaching in English schools.[6] In 1907 he became a founder member of a Rugby Football Club known as The Aliens. At the time membership was restricted to schoolteachers (many not from Liverpool, hence the name) so this suggests Sloss was a schoolmaster at this time.[7] He was a regular player thereafter, occasionally being singled out by the local press for his performance: on January 25, 1909 he was commended for his play in the forward line, while on January 31, 1910 he scored a ‘smart try’, although sadly it was not converted.[8]

At some point he returned to his old university as a lecturer: in the 1911 Census he’s listed as a 29 year old university tutor at the University of Liverpool.[9] In 1913 Sloss was thanked for helping a German lecturer at Liverpool University improve the English of a dissertation on Gerhart Hauptman,[10] but according to one source he’d already left to begin a career in the Indian Educational Service by that time: a ‘tribute’ (by B. R. P.) after his death claims he taught at the Maharajah’s College, Travancore from 1912 onwards.[11] However, there is a clash of sources. ‘D. J. Sloss’ is minuted as attending an Aliens meeting on December 6, 1912.  My guess is that he attended this meeting, said goodbye, and soon after set sail for India.

On September 3, 1914, so many members had volunteered for active service in the war that the club suspended its operations.

The Blake editors tell us that they sent their manuscript to the press in late 1912, but ‘when the first proofs were expected, the war came’. They continue:

(A)nd subsequently the prohibitive cost of printing and the remoteness of the editors from the centre of things and from each other in widely sundered parts of the Dominions made it seem as if further progress with the work would be difficult if not impossible.[12]

J. P. R. Wallis was an assistant lecturer at Liverpool University[13] and there’s a photograph of him in army uniform in the Liverpool archives.[14]South Africa was given as his location when the book was published in 1926. In any case, the preface seems to confirm Sloss’s presence in India, but I think the evidence of the minutes suggests he went there at the end of 1912. The College began teaching honours English in 1914 and my guess is that Sloss was one of the teachers in that first year. He might even have been appointed before the outbreak of war and told by the authorities to take up his post – there was no conscription at the time in any case. It’s even possible given the wording ‘subsequently’ that he didn’t go to India until 1918, but I can find no mention of any wartime activity, and, as we shall see, further evidence from the Aliens minutes narrows his post-war service in India to such an extent as to make it unlikely he could have advanced to such a high position in Burma by 1923 if he’d stayed in England during the war.

But the post-war sources again clash. The tribute by B. R. P. has him move directly from India to Burma shortly after the end of WW11,[15] but according to a 1937 article in The Straits Times, in 1919-1920 he held a William Noble Fellowship (English Literature) in the University of Liverpool.[16]  The Aliens minutes record that Sloss attended a general meeting on September 12, 1919. This was his only post-war appearance. [17] As leave from India or Burma would be unlikely to have been granted after only one year,  I think the fellowship came between his Indian and Burmese service. Today it’s tenable for one year but potentially renewable.[18] However, if he was still in Liverpool in 1919-1920, he couldn’t have begun teaching in Burma before late 1920.

There are other mysteries: the Straits Times article mentions a spell at the University of Leeds, while one of the tributes refers to his ‘Oxford background’.[19] I think that the Oxford connection is probably an error, but the article reads like it’s all taken from an official press release, so I guess that he did fit in a year or two in Leeds at some point. The Aliens minutes don’t begin until 1912, so they’re no help here; I think 1909-1910, before the Census record of Sloss at Liverpool is plausible.

Once in the East things moved faster, and, if all these sources are accurate, he had achieved enough in three years to become a University Principal, and two years after that to be thought worthy of a British honour. He helped to establish and organise University College, Rangoon, and was Principal from 1923 to 1937.[20] He obviously made his mark quickly in the latter post, as his CBE – in the King’s birthday honours list – was gazetted on June 3, 1925.[21]

He’s recorded as having travelled from Rangoon to Southampton, arriving in January 1925.[22] In their preface the two Blake editors say that ‘means were found’ in the first half of 1925 to revise a work that was then over ten years out-of-date.[23] My guess is that either Sloss’s itinerary included a lengthy stop-over in South Africa or that Wallis was in the UK at the same time. In any case, the edition came out in 1926, and it represents the only academic publication credited to Sloss that I’ve been able to trace. It’s a distinguished piece of work – far more than  just a text – but this is not the place for a review.

Sloss built up the University at Rangoon from fewer than 500 students to well over 2000 in the 1930s, fighting both the distrust of Europeans who didn’t want the Burmese to be too well educated, and of Burmans who opposed on nationalist grounds a university based on the English model. As part of this expansion, he guided the University into a 400 acre campus to the north of Rangoon, and helped it survive the difficult economic conditions of the early 1930s.[24]

From the limited sources at my disposal, it would seem that Sloss began his tenure as Principal as a liberal colonial administrator. An attempt was made to provide a firm basis for the study of Burma’s past by archaeological research and collocation.[25] Further, having already helped set up the University itself, Sloss formed the Students’ Union hoping to influence it, although it later became his greatest opponent.[26] Such manoeuvres are typical of the kind of imperialist regime that gives limited recognition to nationalist feeling, while training its best minds to form a well-educated ‘local’ elite which identifies its interests with those of the colonizers. The motives of the functionaries of such a regime are not necessarily cynical, of course, and the evidence from his time in Hong Kong points to a genuine interest in Asian history and culture.

However, after a dozen or so years he ran into serious trouble:

(S)tudent discontent had been building up gradually over a number of years due to the arbitrary actions of Professor D. J. Sloss, principal of the University College from 1923 to 1937.[27]

According to this source, Sloss had the power to expel students without ‘recourse’, to determine the subject of their degree course, and to decide if on graduation they sat for the Indian or Burmese Civil Service exams. He was, moreover, the most important member of the Civil Service selection board, and the other board members were senior civil servants whose careers depended on him.

In short, Sloss had become the most crucial person in any student’s future.[28]

In a debate on January 30, 1936 a student named Ko Nu made a speech encouraging students to fight for both their own rights and national independence.[29] He criticised Sloss for his unfair interference in the personal affairs of students and claimed that some of them had an ‘inferiority complex’ because of his arbitrary actions. After the Rangoon Gazette demanded action, Ko Nu was expelled and soon he was followed by another student who’d published an article entitled The Hell-Hound At Large – the ‘hell hound’ appears to have been a senior member of the university staff, and in another part of the article Principal Sloss was criticised for doing nothing to curb his immoral activities.[30] It’s not clear from my sources if this expulsion contributed to the strike that began in February 1936 or inflamed it still further after it had already started.[31]

The strike spread all over the country and lasted until May 11, 1936, (Another source says until June.[32]).  It was called off after a negotiated settlement, which included the replacement of Sloss by a Burman[33] – a source  sympathetic to the students says that Sloss was ‘prevailed upon to resign’,[34] while a tribute written after his death by the Professor of Geology and Geography implies he felt compelled to go, probably unnecessary, due to his strong sense of honour![35]  The same tribute also claims that one of the student grievances were that the exams were too hard.[36] In any case, the strike seems to be widely regarded as ‘a milestone in Burma’s march to independence’.[37] If this judgment is correct, then Sloss provoked a movement that played a major role in the modern history of Burma. Nevertheless, lest it be thought that Sloss was too simply on the wrong side of history, we should remember that the expelled editor, Aung San, was part of a Japanese puppet government after 1942.[38] The Burmese nationalist movement switched to an anti-Japanese position in March 1945, and independence came in 1948.

Sloss, now unemployed, wasted little time in returning to England:

Departure: Rangoon, Burma Arrival: 21 Jul 1936 – London, England[39]

It was presumably from there that he applied for and was awarded his next appointment: Vice-Chancellor of the University of Hong Kong, succeeding Sir William Hornell.

Soon after his arrival in November 1937, a function was held to welcome him as Vice-Chancellor and Governor Northcote as Chancellor, while bidding farewell to Sir William.[40] The new Vice-Chancellor also became the Honorary Vice-President of the University Union, something that might well have stirred uneasy memories. Mrs. Sloss was not at first with him, being expected early in 1938 (she obviously arrived – see below). He described the university as ‘an outpost of western culture at the gates of the shrine of the most humane wisdom, and the most perfect art of the East’ and praised Hong Kong as ‘the most beautiful place that I have ever lived in’. He anticipated, ‘The most interesting work I have ever had the good fortune to face’.[41]

I only have the space to give the briefest of accounts of his achievements, before and after the war, as the Vice-Chancellor.

When he arrived he was confronted with a difficult situation:

(A) dismayed Senate, outraged Faculty Boards, and a constitution whose provisions he found obsolete, unworkable and distasteful.[42]

These constitutional problems included the excessive influence of the Governor and the colony hierarchy on university decision making, symbolised by the fact that the monthly meetings were held in the Legislative Council chambers. In his first two years Sloss was able to simplify this situation and create a smaller governing body – all the officials were dumped except the Colonial Secretary – which he, as Vice-Chancellor, chaired.[43]

The dismay and outrage referred to above seem to have stemmed largely from a report into the University that was released in 1937 before Sloss’s tenure but whose potentially disastrous effects he had to head off. In essence, the report stated that it was too expensive to fulfil the University’s original mission as a link between colonial Hong Kong and China and as a progressive factor in the latter’s history. Instead in order to save money it should seek merely to meet the – obviously limited – needs of Hong Kong for trained personnel.[44]

There was another official report that tackled this dilemma in 1939, but no resolution until after Sloss had stood down as Vice-Chancellor. As we’ll see, his own hopes were expressed in some public speeches he made at this time, but, although he had some success in getting a revised report – he chaired the committee himself – more favourable to his broader vision, he was doomed to fight for the funding this required times when money was tight, first because of the preparations for war, and later because of the war’s effects.

In the pre-war period, he was known as a ‘progressive force’ on campus,[45] and one way in which this manifested itself was in his support for the development of science teaching, which he saw as ‘the University’s most urgent need’. A Science Faculty with its own degrees was established in January 1939.[46]

He was soon faced with one of the consequences of the war on the mainland: Lingnan University, which had long had links with HKU, found that its position in Canton was precarious due to the Japanese occupation of the city. In 1938 Sloss engaged in ‘long and secret negotiations’ with the Lingnan authorities that enabled them to move their operations to Hong Kong and teach in HKU premises in the evenings.[47] The move was completed by the start of 1939, and the arrangement continued until the war arrived at Hong Kong. The presence of Lingnan placed a real burden on the university, so Sloss’s action should be seen as one of generous academic solidarity.

As in Burma, he was to become an important public figure, playing a role outside the life of the University, although my sources suggest that until a war in the Far East began to seem inevitable his main activities were not surprisingly connected with education. He was appointed to a two year stint on the Board of Education with effect from December 9, 1937.[48] This was extended for another two years in 1939.[49] In 1938 he was one of the signatories (alongside Lancelot Forster, who was to be head of education in Stanley) of a report that recommended significant changes to the system of teacher training in Hong Kong.[50]

In early July 1938 he presented the prizes at St. Stephen’s College in Stanley, the buildings of which were to form a part of Stanley Civilian Internment Camp. If he remembered the Warden’s words, they must have struck him as ironic, although not necessarily inaccurate:

At Stanley there exists a healthy site with sea breezes, sea-bathing and healthy sports fields to build up healthy bodies. All around are the beauties of nature, of mountain and sea, that cannot fail to fill a student’s mind and spirit with imperishable riches that nothing can ever take away.[51]

Vice-Chancellor Sloss’s own speech was also significant. It was made almost exactly a year after the ‘incident at Marco Polo Bridge’, which began the Sino-Japanese War:

China in these last months has attained a moral stature among the nations that cannot be paralleled in her recent history: in fact it is difficult to find a parallel in human records.

He went on to praise various qualities of the Chinese resistance, including the ‘willing submission of a whole people to a great leader’, but also the ‘dumb heroism’ of the Chinese peasants and poor who made up the bulk of the armies and experienced most of the suffering. He foretold a role for St. Stephen’s in the reconstruction after the failure of Japanese’s quest for the ‘subjugation’ of China, and hoped that it would ‘keep alive the memory of the Chinese common soldier who is I think the real hero of this war’.

In other words, he expressed outright support for the Chinese cause, and an admiration for the Nationalist leader Chiang Kai-shek which clearly distanced him from the Colony’s tiny circle of Leftists who looked primarily to Mao’s communists in the anti-Japanese struggle.[52]

At the end of the evening, there were the usual gifts:

Mr. Sloss was presented with a framed view of the School’s site at Stanley and Mrs. Sloss with a Chinese porcelain vase.[53]

This is the only direct reference to Mrs. Sloss I’ve been able to find apart from notices of her initial absence from Hong Kong and of her death. Sadly I don’t even know her name (see Comments below.) Judging from the ages of their two children, I’d say the Slosses were married at the end of WW1, but the date could be any time from about 1902 onwards.

In March 1939, visiting Wah Yan Jesuit College to present prizes, he told the pupils that, while exam results were important they could easily be achieved by focused teaching, and that other aspects of a school’s work were also important – for example, the ‘liveliness and sprit’ of one of the Jesuits in a Latin grammar class he’d observed. He praised the role of fathers Ryan, Kennedy and Donnelly in the ‘war relief’ effort and went on to laud the efforts of the boys inspired by their example. Once again, he praised the greatness of Chiang Kai Shek (sic) in welding China into a unity and the courage of ill-armed peasant soldiers. He spoke of the importance of sport – ‘the physical and moral training flowing whole-hearted participation in the game’ – and made the common point that the Colony needed more playing fields. He spoke approvingly of the Society of Jesus, calling them ‘highly educated, cultured men’, devoted to teaching for the young for the ‘highest reason of conscience’, and he mentioned by name some Fathers connected with the university.[54]

On May 16, 1939 Professor Sloss was in Chungking representing the University at a meeting of the Sino—British Cultural Association. He spoke of his vision of a China-orientatedUniversity:

The only justification for the University is to co-operate, sharing, giving and receiving from our fellows in the universities in China.

He admitted to previous shortcomings with regard to students from the mainland, but said that plans would now go into effect to give Chinese scholarship students free tuition, board and lodging at Hong Kong University.[55]

We get a picture of the private side of Vice-Chancellor Sloss in an article by Norman Mackenzie who came to teach English at Hong Kong University in August 1940. He reports that Sloss had the ‘generous’ custom of allowing new staff to stay with him for a few days, and, because MacKenzie got on so well with Sloss’s sons Geoffrey and John, this became an extended arrangement. It seems that Sloss was a polymathic conversationalist at the dinner table, and when the Professor of Physiology and Dean of the Faculty of Medicine Lindsay Ride came to stay Mackenzie soon found himself out of his depth. When exhibitions of oriental art visited Hong Kong, his host would unroll specimens of Chinese and Japanese art and discourse learnedly about them. He was a music lover, and it’s possible that in the past he’d given Bach music recitals. It seems that Sloss still had time to sail his yacht across the harbour at weekends.[56]

In private, he seems to have been an outgoing and friendly man. One lecturer from this period praises Sloss’s ‘warmth and accessibility’,[57] and these qualities are also suggested by his involvement in the visit to Hong Kong of two of the best British writers of the 1930s. In February 1938 the poet W. H. Auden and the novelist Christopher Isherwood were on their way to the mainland to write a book on the Sino-Japanese War. At first they lived in a luxurious bathing cabin at Repulse Bay, but then they moved in with Sloss, and Isherwood reported in a letter to his mother of February 25 that he was ‘extraordinarily kind’ and that he’d agreed to acts as a poste restante service for future letters.. I’ll post about this interesting episode in the future.[58]

But the outbreak of war in Europe and the increasing likelihood that it would spread to the Far East, returned him to a broader role in public life. A notice dated November 20, 1939 appointed him censor, assisted by physics professor William Faid[59]. It was noted that he’d resumed duty on April 25, [60] 1940 and again on February 26, 1941.[61] It was reported in the press that he’d returned from leave on the first of these days,[62] so this probably relates to his (and Professor Faid’s) absence from Hong Kong during university vacations. From May 31, 1941 he was appointed an official additional member of the Executive Council for so long as held the post of Censor.[63] He was now a part of the Colony’s governing body, and his work as censor, although unglamorous, was important: Hong Kong was full of Japanese spies and one of his tasks was to disrupt their lines of communication and try to limit the amount of useful information falling into their hands.

Not long after his initial appointment as censor, private tragedy struck, although the exact circumstances are unknown: on February 20, 1940, The Hong Kong Daily Press reported the death – ‘suddenly…. after a brief illness’ – of Mrs. Sloss in Oxford.[64]

In October 1940 he was a delegate to an Eastern Group Supply Conference held to discuss the supply of munitions and other goods. This conference led to the setting up of the Eastern Group Supply Council, permanently in session at New Delhi.[65] He still had time to intervene in education debates, though, and in July 1941 he argued for the creation of a practical school to supplement the work of Northcote Training College.[66]

I can find no record of his role during the fighting.

In my opinion, Sloss’s greatest achievement was not his work  in establishing the University of Rangoon, nor anything he did as Vice-Chancellor in Hong Kong before or after the war. It was his role after the surrender, when he held the university together, kept it functioning, and insisted on planning for a future beyond the occupation. It is an inspiring story: today Hong Kong University is one of the best in the world and vies with Tokyo University for the title of ‘best in Asia’.[67] In 1942 its students found that their courses no longer existed while the staff was scattered: those teachers who had fought with the Volunteers were mostly in Shamshuipo, from where Lindsay Ride, assisted by one of his students, Francis Lee, escaped to Free China and founded the British Army Aid Group, an important resistance organisation. Sloss was to enter Stanley camp alongside 16 of his staff, and it’s from that small nucleus that the current university was eventually to emerge into the post-war years.

Soon after the surrender, he persuaded the Japanese to allow non-combatant university staff to remain on campus.[68] He used this period to build morale, to signal his intention to keep some form of university going throughout whatever was to flow, and to carry out some useful measures on behalf of the students.[69] On December 31 1941 an emergency meeting of the Senate was held with Sloss presiding. It was decided to award degrees to those medical students sitting their final exams when war broke out; in January 1942 more medical degrees were awarded to final year students.[70]

Most of the university people were sent to Stanley at the end of January.[71] Sloss went with his son John, listed as ‘16, Schoolboy’. [72] Geoffrey Sloss, two years older, fought with the Volunteers and was wounded. He spent the war in Shamshuipo. Later he moved to Vancouver and married the cousin of another Hong Kong man.[73]

Sloss’s early planning was made easier by the fact that like most of his fellow internees he believed that the British would retake Hong Kong in about three months.[74]  This useful illusion not only kept up morale but also led to all kinds of planning, and it seems that in 1942 Sloss played a part in general preparations for the liberated Hong Kong that was believed to be just round the corner: Fehilly reported that in the opinion of Olsen and Sloss, Perdue was the man who should be in charge of the police when liberation arrives.

It seems that he was an important figure in Stanley at this time, working alongside the Colonial Secretary Franklin Gimson. This is what the escaped Irish doctor J. P. Fehilly told Lindsay Ride:

Without him {Gimson} and Sloss things would be very different in Hong Kong.[75]

Fehilly quoted his views as worth taking seriously, whether or not he agreed with them:

Sloss and Selwyn-Clarke maintain that the Japanese are not inflicting cruelties deliberately.[76]

Fehilly told Sloss in ‘August’ that ‘Richards in the French Hospital’[77] was a Japanese agent:[78] I think that this was probably when Sloss himself was in the French Hospital (see below).

In addition, Sloss was still in charge of a university that intended to carry on operating, however difficult the circumstances, and to carry out, to the best of its ability, the function of teaching, examining and planning.[79]

There was a vigorous teaching programme which Sloss himself took part in –  Franklin Gimson records a talk late in 1943 on Marlowe’s Dr. Faustus.[80] There’s no doubt that for a year or two this enhanced the life of the camp, although interest in the classes seemed to wane in the last year or so – one source puts this down to the fact that in mid-1944 a new rationing system was introduced which allocated more food to those who had a job. Sloss made another contribution to the cultural life of Stanley: he donated his collection of classical literature and a recent edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica to the library.[81]

It was agreed in January 1943 that matriculation exams would take place, and they began on May 5, 1943,[82] John Sloss was a candidate in the first batch; eventually the results were to be accepted by universities in other parts of the Commonwealth.

A special sub-committee of the senate was set up to carry out post-war planning, and this found itself once again considering the question as to whether the University should be focused on meeting the ends of Hong Kong or should set seek to play a role in the regeneration of China. Not surprisingly, the committee and then the senate endorsed the broader vision, and called for a ‘new start’ on a big scale, taking advantage of the ‘unique opportunity’ created by the circumstances of the war and occupation.[83]

At some point Sloss managed to smuggle a message to another university escape, Professor Gordon King, at that time in Chungking. On 4 September 1944 King sent a memo to the British Colonial Office stating that in the view of Vice-Chancellor Sloss, ‘who is still under Japanese confinement in Stanley Camp’, it is necessary to choose between a ‘local’ function for the University and one in which it was ‘an expression of British policy towards China and the Far East’.

One commentator – Anthony Sweeting – argues that the ‘Stanley talks’ were mainly significant for the boost they probably gave to the psychology of those taking part in them, as in 1945 the incoming Military Administration brushed aside most of the proposals of the then newly liberated internees. However, Sweeting goes on:

The fact that the Stanley talks enabled Duncan Sloss to draw up a set of recommendations lends them a special significance, however, beyond the merely psychological,, because Sloss’s message to the Colonial Office in late 1944 influenced developments in London even before the end of the War and when Sloss himself returned to Britain in the winter of 1945, he played a very instrumental role in the tortuous negations in Britain that eventually led to the re-opening of the University.[84]

The planning, too, proved useful: ‘the Stanley discussions’ envisaged a complete break with the past, particularly in the form of buildings, and the historian of the university Bernard Mellor has written that it was a remarkable ‘prospectus…of the developments which have actually taken place’, even though the actual course of events in China made some of the perspectives in which the thinking took place obsolete,[85] and, we might add, the financial restraints of the immediate post-war period meant that the most ambitious aspects of the plan had to be delayed.  The interned senate clearly committed itself to a vision of HKU as an institution that would promote British ideals and academic methods in the Far East, while fostering Anglo-Chinese friendship and playing a role in ‘moulding China’s destiny’,[86] and such aid was not wanted after the communist victory in 1949.

While he was involved in all these institutional activities, Sloss was faced with another challenge. On July 2, 1942 Colonel Lindsay Ride, now head of the BAAG, sent a message to Sloss, his old boss and occasional dinner companion:

This is an attempt to set up a regular news service between us. Relatives all over the world are very anxious to hear of you all and I trust this will be the quickest and safest method of getting news in and out. The Priestwood-Thompson party brought the British list but not the American or Dutch; at any rate that list is no doubt out of date and it was not altogether accurate. An up-to-date list…is very badly needed and also a report on the treatment, conditions and casualties in the camp. I am trying to arrange on the quiet the ‘escape’ or liberation of all children…

I understand you need money badly. Here is $100 from me as a trial; if it gets through you will know that the route is trustworthy, in which case I suggest those who want money from home should send me written authority to get money from their banks at home and I shall do my best to get it in.[87]

Sloss can’t have been in very good health at the time: earlier in the year he’d spent a number of months being treated in town (almost certainly at the French Hospital) for stomach problems.[88] Yet he accepted Ride’s proposal of regular communication.[89]

This was an act of great courage – there were few more dangerous ‘jobs’ in Camp than link with the resistance.

Ride’s reply shows that Sloss had also indicated his willingness to escape:

My Dear Sloss,

I can’t tell you how happy I was to hear that you are willing to come out….It is with great diffidence that I proceed to give my master in all things orders….

Ride goes on to explain that ‘a daring plan of escape for about 50 of you has been worked out’.  He stresses that the choice of men to escape must depend on their value to the Empire, and Sloss must put aside any reluctance to deprive Stanley of the talents of someone needed elsewhere. The letter ends:

And lastly, if you can’t get anyone to come with you, come yourself. I’ll be here to meet you.[90]

No escape took place. The mass escape plan was considered by George Wright-Nooth, one of those who would probably have taken part, completely impractical.[91] We don’t know why Sloss didn’t attempt to go on his own, but other senior figures decided to stay after considering the reprisals that the camp would suffer if they escaped.[92]

On June 28, 1943 the Kempeitai – the dreaded military police – came to Stanley and arrested 6 men, including the Assistant Commissioner of Police, Walter Scott.[93] The camp was in turmoil, with everybody worried about the fate of those arrested and many with good reason to fear their turn would come soon. Scott could well have known about Sloss’s role as BAAG contact, but even if he didn’t the former Defence Secretary John Fraser, one of those arrested when the Kempeitai returned on July 7 to take 4 more people, certainly did. Sloss must have been terrified for a long time, until it became obvious that the arrests had, for the moment at least, come to an end. At his trial on October 19, Scott was accused of having received ‘the Waichow letter’,[94] which he vigorously denied: Waichow was the BAAG Field Headquarters, and, as we’ve seen Sloss had received at least two letters from the BAAG, but Scott, like Fraser, refused to name anyone else, and Sloss was saved.

At the end of the war the internees were instructed to remain in Stanley Camp for their own safety, but there was a transport service into town, and many internees were desperate to get back to the city. One of these was Jean Gittins, a former university employee, who wanted to visit her family. As Professor Sloss had been appointed adjudicator on questions of priority, she felt certain of a sympathetic hearing:

Mr. Sloss insisted that priority had to be given to business people whose future livelihood might depend on their making an early visit: much as he wanted to help me, he could not allow personal reasons to influence his judgment.  Could see that he was sorry and I should have known that he could not have done otherwise, and yet I felt terribly let down.[95]

Sloss himself left camp to take part in forming a new administration on August 21:

Messrs. F. Gimson, H. R. Butters, D. Sloss, RR. Minitt  have gone to town today to confab. in Mr. Zindel’s office (Red Cross official).[96]

In those chaotic early days of freedom Sloss was re-instated as Censor-in-Chief, with an office in the former Gloucester Hotel. He also seems to have been appointed Publicity Officer for the new administration.[97] He gave a number of press conferences, presumably in the government’s rehabilitation plans[98].

Sloss had heard that Jean Gittins’ husband Billy had not survived as a POW in Japan but couldn’t tell her as he had no official confirmation of this. With Selwyn-Clarke he engineered a plan to stop her waiting in Hong Kong for news that would never come. The medical Department declared, without examination, that after years of internment she was not fit to work in Hong Kong, and as a result she went to join her children in Australia. Sloss took her on board and made sure that she had s a single-berth officer’s cabin when most were sharing six or eight berth cabins:

‘Good luck Jean’ he said. ‘Whatever happens don’t lose your courage. And remember, my dear, there are many in Hong Kong who will be thinking of you.’[99]

While Sloss was carrying out his public duties and finding the time for such acts of personal friendship, he was also working on behalf of the University. Soon after his release he inspected their buildings at Pokfulam and began to make estimates of how much it would cost to repair the damage and replace the looted equipment.[100] In mid September he convened and chaired a meeting at the Gloucester Hotel to decide the future of Lindsay Ride and five other professors now returned to Hong Kong.[101]

On September 18 he left Ride in charge and went to London. In a farewell to his students he said:

I should like to express for myself and for the University the satisfaction we feel at the achievements of past and present students of the University during these years of horrors….Those who stayed behind have helped us who were interned or prisoners of war in a way that meant the difference between survival and extinction, and this at great risks to themselves.

He added that his only reason for leaving Hong Kong was to try to assure the re-establishment of the university on ‘ampler, more generous lines’. Again, he spoke of his vision of university ‘turned towards a new China’ acting as a two way channel of communication between China and Britain.[102]

London responded by setting up a committee under Christopher Cox to examine the way the University should develop. This reported in July 1946, but a row ensued, which seems to have been over whether or not to make references to a possible Chinese take-over of Hong Kong, and by the time agreement was reached, Sloss decided the report had been overtaken by events so it was never published.[103] There ensued a long debate, which overlapped Sloss’s period as Vice-Chancellor as to whether the university should not be restored at all, be restored at its pre-war level of funding, or be restored at a more generously financed level.[104] Some teaching began in October 1946, but full-scale restoration did not take place until 1948.

In December Sloss returned to Hong Kong. He chaired numerous committees devoted to the difficult task of getting the university back into some kind of operational fitness. His last major act before he retired in March 1948 was to secure the largest private donation ever made to the university: one million dollars from Sir Robert Ho-tung to build a womens’ hall of residence.[105]

Some time in 1946 – probably around September – he wrote to the President of the Board of Trade Sir Stafford Cripps:

It must be recognised that in a hundred years, we have done almost nothing by education, social services or political education to foster a Hong Kong patriotism among the Chinese.

He suggested that the prevailing mood was one of disillusion, and this was being exploited by anti-British elements among the Kuomindang.[106] This letter reached the Colonial Office, who claimed that Dr. Sloss was out of touch!

In 1946 Sloss’s son John was studying at Pembroke College, Oxford.[107] Apart from the death of his wife in that city, this is the first link I’ve been able to find with the place where he was to spend his last years.

In 1947 Sloss made an interesting speech to the 130th Annual meeting of the Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation. In it he  praised the Bank for the honouring of ‘duress’ notes, saying it had done much to impress the Chinese; he believed that China should enjoy a just peace described himself as ‘one of those whose work aims at social betterment in Hong Kong’, He argued for the setting up by the Bank of  an ‘economic enquiries branch’ for the collection of agricultural and other statistics, and the terms in which he did so are significant: the purpose of the branch would be to provide statistics that would guide ‘the vast social experiments that the next generation would see’. He said that the Bank could erect a ‘lighthouse guiding men to the shores of social and economic sanity’. As for the university, he wanted it to promote a friendly British attitude towards China. ‘a really worthy British university for China here in Hong Kong’. He echoes Sir Arthur Morse’s support for an income tax – a hugely controversial issue in Hong Kong at the time – stating that direct taxation was fairer than indirect and the income tax the fairest from of all.[108] In 1938/39 Sloss had sat, alongside Sir Vandeleur Grayburn, on a committee examining methods of taxation in the Colony which had spent a lot of its time deliberating on the advisability of introducing an income tax to the Colony, which was one of only three important territories without it (the others being the Gold Coast and Malaya). They too had concluded that such a tax was the most ‘logical, equitable and remunerative’ possible, but they recommended that it not be introduced until the opinion that it could be fairly and efficiently administered in the particular circumstances of Hong Kong had won general acceptance.[109] He’d returned to the subject when, again alongside Grayburn, he’d sat on a committee examining the possibility of an income tax to raise money fro the Imperial war effort.[110] The committee decided against it but proposed taxes of about equivalent severity; the fear was always that too much taxation, particularly on personal income, would impede the flow of capital into the Colony.

All this suggest that he was man of the democratic left, although probably not nearly so radical as Hilda Selwyn-Clarke, close friend of the woman who was soon to become his wife.

In 1947 he was made an honorary graduate of his old University, Liverpool[111] and on November 21 his return to the Hong Kong Executive Council as an unofficial member was gazetted.[112] He’s recorded as chairing two committees for the Executive Council on 1948.[113]

1949 saw the end of his distinguished academic career; the departing Vice-Chancellor told the University Alumni Association that the 12 years in Hong Kong had been ‘the most pleasant period of (my) professional life’.[114] He said that in this time the University had performed its ‘supreme function’ of acting as instrument of good will and fellowship to China. Lindsay Ride presented him with a bronze plaque of himself.

On April 4, 1949 he remarried.[115] His wife, Margaret Watson, close friend of the Selwyn-Clarke’s and a dweller in Stanley’s Bungalow D, needs a post to herself. The new couple quickly moved to Oxford. Norman Mackenzie would visit them on research trips to the Bodleian and lively and wide-ranging discussions with Sloss would be renewed. In 1950 they had a very different visitor, the radical American journalist Agnes Smedley, a friend of Margaret’s from Hong Kong days who sought refuge after falling out with Hilda Sewyn-Clarke.[116] Smedley was in poor health, distrusted by the communist movement and facing moves to get her back to America to arraign her as a spy. She died in a nearby nursing home on May 5, As Duncan Sloss wrote to the US Consul-General on May 7, knowing the tabloid interest in Smedley, they asked the surgeon to carry out a post-mortem before notifying the press.[117] On May 8, 1950 ‘Mrs. D. J. Sloss’ announced Smedley’s death, but refused to say what she’d died of and claimed that no funeral arrangements had been made.

In a report dated June 13, the ‘author’s friend’ D. J. Sloss is said to have described as ridiculous allegations she was killed by the Cominform to stop her testifying about soviet espionage.[118]

Duncan Sloss died on July 29, 1964 in Oxford. His death certificate records he was living at 313, Woodstock Road.[119]

Lives like his had become impossible by the time he died. His university career had led him to a significant role in the administration of the British Empire. Instead of the endless grind of ‘research’ which is the lot of literary academics today, he’d faced (some would say partly summoned up) the force of anti-imperialist nationalism in Burma and then played a role in fighting the brutal rival imperialism of Japan.

Woodstock Road is one of the two routes out of Oxford to the North. It’s busy, but the life in north Oxford is quiet; the large Victorian houses are full of dons – it’s an easy bicycle or bus ride to the Bodleian Library or the central Oxford colleges and bookshops.  It’s a good place to reflect on the lessons one has learnt. Duncan Sloss experienced a life which the great themes of the twentieth century – nationalism, anti-colonialism and war – made rich and challenging. History took him from an engagement with the complex and obscure writings of William Blake to the anxious scanning of notes from the Hong Kong resistance that were crystal clear in their meaning but whose possession meant torture and death. He had a lot to reflect on.

Copyright Imperial War Museum

[5] D. J. Sloss and J. P. R. Wallis, The Prophetic Writings of William Blake, Volume 1, 1926, V11.

[11] The Times, August 21, 1964, page 10.

[12] Sloss and Wallis, 1926, V11.

[15] The Times, August 21, 1964, page 10.

[16] Article in The Straits Times, August 19, 1937, page 8:

[19] Tribute by L. Dudley Stamp, The Times, August 12, 1964, page 10.

[20] Article in The Straits Times, August 19, 1937, page 8:

[23] Sloss and Wallis, 1926, VII.

[24] The Times, August, 21, 1964, page 10.

[35] The Times, August 12, 1964, page 10.

[36] L. Dudley Stamp, writing in The Times, August 12, 1964, page 10.

[40] Hong Kong Daily Press, November 19, 1937, page 1.

[41] Hong Kong Daily Press, November 19, 1937, page 8.

[42] Clifford Matthews and Oswald Cheung, Dispersal and Renewal: Hong Kong University During The War Years, 1998, 62. Source says he arrived in 1935, which is probably a misprint.

[43] Matthews and Cheung, 1998, 65.

[44] Matthews and Cheung, 1998, 63-64.

[45] Matthews and Cheung, 1998, 442.

[46] Matthews and Cheung, 1998, 67.

[47] Matthews and Cheung, 1998, 13.

[51] Hong Kong Daily Press, July 7, 1938, page 7.

[52] See, for example, James Bertram’s The Shadow of A War, 1947, passim.

[53] Hong Kong Daily Press, July 7, 1938, page 8.

[54] Sloss’s speech is recorded on page 2 of a special Hong Kong Daily Press supplement,  issued on March  13, 1939.

[55] Hong Kong Daily Press, May 31, 1939, page 7.

[56] Matthews and Cheung, 1998, 27-29.

[57] Matthews and Cheung, 1998, 227.

[62] Hong Kong Daily Press, April 25, 1940, page 5.

[63] GA 19441, no. 716.

[64] Page 5.

 [66] Hong Kong Daily Press, July 18, 1941, page 5.

[68] Matthews and Cheung, 1998, 72.

[69] Matthews and Cheung, 1998, 72.

[73] Matthews and Cheung, 1998, 223-4.

[74] Ride Papers, Fehilly Conversation With Ride, page 1.

[75] Ride Papers, Fehilly Conversation with Ride, page 1.

[76] Ride Papers, Fehilly Conversation with Ride, page 4.

[78] Ride Papers, Fehilly Conversation With Ride, page 4.

[79] Matthews and Cheung, 1998, 78.

[80] Franklin Gimson, Internment in Hong-Kong, 40b. (Held at Rhodes House, Oxford).

[81] Jean Gittins, Stanley: Behind Barbed Wire, 1982, 86.

[82].Matthews and Cheung, 1998, 18.

[83]Matthews and Cheung, 1998, 401.

[84] Matthews and Cheung, 1998, 402.

[85] Matthews and Cheung, 1998, 79.

[86] Matthews and Cheung, 1998, 80.

[87] The full message can be read in Edwin Ride, British Army Aid Group, 1981, 134-5.

[88] Gittins, 1982, 126.

[89] George-Wright-Nooth, Prisoner of the Turnip Heads, 1994, 114.

[90] Ride, 136-137.

[91] Wright-Nooth, 1994, 115.

[92] John Stericker, A Tear for the Dragon, 1958, 182.

[93] Wright-Nooth, 1994, 162.

[94] Wright-Nooth, 1994, 181.

[95] Gittins, 1982, 153.

[98] Gittins, 1982, 154, 156, 157.

[99] Gittins, 1982,, 160.

[100] Matthews and Cheung, 1998, 425.

[101] Matthews and Cheung, 1998, 427.

[102] Matthews and Cheung, 1998, 108.

[103]Matthews and Cheung, 1998, 429.

[104] Matthews and Cheung, 1998, 429-430.

[105] Matthews and Cheung, 1998, 34.

[107] Matthews and Cheung, 1998, 223-224.

[108] China Mail, March 29, 1947, page 3.

[114] Hong Kong Sunday Herald, April 3, 1949, page 4.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[9] Ride Papers, 9/3/58

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

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

[16] Ride Papers, 42, 43.

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

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

[19] Ride Papers, 10/13/04-13.

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


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

From The Dark World’s Fire: Thomas’s Cards From Stanley Camp


On August 18, 1946 Thomas and Evelina began the journey by air – usually taking about ten days – to the United Kingdom.[1] It was Thomas’s first visit home since 1938 and Evelina’s first time outside the bustling and sometimes dangerous world of south China that she’d always known. Having lived in Macao, Fuzhou and then Hong Kong, she must have found the quiet streets  quite a shock. And she probably wasn’t ready for the rationing and continuing deprivation of post-war Britain either. Hong Kong was not quite back on even keel that summer, but it had come a lot further than Britain, which had, of course, spent and suffered far more during the life-and-death struggle in whose aftermath they were still living. In turn, she was something of a surprise to Thomas’s family – a sophisticated Eurasian woman who smoked Lucky Strike cigarettes – only Lucky Strike, and sometimes from a holder – and wore her hair in ways not then thought possible.

At some point, after the no doubt tearful reunions and slightly nervous ‘catching up’ – everyone was meant to be ‘putting the war behind them’, but how do you ignore the fact that your son and his new wife had been prisoners of the Japanese for almost four years? – Thomas would have been presented with a plain brown envelope.

Inside were the cards that he and Evelina had sent back to Windsor from Stanley Camp. He undoubtedly sent some that didn’t get through, but those that did had been preserved religiously. Alice Edgar was a strong-minded woman and she must have known that there was a good chance she’d never see her eldest son again, and that these short messages would be the final mementoes she’d have of him

It can be strange reading your old letters and cards in any circumstances, but in this case, doubly so, as they were written in a different world. And the demands of the censorship and the desire not to worry unnecessarily loved ones at home meant that the cards from the camps never told anything like the truth. At one point during my career as a teacher of literature the phrase ‘the text says what it does not say’ became almost a cliché, and an unhelpful one at that, licensing critics to read all kinds of recondite and implausible meanings into the works they were discussing; but it’s true in a very simple and obvious sense about these cards, at least when read by the original writers, who knew exactly what they’d have written if they’d been allowed to. The more inaccurate they were, the more the truth that was being kept out must have forced itself into the minds of the two people who’d written them.

The first one I sometimes find hard to read;. apparently bland and reassuring, it was written during a time of great upheaval and fear

Letter 1


Update: Internee William Carrie notes in his diary that they were not allowed to write anything in hand – even the signature had to be typed.

The first word Herbert and Alice Edgar had that their son had survived the fighting was a letter from American repatriate Charles Winter. Mr. Winter wrote from the Swedish ship the Gripsholm on August 18, 1942 and the letter – which also carried news of Thomas’s imminent marriage, probably arrived about November – at least that was when the Windsor and Eton Express got to hear about it, judging from the fragments of news that surround the clipping of the page that carried the article.[2]But they had to wait longer for a letter from Thomas himself, probably until some time in spring 1944, as letters of this kind seem to have taken up to a year to arrive.

The letter is deliberately misdated. This passage is from shipyard worker George Gerrard’s diary[3] (the diary is written in the form of letters to his wife):

We have been told {some time in the first week of May) that we can write a 200 word letter which will be dated 30 April and it is expected that we will be able to write monthly and by backdating the letter we’ll be able to send one for May.

Gerrard himself gave in his letter to the Camp Secretary’s Office on May 4; Thomas and Evelina almost certainly arrived from the French Hospital, alongside 16 others, on May 7. I imagine that someone told Thomas about the possibility mentioned by Gerard, so he and Evelina made sure they wrote something in time to be sent off with the batch of ‘April 30’ letters. Letters home from Stanley[4] in 1942 are known to have been sent, and the bankers of the Sun Wah Hotel are also believed to have been allowed to send more than one postcard,[5] and Sir Vandeleur Grayburn sent a letter, dated May 31 and postmarked June 27, with an American repatriate on the Gripsholm.[6] All this probably means that the ‘stay outs’ in the French Hospital were too, but nothing of Thomas’s has survived.

This letter doesn’t begin as if Thomas thought it would be the first his parents had heard from him; it sounds much more like a continuation. It is written on a lined sheet of camp headed note paper, folded many times to fit the envelope. According to David Tett, a cover was also provided but this has been lost (Tett also notes the same paper and cover were issued on July 24, but if Thomas wrote a letter at this time it too got lost[7]).The message is typed, probably by Evelina, who had secretarial training. The Japanese had confiscated all typewriters but at some point they provided two typewriters for the internees’ use,[8] perhaps in the camp office. The letter is 75 words long, which raises the question: why didn’t Thomas use the full 200 words?

I think the most likely explanation is simple: he had only just arrived in camp, and didn’t have very much to say about it, and he knew that almost anything he said about his life in the town would risk being cut by the censor. And given that he’d spent his last five days there locked inside the Hospital while the Japanese searched it for evidence of spying, both he and Evelina living in fear that at any moment they’d be dragged off to join Drs. Selwyn-Clarke, Bunje and Nicholson and Sanitation Department worker Alexander Sinton in a Kempeitai Prison, he probably wasn’t very keen to write about that time anyway. He might have used extra words to express his love for his parents , brothers and sisters, or to say something about Evelina – at this stage he probably didn’t know that Charles Winter’s letter had reached its destination – but my guess is that would have been too painful, as I don’t think he excepted to see his family again. It was obvious that Selwyn-Clarke and the others would be interrogated about the activities of those who’d been living there, and everyone had something to hide.  Who would have guessed that the middle-aged doctor would prove unbreakable under prolonged torture?

So all Thomas does is assure them he’s ‘keeping fit’ – a constant refrain in these cards – and give a brief picture of camp life that was not completely inaccurate yet certain to be passed by the censor. In fact, his comments are rather similar to those of Andrew Leiper who made the same journey from town toc amp a couple of months later:

(W)hen the banking contingent arrived at Stanley in the middle of 1943, we found a highly-organised community whose morale was high. We were told that, apart from a state of perpetual hunger and some anxiety regarding what might happen should the Americans or British mount a counter-attack on Hong Kong, life was at least bearable as long as one was sustained by the firm belief that liberation would come one day.[9]

 But my guess is that when Thomas and Evelina read the card in the peace and quiet of a post-war suburban street what came back to them was the horror of the spring and summer of 1943, the most terrifying period of their time in the dark world’s fire. Certainly when, 70 years later I read those first words – ‘We have at last been interned in Stanley…’ – my heart seems to congeal and I can feel sweat on the palms of my hands as I think about the five days that led up to that internment, the sudden panic of  the dawn raid of May 2, the agonised wait while the hospital was being searched and those arrested were undergoing interrogation, the relief when they were told they would be sent to Stanley, the continuing anxiety about what Selwyn-Clarke in particular would reveal under torture…. Yes, indeed – in this case and for this reader, the text says what it does not say.

Card 2

The next card to have arrived in Vansittart Rd. is dated May, 1943, but might have been written towards the end of June. George Gerrard’s diary for Saturday, June 26:

We have been allowed to write a 75 word postcard which I wrote on Thursday and handed it in to the C.S.[10] Office. This postcard is dated 31st May and we have been told we will be able to write a 200 word letter next month for June.

This is the only card not to give the exact date, I’ve seen one sent by fellow Bungalow D dweller Lesley Macey that also says simply ‘May 1943’, and David Tett reproduces a card sent by Lady Grayburn with the same dating.[11] Perhaps some internees thought the card should be dated ‘May 31’, others simply ‘May’. Alternatively, this might not be the misdated June card that Gerrard is referring to; but I can find no mention in either the Jones or Gerrard diaries of a card actually sent in May, so I think it’s most likely this is the June posting.

Again it’s short – 52 words in all when 75 were allowed – and written on a typewriter, the last to be so. It seems that Thomas had received no letter from home since one sent in May, 1941. I get the impression he wasn’t an assiduous letter writer, and he’d probably not replied very quickly, and the reply to the reply didn’t get through before the December 7 attack. But it must have been an additional pain to him to have to worry about the fate of his parents and siblings in the European war. Nothing, by the way, is known about any cards sent by Evelina during the war, or what communications, if any, she received from friends and relatives in Macao and Hong Kong.

But whether  the card was written in late May or towards the end of June, the situation in Thomas’s and Evelina’s minds must have been the same: continual worry about what Selwyn-Clarke might say, although probably easing somewhat if the June date is correct. Before the next surviving card was written, they were in  for a huge shock.

Card 3

The following card, dated 30/9/43 is the first to specify ‘Bungalow D, Room 1’, as the address within Stanley. It’s 70 words, counting everything, this time only a fraction short of the permitted limit. George Gerrard’s diary again:

Saturday 2nd October 1943 – Today I handed in to the C.S.O. another 75 word postcard to you. There is so little that one is allowed to say that you’ll wonder at the dearth of news in it when you receive it. However the day will come and we all hope soon, when free communication can be made.

Thomas says he’s just received a letter from his brother Wilfred, the first he’d got for two years – presumably from his brother, as he noted the arrival of a letter from his mother in his previous card. He’d obviously been told in one or both letters that he’d been sent parcels through the Red Cross. They hadn’t arrived, so he tries to stop the despatch of more, as whoever was eating the contents it wasn’t him. Sadly, this experience led to a lifetime’s prejudice against the Red Cross, in spite of the magnificent work they did in Stanley and the other Hong Kong Camps.

Either the typewriters have gone, or Thomas and Evelina couldn’t get access to one. But he does have use of a pen; things are going to get worse.

R. E. Jones also records posted a card on September 30, in his case to his wife. His diary entry gives us a sense of a normal day’s activities in Stanley, of the life out of which the cards came, as well as taking us close to a tragedy that Thomas and Evelina must have felt in some way involved in:

Thurs 30th

Painted initials for Rita. Rations by lorry again. Choir practice in Quarry 1PM. Allowance arrived. Dr Mrs Carnaval to town. Dr Talbot from gaol to Camp Hosp. Good news re food in Teia-Maru.[12] Talk with Steve[13] pm. E there too. Posted card to Marj. Read a couple of good books this month.

 Dr. Talbot had been caught smuggling money into camp after a time spent in the French Hospital for medical treatment. This led to the arrest of two senior bankers, Sir Vandeleur Grayburn and Edward Streatfield, both, like Thomas, amongst the 100 or so Allied nationals living outside camp in 1942 and early 1943. Grayburn had died of malnutrition and medical neglect in Stanley Prison (next to the Camp) on August 7, 1943. Lady Grayburn was living in Bungalow D with Thomas and Evelina. Like other released prisoners, Talbot went straight to the camp hospital, probably for general check ups and treatment for malnutrition.

And in between this card and the last the Kempeitai have come to Stanley camp and arrested 11 internees. Everyone knows they’ve been tortured, but at this stage no-one knows what’s become of them. Like almost everyone else, Thomas has personal knowledge of at least one of those internees now in Kempeitai hands: Ivan Hall, a fellow Lane, Crawford employee who, like him, played for the company bowls team.[14] He’d been arrested for his role in sending and receiving messages through the drivers of the ration truck; as Thomas was baking with rice and flour from that truck, this arrest (and that of Frederick Bradley for the same offence) must have revived the terror that would have been slowly subsiding as the weeks went by and Selwyn-Clarke was obviously refusing to incriminate anyone.

Card 4

The next card is dated 27/11/43. It seems that no October card was sent. George Gerrard:

We haven’t been able to write you since 30/9/43 but when the next repatriates go[15], we are hopeful of being allowed to write again.

Gerrard doesn’t record sending a card at the end of November, nor does Jones.

November 27 was an ordinary day in Stanley. R. E. Jones records nothing but a fine day, with a cold north east wind, the setting for the usual round of work, conversation with friends and worry about rising prices – although he was able to make use of Stanley’s well-organised social educational and cultural programme by going to choir practice.

But about a month before Thomas had undergone one of the worst days of his life: he’d been with Mrs. Florence Hyde on October 29 while her husband Charles was being beheaded on StanleyBeach – along with 32 others – for his role in the Hong Kong resistance. This is the last card from 1943, a year that changed Thomas forever.

Card 5

This is dated 15/2/44. ‘Stanley’ was crossed out on front and ‘Military ‘substituted. The Camp was renamed the Military Internment Camp on January 19, 1944, although the military didn’t take over day-to-day control until August 1.[16] This is the first card to be written in pencil, probably a sign of the deteriorating conditions in camp; when objects broke or wore out, it was hard to replace them.

‘Also getting enough food’ seems another way of saying ‘don’t waste money on sending Red Cross parcels’. The claim is particularly ironic in view of what Thomas wrote in a manuscript that was probably composed in the summer of 1946:

We produced bread until 29 January 1944. Then all flour, meat and fish to the camp finished.[17]

He repeats this claim in a letter written soon after liberation, but it’s not true. Meat did disappear (making an occasional re-appearance for unknown reasons towards the end of internment) but fish kept going for another year or so. Still, the food supply was meagre enough in 1944 and 1945, and perhaps Thomas had in mind a grim equivocation ‘enough food to just about stay alive’. Reading these words in an England that still had rationing, but in which everyone got enough food to maintain health and not go to hungry must have brought back to both Thomas and Evelina the deprivations of Stanley, and the constant fear that malnutrition would lead to illness.[18]

Thomas also writes that ‘Weather has been ideal’ : according to the Jones diary the weather that day was ‘fine, colder, cloudy’; it’d been fine but cold earlier that February, but the cloudier days were there to stay for a time. So either Thomas liked relatively cold weather or he was just filling up the space with mildly reassuring but not necessarily accurate chit-chat of a kind certain to get past the censor; probably the latter. He wasn’t the only one finding using the 25 words not quite as easy as you might expect to use up; on Feb 27 Gerrard wrote:

I wrote my February postcard of 25 words to you last week, but there is very little that we are allowed to say but I hope you receive them all right tho’ with the blockade of Hong Kong I hae my doots.

 And in the period that produced this card and the following one the old fear of the Gendarmes must have been revived. In January and February 1944 three bankers, probably living in the nearby Bungalow E, were arrested for ‘crimes’ committed during the fighting of December 1941 and the period in 1942 and early 1943 when, like Thomas and Evelina, they’d been outside camp. At least one banker and two wives were living in Bungalow D, so they would have known exactly what was happening.

Card 6

This card is dated 18/3/44. By this time the Red Cross have printed new cards with the ‘Military Internment Camp’ address. Only 25 words were allowed. Monica and Joyce were two of Thomas’s three sisters.

Gerrard wrote on March 25

I wrote my 25 word postcard to you on Thursday {March 23} and on it I said I had received your two Red Cross messages dated 8th March 1942 and 22nd March 1942 both of which have taken over two years in delivery. I received them on 23/3/44.

There’s not one word about Thomas and Evelina themselves in this card. As 1944 wore on, life was becoming a grim battle for survival, and there was very little that the censor would have allowed them to say.

Card 7


The card of 12/4/ 44 contains another warning against parcels – something of an obsession with Thomas, and a way of using up the words. The assurance that he’s ‘keeping fit’ is another standby of these cards; it was, in fact, true, in that neither Thomas nor Evelina is known to have had any serious illness by this time. Evelina needed an operation in January 1945, but that was after the last surviving card was sent.

Alexander Meredith was the Food Controller. Thomas mentions him in his British Baker article. He’s listed as a banker by profession in the CampRoll made up in early summer 1942. Presumably he sent a similar message in his own card.

R. E. Jones was practising his German, and wrote on April 14:

Ich schrieb postkarte zu die Mutter des Mariens.

(‘I wrote a postcard to Marie’s mother’.)

He seems to suggest it went on April 17. George Gerrard makes another complaint about the censorship:

Sunday 23rd April 1944 – Wrote my monthly 25 word postcard to you today. Wish we were allowed to write a proper letter and say exactly what we would like to say but of course as ‘dogs bodies’ we must conform to the Jap Military regulations.

 And  he shows us why Thomas doesn’t mention the weather:

The weather this month has been horribly wet and damp and last night there must have been a cloudburst, the rain falling in buckets.

Card 8

The final card is dated 6/8/1944 and contains 23 words, making it obvious the limit was still 25. R. E. Jones diary tells us that this card was written on a fine, hot day, one of optimism about an imminent German collapse. Thomas notes again that he’s received no letters, from his family. In a letter of October 1, 1945 he says he didn’t receive any family letters since September 1943, although one arrived in September 1945.

The next day, September 7, 1944, Florence Hyde died of bowel cancer in the camp hospital.[19] Some internees thought the real cause of death was what had happened to her husband in the previous year. Lady Mary Grayburn, in Bungalow D, Room 5, adopted her young son Michael.

That was it. No more cards arrived in Windsor, although some were undoubtedly sent. On June 2, 1945, Gerrard wrote:

I wrote another postcard to you last week the previous one being February last, but I hae me doots as to whether you’ll ever get it.

By 1945 the American submarine blockade made delivery of overseas mail unlikely. We know from Barbara Anslow’s diary that, whether or not they ever left Hong Kong, some of these postcards, written after the German surrender, got their writers into trouble:

7th JUNE

Some people had to go up hill {to explain themselves to the Japanese authorities} for putting ‘reunion soon’ or something like that on their postcards.

On August 14, 1945 news of the Japanese surrender was reported in the English papers. As the September issue of the Red Cross journal The Far East, to which Alice and Herbert subscribed, put it:

The long night is ended. The grim silence is broken. Cables are streaming in to their parents and wives from prisoners and internees announcing their release after years of captivity. Soon they themselves will follow.

But, as everyone understood, not all of them. If – and this is far from certain – the card of September 6, 1944 arrived before the end of the war, then Thomas’s family knew that he and the wife they’d never met were alive on that date, eleven long months earlier. And the anxiety that mingled with the joy must have been heightened if they got to learn of reports that the navy thought it might have to shoot its way into Hong Kong,[20] Like families all over the world, Alice, Herbert, Wilfred, Monica, Gwen, Joyce and Ivan held their breath.

The Edgar family was among the lucky ones. Some had the heartbreak of learning their loved ones had died since the last communication they’d received. The Foreign Office telegram announcing Thomas’s release has been lost, as has his first letter home; the two telegrams below merely confirmed the joyous news:

Knowing what I do – which is of course just the smallest fraction of what happened to Thomas and Evelina in those years – I can never pick up these cards without emotion – like so much else in my life, a pale reflection of the feelings experienced by Thomas and Evelina when they remembered, as readers of their own writing, the years spent in an internment camp on a southern peninsula of Hong Kong, the place the English call Stanley.

[1] Thanks to Barbara Anslow for this information:

[2]Both the letter and the article based  on it can be read at

[3] This and the diaries of R. E. Jones and Barbara Anslow can be read by members of the Yahoo Stanley Camp Group:

[5] David Tett, Prisoners in Cathay, 2007, 321.

[6] Tett, 290. Tett believes that the bankers were given the same postal rights as the Stanley internees; I think the evidence points in that direction, but isn’t yet conclusive.

[7] Tett,147.

[8] Geoffrey Emerson, Hong Kong Internment, 1973,  298.

[9] G. A. Leiper, A Yen For My Thoughts, 1983, 178.

[10] By this the internees understood Colonial Secretary and the Japanese Camp Secretary!

[11] Tett, 297.

[12] A repatriation ship that was also expected to bring Red Cross food parcels.

[13] Mr. E. Stevens, a fellow prison officer.

[14] Hongkong Daily Press, August 6, 1941, page 7.

[15] A group consisting largely of Canadians left Stanley on September 23, 1943. There were no further repatriations.

[16] George Wright-Nooth, Prisoner of the Turnip Heads, 1994, 201, 207.

[18] Franklin Gimson, Internment in Hong-Kong (sic), Ms. Ind. Ocn, S222, held at Rhodes House, Oxford, entry for Tuesday, September 21, 1943.

[20] Daily Express, August 23, 1945, page 1.


Filed under Hong Kong WW11, Stanley Camp