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Tin Hats & Rice by Barbara Anslow

It is good to see that Barbara Anslow’s diary, plus other material from Barbara and her family, is now available in book form:

All the Stanley Camp diaries have their particular areas of focus, depending on the personality and interests of the diarist, and, happily for both the historian and the general reader, Barbara has an outgoing character and an endless fascination with people. As an account of what day-to-day life in Stanley was like for ordinary internees, this diary has no equal.


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My ‘Postmemory’ of the Hong Kong Occupation: A talk at Rome Sapienza

At the end of June I attended a conference at Rome Sapienza. The theme was ‘postmemory’ – in my case, that means my relationship to my parents’ experience of the war and the strange way in which their memories intermingled with my own.

Below is a slightly revised text of the talk. PP refers to Power Point slides, which I’m afraid the reader will have to imagine, and Word Press has taken out the footnotes as usual.


In the Dark World’s Fire: a personal-theoretical investigation of postmemory of the Japanese occupation of Hong Kong

PP Empire of the Sun

There’s a scene in Steven Spielberg’s Empire of the Sun.

PP Cadillac of the Skies

Jim, a boy prisoner based on James Ballard the author of the original novel, runs outside during a raid on the airfield next to his internment camp shouting a phrase he’s learnt from one of his American ‘protectors’, ‘P51, Cadillac of the skies’. It’s a scene Spielberg himself regarded as central, and it wasn’t the first time the film had brought me to tears, but now I became aware of something strange.

I was crying because of the resonance with my parents’ time as civilian internees in Hong Kong’s Stanley Camp and I realised that I was experiencing their experience with something stronger than empathy. In a way I couldn’t understand, those experiences felt mine as well as theirs and the tears seemed more powerful and more personal than any I’d cried during a catharsis-based psychotherapy in the early 1980s. Many years later this ‘confusion’ went still further.  Another Spielberg film, War Horse, led to crying about a time in my life when I perceived myself as the object of a lot of hatred. But soon I apparently found myself crying my father’s tears at the hatred coming from the Japanese occupiers.

How had such a strange transfer come about? Is it evidence for Cathy Caruth’s claim that trauma is by its nature belated, and that it’s only in future generations that experiencing can take place?

The Japanese attacked Hong Kong on December 8th, 1941 and my father was in charge of the Colony’s bakeries during the eighteen days of resistance. About a month after the Christmas Day surrender most British civilians were packed off to Stanley Internment Camp on a southern peninsula of the island. 

PP Stanley

But Thomas volunteered to stay uninterned, living in the occupied city, to bake bread for the hospitals, and in January 1942 he met my mother, Evelina, a Eurasian with a neutral Portuguese passport. They married in June:

PP Wedding photo

That’s Lieutenant Tanaka, a humane Japanese officer who befriended my parents. In May 1943, after the arrest of my father’s boss on spying charges, they were sent off to join the others in Stanley Camp, where they passed the rest of the war.

It’s crucial that this was very different from an experience of the Holocaust. So much so that the death rate in Stanley Camp was comparable to peace time. 

Now, ‘trauma’ is a tricky concept, but what’s common to most definitions is the idea of an experience so unpleasant and overwhelming that it defies immediate processing and leads to memory traces that make themselves felt later. My parents’ time in occupied Hong Kong was full of ongoing humiliations and deprivations. Stanley was massively over-crowded, the food was always inadequate and sometimes the rice came with weevils and mouse droppings.  There were also the kind of high impact traumas focus on which has given rise to the Bessel van Kolk and Cathy Caruth theorisation of events so overwhelming that they shut off ordinary consciousness and representation and leave an imprint of the experience burnt into the brain. A typical example of that kind of trauma: my father’s journey in quest of baking supplies, speeding through shells and shrapnel with a terrified and incompetent driver. A couple of years into the occupation he was involved in an attempt to keep a woman inside the billet so she wouldn’t see her husband being beheaded for resistance work on the beach below.

 PP Hyde

But worse than anything that happened – and a further complication of the concept ‘trauma’- was the fear of what might happen. In June 1942 my father played a role in the escape of a British soldier. To be interrogated about that would have been an unimaginable experience that he must have spent a lot of time imagining.

My mother had her own mental terrors. This passport photo is one of the few objects that survived internment:

PP passport photo

I think she must have kept her Portuguese credentials close during the period of mass rapes, mainly of Chinese women, that followed the British surrender.

Deprivation, high impact trauma, and terror about what might happen. Nevertheless, they both loved Hong Kong, and even wartime had some positive elements. In many ways activities and personal relations in Stanley Camp were more fulfilling than in pre-war society, and beneath the torpor there were new challenges and a sense that you might at any moment need all your human capacities in order to maximise chances of survival. There’s a certain nostalgia about some of the writings about Stanley that, again, takes us completely outside the world of the Holocaust, and indeed the death railway in Thailand and even other Japanese camps for civilians – significantly Ballard’s Lunghua was also one of the milder camps.

So what emerged in my parents was a complex form of memory in constant engagement with the conditions of their postwar life. They certainly didn’t seek to avoid wartime associations. When I was born in 1950 they were renting a flat next to a notorious Japanese torture chamber. Back in the UK, in 1955 my father designed a bungalow that echoed their billet in Stanley Camp, down to the parquet floor. The conscious stage of my formation of postmemory began in a house that acted as a mnemonic of the Hong Kong war.

PP Bungalow

The Kindness of Women, Ballard’s sequel to Empire of the Sun, makes it clear that in the greyness, literal and symbolic, of English life he came to long for the far eastern light of Shanghai and Lunghua, even to the extent of fantasising a return to the conditions of war through an atomic explosion. My parents remembered the traumas of the occupation in the way they did partly because in all the ennui and limitations of the 1950s they were nostalgic about a time that challenged every faculty just to survive. In the isolation of a nuclear family they were haunted by the camp’s communal living, even when that came as a bunk bed on the floor of a lounge shared with a couple they didn’t like. 

I knew my parents yearned for Hong Kong and in some ways for the life of internment so that acquired a powerful glamour for me. My mother had a music box and the tune it played I came to associate with Stanley. I learnt to turn the constant electrical hum in the air into that music, always playing somewhere above my left ear. I was, of course, seeking my own forms of escape from the greyness.

I’ve begun with that nostalgia, which was probably specific to a small percentage of settings, because of its importance in the most conscious parts of my postmemory. Although the terror, deprivation and horror experienced by British civilians in Hong Kong was not on the scale of other places it was more than enough to dominate post-war memory. I want to examine this through trying to answer the question:

How did their memory become my postmemory? How did that terror and horror come through to me? 

Like most of those who went through the occupation my parents decided not to speak much about it so as not to burden their children. But sometimes, in my father’s case, things forced their way out.  And it was the worst horrors he felt compelled to talk about – contrary to the idea that trauma resists linguistic representation. He told me about being with Mrs Hyde while her husband was executed on the beach below, alongside at least one other man he knew personally. He spoke about the way the Japanese forced the Chinese into junks and sunk them in the harbour for artillery practice. Always when he talked about this violence there was an underlying anger. It covered over his fear and it was directed both at the Japanese and at me, for not being able to understand. The only time he spoke in a different register was when he mentioned Captain Tanaka.

That was verbal transmission. Eva Hoffman tells us that the first transmission to her was not memories expressed in words, but ‘something closer to enactment of experience… the past broke through in the sounds of nightmares, the idiom of sighs and illness, of tears and (the) acute aches…’.

I was a fearful baby who sometimes wouldn’t sleep on his own, so I find that invocation of nightmares particularly resonant.  A key moment in my own understanding of the ‘idiom of illness’ came in about 1960 when I was 10. My mother had a nervous breakdown in which she spent most days lying on the sofa, stricken with headaches and suicidal thoughts. It was seen by the doctors and neurologists as a reaction to the menopause, which was of course part of the truth. But the real content of the experience – the terror of the war – was signalled clearly enough: her years of travail began the day she sat down and couldn’t stop her knees from trembling and it ended the day she sat down and her legs remained still. 

Between 1968 and 1972 I recreated their ordeal in occupied Hong Kong by building my own prison – obsessive reading for almost every waking hour which went on in its extreme form for almost exactly the duration of the occupation, three years and eight months. This was in some ways functional for someone doing a literature degree but the main purpose was to minimise the pressures of life in the late 1960s as I was unable to deal with them. After the degree, I escaped from my own prison through a nervous breakdown modelled on my mother’s, and actually found myself consulting one of the same neurologists.

I’ve described my creation of the music of Stanley and later breakdown as if they were free choices, and as an Existentialist of an extremely heretical kind I’m interested in the way some theorisations of trauma challenge the fundamental tenet of Sartre’s Being and Nothingness: no experience is so overwhelming as to deprive human consciousness of its freedom to choose its response. 

There’s an early but classic critique of Sartre’s theory of freedom by the American philosopher Vivian McGill which praises him for resisting, amongst other things, the use of trauma as cop out – he mentions Otto Rank’s idea that the personality is formed in large part by birth trauma. But McGill goes on to suggest that choices are inevitably made on the basis of our ‘psychobiological nature. Of course, Sartre denies that there’s any such thing as ‘human nature’, but both theory and my own experience put me with McGill on this issue.

I want to try to square the circle and suggest that both the original memory and the subsequent postmemory are created in a dialectic between freedom and determinism.

This is no simple dichotomy in which verbal communications leave consciousness existentially free and the kind of bodily-energetic-emotional messages described by Eva Hoffman compel a particular response. Nevertheless that type of transmission begins much earlier – my own experience suggests it begins in the womb, but in any case body messages begin at a time when the psyche is more open and more vulnerable and they don’t stop when the stories start. 

It’s in this bodily-emotional-energetic transmission that I find the most obvious limits of freedom. Sartre denies the existence of such a thing as human nature, but I believe that human subjectivity is pre-formed by evolution and one thing I’ve found about mine is that I react to the most powerful elements in my consciousness and some experiences are so powerful they leave little choice as to the form of reaction. An example. Sometimes, for no apparent reason, I’m filled with terror which, traced back, always has its origins in Japanese Hong Kong, although of course with way stations in my own life. Very early on my parents’ continuing terror forced its way into my consciousness. But at the same point at which choice was rendered impossible, freedom began. Introspection suggests that the terror is the liveliest state of my bodymind in the circumstances in which it occurs and for that reason I give consent to its reappearance, just as in the early 1970s I gave consent to various elements of unhappiness and turned them into a ‘nervous breakdown’.

So, contrary to much theorising, there are no repetitions, re-enactments or literal returns in the memory or the postmemory of trauma, only recreations, old feelings put to work in new situations in a way that can be called neither free nor determined, or both at the same time. 

In spite of all I’ve said, I do not believe that I experience my parents’ experience, that their belated traumas find their witness in my tears.

PP Stanley 1996

When I first stood in what once had been Stanley Civilian Internment Camp, a stunning location looking out over the South China Sea, I was overwhelmed with the thought that, amidst all this beauty, even if there had been nothing bad in my life except the reflection of the pain caused in this place, I would have been destroyed.

It was a comforting thought because it made so much clear, including the difference between my parents’ experience and my own. When I took on some of their memory, whether voluntarily or through being overwhelmed, it was in both cases knowing, crucially knowing, it was theirs not mine. Those tears while watching Empire of the Sun were of confusion not identification and even when I apparently cried my father’s tears at the dark world’s fire of hatred in Japanese Hong Kong I never lost the knowledge that they were his and that he had experienced the occupation not me. That’s why I could cry them.

As Marianne Hirsch and Leo Spitzer so rightly suggest in their foundational text, we must resist the equation of memory and postmemory, especially when it comes marked with the specious authenticity of tears.

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Internee Burials in Stanley Military Cemetery: A Tentative Reconstruction

For me, and I’m sure many others, the most resonant area in what was once Stanley Civilian Internment Camp is the small cemetery where the internees buried their dead  and marked their graves with stones hewn and inscribed by a Russian police officer.

The cemetery was used in the early years of the Colony to bury British military personnel and their families, most of whom had succumbed to Hong Kong’s harsh (for Europeans) climate and the diseases it brought. It had been closed for a long time by 1941, but was re-opened to house those who died in Stanley. In this post I want to try to reconstruct the way in which the internees used the space available for burials. It is important to remember that the current cemetery is enlarged, added to and modified in various ways. And what are now CWGC stone memorials were wooden crosses as late as 1953. In the immediate post-war years the small cemetery must have made an even more powerful impact on visitors.

Let’s start by orientating ourself. This is the path that leads from St Stephen’s College down into the graveyard:


Bungalow C (more of which later) is just the other side of this path. All future directions as to left/right are from the perspective of someone walking down this path from the school. That means the sea is on your right; and here’s the view back up the path from a little way down: the curved graves are Victorian, the tall stones post-war:


A little further down we see two areas containing  graves of children who died in Stanley Camp:


All of the memorials are post-war, expect for the one marking the grave of Brian Gill, which is the first of the 1942-1945 stones we’ve encountered:


Brian died tragically in a drowning accident in May 1944, which, as we shall see, means his grave is not where we would expect it. My theory is this: children who died had their graves marked with a cross not a stone, and were all buried in this area – Brian Willey, who is commemorated on the stone to the (viewer’s) left of Brian Gill died on January 24, 1942, so was probably the first internee of any age to pass – his burial at this point might have established the area as one for the internment of children. After the war, the crosses were replaced with stones, which is why Brian Gill’s is the only original marker.

These two photos of one of the children’s areas in 1945 (courtesy of the Imperial War Museum’s non- commercial licence and kindly drawn to my attention by Sandy Wynd) support this theory (and show how different the cemetery was at that time):

Cemetery 1945

Cemetery 1945 2

The photos show Juan (or possibly Duane) and Dennis Clarke, who were interned with their parents, at the grave of their brother Anthony, who died on December 14, 1942 at the age of 12 days. If the IWM account is correct, this was one of the most poignant deaths from malnutrition in the camp.

My guess is that the original plan was to bury everyone starting from Brian Willey’s grave and moving downhill, but for some reason it was decided to continue a little bit further down. This is the view from the children’s graves to what was to become the main part of the cemetery:


The memorial (the large cross on a rounded plinth) is post-war, as is the white building on the left.

These are the first adult graves (you can see the white building again):


We are now going to see graves moving generally speaking down the hill (and keeping to the left side of the path), but Charles Bond died before John Shephard, and there was never an attempt to bury people in geometrical progression. There was plenty of space (the death rate in Stanley was remarkably low), so later graves could be dug in front of earlier ones:


Grayburn was never in Stanley. He died of malnutrition in the prison next to the camp, and because his wife was an internee (sharing Bungalow D with my parents and about 20 others) he was brought to the cemetery for burial. He was head of the HSBC and well-known throughout East Asia. He had been sent to prison for trying to smuggle money into camp – he and his fellow bankers had raised millions of pounds in today’s terms for relief work all over Hong Kong. His funeral probably saw the largest ever gathering in this cemetery.

In 1944 the ‘layering’ of graves on the left side of the path continued. This one had not only a short quotation, but an unusual visual adornment:


But that’s not the only reason for examining this photo. If you look to your left and go behind the grave of William Kershaw you will see two wartime stones, one marking the grave of Sgt. White of the Volunteers, and the other that of Abdul Haq, a gunner in the Hong Kong and Singapore Royal Artillery who was killed on December 25, 1941. I think that Sergeant White was Norbert Leyburn White, who died on December 22nd.

The site of Stanley Camp had seen some of the bitterest fighting of the war. One of the things the internees had to do to make their new home livable was to find and bury the bodies that lay inside or just outside their perimeter. These are clearly the graves of two soldiers who fell in the defence of the Stanley area – the Japanese were fighting their way to Stanley Fort, where many soldiers from other units had retreated, and which would have been the centre of a ‘last stand’ if the British hadn’t surrendered. My guess is that these burials took place in late January or early February 1942 – most internees arrived on January 21. This is quite a way down the hill from the children’s graves, so it’s probable that at this early stage there was no consistent policy as to where people should be buried. I think that begins with the graves of Bond and Shephard (above).

The layering policy continued into 1945: here are two graves from that year close to one from 1944:


‘F. A. Sutton’ was better known as One Arm Sutton, a general in the Chinese army who died of malnutrition and some would say despair. Interestingly, only three British men ever became Chinese generals: the best known is Gordon of Khartoum (aka ‘Chinese Gordon’) and the other two were in Stanley (Morris ‘Two-Gun’ Cohen was repatriated with the Canadians in September 1943).

When Bungalow C was accidentally bombed by the Americans in January 1945 the victims were buried on this side:


Nevertheless, at some point in 1944 burials began to take place on the right side of the path as well:


J. S. Anderson had also been in Bungalow D with my parents, but by the time he died he had moved (there was a big change around in the Bungalow in late 1944, something that made my parents’ lives a bit easier – I’ll explain why in a future post). I think the building in the background (also visible in the next photo) was the one where the American diplomats were housed before joining their co-nationals in the June 1942 repatriation.

The right side continued to be used in 1945:


John Owen Hughes was a member of both the Legislative and Executive Councils. In the background you can see the grave of David Charles Edmondston, Grayburn’s Number 2 at the HSBC, who also died of malnutrition, about a year after his boss. Edmondston had also been part of the banker’s fund-raising effort, but in his case was imprisoned for being in contact with Consul John Reeves in Macao.

In summary, we can see that there was a general tendency to move down hill as the months went on, and to keep to the left hand side of the path. Some time in 1944 burials began on the right hand side, while continuing on the left – those on the right hand side were at roughly the same level as those on the left.

L. A. Collyer, who was in charge of Hong Kong’s mental hospital, noted in his camp diary that the graveyard was almost full by August 1945. On the face of it, there’s lots of space at different points – but I wonder if this is an illusion caused by post-war enlargements?

I’ll end with another question. This memorial to those murdered in the Christmas Day massacre at the St Stephen’s emergency hospital (which took place in another part of what was to become the camp) is to the right of the path (going downhill, as always) and close to the entrance to the College:


If it dates from the war, it is the largest structure to have been erected. But would the Japanese have allowed it, even with the uncontroversial wording? And the other stones are thought to have been pre-war markers – what was this larger one? Did it go up very soon after liberation?

Note: Those interested in the Cemetery might wish to consult Philip Cracknell’s carefully researched account of those who are buried here






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It is always necessary to say that ‘old Hong Kong’ was racist!

In a number posts on this blog I’ve presented evidence that some portraits of the racism of pre-war Hong Kong are exaggerated. In this one, for example, I show that it was NOT possible for Europeans to murder Chinese people to minimise their financial outlay after causing a car accident. And here I show that the Colony’s social life did not entail an apartheid-style separation in which  ‘Europeans’ (a rough synonym for ‘whites’ in pre-war texts) never came together with men and women of other ethnicities to relax and enjoy themselves.

In drawing attention to such matters I’ve been putting a hand on the tiller, reacting to what I perceive as the biases of my immediate predecessors. In this case I’ve been correcting what I regard as the excesses and inaccuracies of a position I’m in substantial agreement with. In the first period after the war, the endemic racism of pre-war Hong Kong tended to be ignored or downplayed by much of the work published in English. In the second period historians quite rightly emphasised that race structured, or at least influenced, almost all aspects of life. Philip Snow and Gerald Horne are two historians whose work, published in the early years of the new millennium, played an important role in bringing about this understanding, and I discuss some aspects of Dr Eddie Gosano’s eye-witness account (1997) of Hong Kong racism below.  I regard myself as in the ‘third stage’, building on and replying to those writers – not attempting to deny, disguise, or minimise racism in old Hong Kong but to describe it more precisely.

Nevertheless, an ebook has come my way which makes me realise that I shouldn’t take the advances of the ‘second stage’ for granted.

Three Years Eight Months: The Japanese Occupation by Jenny Chan and Derek Pua is published by Pacific Atrocities Education and has an introduction by Sarah Kleeb, who is connected with Toronto-based Alpha Education. This is their Mission Statement:

ALPHA Education is an educational NGO, non-profit, and registered charity in Canada that promotes a critical-historical investigation of the events of World War II in Asia. Our mission is to foster awareness of an often overlooked aspect of World War II history, in the interest of furthering the values of justice, peace, and reconciliation, both for survivors of the past and for those who shape the historical narratives of the present and future.

This is admirable, and I support these goals 100%. How far the book under discussion contributes to these aims is a question I shall consider on another occasion.

As I’ve indicated above, the matter I want to discuss in this post is different. Here is what Chan and Pua have to say about the Hong Kong that the Japanese attacked:

Under the rule of the British, Hong Kong was transformed from a series of insignificant fishing villages into a booming centre of international commerce. By the 1920s, Hong Kong was a rather urbanised city with modern style buildings on both sides of Victoria Harbor. (Location 134)

Up until this point the account of the history of Hong Kong has, although necessarily brief, been judicious. They don’t fall for the ‘barren rock’ myth but describe it  as ‘a small coastal settlement of the Qing Dynasty’ – tiny, but not completely undeveloped and part of a much greater whole whose culture it could draw from. There were, in fact, villages, markets and even schools – the authors could strengthen their account by drawing on the work of Ko Tim-keung, but given the space at their disposal, what they say is reasonable enough and I think we should still emphasise the remarkable transformation brought about under British rule (often by Chinese enterprise, of course). And the authors don’t disguise the fact that Hong Kong was filched – in the first of the ‘unequal treaties’ – in a war fought partly on behalf of opium merchants, while also mentioning that broader issues of ‘trade’ were also relevant.

So far so good; but if we have space for the up-to-date buildings of Victoria (now Central) and Kowloon then we also have space for the racism of those who ruled over them.

Both authors are, I think, partly or wholly of Chinese ethnicity, and both have links to Hong Kong, so I’m not accusing them of ignorance or of a sinister cover-up. But I think it was an error of judgement to leave out the racial realities of pre-war Hong Kong. In my view, any account that aims to introduce people to the colonial order that came to an end in December 1941 needs to at least mention this.


Because, although the Colony was not racist in every single aspect of its life, racism was prevalent enough for it to be an unavoidable daily issue for the 98% of its citizens who were Chinese, and for members of the other non-European nationalities. If we want to understand the history of the Japanese occupation we should not forget this.

Let me give two examples of that racism. The first relates to the ‘structure’ of Hong Kong life, the second is what is sometimes called ‘anecdotal evidence’.

The Hong Kong Government, for all its commitment to a modified version of ‘laissez faire’ capitalism, was inevitably a major employer of labour, and as such it operated a cynically racist pay system. Dr Eduardo Gosano, a Portuguese medic who performed heroic work during the hostilities and the first part of the occupation, left for Macao in June 1942 where he showed a different kind of courage, joining and for a period of time leading, the British Army Aid Group’s cell in the Portuguese colony. He was one of those on the BAAG Mission that left Macao for Hong Kong to carry a message to Franklin Gimson instructing him to set up a provisional British administration in the wake of the Japanese surrender.

Before the war Dr Gosano was paid significantly less than his ‘white’ colleagues, and, after the war, in spite of all his work for the British and the good intentions of many in the new Government, equal pay was not achieved before he left, with some understandable bitterness, for the USA. His autobiography, published in 1997, the year of the handover to China, was entitled Farewell to Hong Kong.

It wasn’t just the medical services that paid people according to their race.

Chief of Police in 1941 was John Pennefather-Evans, a man of the old school who believed that if a European police officer married a Chinese or Eurasian woman (the police were all male) he should lose his job.  Pennefather-Evans produced a report while in camp that explained that one reason for recruiting the  Russian police contingent in the 1930s – long before he came to Hong Kong himself – was that, as refugees, they could be paid less than other ‘whites’. Indians and Chinese, of course, were on still lower scales. Again, we need to be fair: Pennefather-Evans  recommended that non-Europeans be paid more generously after the war, although not on the same scale as ‘Europeans’, who should also be given a raise.

And what of the ‘anecdote’? It is important when analysing racism – or anything else – not to rely on such evidence, which can be used to ‘prove’ almost anything, but to offer as much statistical or analytical material as possible. Nevertheless, some stories can help us get to the heart of an issue in a way that statistical information alone cannot do.

Chemistry Professor Clifford Matthews was a science student at the University of Hong Kong before the war. Already a man of wide culture, he loved European classical music, worked behind the scenes on productions of George Bernard Shaw and enjoyed discussing the Romantic poets with friends studying the arts. As a British subject he was conscripted into the Hong Kong Volunteer Defence Force, and when war came he and his younger brother were in the largely Eurasian No. 3 Company. The Volunteers generally acquitted themselves well in the 18 day defence of Hong Kong, but many sources, including the commanding officer, Major-General Christopher Maltby, single out No. 3 Company for its unshakable determination in defending the crucial pass of Wongneichong Gap against a much larger Japanese force.

Matthews was an enthusiastic cricketer before the war, and he’d already experienced racism when he was allowed to play at, but not to join, the Hong Kong Cricket Club. At some point during the hostilities he encountered it again. He showed up at the Matilda Hospital to ask for treatment for a wound and he was given an admission form to fill in. When he returned the form with the word ‘Eurasian’ on it, he was told to seek medical help somewhere else.

That story leaps out and grabs me by the throat over seventy five years later. Of course, I too am a Eurasian and an academic, but I’m sure that’s not the only reason. To me it’s a potent reminder that even in a brief survey we should point out the racism that characterised Hong Kong society on the eve of the Japanese attack.

Note on sources:

The story of Clifford Matthew’s wartime experience is told on page 15 of Vicky Lee’s excellent Being Eurasian: Memories Across Racial Divides; Matthew’s own account of his life, which does not mention this incident, can be found in Dispersal and Renewal: Hong Kong University During The War Years.

J. P. Pennefather-Evans’s ‘Interim Report on the Hong Kong Police’ is in HKMS149 1/5 (Royal Hong Kong Police Force Historical Records) in the HK PRO.

I read Dr Gosano’s Farewell To Hong Kong at the London Imperial War Museum. It doesn’t seem to be available to purchase at the moment.






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‘One picture is worth a thousand words’ – that’s putting it too strongly, but…

This photo was taken at Cecil Carr’s housewarming party in March 1939:

Sammy Carr Party

I discussed the photo with regard to the host and some of the guests in this post.

Recently another photo taken on the same occasion was kindly sent to me by a cousin:

Housewarming March 1939

This new photo forms an interesting commentary on the vexed question of the nature of the relations between different ethnicities in ‘old Hong Kong’.

Gerald Horne’s lurid account of the ‘horrendous treatment accorded “Eurasians”‘ forms part of his attempt to show that British racial pride played an important role in fostering wartime support for the Japanese – the simple response to that claim is that the pride was real enough, but as the Japanese were, on the whole, much more arrogant and, unlike the British, murderously so, justified Chinese and Eurasian resentment at pre-war mis-treatment played little role in the history of the occupation. (The actions of the various Indian communities, where ethnic resentment worked alongside support for independence is another matter, although even here it is easy to over-estimate the extent to which Indian POWs and civilians fell for the Japanese claim to be liberating Asia from western imperialism.)

This is part of Horne’s indictment:

Henry Lethbridge, leading sociologist of prewar Hong Kong, has written that “Eurasians in a European social gathering created a climate of unease and psychological tension….”

Let’s look at the new photo again (in a different shading, for variety):

Sammy Carr Same Party

Judging by dress and appearance I think the woman seated on the sofa to the right of the viewer is Eurasian. I’m not sure about the woman on the left or the one standing. Either or both could be Eurasian – or European. But, at a minimum, we have one Eurasian woman and the Chinese man at the front (who was also in the original photo). All the other men are European: my father is standing behind the sofa, drink in one hand, the other on the shoulder of ‘Sammy’ Carr. His close friend Tommy Waller is sitting on the arm of sofa on the viewer’s right. The man on the left sofa arm and the one in between the women on the sofa have yet to be identified, although I suspect that one of them is Frederick Hall, another Lane Crawford employee who lived in the same apartment block.

Can anyone see unease in those men? Does anyone seem aware that this is ‘old Hong Kong’ and they’re meant to be obsessed with race? In fact, if we examine the one piece of white male anxiety we’ll see just how race-free this photo is.

Tommy Waller does, in fact, look a bit tense. But why? It’s nothing to do with the fact that he’s next to a Eurasian – his leg is resting easily against her arm, squashing it a little in fact. All of the muscular effort is in his upper body and it’s because he’s trying to lean in to what was about to become the photo (perhaps he’s also worried about falling on to the sofa). And the reason he’s leaning in rather more than he strictly needs to is that the scene has been very carefully composed. If he were sitting more naturally the gap between his shoulder and the edge of the photo would be much smaller than on the other side, and part of his upper body needs to be behind the seated woman’s so as to balance the situation at the other end of the sofa and to stop him appearing separate from the rest of the group:

Housewarming March 1939

Everyone is positioned so that as much of their body is visible as possible while the whole ensemble maintains a dynamic symmetry – not perfect, because that would look wooden as well as leading to some people being unnecessarily obscured. To take one example: move the man seated on the floor along a bit so that his position lines up with that of the woman between my father and Sammy Carr and you not only obscure the man behind him but you create an artificial ‘perfection’ of alignment that detracts from the liveliness of the scene. I’m sure this photo was taken either by a professional (and therefore probably Chinese) photographer or by a talented amateur.

In either case, the total effect has been carefully planned. And it’s obvious that gender is one of the ‘building blocks’ of that plan. The women form a pleasing triangle, and have been carefully placed so no two men are next to each other. But what about race?

Sammy Carr Same Party

It’s hard to be certain until the ethnicity of all the women has been established, but, if race is a ‘building block’ at all, it is so to a rather trivial extent.

The centre of both the photo and the group falls between the heads of the man on the sofa and the woman standing behind. The man is certainly ‘white’ but if the woman isn’t then race really isn’t a factor. True, the Chinese man is seated on the floor, lower than everyone else, but in the other photo he’s also on the floor and next to him is the host ‘Sammy’ Carr. And any idea that he’s being humbled by the placing is taken away by the fact that he’s the only one making an expansive gesture in which his arm moves away from his body. That gesture, inviting the viewer into the photo, is just a much the centre of the scene as the man and woman already referred to.

Perhaps the role played by race in composing the picture is down to the fact that the photographer was Chinese or Eurasian? That’s certainly possible, but even if that was the case, everybody in the photo had to agree to do what they were asked.

Of course, one photo proves little, but it is enough to cast further doubt in my mind about some representations of the racism of pre-war Hong Kong (and not just Gerald Horne’s). That picture, though needs to shaded, not jettisoned. Other photos in my father’s pre-war archive show more typical interactions between Europeans and Chinese. I’ll discuss these in a future post in which I tackle the question of Hong Kong racism head on.







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What Strange Force?

Some time later in the 1940s my parents found themselves tracking their wartime experiences.

They went to live in Happy Valley at 79 Wongneichong Road (my mother’s spelling, which seems to reflect contemporary practice – now it’s Wong Nai Chung Road). This was either next door to, or one or two buildings away from, Le Calvaire, a convent run by French nuns:


As readers of this blog will know, they sent the most terrifying period of the occupation in one of the buildings in the compound of St Paul’s Hospital in Causeway Bay – also known as the French Hospital because it was run by the same order of nuns as Le Calvaire.

The Convent had been taken over by the Kempeitai (‘the Japanese Gestapo’) at the start of the occupation, and they had  begun torturing Chinese prisoners there while the building was still being converted to its sinister new use. The prison that they created at Le Calvaire was the ‘black hole’ where the bankers Sir Vandeleur Grayburn and Edward Streatfield were held after their arrest in April 1943. Other inmates were journalist Cyril Faure and Harry Ching, the former editor of the South China Morning Post, as well as innumerable Chinese prisoners, generally treated worse than the Europeans. Some people thought this prison to be ‘foulest and most crowded’ of all those in wartime Hong Kong. Some time around September 1944 it had been knocked down and a new prison block erected in the Convent grounds.

But more significant from my parents’ point of view was another development that occurred while they were in Stanley Camp (they were interned there on May 7, 1943 in the wake of Dr Selwyn-Clarke’s arrest).

The School at the French Hospital had been forced to close by the accidental American  bombing (April 4, 1945) of the Hospital and in September 1945 plans were in place to start it up again at Le Calvaire. This means that for my parents moving next door was like returning to the situation that they’d been in during the first stage of the the war (for my father from February 1942, my mother joining him after their marriage on June 29, 1942). In fact, they might even have lived in the school building at St Paul’s: that’s certainly where my father was billeted alongside three fellow bakers when he was single.

How close was Number 79 to the Convent? Unfortunately that’s impossible to ascertain. The current neighbour is a restaurant that wasn’t there in the late 1940s:


Number 79 itself is definitely a modern building:


In fact, when I sent my photos of that part of the pavement to David Bellis of Gwulo, one of the leading authorities on Hong Kong’s streets, he was sure that all of the buildings were too recent to have been the one my parents lived in.

There can be no doubt that they were close to the Convent, though. And in October 1950 they went up the road from Happy Valley to Causeway Bay and back to the French Hospital itself. Surrounded by nuns (‘Push, Mrs Edgar, push!’) some of whom she’d almost certainly known during the occupation, she gave birth to her first child in the now demolished maternity section.


Chapel of Christ the King at St Paul’s Hospital, where my mother and the nuns of the Convent would have attended services led by the Jesuit Fr Gallagher.

Today the conventional wisdom is that everybody should seek to ‘move on’ from traumatic experiences. Most people felt the same after the war, but some strange force inside my parents knew better and impelled them to stay close – in this case literally – to the dreadful experiences they’d been through. When they returned to England in the early 1950s they lived with my grandparents, and then in a flat provided by the NAAFI. As soon as they were able to buy a place of their own, my father designed a bungalow which strikingly resembled the one they’d lived in for over two years in Stanley Camp.

They remained there until his death in 1985.

That strange force was still present on his death bed and powered his last act as himself: after spending two days in morphine-induced sleep he suddenly woke and, ignoring my brother and myself, looked with full consciousness at my mother and invited her one last time into the relationship that had begun in the early days of the Japanese occupation. The lucidity of his gaze shone from a spirit that had finally comprehended the deprivation, fear and horror of those unimaginable years. One could say, I suppose, that he had moved on.


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Did Charles Hyde Fool The Japanese?

I learnt a little about Hyde’s case whilst in prison, and we all came to the conclusion that he had been tortured several times and finally “broken”. Apparently, towards the end, he “came clean” on the understanding that he was to be set free and thus involved D. C. E. {David Charles Edmondston, the HKSBC number 2} and the rest of us. Hyde on several occasions had advised others to come clean and told them that it was the only thing to do.

Hugo Foy, Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation, arrested January 1944

The case of resistance agent Charles Hyde is further evidence for historian Tony Banham’s suggestion that the Hong Kong war archive is a particularly difficult and confusing one.

The evidence that Hyde confessed under torture and implicated others seems overwhelming. As the initial quotation from his fellow banker Hugo Foy shows, many of the British prisoners thought so. He’d told a number of others that there was nothing for it but to ‘come clean’ so it would seem highly likely he did so himself.

It wasn’t just the British prisoners who thought that Hyde had broken. The Canadian Thomas Monaghan, who was arrested on May 24, 1943 for his work in organising escapes from Hong Kong, told Boris Pasco he blamed Hyde for his ordeal. The Hong Kong Eurasian Rudi Choy, a resistance agent who moved between Hong Kong and Macau, also believed that Hyde was responsible for his arrest.

In fact, as we’ve seen, Hugo Foy even thought that Hyde had named others on the understanding that he himself would be freed. Similar reports reached the British Army Aid Group – a British-led resistance group based in Free China. On August 19, 1943 they noted that an informant claimed that Hyde had ‘let out everything’, while in March 1944 a different informant told them that he had been imprisoned alongside Hyde in the previous year and was frequently asked by the Japanese to confirm what the banker had said. This informant provides a detailed and generally accurate picture of the situation, and there is no reason to doubt his claim that Hyde’s ‘nerves had gone to pieces’ after severe torture. Dr. Selwyn-Clarke, who was also imprisoned in the former Supreme Court building at this time, tells us that Hyde was an extravert, and that life in prison was particularly hard for him to bear – the doctor opined that he almost found his eventual execution a release.

So, as well as the reports to the BAAG, we have three prisoners who believed that Hyde had given their names to the Japanese. The two survivors, Foy and Choy, both suggest that Hyde had told everything he knew to his tormentors, Foy adding that this was the general opinion of the banker-prisoners, some of whom had heard Hyde advise others to ‘come clean’. Any historian would be justified in stating as a fact that Hyde was broken by torture and told his interrogators all they wanted to know. As policeman George Wright-Nooth, a Stanley internee who avoided arrest and interrogation by a whisper, tells us, no-one should blame anyone who broke under Japanese torture, and even those they implicated took a generally forgiving attitude. Nevertheless it is of course the duty of the historian to establish the facts insofar as that is possible, and as I’ve known about Charles Hyde since childhood I felt impelled to try to do so in this case. My father rarely spoke about his time in the Hong Kong war, but he did tell me how dreadful it was to be with Mrs Eileen Hyde on October 29, 1943 while her husband was being beheaded – alongside 32 other BAAG agents including Thomas Monaghan- close to the beach beneath Stanley Camp.

And strangely enough this apparently conclusive set of testimonies starts to crumble to bits on closer examination. In fact, the evidence is better explained by another hypothesis: Hyde avoided betraying anyone and managed to fool the enemy into believing he was ‘coming clean’ when, like other prisoners, he was careful to tell them only what they already knew. However, I shall show that this hypothesis is also open to doubt.

If Hyde told all, who did he get arrested? He was involved in almost every illicit activity, humanitarian and military, so if he had been broken, mass arrests would have been inevitable.

One arrest he was certainly responsible for was that of the Russian bookseller Boris Pasco, but that was by accident. Pasco put down his imprisonment to a remark of Hyde’s that was misinterpreted by his interrogators. Perhaps Hyde was careless, perhaps he wasn’t, but Pasco does not suggest that he was deliberately betrayed by Hyde. He was, by the way, ‘guilty’ of allowing his bookshop to be used by the resistance, but he doesn’t seem, to have been tortured and was released after about two weeks, so it seems that he was able to talk himself out of the situation.

Pasco’s arrest is the only one certain to have been brought about by Hyde.

The banker was ‘running’ two other agents, the American Chester Bennett and the Portuguese solicitor Marcus da Silva. Both were arrested on May 14, 1943: the most likely date for Hyde being taken is April 29, so this might seem to fit in with the belief that he was giving names.

But Marcus da Silva was released after a month or two, in complex and unclear circumstances, and escaped to Macao in November – this was after Hyde’s execution so he could not have betrayed da Silva or he obviously would not have been freed or would have been re-arrested before he could leave. After the war, da Silva investigated as carefully as he could the fate of his friend and fellow spy Chester Bennett, and he told the American reporter Hal Boyle that Bennett had been unbreakable – he incriminated nobody and admitted nothing. Usually the Japanese did not like to execute ‘whites’ without a confession, but some new Gendarmes from Japan wanted Bennett dead even though they could only prove he had been sending money into Stanley illegally, an offence which should have got him a spell in prison. So Hyde did not betray Bennett either – if he had done, the Japanese would have had no doubts that he was a spy. This means that, at the very least, Hyde did not ‘come clean’ or ‘let out everything’.

As we’ve seen Hugo Foy, believed Hyde had been responsible for the arrest of David Edmondston, who died in prison in August 1944 while serving ten years for spying. But Edmondston himself told fellow banker Andrew Leiper that he’d been caught because of his correspondence with Consul John Reeves in Macao – the Embassy was constantly watched by spies and security was not always tight anyway. It seems that Rudy Choy was also caught through his contacts with Reeves. Leo d’Alamada e Castro was arrested after being seen by a Gendarme going into the Consulate, and he believed that Choy was taken for that reason too. Another resistance agent, Wu Wai, made the same claim. Eventually the BAAG became so concerned at the ‘leakiness’ of the Consulate that they established their own organisation in Macao, separate from Reeves, and warned those who worked for it to stay away.

What of Foy’s claim that he himself was one of those arrested because of Hyde? That’s most unlikely to be true. Foy wasn’t taken into custody until January 11, 1944 more than two months after Hyde’s death. Andrew Leiper and two other bankers were arrested about the same time, probably as a result of information discovered during a Kempeitai campaign against Portuguese bankers. Earlier in the war, while still un-interned, Foy had been involved in illegal radio-listening with some Portuguese colleagues, and this might well have been the cause of his arrest. It’s true that the Japanese interrogators knew about his illegal fund-raising, but there were many people other than Hyde who could have told them about that, and, in any case, others involved in the bankers’ illegal operation like George Lyon-Mackenzie were never arrested. Selwyn-Clarke’s assistant Frank Angus was the enterprise’s accountant, and he wasn’t arrested even after his boss was taken on May 2 (or, if he was, he was released to go into Stanley on May 7). This means that as Edmondston and Foy were probably suspected for other reasons, not a single one of the bankers and those who worked with them suffered for their humanitarian work because of Hyde (Grayburn and a colleague were arrested on their own confession more than a month before Hyde.)

That leaves Thomas Monaghan, who definitely believed that Hyde was responsible for his arrest.

Monaghan was taken on the same day as Edmondston and Choy – although that doesn’t prove the reason was the same, it certainly establishes that possibility, and, as we have seen, the most likely cause of the arrest of the other two men was their contact with the Macau Consulate. Boris Pasco heard Monaghan being tortured a day or two after his arrest, and heard someone screaming at him, ‘Will you speak, will you tell?’. Pasco had to be careful not to seem to be listening too carefully, but he thought the interrogators were asking about the British Consul – more evidence it was not Hyde who betrayed him.

Bearing all this in mind, I was about to publish a version of this post that was reasonably confident in the claim that Hyde had betrayed no-one. Then an incident occurred that reminded me of of something that the historian Anne Ozorio has often emphasised: make sure you use as many archives as possible. On a completely unrelated quest, I was looking through some documents I’d photographed last year in the Swiss Federal Archive in Berne. These are mainly diplomatic and administrative records, and I certainly would not have expected them to cast any light on the grim events I’ve been discussing.

After a bit of diplomatic to-and-froing the Swiss minister in Tokyo, Camille Gorgé, was designated as the representative of the ‘Protecting Power’ in charge of looking after British interests in the territories conquered by Japan. Gorgé was asked by the British to look into the cases of the people arrested in 1943, and in March 1945 he reported that the Japanese had informed him that Monaghan’s arrest was on account of his work organising escapes: if Hyde had told the Japanese anything, it would have been about that, as he had helped Monaghan find candidates for a February 1943 escape. Of course, Monaghan might have just as well have told the Japanese himself: if he knew that none of the people who helped him were in any danger, then it would have been a reasonable thing to do, as the escapers were long gone, and like everyone else, he tried to find things to tell the Japanese that would not lead to further arrests.

Nevertheless, there is a real possibility that Hyde was involved in Monaghan’s arrest. A further small pointer is the timing of the one arrest we have no reason to doubt was down to him: Boris Pasco was taken into custody on the same day as Monaghan.

But even if Hyde did reveal details of Monaghan’s escape work, that’s a long way from having ‘come clean’. Why then did he give that advice to his colleagues? We must remember that there were spies in almost every cell that held political prisoners, so Hyde could have relied on word of what he said getting back to his interrogators. It’s possible that he was trying to fool the Japanese into thinking that he had no more left to tell them, an obviously sensible strategy.

So, in summary, my answer to the question in the title is, ‘Yes, to an extent at least’. I do think it possible that Hyde named Monaghan, although as we have seen, that’s far from certain. What is certain is that he didn’t tell anything like all he knew. And it’s likely that others like Choy and Foy who believed he was responsible for their arrest were wrong.

Once again the Hong Kong war archive shows it’s complex and contradictory nature. And yields the possibility that Hyde went to his death on that dreadful day in late October 1943 with at least the consolation of knowing that he’d completely fooled his tormentors.



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