Tag 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 (http://gwulo.com/node/8673) 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 – http://www.hongkongwardiary.com/



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

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:

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 – http://www.npg.org.uk/collections/search/portrait/mw233947/Samuel-William-Prittie-Perry-Aldworth?LinkID=mp140738&role=sit&rNo=0

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. http://gwulo.com/node/9924


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

37Snow, 2003, 152.

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

39Tett, 2007, 291-292.

40Tett, 2007, 294.

41Snow, 2003, 141.

42King, 1988, 574.

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

44Leiper, 1982, 134.

45King, 1988, 574.

46Leiper, 1982, 117.

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

48Leiper, 1982, 141.

49Hahn, 1986 ed, 376.


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

51Leiper, 1982, 147-148.

52King, 1988, 574.

53Leiper, 1982, 150.

54Tett, 2007, 295.

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

56King, 1988, 616.

57King, 198, 617.

58King, 1988, 613-614.

59King, 1988, 617.

60King, 1988, 616-617.

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

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 https://brianedgar.wordpress.com/2013/01/07/bungalow-d-dwellers/ – 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.


[1] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zy5aaH_lzrA

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

[3] For some information about the real-life Elsa and Tommy see this thread: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/stanley_camp/message/2848

[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: http://gcemerson.com/hong_kong_internment.html

[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.

[14] http://www.walesartsreview.org/the-rice-paper-diaries-by-francesca-rhydderch/

[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] https://brianedgar.wordpress.com/2013/06/04/savage-christmas-and-the-nature-of-racism-in-old-hong-kong/ and https://brianedgar.wordpress.com/2013/02/05/gerald-hornes-race-war-1-the-eurasians/

[21] 42.

[22] 76.

[23] http://www.serenbooks.com/author/francesca-rhydderch

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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, then 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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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:  http://newspapers.nl.sg/Digitised/Article/straitstimes19370810.2.22.aspx

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

[20] Article in The Straits Times, August 19, 1937, page 8:  http://newspapers.nl.sg/Digitised/Article/straitstimes19370810.2.22.aspx

[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] Rhttp://books.google.co.uk/books?id=yHXNMZJ2WGoC&pg=PA59&lpg=PA59&dq=j.j.+paterson+hong+kong+war&source=bl&ots=6zBJJSvhn1&sig=k0-XxmUsjWWxYnaBbl8GyE0bv-8&hl=en#v=onepage&q=j.j.%20paterson%20hong%20kong%20war&f=falseide 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