Sunday, 25 November 2018

Gaston Marie Raoul de Sercey: A Free Frenchman in Occupied Hong Kong

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]

[1]hthttp://gw2.geneanet.org/jlbussiere?lang=fr;pz=jean+pierre+romain;nz=bussiere;ocz=0;
[2] http://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/009658281
[3]http://gw2.geneanet.org/jlbussiere?lang=fr;pz=jean+pierre+romain;nz=bussiere;ocz=0;p=raoul+gaston+marie+raoul;n=de+sercey
[4] Ride Papers, 9/3/58.
[5] Ride Papers, 9/3/58.
[6]http://www.france-libre.net/temoignages-documents/temoignages/comite-hk-arnulphy.php
[7] http://brianedgar.wordpress.com/2012/06/01/louis-reynaud/

[8] http://francehongkong.blogspot.co.uk/2008/10/la-rsistance-passive-du-consul-reynaud.html

http://www.france-libre.net/temoignages-documents/temoignages/comite-hk-arnulphy.php
[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.
[12] http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=yHXNMZJ2WGoC&pg=PA317&lpg=PA317&dq=jardine+matheson+history+thistle+henry+lo&source=bl&ots=6zBKARsmk0&sig=9n_98NbEDwhG8N0_xMBMnPTidw0&hl=en#v=onepage&q=war&f=false
[13] http://brianedgar.wordpress.com/2012/06/08/guaranteeing-out-3-the-evidence-of-greg-lecks-captives-of-empire/

[14] See http://brianedgar.wordpress.com/2012/05/28/guaranteeing-out-the-evidence-of-the-maryknoll-diary/

[15] Ride Papers, 11/38/43.
[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.
[21] http://newspapers-stg.nl.sg/Digitised/Article/straitstimes19480116.2.20.2.aspx
[22] http://internationaldevelopmentshould.com/category/data-based-analyses/

https://docs.google.com/viewer?a=v&q=cache:kxv-M08e2TIJ:www.unescap.org/EDC/English/AnnualReports/1947(1and2).pdf+&hl=en&gl=uk&pid=bl&srcid=ADGEESigXuDWMr6Vui7QPZMAk1Kc4OseHW_BxUsmuvH30JHWllbbJoFPMFnUFiuvltbAOrAKAFdSnMkWz4XObdxs3-8nuhrlaa1qtNDIyv3LTpv7uQavDFdqIMCLTlVf5_EuK1rC30OH&sig=AHIEtbQZEZ79xBY8fy0hrvWrvaZ3o3VsvQ
[23] http://gw2.geneanet.org/jlbussiere?lang=fr&m=N&v=de%20SERCEY

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saint-Mand%C3%A9
[24] http://gw2.geneanet.org/jlbussiere?lang=fr;pz=jean+pierre+romain;nz=bussiere;ocz=0;p=raoul+gaston+marie+raoul;n=de+sercey

My Mother's Mistake and the memory of Trauma

Soon after Thomas’s death in January, 1985 his brother Wilfred made some notes on his life. He got in touch with Dr. Herklots and other former internees and he naturally interviewed Evelina. The date given in his notes for the couple’s entrance into Stanley can only have come from her: May 7, 1942.

It is, in fact, wrong: cast-iron documentary evidence shows that they stayed in town until spring 1943. The May 7 is almost certainly correct, though, and it couldn’t have been obtained from any public domain source at the time, and none of the former internees would have been likely to have remembered it. The evidence here too is overwhelming: all of the healthy[1] people living in the French Hospital were sent into Stanley after the arrest of Selwyn-Clarke on May 2, and 18 of them arrived there on May 7.

That’s how the memory of trauma works: over the years you lose the objective shape of the experience – and Evelina was never interested in the war as history – while its subjective meaning and the huge emotions that are its legacy distribute themselves around the day, the week, the month and the year.  We remember the anniversaries but not always how many we've had.

I originally became aware that Thomas had powerful ‘memories’ that determined his life when I watched him putting up the first Christmas tree in our new Windsor home – probably in 1956, when I was six years old. (I became aware of my childhood awareness a few years ago.) Among other things, he was experiencing the Christmas Tree at the Café Wiseman on December 25, 1941,[2] when he went there with the other bakers after the surrender. No doubt there was one in the Catholic-run French Hospital too.  Christmas in Stanley was still Christmas, although trees there were for fuel not decoration.

Other ‘anniversaries’ must have mattered too, although I was never aware of them: August 30 (1945), for example, when the internees first saw Admiral Harcourt’s ships sailing to their rescue…. But the only one they ever mentioned was June 29, when they were married in St. Joseph’s. I’ve described in another post the twenty-fifth anniversary celebrations and the role played by the first anniversary plaque they were given by friends in camp.[3]

I’m not saying Thomas was remembering particular trees in the sense that he was consciously comparing the one he was putting up with its 1941 predecessor. It’s a matter of experiencing, and not at the level we usually refer to as ‘conscious’. Anyone on December 25 moves through all the Christmases that have been significant for them, and Thomas had some unusually powerful meanings for that day.

And how can a person who’s spent three years and eight months slowly starving to death not ‘remember’ this whenever they sit down to a full table, as happily most internees did once the war was over? Every time Thomas and Evelina ate a meal, they ‘remembered’ the food at Stanley, and, without saying a word, they told the story to those at the table with them, and in this way and in so many others, their ‘memories’ became mine.

[1] Some British civilians were allowed to stay there as seriously ill patients.
[2] Fr. Thomas F. Ryan. Jesuits Under Fire In The Siege Of Hong Kong, 1944, 168.
[3] http://brianedgar.wordpress.com/2011/12/16/interlude-silver-wedding-celebration-in-suburbia/

Emily Hahn as Source (1): Walking with Frankie Zung

There’s no doubt that American writer Emily Hahn is an excellent source for occupied Hong Kong, perhaps the best there is. There are three works by her in the public domain that give an unrivalled picture of conditions under the Japanese and of the lives of some of the people who experienced them. The most important text is her memoir, China To Me, published in 1944 and re-released in 1986. Also valuable is a collection of articles/stories originally published in The New Yorker, and issued in book form as Hong Kong Holiday in 1946. Finally, there are a couple of chapters in No Hurry To Get Home, first published (under a different name) in 1970.

It would be fair to say that no other individual has given us anything approaching this picture of wartime Hong Kong in the two years from the start of the hostilities in December 1941 to her departure in September 1943. However, Hahn can be misleading unless the nature of her testimony is understood, so in a series of posts I’ll offer some analysis and comment on this issue.

But what was she doing in occupied Hong Kong in the first place? Why wasn’t she tucked away on the StanleyPeninsula in the internment camp alongside her compatriots, and why didn’t she leave with them in the June 29/30 repatriation of 1942?

Hahn kept herself out of Stanley by making a dubious claim to Chinese nationality on the basis of some kind of ‘marriage’ to a former Chinese lover.[1] It’s possible she was helped in her efforts to get the Japanese to accept her as a Chinese national by the fact that her latest lover (and father of her child) Major Charles Boxer had served on secondment with the Japanese military, spoke the language fluently and had influential friends in the occupation forces. I should say at this point that allegations that Major Boxer was in some way a traitor, which have resurfaced in 2012, are nonsense. All the accounts of those who were with him in hospital (he was badly wounded during the fighting), POW camp and prison (where he was sent for his role in operating a radio) show that he was more than usually courageous, altruistic and principled. Hahn declined to take part in the American repatriation to stay in Hong Kong and  do all she could to help her wounded lover, and she accepted a place on the second (Canadian) repatriation of September 1943 because she believed that she could be of no further use.

The text that’s most likely to be misleading is Hong Kong Holiday. I want to discuss several stories from this collection, starting with one called ‘Asia For The Asiatics’[2] - the name comes from one of the anti-imperialist slogans with which the Japanese tried to rally Chinese and Indian support. The story focuses on the narrator’s encounters with a man called Frankie Zung, half Chinese and half black West Indian. Zung is pro-Japanese and a commodity trader friend called Lopez tells Hahn he writes a weekly report for the much-feared Kempeitai (Gendarmes), while Hahn thinks that he also acts as a pimp  for the occupying forces.[3] Zung is sometimes to be found hanging around Lopez’s office, where Hahn herself is a visitor; naturally she’s rather perturbed when Zung seems to threaten her with Gendarme trouble in order to extort money.[4] I’ll come back to this extortion attempt later. It’s not Hahn’s personal anxieties but her broader racial themes that have drawn historians to this story.

Frankie Zung has a ‘white’ American wife and the Japanese are so impressed that she was willing to marry someone of his ethnicity that they allow her to leave Stanley immediately they’re approached.[5] Hahn also brings out the way in which the position of people like Zung – close to the bottom of the brutal racial hierarchies of pre-war Hong Kong – improved so much under the occupiers that she could walk around town with him without exciting notice.[6]

American historian Gerald Horne discusses ‘Asia For The Asiatics’ in his 2004 book Race War!, one of the main themes of which is that the pervasive racism of the British Empire weakened its position vis-à-vis the Japanese in a number of ways.  Zung’s taking up with the conquerors because of their racial policy[7] is just the kind of thing he’s looking for, and although at one point he tries to deny that Japanese attitudes and actions are the subject of the book,[8] he can’t resist also using Hahn’s account of her relations with Zung to point out the overthrow of the old racial order that took place after the defeat of British imperialism.[9] Ironically, in a book that came out too late for him to use, Philip Snow showed that the Japanese, for all their anti-British rhetoric and their studied attempts to humiliate the former masters, manifested a ‘strange respect’ for the British and treated them better in some important ways than they did the Chinese.[10]

Nevertheless, Horne is, of course, absolutely right about the all-pervasive racism of pre-war Hong Kong and he is fair in acknowledging the ways that ‘white’ attitudes changed during the war (although sadly even the shared experience of occupation and resistance didn’t wipe out all sense of superiority). Nevertheless, Horne is so eager to make his case that he often ends up weakening it, and his use of Hahn’s story is a case in point.

Horne points out that Zung’s marriage to a Euro-American would have been potentially a capital offense in North America at the time,[11] and he quotes a number of passages from the story in which Hahn criticizes the Hong Kong British for their racism, including her statement that ‘the Japanese have certainly succeeded in wiping out the color bar’. But, in line with his unfortunate tendency to quote selectively, he leaves out her clear (and obviously correct) statement that the Japanese treated the Chinese worse than the British.[12] He also omits any reference to Zung’s attempt to extort money from Hahn, or to his racial flip-flopping at the end of the story (see below). But the trouble is not just that Horne quotes selectively; he’s misunderstood the nature of the source and he shouldn’t be citing it in a straightforward way at all.

Hong Kong Holiday is written just as much according to literary and journalistic conventions as history-writing ones. Most stories are well-shaped selections from and elaborations of reality that lead up to a clear and sometimes surprising ‘point’ at the end. They straddle a number of genres: factual reportage, historiography, New Yorker writing, and the kind of short story popularised in America by O. Henry  which is sometimes said to end with a ‘sting in the tail’. A good example of this is the chapter ‘It Never Happened’, which builds up to the revelation that the main character’s account of her experiences during the hostilities – which up to then the narrator has encouraged the reader to believe to be true – is in fact a defensive formation created because of her inability to face the terrible things that happened to her. I’ll discuss this fine story in more detail in another post, because fortunately the archives of the British Army Aid Group contain an account of some of the same events told by a different hand, and comparison of the two strikingly illuminates Hahn’s methods. My point for now is that Hong Kong Holiday is very hard for a historian to work with: it is indeed based firmly on Hahn’s own experiences in wartime Hong Kong, but they’re always liable to elaboration, falsification, invention and artistic shaping. Which brings me back to Frankie Zung.

Hahn’s memoir, China To Me, is a very different kind of book: although like any piece of autobiography it needs to be interrogated carefully not trusted absolutely, it does set out at least to tell the truth pretty much as it happened.[13] A passage in this book enables us to decode some aspects of ‘Asia For The Asiatics’: the commodity broker is the well-known pre-war jockey Victor Needa, who expresses himself about the USA in similar terms to ‘Lopez’ and whose office also functions as a refuge to Hahn, and is similarly liable to visits from a man who has ‘”pull” with the gendarmes.”’[14] The trouble is this man isn’t Frankie Zung at all, but Howard Tse, who seems to have been ‘pure’ Chinese with no admixture of Jamaican: China To Me calls him a ‘plump little Chinese fellow’[15] and George Wright-Nooth just calls him ‘Chinese’. [16] He’s the one who Hahn fears might get her arrested. She thinks he’s got incriminating evidence against her and she also believes that Victor Needa is paying him ‘protection money’ to keep her out of the hands of the Kempeitai.[17] It is possible, of course, that Hahn also had a broker friend called Lopez and he too was visited by a non-Japanese man associated with the Kempeitai who posed a threat to Hahn’s freedom, but she doesn’t mention what would have been a striking coincidence in China To Me! And it sounds like the war crimes investigators wouldn’t have found it hard to track down someone like Frankie Zung, but I’ve failed to find any trace of him in the collaboration trials, or indeed any other source that so much as mentions him.

I’ll write more about both Tse and Zung in later posts, because they both feature in complicated evidential tangles, but for the moment it should be clear that no historian should discuss Frankie Zung as if he actually existed in the way Hahn says he did unless they can bring further evidence to the table. Hahn creates him as a character in a story, a story which is designed to exhibit the viciousness of British racism, and the limited success of the Japanese in opposing it, a success that turns out to be hollow even as far as it goes. The ‘twist’ is that as the war draws closer to the Allied victory that was clearly inevitable even before Hahn left Hong Kong in September 1943, Zung begins  to renege on his loyalty to the occupiers, claims to be British and rejoices in the whiteness of his new baby.[18]

Frankie Zung is probably a composite figure. I have a suspicion that his physical appearance and ethnicity are based on that of a man who escaped from Hong Kong in May 1943: if so, she may or may not have known that this man was a courageous and highly effective agent of the British resistance! Perhaps Hahn took his appearance, added Howard Tse’s Kempeitai activity and mixed them with the talk of an otherwise unrecorded pro-Japanese man of mixed ethnicity to create Frankie Zung and to make her points about race before and after the occupation. Perhaps. But at the moment I want to stress that ‘Asia For The Asiatics’ does not provide reliable evidence that anyone like Frankie Zung actually existed – except insofar as people of his ethnic background but completely different in every other way are known to have lived in wartime Hong Kong. Such evidence might emerge in the future but it’s not here yet.

Another writer, Stacilee Ford, also seems a little too accepting of Hahn’s description of her newly unremarkable strolls through the Hong Kong streets with Zung.[19] Nevertheless, she shows a welcome awareness of  the need to be 'cautious' as to the 'truthiness' of Hahn's assertions,  and her use of the story is reasonable, as she cites it as evidence that the American recognized that Japanese Hong Kong had, in some ways at least, become ‘a more open and tolerant society’,  and fits this recognition into a picture of Hahn's developing attitudes to racial issues.[20] I don’t think ‘open’ or ‘tolerant’ quite fits the bill for occupied Hong Kong, but Ford rightly confines herself to commenting on what the story tells us about the writer’s own consciousness. In fact, it probably strengthens her case that Hahn might have been inventing some of the details she provides. If so, her intention was to bring out the rebarbative racism of the old British order and to let her readers know that Japanese Hong Kong was an improvement in at least one respect – although I need to stress once more that all interpretations need to bear in mind the story’s concluding reversals.  Whether or not she came to these positions during real walks with a real individual we can’t at the moment know.

Hahn’s methods in Hong Kong Holiday will become clearer after future posts in which I’ll offer some comparisons between two or three of the stories and texts that follow more closely the conventions of purely historical writing. The trouble is Hahn’s book is such a good source – lively, well-written and packed with seemingly convincing detail – its hard not to give it more credence than it deserves. Readers might like to ponder Brian Edgar’s use of it in relation to his father:

http://brianedgar.wordpress.com/2012/10/18/how-the-bakers-started-baking-again-after-the-surrender-2-return-to-the-qing-loong/

He’s so desperate to get Hahn on board that he accepts the possibility that she might be recording things accurately, even though she contradicts a careful and convincing account by one of the main participants of how the bakers stayed out of Stanley Camp! He even rigs up a ‘composite’ theory of events in order to find a place for her testimony. Stacilee Ford’s right: a ‘troubling American woman’ indeed!

Update:
I've found a plausible real-life original for 'Frankie Zung' - a man of African-Caribbean/Chinese heritage who worked for the pre-war Health Department and whose name is not completely dissimilar. I shan't name him, as there is no definite evidence to link him with Hahn's story. However, even if we could be certain (if, for example, a letter from the author making the identification explicit were to turn up) this would not alter the basic point of my post: 'Frankie Zung' is a composite creation and conclusions based on his activities in the story must be drawn with great caution.

[1] In No Hurry To Get Home she says she told US officials she had claimed to be Eurasian. If she did tell them that my guess is it was to avoid questions as to whether she had really married a Chinese man and possible consequent immigration complications.
[2] Published in The New Yorker, June 30, 1945 - http://newyorkerfiction.com/Piece.aspx?p=6
[3] Emily Hahn, Hong Kong Holiday, 1946, 245, 249.
[4] Hahn, 1946, 256.
[5] Hahn, 1946, 248.
[6] Hahn, 1946, 251.
[7] Gerald Horne, Race War! , 2004, Kindle Edition, Location 5019.
[8] Horne, 2004, Location 118.
[9] Horne, 2004, Location 5026.
[10] See Philip Snow, The Fall of Hong Kong, 2003, 138; see also e.g. 186, 187.
[11] Horne, 2004, Location 5018
[12] Hahn,1946, 246.
[13] I think that Hahn even believed that her scandalous portrayal of Hilda Selwyn-Clarke was justified by the facts – for a good tempered corrective, see James Bertram, Beneath The Shadow, 1947, 63.
[14] Hahn, 1986, 392.
[15] Hahn, 1986, 391.
[16] Wright-Nooth, 1994, 156.
[17] Hahn, 1986, 393.
[18]Hahn, 1946, 259.
[19] https://docs.google.com/viewer?a=v&q=cache:_dxbHw9mwVEJ:www.amstudy.hku.hk/news/treatyports2011/files/staciford.pdf+&hl=en&gl=uk&pid=bl&srcid=ADGEESi1cBV402pDCOa0tNAHYLZ-DRIJmU0XkOjcJqwyMRSJlF1bieEBAOWfCTv6_kaIPQyDQfmcKigskXJWXjDAVlefWvsCblakovEZ1i_b5sUfG5YidJ2uRWLRVecM6a8eFEolg3hz&sig=AHIEtbT77iXBemY-4pDyFAw9tfUSt4mu-g

Ford’s work is available in a book called Troubling American Women.
[20]http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=tHDLKDBwvkUC&pg=PA69&lpg=PA69&dq=frankie+zung+hahn&source=bl&ots=Q2QPpRBrfa&sig=tq4Yq63wFOAkWewCka08qWzLIRQ&hl=en&sa=X&ei=dmLYULinFeXU0QWzzICQBg&ved=0CEEQ6AEwAw#v=onepage&q=frankie%20zung%20hahn&f=false

Mildred Elizabeth Constance Dibden

Mildred Dibden, was one of nine missionaries on the British Army Aid Group list of ‘Free Europeans’ (people, mainly British, who were not interned at Stanley) drawn up in late 1942.[1]
Miss Dibden was born to George Dibden and Mary Elizabeth Payne in 1905, one of nine children, although one of her sisters was the child of her mother’s previous marriage.[2] The family house near Birmingham burnt down,[3] and she was brought up by a family friend,[4] and attended a boarding school in Ramsgate.[5] Her father emigrated to Canada, and eventually her mother joined him with five of the children, leaving Mildred and three others behind.[6] I’m not a fan of psychoanalytic explanations in historical writing, but it’s very hard indeed not to see the origins of her later devoted commitment to providing a family for abandoned children in these early experiences of loss, disruption and abandonment.

She was an artistic young woman, and planned to be an art teacher, but she seems to have undergone a religious experience while listening to an evangelical preacher,[7] and decided to become a missionary instead. In 1929 she began two years of missionary training at the Bible Churchmen’s Missionary Society Bristol college. The Society was an Anglican organization, had been set up in 1922 after the Church Missionary Society split, and it represented the ‘evangelical’ grouping that believed the parent organization was drifting towards ‘theological liberalism’.[8]
The BCMS sent her to Hong Kong in 1931, but she was forced to return home after contracting malaria, which almost killed her.[9] Nevertheless, this first visit to the Colony was important, as Miss Dibden was struck by the plight of the hundreds of abandoned babies, and she decided to return to care for them. In the 1920s the Hong Kong Government, after much debate, banned the system of ‘mui tsai’, whereby, for a small fee, middle class and wealthy families acquired young girls as domestic servants.[10] Hong Kong from the start was committed to interfering as little as possible with Chinese customs, and the supporters of mui tsai claimed that it was a good way to make sure that young female children from impoverished families were guaranteed food and the possibility of later marriage, but its opponents, who claimed it was selling girls into slavery, prevailed. Whatever the merits of the ban, it meant that even more female babies were abandoned, and Miss Dibden’s work was all the more desperately needed.[11]

She returned to Hong Kong in 1936 and was given encouragement and initial financial support by Dr. Harry Lechmere Clift and his wife Winifred, who operated a medical mission in Kowloon. She started to take in abandoned babies, sheltering them in a number of different locations, including Kowloon’s Nathan Road and the small island of Cheung Chau, 10 km to the southwest of Hong Kong. On November 11, 1936, without organization or guaranteed income, she established her first major operation, the Fanling Babies Home. Most of her income came from charitable donations from Hong Kong evangelicals and supporters abroad, mainly in England and Canada.[12]

The official website of the (now defunct) Fanling Babies Home gives a picture of the Estate they moved to in 1940:

The estate, on Main Street in Fanling, was originally rented from an elderly Chinese landlord who had built {it} to accommodate his family and relatives. Thus in addition to the main house, there were two other smaller houses. Each small house had eight rooms and a kitchen. Lovely gardens surrounded the estate which also had a large yard that the kids could play in as well as many fruit trees.
The ground floor on the main house consisted of five large rooms and three smaller rooms. The upstairs contained seven bedrooms, adjoining dressing rooms and several verandas with a view of the lights of Hong Kong.
Miss Dibden moved 49 children under the age of three from Cheun{g} Chau to Fanling Babies Home in the NewTerritories. Toddlers were housed downstairs while infants were upstairs. The size of the main house easily accommodated a nursery school, dispensary, bedrooms, etc.[13]

We get a glimpse of life at the home in a memoir written by American missionary, Beth Nance:
The staff rescued abandoned babies, primarily baby girls who had been left outside somewhere to die. The organization had not been going very long, so there were no children older than four or five years old. The home was associated with our Evangelical Fraternity Mission and we sometimes visited there. (I remember going on the bus after Ancil was born. Winifred was walking by that time and she was as large as some of the three-year-olds. Winifred was always eager to have new experiences so she was a great explorer. She aroused the astonishment of these rescued little girls, who were so well-disciplined. There were some places where they did not dare to go, and some things they did not touch; but Winifred went anywhere with those little girls behind her. It reminded me of a chicken yard, where one chicken has found something and all the rest of them follow after, squawking loudly. It was fun to watch.)[14]

It seems that some of the Nance family’s congregation helped at the home:

For the young people who were newly saved, and those who were renewing their Christian experience, including the British servicemen, my husband and I wanted to have an outreach program. The young people took an interest in this place for abandoned children. In fact, at our first Christmas in China, that was one of the places we visited. Instead of having a gift-giving party for each other, the youth group gave gifts to the children. I remember a gallon jar of cod liver oil they purchased.
Mrs. Koeppen[15] helped me prepare a meal for the young people. It was a happy Christmas.[16]

They were also helped by non-religious organizations: at Christmas 1940 the St. Andrews Society of exiled Scots threw a party, ‘complete with decorated tree and Santa Claus’, for the babies.[17]
There are a number of photos of Miss Dibden that can be viewed online.[18] My favourite is one showing her with one of the girls she cared for; taken at Christmas, 1939; it speaks volumes for the quality of the relationship between her and her charges.

In the summer of 1940, Miss Dibden decided she needed help to run the Home, perhaps because of the move to the Fanling Estate. Unfortunately the Evacuation Order of June, 1940 not only decreed that ‘white’ women and children should be sent to Australia, but also forbade ‘new’ women to take up residence in the Colony. Miss Dibden applied to be allowed to bring in a young helper, Ruth Little. Perhaps this was because of that move to the Estate on Main Street, rented by the China Children’s Fund.[19]

At her tribunal, Miss Dibden explained that the Home cared for about 65 orphans or abandoned children between the ages of two days and four years. There was no committee, no council, no board and all funds were provided by sympathetic friends within the Colony. She had to take all the decisions. If war came, it would bring an increase in abandoned children. There was nobody to take her place if she fell ill, so Miss Little’s assistance was urgently needed.

The Chairman, E. H. Williams, replied that Miss Dibden should not assume her case had not been considered carefully. She had admitted Miss Little had never been resident in Hong Kong. Miss Dibden came back with:

If you think it is not advisable for Miss Little to come to Hong Kong, would you find someone for me?

Not surprisingly Mr Williams told her she shouldn’t ask such questions, and after consulting other committee members, turned down her application, saying she should be able to find someone locally to carry out the duties she’d described.[20] We need to be fair to both sides: Miss Dibden would have been well aware that the Evacuation Order was widely flouted, and that the wives of some influential men were walking around Hong Kong having got themselves registered as ‘essential’ personnel, sometimes after taking a short nursing course. On the other hand, Mr. Williams and his panel were tasked with judging on the basis of the theory and not the practice of the legislation, and could hardly say, ‘The whole thing’s a farce, do what you want’. But it’s an interesting fact that the same tribunal also turned down Helen Kennedy-Skipton’s request to be allowed to stay in Hong Kong, probably because although she claimed to be American she admitted travelling on a British passport. She stayed anyway, just as Miss Little later entered – a sympathetic official at the Colonial Secretariat allowed her in (she was a partly-trained nurse) and disposed of any talk of Miss Dibden’s own evacuation.[21]

The war began in nightmare fashion for Mildred Dibden and her staff. The Fanling Babies Home was closer than most ‘European’ institutions to the border, and Miss Dibden received an early telephone call on December 8, 1941, the day of the Japanese attack. It was another missionary, Iris Critchell who ran a girls' home next door. The police had told her that war had broken out and that they were to be ready for evacuation to Hong Kong Island.[22] She got the 35 older children and a nurse into a lorry that was sent for them,[23] but the lorry hadn’t returned for the remaining 54 infants when Japanese soldiers arrived. They were told they’d be shot if they left the premises, precious stores of milk were looted, but at first the women were unharmed. eventually groups bent on rape arrived. Miss Dibden courageously saved Ruth Little from molestation, but she was unable to do the same for the Chinese nurses and amahs. Not for want of trying. A Japanese soldier struck her across the face with a rifle butt when she tried to stop the rape of a young amah. Cots were overturned and a baby was trampled to death. [24]

Happily, the horrors of the first day were never repeated, which is not to say there was not much looting and some brutality. At one point Misses Dibden and Little and an American sent to help them (Lula Bell Hough) were tied up, led away and expected execution. At another Miss Dibden and some of the Chinese staff were brutally beaten by a Japanese sergeant, whose men had just shot the Home's dog. Everyone, English and Chinese, child, adult and baby, must have lived in constant fear, even on the relatively 'quiet' days when they weren't subjected to insult or injury.

But just before the Christmas Day surrender they found a protector in Colonel Kanamuru, who’d been put in charge of Fanling, who asked to be informed of bad behaviour by his soldiers and sent the Home rice, vegetables and cod liver oil.[25] Later he gave the women some of his own money – it turned out that his sister had received help from a missionary in Japan. Unfortunately he was transferred to the front on January 15, 1942.[26]

Miss Dibden and Miss Little were not interned and managed to keep the orphanage open throughout the war. It’s fair to point out that the Japanese usually respected the work of both protestant and catholic religious personnel, especially when they were providing material aid to the poor. But occupied Hong Kong was a dreadful place, and for Miss Dibden and her staff this meant almost four years of violence, starvation, dysentery and recurrent malaria. They refused to abandon the babies in their care, but it must have occurred to both of the Englishwomen that their lives would be easier and safer inside Stanley Camp. That Miss Dibden and Miss Little should have stayed at their post after the initial violence and continuing hardship of Japanese rule speaks unequivocally of their personal qualities; it seems they only thought about going into Stanley when it seemed it would have been in the interests of the babies for them to do so.[27]

Eventually, after a period in which she herself endured a severe beating and it seemed as if the babies in her care might starve, Miss Dibden was given a food allocation for the Home by the new Japanese civilian administration. But to get it Miss Dibden had to go once a month in person to the government offices in the old Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation Building – she couldn’t send a delegate as that would have been disrespectful.[28]

The journey was about twenty miles each way; every month she walked to the Star Ferry in Kowloon and once across the Harbour, on to the Bank, Iris Critchell and Ruth Little taking turns to accompany her, as the only alternative was lorry transport, and that was too unreliable. They return journey was mentally less anxious – they had supplies for another month – but physically more demanding as those supplies had to be carried. Eventually Miss Dibden fixed an old pram and lubricated it with peanut oil so they’d have something to bear the loads.[29]

All this took a toll on the health of the three women in charge. On July 11, 1942 they were admitted to the English ward of the French Hospital in Causeway Bay. Mildred Dibden has to be carried out of the Home on a stretcher. At the Hospital she met great kindness and the 'reassurance of being with {her} own people':

To add to the pleasure of that first night in hospital, came a tea tray from {Dr. Selwyn-Clarke}. With his wife and daughter, he was interned in the French hospital on the floor above. Tea with toast and butter. What could be more delicious? was it possible that within six short months such luxury would bring tears to the eyes?[30]

Iris returned to Fanling after about two months, Ruth in the middle of September, Mildred not until November 1.

Later in the war, at a time when once again the babies faced starvation, they were helped by Dr. Arthur Woo, who gave them rice and a letter of introduction to Aw boon-haw, who’d made a fortune from the Tiger balm salve. He gave them the money to start a pig-rearing business which kept them in funds until the end of the war.[31]

After liberation in August 1945, Miss Dibden sailed to England for repatriation leave, and then returned to continue her mission in Hong Kong. However, things started to go wrong. The Estate was bought in 1946 by the Children’s Christian Fund, which took over full sponsorship and operation in 1951.[32] This gave financial stability, but it meant working in a committee structure, with some decisions taken out of her hands - she’d been used to doing everything her way. In 1952, after a trip back to England and an attempt to work things out, weakened by recurrent illness and distressed in mind, she resigned.[33] Nevertheless, in the same year, after starting again in a small way in a couple of bungalows in Ping Shan,[34] she founded a second home, Shatin Babies’ Home, run on the same principles, including an emphasis on ‘family’:

Miss Dibden ran the Home on a disciplined daily schedule which included prayers, play time and schooling. Miss Dibden maintained Shatin Babies Home through mostly local community contributions and giving from abroad. The Hong Kong government also helped by charging a nominal rent on the property.At one point, the staff consisted of a cook, gardener, several nurse girls, eight amahs and four women teachers.[35]

In 1966 Miss Dibden decided to bring her work in the Shatin Babies Home to an end; the Cultural Revolution had spread to Hong Kong and there had been rioting against proposed Star Ferry fare increases; she rightly feared that there was worse to come, and dreaded a replay of her hideous experiences of the war if Chinese troops crossed the border.[36] After some 50 children had been adopted abroad, she returned to England on August 23, bringing with her 25 Chinese people with her: 21 girl, two boys and a married woman and her husband who was to be cook and handyman.[37] They went to live in Southsea, close to Portsmouth. She continued to raise funds for Hong Kong’s abandoned children.

The Supplement to the London Gazette for June 14, 1966 announced she’d been awarded the MBE for her services to Hong Kong’s deprived children.Mildred Dibden retired to Tunbridge Wells in 1975, and she died in a care home there in 1987.[38] There are a number of testimonies on the internet to the continuing value of the work she and her successors carried out.[39]

The work of Christian missionaries in China has always been controversial: there was already a debate about its value in late Victorian Britain,[40] and historian Jason Wordie, in an otherwise valuable article,[41] is wrong to dismiss criticism by the tired manoeuvre of putting it down to ‘political correctness’ or to simplistic anti-religious prejudice. My own view is that the good done by the missionaries, who in the nineteenth century and beyond provided China with much of what was available there in the way of western medicine, far outweighed the harm. At their best, they showed a self-sacrificial commitment to helping the poorest members of a generally impoverished population in practical and important ways.

That best is shown by Mildred Dibden.
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[1] http://brianedgar.wordpress.com/2012/05/24/some-notes-on-the-baag-uninterned-lists-1/
[2] http://boards.ancestry.co.uk/thread.aspx?mv=flat&m=1&p=surnames.dibden
[3] Jill Doggett, The Yip Family of Amah Rock, (1969), 1982, 8. This biography was obviously written with Miss Dibden’s help and with access to her diary, which includes the war years.
[4] http://www.fanlingbabies.com/fanling_babies_home_007.htm
[5] Doggett, 1982, 10
[6] Doggett, 1982, 18.
[7] Doggett, 1982, 20.
[8] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crosslinks
[9] http://www.fanlingbabies.com/fanling_babies_home_007.htm
[10] My mother’s tea-merchant father in Macao bought one such girl. ‘We treated her well,’ she told me, not necessarily correctly.
[11] http://www.scmp.com/article/691603/out-and-about
[12] http://www.fanlingbabies.com/fanling_babies_home_002.htm
[13] http://www.fanlingbabies.com/fanling_babies_home_002.htm
[14] http://www.bethnance.com/index.php
[15] ‘A German refugee from Ukraine, by way of Manchuria and Shanghai’ – http://www.bethnance.com/index.php. She moved to Australia in 1950 – http://trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/article/99820229
[16] http://www.bethnance.com/index.php
[17] Hong Kong Daily Press, January 1, 1941, page 6.
[18] http://search.ancestry.com/cgi-bin/sse.dll?gl=ROOT_CATEGORY&rank=1&new=1&so=3&MSAV=1&msT=1&gss=ms_r_f-2_s&gsfn=Elizabeth&gsln=Dibden&msbdy=&msbpn__ftp=&msddy=&msdpn__ftp=&cpxt=0&catBucket=p&uidh=000&cp=0
[19] http://www.fanlingbabies.com/fanling_babies_home_002.htm
[20] Hong Kong Sunday Herald, October 27, 1940, page 4.
[21] Doggett, 1982, 134-135.
[22] Doggett, 1982, 139.
[23] Doggett, 1982, 140.
[24] Doggett, 1982, 143-144.
[25] Doggett, 1982, 159-160.
[26] Doggett, 1982, 165-166.
[27] E.g. Doggett, 1982, 172-173.
[28] Doggett, 1982, 175.
[29] Doggett, 1982, 175-176.
[30] Doggett, 1982, 178.
[31] Doggett, 1982, 182-184.
[32] http://www.fanlingbabies.com/fanling_babies_home_002.htm
[33] Doggett, 1982, 209-216.
[34] Doggett, 182, 218.
[35] http://www.fanlingbabies.com/fanling_babies_home_006.htm
[36] Doggett, 1982, 234.
[37] Doggett, 1982, 236.
[38] London Gazette, March 10, 1988.
[39] http://www.caawr.com/adoptee-stories/; http://www.hkadopteesnetwork.com/uk/news-blog/a-london-day-out-april-2011-reunion/ For a touching attempt at reunion, see http://boards.ancestry.co.uk/surnames.dibden/1.2.5.2.2.2.1.1/mb.ashx
[40] See Susan Schoenbauer Thurin’s essay on Alicia Little in Douglas Kerr and Julia Koehn, A Century of Travels In China, 2007, (e.g. Kindle Edition, Location 2788). Christopher Isherwood’s often negative attitude to missionaries in the account he and W. H. Auden wrote of their 1938 visit to China, Journey to a War, takes the debate into the period we’re under discussion, and it’s evident in the sometimes polarised accounts of missionaries and priests in Stanley to be found in the internee memoirs.
[41] http://www.scmp.com/article/691603/out-and-about

Thursday, 22 November 2018

William Empson in Kunming and some notes on 'Aubade'

I'm republishing a post from a now defunct blog on the poet and critic William Empson. My excuse for this is discovering that on March 4, 1947 my parents and the Empson family departed from Southampton on the same ship (the Strathmore).  My parents were returning to Hong Kong after a much delayed 'long leave' for my father - he hoped to get back home with his new wife in October 1945 but the liberated Colony's need for bread kept him in Hong Kong until August 1946. William Empson, Hester his wife, and their sons William (Jr.) and Jacobus were going all the way to Shanghai - Empson was resuming a career in Chinese universities that had been interrupted by the war and that was to lead to his being one of the few Europeans in China in the early years of communist rule after 1949. 

I wrote this post a few years ago after I'd followed in Empson's footsteps by taking a teaching job in Kunming. Discovering the Strathmore's manifest on Ancestry.com (my father's name stands directly before the Empsons) has inspired me to republish it.

William Empson was a fine although usually obscure poet, but he’s probably best known for his literary criticism, particularly the extremely influential Seven Types of Ambiguity.  One of the nice things about being offered a job in Kunming (Yunnan Province, south west China) in 2007 was being able to think of myself as following in his giant footsteps.

Early in 1937 Empson was offered a three year post teaching at the Beijing National University. While he was making the final preparations for his journey, he heard news of the outbreak of war between China and Japan. He decided to go anyway. He took the Trans-Siberian to Beijing, linking up there with his old Cambridge supervisor, the distinguished critic I. A. Richards, and his wife Dorothea.

On 27th November 2007 I was guided around some sights associated with Empson’s stay in Kunming by four graduate students.Empson’s University was forced to flee Beijing because of the Japanese desire to crush any independent intellectual life in China. In August 1938 it ended up in Kunming, the capital of Yunnan, where it stayed until 1946.

On its way down the National University amalgamated with the other great Beijing University, Qing Hua (where Richards had been visiting professor) and with Nankai University to form The National South West Associated University (Lianda).

The main campus of Lianda is now used by Yunnan Normal University (a ‘Normal’ University trains teachers.)

The Normal University has preserved this hut as a memorial to the students and teachers of Lianda…



…who, in conditions that British people of my generation can hardly begin to imagine, carried on the intellectual life in China as an act of deliberate defiance of the Japanese invasion and all it stood for:
These people taught and studied with very few books, harassed by Japanese bombs and with almost nothing in the way of material comfort. Empson voluntarily shared their deprivations, teaching English poetry almost entirely from memory, sleeping on first arrival in Kunming on a blackboard stretched between trestles, and voluntarily accepting a big cut in his salary in line with the sacrifices of his Chinese colleagues.

Empson quickly abandoned his blackboard for lodgings at 78, Bei Men Road. Although he was a well-known hater of Christianity, by a nice irony he lodged in buildings owned by a missionary society. Number 78 seems to have been demolished but the similar Number 68 remains.This restaurant’s the part of Number 68 that’s in the best repair.



My guides managed to get me permission to go up to the balcony:



No doubt Empson often stood on a similar balcony looking down on Bei Men Street.

We found a quiet spot near the ghost of Number 78, and I gave a short talk on Empson and Richards in China, followed by a reading of his poem ‘Aubade’. I’ve read many works of literature at places associated with the writer, but this was one of the two occasions I’ve found most moving: the other was reading ‘The Force That Through The Green Fuse Drives The Flower’ at the grave of Empson’s friend Dylan Thomas.

‘Aubade’ is a poem about Empson’s early-1930s affair with a Japanese girl called Haru. (Empson taught in Japan between 1931 and 1934.) It touches on the difficulties of cross-cultural relationships (‘the language problem, but you have to try’) and the problems posed by the coming war in Asia, which already seemed unavoidable.

Empson remains – and will almost certainly always remain – the greatest ever foreign teacher of English in China. Those of us who have done the job in unimaginably easier conditions should look back with admiration and sometimes astonishment at this great pioneer.

Note. Those who want the best account of his time in Kunming should consult John Haffenden’s excellent biography, William Empson, Volume 1: Among the Mandarins.

Some notes on ‘Aubade’

This is probably Empson’s best poem – it’s not as difficult as some of his earlier work but is full of his famous ‘ambiguity’. It was written in Tokyo in about 1933, published in a journal in 1937 and then printed in the slightly shorter version given here in his second book of verse The Gathering Storm (1940).

My notes offer some interpretations that are controversial – critics disagree as to many details.
The general sense is clear: Empson and his Japanese lover are woken by an earthquake, and she says she must go back to the house where she is employed as a nanny, as the child might also have been woken up. This raises for Empson the issue as to whether or not his relationship can survive: the earthquake becomes a symbol of the coming war between Britain and Japan, a war that would make his marriage to a Japanese citizen difficult or even dangerous.

I’ll give the complete poem and then the text accompanied by my notes in brackets.

Aubade

Hours before dawn we were woken by the quake.
My house was on a cliff. The thing could take
Bookloads off shelves, break bottles in a row.
Then the long pause and then the bigger shake.
It seemed the best thing to be up and go.
And far too large for my feet to step by.
I hoped that various buildings were brought low.
The heart of standing is you cannot fly.

It seemed quite safe till she got up and dressed.
The guarded tourist makes the guide the test.
Then I said The Garden? Laughing she said No.
Taxi for her and for me healthy rest.
It seemed the best thing to be up and go.
The language problem but you have to try.
Some solid ground for lying could she show?
The heart of standing is you cannot fly.

None of these deaths were her point at all.
The thing was that being woken he would bawl
And finding her not in earshot he would know.
I tried saying Half an Hour to pay this call.
It seemed the best thing to be up and go.
I slept, and blank as that I would yet lie.
Till you have seen what a threat holds below,
The heart of standing is you cannot fly.

Tell me again about Europe and her pains,
Who’s tortured by the drought, who by the rains.
Glut me with floods where only the swine can row
Who cuts his throat and let him count his gains.
It seemed the best thing to be up and go.
A bedshift flight to a Far Eastern sky.
Only the same war on a stronger toe.
The heart of standing is you cannot fly.

Tell me more quickly what I lost by this,
Or tell me with less drama what they miss
Who call no die a god for a good throw,
Who say  after two aliens had one kiss
It seemed the best thing to be up and go.
But as to risings, I can tell you why.
It is on contradiction that they grow.
It seemed the best thing to be up and go.
Up was the heartening and the strong reply.
The heart of standing is we cannot fly.

Aubade    {= dawn song. In this genre the poet laments the fact that the coming of dawn forces him and his lover to end their night of passion. The most famous example in English is in ‘Romeo and Juliet’.}

Hours before dawn we were woken by the quake. {We = Empson and his lover, a young Japanese woman who worked as a nanny for the German Ambassador in Tokyo. She should have been looking after his child, but had left the house to spend the night with Empson. Behind this line is a hidden joke: lovers in the past are meant to have asked each other, ‘Did the earth move for you, darling’ – in other words, ‘Was sex wonderful?’ The phrase became a half-joking cliché, but in this poem sex is followed by a literal earthquake}

My house was on a cliff. The thing could take
Bookloads off shelves, break bottles in a row.
Then the long pause and then the bigger shake. {Symbolically we could say that the first quake was the Japanese attack on Manchuria, the ‘bigger quake’ that Empson fears is coming is all-out war in the Far East.}

It seemed the best thing to be up and go.  {The first time we meet this refrain it has a simple and obvious meaning: as there’s an earthquake it seems best to get out of the house.}

And far too large for my feet to step by. {The quake seems to large for him to avoid the dangers it creates.}

I hoped that various buildings were brought low. {He hopes that what is bad about the old order will have been destroyed by the quake – perhaps he means specifically the headquarters of Japanese militarism.}

The heart of standing is you cannot fly. {1) This is a sexual pun: it’s hard to move fast when you have an erection! 2) It also means: maybe we should stand our ground and not try to flee the quake.}

It seemed quite safe till she got up and dressed.
The guarded tourist makes the guide the test. {The cautious tourist notices what the guide does in a new situation. Here the guide is Haru, who is much more familiar with earthquakes than Empson.)

Then I said The Garden? Laughing she said No. {Empson believes that the Japanese advice is to go into the garden when there’s a quake – Haru says it isn’t. I’ve been told of an occasion on which Empson made fun of the idea that The Garden was a nightclub – but then why the capitals? Perhaps because it's a formal Japanese garden?}

Taxi for her and for me healthy rest.{Haru says no – she’ll go back to the Ambassador’s and he should go back to bed.}

It seemed the best thing to be up and go. {Haru thinks it’s best she should leave.}

The language problem but you have to try. {Communication between people from different cultures and who speak different languages is difficult, but you have to try to overcome these difficulties – in other words, he doesn’t want her to go and he’ll confront what he suspects is the real issue: that she wants to leave his bed.}

Some solid ground for lying could she show?  {1) can she show him a safe place to lie down to get his ‘healthy rest’, given that the after-shocks of the earthquake will soon be shaking the ground? 2) what lie is she going to tell when she gets back if the Ambassador has discovered she’s missing? 3) Empson suspects she is lying to him – so why? 4) ‘can you show me  a safe place for us to have sex’ – Haffenden’s preferred interpretation.}

The heart of standing is you cannot fly.
{She should stay.}

None of these deaths were her point at all. {People regularly died in Japanese earthquakes, but Haru wasn’t worried about that possibility.}

The thing was that being woken he would bawl
And finding her not in earshot he would know. {She’s worried that the child would also have been woken by the quake and when she didn’t come in response to his tears he would know she had left the house and she’d get into trouble – this is Empson’s own explanation, but some online sources wrongly claim ‘he’ is her husband or father.}

I tried saying Half an Hour to pay this call. {He asks her to come back in half an hour – or maybe to have sex with him quickly.}

It seemed the best thing to be up and go. {But she goes.}

I slept, and blank as that I would yet lie.
Till you have seen what a threat holds below,
The heart of standing is you cannot fly.

{Three difficult lines: John Haffenden in his fine edition of Empson’s poems points out that the primary meaning of ‘threat holds below’ is ‘gap created by the earthquake’ (p.321), so the second line is something like ‘until you have assessed  the continuing threat from the earthquake’, but he acknowledges the possibility of sexual meanings too: ‘I slept without dreams and wish I could remain unconscious until you understand the nature of my sexuality which you now feel threatens you’
I think it might also mean ‘until you see if the future is really going to be as bad as you think’ – and this might be the immediate future, as Empson’s house is on a cliff and the Ambassador’s residence is presumably ‘below’ his, so the threat is of discovery and punishment for her right away, or it might mean the general future of Japan.
So ‘below’ might mean: 1) the future which is now hidden; 2) Empson’s genitals 3) the unconscious mind 4) the part of the city below the cliff ; 5) the gap created by the quake).}

Tell me again about Europe and her pains, {He now thinks back to Europe and why he left it.}

Who’s tortured by the drought, who by the rains. {Everyone there suffers some time or another.}

Glut me with floods where only the swine can row {Tell me all about the Depression, in which only those with the worst characters are prospering.}

Who cuts his throat and let him count his gains. {‘The swine’ lose out in real terms even if they make money – they kill themselves spiritually in order to make money.}

It seemed the best thing to be up and go. {It seemed best to leave Europe.}

A bedshift flight to a Far Eastern sky. {So he came to Asia – a new way of life and new lovers.}

Only the same war on a stronger toe. {But found the war he knew was coming in Europe was already present there – the Japanese attack on Manchuria began in 1931 - and 'stronger' because fighting had actually started.}

The heart of standing is you cannot fly. {So it’s a waste of time trying to flee war – you might as well stay where you are.}

Tell me more quickly what I lost by this, {What did I lose by leaving Europe?}

Or tell me with less drama what they miss {‘more quickly…with less drama’ – than in the previous rather rhetorical stanza.}

Who call no die a god for a good throw, {Die = dice; people who refuse to ‘pray’ to the dice to give them the numbers they want. This line either refers to Empson himself in which case it means ‘I have nothing to lose by being honest and accepting that a relationship with a Japanese woman won’t work’ or it refers to the British ex-pats who told Empson and other new arrivals: ‘Don’t marry a Japanese woman as we’ll be at war with Japan in ten years’. If the line refers to Empson, refusing to call the dice a god is positive – it means ‘being honest’; if it refers to the ex-pats it’s more ambiguous: ‘they’re realistic but maybe it’s good to deceive yourself in questions of love’ .
However, Haffenden likes the suggestion of another commentator that ‘die’ means sex – orgasm used to be called ‘the little death’ and ‘a good throw’ means a satisfactory sex act. The line would then mean something like ‘what do we lose if we like sex but don’t make a god out of it?}

Who say after two aliens had one kiss {Empson and Haru – technically Haru was not an ‘alien’, but the line means ‘we were always alien to each other even when kissing – perhaps because of ‘the language problem’ – the difficulty of cross-cultural relationships.}

It seemed the best thing to be up and go. {The refrain now means ‘most people would advise me to leave Haru not to marry her and perhaps they’re right’.}

But as to risings, I can tell you why.
It is on contradiction that they grow.
{Multiple ambiguity!   1) ‘male sexual desire (risings = erections) is stimulated by contradiction = cultural difference’; 2 ‘male sexual desire is stimulated by arguments’ – e.g. Haru ‘contradicting’ him as to what they should do when woken by the quake; 3) ‘In my case a sexual relationship has come out of  ‘contradiction’ of the advice not to have an affair with a Japanese woman’. 4)‘Marx was right – it is social contradictions that lead to revolutions’. The fourth meaning is a general comment on the world political situation that makes their love so precarious.}

It seemed the best thing to be up and go.
{In addition to the previous meanings the line now also means: ‘That’s why I had or at least wanted sex with Haru – ‘up’ means ‘erection’ again and ‘go’ now also suggests ‘begin sexual activity’.}

Up was the heartening and the strong reply.
The heart of standing is we cannot fly.
{Haffenden in his biography of Empson claims that this last line means that Empson decides he has to leave Haru.  This is certainly what happened in real life, but it’s hard to see how not ‘flying’ means ending the affair, so my own interpretation is different: ‘Haru agrees to sex and that means she doesn’t go home and they shouldn’t abandon their relationship’. This would mean that the ‘we’ refers to Empson and Haru. ‘Up’ would mean something like ‘have an erection because I’m ready for sex now’ or ‘her reply made me have an erection’ or even ‘my reply to all this and to Haru was to have an erection’.}

Wednesday, 21 November 2018

A Wartime Romance

I sometimes fancy trying my hand as a writer of popular romance. A short novel perhaps, or better still a film script. How about this for a scenario: Time: the ever-popular background of the Second World War. Place: the exotic and beautiful British colony (as it then was) of Hong Kong.  Action: the sirens whine, the shells whistle and crump, the fires blaze, and amid scenes of great confusion and horror the gallant defenders are overcome.

While most British civilians are suffering the fears and indignities of the defeated, a few are lucky enough to find themselves in the hands of a compassionate Japanese Army officer. He sets the bakers among them back to work, re-opening a small Chinese bakery to make bread for the hospitals. Everyone's hungry and the Colony's European population is desperate for the taste of bread; word soon gets round, and queues form - people will pay anything for a precious loaf. The bakers know that they'll be packed off somewhere much worse if they abuse their position, but one of them refuses to let his friends leave empty-handed and gives them bread for free. While his comrades are remonstrating about the danger he's putting them all in, a friend steps forward, asking for supplies not just for himself but also for his tenant, a pretty young Eurasian woman....

Everyone in Hong Kong's been at risk of sudden death from shell or bomb during the fighting, and they all know that nothing can be taken for granted in the brutal new order that's emerging. Things move fast, and the baker and the young woman are soon romantically involved.

Let’s make them an unlikely couple too, the kind who would never have got together in normal circumstances, but are thrown unexpectedly into each other’s arms by the heightened emotions of war. He's working class and as English as they come - Hampshire and Berks - while she's from  a good Macau family and has lived all her life in the south China world.

Their romancing takes place to the backdrop of Japanese soldiers patrolling the streets, tearing down the old English signs and erecting new ones, this time in the languages of the East, while all over the former Colony the message 'Asia for the Asiatics' is being drummed into a population that seems terrified at the atrocities going on all around rather than over-joyed at their liberation from British rule.  All this might lead up to a big scene in which the woman is offered the chance of returning to the safety and comfort of her neutral homeland (let’s give her some well-off friends to underline how much she’s sacrificing) but chooses to stay with her man, braving discomfort, slow starvation and the possibility of violent death at any moment.

Skip a few months and zoom into the couple marrying in church, and then standing on the steps for the group photo – the camera picks out a man in a Japanese officer’s uniform – what’s he doing there? – and then follows the couple as they walk off hand in hand, still prisoners but now at least together.

There follow three more years of terror and deprivation. Our hero and heroine, alongside the whole Allied community, are once again staring death in the face – either from starvation or massacre, but they're saved by the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, one of the most terrible events in human history. They stumble out of their prison camp, play their part in the building up of a new world, and manage to hold a difficult relationship together all the way through to the husband’s death bed.
I know, I know these days everyone - romance readers and cinema audiences alike- demand something a bit more sophisticated than that. Why, the plot’s nothing more than a bunch of old-fashioned romantic clichés, stereotyped situations, exaggerated dilemmas and unlikely outcomes.
But that, in sober fact, was the life together of Thomas Herbert Edgar and Evelina Marques d'Oliveira.

They would not have given each other a second thought before the war. They came from such different backgrounds and lived in such different worlds.

Although things were getting more liberal in Hong Kong in the three years before the war, many of the British held on to a mythical view of racial hierarchy which meant that they and the other 'Europeans' were at the top of the heap and the Chinese at the bottom - in accord with this pernicious logic, Eurasians, who at least had some ‘white’ blood, were somewhere in between,[1]but probably closer to the Chinese: the Europeans had their own schools, for example, and so did the Eurasians, but those who didn't have a place were generally educated alongside Chinese.[2] In fact:
Eurasians in a European social gathering created a climate of unease and psychological tension…Even highly educated Europeans reacted strongly against mixed marriages.[3]
Not surprising that there wasn't much socialising between ‘whites’ and Eurasians.[4]
After their victory, the Japanese published a newspaper the Hong Kong News -  a lying propaganda sheet, but one that sometimes told the truth:
 (The) Eurasian when he seeks employment is classified as a ‘native’ and is required to accept ‘native’ pay.[5]
Evelina knew this for herself: she’d come to Hong Kong to work, something that as a middle class woman she was not expected to do back home in Macao, and before the war she had various jobs in sales. Eventually she rebelled and asked her latest boss to pay her the same rates as the European staff – to his credit, he agreed, but it didn't change the system.

But race wasn't the only prejudice in pre-war Hong Kong. There was a strict class hierarchy too, with the bankers and senior government officials at the top, wealthy businessmen not far distant, and everyone else graded according to job, salary, location, accent and so on. From this point of view, Thomas was really little more than a jumped up manual worker. True, he managed the bakery for Lane, Crawford, the most prestigious Department Store in Hong Kong, but he was a hands-on baker, someone who didn’t just tell others what to do but had learnt through a tough apprenticeship to do it all himself. And anyone who cared to enquire about his family would have learnt that he was the son of a domestic servant, later a would-be theatrical landlady, and a soldier-turned-driver. This is a photo of Thomas's mother with her six children:

Evelina Marques d’Oliveira, on the other hand, came from a distinguished Macanese family. Her grandfather was a judge in Lourenco Marques, and there’s still a street named after him in Macao. Her father, Antonio, was a tea merchant, who took a Chinese wife; she died of TB when Evelina was three, and he later remarried.


Evelina’s best friends in Macao had been three Eurasian sisters, the Leitaos, daughters of a leading lawyer.  When her father moved to Foochow (Fuzhou), a centre of the tea trade on the south China coast, she was sent back to  Macao to be educated privately, probably at the elite Santa Rosa de Lima school. She spoke English and Portuguese fluently, and at some point was to become reasonably proficient in two forms of Chinese. She also acquired secretarial skills, and in many ways her written English was better than Thomas’s.

Thomas had been educated at the local state school and, although a bright boy, had to leave behind his studies and help his family’s finances by getting a job. At first he’d been a clerk in a motor company, but in 1927 - after his dreams of a boxing career ended with a knock-out - he began a three year apprenticeship at a baker’s, which meant long, unsocial hours, full of sweat and physical labour, at first working unpaid to learn his trade.
They had opposing religious beliefs too: Evelina was a Catholic, while Thomas was an enthusiastic Freemason, and therefore regarded as an enemy by the Church, a feeling which he reciprocated.

IMG_20140922_0005
Thomas on a day out at Mt. Parker in February 1940

Perhaps one thing symbolises most clearly the difference between the two worlds they’d been brought up in. The terraced house close to the river and in the flooding zone, which was all Thomas’s family could afford, was already full with him and his five brothers and sisters, but his parents still found room to cram in paying customers, actors appearing at the nearby Theatre Royal. In contrast, Evelina’s family boughta young girl as a servant under the old mui-tsai system – ‘We treated her well’, she said, many years later. This could have been true; British radicals in Hong Kong hated mui-tsai as a form of slavery, and there were indeed hideous abuses, but in many homes they were treated as part of the family – which didn’t necessarily spare them from long hours of work under a harsh discipline, of course.

You could say that Thomas and Evelina were united only by their relative disadvantages in class-conscious, race-obsessed Hong Kong. And perhaps by one other thing. Evelina was 28 when they met, 29 by the time they married. She’d had boyfriends: perhaps Horacio was one of them…

 …but she was leaving it rather late to get married according to the ideas of the time.  Thomas had been very shy when he was a boy; he sometimes used to cross the road to avoid walking too close to another person, although he’d probably got over that by the time he went to Hong Kong. Nothing is known about his relationships there though.  In any case, when his family heard the news of his marriage they were pleased for two reasons: firstly, it meant that he wouldn’t get himself killed trying to escape, and secondly that Thomas had found a woman who was willing to marry him in spite of his heavy drinking! Before the war he and two friends had been nicknamed ‘the three terrors of Hong Kong’ because of their alcohol-fuelled exploits.

 When the Japanese attacked on December 8, 1941 they were again in very different situations: Evelina’s Portuguese passport meant that she was a neutral, although no-one knew how far the Japanese would respect this. About Thomas though there was no doubt: he was an enemy and, as he was also young (28) and fit, he would be expected to play his part in the British defence.
Most able-bodied young British men had to join the Hong Kong Volunteers, a home guard with a dilettante reputation but which surprised most people by fighting with courage and distinction when the time came, but in October or November, 1938 as the Japanese war with China moved close to the Hong Kong border, Thomas received a letter telling him not to get involved in military training but to concentrate on preparing his bakery for any ‘emergency’. This was the new Lane, Crawford Bakery in Stubbs Rd, opened that year, and hailed in company adverts as the most hygienic in the Far East – disease was another Hong Kong obsession, this one with more reason.

So, almost exactly three years later, when the attack did come (December 8, 1941) Thomas was ready. The first air raid began at about 8a.m., and by that time he'd probably already left his lodgings in Broadwood Road and taken command in the Bakery. He was immediately promoted to Deputy Supply Officer Bakeries, which meant that he was in charge of most of the bakeries in Hong Kong, and he decided to start off by producing all the bread the population needed using the Lane Crawford machinery. If Stubbs Road became too dangerous, he’d prepared for production at some smaller premises in Wanchai, hoping that one or more of them would still be viable.

After the fall of the mainland on December 13 the bakery itself was in the line of fire between the Japanese and British forces. Thomas slept in the office chair, until the staff were given some camp beds. On December 19, the army field bakery in Deep Water Bay was forced to stop work, and Thomas's responsibilities increased, as he now had to try to make sure that those doing the actual fighting had bread. Those who took the loaves from the bakery to the supply points were very brave men and women indeed. Hong Kong was being constantly shelled and bombed, and, although the Japanese made some effort to avoid civilian areas, there were many casualties. They also knew that the Japanese were not always taking prisoners.There was no water from an early stage of the fighting, so special deliveries had to be made by the Fire Brigade. Eventually there was no electricity either. In spite of everything, the bread went out, as ordered.

As the Japanese moved inexorably westwards from North Point towards the Hong Kong heartland of Victoria, the bakery’s situation became untenable. When it did, on December 21, Thomas moved production to some of the smaller bakeries he’d prepared for the task. These must have been terrifying but exhilarating days for him. He could die or be painfully wounded at any moment, but at the same time he was doing his duty, no matter what, moving around, working frenetically to coax the last ounce of production out of small and old-fashioned bakeries.

Thomas, helped by RASC bakers who arrved on the 23rd after an eventful journey from the south of the island, kept the bread supply coming until December 25 - later known in Hong Kong as Black Christmas – when the defenders were forced to abandon their hopeless resistance. Like the other Lane, Crawford employees Thomas was told to report to the company headquarters at Exchange House in Victoria's Des Voeux Road, which was to become his first place of internment. He spent Christmas evening pouring away the alcohol stocked by the company's restaurant- everybody feared what was about to happen, and it would have been foolish to leave around anything that could inflame the conquerors further.

The next morning Thomas woke up to meet the new rulers of Hong Kong for the first time. He was soon to realise that he was lucky: Exchange House was under the control of a communications officer, Captain Tanaka, a fine man whose generosity has been recorded by other former prisoners.  Tanaka allowed him to go to his lodgings to get a new shirt – he’d used the one he'd been wearing to bind the wounded, and it was bitterly cold by now. In the days to come, Tanaka  gave good food to the internees, and even arranged film shows for them.

On January 5 most of the Allied civilians were assembled in squalid waterfront hotels and from there they were soon to be sent off to a large  improvised place of internment on the southern peninsula – Stanley Camp.  Captain Tanaka arranged for Thomas and his fellow bakers to stay in Exchange House and on January 9 he gave them permission to go back to work to help feed the many patients in Hong Kong’s hospitals.

Evelina had a neutral’s passport, but as a Eurasian woman she must have been terrified as the Japanese troops took over. Everyone had in their minds the possibility of mass rape and murder, as had happened after the fall of Nanking. Years later in England she'd speak about her fear of the bombs, and sometimes hide in an understairs cupboard during storms if the thunder got too loud. But there was another, more immediate problem: hunger. Food was hard to come by during those chaotic, panic-stricken days. Luckily Evelina’s landlord (probably Robert Bauder, a Swiss national who like Thomas worked for Lane, Crawford) knew someone who could probably get her something to eat….Some time in January 1942 he took her to the Ching Loong bakery in Queen' Road, where Thomas and his colleagues were at work, and the relationship began.

On February 8 Thomas was transferred to internment in St. Paul’s Hospital, generally known as the French Hospital, in Causeway Bay, but he continued to bake bread - and to see Evelina. The team of drivers who delivered this bread included an American, Charles Winter, and a Welshman Owen Evans, a man who was unlucky to have been there at all. He was a driver with the Friends Ambulance Unit based in southern China who'd been sent to Hong Kong to rest when war broke out.

It was from the French Hospital that Thomas was married on the afternoon of Sunday, June 29, 1942, a bright, sunny day. Interestingly, that was the very day that the Hong Kong Americans began their journey home. The American and Japanese governments had arranged a prisoner swap, and, while most of the other British were down at Stanley preparing to wave goodbye to their American friends, Thomas was getting ready for his wedding. Many of the people bidding farewell to the lucky repatriates had tears in their eyes, and complex emotions in their heart: sorrow at the loss of friends, happiness that for some at least of their number the ordeal would soon be over, pain that they would have to remain in captivity, and hope that their turn for release would soon come. Thomas must have felt all that, and more.

For he must have been aware that what was happening that afternoon was more than just a wedding. One of the few things from the days before the war that Evelina brought with her when, almost eight years later, she started her new life in England, was this photo, torn from an old passport:
 
Her Portuguese nationality was her only protection against the Japanese soldiers, the one thing that might save her from rape or murder if the behaviour of the victorious army in Hong Kong was anything like what it had been in Nanking.  Did Evelina seize this passport, kept in a place where she could get to it quickly, if she heard a knock at the door during those fear-filled early days of the occupation? Did she clutch it tight whenever she left the house, ready to brandish it if assailed in the street? Whatever protection her nationality gave her, she was abandoning it when she married Thomas.

The American journalist Emily Hahn was another ‘enemy’ civilian outside Stanley Camp at that time. Hahn was pretending to be Chinese, on the basis of having been one of the 'wives' of a Chinese poet. A friendly Japanese officer assured her that under Japanese law this marriage gave Hahn her husband’s Chinese nationality.  That may or may not have been true, but it’s certain that after the wedding Evelina's fate would be linked with that of the English community, most of whom were currently languishing in Stanley.

Why didn’t she just go home to Macao? Hahn tells us that it was still considered safe then[6] and the Government there invited all Macanese to return - the Japanese were happy for them to go, as it meant fewer mouths to feed. The situation there could have changed at any time of course, as the Japanese didn’t always respect Portuguese neutrality, and the Macau Government had to manoeuvre carefully to remain unoccupied. But for most people the security of peace, albeit precarious, would prove preferable to immediate danger and many Macanese took up the offer of refuge.

One factor in Evelina’s decision might have been the plight of the Portuguese refugees who were flooding Macao  in 1942; most of them were living in over-crowded accommodation and on rations if anything worse than those available in Hong Kong. But Evelina had wealthy friends in Macao. In fact, although she probably didn't know it, the youngest of the three Leitao sisters, her closest friends, also married in 1942. Clementina, a striking beauty, won the heart (it was said to be ‘love at first sight’) not of a baker but  a Hong Kong businessman who was already comfortably situated and was later to become one of the richest men in Asia. But leaving that aside, as probably not known to Evelina when she made her decision to stay in Hong Kong, she knew she could return to Macao and expect the help of the well-off and influential Leitao family. Her father, by the way was dead; he died in 1939, still relatively young, probably of liver disease.

I think the real reason that Evelina stayed in Hong Kong and married Thomas was that they were in love with each other, and she was willing to risk everything so that they could stay together. Years later, when asked why she didn't go home in 1942, she replied simply, 'It wouldn't have been right'.
But, given the decision to stay together,  why actually get married a mere 5 or 6 months after meeting? Looked at from a purely utilitarian point of view, Lena might have seemed safer keeping her Portuguese nationality and it was useful to Thomas having someone who was not considered an enemy by the Japanese. She was working and reasonably free to move around Hong Kong, buying whatever was available with any money she had. ‘Third National’ (neutral) friends like  the Swiss Robert Bauder, prominent in the wedding photo, would have been able to channel small gifts of food through Evelina without raising the suspicions of the Kempeitai (Japanese Gestapo) – some neutrals and Chinese were tortured or even executed for being too friendly to the British.

And one possible  motive can be ruled out: Thomas and Lena were determined that they would not bring a child into the world under such conditions. Evelina was a Catholic, and this ruled out contraception, even if any was attainable.

I think part of the answer lies in the apparent coincidence of the  town group of Americans starting their journey of repatriation on the morning of the wedding day. According to American reporter Gwen Dew, a small group of Americans were told on March 30th. they were being repatriated. This firmed up rumours that had been going around in February, and at the end of the month the Americans were told that all of them would be going home (Prisoner of the Japspages 140, 146). Naturally the British began pressing their leaders to try to arrange a similar prisoner swap, and for a time the ever-optimistic internees were hopeful that, as the Camp 'anthem' put it, they would soon 'sail away' to freedom; my guess is that Thomas wanted to make sure that there would be no doubt about Evelina’s right to board that so-longed for repatriation ship.

But beyond all that, I think that, once again, it was a simple case of loving each other and judging that marriage was necessary if they were to live the relationship in the way they wanted. One or both of them could die at any moment, so they wanted to spend as much time together as possible, and if the end came, they would face it together or at least married to each other.

It must also be remembered that, although Thomas would have seen plenty of examples of the brutal treatment of Chinese in Hong Kong, the British had not been badly handled since the surrender. There were rapes and massacres during and just after the fighting, but since then the British had suffered humiliation and appalling living conditions, but no worse. In fact, given the Japanese suspicion of anyone who showed the British too much friendship, it might have seemed safer to both Thomas and Evelina for her to have the same status as him. She was, after all, a recent girlfriend, and one who could reasonably be expected to go back home to Macao, so why, the  ever -suspicious Kempeitai might have reasoned, was she staying?

I wonder if Thomas and Evelina regretted their decision in the terrible months that began in February 1943?  The Kempeitai launched a campaign against the British community, one of the first acts of which was to arrest and brutally interrogate a woman who was working for Dr. Selwyn-Clarke, who was in effect Thomas's boss at the French Hospital. Before the end of the year some of the most important figures in the colony had been imprisoned, tortured and in some cases beheaded. Selwyn-Clarke himself faced months of brutal interrogation but never revealed a single thing about the illegal relief activities he'd been at the centre of. Amazingly, he survived the war.

But all that was in the future on that hot June Sunday when their marriage was blessed by Father Riganti, the Rector of St. Joseph’s, a man who had himself known internment - in his case, by the British, who'd arrested him when the Japanese attacked on the grounds that he was Italian and an Axis national.

The three pictures of the wedding that survive tell an interesting story. In the first Evelina and her friends are standing outside the church –St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Kennedy Road. The name of the man she’s with, who was presumably to later give her away, is not known:



After the ceremony, the wedding party posed on the church steps:

small wedding 001

A note on the back of one of the different—sized versions of this picture confirms that the Japanese soldier in the second row is Thomas’s old benefactor, Captain Tanaka. As Thomas was no longer under his supervision, he must have kept in touch or at least found a way of contacting the Captain, as an official request for permission to marry had to be made through him. He’s standing tactfully at the end of the second row, wanting to be clearly in the picture but not to dominate it.

Thomas seems in good shape after six months in captivity. He hasn't lost much weight yet and he's in a smart white suit with what look like good shoes.  It wasn't long after the surrender before some of the people in Stanley were trying to deal with problems caused by crumbling footwear and disintegrating clothing, while in June 1942, in the military POW camp of Shamshuipo his friends in the Hong Kong Volunteers were already suffering the torments caused by diseases of malnutrition like beri beri and 'electric feet' (Les Fisher, I Shall Remember, 41). But the emotional realities shown by the wedding pictures are very different.

Evelina is putting on a sweet but not very profound smile, while Thomas’s lips are only slightly raised, the merest gesture towards a sign of happiness. The other two men in the front row, Robert Bauder (second on the left, also in a white suit), and the man holding Lena’s arm in the earlier photo taken outside the church, look rather grim, while the best man, Owen Evans, is hardly smiling any more convincingly than Thomas. Only the bridesmaid on the far left and the Matron of Honour have the kind of expressions expected in the front row of a wedding party.

In the ‘happy couple’ photo, probably taken just afterwards, Thomas has abandoned any attempt at a smile; if anything, he looks angry, while Evelina’s smile has now been invaded by the ever-lurking sense of fear:

They were in love and getting married, but they had no proper home, they were  hungry most of the time, and one or both of them could die violently at any time. And they had no idea when, if ever, all this would come to an end.

Later that year Thomas’s family in Windsor were to receive a letter from Charles Winter, Thomas’s repatriated American colleague. It is hard to imagine the relief and joy this must have brought his parents and brothers and sisters. It was the first news they’d had of him since the start of the fighting on December 8, 1941, the first indication that he was alive and unwounded.


Mr. Winters paints a tactfully reassuring picture of Thomas at work in a Hong Kong in which business was pretty much as usual. And thanks to this letter the family learnt at the same time that Evelina existed and was almost certainly their daughter-in -law!

After the ceremony was there some kind of reception, a pooling of the meagre resources available in wartime Hong Kong? There’s no doubt that Captain Tanaka – who sent the employees of the Telephone Company off to their imprisonment in Shamshuipo Camp with a bottle of whisky each – would have provided something if he could, or that friends and colleagues would have chipped in from their meagre rations. But all that’s known for certain is that Thomas and Evelina returned to the French Hospital, now husband and wife.

Footnote
About ten months later, on May 7, 1943, they were sent to join the rest of the Allied civilians in Stanley Camp; Selwyn-Clarke had been arrested on May 2 under unjustified suspicion of being a spy. They stayed there until the end of the war in August 1945. After more than three and  a half years of terror and privation they were finally free.

And just over five years later, her brain and body still on fire with what had happened in the war, Evelina returned to the French Hospital to give birth to their first son. A few weeks later, the baptism took place in a church the Japanese had sometimes used as a torture chamber.  Robert Bauder was there again, and posed for the camera with the baby in his arms. It was the same Father Riganti who officiated.

 

[1]Gerald Horne, Race War!, Kindle Edition, Location 830.
[2]Horne, Location 602.
[3]Hong Kong sociologist Henry Lethbridge, quoted in  Horne,  Location 830.
[4]http://groups.yahoo.com/group/stanley_camp/message/388
[5]Cited in Horne, Location, 792.
[6]Marriage and Japanese law: Emily Hahn, China To Me, 321; Macao safe: Hahn, 368.