Frederick Percy FRANKLIN [1890-1955] | Gwulo: Old Hong Kong

Frederick Percy FRANKLIN [1890-1955]

Frederick Percy
Birthplace (town, state): 
Christchurch, Hampshire
Birthplace (country): 
c.1955-05-17 (Month, Day are approximate)


The following description of my father was written by my late brother Douglas, as the introduction to a book of poems my father wrote while a POW in Shamshuipo Camp.

Frederick Percy Franklin was born at Christchurch, Hampshire, England on 16 February 1890. His childhood and schooling were taken at St Peter's School, Bournemouth, where he showed an early interest in music and written English. For his sixteenth birthday in 1906 he was given a motorcycle, which was very new on the roads there then.

After leaving school he joined the Company J J Allen Ltd in Bournemouth and was articled in the buying and selling Department, where he gained a top training in company management procedures from every point of view. As a pastime he was a Member of the Bournemouth Municipal Orchestra and held the Membership Pass to all the Orchestra’s concerts. He learned to play the piano and the One String Fiddle, which was a popular home made musical instrument for the budding violin player.

Both his parents died when he was 20 in 1910 and he decided to migrate to Australia in 1912 to grow sugar in Queensland. It is astonishing that as a young man in England at that time he knew that sugar was a cash crop in Australia. But because of new Commonwealth Legislation at that time this plan did not eventuate and meanwhile, World War One had started in 1914. He was by then in Brisbane living at Indooroopilly and finding work where he could.

On 7 January 1916 he joined the Australian Imperial Force 3rd Queensland Pioneer Battalion and saw war action in Belgium and France. He had been promoted to Company Quarter Master Sergeant (CQMS), and when the war ended on 11 November 1918 he was posted to AIF HQ in England for duties involving the countdown of the Australian Army involvement in the war. He was returned to Brisbane and demobilised there on 7 March 1920.

In 1921 he travelled by sea to Hong Kong as the representative of several Australian Companies. While he was there a local controversy was being aired in the Hong Kong press, and he wrote a letter to The South China Morning Post Ltd (SCMP) expressing his views on a solution to the problem. He received a call to say that the General Manager, Mr Ben Wylie, would like to meet him. Franklin went to the SCMP offices, then in Wyndham Street, CBD. After discussions, he was offered, and accepted, the position of Manager, The Hong Kong Telegraph, which was the afternoon paper put out by the SCMP at that time.

In 1924, my mother Gladys Livingston Murdoch, a Nursing Sister with six and a half years training at the Edinburgh and Glasgow Royal Infirmaries held a Colonial Nursing service appointment in Hong Kong and she and Freddy Franklin were married in January 1925.

I grew up mainly in Hong Kong but regularly travelled with my parents and sisters to England for my father's recreation leave periods. In 1940, aged 14 years I attended the Central British School (CBS) at Kowloon Tong. During August that year there was a British Government compulsory evacuation order for women and children to leave Hong Kong because of the danger of hostilities. Under this order my mother, two sisters and I were evacuated to Sydney, Australia, on the Burns Philp ship MV Neptuna, subsequently blown up in the bombing of Darwin.

Able-bodied men left in Hong Kong were required to report for essential service duties, in case of any attack on the colony. Father wrote to Canberra and obtained copies of his World War One service records and took these to the United Kingdom Royal Engineers Base in Hong Kong. Whilst still working for the South China Morning Post, he was appointed as Lieutenant RE and required to undergo necessary training, should Hong Kong be invaded.

On 8 December 1941, Hong Kong was attacked and Franklin took up his defence position as the Officer-in-Charge of a Munitions Dump near Wong Nei Chong Gap, Hong Kong Island, with a company of British and Punjabis soldiers. On 19 December, 1941, word was received to retreat from the position and retire to central Hong Kong. While running for cover across a playing field at the Indian Club, Franklin was hit by enemy fire and fell wounded. While it is not known, it was likely that under covering fire he was luckily carried and saved by the Punjabis soldiers and later taken by vehicle to the Bowen Road Military Hospital, where he recovered from his wounds.

Initially, he was taken to Argyle Street POW Camp and soon after to Shamshuipo POW Camp. He was fifty-one years of age at that time and became a Japanese Prisoner of War for three years and eight months until the end of the Pacific War.

At home on the Peak in Hong Kong, gardening was one of his favourite hobbies - he loved growing vegetables and planting flowers and trees. Early on, in the camp he found some tomato plants growing that someone must have planted before the war started. He saved these and made a garden bed for them. This was the beginning of a large vegetable garden for the Camp kitchens, which Franklin and some other POW’s were allowed to maintain within the barbed wire fences. Supplies of Chinese vegetable seedlings, like Choi Sum and others were brought into the camp for the POW vegetable garden.

In spare moments, Franklin wrote verse and poetry to record the varied experiences and thoughts passing through his mind, from Day One, when under enemy fire, to the day of liberation and the end of the war. He recorded some of the feelings and events while Hong Kong resisted the enemy invasion and then how he felt while he suffered, with no knowing how long it would last or if he would survive the incarceration.
He told us after the war that he never drank cold water once while a POW — only freshly boiled water with some bamboo leaves to provide some flavour. There were too many health risks by drinking cold water on a hot summers' day.

A slow, thoughtful reading of his verse written in Shamshuipo, reveals all the thoughts of those courageous men who struggled to exist, for weeks, months and years; often seeing a fellow mate POW unable to survive from lack of food or illness, or be forcibly taken away never to be seen again.

When VP Day came on the 15th August 1945, Franklin was in reasonable condition though his weight was down to seven and a half stone. He went straight to the South China Morning Post Offices and set about organising the news print machines to work. There was no electric power in the building but he knew of an electric power generator, which had been installed in a block of flats pre war. It was still there disused, and under military authority it was moved to the SCMP offices and with the assistance of service electrical personnel was brought into operation again and enabled the famous one column newspaper to be printed and distributed which told that the war was over. Shortly after, Franklin was appointed by authority of the re-occupation British Forces to the position of Controller of Government Printing.

As soon as he was able he managed to walk to the family home "West Crag", at 34 Lugard Road, The Peak. The house had been looted and there was nothing left apart from the concrete floors (under the now gone teak wood), the walls and the roof The total contents of the house - doors, windows, electric circuits, kitchen and bathroom fittings etc were all gone.

Franklin remained in Hong Kong for two months to organise the full SCMP operation, payment of wages to returned and new staff, repairs to the building, distribution of printed newspapers and liaison with Admiral Sir Bruce Fraser, the Royal Navy Commander in Chief responsible for returning Hong Kong to Colonial Office administration.

It was not until October 1945 that Franklin decided that he could leave Hong Kong to go to Sydney, Australia, to see his wife and family, who then lived at Warragal Road, Turramurra. He travelled as a passenger on the aircraft carrier HMS Vindex.

I was at that time back in Brisbane from SW Pacific war operations on the RAN Fairmile HMAML 427. Lt Cdr Athol Townley had been Commanding Officer for part of the period. I was given special leave from NOIC HMAS Moreton to travel to Sydney to see my father. By this time I had been promoted to Sub Lieutenant (aged 20) and it was great to see my father and mother and two sisters all together again. It was the beginning of a new life for all of us.

Franklin remained in Sydney for about six weeks before returning to Hong Kong on another naval vessel. He thus had only a very brief period to regain some health condition, so adversely affected by the long POW period. But his head was still good and as Ben Wylie, who had been imprisoned at the Stanley civilian internment centre, had returned to England for retirement, the SCMP Board of Directors appointed Franklin as General Manager.

One of the first projects that he received approval and finance to implement was the purchase of the Bowen Road flats housing property, to be repaired of war damage and used for staff housing. Pre war there was no company staff housing. He also introduced company paid recreation leave fares for staff wives and children, and a staff canteen. Staff recreation pursuits and sporting teams were organised which were most welcome.
On the newspaper printing side he travelled to the United Kingdom to check out at London Fleet Street the latest machines to replace the pre war ones still in use immediately after the war. He knew Lord Beaverbrook and received great support in his endeavours to lift the standard of the South China Morning Post Company. He was personally invited by Reuters News Agency to attend their Centenary Dinner 1851-1951 at the Dorchester Hotel, London on Wednesday 11 July 1951 in the company of eleven hundred journalist guests from all over the world.

But by the early 1950s Franklins health began to fail. He travelled to Glasgow for an exploratory surgical operation, which found that he had inoperable stomach cancer. He tendered his resignation as Managing Director of The South China Morning Post on 6th May 1955 and retired to his beloved home “West Crag", 34 Lugard Road, The Peak, Hong Kong. Sadly he died there aged 65 on 17 May 1955, but not before writing to me at my post in Nigeria, to say how pleased he was to have a grandson, Philip Douglas, my first son, who was born on 3rd January 1955 at Lagos.

My father's funeral service was held at St John’s Cathedral, Hong Kong, which was filled to capacity and he is buried at the Old Residents' Section at The Happy Valley Cemetery, not far from his good friend Sir Robert Ho Tung, and opposite the main entrance to the Royal Hong Kong Jockey Club.

The fact that half a century has passed before these poems have been printed is of considerable regret to me and to my sisters Sylvia and Joan. But we found ourselves separated by thousands of miles in different parts of the world and it was impossible to have this work done until 2003 when I felt that it was something that I must do whilst I had the chance in my late retirement years, and that the adage ‘better later than never’ still holds good.

I have been on the mailing list of the Hong Kong POW Association for many years now, and I take this opportunity to very sincerely compliment Comendador Arthur E Gomes, MBE for the wonderful work that he has done for so many years in producing the Association Newsletter, which is sent all over the world to the former POW’s, their families and to appropriate Service Organisations, plus all the other things he does behind the scenes like writing the Foreword to this book, for which I am so grateful.

Does anyone know if Frederick P. Franklin was the writer "Candidus" in the SCMP in 1946 and 1947, of a column called "Comment"?

In a column dated November 2, 1946, there is a poem about wars and he wrote poems when he was a POW in Shamshuipo Camp during the war.

Regards, Geoff