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Sheridan's Escape - His Own Account: View pages

Note:

 

Passages in italics are linking narrative provided by the editor. Passages in italics and ((double brackets)) are explanatory notes. Staff-Sergeant Sheridan’s diary of the hostilities can be read in full at:

 http://gwulo.com/node/13605

 

All extracts from his post-war Memoir are published with the kind permission of Helen Dodd and her sisters.

 

Stage 1: Working With the Civilian Bakers

 On December 22 Staff-Sergeant Patrick Sheridan and his fellow RASC baker Sergeant John (or Jim) Hammond received orders to leave Stanley Fort and proceed to the Pier. After an eventful journey they end up at Lane, Crawford’s headquarters, the Exchange Building in Des Voeux Rd., to find Thomas Edgar – a friend of Sheridan’s – in an anxious meeting with Food Control officials. Sheridan soon discovers that Edgar has been forced to abandon the Lane, Crawford bakery in Stubbs Rd, where he’d been producing bread for the civilian population until December 21, and now needs his and Hammond’s help to open up small Chinese bakeries.

Thus Staff-Sergeant Sheridan and Sergeant Hammond found themselves working alongside civilian bakers for the last three days of the fighting, and after the December 25th surrender they accompanied them to the Exchange Building and waited to find out what would happen the next day. The Staff-Sergeant slept well that night:

On going downstairs I find a Jap captain and a group of soldiers in conversation with ((A. W.)) Brown the Manager and some of his henchmen. The Jap Captain speaks fairly good English, his name is Tanaka, he is a communications officer and all his men are technicians. He has come to take over the Telephone Exchange and spends a lot of time with the staff on the top floor. Meanwhile he tells Brown to make out a list of names of all the people in the Building. As we look out the windows on to the street we see Jap sentries at every corner, no one is allowed to move about other than Japs. We see some men of the HK Signals being marched out under escort to Murray Barracks. I go and see Brown and he explains to Capt. Tanaka that Hammond and I are also Military and wish to go to Murray Barracks. Tanaka orders us to stay where we are. There are two sentries on the front door, and the side doors are locked, no one is allowed to enter or leave the building. We are stuck in the building for a few days with no interference from the Japs.

It is of course a very boring existence, but we manage to get at least two meals a day, but the shortage of water is very acute and we are beginning to smell a bit.

 

The two RASC bakers have made no attempt to disguise their military status, but for the time being they’re held in the Exchange Building. Lane, Crawford manager A. W. Brown gets Captain Tanaka’s permission for them to do something useful:

There are thousands of loaves of bread in the main store in the basement going stale. Brown makes a suggestion to Tanaka that it be distributed to the Hospitals before it becomes unfit for consumption. Tanaka agrees and provides a lorry and armed escort. Edgar, Hammond and myself load up the lorry. We set off up Garden Road and pass hundreds of British troops all lined along the roadside all carrying what kit they could. There were hundreds of Japs with rifles and bayonets fixed, acting as escorts. They call out to us and say they are going to Queens Pier en route for Sham-Shui-Po, which is the former barrack camp of the Middlesex Regiment. It was the most disheartening sight I have ever seen. A lot of these men were comrades I had soldiered with for nearly five years. They called out to Hammond and I, and begged some bread, but we dare not give them any as the two Jap escorts on the back of the lorry made it clear they did not like us even talking to them. The Jap soldiers are very quick to use the rifle butt or the bayonet if they do not like your attitude, or if you do not conform when they give any orders.

We distributed some of the bread to the Canossa Convent in Caine Road, and the remainder between St Joseph’s College in Kennedy Road and the French Hospital at Causeway Bay, all were badly in need for the many sick and refugees they were caring for.

We notice the bomb damage, the deserted streets, only Jap sentries at crossings or street corners. Tram wires, bricks and debris litter the streets, some dead bodies about also. We pass a large batch of Japanese Infantry carrying the ashes of dead comrades in white sacks strapped to their chests.

In the next few days we distributed all the remainder of the bread that was in store. On two more occasions Hammond and I reminded Tanaka that we were military bakers and ought to go to a military internment camp. We were again told to remain as we were.

 

Soon the bakers move from the distribution of undelivered bread to baking fresh supplies. In an article he wrote for ‘The British Baker’ in September, 1946 Thomas Edgar dates Captain Tanaka’s permission for the  resumption of baking to January 9, 1942.

As the bread had now run out we had a discussion and it was suggested that Brown approach Tanaka to allow the Bakers out under escort to the Ching Loong Bakery in Queens Road East ((This was the biggest and best of the Chinese bakeries used by the bakers in the last days of the hostilities)) to bake bread for the inmates of the Exchange Building and for a lot of wounded troops and civilians in the Hong Kong Hotel which was being used as a temporary Hospital. Tanaka agreed to provide transport and escort. The party was Edgar, ((George)) Mortimer, Hammond, Leung Choy, Leung Tim, ((two RASC bakers)) myself and ((Serge)) Peacock (Russian) naturalised British and his father Piankoff. The son had changed his name to Peacock by deed poll.

We are all pleased at being allowed out to do some work. With Brown’s permission Edgar and I enter the large food store in the basement and full up a large basket with tinned food, tea, sugar, butter, etc, as well as yeast for breadmaking, We know that there was a certain of flour left at the Ching Loong Bakery on Xmas Day, we hope it is still there. Before we leave the Exchange Building Tanaka gives each one of us an armband to wear, it has Japanese characters on it. Leung Choy can read the characters, but does not speak Japanese. He says the characters describe us as the servants of Tanaka. We are escorted on a truck to the Bakery and given strict instructions not to leave the building until the escort arrives about 6p.m. The weather had now turned quite cool and as Hammond and I were in KD ((Khaki Drill – standard army issue at the time)) slacks and shirt, Brown gave us a green woollen pullover each to wear. We also dispensed with our Army headgear so that now we looked like any other civilian, although we both wore army boots.

 

They find that they are able to resume work at the Qing Loong and word soon gets around to a hungry and bread-starved European population:

There were quite a number of different nationalities who up till now had not been interned by the Japs, i.e. Swiss, Portuguese, French, Irish and others. It soon got round that we were making breads, and as it had not been possible to get any for weeks, some visited the Bakery and were prepared to pay any price for a loaf. We did our best to discourage their visits as it may mean the loss of our jobs. Some were friends of Edgar’s whom he helped at great risk to us all, but he never took a cent in payment.

 

 

Although Staff-Sergeant Sheridan and Sergeant Hammond have quite properly informed Captain Tanaka three times that they are military personnel, they are now uninterned, out of army gear and working alongside civilian bakers while their former comrades are already in Shamshuipo Prison of War Camp, or on their way there.  But soon the civilians too face being rounded-up....

 


On January 4, 1942 notices appeared around town telling enemy nationals to report to the Murray Parade Ground on the next day. From there were taken to squalid hotel-brothels on the waterfront and held there until the last 10 days of January when they were shipped to the camp at Stanley. Many people didn’t see the notices or risked ignoring them, but it’s not clear why those in the Exchange Building, not far from the centre of things, weren’t affected. And if Thomas Edgar’s dating of the resumption of baking to January 9 is correct, it took the Japanese a few days to round them up – which is in accordance with the generally rather improvised nature of the operation. So my guess is that the people at the Exchange Building were taken some time about January 12 (they ended up in the Mee Chow Hotel) In any case, this extract from Staff-Sergeant Sheridan’s ‘Memoir’ shows how he avoided being sent either to Shamshuipo or Stanley through the kindness of Captain Tanaka - who can be seen in this picture -

 

http://gwulo.com/node/9038

 

Tanaka is also the subject of Emily Hahn’s story ‘Silicon Dioxide’ in ‘Hong Kong Holiday’ (where he’s called Yamaguchi). 

Now the Kempeitai (Military Police) similar to the German Gestapo have now taken control. All British, Dutch and Americans have been rounded up and interned in Chinese Hotels on the waterfront. On that day while we were working the Bakery, Mortimer who was feeling sick stayed in the Exchange Building and was interned with the others.

When we got back to the Exchange Building we found that Brown, the manager and all Lane & Crawfords staff had been interned. Hammond, Edgar and I went to see Tanaka about our position. He said, “you stay here make bread I fix”. During the time we were at work the mezzanine floor had been cleared out, and all our blankets and bedding had been removed by the Jap troops. Edgar and I went to see Tanaka about this. He gave out camp beds and blankets to everyone who had lost theirs. A small suitcase belonging to a Russian named Preobajensky had been taken. Tanaka took the Russian into the room where the Jap troops were billeted, and when he pointed out the suitcase, Tanaka took it off the soldier, kicked him hard up the backside and gave him a telling off.

We are beginning to realise what a contrast Tanaka is compared to what we already know about the Japs’ treatment of British citizens, he is an exception and a very kind man. So far he has treated everyone very humanely, we have received reasonably good food and fair treatment. Tanaka is not a regular Army Officer, but a civil Telecommunications engineer in uniform. He speaks reasonably good English and has travelled quite a bit in England. At a guess he would be about 45 to 50 years old, but it is not easy to tell the ages of Asiatics. He wears large horn rimmed spectacles, but appears to be a fit man.


 

((Staff-Sergeant Sheridan’s ‘Memoir’ gives the only detailed account I know of life inside the Exchange Building in January 1942 – for more on this see - //brianedgar.wordpress.com/2012/10/08/sheridan-exchange-building/))

 

 The Allied civilians (Lane, Crawford staff, Telephone Company personnel and people who ended up in the Exchange Building due to the fortunes of war) are well-treated:

 

The telephone staff are still in the Exchange building but don’t seem to have anything to do. Tanaka gets one of the engineers to fit up the film and sound equipment from the Film Censor’s office. We have a few film shows at night in the Café Wiseman. They are quite modern films, some of which had not as yet been released by the Censor. There were some Japanese films also (not propaganda), Tanaka gave a commentary on the story.

 The bakers get drawn into Dr. Selwyn-Clarke’s public health organisation:

A new set up has come into being and we the bakers have become part of it.

The Japs have allowed a sort of Medical or Health Dept. to be set up to help the local hospitals and homeless refugees of many nationalities. The man who formed it is the former Director of Medical Services of Hong Kong, a Dr Selwyn-Clarke. He has the assistance of a Mr Owen Evans, an Englishman, and two Americans – a Dr  Henry DD ((Doctor of Divinity)) and a Mr Chuck Winter. They have an ambulance and operate very much like the International Red Cross. Tanaka now tells us we are no longer to be escorted, but will be picked up in the ambulance each morning and be brought back at night. However, we are still not allowed on the streets, and Tanaka says he is trying to obtain permits from the Kempetai to replace the armbands. We all like the new set up, and having heard of the grim conditions in the internment camps Hammond and I decide to do our best to stay out as long as possible.

We are now producing bread for all the Hospitals including Bowen Road Military Hospital and also some for Stanley Internment camp. Evans, Winter and Doc Henry bring us supplies of materials. They also collect and distribute the bread, and ferry the bakers to and from the Bakery. They also distribute milk, rice, beans and fuel to the Hospitals. In fact they are three conscientious, hard-working, unselfish men. At times there are great problems getting the Japs to release the supplies, even through there are large warehouses stocked with food stuffs. Tanaka’s influence has been a godsend at times, as he has been able to secure the bread making ingredients in order to keep us working.

Evans, Winter and Doc Henry were formerly based at the Queen Mary Hospital but the Japs took it over for their own sick and wounded and turned everybody out. They are taking over all the best and modern hospitals for themselves and not concerned where the patients go when they throw them out.

Evans and co. are now accommodated at the French Hospital at Causeway Bay. The live in the former girls’ school in the Convent grounds. Mr Owen Evans is an active member of the Friends Ambulance Unit, a well known Quaker organisation which does a lot of relief Medical work in China. He was transporting medical supplies from Rangoon up the Burma road to Kungming, but happened to be in Hong Kong on business when the Japs attacked.

Mr Chuck Winter is an American Seventh Day Adventist missionary school teacher and ran a school over on the mainland near Clearwater Bay.

Dr Henry, (the degree is an American Doctor of Divinity), he is an old China hand and has spent many years on missionary work in China. Another American named ((Carl)) Neprud was also part of the unit. He was a former Chinese Customs man, but was ill in the French hospital. There were four other Americans named Morton, Schafer, Fitch, Pauli ((John Morton, Charles Shafer, Albert Fitch, Eugene Pawley – see http://brianedgar.wordpress.com/2012/04/12/thomass-work-6-more-on-the-delivery-drivers/ )) living in a place in May Road doing relief work but had no connection with the bakers.

Dr Selwyn-Clarke and his team are doing a fine job, but the Japs on the whole are not very co-operative. Men like Cpt. Tanaka are very rare indeed, very few Japanese hold his humane views towards their enemies. The Dr. and some of his team have been made to bow and scrape in order to get any concessions for the sick and needy and indeed at times have been subject to face slapping by the Japs.

 

An ‘unfortunate incident’ takes place – strangely enough it probably made Staff-Sergeant Sheridan’s escape possible:

We hear that the Telephone Exchange staff are leaving soon for internment at Stanley. Tanaka realising that they are civilians in uniform because of the war, makes arrangements for them and their families to be moved to Stanley camp. He also tells them to get into civilian clothes. We have a bit of a concert one night before they are due to leave, also a meal in the Café Wiseman. Patara the Greek and his Chinese cooks turn out a splendid meal….

An unfortunate incident happened as the Telephone Staff were about to leave for Stanley. The “Kempetai” arrived and searched their baggage and some sam brown belts and uniforms were found. The Kempetai said these men Army must go to Sham Shui Po. There being no argument about it they had to go, whereas their wives and families went to Stanley. Tanaka was very upset about this. It seems he got a dressing down from the Chief of the Kempetai for favouring Britishers.

One source dates the sending of the Telephone workers to Shamshuipo to February 23, but I think this account shows it happened before February 8 when the bakers left the Exchange Building. 

In any case, Captain Tanaka’s now been in trouble with the Kempeitai once over an issue related to the soldier/civilian distinction, and he won’t want it to happen again….


((Note: the first date in the heading of this instalment is precise – Thomas Edgar’s article in The British Baker (September 1946) confirms that the bakers were sent to the French Hospital on February 8, 1942. The closing date is approximate – the Memoir is not in diary form – but it gives a rough idea of the period described.)) 

 

Stage 2: Becoming a Civilian

 For the moment the bakers continue in the Exchange Building: 

 In the basement of the Exchange Building was a former food control store stocked with huge quantities of food stuffs. The store had been sealed up by some other Jap officials, but Tanaka had a key to a side door. Every morning before we left for work, Tanaka opened the store and allowed us to fill a hamper with tinned food for our meal at the Bakery. We always took a surplus and stowed them in the Bakery for future use. Tinned goods on the Black Market fetched enormous prices.

The bakers learn that they must leave the Exchange Building, which was probably bad news. But through a combination of kindness and fear of getting into trouble with the Kempeitai again (see previous instalment) Captain Tanaka sets up the conditions for Staff-Sergeant Sheridan’s escape – it should be stressed that although Captain Tanaka acted in a consistently humane way to all those under his control, he never betrayed his country and it was in no way his intention to promote a military escape.

About 7th February 1942 we are informed by Tanaka that we must leave the Exchange Building next day. Hammond, Edgar, Peacock and myself are to move to the French Hospital in Causeway Bay to join Dr Selwyn-Clarke’s team i.e. Evans, Dr Henry and Winter. Tanaka orders us to make out a list for each man for a week’s supply of tinned goods, which he issues from the store the night before we go. We thank him for his kindness and later he comes up to our room. Then he sees some of mine and Hammonds Army kit, which seems to give him a bit of a shock. I am sure he had forgotten that we were military servicemen. He tells us that if we take our Army kit out and the Kempeitai search and find it, we would be sent to the Military camp at Sham Shui Po, and also that he would be in trouble for keeping us. He orders us to leave everything military behind even our pay books AB64 ((= Army Book 64, the soldier’s pay book)) and identity discs. He takes us down to the Dept. clothing store and we select a civilian outfit and a pair of shoes each. He tells us if we are ever questioned by the Kempeitai to deny ever being a soldier.

Next day Evans and co. move us in the Ambulance to the Convent in the French Hospital compound. The nuns allot us a small room in St Paul’s School. We get camp beds, clean sheets, and a blanket each. We dine in the former girls’ Hostel. There are a few Chinese girls still here mainly from Singapore and Penang who were stranded here when war came. The doctors and nurses from the Hospital all dine in the Hostel. Drs, Court, Bunji, Nicholson, Griffiths, Lang, all formerly of Queen Mary Hospital. ((Phillip Court, Frederick Bunje, Murdo Nicholson, Gerard Griffiths, possibly J. C. Lang, although he wasn’t a doctor.))  There are also some Irish Jesuit fathers billeted here. Fathers Grogan, Gallagher, O’Brien, Carey (=Casey), Joy, Byrne, Ryan and a Father Moran who is not a Jesuit ((He was, and S-S. Sheridan met him again after escaping from Hong Kong.)) The nurses are mostly Chinese, one Philipino and some Eurasians, a few French, and one English, Mrs Wood, wife of Capt. Wood R.A.S.C. who is interned in Sham Shui Po. Her two children, Rosemary and Sylvia are also here. The hospital had quite a bit of shell damage being hit several times. The school and surrounding buildings are all pockmarked with shrapnel. Sister Henry, a French nun, told me all the patients were moved into the church in the middle of the compound, strangely enough it was never hit, but a Chinese nun was killed in the grounds of the Convent. For a few days we are taken to and from the Bakery in the Ambulance, then Dr Selwyn-Clarke brings us our permits. They are printed in English, Japanese and Chinese, and in red lettering we are described as Enemy Nationals but are authorised to work under the Japanese. It does not state if we are allowed to walk about the streets, but Selwyn-Clarke tells us to always carry them and produce them when searched or stopped by the Kempeitai. However, we get a test a few days later on the way to work, at a road block. We are ordered out of the ambulance and roughly searched by the Jap Military Police. They had a good look at our passes and then waved us on.

When we get back to the French Hospital in the evening we now have plenty of company, with Drs, nurses, Jesuits, missionaries, drivers and bakers. We all crowd into one big schoolroom and have plenty of discussions. One of the main topics is, how long will this last before the Japs decide to intern us at Stanley or maybe Sham-Shui-Po.


Note:

Staff-Sergeant Sheridan provides the only detailed description I know of conditions for those living at the French Hospital – for a fuller account see http://brianedgar.wordpress.com/2012/09/29/early-days-in-the-french-hospital-the-evidence-of-staff-sergeant-patrick-sheridan/

 Stage 3: Becoming Irish

 Staff-Sergeant Sheridan concludes that on the whole life in the Hospital is ‘not bad’, except for one thing:

 There is one thing we miss here and that is the protection of Cpt. Tanaka. Our passes are valid until 31st of March and we wonder if they will be renewed by the Jap administration. Leung Choy is a very loyal person, although he has no need to do so he comes to the Bakery and gives us a hand. All he gets in payment is some bread and a little rice to feed himself and his family. He is also a very good source of information of what is happening in Hong Kong.

 An introduction gives Staff-Sergeant Sheridan, already effectively a civilian, an idea:

 A friend of Edgar’s, a Portuguese girl named Lena Olivera introduced me to a Jack O’Sullivan. ((Thomas Edgar was to marry Evelina d’Oliveira on June 29, 1942.)) He worked at the Dairy Farm Ice and Cold Storage Co. I also met his mother and three sisters. They were an Irish family. It was then I learned that the Irish were being treated as neutrals. It did not matter whether they came from the north or the south, and even some that were not Irish had made a claim and had been granted a neutral pass by the Japs. As I was about the same size as Jack O’Sullivan he gave me a suit of clothes, some shirts and ties which were very welcome.

 Soon a plan is evolved:

 Our permits are about to expire and we have no word about renewal. Doc Henry goes to see Dr Selwyn-Clarke about this, and a few days later he tells us they have been extended to the 15 April. We are issued with application forms printed in English, Chinese and Japanese. On the previous forms I had filled nationality as British and occupation as Baker. This time without telling anyone an idea had dawned on me and I filled in nationality as Irish and occupation as Baker. For an address I put Edgar’s in Happy Valley which I knew had been destroyed by a bomb. ((probably 82, Morrison Hill Road.)) The pass application forms were collected by Selwyn-Clarke and were taken to Saito’s Medical Dept. for checking. ( (Saito Shunkichi, the senior Japanese Medical Officer.)) For about a week I was really worried that this may be discovered and I knew the consequences of taking a risk like this. However, a few days later we received the new passes valid until the end of the year. My pass instead of being marked “Enemy National” in red, had neutral Irish on it. This is a real surprise to the others when I show it to them. It means I can move about as a neutral. No proper check could have been made by the “Kempeitai” otherwise I would have been sent for, but there is still a chance it could be detected, or that they know about it and may be waiting to pounce. If so I expect no quarter from them, I took the risk and no one else should suffer. Another two weeks went by and nothing had happened, but I kept off the streets in case of any trouble.

 Staff-Sergeant Sheridan’s courageous plan seems to be working, but then comes a shock:

 However, the Japs now publish an order that all neutrals must fill in forms to obtain permission to reside in the Colony. This is a tricky one as I have to go in person to the HQ of the Kempeitai in Happy Valley. ((Formerly Le Calvaire, another school run by the nuns whose ‘guests’ they are on the French Hospital Compound.)) So one morning I left the Bakery and I made my way on foot to Happy Valley. There was a large crowd of Chinese as well as some other nationals, but no one that I knew. After waiting about ½ hour I got the forms and made my way back to the Bakery by using a route which avoided being stopped by any Japs. I find that the forms have to be filled in Chinese as well as English. Leung Choy tells me that there is a Bureau at Causeway Bay, with Chinese staff dealing with these types of forms.

On the following day I got a lift from Evans in the Ambulance to the Bureau in Causeway Bay. Although it was staffed by Chinese the Japs were in charge. But I was lucky to get help from a very nice Chinese girl who spoke good English. Again I had to give false information as regards address and occupation, and I had to give my former employer as Lane & Crawfords. She filled in all the details and checked the forms. But now I had to take them back to Kempeitai HQ at Happy Valley. Here I met with a rather officious Jap who did not speak a word of English. He took the forms, went away for a while, came back and said “passo”. He took my permit to the rear of the office to have a discussion about it with some of his colleagues. I was beginning to sweat a bit thinking they had detected my false information. But he came back and handed me the permit and said “Tanaka-San Okaya”. ((Presumably – ‘you’re with Mr. Tanaka, so o.k.’ or similar.)) I was glad to get away from that place as Leung Choy had heard of some Chinese being tortured here by the Kempeitai.

 A new problem arises:

 Our supply of flour has now been reduced by the Japs and we have been mixing a proportion of ground rice to try and keep up the amount of bread. It also means that in order to save fuel we are now baking on alternate days. But we usually go to the Bakery to do a bit of cleaning and keep us occupied. The trouble is that if the Japs stop releasing supplies our work will finish, there will be no bread for Hospitals, etc. and we will all end up in Sham Shui Po or Stanley camps. Many times I have looked across the Harbour towards the hills of China and thought of escape. I know the area as far as the Border at Shatin or Shautokok but have no knowledge of the interior. But I shall make every endeavour to keep out of the internment camps, where conditions at present are very grim indeed.

 But there are people willing to help as well and the plan takes final shape:

The manager of the Ching Loong Bakery, Mr Ng, and his wife have been very kind to us four bakers. They have treated us to a Chinese meal a few times. Mrs Ng has given us socks, handkerchiefs, and soap, and Mr Ng has even offered money if we need it. ((After the war Ng was awarded a Certificate for his role in helping Staff-Sergeant Sheridan to escape.))

At the French Hospital some evenings we have a little entertainment. A Eurasian named Stott plays the violin, a Chinese medical student plays the piano. ((R. E. Stott, who was not in fact Eurasian although he did consider posing as one, escaped from the French Hospital on August 11, 1942.))

Dr Selwyn-Clarke brings us another type of pass issued by Saito head of the Japanese Medical Dept. It allows us to move about and we can travel free on the trams. This makes life much more agreeable.

Sister Henry asked me one evening if I would like to go and talk to a patient in the Hospital. I find him a most interesting person, he is a Mr Arlington, an American over 80 years of age. ((Lewis Charles Arlington had been at the siege of the Repulse Bay Hotel.)) He is the author of several books on Chinese life and drama. His home is in Peking, but he was in Hong Kong for an operation when the Japs attacked. He has been in China over 60 years, speaks the language fluently and can read and write it. Although he is American he wants to go back to his home in Peking. He tells me he has put in a formal application to the Japs, and has been given some assurance but under war conditions there is not much hope.

So far there has been no visible check up on my activities and false statements as regards changing my permit. The Kempeitai are not a very efficient crowd as regards records. From Father Gallagher I learn that some Jesuit fathers have been able to secure permission to leave Hong Kong for Kwong-Chow-Wan which is French Territory on the South China coast and known also as Fort Bayard. Father Gallagher tells me that the first two who applied had a rough time, being interrogated for some hours by the Kempeitai, but the next two who tried a few weeks later were not questioned. This news forms an idea in my head, that with a neutral permit and a bit of luck I may also be able to obtain permission to leave the Colony, provided I can supply a good enough reason for doing so to the Japs. ((Staff-Sergeant Sheridan doesn’t give the reason in this Memoir, but in his escape statement he tells us that he claimed he wished to find baking work in Kwong Chow Wan.))

 But there’s a narrow escape when he tries to put the next stage of his plan into operation:

 I pay a visit to the Chinese Bureau at Causeway Bay and have a talk with the Chinese girl clerk who had dealt with me previously. She gave me all the information and the application forms and explained how to fill them in. A lot of my information will have to be false. I thanked the girl and left the building to walk back to the Bakery. At a street crossing near Ventris Road a crowded Chinese bus pulled up at a stop, a Jap officer riding on the step jumped off and ran towards me jabbering in Japanese. I tried to get my pass out of my inside breast pocket, but he knocked my hand away still jabbering. I repeated “Irelando, Irelando”, then he stepped back and drew his sword halfway out of its scabbard. I could feel the hairs tingling on the sweat on the back of my neck and my one thought was would I get my knee into his groin before he swung the sword at my head, and run away like hell. But still jabbering he pushed the sword back in its scabbard and turned and jumped on the step of the bus which then moved off. All this was witnessed by the bus passengers, and it gave me a bad fright. I was in a sweat and felt a bit weak at the knees. I had previously seen Jap officers use their swords without much provocation, and I knew I had had a very narrow escape.

 He gets more help from the Americans...

 One of my problems now is that I have to have an address in Kwong-Chow-Wan to put on the application forms. I speak to Mr Arlington about this and he tells me of another American who is a patient in the Hospital a Mr Neprud who knows that part of China. ((Carl Neprud who was working as a driver before he became ill.)) I go to see him in another ward and find him very willing to help. He gives me the name and address of a Norwegian named Hopstock at a place called Macheung just over the Chinese border from French Territory. Hopstock is in the Chinese Maritime customs, and Neprud says as a friend of his he will help me with any problems. ((By 1946 Mr. S. Hopstock was in Shanghai and the Commissioner of the whole service.)) I have to go to a photographic studio to get four passport type photos to attach to the forms. I visit the Bureau again and get help from the Chinese girl to fill them in Chinese as well as English. On my journeys to and fro I now avoid the main thoroughfares as much as possible. I have to return to the Bureau in a few days time and take the forms to the Jap Kempetai HQ.

 …and from Mr. Ng:

 My next problem is cash, and I discuss this with Edgar, Hammond and Peacock. Edgar then suggests that we trade some cases of baking powder with Mr Ng the manager of the Ching Loong Bakery. When we approached him he was very willing to help and offered the sum of 560 dollars (£35) which was indeed very good. The deal was concluded next day. Our bread making has been reduced again. The Japs are becoming more tighter at releasing materials for bread making which is badly needed to supplement the starvation diet in hospitals and internment caps. I can foresee that our jobs will come to an end soon that is why I am hoping my luck will hold as regards permission to leave the Colony.

 The final hurdle:

 I collect my forms from the Bureau and take them to Kempetai HQ. This is a risky business as I always dread that I may be pulled in for questioning. This event takes place the 10 May 1942, the forms are accepted and I am told to come back in ten days. I feel rather hot round the collar and am glad to leave that place. I try to keep the whole business as quiet as possible, but there are certain people whose help I need and must know. They all wish me luck and are willing to give all possible help. There is only one Japanese who knew I was a British soldier, that was Capt. Tanaka and we hear that at present he is in Hospital and likely to be returned to Japan. If I get away on the strength of my neutral permit there should be no repercussions on anyone else, all the risks are totally mine.


Stage 4: Preparing to Go

 Meanwhile I make all possible preparations for the trip. I visit ((Carl)) Neprud the American, several times in the French Hospital and get all the information about the area I will be travelling to in South China.

On the 21st May 42 I again visit Kempeitai HQ and get a very rough reception from a sentry on the main door who does not understand English. As I stand at the bottom of the steps outside not knowing what to do, and feeling rather nervous, a Jap officer who had witnessed the sentry pushing me around, came forward, and in good English asks me what is the trouble. I explain, and he tells me to wait, and goes in the Main Office. He returns a few minutes later and tells me the offices are being reconstructed and no business would be done for a week. He advises me to wait and return then. I thank him and return to the French Hospital.

I have a talk with Father Joy, the Jesuit priest, who has been representing the Irish community since the occupation. ((On May 24, 1943 Father Patrick Joy was arrested by the Kempeitai at Wah Yan College where he was then living.)) He agrees to give me a letter certifying that to the best of his belief I am Irish, in case I am questioned by the Kempeitai. He tells me most of the Irish who are being treated as neutrals have no other proof of nationality.

I now have to gather some bits and pieces of kit. I manage to get a rucksack to carry a spare vest and pants, socks, spare KD ((Khaki Drill)) shirt and slacks. I had a good pair of walking shoes, and would be dressed in khaki shirt and slacks, which was normal summer dress here. It was now very warm and Neprud had told me it would be warmer as I travelled south. Dr Court gave me a small bottle of tablets to use in case I contracted dysentery.

On the 3rd June 1942 I again visit the Kempeitai HQ in Happy Valley. I had to join a large queue and whilst waiting one of the Jap officials behind the counter looks up and recognises me. He comes forward with a form with my photo attached and gives it to me with no further questions. I walk out of the main door and down the steps in a daze. I can hardly believe that what I hold in my hand is my ticket to freedom and being able to leave Hong Kong.

I get Leung Choy to accompany me to the shipping office. He finds out that a boat leaves next day for Kwong-Chow-Wan. He books a single ticket for me at a cost of 30 dollars (about £2.12p). On returning I decide to visit the French Consul, where I saw Monsieur Reynaud. I explained my position to him and showed him Father Joy’s letter and the Jap form for permission to leave for Kwong-Chow-Wan. I did not tell him I was a former British soldier as I did not know whether he supported De Gaulle or Vichy French. ((In fact Louis Reynaud was a committed supporter of the Free French; he died at the French Hospital on July 6, 1943.)) He wrote out a letter in French to the authorities at Fort Bayard in Kwong-Chow-Wan granting me the facilities to pass through to Macheung to Mr Hopstock’s residence.


 

Stage 5: The Escape: Hong Kong to Kwong Chow Wan

 

 June 4, 1942

 

All the others ((the bakers Edgar, Hammond and Peacock)) were very surprised at my good luck and fortune, ((in getting permission to travel to Kwong Chow Wan)) and all wished me luck in the future, and rather overwhelmed me with little presents of very useful articles for my travels. Hammond was the only one that seems upset at me leaving. We have been together nearly five years now and it is not easy to part. However, he did not have the same chance as I have to get away. I would have wished him luck if the position had been reversed. Neprud, the American gives me a note written in Norwegian to Mr Hopstock. I say farewells to Dr Selwyn-Clarke, Dr. Henry, Chuck Winter and Mr Evans and hope they will be able to continue the fine relief work they are doing. Evans tells me I may meet his brother somewhere in the interior. ((Sheridan later met Llewellyn Evans, who like Owen was a volunteer with the Friends’ Ambulance Unit in Kweiyang/Guiyang))

 

Dr Court gives me instructions that if I can get to Chungking to report to the British Ambassador, and give him all information about conditions in Stanley internment camp, and how vital some news of repatriation is to keep up the morale of the camp inmates. He also tells me it is very difficult to avoid dysentery when travelling in the interior of China. The tablets will help until I get proper treatment. I am very grateful for his advice. On the morning of 4 June 1942 I am up early, not having slept very well, worrying about many things that could go wrong and knowing the consequences are very serious. Josephine Chan ((One of the students at the French Convent School)) comes and says goodbye and gives me a small photograph of herself. Also her home address in Penang. I promise to write after the war. She has a real good heart and is a loyal and true friend.

 

After a final farewell, Leung Choy and Tam Tong, two of my Chinese bakers carry my kit and accompany me on a tram to the Wing-On pier at West Point. Although it is nearly two hours before the boat sails, there is an enormous crowd of Chinese waiting. I say goodbye to Leung Choy and Tam Tong and join the waiting crowd. Some of the people waiting previously worked for the British services, or are business people, all are leaving to return to China. A few recognise me, and come and speak to me, and are rather surprised that I am not interned. I feel rather nervous in case they talk too much as there are a lot of the Jap Kempeitai present. As we start to embark everyone including baggage is searched, and documents checked. As I move in line towards the search party, which consists of four Japs and three Chinese Police constables I must stand out like a sore thumb being the only European. However, I am very lucky, as I near the search party the Japs found something which attracted their attention, and the Chinese constable gave my kit a cursory look and pushed me through. After a scramble I manage to get on board a small passenger boat named the Shirogane Maru manned by a Chinese crew and Jap officers. By the time all are on board we are packed like sardines and it is stifling hot.

 

There is a delay before we sail, something has been found in a heap of baggage on the lower deck. There is a frantic search of the boat by the Japs before the owner is found. He is badly beaten up and thrown on the dockside with his luggage. At last we get moving out into the harbour. I notice some dead bodies floating about, but no one seems to take any notice of this. I take a last look at Hong Kong and its Peaks as we steer towards Castle Peak. Our course is round the north east side of Lan Tao island. I think of the fourteen days holiday St/Sgt James and I had spent there ((in 1940)). Such a lot has happened since then. Some of the Chinese on board whom I know, now avoid speaking to me while any of the Jap crew are about. This is a wise move as I do not want to attract too much attention to myself. However, in order to enjoy more room I pay a further 50 dollars to travel first class saloon as it is very crowded below and stifling hot. Everyone is also victimised over baggage, two dollars per item. It is pathetic to see the money being taken off these poor people. The Jap captain’s girlfriend (a Chinese) does the collecting. She looks a smart wench but has the most greedy eyes and shows no mercy to her own kin in demands for money. I would think this is a racket being operated by her and her Jap boyfriend. The shipping co. won’t get any of this money. Two Singer sewing machines now cause a bit of bother as no one claims to own them so payment cannot be collected. The captain is informed by his girlfriend and he is very angry. It is announced in Chinese over the tannoy system that the machines will be dumped overboard unless the owner comes forward. A Chinese from the steerage passengers comes and owns up. He is charged 10 dollars each for the two machines. Then the Japs beat him up and knock all his teeth out, not a very pleasant episode for all the passengers to witness.

 

We reach Macau, the Portuguese colony, at about 4.30p.m. Because of the sewing machine incident no one is allowed ashore. It is sweltering hot. The boiled water vendors on the dockside do a roaring trade at 30 cents a flask or bottle. Someone has put a flask of tea and some biscuits on my seat while I was up on deck. I eat and drink my first meal since about 7.30a.m. I leave the flask and go on deck, when I return it has gone. I have some kind Chinese friends on board who do not want to make it obvious to the Japs. There are no food facilities on board for passengers. It appears we are to stay here overnight. I know there is a British Consul ((John Reeves)) here but it is not practical to try and contact him. I walk about the deck to keep cool and settle down to a hot and uncomfortable night.

 

5th June 1942

 

I am up before 6a.m. after a very restless night. It was stifling hot on board, and very cramped for so many people sleeping in such a small space. For breakfast I opened a small tin of pineapple which I had in my rucksack. I got some boiled water to drink from one of the vendors on the dockside. No one is allowed ashore. We take on some more passengers and cargo and the boat is now overcrowded. The temperature on board is now over the 100ºF and the humidity cannot be much less. We leave about 3p.m. and catch a slight breeze in the open sea which cools the boat a little. For my evening meal I open a tin of fruit, and drink some more boiled water. I had also bought about a dozen tangerines at Macau which help to quench a very acute thirst. I do not know how some of these poor people with children manage on the crowded deck below. But I do not think there is a more resilient people than the Chinese. They can put up with rough conditions and even laugh about it. We run into some heavy swell, and the boat rolls quite a bit. Some of the passengers are sea sick and there is a lot of running to the rails. The toilet facilities even on the saloon class are very primitive and smell to high heaven. I get down on the deck in a corner and try to sleep, with my rucksack as a pillow, it is very hot and sticky.

 

6th June 1942

 

I am up before 6a.m.and managed to get a small bowl of hot water for a wash and a shave from one of the Chinese crew, for a small backhander. For breakfast I had two Ryvita biscuits and a tangerine. Thirst is the biggest problem, because of sweating so much. We are still ploughing along and should reach Kwong-Chow-Wan about noon. It is actually a French concession as it’s called Fort Bayard. We reach the small harbour entrance about noon and drop anchor in the narrow channel. The French custom men and Police come aboard to check all passengers’ papers. I show them mine with the letter from the Consul, Monsieur Reynaud in Hong Kong. They seem satisfied, but some Japs in civilian clothes come aboard and the Police ask for my papers again for the Japs to look at. All the passengers now disembark in a launch but I am still kept on board. I am beginning to worry about this when the launch returns. But the Police bring me my papers and escort me in the launch to the customs jetty. I was glad to get away from the Japs as I do not trust them. It is obvious they have a big influence here even though it is French territory. ((The Japanese invaded Kwong Chow Wan in February 1943; until then it had remained under the control of the Free French.)) There is still a large crowd in the combined customs and police post, so I have to wait my turn. A very attractive French lady brings me a glass of ice cold lemonade. She must have noticed how hot and sweaty I was. I learned later she was the wife of the senior customs official. As I cannot speak French and neither the Customs or Police speak English the questioning becomes a dead lock. However, an elderly Chinese, a former employee of the Belgian Consulate in Hong Kong, interprets for me. I am told to remain in Fort Bayard overnight and report back next morning at 8a.m. meanwhile I am free to go and find a place to stay. The Jesuits in Hong Kong had told me there was a Catholic Mission here and that I may meet Father Moran who I knew in Hong Kong. The Chinese who had interpreted for me found out where it was and gave me direction. I left my rucksack and kit bag at the Police station and set off to walk to the Mission. I find Father Moran ((Sheridan knew Father Moran and other Jesuits who, like him, had been living at the French Hospital in early 1942)) who is only a temporary guest there. He is very helpful and comes with me to find a place to sleep for the night. It is a sort of Café and the French owner agrees to providing a camp bed on a verandah for the night. He is willing to accept Hong Kong dollars in payment. I fetch my rucksack and bag from the Police station. About 5p.m. and have a meal in the Cafe, where I could also get a cold drink. The temperature is 104ºF and the humidity very high. On the way back from the Police Station I meet some of the Chinese who were on the boat, they apologise for not speaking to me on the boat. They all enquire if I need any help, I thank them and return to the Café.

 

In the evening when it has cooled down, I take a walk round Fort Bayard. It is a very well laid out place, with tree lined Boulevards with names of famous French military men. There is a large prison here for criminals from French Indo China, they do all the labour. I saw gangs of them who were road building, gardening and various other jobs. All were chained by the legs in pairs and guarded by armed Anamite ((Roughly = Vietnamese)) French trained troops. The garrison consists of these troops governed by French officers. The officers and French civilians and their families all live in very modern colonial style detached houses and bungalows. Before the Japs invaded China (1937) a railway built by the French ran from here to Kunming by Wagons Lits Co. As it is 6000ft above sea level it was a sort of summer retreat for the French. Just now the railway line is not used. As tomorrow is Corpus Christi the whole place is being decorated with flags and bunting. I go to confession in a very fine church. I visit the Catholic Mission and have a chat with Father Moran, and find out about my route into Chinese Territory and also the location of Mr Hopstock’s residence at Macheung. The other French fathers treat me rather coldly, and don’t seem to want to get involved. In fact I seem to sense there is not much Christian charity amongst them.


Stage 6: Into Free China

7th June 1942

This is Sunday morning and I am up before 5a.m. after a bad night. It was exceedingly hot and although I had a mosquito net, the mosquitoes managed to get inside it and give me a bad time. Everyone rises early here, but have a siesta during the noon heat. After a wash down and a shave I went to 6.30a.m. mass in the church, which was packed. It was strange to see the French women and children all in their colourful dresses and hats. I had coffee and a roll in the café and went to the Police Station to report at 8a.m. I was given my papers and wished “bon voyage”.

I said goodbye and thanks to Father Moran, who told me I may get a bus part of the way to the Chinese border. I set out for the bus stop carrying my rucksack and kit bag, but find that no buses are running today. As the border is about 30 miles away I was debating whether to set off on foot, when some of the Chinese who were on the boat and whom I had met the previous day came on the scene. On telling them my predicament they asked if I would like to share a hired car with them as they were going to Chekam which was six miles from the border. As the currency here is in Chinese national dollars, they took me to a shop where I was able to change some HK dollars at the proper rate of exchange in order to pay my share. I thought this was a stroke of luck meeting them again, otherwise I would have been in for a long hot walk. The car, an old French Citroen driven by a Chinese arrived and we packed in like sardines with bags and baggage. One of the girls was a former Chinese student of the Italian Convent in Hong Kong. She spoke perfect English as was a great help to me. When we arrived at Chekam, she hired a rickshaw for me and gave the rickshaw puller instructions where to take me. She also told me how much to pay him. I thanked her and said goodbye to her and the others. I set off and reached the border post about noon. It is now sweltering hot. I see my first glimpse of the Chinese Army since Shanghai 1937/38 they control the border post. But here I meet my first disappointment. As I have no British passport or visa for China they will not let me pass and I dare not show them the Jap permit. This is a serious set back to my plans and I really feel down in the dumps. A Chinese stall owner gives me a rattan chair to sit in the shade and also some juicy sliced pineapple to eat which was very welcome. A Chinese dressed in shorts and bare feet comes and says in English “Young English soldier from Hong Kong”. Not knowing whether to trust him I do not reply. He then says “I can help you”. I asked him if he knew Mr Hopstock. He said he knew him quite well and would take a message to him from me. I gave him the note which had been written in Norwegian by Mr Neprud in the French hospital. He set off across the border without any difficulty. It seems Chinese cross and recross here without any restrictions. As it was sweltering hot I was glad to rest in the shade. After waiting about 45 minutes I saw a tall European and two Chinese approaching the border post. They went inside and came out a few minutes later with the Chinese Army officer who beckoned me towards him. Mr Hopstock introduced himself and the two Chinese and shook hands and we passed into China. My pack and bag were carried for me while I told Mr Hopstock who I was and where I intended to travel to Chungking. His house was about 30 minutes walk from the border post. It was two storeys in its own grounds and quite modern. It is a great luxury to have a bath and a change of clothes, a cool drink and later a nice meal.

I meet a Mrs Olsen, she is an English woman married to a Dane. I had met her previously in Hong Kong, she worked for Pan American Airways and was waiting for her husband to return from Macau. I spend a nice quiet evening on the verandah talking to Mr Hopstock. He is very interested in what I can tell him about Hong Kong, and asks many questions. I am sure he needs to verify that I am a genuine British soldier. I enjoy a most comfortable night’s sleep in a well sprung bed.