16 Mar - 10 May 1942, Sheridan's Escape - His Own Account

Submitted by brian edgar on Fri, 11/02/2012 - 16:21


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.

Date(s) of events described