Helen HO (aka 何婉衡) [c.1917-????]

Submitted by Admin on Sat, 03/23/2013 - 19:49
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John Charter writes about Helen Ho's experiences during the war in his diary entry for 22 Aug 1945, the day that Helen and her sister Yvonne came in to Stanley Camp soon after the Japanese surrender:

My goodness, they have had a hellish time during the Japanese occupation. Quite different to ours. They have had much greater freedom of movement and better food (the better off people) but their nervous strain must have been ten times worse. They were always being watched. Helen Ho was followed about for 8 months on end! They did not attempt to disguise the fact that they were watching her and often someone would be sitting and watching their house until she came out and would then follow her. Yvonne said that often at night she would suddenly wake with a start at the passing of a motor car and think: “My goodness, is it stopping at my house?”

People were taken off for questioning without the slightest warning. She said that people were called up for questioning quite often for nothing that they themselves had said or done but merely because a friend had written to them from somewhere in the interior and used some such phrase as: “See you soon”. The Japs would then accuse them of trying to escape from HK without a permit and smuggling out information etc.

Frank Angus, who is Dr Selwyn-Clarke’s secretary and was working for a long time at Rosary Hill, says that Helen Ho was simply wonderful. The risks she ran in getting in drugs and medical stores were simply terrific. She was detained for questioning on more than one occasion and was put in prison for some months. Frank says that he thinks, when her story is written up, she will be given a decoration of some distinction. I do hope so. ((She received an OBE in 1946 for her services during the war.)) Some of the civilians have been just wonderful.

She was awarded the OBE in 1946. The entry in the London Gazette reads:

 Miss Helen Ho, Auxiliary Nursing Service, Hong Kong. For services during the hostilities and Japanese occupation.


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  • Helen Ho (何婉衡) - Non-official Justices of the Peace Record
Helen Ho - Non-official Justices of the Peace
Helen Ho - Non-official Justices of the Peace, by Alan Ho
  • Helen Ho (何婉衡) - The Hong Kong Jockey Club Record
Owner    :    Elaine Ho, Helen Ho & Yvonne Cumine
馬主    :    何婉基、何婉衡與 Yvonne Cumine
Helen HO (何婉衡 / 何婉衍)
Helen HO (何婉衡 / 何婉衍), by Alan Ho

Here the name of Helen Ho must be mentioned also, for she played a major role in organizing parcels of food and clothing - both openly and clandestinely - for POWs in the Hong Kong camps. Miss Ho had been a kindergarten teacher until the war began. After the capitulation the Japanese closed the schools. During the fighting she had done some nursing at LaSalle College temporary hospital. There she met Dr. Selwyn-Clarke, who later persuaded her to become involved in aiding POWs once it became apparent that their life was going to be extremely difficult.

Once the Japanese decided to permit it, food parcels were sent in to Sham Shui Po, 12 each week. If the intended recipient did not pick up the parcel, usually because he had died, it came back and then would be sent to another name on a list of Allied POWS. This list included names of Canadians.

Helen Ho's involvement became major and, should the Japanese have found out, probably lethal. Drugs had to be smuggled in. They were put in 555 cigarette tins, which were flat. She or others gave them to Rev. "Uncle John" Watanabe, IJA interpreter, who carried them into the camps. After the war, Miss Ho was awarded the OBE for her bravery and determination. Later she went to England, studied social work, and followed that profession as her post-war career. She died in the 1990s. (1)

Hong Kong War Diary  
Uniformed Civilians - Auxiliary Medical Corps (La Salle Relief Hospital) :  
Ho, Miss Heleneldest sister (何婉衡 / 何婉衍)
Ho, Miss Kathleen,  Kitchen Staff, second elder sister (何婉昆)
Ho, Miss Yvonne, Kitchen Staff, third elder sister (何婉元)
Ho, Miss Elaine, Kitchen Staff, fourth elder sister (何婉基)


  • 1946 London Victory Parade

Helen Ho was included in the list of members of the Hong Kong delegation who participated in the 1946 London Victory Parade.

37 in total, with 32 participating in the parade
Representatives of the Auxiliary Nursing Service :
1) Mrs Nina Valentine (A.N.S. leader)
2) Miss Helen Ho (first local woman to receive an OBE, along with Dr. Po-cheun Lai 賴寶川 )

In his memoirs, Selwyn-Clarke recalled the efforts of two women assistants, 'Dr Po-Chuen Lai and Miss Helen Ho', whom he could 'trust to carry on at any sacrifice'. Lai, he wrote, had courageously 'carried out what I had asked of her to the very end of the Pacific War' in spite of the risks involved." He also singled out Ho as a 'Chinese Eurasian girl of remarkable courage and resourcefulness' in her attempts at organizing relief supplies for the prisoners although she was placed under police surveillance. (3)

Helen Ho participated in the 1946 London Victory Parade
Helen Ho participated in the 1946 London Victory Parade, by Alan Ho

Miss Helen Ho, 29-year-old Chinese girl, heroine of Hongkong, marched in the Victory Parade in London. She smuggled medicine to Allied prisoners of war in Hongkong, using marmalade jars. False tops were made for the jars, the discs being stuck on with plasticine and a note of the medicine in the cover. She was taken prisoner twice by the Japanese. In recognition of Miss Ho's courage the Government of Hongkong have arranged an 18 months' scholarship to enable her to train as an almoner for the Hongkong hospital. (4)

While he was in Pasco's shop, a Chinese girl came in. Pasco called her over and introduced her to Uncle John. This is Miss Helen Ho,' Pasco said. 'She is one of the-eh-nameless ones who have been helping. Helen, this is Mr. Watanabe.' The girl put out her hand and smiled shyly. 'Ah, Uncle John,' she said. 'Doctor Selwyn-Clarke has spoken about you.'

Uncle John too had heard of Helen Ho. Selwyn-Clarke had told him how, among other things, Helen made peanut butter in her own home for inclusion in the parcels for the prisoners of war. Uncle John understood she acted as tutor to Selwyn- Clarke's daughter. He looked upon her as a very faithful and brave person.  The three talked for some time, and then Uncle John took his leave of them. (5)


We first heard it from Hilda's cook, who brought a message from her that she would get in touch with me as soon as possible. They were all held prisoner: Hilda (Hilda Alice SELWYN-CLARKE), Mary (Mary SEED (née SELWYN-CLARKE)), Helen Ho, who had been working with them and looking after Mary (Helen was a sister of Kathleen and Yvonne), and a number of others. In the course of the day Constance Lam was brought in and set down there, and a few other people showed up, Chinese doctors suspected of working in the espionage game with Selwyn and the like. (6)

Sources :
1) "Long night's journey into day : prisoners of war in Hong Kong and Japan, 1941-1945" by Roland, Charles G
3)"Under Fire: Women and World War II" by Eveline Buchheim & Ralf Futselaar
4) 18 Sep, 1946, Bay of Plenty Times
5) The book 'Small Man of Nanataki: The True Story of a Japanese who risked his life to provide comfort for his enemies', page 106
6) "China to me" by Hahn, Emily

One of her main helpers was Miss Helen Ho. Miss Ho was arrested three times by the Japanese, the first being shortly after Selwyn-Clarke's own arrest. She was imprisoned once below the Supreme Court; another time she was confined in a house above Queen's Road, but being allowed to open a window for air she attracted the attention of a passing friend by flashing a reflected ray of sun in her eyes using a hand mirror. She then dropped a previously prepared note addressed to her mother (Florence, Mrs Ho Cheuk) which was successfully picked up. Her mother and two of her sisters then got to work on the Kempeitai, the formidable and feared gendarmerie, sometimes called the 'thought police' and somehow secured her release.

Helen Ho recalls her sister Yvonne's brave work as a spy during the Japanese occupation of Hong Kong
Helen Ho recalls her sister Yvonne's brave work as a spy during the Japanese occupation of Hong Kong, by Alan Ho

When Mrs. Selwyn-Clarke was eventually interned in 1943, the work went on and Helen Ho continued to bring supplies to our hospital until our release. We had the privilege of welcoming her in person at the Central British School in August 1945 and expressing our thanks to her for her work, whose value it is almost impossible to overestimate. Miss Ho was awarded the O.B.E. and, after the war, qualified in England as an Almoner (施賬官), the medical social worker of today. My wife and I have maintained friendship with Helen and her family ever since, and I had the privilege of calling on the family in Hong Kong in 1964.

Helen Ho (何婉衡) was formerly an Almoner (施賬官), who was born in 1916 and educated at Diocesan Girl's School
Helen Ho was formerly an Almoner
Helen Ho was formerly an Almoner, by Alan Ho
Helen Ho (何婉衡) in the late 1980s or early 1990s
Helen Ho in the late 1980s or early 1990s
L to R : Pansy Ho, Ernest Ho, Stanley Ho, Lucina Laam, Winnie Ho, Helen Ho