Franklin Gimson in August 1945 | Gwulo: Old Hong Kong

Franklin Gimson in August 1945

I've completely re-written the sections of the Stanley Camp Chronology that deal with Franklin Gimson's actions after the Japanese surrender - from August 18th  to September 1st 1945. Further research has persuaded me that the usual account of these events, which I had previously accepted, is based on unreliable sources. My new version is by no means definitive, though: even the best sources are incomplete and full of contradictions and downright errors. 

Those interested in a fuller account will find an article by me in the October 2018 issue of the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society Hong Kong Branch (


I inadvertently left some material reflecting my old view of the events of August 1945 in the Chronology - it's fixed now and most of the hyperlinks are put in, so the story as I now see it can be followed though the days' entries.

It might help if I summarise the main points of my RAS article to provide an overview:

1. Like most historians, I followed Gimson's own account 'Hongkong Reclaimed' in reconstructing events between the Japanese surrender and the arrival of Admiral Harcourt's fleet on August 30th - but other documents, including the diaries on this website, show this account is inaccurate in both detail and overall impression;

2. Gimson portrays himself as having aimed in a single-minded way to get the Japanese to co-operate in setting up a British administration with himself at the head and an office in town from which he was the 'virtual Governor' of Hong Kong;

3 In fact this kind of gung-ho policy was being urged on him by Selwyn Selwyn-Clarke, and he refused to go along with it because he knew it was too risky - the British were in no position to secure law and order in a situation in which most of Hong Kong's 600,000 remaining residents were starving and the various Triad groups were almost certainly better armed than the British;

4. Between August 17th and August 30th Gimson generally followed a middle way between Selwyn-Clarke and his Stanley Camp advisors, who were even more cautious than he was - he tried to establish a clear legal and symbolic British claim to thwart any Chinese attempt (with Amercian support) to reclaim Hong Kong but without provoking the Japanese to abdicate control before the British fleet arrived to take over;

5. The one period when he abandoned this policy was August 23rd-24th, when, under the pressure of the problems he faced in staking a British claim while avoiding actually having to run Hong Kong, he lurched from one extreme to another, coming close to disobeying an order from London to set up an administration, but then telling the Japanese he wanted their troops to withdraw to designated areas leaving the British in control of the rest;

6. He soon returned to his 'middle way' policy, which worked well in the last 4 days before Harcourt arrived: the legal and symbolic claim was clearly made, the Japanese kept control and, from the office in town he occupied from August 26th, Gimson and his team were able to carry out some useful work in areas that did not infringe on Japanese authority;

7. This means that we should judge Gimson's actions a great success, but they had no effect on the return of Hong Kong to the British, which was decided at the top level by British, Chinese and American diplomacy. London did not know what Gimson had done until August 30th when Harcourt was almost in Hong Kong.


Full documentation for these claims is provided in the RAS article, which also gives brief accounts of the Arthur May mission from Hong Kong  to Macao and the Y. C. Liang mission in the other direction. A little more about these courageous undertakings can be found in the Chronology (e.g. August 23rd, 1945) but the existing sources are so contradictory I doubt we shall ever be certain of the facts about either. Ronald Taylor was, as far as I know, the first historian to realise the complexity of Arthur May's story, and his book should be consulted by all those interested.