Tweed Bay Hospital
The following text is a copy of a chapter from my father’s, Dr. Harry Talbot, “Autobiographical Sketch” entitled “Tweed Bay Hospital” set up by the internees at Stanley Camp in Hong Kong during the Japanese occupation there. it will give you, the reader, some background on the hospital. His “Autobiographical Sketch” is copyrighted and is for the sole purpose of being read: nothing is to be used, copied and/or the like from it. Thank you.
Tweed Bay Hospital
It did not take long for all the enemy-aliens and more particularly the British to take note of how the Americans had set to and were organizing to improve their lot. They too then began to prepare necessary and essential communal projects. Both Bill Hunt and almost certainly Dr. Selwyn-Clarke must have approached a British Communal Committee, who with their usual grit and doggedness, came up with the years-later-to-be, motif and bon-mot, anything you can do, we can do better. Dr. Selwyn-Clarke, the Government Medical Director of Hong Kong, had considerable say in these matters, and things began to happen. Readily accepting the advice and suggestion of Selwyn-Clarke and Bill Hunt, that, in addition to clinics, a hospital was a `must', they took over a large suitable house near the prison and right on the beach facing the China Sea beyond Tweed Bay. They gathered together all the necessary materials likely to be needed, everything the carpenters, plumbers, electricians, builders, and engineers requested, and most of it was obtained by Selwyn-Clarke, for both the professionals and expert amateurs who were in camp.
That house by the sea was converted into an amazingly satisfactory hospital. The largest room on the mid-level floor was a general ward for both women and men, who could have the privacy of screens around the bed whenever necessary and mainly for general medical cases, and contained about sixteen to eighteen beds, a few of which were later used for post-operative recovery. There was one ward for mothers with their babies and two smaller wards, one of which was kept for possible infectious diseases especially of the tropical variety. The ground floor had a few more small wards, kitchen and offices, and the operating room, close by so patients would not have to be transported to any distance after having surgery. The dispensary was also on the ground floor, another advantage for the operating room and the two wards, male and female post-operative cases. The toilet arrangement was the Chinese latrine type, below the lowest floor, with an opening between two parallel metal sides and over which one squatted. This type of water closet reminded me of central China.
The top floor was used by the nursing staff. The medical staff was made up of both government and private nurses and doctors. To build and staff the hospital, there were volunteers prepared to do any work required and there surely was much to do.
Just before the hospital, to be known as the Tweed Bay Hospital was finally completed, Bill Hunt, at another meeting of the American Clinic Committee, came up with another rush of brains to the head, "we would need an operating table for the hospital". This of course raised the questioning, "from where do we get such a table"? Bill Hunt had presumably been making enquiries and had the answer, "from the prison hospital", where he told us, he knew they had three operating tables! To obtain one of these, he proposed that he and I go down to the prison, tell whoever came to the door that, we wanted to see the officer in charge of the hospital, be he medical or otherwise. We would request from him one of their operating tables. It seemed he really knew there was more than one table in the hospital, and knowing how easy it had apparently been for him to arrange for the first clinic for the Americans who were the first to come in to Stanley, and more or less choose their living quarters with most of the necessities needed, it looked as if we would have no problem. I assumed that as a shipping magnate, he must be very wealthy and that he had probably brought in enough money to bribe the Japanese in charge of Stanley. I never questioned him.
Anyway, in spite of the queasy feeling I had in my stomach about the approach to the Japanese, down we went to the prison door. The door was an immense structure, in two half sections, built of thick, heavy solid wood, probably oak or teak, and reinforced with flat screwed-in horizontal iron bars, with the thick metal hinge arrangement entirely set-deeply into the surrounding stone wall, and forming a Gothic type arch. The thick stone wall formed the entire perimeter of the prison compound. This I learned later from living inside the compound with enough time to get to know it. It was a very firm British investment built only about three or four years earlier. I had decided that I would knock on the door but let William Hunt do the talking. In the right half of the immense door, was a small secondary door of about standard size, made of the same heavy wood and also reinforced with flat, iron bars, and which when opened, just permitted the passage of only one person at a time.
I banged on the door, and when a soldier came and asked what we wanted, Bill Hunt, unabashed, did all the talking. He asked to see the officer in charge, and we were straight away taken to him. Immediately, Bill Hunt said to him we urgently need an operating table for the hospital because Doctor Talbot, pointing to me, had to operate on Miss Jones! In fact, she had to have this operation immediately, and we were waiting for the table in the hospital. It was hardly credible, but the officer agreed to let us have one, took us to an operating room, and we rolled the table right out of the prison campground where the rest of the committee was waiting to give us a hand and subdued applause. I had been more than a little apprehensive lest the officer would suggest that I should do the operation in the prison hospital. I am sure that Bill Hunt would probably have come up with the correct counter proposal. It all seemed very glib to me, but why should I raise any questions.
It was during this period, when activity was at its height, with the building and general setting up of the hospital, with people running here and there, and when the Japanese were not too concerned as to what was being done, ostensibly all very peaceful, that an escape was carried out. In fact, two separate ones, by two couples, a man and a woman, escaped in the middle of March 1942. They got away successfully into China. Following these, the Japanese put on more guards and everyone settled down. And then just about a month later, late in April 1942, when everything seemed to have really settled down, there was another attempt at an escape. This was done by four young policemen, British. But they were caught, humiliated in the streets of Hong Kong, and then sentenced to imprisonment in Stanley Gaol for two years. Apparently, they had a very hard and unhappy time there. However, they were finally released into Stanley camp in June 1944, having lost much weight; but even on our poor rations at that time they put on some weight, apart from the joy, such as it was, of being among kith and kin as it were.
A few days later, Hunt called for another meeting of the committee and surprised us all, when he came out with another really brilliant idea. He must have been very gifted as a child, and on thinking back about him later, he was obviously ahead of his time. Seriously, and without a flicker of a smile, as if it was a daily occurrence, he told the committee that, somehow or other, we would have to get hold of ten thousand (10,000) condoms for use in the camp!! For a brief moment, we were all taken aback. He patently foresaw that, the male and female population together, were likely to be interned for a long long time and what more natural than that they would do what comes naturally, make love. The condoms at least might help to prevent bringing innocent children, be they legitimate or not, into a war-ridden world. Bill was proposing to bring this, which as a doctor I thought was a very sensible conception, to the attention of Dr. Selwyn-Clarke. Maybe I was wrong in jumping to conclusions about the good it would do, but whatever happened to his outstanding brilliance, we never heard – at least I did not. Maybe Dr. Selwyn-Clarke didn't approve, though I would doubt this, or perhaps they, the condoms, were just not available in that amount.
The American internees tended to keep to themselves, or perhaps it was the cliquishness of the British which kept them apart. However, they never refused to help in the general community life. And then, very early in June of 1942, the news began to spread that the Americans were going to be repatriated, and this was finally confirmed by the Japanese.
A little later, the date for the repatriation was announced, June 30th, 1942. Naturally the Americans, of whom there were more than 360 including Consular Staff and newspaper correspondents, were delirious with excitement and some of their joy spread to the British, who felt that a similar deal would now be worked out between the Government of Great Britain and Japan, and that the same sort of exchange for the British in Hong Kong would soon take place. When the news first began to spread, both Bill Hunt and the gentleman from Bear Mountain, offered to arrange for myself and my mother to leave with them, since it apparently was not too difficult to do, and I know I was not the only one amongst the British who was so invited; I do not know if any of our crowd accepted because we were all convinced that our time would soon arrive. "What fools we mortals be". Before the Americans left Stanley, they gave their chattels to their British friends; to me they gave some cooking utensils for my mother to use when the occasion presented itself. To me personally, they gave what would be referred to as a "citation", from the "American Internees Communal Council" for the help I had been able to give them. I still have it, (see appendix P).
The final arrangements had been made for all 365 American nationals, 10 Canadians, 1 French, and 1 Dutch, to leave Hong Kong on board the Asama Maru, a Japanese ocean going liner which had weathered the 1937 typhoon and later had plied the Hong Kong waters, and would take them to Lourenco Marques, in southern Mozambique, a neutral port on the lower eastern boarder of Africa. From there, a neutral ship, the Gripsholm, which was taking Japanese nationals to Mozambique from New York, would then continue the journey of the internees, to New York, effecting an exchange of prisoners. The immediate effect of their leaving was two-fold; it slightly eased the rooming situation, and much more than that, it buoyed up the hopes of the people remaining in the camp, that we too, would be repatriated, and almost everyone lost their despondency and became more cheerful; but for an all too short time. Some of the American clerics – religious Fathers – who always tried to cheer everyone, stayed on, feeling it was their duty, which I felt was most admirable, and I was very glad for the Americans in general that they were able to get away. I know from speaking with other Britishers, that there had been queries in the minds of many as to why or how it was that the Americans had come into camp before the British. It surely wasn't because the Japanese had a minuscule of humane feeling for the Americans after creating such enormous havoc at Pearl Harbour, or were they just smart and looking ahead to the repatriation exchanges they made six months later for some of their own people held in the U.S.A.; or was it a matter of `pure' – (if one can use such a word where the Japanese or any of that ilk are concerned) politics. And then, as if in response to everyone's prayers for something to happen to show we had not been forgotten, we witnessed the first air raid. The Allies remembered that beleaguered little outpost, Hong Kong. It came in October 1942, and what a thrill it was, and how it cheered us. After that, most everyone was waiting for the next.
With regard to the general staff of nurses and doctors for Tweed Bay Hospital, there were enough ready to do their bit whenever called upon. As important, was the supply of medications and all the ancillaries needed in a hospital. For all these we were indebted to the unfailing help afforded by Dr. Selwyn-Clarke. In the early days when there was but little trouble bringing in medications from the University Hospital, he did this almost daily, together with the other appurtenances needed in any hospital. In his official position as Medical Director, he was able to approach the Japanese authorities at the highest level, and with his unlimited courage, ask, cajole, and advise them of the items that were necessary to prevent any possible spread of disease from Stanley to the town itself. The Japanese were known to be a somewhat scared of any type of epidemic. By whatever means he could, he brought in food as well as medications for the now established hospital; built by and for the internees. Those things Selwyn-Clarke did, not without being subjected to indignities by the Japanese, both high and low. In spite of it all, he remained firm and usually had his way. In fact, as I learned for myself in camp, it was one way of dealing with the Japanese officers if one was prepared to take chances; they respected authority, and as a result of his standing up for human rights which he did, though most of the Japanese at that time neither respected, nor for which the lower echelons certainly, gave a damn. Most of the internees in camp not only learned to respect Selwyn as a man, though they may never have met him, but were also forever grateful to him.
He had to fool the Japanese by hook or by crook, always in an apparently honest way, time and again, and had to do it in such a way, so as to stay alive himself and help others stay alive. He did both and kept himself going. It was common knowledge to us that, the Japanese watched him and had him spied upon watching and reporting his every movement. They even thought that he was the chief of the Intelligence, either military or governmental. There were stories of him being accused of somehow sending messages to England and elsewhere, and people in camp also thought this. But they were never able to pin anything on him. Later, we heard and got to know that he was imprisoned in the Stanley prison and kept in solitary. That must have been very disturbing, if only for a brief period, and especially, to a man like Selwyn-Clarke, and at that particular time. Before the war he was always very charming but was known to be very strict in his own department; he had no time for incompetency and would not tolerate dishonesty. For nearly two years he was successful in bringing into camp all sorts of necessities. When things began to run low in the government hospital, he bought the things needed if they were available in Hong Kong. He even brought in money to the camp, which to my cost, I learned was against the Japanese Military law. In the early days he was friendly, if this was possible, with a few Japanese officials, during the war and after surrender. Whilst they were still in Hong Kong, they made things easier for him. However, when they were transferred elsewhere, things got tough for him and for the things he was doing. In camp we got to hear of all these events through the proverbial "grape-vine", the news leaking in usually via the truck-drivers who brought in the daily rations of rice and whatnots, or from the odd people who occasionally travelled with them. Very occasionally, an English newspaper, published in Hong Kong by the Japanese, the Hong Kong News, was brought into camp. But of course, everyone felt that news for the community in Hong Kong printed by the Japanese, was suspect. In the newspaper, which was only rarely available in camp, but freely given out in Hong Kong to those able to read English, they would inform those able to read, how well they were treating the internees, and how much we in Stanley, appreciated the efforts made by them to maintain our good health and food supply, and even if all were not entirely happy, at least how satisfied we were for the time being.
Whenever they could, they included in their newspaper the successes which their military accomplished, wherever it might be; and at the same time, lauded themselves for what they were doing for us in Stanley, hoping thereby to impress the Chinese, the Axis nationals, and the Indians, and how much better off they would be to join with them in their idealistic economic philosophy of "Co-prosperity", a somewhat puerile piece of sophistry which certainly left the Chinese cold. Their propaganda fell flat even among the Indians whom they tried hard to convince of its benefits. Meanwhile, for us in Stanley, settling down was no easy matter, not for anyone, and of course the difficulties varied with the individuals. Those who had lived in Hong Kong for years, and more especially the women who in the main had lived a life of ease, and even luxury, without any worry as to the financial side of what kept things going, the change was highly up-setting. A large majority had never done any cooking at home; there was a cook-boy or cook-amah. One merely had to tell them what to prepare and for how many. They still did the very minimum of cooking since now the two essential meals of the day, were prepared in the camp kitchens, since there was little else with which they could be lavish. There was certainly no real meal nor anything like the type of spreads of which most of us had habitually partaken.