Dr Harry Lechmere Clift was a pioneering medical missionary. Born in India in 1876 he was educated in India and then in England at Eastbourne High School and in 1893 he went to Edinburgh to study for his Bachelor of Medicine/Surgery degrees, which he completed in 1900.
He married Winifred Ashby in 1901 and in 1902 they sailed out to Hong Kong to serve at the CMS mission hospital in Pakhoi, the first CMS hospital in Guangdong (Kwang-Tung) Province, and second largest in China. They learned Cantonese. However they suffered from malaria and other illnesses and the Medical Board in London concluded that it would be unwise for them to continue. They returned to England to a country practice in Scotby, Cumberland.
In 1905 they felt a strong pull back to China to begin a work of their own, and in 1906 they returned independent of any society to settle in Kuei Lin, Guangxi (Kwang-Si) Province and pioneer a medical centre (KMM - Kuei Lin Medical Mission), thence moving on to Nanning at the end of 1906 to do the same there. This involved learning to speak Mandarin, which they did. They founded the Emmanuel Medical Mission and Church, the first Medical Mission in the province. At some point they also started a Foundling Home for abandoned babies. All these they operated until 1917, when Dr Clift returned to Britain to serve in the Royal Army Medical Corps in France until the end of WWI.
After the War, the Clifts returned to Nanning and served on in the Medical Mission, Church and Foundling Home, until 1923, when Winifred succumbed to rheumatic fever and was hospitalised in Hong Kong. As she was given just two years to live, the Clifts approached the BCMS and handed over the Medical Centre, now a Hospital, and Children's Home in Nanning to them to administer. They moved to Hong Kong for the sake of Winifred's health and Dr Clift registered to practice there for the next 5 years, but he superintended the work in Nanning until 1930. During this time, Winifred experienced a wonderful recovery.
They went back to Nanning in 1928, but due to the general unrest of the Civil War there they returned finally to Hong Kong in 1930.
The BCMS home of foundlings had also been affected by the ongoing unrest and after several moves in Guangxi, was finally settled in Broadwood Road, Hong Kong, under the supervision of Miss Elizabeth Lucas.
In 1931 Dr Clift received an appointment from the Hong Kong Government as inspector of the Chinese Medical Charities in the colony.
At some point in the 1930s, Dr Clift rented four ground floor shop spaces at 216 and 218 Nathan Road, and established a Chapel for his non-denominational Emmanuel Mission Church, which he led with Winifred's assistance on the organ and with the teaching. At this time Kowloon was a rapidly growing spill-over from Hong Kong Island, with a burgeoning population. The Rosary Church was built in 1905 for the Catholics and St Andrews in 1906 for the C of E population, but there was definitely a need for more churches for pioneers like the Clifts. Dr Clift also opened an Emmanuel Medical Centre and dispensary on the site which continued until 1967. It was certainly all in place in Nathan Road by 1936.
In 1934 Dr Clift had a second bout of ill health, and the Clifts returned to England to recuperate in Devonshire. As part of his recovery, Dr Clift then took a post as ship’s doctor on a slow boat to China, via Canada, Africa and Australia. Back in Hong Kong in 1936, the Mission Church in Nathan Road was now styled as the Evangelical Fraternity Church and had been supplemented by a Fraternity Book Room, later renamed the Emmanuel English Book Room. There was also a Forces Games Room with tea room associated. The Book Room continued as a book-store in Kowloon until 1978.
From their years in Nanning, the Clifts found that a waiting room of patients in their Medical Centre gave a wonderful opportunity for sharing Bible stories and the good news of the Gospel. In Kowloon they had a Chinese Biblewoman who was happy to perform this task and keep the waiting throng entertained, thus providing a ready congregation for the Mission Church.
During the 1930s the Clifts' Emmanuel Mission Church became firmly established and they published meetings for each coming week in the HK Daily Press. These included church services on Sundays (morning and evening), a children's Sunday School, and a weekly Wednesday evening prayer meeting, with other meetings in the week for Bible Study or teaching or social activities, held in church members' homes; a programme which would be very familiar in a contemporary church setting today. Dr and Mrs Clift both seem to have had a fruitful and influential teaching ministry based on their wealth of mission experience in China. With the daytime Medical Centre to run, and a busy church programme evenings and weekends, the Clifts essentially had two full time jobs between them.
One might be forgiven for thinking they must have been people of some means. Dr Clift was a generous man who treated all his patients whether they could pay or not. He and his wife started up a medical centre, later hospital, and a foundling home in Nanning, (worth some £4,500), which they gave over to the BCMS; in Hong Kong they purchased a flat in Kowloon and rented premises for another medical centre, church and other rooms. However, when they started in Kuei Lin, they were renting their accommodation and from reading Very Far East it appears they lived by faith and many of these things were funded by financial support from home. In one letter from Nanning, Winifred says, 'We have nearly bought a piece of land near the river (Yong). Please pray that God will give us enough money to build a very nice hospital and dispensary and preaching hall.' In another place she says of the Chinese, 'They get so accustomed to seeing missionaries building houses and hospitals and schools, they nearly always believe he does it out of his own pocket (!!!), and they think we are telling lies when we say we have not the means to pay a big rent.'
During the War, the Clifts were interned in Stanley Camp by the Japanese. During the occupation, friend Willie Goon and other uninterned nationals kept the Mission Church and book room going. After the liberation the Clifts were repatriated as priority cases, both being bedbound, but Winifred the more needy.
Once fully recovered, they returned to Hong Kong and continued their work but in 1949 Dr Clift died after a short illness, aged 73. Following his death, Winifred returned to England, but she must have realised her home was now in Hong Kong and she returned to live the rest of her days there until her own death in 1966, aged 89. They are buried together in the Hong Kong Cemetery, Happy Valley. Theirs were lives of significant achievement and influence for good, and a dedication to the Chinese people perhaps only possible through not having had a family of their own to raise. The fact that they both died in Hong Kong highlights their total identification with the land they came to serve. In Far Far East Winifred wrote these insightful words, ‘Science will never know how much she owes the opening door in China to the steady, plodding teaching of Christianity by thousands of obscure missionaries.’
Their church The Emmanuel Church has grown to six churches and is known today as The Emmanuel English Church, the rest being Chinese speaking. The first daughter church was the Sham Tseng Church, built in 1955. Another church is the Emmanuel Chinese Church, 1962. Some Emmanuel Churches have Emmanuel medical centres and schools associated.
I'll leave the final word on the Clifts to American missionary Beth Nance who said, 'Dr Clift was a wonderful missionary, gentleman, Bible scholar, medical doctor and precious man of God. His wife was a great match.'
Photo of The Emmanuel Book Room and Church Office in the 70s here.
The Yip Family of Amah Rock by Jill Doggett.
My Life - Elizabeth Nance;
and also team Gwulo - thank you.