Writers in Hong Kong, February 1938 | Gwulo: Old Hong Kong

Writers in Hong Kong, February 1938

In February 1938 three of Britain's most eminent writers were in Hong Kong.

The poet W. H. Auden and the novelist Christopher Isherwood were on their way to the mainland to write a book on the Sino-Japanese War. They stayed with Duncan Sloss (University Vice Chancellor) and met Sir Vandeleur Grayburn and others. 

While they were in Hong Kong, the poet and critic William Empson came down by train (3 days from Changsha) with a Chinese friend, George Yeh. They stayed in 'Norman France's beautiful house on the east side of the colony'. In September 1939 Empson, on his way home to help with the war effort, stayed with France again and with another friend Hugh Williamson.

I'm researching these writers, and would be grateful to hear if anyone has any memories of Auden's, Ishwerwood's or Empson's visit (gossip would also be interesting!). There's a little bit about France on the Commonwealth War Graves website (he died in the 1941 fighting) and a picture at


(he was in the HK branch of the China Defence League) but I would also appreciate it if anyone has any more information about either him or Williamson.


Any idea if Hugh Williamson was a military man? There are a couple of mentions of a Captain / Major H B Williamson who was second-in-command of Z-force, but was in Singapore when the Japanese attacked Hongkong. See:


and page 46 of:


And for the other famous names above, have you searched for them in the newspapers of that period?

Regards, David

Thanks very much for your help, David. I'll see if I can find out more about Williamson.

No luck on a quick search for the writers, but when I get back from a short break I'll try again.