Percy Selbourne CLARKE / SELWYN-CLARKE (aka BAAG No. 13 / Septic / Scamp / Nobby / Sir Percy) [1893-1976]

Submitted by brian edgar on Mon, 01/09/2012 - 19:45
Percy Selbourne
Clarke / Selwyn-Clarke
Alias / nickname
BAAG No. 13 / Septic / Scamp / Nobby / Sir Percy
Birthplace (town, state)
North Finchley, London
Birthplace (country)
United Kingdom

Percy Selwyn Selwyn-Clarke - as he became after changing his birth name by deed poll - arrived in Hong Kong as Medical Director in 1938. After the Japanese victory he was not sent to Stanley but allowed to continue his work for the benefit of all communities. As well as his official duties, he organised the purchase of drugs, supplementary foodstuffs, and medical equipment, and arranged for these items to be smuggled into Stanley, Shamshuipo and other camps and hospitals.

He was arrested at the St. Paul’s (‘the French’) Hospital, where he'd been interned for most of the war, on May 2, 1943, on suspicion of being the head of the British spy organisation in Hong Kong (in fact his activities, although regarded as illegal by the Japanese, were purely humanitarian). He was brutally questioned at the Supreme Court Building for 10 months but revealed nothing. He was moved to Stanley Prison under sentence of death, but was reprieved, and in December, 1944 released to join his wife (Hilda) and daughter (Mary) at Ma Tau-wai Camp in Kowloon.

He resumed work as Hong Kong’s M. O. in July 1946. He became a Companion of the Order of St. Michael and St. George (CMG) in 1945 and a Knight Commander of the British Empire (KBE) in 1951. In the spring of 1947 he was appointed Governor of the Seychelles.

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“His Majesty the King has been pleased to confirm the provisional appointment of the Hon. Dr. Percy Selwyn-Clarke, M.S., M.D., B.S., F.R.C.P., M.R.C.S., D.P.H., D.T.M., Barrister-at-Law, to be a Member of the Executive Council of Hongkong in the absence of Mr. Richard McNeil Henderson, M. Inst. C.E., M.I. Mech E., with effect from April 6, 1939.”

Source: Hong Kong Daily Press, page 8, 12th June 1939

Dr Clarke gets a mention in Jill Doggett's book on the occasion when he paid an unannounced visit to the Fanling Home just before the war (1941?), accompanied by 'the ever-cheerful Dr Lam'.  They were struck by the pervading peace and quiet in the home, considering there were 60 babies and 16 members of staff.

Mildred Dibden was caught by surprise at this visit by the Hong Kong Director of Medical Services.  Her first thought was alarm that she had contravened a regulation, but she needn't have worried.  As he took a walk through the different nurseries, the Doctor commented on the quietness.  He wasn't to know that it was actually the 'quiet time' of day and the toddlers were all bathed and fed and lying in their cots.  It was also 'clean linen' day.  It was the perfect time to visit!

And he was there to help.  Asking Mildred whence she obtained her medical supplies (Watson's the chemist) he suggested that she might now source her requirements from Government Medical Stores.  'Just send your list to Dr Lam at Taipo.'   And then he was gone.

Shortly after, Dr Lam brought in a large package of chocolate for the babies, 'the first of many kindnesses to come.'


Just filling out the picture of this extra-ordinary man without too much unnecessary repetition of what’s been said already.  If there were ever a Hong Kong Hall of Fame, he would get my vote for it. 

Born in 1893 Selwyn Clarke trained at St Bartholomew’s Hospital, London University and served in WW1 as brigade Medical Officer.  He was promoted to captain and awarded the MC.  After demobilisation he began a long and distinguished career in the colonial medical service.

In 1935 he married Hilda Browning, and they had one daughter. His wife, known as ‘Red Hilda’, was an ardent left-winger with political ambitions, and she played an important part in his history.  When the War came she refused to be evacuated and stayed to support her husband in all he was doing to help sustain medical services after the Japanese invasion, part of which was to acquire  quantities of special food and drugs which he foresaw would be essential for the treatment of the deficiency diseases which would soon appear in the colony. 

When Dr Clarke was arrested for spying by the Kempeitai in 1943, he endured two years of imprisonment which included solitary confinement, beatings and torture, which left him bent and disabled but unbowed, (He carried a physical disability until his death), and his mental powers and resolution remained undimmed.

After the War ended, he insisted on setting up the medical services again in Hong Kong before going on leave, returning in 1946 to continue as Hong Kong’s MO. He was knighted and made Governor of the Seychelles in 1947.

He wrote down his memoirs, Footprints, and dedicated them to a Japanese interpreter, a Christian minister of religion in civil life in Japan, who had risked his own life to help many in Hong Kong who were victims of the war, even though they were officially enemies of his own country.

'Footprints', by Aldi

‘He was - and remained - a good physician. He was a meticulous and tireless administrator; he was also single-minded, and favoured his own ideas and plans.... He argued in their support politely, but strongly and persistently.  He was a very brave man; few could have approached the level of courage with which he endured imprisonment.’

KBE(1951) CMG(1945) MC(1918) MRCS LRCP(1916) BS Lond(1919) MD(1921) DPH Cantab(1921) DTM&H(1923) MRCP(1926) FRCP(1937)

Source:  This piece from the Royal College of Physicians website.

American missionary Beth Nance in her autobiography has a word of appreciation for Dr Clarke and what he did for internees in Stanley Camp (where she was) during the war.

After Hong Kong fell, and he was permitted to continue in his role as Chief Medical Officer, he 'ably interceded with the Japanese on behalf of the prisoners for their special medical and dietary needs.  From time to time he reminded them of the Geneva Convention and what they were supposed be doing.  He set up a diet kitchen so that this food got special attention, which made it more edible for those who couldn't cope with the coarseness.  Some people lived longer because of it.... some people survived because of it.' 

I have been trying to construct  a more  precise chronology of Dr. Selwyn-Clarke's time in prison as he understandably only gives 'order of magnitude' estimates in his autobiography. In the process I also learnt about another 'movement' of the Bedales Bible.

The chronology is given below. Selwyn-Clarke gives the first and last dates in his autobiography, and I've been able to establish one more date precisely and rough time periods for two more.


The first date is known from multiple sources:

May 2, 1943 Selwyn-Clarke is arrested at French Hospital and taken to a cell beneath the former Supreme Court. He is now in the hands of the dreaded Gendarmes (aka the Kempeitai).

He tells us in his autobiography that after the first set of 'treatments', during which he admitted nothing, he was given 'something that passed for a trial, though it was merely a sentence of execution'.

An approximate date for this trial can be calculated from testimony of the Jesuit Father Patrick Joy, who records that he was taken from the Supreme Court to Stanley Prison with Selwyn-Clarke and others on June 13, 1943:

June 13, 1943 First Trial took place sometime, probably quite soon, after this date

But Selwyn-Clarke responded to the death sentence with, 'The sooner the better. I'm extremely tired of your methods of investigation' and this defiance was punished with further 'investigations' although the death sentence remained. My reason for suggesting that the trial followed swiftly after his move to the prison is that he doesn't mention leaving the Supreme Court at this point in his memoir, which makes me think that these events concluded in his being sent back to the Supreme Court within a short time frame.

But when did he leave the Supreme Court cells for good?

Selwyn-Clarke tells us that he was moved from the Supreme Court to Stanley Prison after 'about ten months' from his arrest. We can give a date before which this must have happened.

On April 3, 1944 Franklin Gimson, the British leader in Stanley, was disturbed to discover that Hilda Selwyn-Clarke had received some of her husband's clothes as well as the Bible she had sent him previously. The next day he learnt from the Camp authorities that Sewlyn and the other British prisoners had been sent for further investigations preliminary to a trial and they could only take a certain number of possessions into their new form of custody. Hilda asked Gimson to try to get the Bible sent back to him as she knew how much it had meant to him. 

This means the move was probably between 10 and 11 months after his arrest, close to Selwyn-Clarke's own estimate:

Late March-April 3, 1944 about this time Selwyn-Clarke was sent from the Supreme Court to Stanley Prison.

Although 'further investigations' sounds ominous, in most (but not all) cases brutal interrogations stopped when the prisoner left the custody of the Gendarmes for that of the prison service. Another prisoner, the banker Hugo Foy, was questioned 'about April' by the prosecutor Major Kogi but his account makes it sound like this was fine-tuning of evidence ready for the trial rather than an attempt to get new information. Foy believes that the reason there were no more than two death sentences at this trial was that Kogi was replaced by a better educated man who had spent some years in Europe and did not ask for capital punishment in most cases.

We know from multiple sources when this trial took place:

August 29, 1944 Second Triaalongside 38 other men and one woman. Selwyn-Clarke gets three years (not including time served)

Selwyn-Clarke tells us that his second trial was about sixteenth months after the first, so this ties in roughly with a date in the second half of June for the first trial.

We know when his ordeal came to an end:

December 8, 1944 Selwyn-Clarke and other prisoners were released as part of an amnesty to mark the third anniversary of the beginning of the Pacific War. He was sent to Ma-Tau-wai camp in Kowloon to be reunited with Hilda and their daughter Mary, who had been transferred from Stanley the previous day.