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.'