LETTERS from WIFE in AUSTRALIA to H.W. ROGER, CIVILIAN INTERNEE, H.K.
Six covers with letters were addressed to Hugh (Hugo) Wood Roger in Hong Kong dated from December 1941 until October 1943, but only five of them were from his wife Claudia and their 2 sons, Ned and Robin. The first cover is an introduction to the Japanese invasion of Hong Kong, and it was sent just prior to his wife had any information about this terrible event in the life of the family.
The air mail cover had a red OPENED BY CENSOR/ 2 label as well as the purple 2/ PASSED/ BY/ CENSOR/ 835 handstamp and the 9d Platypus stamp had a roller cancel PLEASE POST/ CHRISTMAS MAIL/ THIS WEEK with a cds of CHATSWOOD/ [time]/ 8 DEC/ 1942/ N.S.W. There were 2 additional markings, the purple NOT TRANSMISSIBLE/ SERVICE/ SUSPENDED and a large red extended finger. The cover was addressed to H.W. Roger, Butterfield & Swire, Hong Kong (Figure 1).
The reverse had a return address for Mrs. H.W. Roger at Chatswood N.S.W. crossed out, and a transit red double circle DEAD LETTER OFFICE/ 26 JA 42/ SYDNEY N.S.W. as well as a roller cancel AIR MAIL/ SAVES TIME with a cds at CHATSWOOD/ 27 JAN/ 1942, plus the same red pointing finger, and a manuscript re-address to Hillside, Burragorang Valley (Figure 2).
The history of the Hong Kong conglomerate of Butterfield & Swire and the fate of their staff will be discussed after the next four covers and letters are described. The next cover is pencilled as #3 sent by his wife with the typical PRISONERS OF WAR POST/ SERVICE DES PRISONNIERS DE GUERRE withe a red oval Japanese letters handstamp, a purple Australian censor hand stamp with the Australian Red Cross insignia at the lower left. The C/o OFFICIAL PRISONERS OF WAR INFORMATION BUREAU was crossed out, and substituted by C/o JAPANESE RED CROSS SOCIETY, TOKYO, JAPAN. The reason for this was that Hugh Wood Roger was a Civilian Internee, Hong Kong. There are pencil manuscripts ‘Posted 28/8/42', ‘Rcd (received) 25/3/44', (delayed) ‘19 M(o) nth’, and ‘Ackn(owledged) 14/4/ 44' (Figure 3).
In the accompanying letters, although addressed to Hugh, he was always called Hugo. Much of the typed letter is about the two sons and their prowess at football (Rugby) and athletics, and their excellent school marks. Claudia mentions that she had heard indirectly from Mr. Swire of the Company that the Red Cross in Geneva had confirmed that Hugo was well. There was mention of 2 other staff members who were interned and well, but one had been killed.
The next cover was almost identical in format, except for the line that had been previously crossed out was now totally blocked out, and Hugh’s address was now given more fully as Room 16, Bungalow F, British Civilian Internment Camp, Stanley, Hong Kong. The cover had the red oval with Japanese letters, the Australian purple censor’s mark, but the letter was posted at the SHIP MAIL ROOM/ 4/ 230P/ 14 AP 43/ MELBOURNE. A pencil manuscript showed that this was letter #11, and the letter was not received until 12 July1944, a delayed arrival of some 15 months! (Figure 4).
The next cover is similar to the last in regards to the address, purple censors mark, red Japanese letters in an oval, the complete blocking out, but now there was an additional black Japanese letters in an oblong, and this letter #18 was sent from Melbourne on 17 August 1943, and was received on 15.1.45, a delay of ‘17 months 1 week’, and acknowledged on 12/3/45 (Figure 5).
The next cover is similar to the last addressed to the Stanley Camp, the letter is #21 sent from Melbourne 16 October 1943 and received 23.6.45 after 20+ months. Mrs. Roger’s address is however given as Barker College, Hornsby, N.S.W. There is a totally different large red postal marking, partially legible, of CROIX-ROUGE DU JAPON/ POUR LES PRISONNIERS DE GUERRE (Figure 6).
Victory over Japan Day (V-J Day) was announced on August 15, 1945 (August 14, 1945 in North America) ending combat in the Second World War. At noon Japan standard time, Emperor Hirohito announced Japan’s acceptance of the terms of the Potsdam Declaration, but in view of the delay of the letters being delivered, we have no idea whether further letters were written and delivered. I have no information as to whether Hugo survived and returned to Australia, and I have not, as yet identified him as a prisoner of war nor as an employee of Butterfield and Swire. I have no doubt of the latter fact as Mrs Roger received confirmation by cable from one of the Mr. Swires, that Hugo was well.
John Swire & Sons was founded in 1832 when John Swire, a Liverpool, England merchant since 1916 extended his business to include his young sons, John Samuel (born 1825) and William Hudson (born 1830). On the father’s death in 1847, they inherited a small but solvent business. Over the next 20 years they greatly expanded the business to America, Australia and the far East when China finally opened to foreigners. In 1866 they formed a partnership with R.S. Butterfield, a Yorkshire textile manufacturer and the combined firm opened its first office in Shanghai in 1867.
The firm went through multiple expansions into many ventures, including shipping, sugar refinery, in Hong Kong in 1881, and an insurance company. When John Samuel die in 1898, John Scott became the Senior partner. The latter went into engineering and dockyards and when he died, two sons of John Samuel, John (Jack) and George Warren Swire became 2 of 3 life Directors, and they were followed by the next generation of J.K. (Jock) Swire and John Swire Scott as leaders in the 20 th century up to the Second World War. Prior to the War, Japan invaded China and pushed the British firm out. With Japan’s expansion into Hong Kong some firm members got out to Australia, but many of the staff were interned on December 1, 1941, six days before Japan bombed Pearl Harbour. By the time that Japan surrendered in 1945, half of Swire’s ships, the sugar refinery and dockyard in Hong Kong had been destroyed. Whilst writing about Butterfield & Swire, here is a philatelic point in regards to the B & S perfin, for the company was one of many Hong Kong companies that used perfins (Figure 7).
Stanley Camp was located on the south side of the island of Hong Kong, and comprised the grounds of the Stanley Prison (but not the prison itself) and St. Stephen's College. Over 3,100 Allied citizens were held there at various times from mid January 1942 to the end of August 1945. Internees suffered under the strict discipline of the Japanese, and seven internees were among the over thirty civilians executed on Stanley beach in 1943 after the Japanese kempeitai uncovered a resistance ring and discovered several hidden radios in the camp. Internees were to suffer further casualties when the camp was accidentally bombed by USAAF bombers in January, 1945. Seven internees escaped from the camp to Free China, but another party of four was not so lucky. Recaptured within a short distance of camp, they were beaten, tortured, and held in prison for over a year.
An interesting but tragic time in World War Two, well illustrated by these five covers.