Wing Commander Alfred Horace Steele-Perkins was born in Exeter, Devon in 1886. At the time of his birth Queen Victoria had reigned for nearly 50 years and it was the apex of the British Empire. The photograph of him shown below is dated February 1938 and is sourced from the web site of the National Portrait Gallery.
In 1941 he was caught up in a scandal involving the Air Raid Precautions Department (ARP) and the Public Works Department (PWD) in Hong Kong. At the time he was Director of the ARP and therefore had the ultimate responsibility for what went on in his Department but to some extent he was as an innocent victim of graft and wrongdoing in these government departments. There was no suggestion that he had been involved in any dishonesty himself, indeed he was seen as a man of integrity. However his reputation was to some extent besmirched by the publicity which attended the Public Enquiry. To make matters worse, during the proceedings he was asked questions about his relationship with a young and attractive Chinese girl called Mimi Lau who worked for one of the companies supplying material to ARP.
So who was Wing Commander Steele-Perkins. His full name is rather impressive and memorable - Alfred Horace Steel Steele-Perkins, certainly not the name of someone destined to obscurity - but in this story I will shorten the name to his first initials AHS, although he was actually known to his fiends by his second name Horace.
When the photograph was taken he was 52 years old and a retired RAF Wing Commander who had served in the Royal Navy earlier in his career and throughout World War 1. A well dressed man, of middle age, with a receding hair line, dark and bushy eyebrows, somewhat striking eyes, a strong jaw line and an air of command. It was February 1938 and he was just about to leave England to take up his new assignment as Director of ARP in Hong Kong.
He joined the Royal Navy in or around 1905 at the age of nineteen. He had been sent to Eastman's Royal Naval Academy which was a school which prepared boys for entry into the Royal Navy. There is a record of him serving on the newly commissioned battleship HMS Cornwallis as Assistant Clerk in 1905/1906. Assistant Clerk was a rank used in the Paymaster or Accountant branch. As an Assistant Clerk AHS's rank was equivalent to the most junior commissioned rank.
The Accountant Branch had succeeded the role of the Purser of Victorian times. This role of supply, procurement, book-keeping and payments has been handled in previous generations by the variously described roles of Captain's Clerk, Bursars and Pursars. In 1944 the branch was re-named Supply & Secretariat and today it is known as the Logistics Branch. The Purser in Victorian times was the Captains right hand man for the management and administration of the ship or more correctly the ship's office. The oldest man at the Battle of Trafalgar was Walter Burke aged sixty-nine who was Purser on HMS Victory and was at Lord Nelson's side when he died of his wounds. The term Purser is reflected today by the slang word "Pusser", a derivation of Purser, which is used to describe the function, for example "pusser's issue" being anything issued by the Royal Navy supply function. As a member of the RNR many years ago I can remember the RN issued brown colored canvas traveling bags which were always known as 'pussers grips'. Navy issued rum was known as 'pussers rum' or simply as 'Nelson's blood'.
|Stern view - HMS Cornwallis (Source:Wikipedia)|
HMS Cornwallis was AHS's first ship. She was a pre-Dreadnaught class battleship whose armament included four 12 inch guns and twelve 6 inch guns. She served in the Channel Fleet from 1905 to 1907. As an aside I'm slightly surprised that a battleship was named after a General, Lord Cornwallis who surrendered British forces in the decisive battle of the American War of Independence, to combined American Revolutionary and French forces at the Battle of Yorktown in 1781.
In 1918 in an alignment of ranks, the rank of Paymaster was changed to Paymaster Lieutenant, Assistant Paymaster was changed to Paymaster Sub Lieutenant, the rank of Clerk was changed to Paymaster Midshipman and Assistant Clerk became Paymaster Cadet.
In 1906 AHS appears as a Assistant Clerk on the cruiser HMS King Alfred and later that year is promoted to Clerk, the first rung in the ladder of promotion.
|Cruiser - HMS King Alfred (Source: Wikipedia)|
HMS King Alfred's armament included two 9.2 inch guns and sixteen 6 inch guns. The ship served as flagship on the China Station from 1906 to 1910. AHS served on this ship during the period 1906 to 1908 and therefore his service coincided with part of her period in the Far East in which case he would have seen Hong Kong for the first time.
His daughter Mary Tiffen was kind enough to give me a list of ships he served which had been engraved on a napkin ring:
HMS Cornwallis (1905-1906)
HMS King Alfred (1906-1908)
HMS Hawke (1908)
HMS Black Prince (1908)
HMS Astrae (1908)
HMS Mars (1911)
HMS Drake (1911-1913)
HMS Talbot (1913)
HMS Achilles (1913-1915)
HMS Campania (1915)
In April 1911 at the age of twenty-four he is listed as Assistant Paymaster (equivalent to a Sub- Lieutenant) serving on HMS Mars.
|HMS Mars - dressed overall at the Coronation Review (1902) (Source: Wikipedia)|
|List of officers on board HMS Mars on 2nd April 1911 (Source: Ancestry.com)|
In November 1910 HMS Mars had been involved in a break down in naval discipline euphemistically described an an 'incident' which was reported in the "West Australian". This occurred before AHS joined the ship. See newspaper report below:
TROUBLE ON H.M.S. MARS.
London, Nov. 24.
The stoppage of general leave on H.M.
battleship Mars at Devonnort yesterday
led to concerted protests to the Commander
and some boohooing. The petty officers on duty
have been punished for not preventing action on
the part of the men.
(Source: 'West Australian' 25th November 1910)
AHS served in the Royal Navy throughout World War 1. By 1918 he held the rank of Staff Paymaster equivalent to Paymaster Lieutenant Commander. His last ship as a Naval Officer to which he was posted in 1915 was HMS Campania.
|HMS Campania - (Source: Wikipedia)|
Campania was an interesting ship. Originally an ocean going liner that had been launched in 1892, she was purchased by the Royal Navy on the outset of war in 1914 and converted to hold and launch aircraft. She was equipped with derricks to lift sea-planes out of the water and a flight deck which after some modification had a length of 245 feet. This ship was at the forefront of naval aviation.
She sank in the Firth of Forth in November 1918 after dragging her anchor and sustaining damage to her hull after collision with other ships.
AHS seems to have then been transferred to the Royal Flying Corp and in the period 1917/1919 he seems to have been very much involved with the establishment of the Royal Air Force including the drafting of constitution and regulations. The family believed that the OBE which was gazetted in 1919 was awarded in connection with this work. It was at this time that AHS switched from the Royal Navy to the Royal Air Force when it was established in 1918 by the amalgamation of the Royal Flying Corp and the Royal Naval Air Service.
In February 1916 he married twenty-three year old Edith Gwendoline Fawcus Carrall. She was always known by her second name or Gwen for short. Gwen had been born in 1893 in Chefoo now known as Yantai, Shandong, Northern China where her father worked for China Maritime Customs. When they met Gwen was a VAD Nurse working in Exeter
A newspaper report in the Western Times dated Wednesday 23 February 1916 reports the wedding under the title "Society Wedding". The wedding was held at St Mathews Church, Exeter.
|Interior of St Matthews (Source: www.achurchnearyou.com)|
The report mentions that the brides father was the late Mr. James Wilcocks Carrall formerly Commissioner for China Maritime Customs. He had passed away in Chefoo in 1902. The bride's mother Frances Mary Fawcus Carrall gave the bride away at the wedding. The bride and groom were both in uniform. Gwen was working as a nurse at a Military Hospital and wore her Red Cross dress uniform.
The marriage produced three children, a son John Horace was born in December 1916 then after quite an interval a daughter Mary Gladys was born in 1931and their youngest daughter Susan Anne was born in 1934.
In 1925 he was promoted from Squadron Leader to Wing Commander and the announcement referred to him as being a holder of the OBE. In 1928 there is a record of AHS being posted to the aircraft carrier HMS Hermes for duty as Senior Air Force Officer.
In 1934, electoral rolls indicate that AHS and Gwen were living in Virginia Water but at this stage I am not sure whether he was still serving in the RAF but I think by then he had retired. I have not been able to find his exact retirement date but I know it was before 1935 as evidenced by the newspaper extract below. If he retired in 1934 it would have been at the relatively early age of forty-eight.
In April 1935 the family experienced a tragedy in the death of John Horace Steele-Perkins at the age of eighteen. The Western Daily Press & Bristol Mirror for 4th April 1935 reports on the inquest. He had been out running in the morning but had collapsed and died quite close to his home at Virginia Water.
"I feel that perhaps I insisted too much on his keeping fit declared Wing Commander AH Steele-Perkins formerly of the RAF at the inquest held yesterday."
The doctor reported to the inquest:
"the boy's heart had been weakened by poisoning in the blood, probably due to a recent attack of influenza and it failed to pump blood through the heart. This stopping of circulation caused the lungs to be drowned in fluid and he died from Asphyxia."
Gwen being a trained nurse had attempted to resuscitate her son using artificial respiration but to no avail. What a terrible tragedy they had to endure and a loss that AHS never really recovered from.
After retiring from the RAF as a Wing Commander he seems to have made a name for himself as an expert on air raid precautions and civil defence whilst working for the Home Office. He became Regional Inspector for London and Middlesex Air Raid Precautions.
In January 1938 he was appointed by the Colonial Office to be Director of the newly formed Air Raid Precautions Department of the Hong Kong Government. The family sailed out to Hong Kong on board the P & O vessel SS Ranpura arriving in Hong Kong on March 16th 1938. The following year war broke out in Europe and the threat of war with Japan hung over Hong Kong. As Director of ARP he had a massive task to build air raid shelters, air raid tunnels, to conduct blackout exercises, to educate the public on air raid precautions and civil defence and to recruit and train ARP wardens.
|ARP Drills before war commenced in HK (Source: Imperial War Museum)|
Time was short and there was huge expenditure to contractors to supply bricks, sand bags, tools, gas masks, helmets and for contracting companies appointed through the Public Works Department to handle construction of air raid shelters and tunnels. This started in ernest in 1939. A new ARP Store was constructed and a new headquarters building and training centre was established for the ARP in Morrison Hill Road near the Happy Valley Race Track. The new headquarters building was opened in May 1940. In June 1940 there was concern that war with Japan was imminent. As a result the Government ordered all British women and children to be evacuated via Manila to Australia. Gwen and her two daughters left in July 1940.
After evacuation and when nothing happened by way of Japanese invasion there were heated protest meetings which carried on right up to the start of war. The bachelor husbands wanted their wives and families back and many wives protested and agitated to come back. The protesters took umbrage from the fact that many women had avoided the compulsory evacuation and not just those in essential services. They were known as "evacuation dodgers" and some that had been evacuated managed to return.
Having just arrived in Australia with other evacuees, Gwen is quoted commenting on the evacuation process in a newspaper article in the Sunday Times for 11th August 1940
“They did their best for us at Manila," said Mrs. A. H. Steele-Perkins, wife of Wing-Commander Steele-Perkins, who is in charge of A.R.P. arrangements in Hong Kong. She is one of 535 women and children evacuees from Hong Kong who arrived in Sydney today on a liner. Of the passengers 331 were landed in Sydney, and the rest to be sent on to Melbourne within the next three days. Mrs. Steele-Perkins said that, although there were, complaints that conditions were rough, it had to be taken into account that 3,500 women and children were sent to Manila at short notice, and just after the city had been feeling the effect of a monsoon. The Filipino Red Cross, with the best of intentions, sent some of the women and children to a condemned hotel where conditions were bad, but they were moved later. In this place 300 women had to use one bathroom. There were 250 children ranging from babies in arms to boys and girls of nearly 16 years on board the liner, which was the first of six bound for Australia.”
It must have been a painful parting, although few may have thought at the time, that they would not see their spouses for more than five years, until after liberation in August 1945. Some would never see their spouse again in the case of those who died during the hostilities and subsequent incarceration. Some of the bachelor husbands in Hong Kong no doubt struck up liaisons with the opposite sex in the absence of their spouse and no doubt vice versa too. One such case was alleged to be that of Wing Commander Steele-Perkins who had a personal relationship with a young, attractive Chinese girl by the name of Mimi Lau who it transpired worked for one of the companies supplying material and equipment to the ARP Dept. and Public Works Dept..
Millions of dollars had been spent in 1939 and 1940 on building air raid shelters and associated procurements. With the need for expedience and the large sums involved and perhaps shortcuts taken in the normal approval and vetting process, it was not surprising that reports of graft started coming to light involving the ARP and PWD Departments.
A Commission of Enquiry was set up in August 1941 under the chairmanship of Supreme Court Judge Paul Cressall and consisting of Leonard Bellamy (General Manager Hong Kong Tramways), Sydney Hampden-Ross (Chartered Accountant) and Ken Barnett (Barrister-at-law) as Secretary to the Commission.
The subsequent public enquiry into the procurement scandal within the ARP was widely reported in the Hong Kong newspapers and resulted in it coming to light that AHS had a close personal relationship with Mimi Lau. Most people assumed she was his mistress at a time when such liaisons were common. He was also questioned about his friendship with a Mrs Violet Chan who had helped Gwen in setting up the Women's ARP Union.
AHS was called to give evidence to the Commission on or around 29th September 1941 He was represented by George Tinson of Johnson Stokes & Master (JSM) who was to die on 19th December in his beautiful home 'Postbridge' at Wong Nai Chung Gap when his home came to be in the front line following the Japanese landings on the Island of Hong Kong.
The Hong Kong Telegraph for 30 Sept. 1941 reports:
"The intense public interest in the public inquiry into matters affecting the architectural office of the of the APRP Dept. manifested itself this morning when a large crowd was present to listen to the Director of ARP Wing Commander A.H. Steele-Perkins open his evidence".
AHS stated in giving evidence that he had:
"the cooperation of his wife who enlisted the sympathy of the Chinese womenfolk. She started the Women's ARP Union with the assistance of Mrs Violet Chan. I was appointed by the Colonial Office as ARP Officer on 21January 1938. During the first year I concentrated on the preparation of a local ARP scheme and the enrollment of volunteers.
I also concentrated on the organization of the the Corp of Air Raid Wardens. Mr George Pentreath took over Chairmanship of the Main Committee (of the Corp of Air Raid Wardens) in May 1938.
I had to give active consideration to the construction of an ARP store to house war equipment and also the ARP School and Headquarters." (1)
Initially his office was housed in the Colonial Secretaries Office.
"My staff while at the Colonial Secretaries Office consisted of only myself and one stenographer. Towards the latter part of 1939 I found the work of organization of the ARP was really quite beyond the capabilities of a single man and I applied to the Government for a Deputy. Early in 1940 Mr Bruce Puckle was appointed Deputy Director ARP.
The construction of the ARP Store was of paramount importance and as early as 22nd March 1938 I raised this question with the then Director of Public Works (Mr Tickle whilst Mr Purves was on leave) but he informed me that he was unable to spare anyone from that Department to supervise this work. I accordingly obtained the Financial Secretary's approval on 3rd August to utilize services of an outside architect and was recommended by Mr Tickle to approach Leigh & Orange.
It should be noted that at this time there was no technical adviser on the staff and it was not until Jan 1939 that Captain Hobbs was detailed to advise on ARP construction. He worked in PWD Offices and it was not until September 1939 that he was transferred to work with me in the offices adjoining the Colonial Secretary's Office.
In the early part of 1940 it was decided that payment of construction work in ARP would be paid out of sums allocated to PWD. Accordingly on June 1st 1940 I minuted the Hon. Colonial Secretary that I had no objection to the transfer of Captain Hobbs back to the Public Works Department staff." (1)
Captain Charles Christie Arthur Hobbs who was Chief Architect for PWD committed suicide on 21st August 1941 before being required to give evidence to the inquiry.
The young, relatively attractive and seemingly contrite Mimi Lau may have made a positive impression and attracted some sympathy but there was little sympathy for the government who the public had long suspected of corruption and inefficiency within some of its departments. Mimi Lau was represented by solicitor David Strellett. The accounts of this case differ but most suggest that she worked for a company which manufactured bricks and breeze blocks which were sold to ARP for use in construction of air raid shelters. The blocks were sold at an inflated price and were sub-standard. From that time on such breeze blocks with a hollow centre have been known in Hong Kong as "Mimi Laus".
The newspaper reports show that Mimi Lau was an Air Raid Warden and that she was employed by Mr Cheng Chik-chi of Chiap Hua Manufacturing Company which company was also called to give evidence to the Commission. This company reportedly sold 3,000 helmets to ARP in July 1940 and other contracts included the supply of shovels, pick axes and crowbars and the supply of 3,600 hurricane lamps. There is no record of this company manufacturing or supplying bricks so the description of such bricks as "Mimi Laus" may be a bit unjust.
A search on the internet showed that this company Chiaphua Industries is still in existence. The company web site states :
"In Chinese, Chiaphua means both 'enterprising spirit' and 'harmonious partnership'. These qualities have taken our company far beyond its modest beginnings as a small, family-owned metal stamping company, established back in 1922. The Chiaphua Group, founded three generations ago by Mr. Cheng Chik Chi and his three younger brothers, is one of the largest privately-held industrial group of companies in Hong Kong. During the 1930s, the Cheng brothers decided to set up a factory in Guangzhou using their father's hardware shop name Chiaphua. The factory was set up to produce metal ware and cutlery. Chiaphua also manufactured and supplied instruments such as bed frames, helmets and shovels to the military at the time. The Japanese invasion during World-War-II caused the Guangzhou factory to cease operation. The Cheng brothers moved the factory to Hong Kong. Within four years, Chiaphua had expanded up to four factories in Hong Kong." (2)
In a newly published book 'Eastern Fortress' (2014) the authors Kwong Chi Man and Tsoi Yiu Lun write more plausibly of this case:
"More cases surfaced, the most famous being the case involving Miss Mimi Lau (Lau Kam Ling), a starlet, clerk in a local steelworks, and close friend of Steele-Perkins. It was alleged that Lau had used her relationship with Steele-Perkins to secure shovel and helmet contracts for her company at a higher price.
The English newspapers devoted overwhelming attention to the relationship between Mimi Lau and Steele-Perkins. As the latter was about to serve as the ARP commandant in Calcutta, he was a suitable scapegoat for blame that should have been placed on both the ARP and the Department of Public Works, which was responsible for the construction of air raid shelters and the procurement of breeze blocks. In the confusion, an unfounded rumor emerged that Mimi Lau had been responsible for the government's decision to buy inferior breeze blocks. Prisoners of War and civilian internees called the blocks 'Mimi Laus'. Mark Young the new Governor , formed an Anti-Corruption Bureau in mid November, three weeks before the outbreak of war." (3)
The newspaper reports at the time show questions were raised as to whether dynamite meant for blasting out ARP tunnels had been instead sold to local fishermen who in those days used explosives to catch fish. Steele-Perkins was questioned about why he helped Mimi Lau open a bank account at the Mercantile Bank. Mimi Lau was found to have a large amount of money in her bank account .
AHS was also questioned about his friendship with Mrs Violet Chan of No 6 Po Shan Road. He was questioned about some of his staff including George Pentreath with whom he shared a house on the Peak splitting the rental 50/50. Incidentally M L Bevan who was later Deputy Director of ARP was an employee of Pentreath Sugar Merchants. This may have looked rather 'incestuous'.
A lot of questions were directed at AHS related to whether the Air Raid tunnels were blast proof, gas proof and whether they had electric lighting and sanitary facilities.
In responding to questions AHS stated that there were 4,735 Air Raid Wardens of which approximately 1,000 were women. When describing some of how other duties he included helping with the organization of Auxiliary Fire Service, Decontamination Service, Burial Services, Rescue and Demolition Service, Gas Protection Service, Provision of sirens and the billeting scheme.
The Chairman of the Commission stated that he had records from the Treasury indicating that between 1939 and Sept 1941, the sum of $8,680,293 had been approved by the Treasury for APRP work. It was confirmed that of this $4,504,348 had been spent on Air Raid Tunnels and $439,154 on air raid shelters and the rest largely on equipment.
The point was made that the Public Works Department was in charge of the construction of air raid tunnels and that all construction work on tunneling was authorized by an Air Raid Tunnel Committee which consisted of Henry Pearce (Chair), AHD Steele-Perkins and Messrs. Bishop, Campbell & Lavrov all of PWD. Henry Pearce was Deputy Director of PWD.
The Commission of Inquiry met between 14th August and 7th November 1941. The enquiry was conducted publicly and as mentioned attracted considerable newspaper coverage. It is still a confusing case and one, where the various accounts differ, but it was a case involving dishonesty and corruption in government office and it resulted in a suicide by one official (Captain Hobbs) and an attempted suicide by another official. Certainly it is surprising that the Head of PWD was not also called to give evidence and perhaps AHS was put up as the "fall guy" or the scapegoat. AHS was posted to a new role as Head of ARP in India and left Hong Kong before the Japanese invasion which took place on 8th Dec 1941.
Barbara Anslow's mother Mabel Redwood recalls in her memoir published in 2001 that she shared a room with Sonia Hobbs widow of Captain Hobbs during the intense shelling and bombing of the area around Happy Valley where they were working as ANS nurses at the Jockey Club Temporary Hospital:
"My bedfellow turned out to be an attractive Continental ANS whom I knew slightly. Her husband had committed suicide several months earlier ………..suddenly my bedmate said 'Good job my husband shot himself'. I hardly knew what to say to this peculiar remark, but before I could think of anything suitable , she went on 'He would have done it tonight, anyway: he couldn't have stood this'." (4)
Sonia had married Captain Hobbs in 1925. John Parry was able to find her marriage certificate which showed Sonia's father was Mahmood Effendi a retired civil servant from the Turkish Government. We think Capt Hobbs and Sonia met in Iraq or Iran. Sonia Hobbs had enrolled as an ANS nurse working at Jockey Club Hospital. The nurses here suffered when Japanese soldiers entered and intimidated and then raped some of the nurses. The nurses were eventually evacuated to Queen Mary Hospital and later interned at Stanley. Sonia was not interned presumably because she was a third national - she would have been able to claim Turkish nationality by birt. I assume therefore that she remained in Japanese occupied Hong Kong throughout the war which would have been very difficult given the shortage of food, high prices, snatching and other crimes and the brutality of the occupying soldiery. The next we see of her is when she returns to UK on SS Tamaroa from Hong Kong arriving in UK on 30th December 1945. Sonia passed away on 14th February 1953 at Richmond in Surrey. She was only 49 years old.
The Public Inquiry had been completed and the findings drafted when war interrupted events. The chairman of the Commission, Puisne Judge Paul Cressall reportedly took a draft of the Commission's Findings into Stanley Internment Camp. He died in Camp in April 1943 as a result of a creeping paralysis. The draft was never recovered and three and half years later when the survivors left camp the enquiry was not reinstated.
I wonder what happened to the draft findings which Cressall supposedly took into Stanley Camp. His declared friends in Camp were Mr. Stuart Williamson (a ship owner) and somewhat surprisingly Mr Thomas Concannon (an Architect with PWD) - perhaps they might have known what befell this document. Perhaps his room mates in Block A3 Room 44 might have known they were Commander James Jolly, the Harbour Master and Stewart (Tooti) Begg a soldier in the HKVDC who should have been in POW Camp rather than civilian internment camp and whose wife had been raped, mutilated and killed in the Christmas day massacre at St Stephens College.
Barbara Anslow (nee Redwood) used to work as stenographer for Wing Commander Steele-Perkins at ARP headquarters, she recalls that he was a very kind boss, a man of integrity and she recalls that he was cleared of any collusion or wrongdoing himself.
AHS was posted from Hong Kong to India as Adviser on Civil Defence to the Government of India. This was in late 1941 - I'm not sure of the exact date but since he was in Hong Kong giving evidence to the Commission on 29th September - I assume he left in October or November 1941. Gwen and her two daughters left Australia and joined AHS initially in Delhi in January 1942. AHS remained in India until the end of the war. In 1945 after the Japanese surrender, Gwen returned to Hong Kong in August 1945 to assist in the organization of the repatriation of civilian internees. It was here that she heard about the ARP scandal.
AHS went to Burma undertaking similar work involving the repatriation of British internees in that country. In December 1945 on completing their respective assignments in Hong Kong and Burma, AHS and Gwen decided to separate. Gwen returned to UK with her daughters and AHS remained in Burma where he had fallen in love with a Burmese lady. They had a son Christopher. Later father and son returned to live in UK.
As for Mimi Lau, we know she escaped from Japanese occupied Hong Kong to Free China early in 1942.
Hong Kong resident Phyllis Harrop managed to avoid internment in Hong Kong on the grounds that at one time she had been married to a German national. She took a ferry to Macau and then proceeded to Chungking in Free China. Whilst in Kweiyang she came across Mimi Lau who had also fled Hong Kong to Macau and like Phyllis was making her way to Chungking. In a book written in 1943, Phyllis writes of her meeting with Mimi Lau:
"The first person I met on returning from my bath was Mimi Lau, whose name had been in the Hong Kong headlines for some weeks, having got herself mixed up with some shady case which was occupying much time and trouble and giving the judges a series of headaches. Mimi had come through from Hong Kong with Doreen Langbourg. Doreen was on her way to Kunming to be married, and they had travelled together from the Colony. I had known they were ahead of us, I had been told when I reached the border, but did not think that we should catch up with them, as they had left a week earlier than us.
I don't know what game Mimi is playing at but she gave me some valuable information. Apparently their exit from Hong Kong had been arranged by a member of the Defag Company, A german concern who had entered Hong Kong with the Japanese troops after we surrendered. Doreen travelled on her Norwegian passport, which was quite in order, and Mimi with her as an amah. There were two suspicious Chinese men who travelled along with them, who are known to be friendly with the German interests. They were asking a great number of questions about the A.V.G. and the Commandoes." (5)
I am not sure what happened to Mimi Lau in China but after the war she returned to Hong Kong and lived in Shiu Fai Terrace still with a reputation of being something of a character. These days I suspect only a few who were around at the time or those with an interest in Hong Kong history will remember her name or know of her perhaps unjustifiable association with the breeze blocks.
The sketch below by Alex Mitchell is taken from Geoff Emerson's book Hong Kong Internment, 1942-1945. It shows food being served from a makeshift table made of Mimi Lau bricks and the lady serving is standing on a Mimi Lau - reflecting life in Stanley Camp.
|Source: Sketch by Alex Mitchell from Hong Kong Internment by Geoffrey Emerson|
AHS passed away on 27th December 1963 aged 77 at Burnham-on-Sea near Weston-Super-Mare in Somerset. Gwen must have by then moved to Bolton as she is listed in the Telephone Directory for 1963 and 1967 as living at an address in Bradshaw, Bolton. She passed away aged 88 in April 1981 at which time she was living Lemington Spa.
AHS was a man of his times. He worked his way up the ranks serving in the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force and retiring as a Wing Commander with an OBE to his credit. He played a major role in preparing Britain for air raids and developing the ARP function. He did the same again in Hong Kong and India. Under his stewardship as Director of ARP in Hong Kong, in a short period of time, an organization was established, wardens recruited and trained and a massive amount of air raid shelters and tunnels were built. These must have saved many lives during the battle for Hong Kong. Many of these air raid tunnels still remain. They are not preserved for heritage reasons but probably because the Government does not know what else to do with them other than to leave them and inspect them from time to time. I pass the portals to the Air Raid Tunnels in Queens Road almost every day and there are many others in Hong Kong. They remain as a kind of testimony to the civil defense work AHS did in preparing Hong Kong for war. They also serve as a reminder of those dark days of war and occupation in Hong Kong with its attendant brutality and suffering.
I would like to thank Mary Tiffen who is Wing Commander Steele-Perkin's daughter and who provided a lot of help to me in writing this story. I would also like to thank Margaret Martin for her help in researching information on Ancestry.com. My thanks also to Tony Banham, Barbara Anslow, Nicola Davies, John Parry, Brian Edgar and Gary Liddell for their help in providing information and assisting me with my queries.
(1) The Hong Kong Telegraph 30th Sept 1941
(2) Web Site for Chiaphua Industries
(3) Eastern Fortress (2014) - Kwong Chi Man & Tsoi You Lun
(4) It was like this (2001) - Mabel Winifred Redwood
(5) Hong Kong Incident (1943) - Phyllis Harrop
Hong Kong Eclipse (1978) - GB Endacott
Season of Storms (1982) - Robert L. Gandt
Eastern Fortress (2014) - Kwong Chi Man & Tsoi You Lun
Hong Kong Incident (1943) - Phyllis Harrop
It was Like this (2001) - Mabel Redwood
For further reading I recommend Gwen Steele-Perkin's book "A Testimony to Love" with notes by her daughter Mary Tiffen. Please click the link below for more details: