Hilary St George Saunders, The Left Handshake, 1948

Chapter V


Scouting in Captivity: China


The oldest internment camps were situated in China, for that nation had been at war with Japan since 1935. Shanghai was the first Chinese town to establish an organisation known as the Scouts War Service, which came into being during the Japanese attacks on that city. The Scouts belonging to it helped all in authority, civilian or military, and lost thirteen of their number killed, including a young girl who carried the Chinese flag to a battalion of a garrison cut off from the rest, a deed of gallant patriotism which cost her her life. Before Japan was finally mastered, the Chinese Scouts and Guides numbered over 15,000.

After the fall of Hong Kong and the general collapse of all resistance to the Japanese along the coast of China, Shanghai became what was virtually one huge internment camp in which, at first at least, the inhabitants were left more or less to themselves, their worst hardships being a lack of food and heating. Only in 1943 was the Shanghai area divided up into camps. The Scouts of Shanghai were fortunate in the possession of an admirable place, Millington Camp, No. 230 Hungjao Road. Here and elsewhere they carried on Scouting, under difficulties, it is true, but more or less unmolested. Throughout the period of Japanese domination they were encouraged and stimulated by the example of that hard-working man, their acting Commissioner, A. R. Gordon, who had made in peace-time many friends among Japanese officers of the Army, Navy and Consular Service. These connections with the enemy proved useful, for they gave him an assurance, which was kept for some considerable time, that the activities of Scouting in Shanghai would not be curtailed provided that the Scouts did not flaunt their uniforms

An Advisory Committee was appointed to organise the Scouts on an international basis, and Troops were urged to continue with their training and to emphasise at all times that there was nothing political or military about it. Their first step was to turn the Millington Camp into a farm where cattle and vegetables were raised to relieve the necessities of distressed American, British and European nationals whose means of livelihood were gone. The farm was manned by skilled persons drawn from the ranks of the Scouts and subjected to a severe medical examination to ensure their physical fitness for the work. They lived in the camp under semi-military discipline, the sensible and matter-of-fact Standing Orders laying down, among other instructions, that no food was to be eaten except at specified hours and no unboiled water be drunk, that full advantage of fine weather was to be taken so that the work on the land could be pursued from dawn to dusk, with a compulsory rest period during the hour of tiffin, and that "the Law of the Scout is the law of the camp." Very soon the farm, self-supporting from the start, became a great success. Work was begun on the 7th February, 1942, in the midst of heavy snow and cold. The workers immediately adopted the laconic motto "Can Do," and lived up to it. Within a month, spinach and radishes were being eaten, and Kate, the senior goat, and Susan, the senior sheep, were both expecting families. Trouble being experienced from local thieves, or "yellow ants," as they were known, the Scouts maintained a day and night watch, arrested two of these light-fingered folk and frog-marched them to the nearest police station. Other intruders were a number of large hedgehogs who, for their depredations in the vegetable patch, paid with their lives and their bodies—they formed a welcome addition to the pot. In May, Kate had become a mother, and Agnes, a newly purchased goat, had presented the farm with triplets, while rabbits "were multiplying in a satisfactory manner." In June, Susan produced two lambs, and by then the farm was being run on strict Scout principles, a Court of Honour being held every fortnight at which "the camp chiefs were criticised and guided in the way they should go."

In addition to the camp, the ordinary Scouting activities were carried on. Training was continued, Patrol meetings held, and The Totem, the local Scout magazine, regularly produced. One feature distinguished the Scouts of Shanghai. Their Troops containing boys with such names as Novgorodoff, Argentelli, Rosoven, Sayle and Robertson, were very international in character.

By the end of 1942 the Japanese attitude changed for the worse but never became intolerable. Troop meetings were never prohibited, and the chief disability under which all lived was the sense of isolation and the knowledge that they could play no part in shaping the tremendous events taking place elsewhere in the world, upon the outcome of which their own fate depended. Inevitably they found it difficult to remain always at a high pitch, and sometimes exhortations were necessary. "Have you not a little pride?" runs an open letter in one issue of Totem. "Why do you not report that this or that Scout has got a new badge or has won a competition? ... We should not lose touch with each other just because of the hot weather." It was necessary on occasion to speak frankly to the more senior Scouts, the Rovers. "We sat up and took notice," runs the report of a meeting of a Rover Crew, "when Koshman expounded the necessity of each and every Rover having an ambition. He inquired of us in turn what we were doing to improve ourselves in the unit and suggested that we each fix on one useful task and attach ourselves unswervingly to its fulfilment for one year. This evoked a good deal of scratching of heads."

But on the whole the Scouts of Shanghai seem to have been active and eager enough, keeping their spirits up with frequent meetings and sing-songs. "The meeting was well rounded off with a sing-song round the piano, with Maestro Bochler at the keys. We possessed no tenors but a collection of good lungs. It was interesting to note the facial expressions during the rendering of Auld Lang Syne. Homeward bound, I wondered what thoughts had passed through the fellows' minds. I, for one, had delightful recollections of Easter camps at Hanchow, of dusty roads, sizzling frying pans, and breathless sunsets. Koshman talked with me. I asked him what he had felt and said I had noticed a peculiar look on his face. He kicked a stone off the sidewalk 'Plenty of things,' he answered, 'but I always look like that when I sing."'

Life pursued the even tenor of its restricted way in Shanghai until one o'clock in the afternoon of the 17th July, 1945, when a heavy raid by American bombers caused great damage, especially in the eastern district and the Jewish segregated centre, and cost several thousand Chinese and foreigners their lives. The Scouts gave what aid they could, among them two Russian boys aged sixteen and seventeen, who worked from two o'clock in the afternoon till half-past six on the evening of the following day without pause or intermission, first in the streets and then in the Ward Road police hospital, where "the Chinese wounded and dying were literally being poured into the compound. The sight that met the eye beggared all description. Several thousands lay dying and dead. The stench was awful. Millions of flies were around. The groans of the dying were heartrending.... A single medical student was doing all that he could."

Three weeks later the ordeal was over. The Japanese surrendered and the internees of Shanghai found freedom.


Other internment camps in China did not at the beginning possess any Scouts. At Pootung, for example, it was not until January, 1944, that a Troop was formed. Its nucleus consisted of a number of boys who had once been Scouts at Shanghai. All boys of Scouting age, except two, flocked to join the Troop, and here, as in Shanghai, it showed a marked international character, being made up of English, Scottish, Jewish, Chinese and even Japanese boys. The uniform presented little difficulty for every boy possessed a khaki shirt and a pair of shorts, exchanged in winter for corduroy plus-fours furnished by the Red Cross. Sufficient cloth was collected to form scarves, which were dyed blue by the Girl Guides.

The Japanese commandant made no objection to Scouting activities, and soon the Troop was holding regular weekly meetings either in the open air or "in an old engine-room." Here they were trained in Tenderfoot, 2nd and 1st Class tests, and in the acquisition of proficiency badges they found themselves singularly fortunate for among the internees, who numbered over a thousand, were men of practically every trade, profession and hobby. These very willingly gave their services as instructors and a "Badge" course was maintained without interruption. A member of the Shanghai Fire Brigade, the camp doctors, a number of mariners, several physical training experts and expert electricians, members of the Shanghai Power Company, were among the instructors. The badges gained were seven Firemen, eleven Handyman, seven Ambulance, five Electrician, five Public Health, two Leather Worker, and one Musician.

By way of doing a collective good turn, the Scouts made themselves responsible for the regular performance of a number of chores, such as, for example, the collection of cardboard and glass containers, the receiving, sorting and delivering of Red Cross parcels, the running of messages for the medical officers, the digging of vegetables for the camp hospital, and assisting as stage hands when entertainments were given. The first obstacle to real Scouting was the continued and inevitable close confinement which prevented hiking and camping, and a very great shortage of equipment. Scout meetings, however, "were always looked forward to and greatly enjoyed by the boys, who derived a tremendous amount of fun and a great deal of useful knowledge from their membership.... Probably the most noticeable fact was the improvement of the individual boy's standards of behaviour and morals. Altogether Scouting in Pootung was a game well worth while." In addition to Scouts, the Pootung camp also possessed a Rover Crew which at one time numbered twenty-two. Though the normal Rover programme of hiking and camping was impossible, it held regularly fortnightly meetings and performed one service of great usefulness. Each Rover became an expert in first-aid and rescue work, and two-thirds of them completed the St. John's Ambulance course.


In Chefoo, in Northern China, there came a day when those attending "the boarding school for the sons and daughters of missionaries and business men" were given orders by the Japanese commander to leave their premises within the hour. "We packed for dear life and then, under the slanting eyes of Japanese armed to the hilt, we left our buildings and playing fields to face an unknown future." It soon transpired that it was to mean living for an unknown length of time in a camp on the other side of the town, where three houses were allotted to 167 persons. Here an intense communal life began, and here the Captain of the Girl Guides—a Guide Company had been in existence for some years —secretly trained six boys in Scouting till they passed the 2nd Class tests. While she was at this task, one of the internees, Stanley Houghton, who still held his warrant as a Scoutmaster though he had given up active Scouting nearly twenty years before, organised a Cub Pack. "It was amazing what he managed to do in that confined space. Fortunately there were trees, bushes and buildings that afforded good cover within the wall by which we were surrounded.... We had grand Scouting games introducing all the knowledge required for tests up to 1st Class.... We converted outhouses into Troop dens.... We had camp-fires and sing-songs, and we passed the tests before the very eyes of Captain Cosaka, the Japanese officer in charge.... After ten months we were packed like sardines into a small steamer, taken to the coastal port of Tsingtao and entrained for Weihsien."


Here the Scouts of Chefoo found themselves in contact with the Rev. Chesney Clark, who had succeeded in organising Scouting among the 1,700 internees, of whom over a hundred were children of school age. When a Scout passed his 2nd Class test, a star was embroidered on his shirt, and when he passed the 1st he was given "The Order of Merit," which was the Weihsien Scout Badge on a blue background with Chinese characters and symbols. The octagonal shape was chosen ". . . because of its significance for those who know and love China." A Wolf Cub Pack was soon in full operation, with children carrying water, coal and food for the sick, bathing the babies and helping in the kitchen. The advent of the Chefoo Scouts led to "a healthy spirit of rivalry between Chefoo and Weihsien."

As at Pootung, a Rover Crew was formed from the older boys of the Chefoo Scout Troop. Throughout these years of internment, the Japanese made no attempt to interfere with the development of Scouting, save, on one occasion, to ban a camp-fire. When liberation came, the Weihsien Group consisted of thirty Scouts and thirty-four Cubs, and the Chefoo Group could count seven Rovers, twenty Scouts and twelve Cubs.


In Hong Kong the Scouts were highly organised, and at the outbreak of war they became the Boy Scout Dispatch Corps. In the course of their duties, which consisted of carrying messages or passing them by telephone, they soon came under enemy fire and were shelled out of their headquarters within the first twenty-four hours. Re-establishing themselves in St. John's Cathedral Hall, they made themselves responsible for the issue of Government stores and the transmission of orders from the Director of Communications to the Sub-Directors. Confusion mounted as the Japanese approached ever nearer, but the boys remained "very keen and did everything possible to help put things in order.... The work was carried on deep into the night by kerosene light. From the 17th onwards daily reports were received from District headquarters and a daily inspection was made."

There was, indeed, much to do, and the Scouts, together with a number of devoted Chinese, among them Mr. Tso and Mr. Chung King Pak, worked; in shifts dealing with food, the provision and distribution of bicycles, of rations of uncooked rice, the enrolment of new recruits, and the settlement of boys fleeing from districts occupied by the Japanese, which grew in number and extent almost hour by hour. There was work for all and more than work—there was danger, but they did not heed it. On the 17th Mr. Pau, who was in charge of the whole Corps as Scoutmaster of the 7th Kings College Scouts, was inspecting an A.R.P. post manned for the most part by Scouts, when the Japanese "suddenly swooped down on the district and occupied positions in it after shooting every human being they saw." At the end of two hours Pau, his driver and another Scout slipped away, but returned later and helped to carry into dubious safety two wounded wardens.

Though matters in Hong Kong were desperate now, the Scouts still worked on and new recruits continued to offer themselves, many of them from districts occupied by the enemy. By Christmas Day an "ominous silence" fell upon the central, upper level, and western districts of the city, and from that time onwards the Corps was virtually unable to carry on its duties. A day or two before the end came, Scoutmaster Wong Kai Chung, an assistant lighthouse-keeper, and one of the pioneers of Sea Scouting in Hong Kong—many officers of the Royal and Merchant Navies owe their early training to him—rescued in a very gallant fashion a Chinese fisherman whose fishing vessel had been attacked and sunk by the Japanese. Chung swam out through a shark infested sea with a rope, caught hold of the drowning man and was then pulled ashore by the united efforts of eleven men.

Thereafter, for four long years, the Scouts of Hong Kong found themselves interned, often in very bad conditions. What these were like in the Stanley Camp, for example, can be judged from the report made by Patrol Leader Ronald Whitfield, who after the end of the war eventually reached Scotland and produced the necessary proofs that he had passed the Scout tests in that camp. He had done so "in spite of daily slappings and beatings from the Japanese, of air-raids, of an operation for appendicitis, and of school lessons from Hong Kong University professors." The badge of Handyman which he possessed had been well earned, for he had worked as assistant to a Norwegian blacksmith, helped the doctors in the camp hospital, become for a time carpenter's apprentice, "buried garbage of all kinds, and helped in the kitchen." In addition to this badge, Whitfield acquired those of Swimmer, Ambulance Man, Public Health Man, and Missionary. On reaching Scotland he began at once to train for a Pathfinder badge, and having acquired it became a King's Scout.

On the 17th August, 1945, John Pau, the Scoutmaster who had organised the Dispatch Corps four years before, revived the Corps which, manned by Scouts, began work on the 3rd September, twenty boys reporting for duty. Four days later the number was forty-five and continued to grow. As the various departments of civil government took up their duties once more, the Scouts withdrew and were transferred elsewhere, until by the end of October they had completed their task, for which they received official thanks. By then Scouting, dormant in Hong Kong, had revived, and the headquarters of the Dispatch Corps was transformed into a meeting-place for Scouts and Scouters. They were soon able to welcome Sea Scouts and former Scouts serving with the Fleet then in port. Scouting in Hong Kong had found its sea legs again.

  Hilary St George Saunders, The Left Handshake, 1948
Chapter V: Endurance. Scouting in Captivity
Part One: Introduction
Part Two: China
Part Three: Malaya
Part Four: Dutch East Indies, Formosa and Thailand
Part Five: Germany
Return to the Foreward and Table of Contents

Return to the Pine Tree Web Home Page

Your feedback, comments and suggestions are appreciated.
Please write to:
Lewis P. Orans
Ralf Bell (Ralf.Bell@uni.duesseldorf.de)

Copyright Lewis P. Orans & Ralf Bell, 1997
Last Modified: 12:17 PM on August 3, 1997