Tuesday 11 February 2014

A Wedding Occasion in August 1936

I was sent this wedding photograph by Judy Bercene a relative of Sheila Haynes who was one of the bridesmaids. At that stage we did not know where the wedding was, whether it was in Hong Kong or in Shanghai, nor  did we know who the bride and groom were, and nor the identity of all the people in the photograph.
Wedding of John Luke and May Coghlan (Courtesy of Judy Bercene)
A posting on local history website www.gwulo.com soon revealed all. David Bellis who hosts the  website found an article in the Hong Kong Daily Press for 13th August 1936 reporting on the wedding of Mr John Reginald Luke to Miss May Coghlan. Standing behind the bride and groom are Miss Sheila Haynes and Miss Anne Fowler the bridesmaids, and standing in between them is Australian journalist Norman Stockton, the best man. In the back row is the minister Rev. H.C. Davies and Ben Wylie Manager of the South China Morning Post, who gave away the bride, and his wife Jemima ('Mima') Wylie who was matron of honour. The newspaper article goes on to tell us that the wedding was solemnised at Mody House, Kowloon on 12th August 1936.

Look at the faces in the photograph, little did they know on that serene summer's day that in three years time war would break out in Europe and not long after that Hong Kong would be invaded and after a short and bloody battle the British Colony of Hong Kong which had been established 100 years earlier at the end of the First Opium War would be occupied by the Imperial Japanese Army which had brutalised its way through China. A reign of terror would descend and some of the  participants would end up being incarcerated in a Japanese concentration camp and that one of them would lose his life in the skies over Berlin.

I think their story deserve to be told.

The Groom:  John Reginald Luke
A search on Ancestry.com reveals that John Luke was born in Truro, Cornwall in August 1910  into a family with three siblings and that his father Albert was also a journalist. John Luke was in Hong Kong when war broke out, and by then News Editor of the South China Morning Post.  I can see no record of his wife May (the Bride in the photo) being interned and so we can assume that she was evacuated in June 1940 to Australia with other women and children from Hong Kong. Those women remaining being employed in essential services, or they found some way to avoid evacuation by for example joining the military nursing service (VAD) or Civil nursing service (ANS).

There is an amusing story in 'SCMP the First EightyYears' which recounts how John Luke took a phone call during the period of hostilities from an irate lady complaining that she had not received her copy of the newspaper. When he enquired where she lived, he discovered she was in North Point and he had to explain that she was already behind enemy lines !

John Luke was interned initially at the Tong Fong Boarding House one of a series of cheap hotels and brothels in which British, America and Dutch internees were crowded into for the first few weeks of their internment before the opening of Stanley Camp.  On 21st January 1942, he was sent to Stanley Internment Camp where he shared a room with Ben Wylie who was his boss, and other journalists from South China Morning Post and the Hong Kong Telegraph.  On one occasion he was slapped and beaten for not bowing to a Japanese soldier. After liberation he helped produce the first edition of the South China Morning Post - it was one sheet with the heading 'Fleet Entering' bringing the news of the arrival of the British Pacific Fleet under Rear Admiral Harcourt. John Luke was by then suffering from the effects of malnutrition from the years of internment and was  repatriated to UK in October 1945 for rest and recuperation.

He returned to his job as a journalist soon afterwards and passenger lists show him travelling alone to Hong Kong via Singapore in January 1946, and again to Hong Kong in Sept 1948. In April 1953 he is recorded as travelling to Hong Kong with his wife May.

Other than the wedding occasion photograph above I found two other photographs that show John Luke in the book 'SCMP the First Eighty Years' by Robin Hutcheon. This book tells the fascinating history of the newspaper, which is still today the major English daily in Hong Kong.

The first of which shows a young and debonair John Luke (standing) photographed in 1934 two years before the wedding.

John Luke (standing) in SCMP Offices in 1934  (Source: 'SCMP the first eighty years')
The second photograph shows a rather older John Luke aged 52  (third from left on the balcony) in what appears to be an invitation to the 1962 SCMP Christmas Party.
Source: SCMP 'The First Eighty Years' by Robin Hutcheon

I'm not sure when he retired, nor am I sure whether he and May had children but from on-line records I can see he passed away in London aged 69 in March 1980.

The Bride: May Luke (neé Coghlan)
I cannot find out anything about May. She was not interned in Stanley Internment Camp and I can only assume she was evacuated from Hong Kong with other women and children in June 1940 to Australia although I don't see her name on evacuation lists. The honeymoon was spent in Northern China and Japan. A report of the wedding in the 'Cornishman' (John Luke was from Truro, Cornwall)   dated September 1936 refers to her as May (Pat) Coghlan. This explains why on the back of some of the pre-war photos (see below) Sheila Haynes has referred to her as 'Pat'.  May, known as Pat, was of Irish descent and her family lived in Dublin. She had a married sister Mrs E.A. Laird who at the time of the wedding was living in India. May Luke is shown on passenger manifests traveling to and from Hong Kong after the war in the 1940s and 1950s. 

The Best-Man:  Norman Stockton
An Australian journalist who left Hong Kong before the Japanese invasion. I think he went to Australia before moving on to London as a War Correspondent. A passenger manifest shows him arriving in San Francisco from Australia in September 1942 en route to London and to his untimely death in the skies over Germany. He died on 2nd December 1943, whilst flying in a Lancaster of 460 (Australian) Squadron, with another journalist who was from the Daily Mail. They were shot down in a massive bombing raid over Berlin.

Judy Bercene a relative of Shelia Haynes wrote to me "on a chance look at Trove (newspaper archives) I found an engagement notice in the 'West Australian' 5 February 1935  for Sheila Haynes and Norman Stockton from Hong Kong". This is interesting as it means that they were most likely engaged when they attended the wedding of John Luke and May Coghlan. We know that they never married as it was reported at his death several years later in 1943 that he left behind a wife and child and of course we know that Sheila Haynes married Patrick Cullinan in 1945 who she had met in Stanley Camp.

A trawl of the internet disclosed that Norman had married first in 1929 to Jean Atherton and subsequently divorced in Cairns, Queensland in 1935. He married secondly in 1937, the year after the wedding picture, to Maree Patience Eccleston Bishop and known simply as 'Pat'. She and a daughter (Anne) survived his death in 1943. They had both been evacuated to Australia in June 1940.

Ancestry.com reveals that Norman Stockton was born in Western Australia on 20 March 1904 - he died aged 39 years.

I found there was an unfinished manuscript at the Australian Central Library written by Norman Stockton in 1942 or 1943 just before his death. The book is dedicated "to 'Butch' who went through the blitz" (could that be a pet name for his wife or child or somebody unrelated). The book is a sort of unfinished 'life and times'.  He describes himself as the former editor of the 'Hong Kong Telegraph'  and Chief Correspondent Far East for the London 'Daily Express' and now in London to represent the 'Sydney Sun' as war correspondent.

There are snippets about him in 'SCMP The First Eighty Years' :

"Like all young reporters Helen (Wylie) picked up her reporting skills from senior journalists. The man she remembers most vividly is Norman Stockton, an Australian journalist who later became Editor of the Hong Kong Telegraph. It was Stockton who with his knowledge of morse code , who first heard news of the abdication of Edward VIII and was able to get the story into an earlier edition than the China Mail" (1)

"She (Helen Wylie) remembers the day in 1935 when the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank building  was opened and the champagne flowed liberally - too liberally , for the Morning Post reporter who passed out on his return to the office. He had to be doused with cold water to read his shorthand  notes while a colleague typed it out. The reporter was none other than Norman Stockton". (1)

"Stockton in later years upset Sir Vandeleur Grayburn, Chief Manager of the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank, by reporting on his divorce on the front page of the Hong Kong Telegraph". (1) 

Sir Vandeleur was later to die in 1943 at the hands of the Japanese from malnutrition and physical mistreatment following interrogation. I am indebted to Ian Gill for letting me know that Sir Vandeleur Grayburn was married three times.  He married Ruth Danvers Higgs at St Andrews in Singapore on 12 April 1917. After she deceased he married Minnie Doris Robson with whom he had a son (John) and a daughter (Elizabeth). The marriage did not last and ended in divorce in 1939. Grayburn then married Muriel Mary who was incarcerated  in Stanley Internment Camp after  Grayburn was imprisoned at Stanley. 

Bridesmaid: Sheila Haynes
Sheila was born in Perth, Western Australia on 12th July 1915 the eldest child of  Dr Arthur Richard Haynes and Irene Maria Haynes (neé Frost). Judy Bercene a relative writes that "after  WW1 the family moved to Broome and four other children were born. In 1928 whilst holidaying in Perth, Irene Haynes had an accident resulting  in scalding and burns. She was admitted to hospital but sadly passed away from her injuries. The five young children were then looked after by their grandmother. An aunt who lived in Hong Kong, Ethel Kella (neé Frost) offered to look after Sheila."

Sheila was in Hong Kong and aged 26 when war broke out. She and her Aunt Ethel and Uncle Andre and Kella were interned in Stanley Internment Camp. Sheila had been working as a stenographer for a firm of marine surveyors - Goddard & Douglas. Her uncle Andre was a Master Mariner.
Shelia Haynes (Courtesy of Judy Bercene)
We don't know what happened with Norman Stockton other than they were engaged but never married.
Sheila with Norman Stockton (1934) - (Courtesy Judy Bercene)

Sheila Haynes with Norman Stockton's mother at Kai Tak - August 1936
  (Courtesy: Judy Bercene)

Sheila's  21st Cocktail Party - July 1936 (Courtesy: Judy Bercene)
In the above photograph we can see Sheila distinctive and radiant in the centre. A happy occasion. On the left of the middle row we can see her Aunt Ethel Kella and her Uncle Andre. In the front row (sitting right) we can see John Luke the groom in the Wedding Occasion Photograph a month before his wedding. I'm sure his fiancé is there too perhaps the lady behind him. Perhaps Norman Stockton is there as he was Sheila's finance at the time although I don't recognize his face amongst the group.

Sheila Haynes in 1937 (Courtesy: Judy Bercene)

Sheila Haynes - Sitting on a bench in Chatham Road (1939)
(Courtesy: Judy Bercene)

Another shot of the Bride & Bridesmaids at the Wedding Occasion
(Courtesy: Judy Bercene)
Ethel's husband Captain Andre Kella - a Master Mariner (Courtesy: Judy Bercene)
Sheila Haynes (and I think May Coghlin) by a water pipe conduit on a  path somewhere
 in pre-war Hong Kong
(Courtesy: Judy Bercene)
The photograph below is taken at Repulse Bay beach and in the background you can see pat of the Lido and what I think is the Dairy Farm Kiosk directly behind. You can make out cars parked in the Lido car park on Beach Road. Somewhere near here was PB 18 and perhaps a little higher up the hill was PB 17 (A). The Gap in the line of hills is probably Repulse Bay View.
On Repulse Bay Beach by the Lido (Courtesy: Judy Bercene)
In the days before traffic congestion - Ethel and  Sheila (1937)  (Courtesy:  Judy Bercene)
It was sad that something went wrong for Sheila and Norman, their relationship must have broken up, they never married. Some years later Sheila found love again during wartime. She fell in love with another internee in Stanley whose name was Patrick Cullinan a member of the Hong Kong Police force. He had suffered from TB during incarceration in Stanley Camp. They were married in Stanley Camp on the 11th August 1945 just before liberation. Sheila's wedding ring was made from a US silver coin.

Barbara Anslow (nee Redwood) who was an internee and remembers them both and recalls:

"They were married in the American Block in two rooms that had been occupied by the Barton family (they had 10 children and hence the two rooms). Father Bernard Meyer officiated. Mr Joyce was Best Man, and Sheila was given away by Quentin McFayden. Pat looked nervous but Sheila was most serene in her dark blue taffeta dress.  Present at the reception were Hugh Goldie, Rosaleen Millar, Eileen Grant, Mrs Kella, Mr & Mrs Barton and Marie Paterson".

Judy writes that "after liberation Sheila and Patrick returned to Australia with the intention of continuing to  England so his family could meet his bride. Unfortunately he was taken ill with TB, admitted to hospital but passed away on 24th May 1947 aged only 34.  Sheila told us before Pat passed away he made her promise him that she would go to England and meet his family . She kept her promise and went to England in 1948, returning to Australia in January 1949".

Patrick Cullinan's POlice ID Card (Courtesy: Judy Bercene)

Happiness was all too brief - Sheila Haynes and Patrick Cullinan found love in war but he passed away only two years after release from Stanley Camp (Source: Judy Bercene)
After returning to Australia Sheila settled in New South Wales with her aunt Ethel Kella whose own husband had passed away in January 1946 no doubt due to the privations suffered in Stanley Internment Camp, where food and medicine were scarce and many internees suffered from the effects of malnutrition. 

Sheila worked as a typist/stenographer in the Department of Defence. She married again in 1968 to Thomas John Conway who passed away  in 1989 leaving Sheila a widow for the second time. After her retirement she continued to do charity work and was awarded the BEM in the 1980s.  She passed away in August 1993

Bridesmaid: Anne Fowler 
I don't see her listed under Stanley Camp and assume she left Hong Kong before the war possibly with the evacuation of women and children in June 1940. We know nothing really about her.

Ben Wylie
At the time of the wedding Ben Wylie was Director and General Manager of the South China Morning Post a pillar of the community who held a number of public offices a popular and well respected Scotsman who always saw himself as a self made man. He was born in 1894 in Lochmaben, Dumfrieshire, Scotland. He had trained as a lithographic printer and was later offered a job by the South China Morning Post  in Hong Kong, which he joined in 1910.

Ben Wylie as a young man probably shortly after his arrival in Hong Kong (Courtesy John & Mags Wylie)
In 1914 whilst on home leave, he married Jemima ('Mima') Yates who returned to Hong Kong with him. At the time of the wedding photograph,  they had been married for 22 years and had a daughter Helen who had become a journalist and was the first female reporter for the SCMP. Helen had joined the newspaper aged eighteen and was taken in hand by Norman Stockton (see above) who was by all accounts something of a hell raiser  but a very capable journalist.

Helen had just married 'Cubby' Duncan, who worked with the Hong Kong Whampoa Dock Company, in June 1936 just two months prior to the wedding occasion in this story. I am sure she would have been present at this wedding.

Ben Wylie joined the Hong Kong Volunteer Defence Corp ("HKVDC") and served in the Engineer Section manning search lights at Fort Belchers and later transferring to No 2 (Scottish) Company. A company that was to distinguish itself in the close quarter fighting in the Battle for Stanley in December 1941 and whose commanding officer Major Forsyth was recommended for the award of the Victoria Cross by Brigadier Wallis commanding East Infantry Brigade.

Ben Wylie, Helen and Mima  (c. 1917)  ( Courtesy of John & Mags Wylie)

Ben Wylie (in kilt) with Vickers Gun whilst serving with HKVDC (Courtesy of John & Mags Wylie)
Ben rose quickly in SCMP becoming Secretary in 1916 and Director and General Manager in 1922. The company prospered under his leadership and in 1926 moved to impressive new premises in Wyndham Street known as the Morning Post Building.
The Morning Post Building shortly after completion in 1926 (Source: Page 60 'SCMP The First Eighty Years' by Robin Hutcheon)
War came to Hong Kong on Monday 8th December 1941 and culminated with the surrender of the Colony on Christmas Day 1941. By this time Ben was 57 years old. He moved from his home in Kowloon to the Morning Post Building in Wyndham Street and slept on a camp bed until the Japanese took over the building after the surrender.

In Ben's own words, "we continued to produce our newspapers daily, the last being issued on Boxing Day , the morning following capitulation . During this period we were more or less continually under bomb and shell fire. A bomb hit the roof of the Morning Post Building but I succeeded  in having temporary repairs made thus ensuring that the building was kept watertight. Another bomb fell in the street in front of the building. 

On 26th December  the office was visited in succession by three parties of Japanese troops. Finally after negotiation, I succeeded in having one of these parties take over the building - had this not been done undoubtedly the place would have been completely looted. As it was, when the war finished nearly four years afterwards, I found the building and the contents almost intact as, in the interregnum, the Japanese had used the premises for the production of their own newspapers".  (2)

I'm not sure where Ben went next between Boxing Day and the 5th of January on which date he relates how they were ordered to Murray Parade Ground with light luggage and then incarcerated in cheap hotels in the western part of town many of which had been brothels and many of which were squalid and infested with vermin. They were crowded into these hotels where they remained until 21st of January 1942 when they were moved to Stanley Interment Camp.

Ben picks up the story, "the food situation most of the time was truly shocking. Our meals consisted principally of rice to which was added a little vegetable and occasionally a little meat or fish. The result was that internees lost considerable weight. In my own case, the reduction was from 198 (pounds) to 119 (pounds). This diet made for malnutrition, avitaminosis, beri beri, pellagra  etc". (2)

He writes about the monotony of camp life, the American air raids, the accidental bombing of Bungalow 'C' with the resultant death of fourteen internees and finally liberation following the Japanese capitulation. He then left Camp and went back to Morning Post Building and re-established the South China Morning Post.

In the letter which is dated 29th October 1945 and by which time most internees had already been repatriated, he writes of Mima and Helen.

"I am now fairly well and putting on a little weight. Mima has now got over her appendix operation, Helen is well and still with the Royal Navy. Cubby left for HongKong two days ago  - recalled by the War Office".  (2) 

The photograph below shows Ben Wylie with Sir Mark Young who had been Governor of Hong Kong in 1941 and had the difficult  job of surrendering the Crown Colony to an enemy invader on Christmas Day 1941.

Ben Wylie with HE The Governor Sir Mark Young  (Courtesy: John & Mags Wylie)

Ben & Mima in later life and  in quieter days (Courtesy: John & Mags Wylie)
Ben was very much involved in public service. He was on the Board of Education, the Broadcasting Committee, the Rotary Club, the Kowloon Residents Association and the Kowloon Union Church. Always a proud Scotsman he had been an active member of  the St Andrews Society, participating as Chieftain and he was appointed a Justice of the Peace.

In Stanley Camp he had been elected as the first Chairman of the British Community Council.

He enjoyed lawn bowls, painting, fishing and writing. He wrote a book on lawn bowls using his pen name of Rob MacWhirter under which name, he wrote whimsical articles set in a Scottish village for the HongKong Telegraph and Morning Post.

(Courtesy: John & Mags Wylie)
In 1916 Henry Ching the highly talented son of a Chinese migrant to Australia who had married an English woman joined SCMP.  In 1926 with the support of Ben Wylie he became Editor of the SCMP  and under their combined stewardship the paper went from strength to strength. Henry Ching being Eurasian was not interned during the war but lived through the difficulties of Japanese occupied Hong Kong in his home at Happy Valley. There were shortages of food and the ever present risk of being seen as subversive by the Japanese. He was in fact arrested once and interrogated by the Japanese secret police but he survived and went back to the SCMP after the war. He kept a diary which records a fascinating account of living and trying to stay alive in occupied Hong Kong.

Ben and Mima in South Africa in 1950 after  retirement (Courtesy: John & Mags Wylie)
Ben's health never recovered from the privations endured whilst interned at Stanley Camp. After recuperation leave in Australia he returned to Hong Kong in 1946 but given continued ill health he retired in 1948 to live in Durban, South Africa. He passed away in Durban in April 1956.

Jemima 'Mima' Wylie

Jemima Yates always known as Mima married Ben after a very long engagement (10 years). They were married in Edinburgh on 16th September 1914 just weeks after the outbreak of World War 1. The honeymoon was spent in London after which they returned to Hong Kong. Their daughter and only child Helen was born in June 1915.

Helen Wylie as a child (Courtesy: John & Mags Wylie)
Mima and her daughter Helen were evacuated to Australia in June 1940 along with other women and children due to increased likelihood of hostilities with Japan. She was not to be reunited with Ben for another five years until after the liberation of Japanese occupied Hong Kong in 1945.

I was not able to find out much about the Rev. H.C. Davies who acted as Minister for the wedding of John and May Luke in August 1936. He left Hong Kong before the war erupted in the Pacific. He was an Army Chaplain albeit this was a civil wedding. In 1942 he held the equivalent rank of Major and by 1953 he was listed as Chaplain to the Queen 

This started with a photograph and  I want to end where we began ……………………...at a wedding  occasion in August 1936.

Wedding Occasion August 1936



Judy Bercene
John &  Mags Wylie

"SCMP The First Eighty Years" (Robin Hutcheon)

Quotes (1)         From page 78 & 79 "SCMP The First Eighty Years"
Quotes (2)         From letter written by Ben Wylie on 29th Oct 1945 to family members (courtesy John
                                                                                                             & Mags Wylie)


  1. Not sure if I have missed it, but do we know the location where the wedding photo was taken?
    Was it, as I believe has been mentioned, Mody House in Kowloon?
    I guess this is a private residence.

    1. Sorry to take so long to revert but I believe the wedding took place at Mody House Kowloon from the press article on the wedding - but I don't know what sort of institution it was - presumably a place where a civil wedding could be registered ? I did a quick search for Mody House on Google and Gwulo but to no avail so far. I will try David Bellis.

  2. Hi Philip, I was reading about Vandeleur Grayburn in Wikipedia and your assumption that his wife in Stanley was his second needs to be corrected. As Wiki says, "V. M. Grayburn had three marriages. He married Ruth Danvers Higgs at the Saint Andrew's Cathedral, Singapore on 12 April 1917.[39] After his first wife deceased, he married Minnie Doris Robson and had a son and a daughter, John Robson and Elizabeth. The marriage lasted until 1939 when they divorced.[2] Grayburn then married his third wife Muriel Mary Mellor, daughter of C. B. Mellor of Chester.[2] Muriel Mary Grayburn was also sent to the Stanley Internment Camp when her husband was sent to the Stanley Prison and survived through the Japanese occupation." Cheers, Ian Gill

  3. Yes I also only recently discovered that he had two previous marriages. Thanks very much for this and I will make a correction to the story. Philip

  4. Hello Phillip! I have just seen your article and am totally fascinated as I was initially ’googling’ my grandmother Maree Stockton who was a War Correspondent for the SCMP. Norman Stockton was my grandfather and his daughter Anne was my mother. Most unfortunately Anne died in 2005, and of course Norman died as you were writing, over Berlin shot down in Dec 1943. My mother spent a lot of her life looking for more information about her father Norman, and I doubt she ever would have come across this photo. Also sadly, Maree died in 1966 from breast cancer, so I never really got to meet her. My mother Anne spent a long time writing around the world to figure out whether she ever had a half brother. Being only 2-3 years old when Norman died, she couldn’t have asked him.
    Norman also spent a lot of his life fascinated with his history and genealogy. He worked out then going back in time that he was directly related to Richard Stockton, one of the signers of The Declaration of Independence.
    Anyway, you may not receive this post, I hope you do. We have some of the original articles written by my grandparents, letters and of course Normans untimely death. He is buried in the War Cemetery in Berlin, which we have visited and is stunning. I will pass this fabulous article of yours on to my sisters and to Anne’s half sister who is Maree’s daughter. So great - thanks so much for writing this story about my grandfather!!! My mother would have loved to have corresponded with you.
    My name is Penny Fleming by the way.

    1. Dear Penny: Thanks for that interesting post and I'm glad the story on Norman Stockton was helpful to you and your family. It was interesting to hear a bit more about Maree and Anne. If not already done - you should read South China Morning Post - The First Eighty Years and see if you can get (by way of on-line soft copy) from National Library of Australia the draft manuscript by Norman Stockton. Best, Philip

    2. A bit more on the downing of the Lancaster on this site: https://aviationmuseumwa.org.au/afcraaf-roll/stockton-norman/