Thursday 25 September 2014

Wing Commander Alfred Horace Steel Steele-Perkins

Wing Commander A. H. S. Steele-Perkins was born in Exeter, Devon in 1886. The photograph of him shown below is dated February 1938 and is sourced from the website 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 to carry the ultimate responsibility for what went on in his department but to a large 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. 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 equipment to the ARP.
   Wing Commander Alfred Horace Steel Steele-Perkins (AHS) was known to his friends by his second name Horace. When the above photograph was taken he was fifty-two years old and a retired RAF Wing Commander who had served in the Royal Navy earlier in his career and throughout World War 1. The image conveys the impression of a well-dressed man, of middle age, with a receding hairline, dark and bushy eyebrows, somewhat striking eyes, a strong jawline 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 of the Royal Navy. 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 that was used in Victorian times. This role of supply, procurement, book-keeping and payments had 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 Captain's 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 from wounds incurred during the battle. 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 Royal Naval Reserve many years ago I can remember the RN issued brown coloured canvas travelling bags which were always known as Pusser's grips. Navy-issued rum was known as Pusser's 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. My thanks to Chohong Choi, a reader, for correcting my assumption that the battleship was named after General Lord Cornwallis. It was in fact named after his brother, Admiral William Cornwallis. Lord Cornwallis is, perhaps unfairly, best remembered for ordering the surrender of British forces in the decisive battle of the American War of Independence, to the 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 an 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.  
   Wing Commander Steele-Perkin's daughter, Mary Tiffen, was kind enough to give me a list of ships on which 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)
I am not sure when AHS joined HMS Mars, we only know he was on board in 1911 from the census listing below:

List of officers on board HMS Mars on 2 April 1911 (Source:
In November 1910, HMS Mars had been involved in a break-down in naval discipline euphemistically described an 'incident', which I found was reported in the West Australian. This occurred before AHS joined the ship.  See the newspaper report below:

London, Nov. 24.

                                                  The stoppage of general leave on H.M.
                                                  battleship Mars at Devonport 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 25 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 at the outset of the 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 colliding with other ships.
   AHS was later transferred to the Royal Flying Corp and in the period 1917/1919, he was very much involved with the establishment of the Royal Air Force including the drafting of the 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 Corps 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:
The report mentions that the bride's father was the late 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. The bride and groom were both in uniform. Gwen was working as a nurse at a military hospital and she wore her uniform. The marriage produced three children, a son John Horace was born in December 1916 then after quite a long interval a daughter Mary Gladys was born in 1931and their youngest daughter Susan Anne was born in 1934.
   In 1925 AHS was promoted from Squadron Leader to Wing Commander.  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, 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, as I assume, 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.  There is a report on the inquest that followed in the  Western Daily Press & Bristol Mirror dated 4 April 1935. John 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 AHS 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 it was to no avail. What a terrible tragedy they had to endure and a loss that AHS never really recovered from.

The family with John (who died so young and tragically) in the centre (Courtesy Mary Tiffen Ph.D. daughter of  AHS Steele-Perkins
After retiring from the RAF as a Wing Commander, and whilst working at the Home Office, AHS made a name for himself as an expert on air raid precautions and civil defence. 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 16 March 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 the war  (Source: Imperial War Museum)

ARP Trucks (Courtesy Mary Tiffen, Ph.D daughter of AHS Steele- Perkins) 
Gas Precautions Training in pre-war Hong Kong (Courtesy Mary Tiffen, Ph.D daughter of AHS Steele- Perkins) 
Wing Commander Steele-Perkins with Acting Governor Lt-Genel Norton (Courtesy Mary Tiffen, Ph.D daughter of AHS Steele- Perkins) 
ARP Training (Courtesy Mary Tiffen, Ph.D daughter of AHS Steele- Perkins) 
AHS inspecting ARP wardens - many only too willing to serve  (Courtesy Mary Tiffen, Ph.D daughter of AHS Steele- Perkins) 
AHS inspecting female ARP Wardens (Courtesy Mary Tiffen, Ph.D daughter of AHS Steele- Perkins) 
ARP Training (Courtesy Mary Tiffen, Ph.D daughter of AHS Steele-Perkins) 
Acting Governor Lt-General Edward Felix Norton with AHS Steele-Perkins (Courtesy Mary Tiffen, Ph.D daughter of AHS Steele- Perkins)  
Auxiliary Fire Service Training  (Courtesy Mary Tiffen, Ph.D daughter of AHS Steele- Perkins)

Time was short, and there was huge expenditure for the supply of bricks,  sandbags, 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 earnest 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 Hong Kong in July 1940.
   After evacuation, and when nothing happened by way of the Japanese invasion, there were heated protest meetings which carried on right up to the start of the 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 dated 11 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 the 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. 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 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, perhaps shortcuts were 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), the latter 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 29 September 1941. He was represented by George Tinson of Johnson Stokes & Master (JSM) who was to die on 19 December in his beautiful home Postbridge at Wong Nai Chung Gap when his villa came to be in the front line following the Japanese landings on Hong Kong Island.

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 21 January 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 22 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 3 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 1 June 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 21 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 the 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 state 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, pickaxes 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 website 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 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. 
   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 his 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 tunnelling was authorized by an Air Raid Tunnel Committee which consisted of  Henry Pearce (Chair), AHS Steele-Perkins and Messrs. Bishop, Campbell and  Lavrov all of PWD. Henry Pearce was Deputy Director of PWD.
   The  Commission of Inquiry met between 14 August and 7 November 1941. The enquiry was conducted publicly and as mentioned attracted considerable newspaper coverage. It is still a confusing case and one in which the various accounts differ, but it was a case involving dishonesty and corruption in government office and it resulted in the suicide of 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.  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 8 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 Captain 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, brutalised 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 birth. 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 the UK on SS Tamaroa from Hong Kong arriving in the UK on 30 December 1945. Sonia passed away on 14 February 1953 at Richmond in Surrey. She was only forty-nine years old.
   The  Public Inquiry had been completed and the findings drafted when the 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-a-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 Stuart Williamson (a ship owner) and somewhat surprisingly Thomas Concannon (an Architect with PWD) - perhaps they might have known what befell this document. Perhaps his roommates 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 in a civilian internment camp, and whose wife had been raped, mutilated and killed in the Christmas day massacre at St Stephen's College. It was because of this that he had been placed in Stanley, rather than Sham Shui Po.
   Barbara Anslow (nee Redwood) used to work as a 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 29 September - I assume he left in October or November 1941. Gwen and her two daughters left Australia and joined AHS  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 first 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 the UK with her daughters and AHS remained in Burma where he had a romantic relationship with a Burmese lady. They had a son Christopher.
   Later, AHS and his son Christopher returned to live in the UK. I am not sure what happened to the Burmese lady. As for Mimi Lau, we know that 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. (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.
   AHS passed away on 27 December 1963 aged seventy-seven at Burnham-on-Sea near Weston-Super-Mare in Somerset. Gwen had 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 in Lemington Spa.

Air Raid Tunnel Portals on Queen's Road East (Writer's collection)
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 defence 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.  



I would like to thank Mary Tiffen who is Wing Commander Steele-Perkins daughter and who provided much help to me in writing this story. I would also like to thank Margaret Martin for her help in researching information relating to the famiy. My thanks also to Tony Banham, Barbara Anslow, Chohung Choi, Nicola Davies, John Parry, Brian Edgar and Gary Liddell for their help in providing information and helping with my queries.


(1)    The Hong Kong Telegraph 30 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


  1. Thank you Philip, interesting and informative as always and academically exhaustive, Thank you !

  2. My goodness there is a movie in that too!
    I never knew the difference between a bursar and pursar but l am now enlightened.
    Thank you!
    When is the mini series coming out?!

  3. Very interesting as always, Phil. Many thanks!
    As a policeman in HK in the mid-1970’s, I recall a colleague telling me about Mimi Lau who, at the time, was well-known to the officers of Happy Valley Sub-division.
    Mimi Lau was always in the station complaining about something or other.
    My colleague said that whenever she came in, they would alert him if he was on duty & he would go and talk to her.
    He would get her talking about the war, or the Occupation, and soon she would forget about what she came in to complain in the first place.
    Worked every time, apparently!

  4. Absolutely amazing life this man had. I arrived here because of a postcard I have which was addressed to AHS.