Monday, 22 October 2018

Robert Grindley Southerton - Stanley Internment Camp

Fifty-year-old Robert Grindley Southerton was taking passage back home to Shanghai by way of Hong Kong. He was a teacher (and I think the headmaster) at the Shanghai Municipal Council Polytechnic School. He happened to be in Hong Kong and got stranded when the war began. His twenty-two-year-old daughter Muriel was in Shanghai. His wife Edith Ethel nee Witchell and his fifteen-year-old son, also called Robert Grindley Southerton, which was something of a family tradition, had been in Australia and were returning separately via Manila. 

SMC Polytechnic Public School
His wife and son were interned at Santo Tomas University. The campus became the largest civilian  Internment Camp in Manila. The internees were mostly American (3,200) but there were a large number (900) of British and Commonwealth (Canadian and Australian) internees including Edith and her son Robert.

Santo Tomas University Internment Camp.
Robert Southerton (Snr.) was initially held at the Kowloon Hotel Temporary Internment Centre. Then in late January, he was moved to Stanley Camp. Those, like Robert,  who lived in Shanghai were later repatriated to Japanese controlled Shanghai. There were two repatriations, one in July and one in  December 1942. Robert returned to Shanghai and was reunited with his daughter Muriel. He then found that his wife and son had been interned in the Philippines. They were also repatriated to Shanghai in 1942. Initially, foreigners in Shanghai were not interned but in 1943 civilians from enemy countries like Britain, America and Holland were interned. These were mostly held in Shanghai and there were several different internment camps in and around the city. The book "Empire of the Sun" by J.G. Ballard, and the subsequent film portray life in a Shanghai internment camp through the eyes of a child. 
   Muriel Southerton was a stenographer working for Confederation Life, the Canadian insurance company. Edith, like her husband, was a school teacher. They had married in November 1917 in Hong Kong. After the family was reunited in Shanghai they were interned together at Yu Yuen Road Camp from February 1943 until April 1945. In April 1945 they were moved to Yangtzepoo Camp until liberation in August/September 1945. Yu Yuen Road Camp held a large number of Shanghai Municipal Council employees. The family were repatriated after the war but their health never fully recovered. Robert Southerton died on February 1948 aged only fifty-six. Edith died the following year in November 1949 aged only fifty-three. 


Log Book of Internees Stanley Camp (Imperial War Museum)
Frank Fisher's diary (Imperial War Museum)
Captives of Empire by Greg Leck

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