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Righting a wrong: No evidence that Kennedy-Skipton was a Japanese collaborator during the occupation of Hong Kong

It seems the impact of Derry-born Irishman George Stacey Kennedy-Skipton’s (c 1898-1982) working for the Japanese is exaggerated at best, considering his focus was on agricultural activity aimed at dealing with a rapidly escalating food crisis. Everything written so far points to him being the victim of a grudge on the part of Franklin Gimson (the Colonial Secretary of Hong Kong who was Kennedy-Skipton’s direct report), who had powerful enough friends to besmirch Kennedy-Skipton’s  reputation. Loyalty, or the lack of, regarding Colonial Office servants is the key issue here, not collaboration with the Japanese. Kennedy-Skipton (K-S) was the only Colonial Office cadet to avoid capture and who stayed in Japanese occupied Hong Kong

I would also add that many Irish Free State passport holders (including my uncle) working for the Colonial Office, trading houses, etc, joined the Hong Kong Volunteer Defence Corps (HKVDC) and defending the territory with distinction. Kennedy-Skipton’s neutrality didn’t go down at all well with volunteers who put their life on the line defending Hong Kong, while up on The Peak he was flying the Irish flag declaring his neutrality to the Japanese. As to why he was flying the flag, and who he was protecting in his house was unknown and at the time deemed irrelevant.

A reference in the POW diary written by my uncle “Barney”  John Bernard Patrick Byrne “Diary of War: Private John Bernard Patrick Byrne “Barney” (HKVDC #4732) – Irish Prisoner of the Japanese in Shamshuipo and Sendai (1941-1945)” (Source: https://nialljoreilly.wordpress.com/2012/12/07/niall-and-barney/) throws some light on the depth of feeling suffering POWs would have felt towards K-S and other ‘third nationals’, or neutrals.

Righting a wrong No real evidence that Kennedy-Skipton was a Japanese collaborator during the occupation of Hong Kong - The Blarney stone

The Blarney Stone: According to legend whoever kisses the Blarney Stone is gifted with eloquence and persuasiveness.

In it Barney refers to a trial of French traitors as giving “us Hong Kong men some ideas about a similar purge when we get back there. And we won’t have any shortage of candidate for the rope provided the local loyal Chinese haven’t forestalled us!”

A number of posts in Second World War related Hong Kong groups’ online recount the experiences of families who sheltered in his neutral house. None refer to him informing the Japanese. Far from it, he saved them from the Japanese.

What is curious are the secret files he claim to have discovered which hadn’t been destroyed. There is no evidence he informed the Japanese about the contents of these file. In fact, he went to extraordinary efforts to inform the British Government of their existence.

However, the receipt by the British government of the message relating such information would have been preceded by the Franklin Gimson / British Army Aid Group (BAAG) grapevine noting that one of their own had gone over to the Japs, and was therefore branded a collaborator…. which was pretty much the same label everyone who claimed neutrality and worked for the Japanese occupation government was tarnished with.

In conclusion, in my there is no evidence that K-S was a collaborator in any shape or form. He just chose to declare his Irish neutrality, at a time when he was working for the colonial government and most of the Irish, and his fellow colonial cadets living in Hong Kong were fighting for Hong Kong and subsequently imprisoned. As such he was effectively disowned.

I recall a conversation I had in the late 1990s with an eminent Hong Kong LEGCO legislator on the very sensitive subject of collaborators. Naturally given the depth of rage, anyone, irrespective of race and background, who had by hook or by crook avoided the hardship of the Japanese occupation, profited from the turmoil, or who had recently returned to Hong Kong from Macau to be part of and benefit from the Post War reconstruction effort would have been branded a traitor. In order to maintain law and order, and perhaps keep the degree of treachery under wraps, the colonial government would have taken a conscious decision to classify the wartime records of many collaborators.

And while mentioning by hook or by crook there is a question mark regarding whether or not Kennedy-Skipton actually carried an Irish Free State passport which would have been the basis for his Irish neutrality. He may not have held an Irish Free State passport.  At the time of the Irish Free State people living and born in the six counties of Northern Ireland, of which Derry was part, would not have Irish Citizenship. Probably he just exploited an opportunity to outfox the Japanese.

To the Japanese it didn’t matter if the Irish were from north or south Ireland, they still treated them as neutrals.  Kennedy-Skipton (K-S) January 1943 escape to China may well have coincided with the Japanese finally grasping the intricacies Ireland’s political boundaries.

Additional reading: http://gwulo.com/node/12900?page=1

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Wednesday August 3rd, 1927

On the ground, at the outset, this summer’s day didn’t appear to have anything particularly unforgettable about it, at least in the USA, as reporters and the stock markets sought to digest President Calvin Coolidge announcement the previous day of his decision not to run for President in 1928.  All right, so Gordon Scott, the celebrated Tarzan, was born, while Massachusetts Governor Alvan T. Fuller controversially denied a request for clemency for Nicola Sacco and Bertolomeo Vanzetti after receiving arguments concerning the fairness of their murder trial. However, the release of The Beauty Parlor, a film starring Danny O’ Shea, according to the grapevine really wasn’t anything to write home about.

Up in the air and away from terra ferma, though, things were decidedly more attention-grabbing. A 1,000 watt radio station established contact with an aircraft 150 miles from the station, while Charles Lindbergh, who, two months earlier had made the first non-stop solo flight from New York to Paris, started a three-month tour of the country in his custom-built airplane the Spirit of St. Louis. Not to be outdone, across the big pond in the Fatherland German Junker pilots Risztics and Edzard flew a Junker W33 airplane for a distance of 4,660 kilometres, to set a new distance world record. They needed 52 hours and 22 minutes for that flight.

How unremarkable was the day developing into on that small speck of an island propping up the “Irish Free State” [Ireland only declared itself a republic on 21st December 1948]? Although habitually accused of emanating hot air, the legislative assembly, Dáil Éireann, with its feet firmly on the ground, was heatedly debating the Public Safety Order Bill (third stage), which, with a view to cracking down on the “insurgents” who days earlier had assassinated Kevin O Higgins, the Vice President, would grant authority to ‘the powers that be’ to declare a state of emergency, and set up military courts. One would have supposed a very jittery state of affairs for an island recovering from the ruins of civil war.

Assume not. The unmistakable whiff of a ‘business as usual’ atmosphere was also filtering through as members of the Dáil on this day raised questions on subjects as diverse as the administration of the Lunacy Department and the provision of State funds for the construction of a landing place at Barley Cove, down in Cork [a request, which, should you are interested to know (I’m certainly not) was turned down for the reasons that “…. the number of locally-owned yawls [or two-masted sailing vessels] is very small, and the fishing for herrings in the Cove is at present being carried on by an adequate number of motor yawls and boats from outlying districts which land their catches at Baltimore”]. A jittery situation indeed. What is more, even the Joint Dáil Restaurant Committee held a meeting [I didn’t come across any records mentioning a sitting of the Joint Bar Committee, even if I suspect most committee meetings at the time were held in the bar!].

What makes all this odds and ends law-making of interest to me is the mere fact that Dáil Éireann was even sitting in August [in this day and age Ireland’s highly-paid legislators ˗local constituency messenger boys and girls as we like to call them˗ are partial to giving themselves a lengthy summer break of at least two months]. And yet, if the following exchange is anything to go by, a hint of the slothfulness that is all too apparent nowadays was already palpable on 3rd August 1927,

The President of the Executive Council: “I move:

“That the Dáil sit later than 9 p.m., and that the Order for the Adjournment be taken not later than 8 a.m. to-morrow.”

Mr. Morrissey (esteemed member of the legislature)

“I oppose the idea of sitting all night. I think it is an outrageous suggestion.”

To be sure.

Unremarkable a day so far? Well, not quite. Up at the Goffs Bloodstock Sales in Ballsbridge a horsy friend approached bloodstock auctioneer James Byrne Senior to congratulate him. James, acknowledging the good wishes with his usual aplomb, thought the man was referring to his recent sale of a fine looking filly (female horse). “No James I am not talking about a horse. Your wife has just given birth to a baby daughter” Fifty miles away in Kilcullen, Co. Kildare, Mary “Min” Byrne, James’ wife, was resting upstairs in Byrne’s Hotel (See picture below Byrne’s Hotel -circ. 1925- now The Hideout*) having just given birth to my mother, Kathleen (Kathryn) Nora Mary. What appears to have been a rather run of the mill day was indeed very special. Happy 85th Mum!!. As your father used to tell you, you have a fine pair of fetlocks!

(Kathleen “Kathryn” Nora Mary Byrne, 3rd August [Leo] 1927 [Year of the Rabbit] – 1st August 2012 [Year of the Dragon])

“Let the beauty of what you love be what you do” (Rumi)

“A thing of beauty is a joy forever” (John Keats)

‘Byrne’s Hotel’, Kilcullen, Co. Kildare, Ireland in a photograph circ. 1927, the year my mother Kathryn O’Reilly nee Byrne was born on the second floor. ‘Byrne’s Hotel was opened by Grandfather James J Byrne Senior in Christmas 1925. The building was constructed in 1855 and soon after named The’Magnolia Hotel’. In 1903 it was renamed Flanagan’s Motor Bar. ‘Byrne’s Hotel’ lasted until 1950 when it assumed ‘The Hideout’ moniker (Source: Cousin Brian Byrne, Kilcullen’s man of knowledge),


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