was the headline of an article by the British war correspondent,
David Divine, in the London Daily Sketch about the work
of the British Consul in wartime Macau. Appointed as vice-consul
in what was for the British Foreign office a remote and
insignificant outpost, the young diplomat, John Reeves,
became a key man between 1942 and 1945, when thousands
of refugees poured into the little Portuguese colony from
British civilians were interned at Stanley, and prisoners
of war, including members of the Hong Kong volunteers,
were crammed into an army camp at Shumshuipo, Kowloon.
Hong Kong’s Portuguese population fled by the thousands
to Macau, and almost ten thousand of them were able to
claim British nationality. Most were destitute and almost
starving. It was John Reeves’ responsibility to
care for them as best he could. Reeves had been sent to
Macau shortly before the outbreak of war for a ‘rest
cure’ from Mukden, in Japanese-occupied Manchuria,
a forbidding place at the best of times. Some rest cure!
At the British consulate in Macau, flew the Union Jack,
the only Allied flag between India and Alaska, apart from
the Allied embassies in Chungking. It was a beacon of
hope for desperate people. David Divine, writing on 29th
September, 1945, six weeks after the Japanese surrender,
concluded his article by saying the ‘the Union Jack
of Macao should be given an honoured place among the treasures
of the Foreign Office.’
As well as distributing the pitifully small British government
subsidy, Reeves hired some of the younger men as consulate
guards. He was a tacit supporter of the Resistance, though
he had to be very circumspect. On 16th January, 1944,
despite the straitened circumstances of those desperate
times, members of the Portuguese community, led by Jack
Braga, tendered him a Testimonial Dinner in gratitude
for what he had done.
This lapel badge bears the inscription 'H.B.M. Consulate,
Macao' (His Britannic Majesty's Consulate, Macao).
It was worn issued to the people employed by John
Reeves as staff members and guards.
RIGHT: Notice of Dinner to be held in honour of
David Divine’s article almost certainly stemmed
from four lengthy cables sent to Reuter’s News Agency
by its Macau representative, Jack Braga, on 24th September.
He wanted the story to be told and remembered. The press
telegrams of that era were written in a language of their
own, with words run together and Latin prefixes added
to save money. What do you make of this?
‘englishlanguage newspaper parrefugeesreceived wholehearted
encouragement thereby maintaining British etallied viewpoints
during omniphases conflict’.
Jack Braga’s telegrams read, in part: ‘Bespectacled,
wiry-looking John Pownall Reeves will remain in the memory
of Macao’s wartime history as a figure representing
unflinching confidence in the final outcome of Allied
victory.' His dynamic, democratic attitude enabled him
to transmit inspiring encouragement to all Allied subjects
and Portuguese citizens, all of whom were Allied supporters,
especially during the early phase of the war when the
Japanese were triumphant.
He maintained morale at all times, despite his wife being
marooned in Hongkong and his only child sick. After the
Japanese occupation of Hongkong, numerous Allied subjects
seeking shelter in Macao approached Reeves, whose Union
Jack was the solitary symbol of the Allied cause. They
received generous assistance and words of consolation.
Meanwhile, Reeves obtained stories of Japanese atrocities
and excesses which the British Foreign Secretary transmitted
to Parliament, causing worldwide indignation.
successfully solicited the British Government to give
consideration to the necessity of granting relief subsidies,
owing to the impossibility of diminutive, unproductive
Macao providing employment. The number of refugees who
were British subjects at the conclusion of the war was
nearly ten thousand, and there were a thousand American
citizens. Reeves also acted on behalf of the American
government in promoting their welfare.
A large proportion of those reaching Macao in the early
months of 1942 suffered the effects of malnutrition, causing
the Portuguese government to promote health measures as
far as circumstances permitted, while Reeves established
medical dispensaries catering for the needs of British
Collaborating with Portuguese authorities, Reeves helped
to subsidise British subjects of Portuguese extraction.
This did much to alleviate hardship. However, owing to
the exorbitant prices of foodstuffs, the British government’s
remittances were hardly sufficient for the barest necessities,
causing Reeves and his wife, who meanwhile had been released
by the Japanese, to collaborate with leading Portuguese
and Chinese citizens in promoting public charities. When
conditions made it desirable to increase the Macao police
force, Reeves encouraged British subjects to join. Many
distinguished themselves alongside other members of the
police in the execution of their duties.
With English education languishing, Reeves sought the
establishment of English-language primary schools to supplement
Portuguese schools. When a technical school for adults
was set up in 1945, it too received subsidies from the
British consul. There were other marks of his solicitude
for the activities of the refugees, while promotion of
sports received the most active support and generous contributions,
enabling all classes to participate in games, Reeves himself
playing hockey, while his constant presence at every social
activity contributed greatly to the maintenance of high
morale. He gave wholehearted encouragement to an English
language edition of the newspaper enascimento for refugees.
This paper maintained British and Allied viewpoints during
all phases of the conflict. Despite Japanese protestations,
the Portuguese authorities gave friendly recognition to
Throughout the war, Reeves and his wife, despite their
daughter’s serious illness, gave continuous personal
attention to the affairs of almost every individual, applying
advice throughout the day and often late at night, displaying
fatherly interest in every phase of the life of refugees.
In cases of distress, he sought to alleviate their afflictions,
and endeavoured to distribute as equitably as possible
the generous though never sufficient remittances from
the British government.’
Upon the conclusion of the war, Reeves was enthusiastically
feted publicly at a dinner given on 3rd November, 1945,
by the Hong Kong Portuguese community. Within a few months,
most had returned to Hong Kong to get on with their lives,
so cruelly interrupted by war.
The press cuttings illustrated here and the text of he
telegrams sent to Reuter’s are all from the wonderful
J.M. Braga collection in the National Library of Australia
in Canberra. The badge issued by the British consulate
in Macau was also his. It must be very rare. Does anyone
else have one? If you do, treasure it. It is a relic of
a heroic time.