HC Deb 28 March 1927 vol 204 cc850-3

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he can give the House any information concerning the outrages on British nationals at Nanking; whether he is aware that the British Consulate has been looted and the British flag fired upon; and will he state what steps he proposes to take to protect British lives and property?


My reply exceeds the usual length, but in the circumstances perhaps the House will excuse it.

The following is my information about the recent events at Nanking.

In anticipation of the approach of the Nationalist forces most British women and children had already been evacuated from Nanking by Tuesday, 22nd March. The evacuation of other foreign women and children was continued on Wednesday, 23rd March, and all the remainder, except a few who stayed in the city, were concentrated in buildings on the bund. On the night of 23rd March the general retreat of the Northern forces across the Yangtse began and foreigners remaining in the city were concentrated in Nanking University. The Nationalist forces arrived in the early morning of Thursday, 24th March, and by 9 a.m. the city was in their hands. The Nationalist soldiery were completely out of hand and began to loot. About 11 a.m. the British Consulate-General was attacked by a crowd of undisciplined soldiers and subsequently looted. A British subject, Dr. Smith, was killed and Mr. Bertram Giles, the Consul-General was wounded. I am happy to say that his wound is not serious and that he has been got safely away. The United States and Japanese Consulates were also attacked and looted during the afternoon, and an American missionary was murdered.

Standard Oil Hill, which lies across country close to and just inside the city wall, became the concentration point for all foreigners, and those that arrived, making their way under fire, were concentrated in Socony House under the protection of a small United States guard, who established visual communication with the men of war in the river. The United States Consul was of this party. Nationalist soldiers attempted to rush Socony House and began to fire in ever increasing numbers. Fire was then opened at 3.45 p.m. by His Majesty's Ship "Emerald" and the two United States destroyers "Noah" and "Preston," dropped shells round the house over an area not inhabited by the civilian population. The effect of their fire was immediate, and 31 foreigners were evacuated over the wall without difficulty, their retreat being covered by naval detachments from the British and United States warships, who landed at 4.10 p.m. The landing parties were not molested.

A deputation from the Nationalist Commander came on board His Majesty's Ship "Emerald" that evening. The British and United States Commanders demanded that immediate orders should be given for the protection of foreigners; that escorts should be provided to assist in the evacuation of all remaining foreigners; and that the Nationalist Commander should himself come on board. Fifteen British subjects, including the Consul-General, were still unaccounted for, and six marines were also missing. About 150 Americans were also unaccounted for. No satisfactory response having been received from the Chinese, a further conference was held at noon next day, Friday, 25th March, and the shelling of certain concentration points was recommended if the remaining foreigners were not immediately brought out, and forcible action was accordingly threatened by the British and United States naval authorities. Chiang Kai-shek, who was on his way down river from Wuhu, requested that forcible action should be withheld pending his arriyal at Nanking, when he would guarantee the safety of foreigners. The British, United States and Japanese Commanders-in-Chief at Shanghai directed their respective senior naval officers at Nanking if possible to avoid drastic action until Chiang Kai-shek had been given an opportunity to fulfil his guarantee. Action was postponed. At 5.30 p.m. the Consul-General with the consular party and the missing marines came on board His Majesty's Ship "Emerald," they and other foreigners having suffered intolerable treatment and indignities. All the Americans were also accounted for, but one had been killed and one wounded.

The total British casualties, so far as I am aware—and I am not certain that my information is complete—were Dr. Smith and one sailor killed, Mr. Giles and Captain Spear wounded.

Mr. Teichman saw Mr. Chen on 25th March and again on 26th March and lodged with him the strongest possible protest against these unprecedented outrages reported to be the work of soldiers of the Nationalist armies.


Has the right hon. Gentleman seen the telegraphic statement that had it not been for the shells, every person on the hill would have been murdered?


According to the information which I have received, I have not the slightest doubt that the timely communication with the warships and their timely action alone saved the lives of citizens of British and American nationality.


Arising out of the right hon. Gentleman's reply, is he aware that the Commander-in-Chief of the Cantonese forces has said specifically that in his opinion the looting and outrages were committed by the Northern troops?


I have seen that statement, but the information derived from American and British sources is to the contrary.


Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether the guarantee given by General Chiang Kai-shek to protect the lives of foreign nationals is a guarantee upon which the British Government feel they can safely rely?


In the anarchical conditions which prevail at the present time in many parts of China, it is impossible to say that we can rely with safety on these guarantees. We must watch what happens, and judge not on the professions made, but on the performances.

Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY

In view of these events in Nanking, is it now proposed to evacuate the remainder of our nationals in the other parts of the Yangtse valley?


That is a matter which is under consideration, but I do not think it is desirable that I should issue instructions from here. It must be decided nearer the spot.


Will the right hon. Gentleman answer the last part of my question? What steps does he propose to take to protect British lives and property in Hankow?


The steps which His Majesty's Government have taken are, I think, by this time sufficiently well known and, in spite of some criticism which they have encountered, they are generally approved.