Cyril Drummond Le Gros Clark held the position as the Chief Secretary of Sarawak for barely seven months from May till December 1941.
But those seven months were a crucial part in Sarawak history.
On Mar 31, 1941, Le Gros Clark announced the decision of the third White Rajah Vyner Brooke, to introduce a democratic constitution.
Commenting on the Rajah’s move, Straits Budget on Apr 17, 1941 reported Le Gros Clark stating, “The Rajah took the opportunity of the Centenary of Sarawak to make public his decision, and the official Advisory Committee of His Highness received it with gratitude. The position of the Brooke family in Sarawak is one of extremely close personal contact with the people. Whatever is the position of the Rajah in the future, he remains in the eyes of the people as their Rajah.”
Here are five things to know about Cyril Drummond Le Gros Clark:
1.Le Gros Clark spent time on Gulangyu island to learn Hokkien language.
Le Gros Clark was born in 1894 and had started his career as a soldier. He joined the Sarawak Civil Service in 1925. According to Gustav Ecke and Edward Erkes in a 1947 obituary dedicated to him, Le Gros Clark went to Gulangyu Island and spent 1925 to 1927 to learn Hokkien language and culture.
Ecke and Erkes wrote, “Here on the shores of the Eastern Ocean, in the gorgeous mountain wilderness near the ancient port of Zayton, his imagination was captivated. He began to understand the life and atmosphere of the real China. The result was an intensive study of the country’s history and literature, which inspired him with the wish to do creative work as a scholar.”
2.Le Gros Clark was a translator of Su Shi from Chinese into English.
In 1928, he returned to Sarawak and was appointed Secretary for Chinese Affairs.
While working on his day job, Le Gros Clark managed to squeeze some times for his passion, researching and translating the works of Su Shi from Chinese into English.
At the end of 1931, he published his work ‘Selections from the Works Su Tung-Po’.
His hard work was paid off when he received great reviews for his book.
3.His last job was as the Officer Administering the Government in the absence of the rajah.
Right before the World War II, the last Rajah of Sarawak Vyner Brooke put out this proclamation on the Sarawak Government Gazette.
“Whereas we are about to leave the State on the 29th October, 1941:
Now therefore, know ye all men whom it may concern that we hereby appoint Cyril Drummond Le Gros Clark, Chief Secretary, to administer the Government of the State during our absence, and we enjoin that all respect and obedience be paid to the said Cyril Drummond Le Gros Clark in this position.”
When the war was about to hit the shore of Sarawak, it was suggested that Le Gros Clark withdraw with the Military Headquarters ‘as to facilitate the functioning of the Sarawak civil government elsewhere in Borneo’.
Le Gros Clark, however, was adamant that he should remain in Kuching.
He reportedly said during his later internment, “With these people of Sarawak, among whom I have spent, many years of my life, and in whose interests I have believe devoted my unselfish and loyal services, I have determined to remain and to share with them their sufferings during this period of trial.”
4.His final days as a civilian internee during WW2 at Batu Lintang Camp
After the Japanese had arrived In Kuching on Christmas Eve 1941, all the European officers were captured and eventually held in Batu Lintang Camp.
There, he served as the camp master.
Despite the poor condition and lack of basic necessities such as food and clothes, things were rather somehow uneventful at the camp.
Until, the issue of Chinese newspaper.
At first, the internees were permitted by their captors to receive the local Chinese newspapers. Those who could read Chinese translated them to those who didn’t understand.
Then in July 1943, the Japanese withdrew their permission but the internees continued to receive them illegally.
By October 1943, the Japanese became more strict and severe attitude towards their captives.
Naturally, some of the internees became fearful of the consequences that might fall upon them if they defied this order.
In his memoir Lawyer in the Wilderness (1980), Sarawak attorney general and judge Kenelm Hubert Digby claimed the whole situation had the internees divided.
He wrote, “We were promptly accused of cowardice by half-a-dozen members of the camp, who would not have been in personal danger themselves if the legality which they favoured had come to light.”
According to Digby, an American named Henry William Webber continued to arranged to receive the paper privately through the wire. His fellow internees reportedly asked him to desist but he refused to do so.
This is how Digby narrated on what happened next on the newspaper incident.
“In April 1944, the conspiracy was uncovered. The Chinese, who passed the paper to the British sergeant in charge of an outside working party, and the sergeant himself were caught. Having been very badly knocked about, the latter gave the names of his “contacts” in the civilian camp. In the result Le Gros Clark, who, as Camp Master, was deemed to have primary responsibility; Cho, the Chinese consul at Sandakan before the occupation who translated the Chinese part of the paper; Abbott, a North Borneo administrative officer , who translated the Malay part of the paper; Hill, another North Borneo administrative officer, who, in his capacity as secretary of the General Committee, had had the job of reading out the translations in the huts; Macdonald, a Sarawak planter; Stokes, a North Borneo doctor; and the American, Webber, were all arrested in June.”
5.Remembering Cyril Drummond Le Gros Clark
Some reports stated that the group was arrested in May. Regardless, Le Gros Clark and the rest of them first sentenced to prison in Kuching and later in Batu Tiga in Jesselton (now Kota Kinabalu).
In January 1945, the Japanese moved their prisoners to Beaufort and on April 12, 1945, they moved them to Keningau.
Since then, nobody knew the fates of these prisoners at first. As none of them were seen alive after the war had ended, the British government started inquiries to locate them.
Then in October 1945, the group of investigators led by former resident of the Sabah West Coast Division Richard Evans found the graves of Le Gros Clark and others at an airfield used by the Japanese.
As it turned out, Le Gros Clark, Cho Huan Lai, Valentine A. Stokes, Henry William Webber and Donald Macdonald were all executed on July 6, 1945, two months before the Japanese had surrendered.
All of their remains were later reburied at the old Anglican Cemetery of Jesselton.
Today, a monument is erected near the former airfield where Le Gros Clark and others been executed.