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Jack’s Bar

Jack’s Bar

Soldier Of Fortune CoverIn May 1955 Twentieth Century Fox released the film ‘Soldier of Fortune’ starring Clark Gable and Susan Hayward based on a novel by Ernest K. Gann. Hayward is an American woman in Hong Kong searching for her photo-journalist husband who disappeared after illegally entering China. She enlists the help of a wealthy businessman played by Gable who has made his fortune from smuggling between Hong Kong, Macau and China. Gable rescues the husband who has conveniently fallen out of love with Hayward, leaving the field open for him. Filmed on location in Cinemascope ‘Soldier of Fortune’ is a fascinating record of how Hong Kong looked in the 1950’s and the expatriate community of that period.

Gann was a commercial pilot, sailor and popular author whose most famous aviation related novels include The High & The Mighty and Island in the Sky both made into films starring John Wayne. In Soldier of Fortune part of the action takes place in the Peninsula Hotel lobby and a fictional bar called Tweedies. These locations serve as backdrops for the author to introduce a group of comic characters representing the deadbeats and down at heel of the time. Gann had done extensive research in Hong Kong and based Tweedies on the real life Gingle’s restaurant located at 70 Nathan Road. The owner Francis Edward Gingles was a retired U.S. Navy Chief Commissary Steward who ran bars in Hong Kong before the war, was interned by the Japanese and then resumed business until his death in 1960. Gingles was a larger than life character well known throughout the colony. It was said he could drink a case of beer before breakfast and frequently did.

It is not known if Gable made the short walk to Gingles but he did spend most of his time drinking with John ‘Jock’ Inglis a long time resident of the Peninsula who occupied lobby table 44 as his personal office. The film producer had to ban Gable from Jock’s table until shooting was finished for the day. Gable is also remembered at the hotel for teaching a young and confused Chinese bartender how to mix a screwdriver cocktail.

In his memoirs Gann wrote of first meeting Gingles –‘Surely I whispered to myself – Sydney Greenstreet in the flesh !’. Greenstreet was a British-American actor who started acting in films at the age of 61 and is best remembered for his Warner Brothers roles opposite Humphrey Bogart notably in ‘Casablanca’.

Sydney Hughes Greenstreet Actor Gingles
Sydney Hughes Greenstreet Actor At Bar

Gingles (Source: Life Magazine)

The fictional Tweedie’s was a large bar and restaurant with overhead fans, tiled floor, chequered table cloths and light wicker chairs chosen to minimise injury if a fight erupted. Before the war his clientele were sailors but Tweedie aspired to manage a gentleman’s place and preferred to attract pilots, their wives and other American expatriates. The one type of customer he could not abide were unescorted women:

a woman alone is trouble, and two of them alone are twice as much trouble, and three of them alone can start a riot with a smile.’.

Regular drinkers included Marty Gates, an alcoholic, ex pilot scraping by as a part time pimp or taking a cut from gold smuggling deals and cross border cash remittances, Major Leith-Phipps a bogus English major and defrocked Methodist minister and the White Russian Madame Dupree, down on her luck former mistress of a Chinese nationalist general. Tweedie himself held court from a private table with his ageing hangers on, errand boys and bouncers who relied on him for food and lodging; Gunner a former ships engineer who; considered himself an old China hand although he had never been farther into China than the port of Hong Kong.’, Big Matt, a former marine guard at the American legation in Peking who : ‘drank beer all day long and most of the night and the illiterate Icky a small, gnarled monkey of a man with a full rigged ship tattooed on his chest.

In November 1959 another famous author landed in Hong Kong looking for inspiration and local colour. Goldfinger had been released earlier in the year and Ian Fleming was commissioned by the Sunday Times, to travel the globe, all expenses paid, reporting on thirteen thrilling cities in the style of James Bond. Much of the material he gathered would be incorporated into his later Bond novels including You Only Live Twice. On his first evening Fleming went out on the town with Dick Hughes, an old friend and Far Eastern correspondent of the Sunday Times:


Conders Bar Pricing LicenseeConder’s bar was at 22A Queen’s Road Central behind the old Shell House now re-built as Central Tower. It was entered through double swinging doors in an alley just off Wyndham St. The downstairs bar was a dark wood, smoky den decorated with horse brasses, toby jugs, hunting prints and regimental plaques solidly determined to provide an English pub atmosphere in the Far East. Beer served on tin trays in dimpled mugs or pub spirits were preferred and the bar boasted the largest liquor selection in Hong Kong – If it’s in a bottle we have it’. Male conversation and pub games like darts, cribbage, shove ha-penny, liar dice and chequers were on offer undisturbed by any jukebox belting out the latest hits. Jukeboxes and unescorted ladies were more likely to be found in Wanchai where Hughes and Fleming ventured later. Upstairs at Conders bar was a dining room where ladies were welcome serving steaks, chops, grills and seafood – a similar menu to the nearby Jimmy’s Kitchen at a fraction of the price. Hemingway himself would have been at home but his literary types were bullfighters, boxers, deep sea fishermen, gangsters and gunmen. Jack held court with an equally diverse mix of characters including lawyers, journalists, diplomats, foreign correspondents, Taipans, old China hands and sailors from the visiting navies.

On November 5th 1955 Conders bar hosted the first gathering of an informal drinking and dining club calling themselves ‘Alcoholics Synonymous’. They included Jack’s great friend Dick Hughes, the bon vivant and master of the long lunch who was to inspire the literary characters of Dikko Henderson in ‘You Only Live Twice’ and Old Craw in John Le Carre’s ‘The Honorable Schoolboy’. This Saturday lunchtime crowd had always played dice to decide who paid the drinks tab but the club chose a fairer system of taking turns to foot the bill. Meetings later adjourned to the Foreign Correspondent’s Club where guests including the veteran journalist and world traveller Alan Whicker were always welcome. According to the BBC correspondent Anthony Lawrence there was no initiation ceremony and Fleming had been a victim of gentle leg pulling by the regulars when he dropped in.

Jack was enough of a local celebrity to be interviewed in April 1968 by the well spoken presenter Dorothy Barnes on the Radio Television Hong Kong programme -‘Time to Remember’. Linked by musical selections including ‘Beer, beer, glorious beer !’, ‘Moonlight and Roses’ and the Great Escape theme Jack gave a modest, gentlemanly account of his upbringing and adventurous life. At ease with his drinking companions, the stories became more colourful and Dick Hughes included a chapter on Jack – ‘Escape from Shanghai’ in his book – ‘Foreign Devil, Thirty Years of Reporting in the Far East’.


John Cecil Conder was born in 1907, the youngest of 13 children and grew up in the Wallasey area of Liverpool. In 1925 he joined the Royal Army Medical Corps to relieve the financial burden on his widowed mother and whilst serving at Catterick camp was ordered to Shanghai.

Shanghai at the time comprised the International Settlement governed by the Shanghai Municipal Council, the French Concession and the Chinese city. Unlike colonies such as Hong Kong and Macau ceded in perpetuity, the foreign concessions in China remained under nominal Chinese sovereignty. In 1927 the Shanghai Defence Force was established to protect British lives and property from the instability in China caused by Chiang Kai Shek’s northern expedition against the warlords.

Posing Picture Second Battalion Coldstream GuardsOn the 28th January 1927 Jack embarked with the 2nd battalion Coldstream Guards for the 28 days sail to Hong Kong. The ship passed through various Empire ports and days were occupied with deck sports, choir practice and boxing matches in which Jack at 5ft10in and 160lbs was volunteered as a fighter. Landing in Hong Kong the troops were billeted in the Peninsula Hotel then still under construction before transit to Shanghai. Daily Morning drill was carried out on Nathan Road and when the military eventually moved out the flooring and bathtubs had to be replaced because of damage from their boots and the storage of rifles and bayonets.


The Shanghai Defence Force was deployed to guard the boundaries of the International Settlement but as tensions eased the twelve battalions were gradually withdrawn at the end of 1927. Shangai Municipal Police 1843 1943 In October 1928 with his three years enlistment period ending, Jack and several army colleagues decided to stay and join the Shanghai Municipal Police. The Shanghai Municipal Police founded in 1854 was a British run multi-ethnic force in which a foreign minority supervised a majority of Chinese and Sikh officers. After training at the Gordon Road depot Jack began shift work as a Constable on the beat. As Robert Bickers notes in his ‘Empire Made Me – An Englishman Adrift in Shanghai’ Jack and his fellow recruits soon realised they were at the bottom of the Shanghailander’s social hierarchy in one of the world’s most dynamic, thrilling and expensive cities. Low pay and poor barracks accommodation caused a regular turnover requiring constant recruitment drives from the military or UK police forces.

A typical report from 1935 on E.W. Peters, a 1929 recruit, read:

Not good at Chinese. Inclined to heavy beer drinking. Usual ex-soldier type – not too reliable but not a bad officer under supervision.

In 1936 Peters faced a murder charge for allegedly helping another officer remove a beggar from the streets by throwing him in a creek. The beggar was fished out by Chinese boatmen but died later of pneumonia. In spite of strong evidence both were acquitted by the jury and compulsorily resigned from the force. Peters returned home and wrote the book ‘Shanghai Policeman’, part autobiography and part self defence. During the war he worked in a London factory and from 1949-1970 managed a sea front pub, The King Lear, in his home town of Dover.

By the 1920s Shanghai was a dangerous city to police with armed robberies and kidnappings almost a daily occurrence. The year Jack was recruited the SMP was involved in 117 ‘shooting affrays’ with nine police officers killed and 11 wounded. Many of the armed robbers operating in the International Settlement were ex-soldiers and their weapon of choice was the easy to conceal, semi-automatic Mauser C96 pistol nicknamed the ‘box cannon’ in Chinese. They fired the most powerful pistol bullet in Shanghai requiring the SMP to develop bullet-proof shields and heavy duty protective vests. The SMP Reserve Unit had started carrying Thompson sub machine guns in 1925 and Ted Quigley, a 1938 recruit, recalled in training they learned the first two organized units in the world to be armed with tommy guns were the SMP and Al Capones’s Chicago mob. The Shanghai Municipal Council arranged an exchange programme with five officers from the Chicago police for six months but after one month the Chicago police men requested to go home. When a police station received news of a robbery the station alarm bell rang and any off duty officers who responded were eligible for extra pay. Jack recalled racing to Swatow Road in a model T Ford squad car with Colt 45 drawn and in the excitement almost mistaking his Inspector for a robber.

Shanghai Municipal Officers

SMP with Colt automatic pistols (Source: Reddit forgotten weapons)

Off duty Jack was in demand at the fashionable Astor House Hotel tea dances teaching Chinese girls the foxtrot and waltz whilst practicing his Shanghainese. The Paul Whiteman Orchestra played romantic dance tunes of the period against the backdrop of a peacock shell structure which constantly changed colour. The entry price of one Mexican dollar included sandwiches and cream cakes between 5pm and 7pm. A popular late nightspot was the Black Cat cabaret and café featuring Chinese dance hostesses and a jazz band called ‘Felix and the Meows’. After a night of partying Jack was having breakfast when the Black Cat staff asked for his help with a drunken guest who had concealed an expensive ashtray in his jacket. The would be thief revealed himself as the Crown Prince of Sweden. After negotiation he was encouraged by Jack to pay for this addition to the souvenirs collected on his world tour.

The Black Cat Shanghai Cabaret
Vintage Dance Drawing

Black Cat Cabaret (Source: Shanghaisojourns)     Schiff cartoon (Source: Maskee A Shanghai Sketchbook)

During his police service Jack married an English woman – Susan Grace Burgess who gave birth to a son George Cecil in 1929 and a daughter Margaret Joan in 1932. After three years on the beat Jack resigned from the force for a better paid job with the Shanghai Gas company. Eight years later he went to work as a warehouseman for Butterfield & Swire whose solid red brick office was located on the French Bund or ‘Quai de France’. During the 1930s the international situation deteriorated with the Japanese invading and occupying the Chinese administered areas outside the foreign concessions. On 10th August 1940 due to the war situation at home regular British troops were withdrawn from Shanghai. War was imminent and on 8th December 1941 Japanese soldiers marched in unopposed and their cruiser Izumo sank the British navy gunboat HMS Peterel moored in the harbour within sight of Butterfield & Swire. Rounded up as an enemy alien Jack was not interned straight away but forced to continue working at Butterfield & Swire as the Japanese transferred the company’s ships to their own NYK line. On 15th March 1943 he was arrested and imprisoned with his family in the Longhua civilian internment camp with around 2000 other detainees. At the same time British officers of the Shanghai Municipal Police were relieved of their duties and also interned.

The Longhua detainees were fortunate to have a relatively humane camp commandant. Tomohiko Hayashi was a member of the diplomatic corps who had spent four years in London, and himself been interned on the Isle of Man before repatriation in a prisoner exchange between the two countries.

Jack was determined to escape because of ‘domestic friction’ as he explained to his RTHK interviewer but didn’t elaborate. He became even more determined after the commandant refused his request for transfer to another camp. Years later one of Jack’s masonic brothers discovered that he left a letter for the commandant to find after escape. The fact that Jack’s wife and family returned to England after the war confirms their marriage had broken down but the letter also explained his behaviour lessening the chance of any retribution on them. Jack must have established at best a cordial but deferential relationship with the commandant. After the war Hayashi, then serving as Consul-General in Winnipeg received a note from Jack apologising for his sudden departure from the camp and from then they exchanged Christmas cards each year. With assistance from Tokyo University a copy of the letter from Jack to the commandant was found by Brian Coak an ex-Hong Kong civil servant who was a good friend and masonic brother:

Letter To Hayashi Part 1
Letter To Hayashi Part 2


The three miles long perimeter of Longhua camp was surrounded by a high wire fence, guard posts and arc lights. Jack noticed the guards sometimes forgot to turn on the floodlights and on a moonless night he made his move. Squeezing Through Shanghai SketchesClutching an attache case containing spare clothes, needle and thread, a multi-purpose tool and malaria tablets but no food he crawled across camp to the barbed wire fence.

After removing some of the fence staples and barbed wire strands he burrowed under the fence, replaced the wire and headed off into the night. Jack’s plan was to head south west avoiding Japanese patrols confident that in the vast countryside of China he would run into anti-Japanese guerrillas. Butterfly Wu Movies Star After 13 days sleeping rough, living on foraged sweet potatoes or whatever he could buy and steal Jack was picked up by a guerrilla band near the town of Jiaxing in Zhejiang province. After four months recovering from malaria and getting to know the local Nationalist General he was assigned an escort for the next stage of his journey. Heading westwards they were forced to zig zag and backtrack across country to avoid Japanese patrols but eventually reached Kweilin on 21st April 1944.

Along the way Jack hid from Japanese soldiers in a Chinese tomb, a pig sty and also spent ten days at the luxurious home of Chinese movie star Butterfly Wu sleeping in her bed. Miss Wu had already fled from the Japanese but he was able to express his thanks many years later when she was retired and living in Hong Kong. Jack reported to the British Army Aid Group (BAAG) in Kweilin commanded by Colonel Lindsay Ride who had himself escaped from captivity in Hong Kong.


After interrogation to confirm his account of traversing 1000 miles over enemy occupied territory, Jack was appointed a Captain and sent to India for parachute training. The atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki brought the war to a sudden end and he headed to Hong Kong deciding to stay rather than resume his life in Shanghai. Red Lion Inn Desperate for a job he was hired as manager of the Red Lion inn on Kowloon side just a short walk from Gingles and sharing the same army and navy customers. Jack later became licensee of Victor’s bar at 22A Queen’s Road Central and by 1956 had changed the name to Conder’s. In 1957 he went home to UK for the first time since 1927 visiting his elderly mother, extended family and making side trips to the Carlsberg brewery in Denmark and the Guinness brewery in Dublin.

By the early 1960’s he had moved again, opening Conder’s bowling centre and bar on land leased from the Kowloon Canton Railway at Luen Wan Rd. near the corner of Argyle St. in Mongkok. The décor was the same as in Central including the stuffed alligator suspended over the bar with a replica of a human foot protruding gruesomely from its jaws. Conders bar in the new location became a popular watering hole for travellers to and from the old Kai Tak airport together with government officers from the North Kowloon magistracy. In those days office hours usually included a non-productive Saturday morning and a thirsty impatience developed as noon approached. Business was good and Jack could afford to live at nearby Braga Circuit, Kadoorie Hill together with his Chinese partner and a large wooden teak bar.

On 14th June 1976 the man who Dick Hughes called ‘The best known foreign-devil barkeep in the Far East’ passed away and his funeral service was held at the Union church on Kennedy Rd. opposite Zetland Hall, the home of freemasonry in Hong Kong.

Thanks to Ian Fleming, jovial Jack’s bar is remembered and the image he described is recognisable to anyone who has lived in Hong Kong. The mock English pub was a common hangout for expats in the Far East until at least the 1990s when they were steadily replaced with lounges or generic Irish bars. Wanchai had the Old China Hand, the Horse & Groom and the Bell Inn whilst at one time a Mad Dogs was located close to the original Conder’s bar. On Kowloon side Ned Kelly’s Last Stand has been holding out since 1972 as the oldest pub in Hong Kong offering Dixieland jazz and run by an ex British army Sergeant-Major. Dick Hughes a jazz enthusiast was a regular drinker who would occasionally be invited on stage. Hong Kong rents however continue to sky rocket and drinking tastes have changed making it unlikely for characters like Gingles or Conder to run bars today.


Empire Made Me (2003) – Robert Bickers

Thrilling Cities (1963) – Ian Fleming

Soldier of Fortune (1955) – Ernest K Gann

Foreign Devils, Thirty Years of Reporting in the Far East (1972) – Dick Hughes

Hong Kong Kill (1958) – Bryan Peters

A Spirit of Adventure (1994) – Ted Quigley

The Correspondent Magazine – Hong Kong Foreign Correspondents Club

RTHK ‘Time to Remember’- April 1968

Jack Conder (Source: State Library of Western Australia)

The Sunshiners

The Sunshiners

Missed too many boats: Americans in the Philippines

Long Read

They Were Expendable Book CoverIn December 1945 MGM released the war film ‘They Were Expendable’ starring Robert Montgomery, John Wayne and Donna Reed based on the best-selling book by William Lindsay White. Directed by John Ford then a Captain in the United States Naval Reserve it told the story of Motor Torpedo Boat Squadron 3 defending the Philippine Islands from Japanese invasion in 1941. By April 1942 five of the six PT boats were burned, scuttled or destroyed by enemy air attack and the surviving crew members re-deployed to fight alongside the army. In addition to attacks on enemy shipping they transported General Douglas MacArthur and several senior officers from Corregidor to Mindanao for flight to Australia.

During the war Hollywood turned out hundreds of forgettable low budget films to support the war effort that were heavy on propaganda but lacking in realism. They Were Expendable thanks to John Ford and assistance from the navy is a standout exception. The film was shot in black and white in Florida with the navy supplying actual PT boats and naval aircraft temporarily re-marked with the rising sun. Those who had served in the Philippines would recognise the cultural references; the Filipina singer in terno dress serenading the officers at the Army & Navy Club, the enlisted men farewelling a lifer at the Silver Dollar bar, swaying palm trees, ceiling fans, San Miguel beer, nipa huts, banca boats on the shore and carabao wallowing in the mud. Ford highlighted the theme of men sacrificing themselves for a lost cause over action resulting in a running time of 135 minutes, much longer than the standard war flick of the time. The dinner for John Wayne’s love interest Donna Reed, with the sailors serenading her beneath the bamboo officer’s hut and John Wayne reciting Robert Louis Stevenson’s Requiem (The final lines: ‘Home is the sailor, home from sea, And the hunter home from the hill.’) over the bodies of his crew members is pure John Ford, scenes that would be reworked in his later Western movies.


Several scenes include the minor character ‘Dad’ Knowland played by Russell Simpson one of John Ford’s stock company of actors who specialised in grizzled old man roles. Dad was based on the real life ‘Dad’ Cleland who ran a machine shop and boat repair facility at Mactan Island, Cebu City and had been in the islands since the turn of the century. In March 1942 the squadron commander Lieutenant John D. Bulkeley led his remaining three PT boats to Cebu for several weeks of repair and refitting. To the Executive Officer Lt. Robert Kelly, Dad was:

A swell gent originally from Minnesota and a typical hulking frontiersman, didn’t look a day over fifty. He was a great gourmet, too.’ When Bulkeley asked Dad how he was going to pay for the repairs, he answered: ‘You fight ‘em and I’ll fix ‘em. It’s the least I can do.

Pamela Brink recalled in her childhood memoirs:

The only other American that lived on Mactan was Dad Cleland. His granddaughters were our age. He was a crusty old guy, had a huge old Colt. 45, and could take his teeth out.

One of his granddaughters Mary Lou Cleland Hedrick remembers a comfortable life of servants and country clubs, the small expatriate community in Cebu and Dad’s tales of playing poker with General MacArthur.

As the Japanese pressed southwards, with Bataan and Corregidor poised to fall, Bulkeley asked Dad what he was going to do.

Have my dignity to think about,’ the old man said, clenching his huge fists. ‘I’m not going to the hills. I’ll stay right here and face them. They can get me if they can, but they’ll have a fight on their hands first.

In the movie the camera lingers on Dad sat on the shipyard porch with a Springfield rifle across his lap, pistol in his holster, pipe and jug of moonshine while Red River Valley plays softly in the background. At the end of the movie the officers essential for their PT boat experience are flown out and the fate of those left behind remains unsaid, the audience aware of their suffering and that MacArthur’s promise would be redeemed.

Dad Cleland and his family were taken prisoner by the Japanese and incarcerated in Santo Tomas internment camp at Manila. He survived the war dying in Cebu City on 9th January 1948 aged seventy seven and was buried on Mactan Island. Today Dad Cleland Avenue connects the shipyards and naval base on the north side of the island.

Dad Character American MoviesBy 1945 the character of ‘Dad’ was already a caricature for American cinema audiences – the homesteader, the frontiersman, the Indian fighter and pioneer of countless western films and serials. To American expatriates in the Philippines he was real, living in towns and barrios across the islands from the Cordillera mountains to the Moro homelands of Mindanao. Until 1890 the United States always had vast unexplored territory to settle but instead of the west being won it just moved further westward when the Philippines were ceded from Spain. Immigrants were mainly discharged soldiers but also included missionaries and teachers. Collectively the teachers became known as Thomasites after arriving by ship on the Thomas. These Americans were adventurous individuals from the Western or middle Western states attracted to unsettled lands with unlimited natural resources.

Acquisition of the Philippines in 1898 required raising of a colonial army and the fact there was never a problem in recruitment reflected the harsh social conditions back home in the States. The quality of recruits to the bamboo, carabao or pineapple armies varied greatly and they were often grateful for three square meals and a bed. Volunteers signed up for two years and if they didn’t succumb to malaria, venereal disease, alcoholism, madness or the spears and bolos of the natives had the option of another tour or local discharge. Kevin C. Murphy in ‘Inside the Bataan Death March: Defeat Travail and Memory’ relates that:

One officer was known to have ‘gone asiatic’ after eight years in Philippines – he loved flowers and sometimes talked to them and insects. Others were called ‘Sunshiners’, old army men ‘who had missed too many ships to the States’ who sometimes sang a popular song ‘the monkeys have no tails in Zamboanga’.

This song from the Spanish-American war was parodied later by Olongapo marines adding the line ‘Oh we won’t go back to Subic anymore’. Many sunshiners with native wives were forced to remain in the islands because of the Asian Exclusion Act and state laws against interracial marriage. To the author and historian of this period Joseph P. McCallus these were the men who had been ‘forgotten under a tropical sun’.

At the turn of the century Manila was very much a Spanish city consisting of the old walled city of churches and cathedrals paved with cobble stones and various suburbs outside the gates. In 1898 a British Major later Major General, Sir George John Younghusband was appointed as military observer to the Spanish-American war. Together with his wife he later wrote ‘The Philippines and Round About’ vividly describing the city and early American occupation.

‘Of saloons and bars’, he wrote, ‘there is sufficient quantity. Each saloon is filled with small tables, and at each table are seated permanently four American soldiers, and in front of each warrior is a pile of monkey-nuts and a glass of beer. As the bar keeper rakes in 40 cents on each of these glasses of beer, it is obvious that the bar keeper’s daughter is a lady worth marrying. The majority of these saloons are now in the hands of Americans, but a few Spaniards are still holding on, aided by American assistants – heaven preserve us from calling them waiters.

Younghusband’s first encounter with an American soldier was one working in a saloon who introduced himself with;

My name’s Crosby, an’ I got an ignominy discharge from the army three days after landin’; and who may you be?’.

Of those Americans who had come out with the army and stayed on most of their business ventures depended on the military such as tailor shops, restaurants and bars.


In 1925 Vic Hurley, a veteran of World War I and athletics record holder from the University of Washington, travelled to the Philippines intending to start a coconut plantation on the island of Mindanao. This venture failed and after a year he went to work in Zamboanga as an expatriate manager for American companies and later reserve Lieutenant in the Philippines Constabulary. Vic became a prolific author whose first book – ‘Southeast of Zamboanga’ described his failed plantation venture and solitary time in the jungle. Bored with life in Seattle he tells a friend:

To Hell with it. I’m going to wear a white suit and plant coconuts.’ This is as much about the tropics and coconuts as he knew.’

Like many in the 1920s he suffered from dislocation and restlessness in an age when military personnel were expected to re-integrate into society and battlefield stress was largely undiagnosed. Vic had enlisted in 1916 seeing continuous action with field artillery units and suffered lifelong chronic illness from a mustard gas attack. During his service he would have rubbed shoulders with old soldiers who had served in the Philippines and read popular memoirs of the time such as Sydney Cloman’s ‘Myself and a Few Moros’ or Colonel John White’s ‘Bullets and Bolos’. One day he made his life changing decision:

‘I was looking out between the bars of an iron cage and I was handling thousands of dollars of other people’s money every day. I was cashier to an American Express Company office. One day I quit. I wanted to go to the tropics. I had no money to speak of. In the interior of the Express office, I found a dot on a map. The dot was named Zamboanga. I liked the sound of the name and that is why I first came to Mindanao as a fireman on a freighter.’

Kicking his heels in Zamboanga while waiting for a steamship to Makar Vic sought advice from the old timers and observed the politics and petty jealousies of the small American community. On a day trip out of town he encountered a different class of expatriate:

The Philippines Drawing
Philippines Sunset

Eddie and I drove out to a popular beach near Zamboanga. On the way we passed through a small suburb which is devoted almost exclusively to a colony of old ‘sunshiners’. There were dozens of these old privates left over from the old army days of the insurrection. They have taken their discharge in the Philippines and have settled down with native women on small coconut plantations. They take no part in the social activities of the town and they have been completely ostracized by the whites. Their uniform is a suit of khaki. We passed dozens of these old fellows along the way. They were sitting contentedly on the porches of their nipa shacks. They all had a pension of a few dollars a month and their living was in their back yard in their coconut trees. They were probably better off than they would be at home. They have deliberately forsaken the ways of white men and have avoided the responsibility of making a living in the competition of the United States. It seems strange that a man cannot wear khaki without losing caste. A white suit is the badge of a contract man in the Philippines. To the ‘sunshiner’ is reserved the khaki.’

Charles Ivins, a Constabulary officer and contemporary of Vic felt the same about who belonged to respectable society in Zamboanga. The sunshiners he agreed were usually ‘soldiers who had been retired at lower grades’, married to local women and were often drunk on cheap ‘square-face gin’ bought from Chinese merchants. They could be seen wandering around their huts ‘stooped over with dull vacant eyes’, unshaven, unkempt and averse to bathing.

After a year in the wilderness Vic was a broken man his health permanently damaged by malaria:

Maybe I am not tough enough for this country. I have stood up to the strain of highly competitive athletics in college and I have stood up to France in wartime but I am afraid that I cannot stand up to the bush in Mindanao. It is sapping and I am becoming more afraid everyday.

Vic returned to the U.S. in 1934 becoming an author of novels and short stories including ‘Men in Sun Helmets’, ‘The Swish of the Kris’ and ‘Jungle Patrol’. During World War 2 he was a naval officer attached to the Pacific Theater as an expert on the Philippines and South East Asia. In 1978 he took his own life.

The Real Tropics Newspaper Vic HurleyBy the 1930s Manila was known as ‘The Pearl of the Orient’ and service in the PI had become a sought after posting for both officers and enlisted men. In 1939 8,709 Americans lived in the Philippines most in expatriate communities and were called ‘Manila Americans’.

On January 10th 1941 Lieutenant John R. Bumgarner of the US Army Medical Corps embarked at San Francisco on the U.S.A.T Grant for Manila. John was a freshly graduated doctor and reserve officer who after call up in December 1940 volunteered for the Philippines to escape from the wintry boredom of barracks life at Camp Custer in Michigan. Due to be relieved from active duty in December 1941 he was instead imprisoned by the Japanese and later recounted his harrowing experiences caring for survivors of the Bataan death march in his book ‘Parade of the Dead: A US Army Physician’s Memoir of Imprisonment by the Japanese 1942 – 1945’. On arrival in Manila John was escorted to his billet at the old Luneta Hotel overlooking the park and Manila Bay:


‘The Luneta Hotel was run by an old ‘sunshiner’. When I inquired about his reason for being in the Philippines he told me that he was wanted by the police back home in Tennessee. He had earlier been in the Philippines with the army and had liked it so well that when he got in trouble he came back with no intention of returning to the United States. I did not pursue that line of questioning any further. The sunshiner did run a good hotel, and the food was marvelous. Where else would one be served fresh mango or papaya on ice as a breakfast opener? I am sure, though, that the hotel made all its profits from the little bar in the narrow hallway leading to the dining room.’

Within a few months John and the Manila Americans would find themselves imprisoned and struggling for survival in Japanese prison camps throughout the islands.


On 20th October 1944, a 24 years old merchant marine officer Eddie Woolbright watched from his supply ship in Leyte Gulf as U.S. troops stormed ashore at Dulag and Tacloban to begin the liberation of the Philippines.

Eddie had seen action on Arctic convoys to Russia and during the allied invasion of Sicily but on his first shore leave was shocked by the dirt and devastation he witnessed in Tacloban:

‘I went from Leyte Gulf to Tacloban in late October 1944, and that was the worst place I suppose I ever saw in the world.’

At the end of the war he shipped out to the U.S. but soon signed on another ship ending up back in Leyte. Eddie who had grown up around his father’s blacksmith and machine shop in Oklahoma saw an opportunity in the abandoned military equipment and scrap metal scattered across the islands. Feigning illness Eddie was discharged in Tacloban and began his career as a junk dealer collecting military surplus. In 1947 he opened the Airline Hotel Coffee Shop to attract customers to his hardware and spare parts store all the time developing contacts with local politicians and businessmen including the Romualdez clan whose beauty queen daughter went on to become the First Lady of the Philippines – Imelda Marcos.

Tacloban after the war was a lawless, wild west town and in spite of his contacts Eddie needed security guards with machine guns, an armour-plated jeep and guard dogs. As the supply of war surplus dried up he moved down to Cebu to open the famous Eddies’s Log Cabin Bar and Restaurant. Stepping inside the bar from the tropical heat of the waterfront customers entered an air-conditioned western style saloon with wagon wheels on the ceiling, chequered tablecloths, log panelled walls and leather bound menus. In the early 1950’s the wild west decor was a novelty and with fewer dining choices in Cebu the restaurant attracted local celebrities, journalists and politicians whose families remained loyal over the years. The food was American diner style with their coconut cream pie, corned beef and cabbage and thanksgiving turkeys still prepared today at the family’s Beverly Hotel.

Eddies Log Cabin Coffee Shop

Eddie is also remembered in the Far Eat for naming of the dice game- Balut which to Filipinos means the embryonic partially formed duck foetus in its shell sold at roadside stalls. According to the history of balut, poker playing GI’s at the Airport Hotel in Tacloban were out of playing cards and improvised a poker game using five dice. A group of Danish businessmen developed the rules and its popularity quickly spread through Asia via the Cebu British Club and the Singapore Cricket Club.

Eddie married Miss Philippines 1957 and branched out into real estate creating Beverly Hills, the first planned subdivision in the city. He was later declared an adopted son of Cebu with Woolbright Drive named in his honour and a bust unveiled after his death from lung cancer in 1996.

They Have Not Tails In ZamboangaOn July 4th 1946 independence was celebrated at Rizal Park within sight of the Manila Hotel, the Army & Navy Club and facing the bay where the Spanish fleet had been defeated in 1898. The Philippines however remained dependent on the U.S. compromising their sovereignty for security under an agreement giving the U.S. a lease on military bases including Subic Bay Naval Base at Olongapo and Clark Air Base next to Angeles City. The bases were closed in 1992 following a 12-11 vote of the Philippines Senate rejecting an extension of the agreement and after the eruption of Mount Pinatubo had caused extensive damage to the facilities at Clark. During those years thousands of sailors, marines and air force personnel were posted to the Philippines, passed through on deployment to Vietnam and the Gulf, took shore leave or returned as civilian contractors. Many returned to the U.S. leaving behind fatherless children whilst others chose to retire and stretch out their pensions under the tropical sun.

America Navy Sailors PhilippinesMemories of Subic liberty call remain; the shit river bridge, kids diving for pesos, Magsaysay drive, money changers, touts, pimps and monkey meat sellers, feeding live chickens to a croc, ‘Hey Joe!’, rock and roll bars, clip joints, honky tonks, short time hotels, the jungle for the brothers, jeepneys, San Miguel, pitchers of mojo and bullfrogs, smiles, SP armbands, last call and curfew.


In a jungle clearing on the western shore of Subic Bay is a weathered concrete tomb that was the resting place of ex- Chief Petty Officer Ernest J. Gaines or Ernie to his shipmates. In Ernie’s day the white sand beach at the foot of Mt. Redondo was accessible by banca from White Rock Resort across the bay but since building of the Hanjin shipyard in 2008 workers accommodation and squatter huts have sprung up in the once pristine jungle. Some say because of this Ernie’s widow had his remains removed to a quieter part of Iloilo City on Panay Island. Ernie was a lifer who retired from the navy and built a rustic tropical retreat he named Gaines Beach Resort at this former WW2 submarine base. Nipa hut bungalows provided accommodation for sailors on R&R with activities focused around a bar of varnished bamboo walls and thatched roof. The walls were decorated with ships plaques, lifebuoys, native crafts and sun faded photos from Ernie’s service past. Cheaper local drinks like Tanduay rum, Emperador brandy and ice cooled San Miguel were served unless sailors brought Jack Daniels and Jim Beam from the PX. The navy appreciated the more wholesome experience Ernie provided at his resort and laid on boats for sailors to enjoy barbecues, fishing trips, poker, liar dice and a game of horseshoes before the sun set over Subic Bay. Ernie was a drinking man and though the living was easy in his tropical paradise he passed away in 1985 at only 60 years old.

Phillipines Small Boat Dock Beach
Ernie Philippines Parrot

On November 24th 1992 U.S. marines from the USS Belleau Wood lowered the American flag at Cubi Point Naval Air Station, Subic Bay bringing to an end 94 years of American military presence in the Philippines. The Philippines continues to attract U.S. military retirees under a favourable retirement scheme but the old sunshiners who served in country and chose to stay on are a dwindling band.


The blue public jeepney from Olongapo City to Barrio Barretto zig zags past Kalaklan point and the public cemetery above the old naval base before heading down onto the north bound national highway. The highway cuts through Barrio Barretto dividing the hotels and dive resorts on the bay side from the concrete houses and breeze block shanties on the jungle covered hillsides. The American influence is immediate; the Arizona Beach Resort named after the battleship sunk at Pearl Harbour, the sky blue Retired Activities Office flying the U.S, Philippines, USMC and navy flags and a strip of bars and restaurants such as Dynamite Dicks, the General’s Command Post, the Alaska Club, Cheap Charlies and the Captain’s Arms all run by expatriate Americans. Victory liners, trikes, jeepneys and trucks belching smoke thunder through town day and night posing a risk to bar hoppers. Stop the traffic, add hitching rails and saloon swing doors and the barrio could pass for a western town with beer bellied gun slingers stalking the cheapest happy hour. The highway has been widened but a few bars cling onto their shaded porch area with cane chairs and space for a handful of drinkers. Sunset is magic time when the sun goes down over the Zambales mountain in a fiery red glow but no one checks the yardarm here, empty San Miguel bottles start to pile up after opening time.

Dynamite Dick and his crew are the last of the sunshiners, amiable tough guys with poorly inked forearm tattoos, vests and navy baseball caps drinking their lunch and reminiscing. Dick, an ex-marine demolitions expert, runs a popular bar and restaurant that proclaims ‘Have a blast at Dynamite Dicks – best bang for your buck in the Philippines!’ Inside the bar is decorated with the usual memorabilia including Dick’s Vietnam wall of glory, navy plaques, life size cut out of John Wayne, marine flags and looney tunes style dynamite plunger all festooned with strings of fairy lights. Fox news plays on satellite TV, the volume turned low with Merle Haggard playing in the background while Dick growls good naturedly at his waitresses.

Another long day wanes and the crew drift home picking up a takeaway from the Sit n Bull diner and Dryden’s Cantina, dodging traffic for just one more beer at the Crazy Horse or hunting out a game of pool further along the strip.

Philippines Usa Flag