The Lone Flag

Memoir of the British Consul in Macao during World War II


John Pownall Reeves, edited by Colin Day and Richard Garrett with a biographical essay by David Calthorpe

ISBN : 978-988-8208-32-6

History Royal Asiatic Society Hong Kong Studies Series (皇家亞洲學會香港研究叢書)

April 2014

248 pages, 6″ x 9″, 15 color and 3 b&w illus.

  • HK$320.00

When Hong Kong fell to the Japanese on Christmas Day 1941, Macao was left as a tiny isolated enclave on the China coast surrounded by Japanese-held territory. As a Portuguese colony, Macao was neutral, and John Reeves, the British Consul, could remain there and continue his work despite being surrounded in all directions by his country’s enemy. His main task was to provide relief to the 9,000 or more people who crossed the Pearl River from Hong Kong to take refuge in Macao and who had a claim for support from the British Consul.

The core of this book is John Reeves’ memoir of those extraordinary years and of his tireless efforts to provide food, shelter and medical care for the refugees. He coped with these challenges as Macao’s own people faced starvation. Despite Macao’s neutrality, it was thoroughly infiltrated by Japanese agents and, marked for assassination, he had to have armed guards as he went about his business. He also had to navigate the complexities of multiple intelligence agencies—British, Portuguese, Japanese, Chinese Nationalist—in a place that was described as the Casablanca of the Far East.

Despite Macao’s exceptional position during World War II, its history during those years has been little studied. Accompanied by substantial introductory and explanatory material, John Reeves’ memoir is an important contribution to our knowledge of that unique place and time.

John Pownall Reeves (1909–1978) was British Consul in Macao from 1941 to 1946. He read modern languages at Cambridge before joining the British foreign service. He spent two years in Beijing studying Chinese and then served in Hankow, Mukden and Macao. After the war he was posted first to Rome and following that to Surabaya in Indonesia. Leaving the consular service he moved to South Africa and worked as broadcaster on South African radio.

“One great untold story of south China in World War II has been the Allied resistance conducted from neutral Macao, a precarious, intrigue-ridden enclave in the heart of Japanese-occupied territory. Published now after 65 years is a memoir composed in a lively, even dashing style by the British Consul, John Reeves, who was the central figure in that resistance. A book well worth the wait.” —Philip Snow, author of The Fall of Hong Kong

The Lone Flag provides important new perspectives on wartime Macao. Reeves’ work as Consul there, while under constant threat of assassination throughout the entire war, covered every aspect of diplomatic life from espionage to welfare. His memoir, written with humour and grace, tells a very readable and understated story.” —Tony Banham, author of Not the Slightest Chance: The Defence of Hong Kong, 1941

“It is a rare book, in that it will satisfy in equal measure the general reader of wartime heroic stories and the scholarly reader.” —Alain Le Pichon, Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society Hong Kong Branch