Charles Robert Samuel was born on 9 February 1883 in Wrexham into a family with Welsh connections. He was educated at Grove Park Grammar School and in about 1903 he left the UK to go to Penang (which with Malacca and Singapore were then the three Straits Settlements and British Crown Colonies) to join the law firm of Presgrave & Mathews. Some years later he started, with Mr Balfour Ross, the law firm of Ross & Samuel (Advocates & Solicitors) in Penang; this firm later became Logan, Ross & Samuel. He was a member of the Penang Rotary Club.
In December 1941 Charles was approaching 60 years of age, had white hair and was a senior lawyer in the Penang local legal community. His father, WE Samuel, had died and his mother was about 90 years of age. His brother, WE Samuel, was still living in Wrexham and his sister Miss AJ Samuel was living in Wolverhampton with their elderly mother.
Charles married Miss Helen Violet Scott Brown (1889-17.2.1942), the daughter of Mr and Mrs HG Scott Brown of Bournemouth; her brother was Egerton Scott Brown living in Bromley. Violet (Vi) was a descendant of both the Scott and the Brown families who were early Plantation owners on Penang Island. Charles and Vi had two children:
(1) Violet Myfanwy (Miffy) Samuel who married after WW2 George H Conaghan, an Irish Catholic who was a local lawyer in Penang. They had a daughter Moira who was a teacher and went to live in Canada with her husband and children, a son Michael who practised as a solicitor in the City of London and lives in Essex in retirement with his wife, and another son Paddy who was the senior partner of a large London architects’ practice and lives with his family near Bath. Miffy and her husband separated in later life; and
(2) Lucy Gwynedd Samuel (15.9.1912-15.12.1979) who married in Penang in 1938 John Stephen Aylwin Lewis OBE (8.5.1909-15.4.2003), an officer in the Customs Service. They married in St George’s Church, a charming old church built in 1816 with convict labour, and the reception was held with the consent of Judge Howes in the Judge’s House in Macalister Road, Penang. John and Gwynedd had one child, Valerie Bronwen Lewis (12.1.1940-23.11.1979) who married Brian Haigh (b18.7.1937) who was in the Hong Kong Police; they had two daughters Rowena Moira (b14.7.1965) and Felicity Rhiannon (b18.6.1969). Bronwen sadly committed suicide in Hong Kong in 1979 and her mother Gwynedd died of the shock some days later. John continued to live in the upstairs flat in Halterworth House, Romsey, Hants, which Gwynedd had inherited, until he died in hospital in 2003; Miffy had inherited the other flat downstairs and lived there until her death.
The original hand written Diary by Charles Samuel was deposited by my uncle JSA Lewis OBE with the Rhodes Trust Library in Oxford in 1966 and has since been transferred to the Weston Library which is part of the Bodleian Library. The Diary was written by Charles in a Dutch “Toko Atlas Padang” exercise book containing a Dutch Kalender 1941 in the Padang Camp a little time after the events described. I do not know how the original Diary was saved and assume that one of the survivors in the Padang Camps mentioned in the table at the end of the Diary must have kept it safe after Charles’s death in 1944 and later given it to his daughters after the War.
I have typed Charles Samuel’s Diary from the original text, which is not always fully decipherable, and added this Preface, the footnotes and Appendices 1 to 5. The Diary starts with a record of the accounts of his firm’s clients, and then continues with an account of Charles’s experiences from early December 1941 until 4 November 1942. It covers his evacuation with his wife Vi from Penang to Singapore after the Japanese bomb attacks on Penang, their escape from Singapore in the SS Kuala on 13 February 1942 just before the surrender of Singapore, the sinking of the SS Kuala by Japanese bombers, their escape from this sinking to the island of Pom Pong, and then Charles’ escape to Padang in Sumatra where he was eventually interned by the Japanese in the Men’s British Civilians’ Camp. Although his Diary does not extend to this time, he was transferred from Padang in October 1943 to Bangkinang Men’s camp where he died in captivity of pellagra and dysentery aged 61 on 15 December 1944. His wife Vi aged 53 escaped from Pom Pong island on the SS Tanjong Pinang on 16 February 1942 with other women and children, but that launch was sunk by a Japanese vessel a few hours later on 17 February with the loss of almost all hands. Charles however did not know this when he wrote his Diary and was to die himself without ever learning about his wife’s death. He did know though that his two daughters Miffy and Gwynedd (and his granddaughter Bronwen) had successfully reached Melbourne and were safe.
The Diary contains a fascinating eye witness account of the above events and of the fate of Penang and deserves to be better known by those who are interested in this period of history. We all have a duty to keep and preserve family archives for the benefit of younger generations and historians. As his Diary illustrates Charles Samuel was a remarkable man. Those like him who took the trouble in very difficult and sometimes very dangerous circumstances to keep diaries and record for posterity what happened deserve our admiration and thanks. I have prepared this booklet for Charles and Vi’s descendants.
I have added as Appendix 5 some additional bibliography and in Appendices 1 to 4 other eye witness accounts and information about the bombing of Penang and the sinking of the SS Kuala1 and SS Tanjong Pinang2.
Sir David Lewis
1 See http://www.roll-of-honour.org.uk/evacuation_ships/html/ss_kuala_stu.htm for Roll of Honour of those who lost their lives in the sinking of the SS Kuala or thereafter.
2 See http://www.cofepow.org.uk/pages/civilian_ss_tanjong_pinang.htm for Roll of Honour of those who lost their lives in the sinking of the SS Tanjong Pinang.