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Marcus Alberto da Silva, 1907 - 1956.

Fearless Solicitor, witness to the Hong Kong War Tribunal and son of

Hong Kong

by Teresa da Silva & Anthony Correa

Marcus Silva was not just any lawyer but arguably the most prominent in Hong Kong of his time. His life story is worthy of a feature film, a war hero known for his bravery during the wartime resistance efforts, tortured by the Japanese and a combative advocate who frequently got up the noses of the colonial establishment.

Marcus Alberto da Silva was born in Hong Kong on 1 March 1907. His father was Artur Emiliano da Silva and mother Maria Emilia Osmund, both of whom were also born in Hong Kong and amongst the earliest Portuguese families that emigrated from Macau. Marcus was the elder of two brothers, his brother Carlos Ruy da Silva being a year younger.

His father is listed in the 1909 Juror’s list as a clerk at Jebsen and Co, with a residential address at 38 Caine Road, Mid-Levels, where the majority of the Portuguese Community then resided. (incidentally the architect of the building that is now on the same da Silva family site, is none other than our member Peter Remedios)

Like most Portuguese boys of the day, he attended St Joseph’s College run by the Christian Brothers, then located at Buxley Lodge, 9 Caine Road. The catholic cathedral was nearby as was Club Lusitano in Shelly Street. It would have been a comfortable existence for young Marcus until tragedy struck when his father Artur passed away in 1925 when he was just 18 years old and starting out in life.

He must have displayed some early promise, as in the same year as her father’s passing, he joined Mr J.M. D’Almada Remedios for his legal training. After a 5 year internship and passing his law exams, he was admitted to practice as a solicitor in the Supreme Court in 1930, continuing with his mentor Mr. D’Almada Remedios, who was then a partner with Leo D’Almada senior. In 1933 he struck out on his own and established his solo practice.

His practice grew and he gained a hard won professional reputation as a loyal and passionate advocate with a strong personality and intense loyalty to his clients. His services were in high demand and became known as a brilliant cross examiner, extremely hard worker and possessing a profound knowledge of the law. After starting as a sole practitioner aged only 26, he grew his practice to over 30 staff in the post war years.

Civilian life was brutally interrupted with the outbreak of World War II. On 25th December 1941,upon

the surrender of Hong Kong to the Japanese occupation during World War II, Marcus da Silva stayed as a neutral Portuguese “third national” and played a pivotal role in the wartime resistance to Japanese rule. In 1942, he first engaged in smuggling money into Stanley Internment Campto aid the internees with the purchase of extra food with the recently released American Chester Bennett. The following is an account from Bennett’s wife and da Silva himself:-

"Chester I want something to do. I want to help. I know you didn’t get out of Stanley for your health. Bennett gave him a grin and replied, ‘Marcus I’ve been waiting for you to come to me. I knew you would.’ And the big American businessman and the dark energetic little Portuguese lawyer teamed up to get money into Stanley.

They did it by having Chinese guards on food trucks entering the camp bring out promissory notes from people of standing in the community. Bennett and Da Silva would then take these notes to rich Indian and Swiss merchants and asked them to advance Jap military yen in exchange for promissory notes, pointing out that when the Allies won they would be worthless anyway .

Da Silva would collect the money and put it in a small basket swinging from his arm (figure illegible)- perhaps 40,000 to 50,000 dollars at a time and walk boldly past Jap soldiers to a book store around the corner. Bennett would be waiting in the rear of the bookstore. He would take the money to another rendezvous and they’d smuggle it into Stanley by putting it in the bottom of lard cans. This went on for several months They got hundreds of thousands of yen in to helpless internees money that was translated into food and kept them going."

In 1943, he commenced his espionage work with a three pronged resistance plan sent to Allied authorities. This involved intelligence on Japanese shipping movements, assassination of Chinese and Indian agents of the Kempeitai as a warning to other traitors and raising money for loyal Indian troops guarding the Canton Railway. On May 14, 1943 at 7am he was arrested held in a tiny cell in Mongkok Gendarmerie. His co-conspirator Bennett was arrested on the same day. In prison he was tortured:-

“In May 1943 the Jap gendarmes took me in as a political suspect for a period of two months and they gave me everything they had in the way of tortures and beating.” Marcus da Silva

He was accused of securing false Portuguese papers for his neighbour George van Bergen, and whipped. He was then accused of being a British spy himself, burnt above the right knee with a hot poker and subjected to other inhumanities. Despite facing arrest, torture, and imprisonment by the Japanese, Marcus’ unwavering courage and resilience shone through. Thanks to his catholic faith all efforts to break him failed.

“Everything inside of me strained towards the window high up, sunshine, and freedom that I longed for from the bottom of my soul hoping and praying-praying and hoping-until I felt almost that there was no God to listen to my pleas, no Heaven to fulfil the lingering hope in my heart. I say “almost” because if I should have given up believing altogether, it would have meant sheer madness, the madness and insanity of blackest despair.” Marcus da Silva

His family finally secured his release, although it is not clear if this was through the payment of a bribe to the notorious Chinese Gendarme Howard Torr, or on the urging of the head of the local Japanese Foreign Affairs department Mr Hattori who was responsible for Portuguese nationals’ affairs.

In November 1943 he escaped to Macau with his family. Subsequent to escape from Hong Kong, such

was his fame and importance to the Japanese, special agents were sent to Macau kidnap him. Marcus was eventually spirited out of Macau to Free China with his old boss Leo D’Almada by the British Army Aid Group. The following account is from William “Bill” Chong, BAAG operative.

They both are very famous people in Hong Kong which I never met them before, I don’t know who they are because I wasn’t in Hong Kong long enough to know them, so I brought them safety but I, my job, I never ask them for their last name. I never tell them who I am or what I am doing. All they know about me is “Bill” and they, ah, I don’t know this person is Leo and the other one’s Marcus da Silva. So they are very important people in Hong Kong. They were captured by, tortured by the Japanese, and they escaped, and my job, I brought them home...

In the safety of Kunming, Marcus da Silva worked with the BAAG and waited for his chance to return

to a liberated Hong Kong. Within a 10 days of his return on September 23, 1945, he made an important broadcast, extolling Hong Kong people to do its part to restore stability to the economy and prevent predatory price gorging by opportunistic merchants. This extraordinary speech that also recounts some of his painful war experiences, is a measure of his love of Hong Kong and his desire to see its’ return to post war normalcy.

Marcus da Silva broadcast , reproduced in the China Mail on Sept, 24, 1945

In February 1946 he was given the honour of leading the Crown in the committal proceedings that launched the Colony’s first war-related trials. He played a prominent part in these war crime trials. Besides acting as a witness, he also joined the British Military Administration as Prosecutor on behalf of the Crown in the cases of those accused of treason and collaboration.

During his efforts in bringing justice in the war crime trials, he also resumed his practice as a Solicitor enhancing his already formidable reputation in the legal community. Marcus’ exceptional deeds and courage in the inter-war and post war years were admirable and recognised by the people who knew him within his profession as well as those he helped as his clients.

In 1950, Marcus found himself on the other side of the courtroom, accused of conspiracy to bribe a witness in a high-profile manslaughter case. This was a trial that captivated Hong Kong with the conclusion of the trial like a scene from a movie. Despite his co-defendant’s disappearance during the trial and facing formidable opposition, Marcus’ defence led by H. G. Sheldon, successfully dismantled the prosecution’s case, leading to his vindication.

High Tributes to Memory of the late Marcus da Silva, China Mail , February 22, 1956

Five years after his acquittal, Marcus’ health began to decline, yet he continued to work tirelessly until shortly before his death on 20th February 1956 at the youthful age of 48. Two days later at a special sitting of the Full Court, tributes were paid by his colleagues and adversaries praising his tenacity of purpose, exceptional work ethic, and penetrating intellect. His death marked a loss of a remarkable individual from within the Portuguese Community whose dedication, courage, and tireless pursuit of justice continues to inspire.

Despite fading from public view before the internet era, newspapers from Hong Kong, Marcus da Silva remains a hero to his community and the countless he represented in the courts at a time when there were few independent advocates of his courage and conviction.


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