His Excellency Governor Wallace – Secret Service battle in Hong Kong in 1936

His Excellency Governor Wallace- Alexander Wilson's fifth Secret Service novel. Image: Allison and Busby.
His Excellency Governor Wallace- Alexander Wilson’s fifth Secret Service novel. Image: Allison and Busby.

Alexander Wilson’s 1936 Wallace of the Secret Service novel switches the dramatic fight to preserve the British Empire by Sir Leonard Wallace to what was then the highly lucrative colony of Hong Kong- on lease from China.

Herbert Jenkins explained ‘What This Story Is About’:

Although some months separated the publications of Alexander Wilson’s rousing spy romances: “Wallace of the Secret Service” and “Get Wallace,” each ranked among the outstanding books of the moment. Wallace, as Chief of the Secret Service, delighted and enthralled thousands of readers and his admirers began to clamour for his re-appearance in yet another adventure. “His Excellency: Governor Wallace” is the reply – a full-blooded, stirring yarn which grips the interest and carries the reader through a host of adventures to a breathless and highly exciting climax. This is a yarn told in the true Wallace tradition and Major Wilson is to be congratulated on maintaining the same atmosphere of quick-fire action which was characteristic of his earlier efforts.

The full cover of the first edition of 'His Excellency Governor Wallace' published by Herbert Jenkins in 1936. Image: Alexander Wilson Estate.
The full cover of the first edition of ‘His Excellency Governor Wallace’ published by Herbert Jenkins in 1936. Image: Alexander Wilson Estate.

Allison and Busby republished ‘His Excellency Governor Wallace’ in September 2015.

In 1936 the Observer’s Torquemada offered the novel a very enthusiastic review:

Wallace of the Secret Service is already and rightly known as an enthraller. Now that he is “His Excellency Governor Wallace,” we enjoy an eventful voyage in his company, and such is the force of Mr. Wilson’s description that we feel that we are really helping the old Secret Service hound to unravel a sinister conspiracy. It was undermining the morale of officialdom and attacking British prestige in the East! There is a particularly delightful picture of His Excellency in disguise, a disguise which I will refrain from penetrating.

The Aberdeen Journal thought ‘His Excellency, Governor Wallace’ contained a gigantic plot taking the reading in an exciting journey to the far flung corners of the earth:

This is another of the Wallace of the British Secret Service series, and is in every way equal to its predecessors. Wallace this time has the sifting of a gigantic plot, which was sapping the governmental life out of Hong-Kong, and to give him full powers he is appointed governor. As in all good thrillers, our hero “cleans up” the place, and will be ready for another adventure as soon as Major Wilson feels inclined to commission him. It is a long, fast-moving novel with plenty of the kind of action which delights the lover of secret service fiction.

The Dundee Courier said:

All who have met “Wallace of the Secret Service” will welcome his return in a thrilling and exciting yarn in the Far East. The author, Major Wilson, is to be congratulated on maintaining the same high standard which he achieved in his previous efforts.

In the 1930s Pathe News was describing Hong Kong as the gateway to troubled China.

Alexander Wilson spent his early life in Hong Kong when his father was based on the island as an officer in the Royal Army Medical Corps.

Wilson was educated at the famous St Joseph’s College- a Roman Catholic school and learned Cantonese, which in his adult life he said he could still speak though he was rather rusty.

‘His Excellency Governor Wallace’ demonstrates Wilson’s intimate knowledge of Hong Kong colonial society and the geography of the city.

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This extract from Chapter Five ‘The Intercepted Wireless Messages’ gives some idea how Alexander Wilson deployed an understanding of how tracking modern communications technology played key role in intelligence operations in the 1930s. (pages 77-80 of the Allison and Busby edition)

Late that night a wireless message reached the ship for Wun Cheng Lo. A copy was sent down to Wallace without delay, although he had already retired to bed, but he had asked the captain to instruct the senior operator to allow no fear of disturbing him to influence him in postponing the delivery of any message of that kind. Sir Leonard sat up in bed, when the door had closed on the messenger, switched on the reading lamp, and tore open the sealed envelope. He read the communication with every appearance of satisfaction.

‘At last,’ he murmured to himself. ‘A real clue.’

Yet the message seemed innocent enough. It stated that the sender agreed that Wun Cheng Lo was the fit person to make arrangements, that a bad blunder had taken place in attempting to extend the agency beyond Hong Kong without his knowledge, and that his associates were highly gratified at the success of his negotiations. But it was the last part of the message which caused Sir Leonard’s exclamation. A meeting of the board, it was asserted, would be held to discuss the situation at seven in the evening of the sixteenth of the month at Sales. There was no signature.

‘Whatever and wherever Sales is,’ reflected Wallace, ‘it should not be difficult to discover it. We are due in on the fifteenth – they are losing no time. If, as I am convinced, I am correct in substituting conspirators for board, it will be a queer thing if I don’t know who they are by the night of September the sixteenth.’

He pushed the paper and envelope under his pillow, switched off the light, and sank further down into the bed. But some hours passed before he fell asleep; his brain was too busy planning to enable him to seek slumber at once.

The wonderful weather which the Rawalpindi had experienced during most of the voyage deserted her early the following morning. Quite suddenly she was caught by the tail end of a typhoon and, for six hours, struggled through mountainous seas. The wind howled with devilish ferocity, as though all the demons in hell had combined to hurl hatred and venom at the liner and her passengers, while the rain fell in torrents; pitilessly, uninterruptedly. Life lines were secured round the decks, but few ventured up; they felt the risk was too great. Not many of the passengers were taken ill, a great number were too scared, for at times the ship rolled or pitched to such a degree that it seemed that she would never be able to right herself. A large junk swept past with the speed of a racehorse, her mast gone, her crew clinging to anything they could lay their hands on, but nothing could be done to help them. A lot of the top hamper of the Rawalpindi was carried away, several seamen were injured, three or four had narrow escapes from being washed overboard. Then, as suddenly as it had come, the storm passed, the great lashing waves subsided into a long, oily swell, the leaden clouds broke, disclosing the blue sky behind.

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While the typhoon was at its height, Sir Leonard Wallace sat in the smoking saloon in deep discussion with Carter. The room was practically deserted and, for once in a way, they were able to talk there without fear of being overheard. Their conversation centred principally round the word ‘Sales’ in the wireless message to Wun Cheng Lo. They had no method of discovering whether it referred to the name of a person or place. Captain Taylor and Batty’s police sergeant friend were unable to supply the required information when cautiously consulted. As a result of their colloquy, a wireless message in code was later despatched to London to be at once, relayed to a certain small individual, who, a little over a week before, had informed Wallace by wireless that he had arrived in Hong Kong on a coasting boat. He had taken up his residence in one of the smaller and not very savoury hotels there. Sir Leonard had opened his campaign in earnest.

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