TED McLAREN (1902-1950)


         Ted McLaren was born in Edinburgh on May 28th 1902, the scion of an ancient Scottish clan, and was educated at the Royal High School, Edinburgh. He excelled in all forms of sport but his speciality was Rugby Football.


         In 1923/4 he played Rugger for Scotland under the inspired captaincy of A. L. Gracie. Team photos of the time show him in the three-quarter line alongside Eric Liddell (the future Olympic athlete and hero of 'Chariots of Fire').


         Ted McLaren and Eric Liddell were friends in Edinburgh, in Tientsin (where they both lived and worked for some years in the 'thirties and early 'forties) and in Weihsien Camp (Japanese Internment Camp, 1942-45). Liddell died young ― in the Camp from a brain tumour, and McLaren spoke at his Memorial Service:


"... we played [Rugby] in the same side and against one another for ... three years and never once did he show the slightest sign of bad temper or bad sportsmanship ... both ... were utterly foreign to him ... [He had] that characteristic of never to give in ― he was never beaten but always trying ... no truer sportsman ever drew on a running shoe ... "


         McLaren himself also died young ― in England ― five years after the war, from coronary thrombosis.


         McLaren spent most of his life in the service of that famous Far Eastern shipping and trading firm, John Swire & Sons (then known as Butterfield & Swire). He learned Chinese and worked in Hankow, Shanghai, Tientsin and Hong Kong.


         In 1926, while still a young man, he earned the praise of his company for his handling of the so-called 'Wanhsien' incident on the Upper Yangtze, when two vessels of the China Navigation Company (a Swire subsidiary) were seized by the local 'Warlord'. The Royal Navy subsequently rescued the two ships. McLaren, according to a confidential report in the Company's files, "did extraordinarily well". That verdict sums up his whole career.


         At the time of Pearl Harbour he was based in Tientsin, in charge of the firm's North China operations, and in the following year he and all other British and Allied citizens living in Tientsin, Tsingtao, Peking and (later) Chefoo were interned by the Japanese in Weihsien Camp.


         In Weihsien he was elected Chairman of the Camp's 'Discipline Committee' and soon became the kingpin of the Council-of-Nine which ran the internal affairs of the Camp. In that capacity he had the difficult and dangerous task of liaison between the Japanese Commandant ― Mr. Izu ― and the internees. He was an outstanding success, treading the delicate tightrope with consummate skill.

         On occasion he dared to rebuke the (California-educated) Commandant in no uncertain terms, as when an Englishwoman was slapped by the guards, or when a drunken soldier intruded into female internee quarters.

         But he also had to relay the Commandant's complaints and rulings to the internees. For example, the Commandant complained that internees were being disrespectful to the Japanese guards (and thus to the Emperor of Japan) by getting in their way as they walked about the Camp on their duties. McLaren duly posted on the Camp Notice Board this delightful tongue-in-cheek notice:


"Internees will give way to uniformed members of His Imperial Majesty's Forces, i.e. internees will alter their course to port or starboard to avoid a head-on collision. E. McLaren  (Discipline Committee)"


         This piece of surreptitious mickey-taking had the internees chuckling for many weeks.

         McLaren was quite capable of losing his temper, but in public he seldom raised his voice. He ruled the camp very quietly, with seeming effortlessness, with deliberate understatement, with an innate, unspoken authority.

To my schoolboy mind ― I was fifteen at the time of Pearl Harbour ― he epitomized the 'strong, silent man-of-action', a hero out of John Buchan or Dornford Yates.

         When General Wang Yu-min, a local Chinese Guerrilla Commander, established secret contact with the Camp, McLaren and a small group of China 'experts' made plans to send two 'representatives', i.e. escapees, to the Guerilla H.Q. Two young Chinese-speaking internees ― one British, one American ― successfully escaped. McLaren waited till they'd had time to get clean away, then officially 'reported' the escape to the Commandant so as to safeguard the camp and preserve his own standing in Japanese eyes! The pair were never caught and from their guerrilla bases were able to send and receive messages to and from the Camp and establish radio contact with Chungking.

         McLaren listened regularly to a secret radio within the camp, so when the War drew towards its close, he arranged with the two escapees that guerrilla forces would be ready ― at a moment's notice ― to protect the camp or to send in food supplies. 

         He also organized an 'underground' police force ― of reliable, able-bodied internees ― ready to take control of the Camp.

         In fact liberation came from the air, with the dramatic descent of seven American parachutists ― handpicked OSS men. The Commandant surrendered peacefully and McLaren's police took over the Camp gates. McLaren and his Council-of-Nine administered the camp in conjunction with the Americans.

         The young American major and his gallant few were astounded to find such an efficient and well-run camp, in spite of three years of meagre, dwindling rations and other privations.

         After the war, the Japanese Commandant, Mr. Izu, along with hundreds of other senior Japanese officers, Police Chiefs and Commandants throughout Southeast Asia, was charged with war crimes. McLaren, with his innate sense of honour, could not allow Mr. Izu, who had, in some ways, done his best for the Camp, to go undefended. He and others from Weihsien travelled to Tokyo, met General Douglas MacArthur, and testified on Mr. Izu's behalf. He was acquitted.

         At Eric Liddell's Memorial Service in 1944, McLaren had referred to the Olympic champion's numerous attainments which could have turned many a man's head. In fact, said McLaren, "they had no effect other than to make him even more retiring and unassuming". The same could well have been said of McLaren himself. In the darkest days of the war, he became the most respected man in Camp. Everyone looked up to him.        Everyone instinctively trusted this chivalrous, humour soft-spoken, canny Scot who combined all the skills of diplomacy with firmness, wisdom and magnanimity. We shall not see his like again.




E. McLaren




Born: 28.5.1902

Educated at: Royal High School, Edinburgh.

Previous Employment: 4 yrs David Cairns Ltd, Leith; John Swire t Sons Ltd, (shipping 1 yr; Passed London Chamber of Commerce Bookkeeping Examination Nov 1922.

Scottish Rugby Football International 1923/4

Probationary Report: Good personality, keen & quick. Passed Bookkeeping exam whilst training for Scotland. Should prove a useful man. A.2. or possibly A.1.


Service with B&S

Joined at Shanghai (B&S)



Assistant, Chine Navigation Co. office



Cargo Inspection



Assistant, Shipping.


Jan. 1927-

Jan. 1927

Specially sent to assist during the troubles, but sent beck again et once.


Jan 1927-1.4.1928

Assistant, Shipping in charge of Changsha affairs.




Home Leave (UK)





C.N.Co. Shipping




No.2 (Agent's assistant)



C.N.Co. Shipping office No.2 (Coast & Chartering)




Home Leave (UK)



Shanghai.     Sub

4.3.36- Feb.1940

Manager. No.3 Private Office, in charge C.N.Co. Floating Staff and O.P.Co. (paint factory)



Agent (Relieving)

Home Leave (Australia)







Interned Weihsien Camp until September 1945

Rehabilitation Leave (UK).












Hong Kong



Hong Kong


Manager (in Charge)

Home Leave (UK)





Assisting in Private Office

Taken ill


Coronary thrombosis.





Reports From Departmental Heads:


Keen & Capable. Very Promising



Very good



Hankow/Shanghai Did extraordinarily well et Ichang et the time of the Wanhsien Incident. [A famous incident concerning the holding of C.N.Co.'s vessels "WANTUNG" end "WANHSIEN" for ransom at Wanhsien on the Upper Yangtze, by e local warlord, Yang Sen, end their subsequent rescue by the R.N. Yangtze Flotilla, during which several lives were lost]


Good worker who should develop well.


A good sound man who takes time to from his opinion & to be sure of what he is doing