“EMPIRE MADE ME – An Englishman Adrift in Shanghai”

Discussion in 'Books and Films' started by night ambusher, Dec 17, 2008.

  1. Any Member interested in events on the China coast leading up to WW2 will appreciate this book:

    “EMPIRE MADE ME – An Englishman Adrift in Shanghai”

    By Robert Bickers.
    Penguin Paperback 2004. ​

    Richard Maurice Tinkler was born in Grange-over-Sands in 1898 and educated at Ulverston Victoria Grammar School. In 1915 he started working at Vickers Naval Construction Works but by the end of the year he had deceived recruiters about his age and had enlisted in the Army. In 1916 was serving in France with the 24th (Sportsmans) Battalion The Royal Fusiliers.

    In the trenches he found an organized way of life that was appealing, and for conspicuous bravery and gallant conduct he was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal. At the end of the war he was discharged whilst attending an officer cadet training course at Catterick. The constant requirement for hundreds of young infantry subalterns had been terminated with the Armistice.

    Post-war civilian life in England was tough for job-seekers, but Richard Tinkler had an impressive war record and was recruited for service in the Shanghai Municipal Police.
    In China he did well, gaining promotion and becoming fluent in the Shanghai dialect.

    But there were aspects of Richard’s character that could not stand up to the progressive changes that were enforced on the Shanghai Police in the late 1920s. China itself was changing, and the British policemen who as teenagers had quickly become men during savage physical encounters in the trenches were now marching out-of-step with modern policing requirements.

    Richard was disciplined and demoted twice and he resigned from the force. Britain was in an economic recession and so he stayed on in China, sinking downwards financially but just surviving. Something turned up, as it always did for Richard, and in the late 1930s he was employed as Labour Officer by a British printing company operating a factory near Shanghai.

    But by 1939 Japan was heavily involved in China, using political agitation and military force as routine measures. During a strike in the factory Japanese troops intervened. Richard Tinkler became outraged at their presence and fired a revolver over their heads. He was knocked down and bayoneted, dying shortly afterwards.

    Those are the basic facts of the story, but Robert Bickers has spent years researching Richard Tinkler’s life and the Shanghai scene, and the resulting biography is both impressive and fascinating. Read it, and take your time reading it so that you can enter the atmospheric world of Empire at its height, with all its prejudice and pride and wrongs and rights.

    Perhaps, as I did, you will draw a parallel with today. When the nation sends off teenagers to fight, and awards them medals with citations that end: “He killed many of the enemy”, then what do you do with those boys later when the killing is over?

    We used to have an Empire that could always absorb them, but that was yesterday.

  2. Kyt

    Kyt Άρης

    Thanks for the head's up, NA. I vaguely remember the book coming out but never followed it up. From looking at reviews on the web the book seems to be very good at grounding his story in the general social dynamics of ex-pat and colonial life. Whereas I have read a number of similar books on India, the addition of a third party (i.e. the Japanese) lifts this to a new level.

    I found this review interesting:

    Karen Fang | Review of Empire Made Me: An Englishman Adrift in Shanghai | Journal of Colonialism and Colonial History 6:1
  3. liverpool annie

    liverpool annie New Member

    I don't have access to Ancestry ...... but I wonder if his service papers are there ??

    And what his original medal card looks like ?! :)

    Medal card of Tinkler, Richard Maurice

    Royal Fusiliers Spts 4372 Private
    Reception Unit Spts 4372 Lance Corporal

    The National Archives | DocumentsOnline | Image Details
  4. Annie
    Thanks for your post.
    Whilst his biography, describing an action in 1917, mentions a "conspicuous bravery" citation in the family documents and "13 other men received the Military Medal that month", all in the same sentence, I cannot find trace of a Military Medal on his MICs.

    His DCM citation for an incident in 1918 is:
    S.P. 4372 L./Cpl. R. M. Tinkler, R. Fus. (Ulverston).
    For conspicuous gallantry and splendid leadership during a successful night attack.
    When the senior non-commissioned officers became casualties he took command of his
    platoon, which, led by him, took part in the hottest fighting. Whenever pockets of
    the enemy were discovered barring the advance he was the first to dash forward and
    overcome them. He killed many of the enemy.

    Therefore I have deleted reference to the Military Medal in my first post.

    I should have checked my military facts thoroughly first! Appologies.

  5. liverpool annie

    liverpool annie New Member

    Hi Harry and Welcome !! :) ( sorry I forgot to say it earlier !! )

    Is Richard Tinkler a relative or are you interested in researching him ?

    I looked for the book the other day but couldn't find it ... is it available on line ??
    I came across this .... but I'll have to go back and try and find the source I'm afraid ... I wondered if they maybe of interest to you !

  6. Annie
    Amazon is selling the book discounted.

    He's not a relative but I've lived in that area all my life (until I moved to retire in Madeira).

    I'm interested in Empire. It was there as a belief when I was at school. I then helped dismantle it as a soldier.
    I now see the shambles that has replaced it in many areas.

    Empire has been having a bad press since politically correct social consciences gained control over school curriculae and museum displays.

    But the pendulum always swings both ways, and sometime in the future the values that Empire engendered in most of its servants - service before self, decency, honour, pride in performance, team work, integrity, sporting attitudes etc will come to be admired again.

    Interestingly in this case, Shanghai was never Empire like Hong Kong was, but it was an outpost for colonial expats, though heavily influenced by commercial interests.

  7. liverpool annie

    liverpool annie New Member

    I can spend hours on this site ..... :):)

    Whatever happened to Empire Day ?? did they name it something else ?

    The British Empire
  8. China Hand

    China Hand Guest

    Just joined myself, and pleased to find this as I have lived in Shanghai for some five years and enjoyed this when it came out. Excellent and highly recommended. As I said when I reviewed it on Amazon in '04...

    "This is a superbly researched, delightfully written personal history of an ordinary man in an extraordinary city. Although it tells the story of a British policeman who worked in Shanghai in the 1920s, it has a resonance today. As a British expat working in Shanghai for the last 18 months, I have felt exactly the same fascination and frustration with this Chinese city that looks Western, but is not.

    "Dr Bickers' painstaking and patient research is also an excellent example of how to do this kind of history. It is a detective story - appropriately enough - about a detective, and he pieces together the evidence carefully. Where there are gaps - and there are many - in the documentation, his speculations seem spot on.

    "There are many more histories of this kind to be written, of ordinary people in extraordinary times and places. Look in your loft !

    "As a PS to the final chapter of the book, I went to the International Cemetery in Shanghai on 2 May to find Tinkler's memorial stone. It is still there, although hard to find buried in undergrowth."

    I checked again earlier this year, the memorial stone is still there, although still bit overgrown. I tidied it up :)
  9. Kyt

    Kyt Άρης

    Welcome China Hand

    Do you happen to have a picture of the stone?
  10. China Hand

    China Hand Guest

    Yes I have...I think...I used to have...let me rummage about in the depths of hard drive !
  11. China Hand

    China Hand Guest

    Added 6/1/09 - here is the stone, found the pic...

    View attachment 2566

    Before anyone says, it is NOT upside down...that is the direction it is lying in, there is a hedge immediately on top of it so one cannot see it from the other direction.
  12. Antipodean Andy

    Antipodean Andy New Member

    Welcome aboard, CH, and many thanks for the photo.
  13. liverpool annie

    liverpool annie New Member

    Hi and thanks for showing us China ! .... fascinating to get so involved with a book that you feel compelled to follow it up ... isn't it ??


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