A fascinating story about a young Royal Navy officer who arrives in Hong Kong in 1959 to sign on a British cargo ship as third mate but his undercover mission is to gather intelligence on Communist China’s developing navy.
He learns about the casual corruption on a Chinese crewed ship and experiences wild adventures in exotic foreign ports, from Singapore to the dangerous Belawan in Sumatra, Rabaul and the fleshpots of Manila.
He meets willing Asian girls of all types and has a close call in a red light district of Manila. He learns the ways of Hong Kong’s complex nightlife but he finds love with an Australian nurse in steamy Rabaul which leads to problems in Brisbane, Australia
From balmy nights on watch and alone with his thoughts, to the frightening typhoons in the Taiwan Strait. He enjoys the delights of post war Japan but runs into danger in drab Shanghai under Mao’s Communist Government where he is drawn into someone else’s nefarious plan.
Woven into the story are interesting insights on life and work as a third mate aboard a China coast cargo ship in the mid twentieth century and his growing admiration for the ingenious Chinese and their little known history.
Review from Mary Hadfield, Yonkers, NY
Kwangchow is an unforgettable story of part of Freddy Everard’s life, from youthful naiveté to maturity. Freddy (the name grows on you) is a Sub-Lieutenant sent by the Royal Navy to join a Hong Kong based British cargo ship as third officer. Only the captain knows that our hero has a secret mission to spy on the expanding Chinese Navy.
Freddy approaches life at sea with believable innocence. He is unaware of the challenges of shared responsibility for the heavy freighter and the consequences of his role as a spy. The writing is smooth and effortless offering a complex detailed story that held my interest from beginning to end.
The novel begins as Freddy faces Captain Marshall’s suspicion and dislike for the task he is required to perform. Andy Horrocks, the chief officer tries to help Freddy adjust, not unlike Thomas Heggen’s Mister Roberts. Freddy makes friends with the Chinese Radio Officer, Sparks, and learns much about China’s history and the strange traditions of the Chinese crew. Third Engineer, Jim Lathrop, also helps Freddy on the path to maturity by gleefully leading him shorewards to places where women of easy virtue ply their trades.
Freddy’s first solo watch is full of tension as he must guide the big ship through thousands of Chinese fishing boats without sinking the fragile craft. The authors understanding of the writer’s craft and his first-hand experience as an officer on a British Merchant ship, enable the story to flow with an urgency that is sustained throughout.
Freddy encounters corruption everywhere from his Chinese crew and greedy port and union officials, to the shocking brutality of Indonesian Marines in lawless Sumatra. Along the way two well-developed female characters emerge. The exotic LiLi in Hong Kong and Heather a beautiful Australian nurse he encounters in primitive Rabaul. The author breathes life into their unresolved needs and their conflicted relationship with Freddy. These interactions with Freddy give the story weight and serve as relief from the intense shipboard action.
The details about the lives and relationships among the crew, the ship and its workings, and the sight and sounds of the Far East are captivating. New conflicts emerge daily in encounters at every port. When the ship is caught between monster typhoons in the Taiwan Strait the reader can live the fears of the crew and then the momentary relief as Kwangchow finds itself in the eye of the typhoon only to know that it must batter its way out again.
When they finally reach Shanghai and Freddy can start his real undercover mission he finds himself drawn into another person’s intrigue which ends up with his arrest. The readers’ interest is held fast as Freddy engages a world dominated by the sea and filled with adventure, conflict, love and hope. The author, in the vein of Richard Hughes “Hazard” and Joseph Conrad’s sea stories he successfully draws a vivid portrait of men thriving and enjoying their lives sometimes under stressful and demanding conditions at sea.
This book is a must read for anyone who enjoys a great novel of the sea, or anyone who wants to learn what life was like in ships on the China Seas in the era of late fifties/early sixties. David Harper has preserved them for us so they can live on. —Mary Hadfield
Review from Peter Matthews, Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, Canada
The book is a wonderful read for anyone who spent time out in Hong Kong in the late fifties and early sixties and for anyone who wants to know what they missed. The author captures it faithfully right down to the seedy Hong Kong bars and the drabness of Mao’s Shanghai in 1959.
The love affair with the Australian nurse is an added bonus and the ending comes as a complete surprise. I couldn’t put it down. Well done Mr. Harper. —Peter Matthews
Some people have asked me where the photo of me that appears on the back cover of my book KWANGCHOW came from. It is a picture taken at a ship party, on the KWANGTUNG (not the Kwangchow), in Kobe, Japan in 1959. I am in the middle and Sparks, who featured in the book is to the left of me. On the extreme left is George Latham, Third Engineer. George was my model for the character of Jim Lathrop, 3/E, who also appears heavily in the book. I have to thank him for sending me the photo, from over 50 years ago, and also for immediately remembering me when I called him in Australia in 2011. I had found him through the Swire Mariners Association who still keep the good old days alive through the wonders of the world wide web.