News, Culture & Society

British sailor’s images reveal brutal reality of life in 1930s China

Harrowing photos revealing the brutal reality of life in 1930s China have come to light after 85 years.

The collection of 210 black and white images was compiled by Royal Navy seaman Frederick Warrener while he served on HMS Falmouth when it was stationed in China between 1935 and 1937.

He travelled across the country, documenting daily life among his comrades, village scenes, and brutal executions.

In one particularly disturbing image, the severed head of a man is seen on the floor in front of his lifeless body.

Elsewhere Warrener photographed piles of bodies that could have been early victims of the Sino-Japanese War, which broke out in 1937.

The first phase of the Chinese Civil War, fought between the Kuomintang-led government of the Republic of China and the Chinese Communist Party, had also been raging since 1927. 

Harrowing photos revealing the brutal reality of life in 1930s China have come to light after 85 years. Above: A man is seen being dragged away by a police officer in a Chinese city. The image is one of 210 taken by Royal Navy seaman Frederick Warrener

Condemned men are seen kneeling on the ground as Chinese soldiers stand behind them and others watch on. The images were taken by Warrener when he served on HMS Falmouth. It was stationed in China between 1935 and 1937

Condemned men are seen kneeling on the ground as Chinese soldiers stand behind them and others watch on. The images were taken by Warrener when he served on HMS Falmouth. It was stationed in China between 1935 and 1937

Two British troops are photographed by Warrener as they pose with a mortar weapon on the deck of HMS Falmouth

Two British troops are photographed by Warrener as they pose with a mortar weapon on the deck of HMS Falmouth

In August 1937, after the outbreak of war between Chinese and Japanese forces, HMS Falmouth evacuated 2,000 British women and children from Shanghai

In August 1937, after the outbreak of war between Chinese and Japanese forces, HMS Falmouth evacuated 2,000 British women and children from Shanghai

Other poignant scenes show the body of a person floating face down in a river and men kneeling as they appear to wait to be beheaded. 

Happier photos depict the crew of HMS Falmouth posing in their Navy uniforms, dining together, and playing tennis.

Chinese locals are also seen, with pictures of children in the street and a family smiling from their punt boat.

Comic cartoons of life for the servicemen can also be found in the black album which has a cover embossed with dragons.

The album was compiled by Warrener and remained in his family for 85 years.

It was sold by his grandson for £200 at Lay’s Auctioneers of Penzance, Cornwall.

Mimi Connell-Lay, of Lay’s, said: ‘This album was compiled by the vendor’s grandfather, Frederick Warrener, who we know very little about.

‘The execution pictures were often kept by tourists and Navy boys as grisly souvenirs. They must have attracted a kind of macabre fascination.

‘The Chinese legal system at the time demanded severe punishment for serious crimes, crimes against Confucianism, and the state.

‘Beheading was a common punishment for pirates, thieves, and other major crimes.

‘The album offers rare snaps of life for Frederick and his friends – most of these servicemen would not have had their own personal cameras.

Scores of bodies are seen lying on the ground as people stand by and look. The victims could have been killed in the Chinese Civil War or the Sino-Japanese War, which began in 1937

Scores of bodies are seen lying on the ground as people stand by and look. The victims could have been killed in the Chinese Civil War or the Sino-Japanese War, which began in 1937

Another graphic image show the body of a person floating face down in a river. The photos were taken during the first phase of the Chinese Civil War

Another graphic image show the body of a person floating face down in a river. The photos were taken during the first phase of the Chinese Civil War

Happier photos depict the crew of HMS Falmouth posing in their Navy uniforms, dining together, and playing tennis

Happier photos depict the crew of HMS Falmouth posing in their Navy uniforms, dining together, and playing tennis

People are seen looking down at the bodies of people who had been killed. The images are known to have been taken in the 1930s

People are seen looking down at the bodies of people who had been killed. The images are known to have been taken in the 1930s

Chinese locals are also seen in the collection of images. Above: A smiling Chinese man poses for a photo

Chinese locals are also seen in the collection of images. Above: A smiling Chinese man poses for a photo 

Crew members of HMS Falmouth are seen posing on the ship's deck in their crisp black and white Royal Navy uniforms

Crew members of HMS Falmouth are seen posing on the ship's deck in their crisp black and white Royal Navy uniforms

Crew members of HMS Falmouth are seen posing on the ship’s deck in their crisp black and white Royal Navy uniforms 

Officers from HMS Falmouth are seen on the deck of the ship in one of the photos compiled by Warrener in his album

Officers from HMS Falmouth are seen on the deck of the ship in one of the photos compiled by Warrener in his album

A smiling Chinese mother is seen holding her child on a boat as another youngster looks up and smiles at the photographer

A smiling Chinese mother is seen holding her child on a boat as another youngster looks up and smiles at the photographer

Mimi Connell-Lay, of Lay's, said: 'This album was compiled by the vendor's grandfather, Frederick Warrener, who we know very little about. 'The execution pictures were often kept by tourists and Navy boys as grisly souvenirs. They must have attracted a kind of macabre fascination'

Mimi Connell-Lay, of Lay’s, said: ‘This album was compiled by the vendor’s grandfather, Frederick Warrener, who we know very little about. ‘The execution pictures were often kept by tourists and Navy boys as grisly souvenirs. They must have attracted a kind of macabre fascination’

‘It could very easily have been lost forever so it is nice that we have a complete album of the past’.

Britain had had a presence in China since the establishment of the China Station in 1865. 

The station was responsible for defending Britain’s military and commercial interests along the coasts of China, its navigable rivers, and the western part of the Pacific Ocean.

It had bases at Singapore, Hong Kong, and Liugong Island.

HMS Falmouth was used as a dispatch vessel for the station’s commanding Admiral, allowing him to visit ports too small for flagship Navy cruisers.

In August 1937, after the outbreak of war between Chinese and Japanese forces, the ship evacuated 2,000 British women and children from Shanghai.

The Sino-Japanese war came to an end when Japan was defeated in the Second World War 1945, after being forced to surrender by America following the dropping of nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. 

The second phase of the Chinese Civil War began at around the same time and ended with victory for Mao Zedong’s Communist forces.  

***
Read more at DailyMail.co.uk