“History doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme.”
— Mark Twain

Lock Down in 1946 Shanghai

Posted: June 10th, 2016 | 1 Comment »

Yesterday I relayed the case of 22-year-old Merchant Marine sailor Edward P. Werda from Alpena, Michigan who was sent down by a Chinese court for two and half years in Ward Road Gaol for manslaughter of a fellow American sailor in a knife fight outside a Shanghai brothel in 1946. He claimed he deserved an appeal as his lawyer was incompetent and there was no translator in the courtroom and he was forced to wear a jacket still obviously slashed from the knife wielded by the dead man Steward’s Mate A.B. Spruce, a black sailor.

The American press considered Werda had been served a hard sentence and should get an appeal; many in the Shanghai press (including John Powell, now editing his father’s old China Weekly Review) figured whatever the appeal, Werda did the crime and so should do some time. The American papers reported that Werda’s cell was ‘dingy’ and ‘disease ridden’, 9×12 feet and shared with other prisoners, one of whom had to sleep on the floor though Werda got a bunk. Werda claimed the Chinese inmates lived in far worse conditions. He was allowed no tobacco or newspapers. They recorded that he was living no a diet of bread, water and potatoes and only surviving because old shipmates brought him food parcels. Werda’s shipmate Joens B. Cooney was a regular visitor with food parcels and visited daily until his ship left port.

The American papers were especially concerned that nobody from the US Consulate in Shanghai had visited Werda or bothered to attend the trial. A Republican Congressman from Michigan, Fred Bradley, supported his demand for an appeal and suggested all the staff at the US Consulate in Shanghai should be recalled for incompetence. The American newspapers also suggested that Werda was just one of a number of American sailors fighting that night and that there was no clear consensus that he had delivered the fatal stab wound to the back of Steward’s Mate A.B. Spruce. Werda claimed he got involved in the fight after Spruce had stabbed one of his shipmates.

After two days in jail Werda got a visitor, William M. Olive from the US Consulate. Olive hadn’t been in Shanghai long himself. Olive reportedly told Werda he didn’t have the financial or social standing to retain a decent attorney and would have to rely on a court-appointed one – Olive denied he ever said any such thing. He met with a court appointed attorney who misled him on his possible sentence, took no notes and left quickly. The Shanghai court denied he had been short changed by his lawyer and that he had US$500 on deposit with the US Consulate, funds he could have used to secure a lawyer. The American Consul General, Monnett B. Davis, said he would look into the matter. He later claimed the Consulate had done nothing wrong.

Despite Werda saying there was no translator in the court, the court itself argued that his lawyer, appointed by them, was a US-educated Chinese called Kwei Chungshu who spoke English and also that Ralph K Eyster, of America’s War Shipping Administration, had been in attendance in court during the trial.

I believe Werda’s appeal was rejected.

In February 1947, a year after he was jailed, it was reported that Werda, now 24, was still in Ward Road. Despite an amnesty by Chiang Kai-shek for Chinese prisoners, Werda remained on the cell block.

And then I can’t find anything more…if Werda did the full two and half years then he was released in October 1948 and, presumably, deported back to the United States?

11172_1456329281Monnett B Davis – American CG in Shanghai at the time of Werda’s trial

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One Comment on “Lock Down in 1946 Shanghai”

  1. 1 Gail said at 4:44 am on February 8th, 2021:

    E. P. Werda was my Uncle. We are trying to find out more about his time in Ward Road.

    He took the fall for a friend that would not survive in the jail

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