The Mystery Man

Shanghai in the 1930s and 1940s was a highly cosmopolitan place, and as war forced borders to seal up and travel to become dangerous or impossible, the city was the end station for a growing number of nationalities who had nowhere else to go. It was a place full of strangers whose story was shrouded in mystery.

George Kulstad, who spent his childhood in occupied Shanghai, describes one such “mystery man” in his book A Foreign Kid in World War II Shanghai (excerpt from Chapter 23):

“At the Sacred Heart Church, where I had my First Communion, I had been an altar boy, known collectively as the League of the Blessed Sacrament, and I sang in the church choir for the limited time we had one. Mass was offered in Latin, with sermons given in English and Chinese at different hours, thus serving both communities. When I was an altar boy and the sermon was in English, I used to see a man in his early twenties, very blond, quietly attending those wartime masses. Shortly after the war, this man showed up at the church resplendent in the well-tailored uniform of a Nationalist army officer, swagger stick in hand. After mass, he stood in the courtyard of the church, talking to Brother John [one of my teachers], and appeared to enjoy the show that he was providing. I had never seen a Westerner in a Chinese Army uniform and I wondered who he was. Since he was older than I, I could not simply walk up to him and ask him.”

“Many years later, I started wondering about this young man again. It was unlikely that he was a White Russian, because they were generally Orthodox Christians and attended their own churches. Since he had not been interned, he could have been from one of the Baltic countries, such as Estonia, Latvia, or Lithuania. But that still did not answer who he was. And why was he wearing a Chinese army uniform? In 2008 I wrote to the Marist Brothers archives “Fratelli Maristi delle Scuole Archivio Generale” in Rome, asking if there was any correspondence relating to the mystery man. I received a polite reply stating that they had no information. My best guess is that he was engaged in intelligence on behalf of the Allies and that with the war over he was now free to reveal himself.”

Does anyone have an inkling who this young man might be? If so, we would be very interested to hear from you.

Categories: War, Witnesses


  • Rosemary Lim says:

    You might try the Marist Brothers in Hong Kong, as that’s where they went after the expulsion of missionaries from China. I doubt if they were able to bring their archives with them as they were imprisoned by the Communists before expulsion. It’s an outside chance that there would be a record unless somehow they managed to keep the Order’s diaries or re-write them from memory. Not all of the Catholic Orders send their archives to their Mother Houses back in Europe. Another possibility is Kobe, where I think some of the China batch also went. I learned a lot from Irish La Salle Brothers who didn’t experience the Japanese Occupation here in Singapore and in Malaya but were told stories by the older Brothers who had lived through. In a few cases these older Brothers had written down their memories but these were rarely published. It might be worth a try to see if anything has been passed on, especially as the French boys school was run by the Marists and the sons of the French who ran the railways in parts of China attended that school. Possible the mystery man was a past pupil. Fascinating story. Would love to find out who he was.

  • George Kulstad says:

    Many thanks, Ms. Lim for your valuable input. I will be communicating with Saint Francis Xavier’s College in Hong Kong as I understand that most of the Shanghai SFX Brothers went to Hong Kong. The website for the Marist Kokusai School in Kobe shows that their Brothers came from St. Louis Gonzague School in Tientsin. Unfortunately, the “mystery man” I write about in my memoir would now be very close to 90 years old.

  • Gamer_1745 says:

    Could it have been Walter Stennes? The description fits, but he would be a bit older than his 20s (Born: April 12, 1895 – Died: May 18, 1989). A German who was bodyguard & friend of Chiang Kai-shek. A Nazi who was anti-Hitler & had to flee Germany,

    You can google him for a photo of him.

  • George Kulstad says:

    Thank you, Gamer_1745, for your suggestion. In 1945, Walter Stennes would have been 50 years old, and Brother John 42 years old. The “mystery man” was younger than Brother John. I have checked with my school-mates from Saint Francis Xavier College, across the street from the Church where I saw the “mystery man” but to date his status remains a mystery.

  • George Kulstad says:

    Ms. Lim – an update regarding my search for information on the “mystery man”. On November 11, 2017 I emailed Saint Francis Xavier College in Hong Kong asking if they have any information, perhaps from the diaries of the Marist Brothers from Shanghai, regarding the “mystery man”. As of today, there has been no reply.

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