Sunday, 28 January 2018

West Brigade HQ - current condition of war structures January 2018

Brigadier John Lawson, initially commanding the Island Infantry Brigade, established his Brigade HQ  at the cluster of splinter proof shelters situated on the lower slopes of Mt Nicholson just above Wong Nai Chung (WNC) Gap Road. On the other side of WNC Gap Road there was a semicircle  of splinter proof shelters that were utilised by 'D' Coy Winnipeg Grenadiers. 'D' Coy shelters were located on the hillside between WNC Gap Road and Blue Pool Road. In December 1941, Blue Pool Road ran up to WNC Gap from Tai Hang Road.

At the junction of Blue Pool Road and WNC Gap Road there was a group of three splinter proof shelters which were used as an Advanced Dressing Station (ADS). The ADS was only about one or two hundred metres from West Brigade HQ. The Medical Officer in charge was Captain Barclay, assisted by several RAMC orderlies and ten Chinese St John Ambulance Brigade orderlies. At least one of the brigade clerks (Intelligence Section) was accommodated at the ADS because of shortage of bunk space at Brigade HQ. To the south of the ADS was a mound on which there was a small police post (referred to in most accounts rather extravagantly as a police station). Today the mound is the home of Stanley Ho, and carries the impressive address of No. 1 Repulse Bay Road.

On the 19th December 1941, the three Japanese Infantry regiments, each utilising two of their three battalions, having landed on the North Shore the previous night, were all converging on WNC Gap, and as result West Brigade HQ and 'D' Coy shelters found themselves in the front line. The Japanese quickly captured the ADS, the police station, Stanley Gap AA Battery, and were on the slopes and crest of Jardine's Lookout directly opposite West Brigade HQ. At around 1000 hours Lawson left his besieged bunker with a small group of staff officers and orderlies and was shot in the leg by machine gun fire and bled to death outside his HQ. All efforts to relieve Brigade HQ and extricate the brigade commander, and recapture WNC Gap failed despite great gallantry in the execution of these counterattacks. Some of the brigade staff were able to get across the road and join the garrison at 'D' Coy shelters, but later the road was covered by Japanese machine guns, and it became impossible to get across. Some managed to get up the hillside behind West Brigade HQ, but there was no shelter or dead ground, and with out the tree cover and lower vegetation, several of those who took  this route to try and extricate were killed or wounded. The survivors on the hillside, feigning death, waited until dark and then made their way back to Brigade HQ. Those that were able to do so, dashed across the road to 'D' Coy shelters, before dawn, but even in the darkness some were  killed as they left the passageway and ran across WNC Gap Road. This left only the dead and wounded at Brigade HQ. The wounded were placed in the open shelter nearest the road to facilitate their evacuation by ambulance, although this never occurred as ambulances were unable to get up the road to WNC Gap. The Japanese were on the hillside above Brigade HQ shelters but did not come down whilst the garrison at 'D' Coy shelters were holding out. 

The photograph below shows two of the three rear bunkers protected by the blast wall. Brigadier Lawson had his command HQ and telephone exchange in one of these three bunkers. Bill Greaves, historian and heritage consultant, believes it may have been the third bunker from the left. The photograph shows the first and second bunker. The third was located at the end of the passageway and is today largely buried (see later photographs). On the surviving bunkers some of the original steel doors still remain as can be seen below.

Lawson's bunker today 
The war time diagram depicted below shows the rough layout at Brigade HQ and at 'D' Coy shelters in December 1941.

The layout at Brigade HQ and 'D' Coy shelters
The diagram shows the three rear bunkers at Brigade HQ and the brigade car park. The car park was located where the petrol station now stands. The mound north of the ADS shelters (top of Blue Pool Road) was occupied by Japanese snipers who were able to lob grenades and fire onto 'D' Coy positions. The mound can be seen in the 1947 photograph at the bottom of this post. 

The upper section of  Blue Pool Road no longer exists and the steep valley (Blue Pool Valley) to the east of Brigade HQ has been filled in and now accommodates the Hong Kong Cricket Club, municipal tennis courts and part of the French International School. Only the shelters at Brigade HQ and the nearby pillbox (PB 3) remain today as a physical testimony of the battle at WNC Gap. Like most war structures in Hong Kong they have received little attention and are dilapidating as time goes by. Last year (2017) the structures at Brigade HQ were vandalised by a small number of students from the nearby French International School. Steel doors and walls were spray painted with graffiti by youngsters who should have known better, and probably knew little about the war history, the lives lost, or about the military remains around their school. The authorities, to their credit,  were quick to clean up the damage and restitute the structures. They have also installed a cabin for a caretaker located at the set of two stand-alone bunkers further down the road. Today the site is littered, untidy and in my opinion unsafe, because a large tree is in danger of falling - see the photographs below. I have notified the Antiquities and Monuments Office. If the tree collapsed it would cause further damage to these historic structures, which should be considered a war shrine and should be cherished. It could also cause injury to persons visiting the site.

The photo of the passageway shows a cave-in caused by the roots of a tree being undermined
Here you can see the exposed roots
The tree leaning over the site. 
The third bunker at the rear is missing. It is partly buried and may have been damaged by the slope-maintenance work behind the petrol station. This ought to be dug out and restituted because it may well be the actual bunker occupied by Brigadier Lawson, situated at the end of the passageway. The photograph below shows the passageway leading to the three rear bunkers.

This next photograph shows the two surviving rear bunkers - the third is buried where you can see the sheet of corrugated iron.
Add caption
To the right of the sheet of corrugated iron we can make out the front upper section of the third bunker and above it on the slope we can see the tall ventilation shaft for this "missing bunker."

The roof of the missing bunker
Ventilation shaft for the missing /buried bunker
In the photograph below we can see the roof of the two rear bunkers which are hidden and protected by the blast wall, and we can see the slope above the bunkers whereby some of the staff officers and Other Ranks tried to extricate.

Two rear bunkers protected by the blast wall
In the next photo you can see that the passageway has at some stage been filled in to construct the concrete drainage channel.
The drainage channel disecting the passageway.
This shelter looks like a garage, but it was not, as vehicles were parked at the nearby brigade carpark. In contemporary accounts it is described as the "open shelter" and it was closest to where the passageway reached the road.

The open shelter closest to WNC Road
The passageway leading past the open shelter to WNC Gap Road seen in the background
The photo below shows the petrol station which occupies the area that once formed the brigade carpark. The vehicles including Lawson's car were hit by shell fire on 18th December and all the vehicles were reported to have burnt out. Brigadier Lawson planned to use Captain Barclay's car for going round the posts.  Captain Barclay was stationed at the ADS at WNC Gap.   His car was parked outside the ADS,  about one hundred metres or so from Brigade HQ. 

I have no idea what the small structure is in the centre of the photo below, or whether it's a wartime structure. It has a small access door and it is painted in modern style disruptive pattern. On Sentosa Island in Singapore you sometimes see this kind of renovation and paintwork on war structures. I actually think it makes them look fake. Renovation that restores structures to how they actually looked would be more appropriate and acceptable. In Hong Kong very little has been done to preserve and protect war structures, in fact in the urban area many such structures have been destroyed for building or road construction. In the rural areas there are still many war ruins remaining including, batteries, splinter proof shelters and even trenches and weapon pits. Sadly as each year goes by they are  increasingly denuding and dilapidating. The only positive thing, is that because of this benign neglect, they are mostly in their original condition, and as a result have a more authentic charm.

Below is one of ten information boards located at intervals around the WNC Gap Trail. This one at West Brigade HQ has been tastily done and provides the visitor with useful information. We need more of these in Hong Kong, and better maintenance of wartime structures. The litter should be cleared out and the undergrowth cut back.

Information board at West Brigade HQ ruins
There is an additional cluster of two splinter proof shelters to the north of the petrol station (the site of the brigade car park). This set of two splinter proofs is about 100 to 150 metres from the rest of Brigade HQ. These buildings are more exposed, and are unprotected by blast walls. The shutters and doors are in too good a condition to be original and the hinges seem to be on the wrong side. They are original splinter proof structures that have been modernised by the addition of new shutters and doors which have been painted grey and signs like ORs (Other Ranks) and Officers painted in white on the doors. I have no idea who did this or why, but they don't look very authentic, but perhaps at least better than the gaping doors and apertures or bricked up doors and apertures that we see on so many other such structures.  

Below is a photo taken from "The Ruins of War" by Tim Ko and Jason Wordie (1996) which shows the same set of shelters with their doors and shutters removed and the apertures bricked up to prevent illegal occupation.

It is not clear who occupied these two structures in December 1941. I did hear from one historian that a veteran had told him that at least one of them was occupied by signals staff. The Brigade Signals Officer (Captain Billings) was in Lawson's bunker, and he probably had one of two signalmen with him manning the telephone exchange. It is possible that these shelters were used for accommodation for Royal Canadian Signals Corps including dispatch riders, but we are not sure, perhaps a reader can throw some light on this. 

The annotated photograph below is taken from West Brigade shelters looking over the Blue Pool Valley towards the western slopes of Jardine's Lookout. The photograph was taken c. 1947. The lack of forestation and the lower undergrowth that prevailed at that time means we can see Sir Cecil's Ride and Stanley Gap very clearly. The garrison at West brigade would have seen and engaged the Japanese at these locations. There was reportedly particularly heavy fire from the captured AA battery at Stanley Gap.  This photograph shows the semicircle of splinter proof shelters occupied by 'D' Coy WG. You can clearly see the ventilation shafts. One can see the cutting on WNC Gap Road and get an appreciation of the height of the mound where Japanese snipers were dug in and firing down onto 'D' Coy positions. 

The next photo is taken from the other side of the valley, from  above Sir Cecil's Ride. It was also taken in or about 1947, and shows WNC Gap, the police post, West Brigade HQ and 'D' Coy shelters as it would have looked in December 1941.

How it would have all looked in December 1941


Tuesday, 23 January 2018

Lt Colonel Cadogan-Rawlinson

Roger John Edward Cadogan was born on 24th August 1898 at Bath in the county of Somerset. His parents were John Hebert Cadogan (1866-1912) and Alice Rawlinson (1873-1951). In 1931 Roger Cadogan changed his name by Deed Poll to Cadogan-Rawlinson adopting both his parents names.

In December 1941, he was a Lt-Colonel and commanded the 5th Battalion of the 7th Rajput Regiment in Hong Kong. When war started his battalion was on the right flank of the Gin Drinkers Line. His battalion formed a rear guard during the subsequent evacuation of the Mainland Brigade under fire. Once back on  Hong Kong Island,  his battalion was given the difficult task of defending the heavily bombarded north east shore and manning the pillboxes along that stretch of shoreline from North Point to Shau Kei Wan. It was on this stretch of the Island shore that the Japanese made their landings on the night of 18th December 1941. The Rajput defenders were outnumbered by ten to one as more than 8,000 Japanese troops including six infantry battalions landed in his battalion sector. His Battalion HQ had been located at Tai Koo Police Station. He and his staff officers were pushed back up Mount Parker Road. Cadogan-Rawlinson ascended Mount Butler and then turned westwards on the ridge path hoping to reach Jardines Lookout (JLO) and drop down to Tai Hang where his reserve company had been based. He hoped to reassemble what was left of his battalion.  However, by dawn on 19th December he found the Japanese advancing up the north face of Jardines Lookout and blocking his route to Tai Hang. After helping to deploy a platoon of Winnipeg Grenadiers who were manning the col between JLO and Mount Butler, he headed south on a trail that led to Stanley Gap Road (now known as Tai Tam Reservoir Road). He went past the abandoned batteries on Stanley Gap Road and down to Gauge Basin which was being held by what was left of No 1 Platoon and the Coy HQ of No. 1 Coy, HKVDC, commanded by Captain Harry Penn. There were also two 3.7-inch howitzer batteries still in action at and around Gauge Basin. He then proceeded down to the lower reservoir and the Tai Tam X-Roads. 

At Bridge Hill shelters, situated near the X-Roads, he put a call through to Brigadier Wallis, the commander of East Infantry Brigade. Wallis had previously commanded the 5th Battalion of the 7th Rajput Regiment before being promoted to Brigadier. Cadogan-Rawlinson had taken over command of the battalion only a few month earlier, when following the arrival of 2,000 Canadian troops a decision had been made to reorganise the infantry into two brigades. Wallis knew Cadogan-Rawlinson well having served together for many years in the same Indian Army regiment. Wallis had decided to withdraw his brigade to the Stanley Perimeter as he faced a very real prospect of all troops in the eastern sector being cut off by the rapidly advancing Japanese who were already firing into his HQ area at Tai Tam Gap. He asked Cadogan-Rawlinson and his group of staff officers, orderlies and stragglers picked up along the way, to hold the dam and the X-Roads until he could get his brigade and supporting artillery personnel safely across the dam.  Later Cadogan-Rawlinson was relieved by a Canadian platoon and Cadogan-Rawlinson was brought back to Aberdeen by MTB and then by truck to Wan Chai where he took command of what was left of his battalion. 

I knew about his battle exploits in Hong Kong, but little about his personal life and career. What happened to him after the war I wondered. An internet search revealed little about his life, but I did find that at the age of seventeen he obtained the Royal Aero Club Certificate. He had trained on a Caudron biplane and alongside his certificate was  a photograph of a very young and smartly dressed Roger Cadogan.


Seventeen-year-old Roger Cadogan

Caudron biplane
I saw a reference to his having served in the Royal Flying Corp.  Prior to 1917 it was a requirement that a pilot had to have obtained a Royal Aero Club Flying Certificate before he could be granted a commission in the Royal Flying Corp or the Royal Naval Air Service. It is not clear how long he stayed in the Royal Flying Corp or why he later transferred to the infantry. In 1917 he is listed as a subaltern (2nd Lt) in the  the Duke Of Cornwall's Light Infantry (DCLI).  In 1918 he fought with the 2nd Battalion DCLI at Salonica on the Macedonian Front. He remained with the regiment after the war ended, and in 1922 is listed as a Lt before being promoted to Captain in December 1922. At some stage he transferred to the British Indian Army most likely in the late 1920s. In 1935 he was serving as a Major with the 7th Rajput Regiment. He continued in the rank of Major until 1941 when he became Lt-Colonel in command of the 5th Battalion in Hong Kong following the promotion of Cedric Wallis to Brigadier. 

Roger Cadogan-Rawlinson (Source: IWM)
After liberation in 1945, Cadogan-Rawlinson returned to Britain and retired from the Army aged forty-seven, in 1947 on grounds of ill-health, no doubt as a result of three and half years of brutal incarceration in a Japanese POW camp. He passed away, aged fifty-six, in April 1954, in Ulverston, in the Lake District of Cumbria. Back in 1929 he appeared on the electoral roll with the same address that he had provided on the Royal Aero Club certificate in 1915. The address being Evelyn Mansions, London. This is a large, red brick, late Victorian or Edwardian mansion block that still exists, off Victoria Street in the City of Westminster. It may have been his mother's address, as an Alice Millers Cadogan was registered at the same address. She died aged seventy-eight in 1951, only a few years before her son died so prematurely.

I am not sure when he got married but in a passenger manifest (Bombay to Plymouth) in 1932, he was travelling with his wife Moya McGreevey McDowell and a one year old child (Kenneth). He  and Moya had two sons, Kenneth Roger Brook (1931-2008) and Christopher Robert (born 1936). Cadogan-Rawlinson's address in 1931/32 is given as High Duddon, in Broughton-in-Furness (near Ulverston). I believe there is a Duddon Hall complete with gatehouse, which  may have been his ancestral home. It is also possible he lived in a large grey house that has now become a guest house in High Duddon. I think it calls for a trip, a B+B at the guest house, and a stroll through the churchyard. I believe Cadogan-Rawlinson married secondly to Mary Jane Easton, and they had one child Martin Lloyd Cadogan-Rawlinson, born in 1946. At this stage I have no idea what happened to Moya, or when he married Mary Jane, and whether it was before, or after the war. 

In 1947, India became independent and there must have been a large number of former British Indian Army officers who were out of a job. These were officers who in many cases had spent their entire career with the Indian Army. They spoke the languages of their men. Leave was infrequent, and many no doubt looked forward to retiring at their end of their military career, to a peaceful home in the English countryside, but I wonder as they strolled the village green, in the long evening shadows, whether they sometimes dreamt of the flash of a sabre, of the heat and the dust of the North West Frontier, and of battles fought, long and arduous, and half a world away.  

Author's Note
If anybody can provide further information on Lt-Colonel Roger Cadogan-Rawlinson's life - I would be most appreciative and include it in this post which I hope to expand as more information on his life comes to hand.

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

A potpourri of Stanley Camp and Stanley Photographs

Prison officers Club (1945)

Stanley Village from the hill leading to the fort - a sketch map from 1/Mx war diary (UKNA)

Stanley Prison
Repulse Bay - on the way to Stanley

Stanley Military Cemetery

Maryknoll House 

Friday, 6 October 2017

HMS Birkenhead

The Honourable East India Company (HEIC) vessel Nemesis was built at John Laird's shipyard at Birkenhead. When she was launched in 1839, she was one of the first steam powered warships to be built. Although other paddle steamers were present on the China station during the First Opium War (1839-1842), Nemesis was the first iron hulled steamer to operate in eastern waters. She was a marvel of her time and played a very prominent role in the Anglo-Chinese War living up to her namesake, the  goddess of retribution and revenge.

HMS Birkenhead was also an iron hulled paddle steamer, and like Nemesis she was built at John Laird, and launched in 1845. She had been designed as a frigate, but by this time paddles were giving way to propellors, and Birkenhead was instead commissioned as a troopship. Seven years later, in February 1852 she sank off the coast of South Africa. Her sinking and the conduct of her officers and men and the soldiers she carried became something of a legend in Victorian England, depicted in paintings and poetry and from whence came the expression the "Birkenhead drill". 

The Birkenhead began her last tragic voyage in Portsmouth in January 1852. She was under the command of Captain Robert Salmond. The troops from various regiments were under the overall command of Lt-Col Alexander Seton. At the time of her sinking she was carrying approximately 643 men, women and children. The ship hit an unchartered submerged rock at night which holed her bows, broke bulkheads,  and caused flooding to the engine room and lower decks. A number soldiers were killed below decks many still in their hammocks, whilst others were able to make their way to the upper deck. The soldiers mustered on the deck, and some were ordered aft to help bring up the bows. Some of the soldiers were ordered to assist the crew in lowering the lifeboats, whilst others were detailed to man the pumps below decks. The order went out that women and children should go first. That, and the discipline of the soldiers, accepting their fate, and mustering whilst the ship went down to allow women and children to get away first became known as the "Birkenhead drill" and was immortalised by Rudyard Kipling. 

"But to stand an' be still
 the Birken'ead drill
 is a damn tough bullet to chew." 

The wreck of the Birkenhead by Thomas Hemy (1892)
Of the eight or nine boats only three were lowered. The others could not be lowered from the davits, or freed from the paddle top. All of the women and children and a number of the men were embarked on the three boats. They were later picked up by two schooners. The Birkenhead sank within twenty minutes of hitting the rock which is now called Birkenhead Rock in memory of all those who lost their lives, either by drowning or being killed by sharks.

A rendition that better depicts the sinking being at night 
The ship sank at around 0200 hours. The exact number of survivors is not known but thought to be between 194 and 205. These included 80 survivors who were able to get on the three life boats that were lowered.  When I first read about the loss of the Birkenhead I had the impression there were a number of women and children onboard. In fact there were only seven women and thirteen children aboard, suggesting there were sixty men on the lifeboats. We know the survivors included 113 Army all ranks, 6 Royal Marines and 54 Navy  all ranks.  It may be that a large portion of the men in the boats were made up of the 54 naval personnel who survived and who may have manned the oars on the lifeboats. The lifeboats also picked up men from the water. Around 445 men lost their lives in the  sinking which took place in shark infested and bitterly cold seas. It was like an early version of the Titanic which also sank on another clear and starry night without enough lifeboats for those onboard. 

The Wreck of the Birkenhead by Charles Dixon (1901)
As the ship went down, an order was given for the horses onboard to be cut loose and pushed over the ship's side in the hope they would be able to swim ashore. There were nine horse belonging to the Army officers. Of these one broke a leg on being pushed into the sea, and was thought to have been eaten by sharks, but the remainder managed to swim ashore and two of them were reunited with their owners who survived by swimming ashore.

The schooners Lioness and Seahorse arrived on the scene of the sinking at noon the following day. The Lioness picked up the survivors from the first two boats ( a cutter and a gig). They then found some forty survivors clinging to the wreckage of the main mast and rigging. The Lioness rescued some 116 people from the boats and from the wreckage in the water. The third boat (a cutter) managed to make the nearby shore. The Seahorse rescued some twenty survivors from the water. A whaleboat from nearby Dyer Island had joined the rescue effort and picked up some four survivors. Some survivors managed to swim the two miles to the shore.

The most senior Army officer to survive was Captain Wright of the 91st Regiment of Foot.  He testified as to the steadfastness and discipline of the men at the court martial convened on HMS Victory.
"The order and regularity that prevailed on board, from the moment the ship struck till she totally disappeared, far exceeded anything that I had thought could be effected by the best discipline; and it is the more to be wondered at seeing that most of the soldiers were but a short time in the service. Everyone did as he was directed and there was not a murmur or cry amongst them until the ship made her final plunge – all received their orders and carried them out as if they were embarking, instead of going to the bottom – I never saw any embarkation conducted with so little noise or confusion."
Colour Sgt John O'Neil also serving with the 91st Regiment was one of those who escaped death by swimming to that distant shore. In 1901, during a presentation on the occasion of his retirement, he commented about the sinking:
"I might be allowed to say a word or two about the memorable disaster, the wreck of the Birkenhead My share in that is soon told: simple obedience of orders, standing on deck slowly but surely sinking, whilst the women and children got safely away in the boats, then by God's providence and a long and perilous swim midst sharks, breakers and seaweeds, I managed to scramble ashore." 
Private Francis Ginn of the 43rd Light Infantry was an 18 year-old recruit. He stood muster with other soldiers on the deck, whilst the ship went down allowing others, and in particular the women and children to go first. He was a strong swimmer and when the ship went down he struck out for the shore. He swam through the night until in an exhausted state he was picked up by a Dutch fishing boat and brought ashore.

Cpl William Smith of 12th Regiment of Foot recalled the shock felt throughout the ship as the vessel collided with the rock. Distress rockets were fired.
"There was a panic for a short time but admirable discipline was maintained through the efforts of the officers. Good order was eventually restored. I believe twenty minutes had hardly elapsed before the vessel was in pieces. I was sleeping on the lower deck when the shock came and crowded up the ladder with others but found it difficult work. Some never came up at all but were drowned in their hammocks the water rushing in so suddenly. Most of the troops were fallen in on deck with the exception of some sixty men who were told to go below to man the chain pumps;  they never came up again but were all drowned like rats in a hole. After gaining the deck I went and assisted the crew in rigging the chain pumps I remained there, and I think it was about the hardest twenty minutes  work I ever did in my life. We all worked like Trojans. I remained below the whole time. I know very little about what happened on deck during this time. I think I was the only man that ever came up again from the pumps. "
An officer, Lt John Girardot, then told the men on the pumps it was no use, they could not control the flooding,  and they were ordered to go to the upper deck. Smith was one of those nearest the ladder. By the time he reached the upper deck it was already awash. The ship was going down so fast, sinking by the bows, her smokestack lying across the deck. He described there being insufficient time to get the other boats launched whereas some other accounts talk about jammed davits. Smith could not swim but he managed to cling to a broken spar and eventually made the shore. He described how the dark outline of the  mountains made the shore look closer than it was, and many of those that struck out towards the coast were unable to make the distance which he estimated at about two miles.

Richard Nesbitt was fourteen years old at the time. His father was Quartermaster of the 12th Suffolk Regiment.
"I have a very clear and distinct recollection of all that occurred.  I saved myself by making for and fastening on to one of the boats to which I clung for some time and was eventually pulled on board. We were afterwards picked up by the schooner Lioness and never shall I forget the great kindness of Captain and Mrs Ramsden to all the survivors - men, women and children.  I don't think half an hour could have elapsed from her striking until she broke up."
Cpl William Butler described the impact as being like a "clap off thunder" when the steamer hit the rock.
"The Captain and officers behaved splendidly; the former sang out, ‘Soldiers and sailors, keep quiet, and I will save you all ” There was calm after panic; we lowered the gangway, and pitched four guns and the horses overboard.  Captain Wright, of the 91st, jumped after his horse and got ashore with him.  The Captain ordered Mr. Brodie, to get the paddle box boats loose.  In doing so he got his thighs jammed.  When the vessel went down, the boat he had loosened remained in the water keel up. I saw four men get ashore on her, one man sitting on the keel with a big coat on, the three others paddling. Three on a spar also reached the shore, two men and a cabin boy; the boy sat on the spar, and the men paddled. I saw another get ashore on a truss of hay. As to the troops being paraded it is imagination. She was loaded to the funnel. The last words I heard the Captain say were “Soldiers and sailors, I’ve done what I can for you. I can't do more. Those who can swim do so; those who can’t climb the rigging.” Then it was a rush. I got hold of a bit of wreckage, on which it took me about seven hours to reach the shore where the survivors mustered in lots of six to ten who knew each other and walked in the direction of Simon's Bay, taking two days to reach the same."
Lt Girardot, 43rd Light Infantry, survived the sinking. He later recalled being dragged down as the ship submerged. Somebody was hanging on to his leg but he managed to kick himself free.  He clung onto some driftwood and and paddled towards the shoreline. He recalled seeing many men killed by sharks. Some survivors tried to swim to the lifeboats but they pulled away in fear of being swamped by men in the water desperate to get aboard. Many spoke of the cries of those drowning and those being mauled by sharks. Captain Bond-Shelton was also dragged down when the ship sank, but he rose to the surface because he was wearing a Mackintosh life preserver. He struck out towards the shore and was swimming with two others who  at one stage screamed and were dragged under by a sharks.

On reaching the shore Bond-Shelton described the difficulty of getting through the masses of seaweed. He was reunited with his horse which he found at the water's edge.  For Private William Tuck who made it ashore, this was his second shipwreck. Thomas Cuffin was on the helm when the ship sank. He acted as coxswain of the second cutter and picked up 32 survivors from the water before rowing to the shore. As helmsman he had to give witness at the court martial in Portsmouth. The court martial proceedings  which were commonly conducted for a sinking or collision, were dropped because no senior naval officers had survived.

I suspect the story may have been embellished over time aided by those dramatic paintings. One of the survivor's account described the soldiers mustering in their uniform as being "imagination."  Thomas Cuffin, the helmsman, contacted Thomas Hemy, the artist, who painted the most famous rendition of the sinking in 1892 some forty years after the event. Cuffin told Hemy that he had seen the troops fall in line, at the orders of an officer in the form of a parade or mustering. So perhaps, it should not be too quickly dismissed. Some of the accounts talk of the initial panic, but all of the accounts confirm the calmness of the officers, and the subsequent discipline of the men.  There can be no doubt that courage was on display that tragic night in which so many lost their lives and the "Birkenhead drill" became an example and an aspiration.


Survivors accounts from
"Nemesis - the first iron warship and her world"  Adrian Marshall (2016)
"China Station - the British military in the Middle Kingdom 1839-1997 Mark Felton (2013)

Saturday, 30 September 2017

HMS Rattlesnake

Wandering, and wondering around the enchanting Hong Kong cemetery at Happy Valley ones finds the memorial stone for William Brodie, RN, the commander of HMS Rattlesnake. He died aged fifty-six in June 1841. His grave is the oldest in the cemetery dating back to a only five months from the de facto possession of Hong Kong in January 1841, during the First Opium War (1839-1842). Dr Edward Cree, the Surgeon onboard Rattlesnake, recalled Brodie's delirious death in his diary. He died from malaria, a debilitating disease that still effected British soldiery on the Gin Drinkers Line one hundred years later in December 1941. A painting by Dr Cree depicts the military prossession to the burial place in what was then an unspoilt Happy Valley.

Edward Cree (Forgotten Souls - A social history of the Hong Kong Cemetery) 
He was buried at that place before the Happy Valley Cemetery became an official cemetery in 1845, and at some stage his coffin was exhumed and he was reburied at the Wan Chai Protestant Burial Ground and then relocated again in 1889 to Happy Valley. The Wan Chai cemetery was only used from 1841 until 1845 when Happy Valley was officially opened. At the time of the closure of the Wan Chai cemetery some fifty graves (all from 1841-1845) were relocated to Happy Valley. The name Happy Valley was thought to have been derived from its use as an euphemism for cemeteries. 

I wondered what was HMS Rattlesnake's story with such an aggressive but memorable name. The ship's artistic Surgeon, Lt Edward Cree, prolifically produced such beautiful water colours of the pre-digital world of the early 19th century. It turned out that the ship was a 28-gun sixth rate corvette launched at Chatham Dockyard in 1822. She had been ordered for the Royal Navy in 1818, and her keel laid down in 1819. She was one of a class of fourteen similar vessels known as Atholl class corvettes. The corvettes were similar to a frigate with one main gun deck, and further guns placed on the quarterdeck. Rattlesnake had ten 32-pdr cannons on each side of her main gun deck,  and six 18-pdrs on her quarterdeck and two 9-pdrs on her forecastle deck. Here's how she looked in 1853 as depicted in the Illustrated London News.
 HMS Rattlesnake depicted in Illustrated London News February 1853

We know that during the period 1827-1829 she was stationed off the Greek coast during the Greek War of Independence. The war was fought to liberate Greece from the Ottoman Empire. Britain, France and Russia supported Greece. Rattlesnake's commander was Captain The Hon. Charles Orlando Bridgeman who later became a Vice Admiral. The ship's log book for this period,  kept by Midshipman Talvera Anson, still survives in the New York Public Library. 

In 1834, HMS Rattlesnake under the command of Captain William Hobson, was serving on the East Indies and China Station. A naval station that covered the Indian Ocean and the China Coast. In 1836, Rattlesnake was dispatched to Australia and New Zealand. In 1838 she returned to England. We next see her on the China Station during the First Opium War (1839-1842) at that time under the command of William Brodie and with Surgeon Dr Edward Cree recording her adventures through his diaries and watercolours. Other corvettes of the Atholl class on the China Station included North Star, Alligator, Samarang and Nimrod. A monument in Happy Valley Cemetery commemorates the death of Lt Benjamin Fox who died in May 1841 following cannon shot wounds incurred whilst leading a landing party during the attack on the high ground north of Canton. HMS Nimrod was the last survivor of her class being broken up in 1907.

When Hong Kong was acquired by the British Crown in January 1841 - Palmerston had criticised Captain Elliot the Plenipotentiary and Superintendent of Trade for not getting enough concessions from the Qing dynasty court. He regarded Hong Kong Island as a "barren rock with hardly a house on it",  and which would "never be a mart for trade." Dr Edward Cree on Rattlesnake took a similar view. "a mountainous, desolate looking place with only a few fishermen's huts to be seen." The main habitation was a placed called Chek-chu, now known as Stanley. The oldest graves in Stanley Military Cemetery date back to this precarious time on the edge of empire. 

In 1845, Rattlesnake was converted to a hydrographical survey ship and between 1846 and 1850 took part in a voyage of discovery and marine survey in the Antipodes, under the command of Captain Owen Stanley, and which was documented in detail in a journal by John MacGilliveray, the botanist and in paintings by Oswald Brierly the ship's artist. The Assistant Surgeon Thomas Huxley was a naturalist and the papers he wrote on Rattlesnake established his reputation as a scientist. He later worked closely with Charles Darwin and was one of his strongest supporters. It was during this voyage that Rattlesnake rescued Barbara Thompson (1831-1916) from a small island north of Queensland. She had been shipwrecked from the cutter America some five years earlier and had lived amongst the local tribes who were thought to be cannibals. One of the tribe members had taken her as plunder for a wife, but she had been treated well by the tribe. She would have been about 14 years old when taken. She had come out to Australia as a child with her family on the immigrant ship John Barry travelling in steerage class. At the time of her shipwreck she was living with a sea-captain in Brisbane. The Rattlesnake brought her back to Sydney where she was reunited with her family.

HMS Rattlesnake in 1853 by Oswald Brierly
As for Rattlesnake, she was finally broken up, where her life began, at Chatham Dockyard in 1860. 

Wednesday, 27 September 2017

Captain Sir Humphrey Fleming Senhouse

Humphrey Fleming Senhouse was born in 1781 in Barbados where his father, an  officer in the Royal Navy, was serving as Surveyor General for Barbados and the Leeward Islands. Senhouse joined the Royal Navy in 1797 at the age of sixteen. His first ship was HMS Prince of Wales, which had been launched in 1794 at Portsmouth. She was a 98-gun ship-of-the-line. She was the flagship of Admiral Sir Henry Harvey, commander of the Leeward Islands Station, and responsible for the capture of Trinidad from the Spanish. Later that year, in November 1797 Senhouse transferred to the gun brig Requin, a former French warship (Le Requin) captured in 1795 and pressed into service with the Royal Navy. A small ship with a compliment of around sixty officers and men and a single gun deck equipped with ten 4-pounders. The commander Lt William Wood Senhouse was one of Humphrey Senhouse's  brothers. In 1799 Senhouse sailed to England on Requin. Senhouse then served on HMS Fisguard, a 48-gun frigate, formerly a French frigate (Resistance) that was captured by the Royal Navy in 1795.

The capture of French warship Immortalit√© by HMS Fisgard 
In 1802,  Senhouse passed the qualifying examinations, and  was promoted to Lieutenant. He served at the Battle of Trafalgar, 21st October, 1805, onboard HMS Conqueror a 74-gun ship-of-the-line which was in the thick of action throughout the battle. She was commanded by Captain Israel Pellew. Conqueror was in the van, she was fourth in line in the weather column led by  the flagship HMS Victory. Villenueve's flagship the Bucentaure surrendered to Conqueror's Captain of Marines who had been put aboard to take the surrender whilst Conqueror chased and engaged Santisma de Trinidad.

To find the link with Hong Kong, we have to fast forward through an illustrious naval career, in which Senhouse saw action in the War of 1812, commanded a number of warships, was knighted, and promoted to the rank of Captain. Mount Stenhouse (incorrectly spelt) on Lamma Island is named after him.

Mount Stenhouse on Lamma Island
Senhouse was posted to the China Station in April 1839 as second in command of the Naval squadron in China reporting to Commodore Sir James Bremer. He commanded HMS Blenheim, a 74-gun ship-of-the-line, in the First Anglo-Chinese War (1839-1841), more often referred to as the First Opium War. 

HMS Blenheim
Senhouse was involved in the action at the Bogue Forts and the fighting around Chuenpi Island in the Pearl River, the gateway to  Canton. At the Chuenpi Convention assembled in January 1841, the Chinese Commissioner Qi Shan agreed to cede Hong Kong Island to the British Crown. However, the Qing Court was not happy with this arrangement. They thought Qi had conceded to much and he was dismissed. The treaty was repudiated and hostilities were resumed. The British were not happy either and thought that Captain Charles Elliot the Superintendent of Trade had not extracted enough. Palmerston famously derided Hong Kong as being a barren rock, with hardly a house upon it, and which would never be a mart for trade. Elliot was recalled and replaced by Sir Henry Pottinger who was appointed as Plenipotentiary and Superintendent of Trade. The war was brought to and end in 1842 with the Treaty of Nanking in which amongst other concessions, including the establishment of treaty ports and reparations, Hong Kong was granted in perpetuity to the Crown.

Senhouse may have been present with Commodore Bremer at the de facto taking of possession of Hong Kong Island in January 1841. Later that year, he succumbed to fever and died on board HMS Blenheim on 13th June 1841. In accordance with his wishes, and bearing in mind that Hong Kong still had a doubtful future as a Crown Colony,  he was interred at the Protestant Cemetery in Macau. The iron-clad paddle steamer Nemesis arrived in Macau with his body on 16th June 1841.  His memorial can still  be seen to day in the old cemetery. 

Memorial for Senhouse in the Protestant Cemetery in Macau

Captain Sir Humphrey Fleming Senhouse (1781-1841)
He died aged sixty and was survived by his wife Elizabeth Manley. They married in 1810 and had  nine children of which five predeceased him. Elizabeth lived on until 1865 when she passed away aged eighty-one. 

Saturday, 5 August 2017

A reflection on Japanese and German War Crimes (Monthly Blog - Aug 2017)

I had just made a presentation to a class of 12-year olds at an international school in Hong Kong on the subject of the Battle for Hong Kong. I had talked briefly, without going into too much detail, about some of the war atrocities committed in Hong Kong for example the Christmas Day massacre at St Stephen's College Hospital in Stanley in December 1941, when Japanese troops bayoneted patients in their beds, raped European and Chinese nurses, and raped, mutilated and killed three of the European nurses. At the end of the presentation, one of the pupils put her hand up and asked: "Why did the Japanese do such things?" Not surprisingly she found it difficult to reconcile such cruelty with what she knew of Japan and Japanese people today, who are polite and charming, and very different from their forbears who served in the Imperial Japanese Army in the period 1931 to 1945.

I struggled to answer the question because there is no quick or easy answer. I may have mumbled something about us all having the capacity for good and evil within us, and that war crimes were not the preserve of any one country, any one side, or any one people. The Japanese soldier in WW2 was generally brave, a trait we admire, but at the same time shockingly brutal and inhumane. Brigadier John Masters who fought against the Japanese in Burma had this to say of their bravery and brutality.
"They are the bravest people I have ever met. In any armies, any one of them, nearly every Japanese would have had a Congressional Medal or a Victoria Cross. It is the fashion to dismiss their courage as fanaticism, but that only begs the question. They believed in something and they were willing to die for it.  What else is bravery?

They pressed home the attack when no other troops in the world have done so, when all hope of success was gone. ... The Japanese simply came on, using all their skill and rage, until they were stopped by death. In defence,  they held their ground with furious tenacity that never faltered. They had to be killed, company by company, squad by squad, man by man, to the last.
  ... they wrote beautiful little poems in their diaries and practiced bayonet work on their prisoners. Frugal, bestial, barbarous and brave, artistic and brutal."
Japanese troops from 228th Regiment cross the border into Hong Kong
When I first started researching the Battle of Hong Kong I was appalled to read of the horrific war crimes committed by Japanese troops against surrendered soldiers and civilians in locations around Hong Kong which I was so familiar with,  including Stanley, Wong Nai Chung Gap, Blue Pool Road and Repulse Bay. I read the details in the depositions and evidence provided by survivors of these atrocities. Somehow one or two survived some of these atrocities, often despite terrible injuries, and lived  to tell the tale. Two soldiers survived the bayonetting of surrendered soldiers at the Sai Wan AA fort and two soldiers  and one civilian survived the killing of medical orderlies and civilian staff at the Salesian Mission building at Shau Kei Wan. This killing was witnessed by a large number of Japanese troops who were reportedly laughing and enjoying the spectacle of the killing. In the case of the slaughtering of St John Ambulance Brigade civilian orderlies at the Advanced Dressing Station at Wong Nai Chung Gap, none survived, but it was witnessed by others, who were later captured, and some of whom managed to escape.

An Australian POW about to be executed with crowd in the background
Japanese bayoneting Chinese prisoners with crowd in the background

Chinese prisoner used for bayonet practice
When the Pacific War started in December 1941, Japan had already been at war in China for ten years since they  seized Manchuria in 1931. They invaded the rest of China in 1937. The most notorious atrocity occurred in December 1937 when the Japanese Army captured Nanking, the former capital, and killed over 200,000 civilians, including women, children and surrendered soldiers. Some Japanese rightists and revisionist historians have claimed the Rape of Nanking never happened, or that only soldiers were executed, or that the numbers quoted were exaggerated. They claim the women forced into prostitution in Japanese military brothels, known by the euphemism of "comfort women," were willing volunteers. Naturally this causes outrage in many Asian countries.

One former Japanese soldier, Shiro Azuma, who committed war crimes in Nanking, wrote a  book in 1987 entitled "My Nanking Platoon" in which he told of the atrocities he had witnessed, and had participated in, during the war in China. He was one of the few former Japanese soldiers to admit their participation in such killings. His full diary was published in Japan in 2001 and an English version was published in 2006. He made several trips to China to apologise and to atone in some way. He described how Japanese soldiery looked down on the Chinese as being inferior, and in the same way they felt contempt for European Prisoners of War for having surrendered. This contempt made it easier for them to be inhumane.
"We were taught that we were a superior race since we lived only for the sake of a human god  - our Emperor." (Shiro Azuma)
Occasionally they saw something to admire in their enemy. In Hong Kong when the Japanese found the body of Brigadier Lawson outside his bunker, they gave him a proper and decent burial. The idea of such a senior officer being killed in action appealed to them. When the Japanese captured the AA Battery at Stanley Gap, Colonel Doi described how two British soldiers held out, by locking themselves into an ammunition locker.
"Despite all our efforts to persuade them to surrender they refused, so we left them there overnight. The next morning, getting no response to our repeated call, we broke down the door and found that the two had killed themselves with their pistols. We buried these brave men with utmost care in hearty tribute to their souls." (Ex-Col. Doi 228th Infantry Regiment)
This act would have appealed to the Japanese psyche, it would have been seen as death before dishonour, and killing yourself rather than surrendering was the way of the warrior.

Although war crimes trials were held after the war and many were found guilty of war crimes and   subsequently imprisoned or executed; the crimes were too rampant, too commonplace and too deeply ingrained in the culture of the Japanese Army. As a result most perpetrators were never brought to justice. The country as a whole, unlike Germany, never fully atoned, people today are uncomfortable to talk about it, it is considered impolite to raise the subject. The attack on Pearl Harbour and the simultaneous attack on Hong Kong, Philippines and Malaya is still seen by some Japanese as having been a matter of survival. The narrative goes that they were being contained by the western powers, who were applying embargoes on trade and particularly on Japan's oil imports, and insisting they withdraw from Indo-China and from China. Some Japanese attempted to justify the war by saying that their actions helped liberate Asia from European colonialism.  They wanted to replace European colonialism with the Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere, Asia for the Asiatics, but under Japanese leadership and control.

It's all a long time ago now, and as they say the past is a foreign country, but the failure to atone, to admit their actions, and to genuinely apologise, is still a major issue and a sensitive subject for many Asian countries today. When I look at the photographs on the internet, like the ones posted above, and reflect on the widespread atrocities inflicted by the Japanese military, at a time that is still within living memory,  I think of that question that I struggled to answer - why did the Japanese behave this way !

German war crimes

The German Army in WW2, especially the Waffen-SS, also committed a large number of atrocities against surrendered soldiers and civilians. The mass genocide of Jewish civilians by Nazi Germany was a depravity unmatched. Nazi Germany was an authoritarian state, which like Japan, believed in racial superiority, and wanted to create a new order in Europe, in the same way that Japan wanted to create a new order in Asia.

With the new Dunkirk film showing in cinemas, I am going to highlight two massacres of surrendered British soldiers which took place in May 1940, during the fighting retreat to Dunkirk by the British Expeditionary Force (BEF). 
2nd Bn Coldstream Guards - 1st Guards Brigade arriving in Cherbourg in September 1939
The BEF arrived in France in 1939 and by May 1940 had been built up to 10 Divisions, in three Corps numbering 400,000 men. They were deployed to the Franco-Belgian border. If Germany invaded Belgium and Holland to open the way to Northern France, then British and French troops would move into Belgium to form a line that stretched from the Channel coast to the Maginot Line. On 10th May, German troops invaded the Low Countries and the BEF moved up to their deployment position on the River Dial. The BEF fought very gallantly but against overwhelming odds and were pushed back to the Channel ports. The rescue of the BEF from Dunkirk was an amazing  story. It was described as a miracle of deliverance.

The massacre of surrendered British troops at Le Paradis 27th May 1940 

During the retreat to Dunkirk some ninety-nine men of the 2nd Battalion Royal Norfolk Regiment, having been cut off from their Battalion and Brigade, and running low on ammunition surrendered to a Waffen-SS Regiment at the village of Le Paradis. The men were searched and disarmed, then led into a field and executed by machine gun fire. Two men survived Private Albert Pooley and Private William O'Callaghan. At first their tale was not believed.

When they were first captured, and whilst Pooley was being searched, and having items stolen from him, A German soldier took offence to his expression and clubbed him in the face with a rifle butt knocking out four of his teeth. The Germans had mounted two heavy machine guns in the field. When all the men were in the field an order was given to fire. O'Callaghan was shot in the arm. Pooley was shot four times with two bullet wounds in one of his legs. The firing stopped, and there was the sound of moaning from wounded and dying men. Pooley heard the sound of bayonets being fixed and then German soldiers went amongst the wounded men administering the coup de grace with bayonets and rifle fire. O' Callaghan feigned death and was passed by. Pooley lay still but a wounded soldier near him moved and shots were fired. Two of the shots hit Pooley in his already wounded leg. After nightfall, O'Callaghan dragged Pooley away from the field. The following day German soldiers forced French villagers to bury the dead. Pooley and O'Callaghan found shelter amongst some war damaged farm buildings. They survived by eating raw potatoes and drinking water from puddles. They were discovered by a French woman, Madame Duquenne-Creton who owned the ruined farm. She cleaned and bandaged their wounds and fed them.  In fear of reprisals, the head of the French village informed the Germans of the presence of the two wounded British soldiers. They were well treated by their German captors, from the regular German Army, who took them to a military hospital.

William O'Callaghan was sent to a POW camp in Poland. Albert Pooley remained in hospital in Germany until 1943 at which time he was repatriated to England. On return he told military officials about the massacre at Le Paradis but nobody believed him. They could not accept that the German Army would behave in such a manner. It was not until after the war, when O'Callaghan was repatriated, and confirmed the story given by Pooley that an official investigation began. The Commander of the unit was Lt-Col Fritz Knoechlein. 

Lt-Col Fritz KnoechleinAdd caption
Knoechlein survived the war and was traced in Germany, arrested and brought to trial in October 1948. He pleaded not-guilty on the grounds that he was not present at the execution although he did not deny the execution took place. His defence also claimed the execution was justified because the British were using dum-dum bullets and had misused a flag of truce. O'Callaghan and Pooley both gave evidence at the British Military Court in Hamburg, as did Madame Duquenne-Creton and another villager from Le Paradis.
O'Callaghan and Pooley at War Crimes Trials in Hamburg
Knoechlein was found guilty and sentenced to death by hanging. He was executed on 29th January 1949. A book entitled "The Vengeance of Private Pooley" written by Cyril Jolly was published in 1956 which describes the fighting around Le Paradis, the killing, and finally the long awaited vengeance. However, no other German soldier, not the machine gunners, nor the soldiers administering the coup de grace, nor the officers or senior NCOs that were present, were brought to trial. Some of them got away with murder.

The massacre of surrendered British troops at Wormhaudt 28th May 1940

Despite its Germanic name, Wormhoudt is a small town situated in Northern France about 12 miles southeast of Dunkirk and six miles west of the Belgian border.  In May 1941 it was on the route taken by the BEF as they fought a fighting retreat back to the Channel ports to try and avoid being cut off. The British troops consisted of members of 2nd Bn Royal Warwickshire Regiment, 4th Bn Cheshire Regiment and Worcestershire Yeomanry. They formed part of the 48th Division. Facing superior numbers, and having depleted their ammunition, a group of about one hundred surrendered  to an SS unit - the Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler. This SS unit formed part of the lead troops of the 20th Motorised Division supported by 10th Panzer Division. The surrendered soldiers were taken to a nearby barn. The SS guards acted brutally, killing wounded stragglers on the way to the barn, and beating soldiers with rifle butts. Once the prisoners were in the barn, the SS troops threw grenades into the building. In an act of self sacrifice two British NCO's Sgt Stanley Moore and CSM Augustus Jennings threw themselves on grenades to protect their men from the fragmentation blast. The guards then ordered the British to come out in groups of five, and these were then shot. A few survived including Gunner Brian Fahey who was in one of the groups of five called outside. He was shot in the back, but survived, and later managed to crawl back into the barn where there were still a number of wounded men who had survived the carnage. The senior British officer Captain Lynn-Allen died whilst trying to escape. During the massacre 80 men were killed and 15 were wounded of the wounded only six survived. Later the group of wounded men in the barn, including Gunner Fahey, were found by regular  German soldiers and given treatment for their wounds.

Wilhelme Mohnke
The officer commanding the SS unit which carried out this massacre was Wilhelm Mohnke. He never faced trial and denied that he gave orders to execute prisoners of war. The matter was referred to the War Crimes Unit, but it was a found there were insufficient grounds on which to conduct a trial against Mohnke. A number of SS witnesses had died on the Eastern Front and others refused to talk or testify - invoking the SS oath.  In 1988 Jeff Rooker, a Member of Parliament started a campaign to have the case re-opened, but this was unsuccessful on grounds of insufficient evidence. Mohnke lived out his life in Germany and died aged ninety in August 2001. Some would say he got away with murder.