Sunday, 23 October 2016

Sign my petition to object about the desecration of WW2 site in Hong Kong

In my post about pillbox 2 (PB2), on the western slopes of Jardines Lookout,  I wrote about how the Water Supplies Department of the Hong Kong Government have built an ugly eye-sore of a water pipeline supported by concrete blocks right across the front of PB2. It has been constructed between the path (Wong Nai Chung Gap Battle Trail)  and the PB. What insensitivity ! Do they not know that soldiers were killed and that the wounded were put to death in this pillbox ? Maybe not. Do they care ? This is not just a war shrine that should be respected but it is a part of Hong Kong's history and heritage so much of which has been demolished, built over and destroyed by  government departments who shows little respect for Hong Kong's heritage and history. All I am asking is that the government department (Water Supplies) re-site it on the other side of the path (less than five metres away).  The government should tidy up the sites by cutting back the  undergrowth and using information boards (which they at least do on this battle trail).  In 2009 the Antiquities and Monuments Office (AMO) accorded these sites as Grade 2 status but little care has been taken since then by the Agriculture and Fisheries Dept (AFD) who are responsible for the site. Did AFD and AMO not object or not study the detail of the plan to lay the pipeline outside PB2. These government bodies should be protecting these sites not spoiling them and not desecrating them. The crew of this PB and the adjacent pillbox (PB 1) deserve better than this.  If you agree please sign the on-line petition and share it. The link is below.


water-supplies-department-of-hong-kong-government-stop-construction-of-water-pipeline-at-pillbox-2-a-war-shrine-in-hong-kong


PB 2
The pipeline outside the front of PB2


Thursday, 13 October 2016

Following in the footsteps of Colonel Shoji's 230th Infantry Regiment advancing towards Jardines Lookout and Wong Nai Chung Gap 18th -19th December 1941

During the night of Thursday 18th December and the early hours of Friday 19th December 1941 the Japanese Army landed on the North Shore of Hong Kong Island. They landed two battalions of infantry at North Point under Colonel Shoji who commanded the 230th Infantry Regiment, two battalions at Tai Koo under Colonel Doi commanding the 228th Infantry Regiment, and two battalions around Shau Kei Wan under Colonel Tanaka commanding the 229th Infantry Regiment. Each battalion  consisted of approximately 1,000 men. In addition to the infantry -  Artillery, Engineers, Gendarmes and various other units were landed. Six thousand Japanese front-line infantry plus other support troops against one Indian infantry battalion, the 5th Battalion of the 7th Rajput Regiment commanded by Lt-Col Cadogan-Rowlinson. The result was inevitable. The Rajput battalion was largely destroyed on the north shore and the Japanese Army moved rapidly inland capturing the high ground. 

Colonel Shoji landed at North Point, by passed the Hong Kong Electric Power Station which held out until the following morning, and established his regimental HQ near the reservoir on the hills behind North Point. The pre-war map below shows the area around North Point and the reservoir. The map also shows the track known as Sir Cecil's Ride which the 230th Regiment followed to Wong Nai Chung Gap.

The North Point landing ground and the reservoir
The second map extract (below) shows the wider area to provide more context. The areas marked in red are restricted British military areas. Colonel Shoji was ordered to move towards Jardines Lookout and capture Wong Nai Chung Gap (WNC Gap). In fact almost the whole Japanese army and all six infantry battalions were converging on WNC Gap on Friday 19th December. WNC Gap can be seen on the map below in the centre of the Island and between the "G" ad the "K" in HONG KONG. This post is not about the invasion of the Island or the battle at WNC Gap and Jardines Lookout,  it's a photo composition of a re-enactment of the route taken by Colonel Shoji during the early hours of Friday 19th December from North Point to Wong Nai Chung Gap.

Pre-war map of Hong Kong Island showing the route taken by Col. Shoji
It was a sunny October day in Hong Kong and I had wanted  to follow the route taken by Shoji's troops along Sir Cecil's Ride (the Ride) which they accessed from near their Regimental HQ at the reservoir. I had often walked the Ride near Wong Nai Chung Gap but I was not familiar with the section leading from the north side of Jardines Lookout towards North Point.

The photo below shows the Chinese International School and in the  centre background is Braemar Hill Mansions, which together with Choi Sai Woo Park was built over the filled-in reservoir known as Braemar Hill Reservoir. Colonel Shoji who first saw it at night described it as a lake.
The site of the wartime reservoir
The reservoir (which was also known as Choi Sai Woo Reservoir) was built by Swire (Tai Koo Sugar Co Ltd) in 1894. A water gate with this date still remains on the northern side of the reservoir in what is now Choi Sai Woo Park.  The reservoir was purchased by Cheung Kong Group (Li Ka Shing) in 1975 and filled in to create Braemar Hill Mansions, a luxury private apartment complex on the hillside overlooking North Point and Tai Koo. The park was built some years later. The photo below taken in 1970s shows the reservoir before it was filled in and on the western side the rocky hill that I was standing on above Sir Cecil's Ride and looking down on North Point.

Braemar Hill Reservoir (Source: Flickr.com)
A Cathay Pacific Dakota crashed on the hillside to the south of the reservoir in 1949 killing all twenty-three people onboard. The plane apparently hit the 20ft wall on the north side of the reservoir. The photo below shows the crash site and the reservoir to the right.

Plane crash on hillside above the reservoir (Source: Wikiswire.com)

The photo below shows the water gate, hidden by the foliage, and bearing the date 1894 on ramparts to the north of the reservoir site.
The Water Gate showing the date 1894 in Choi Sai Woo Park
The photo below shows the entrance to Choi Sai Woo Park. It is not very large, rather long and narrow but well maintained and a quiet oasis amongst the high rise buildings and the myriad of drivers waiting outside the Chinese International School. The care-taker lady at the entry box not only spoke very good English but knew something of its war history and the plane crash.

Choi Sai Woo Park with its hidden history.
In the next photo I am on the high ground and paths lead up from where the reservoir was situated  to where I am standing on a hillock beside Sir Cecil's Ride. I am looking down on to North Point where the 230th Regiment got ashore, and overcame resistance from 'D' Coy 5th/7th Rajputs whose commanding officer Captain Newton was killed in action.

On a bolder strewn hillock near Sir Cecil's Ride  looking don onto North Point
I think the boulder strewn outcrop (above) which overlooks North Point and in 1941 overlooked Braemar Hill Reservoir is the same rocky outcrop depicted in the war time photograph below showing Japanese troops against a backdrop of Hung Hom Wan.


In the next photo I have turned round 180 degrees to look at the direction taken by the Japanese Army. They headed south along the Ride towards Jardines Lookout which can be seen in the centre of the photo. They headed off at around 0200 to 0300 hours.  When they got to the base of the north face of Jardines Lookout they sent one of two infantry companies up to the summit from different directions whilst the main bulk continued anti-clockwise around Jardines Lookout reaching Wong Nai Chung Gap (WNC Gap) just before dawn on Friday 19th December 1941.

The route taken by 230th Infantry Regiment towards Jardines Lookout and WNC Gap
The photo below is taken from the Ride looking west. Immediately below is the Causeway Bay area. the 2nd Bn 14th Punjab Regiment attacked up this slope on Friday 19th but were facing overwhelming numbers and were pushed back with heavy casualties. Large numbers of Japanese troops, supplies, artillery and support troops were using the Ride as a main supply route to WNC Gap which had been captured that morning. There were still troops holding out at  'D' Coy shelters opposite West Brigade HQ and at the two pillboxes (PBs 1 and 2) on the western slopes of Jardines Lookout.
The view from Sir Cecil's Ride near North Point looking west 
The next photo below shows a view of the Sir Cecil's Ride along which two battalions of the 230th Regiment advanced during the early hours before dawn to attack WNC Gap. They ran into resistance from three FDLs (Forward Defended Localities) manned by No. 3 Coy HKVDC, and they ran into resistance from Canadian troops (Winnipeg Grenadiers) on Jardines Lookout.

Sir Cecil's Ride
The photo below shows Jardines Lookout and I will use it to show the Canadian positions.  Lt Birkett's platoon ('HQ' Coy Winnipeg Grenadiers) with Sgt. Tom Marsh as  2i/c held the crest. Their platoon had ascended the western slope above PBs 1 and 2 and reached  the Artillery Observation Post (AOP) on the crest at dawn just as one company of Japanese infantry arrived from the north. The Canadian troops put up a gallant fight  having been blasted by mortar and swept with machine-gun fire until they were eventually overrun.   'A' Coy WG were to the left of the crest (I think they reached the hillock visible to the left and not Mt Butler or other locations described elsewhere) and were pushed back to Stanley Gap. Further left in the col between Mt Butler and Jardines Lookout a platoon commanded by Lt Charles French was positioned. They were overran and destroyed.
The north face of Jardines Lookout from Sir Cecil's Ride
This was a walk through history. I had never followed the route from North Point. I was wearing sports gear and moving fast and to my surprise it took me less than hour to get to WNC Gap from the hill above the site of the former reservoir. Colonel Shoji's battalions came along this track in the dark , carrying equipment and weapons. They would have taken longer and would have been held up by having to overcome the FDLs (referred to as JLO 1, 2 and 3) and other section posts close to WNC Gap. It probably took them between 2 and 3 hours to reach WNC Gap.

The loss of WNC Gap was crucial. Counterattacks were made throughout Friday 19th and through to 21st but all of them failed to regain the Gap. This was the beginning of the end. It was only a matter of time. The Allied troops now had to fight a losing battle, and hold on for as long as they could, which they did, until the surrender on 25th December 1941. 


………..

Thursday, 6 October 2016

Pillbox 2 on Jardines Lookout - Desecration of a war shrine

I recently walked along  the Wong Nai Chung Gap Battle Trail on Jardines Lookout, as I got to Pillbox 2 (PB2) I noticed a lot of construction work going on. I found that the Water Supplies Dept. of the HK Government have constructed an ugly water pipeline, with large concrete blocks acting as support stanchions, right outside the front of PB2 marring the view of the pillbox from the popular battle trail. There were so many other places they could have laid this pipeline rather than laying it across the front of the PB. They could, for example, have laid it on the other side of the path, just a few metres away, rather than across the front of the PB.

Why is this important? It's important because this PB and the one higher up the hill (PB1) can be considered war shrines and part of Hong Kong's history and heritage. A number of soldiers died at these two pillboxes on Friday 19th December 1941 following the Japanese landings on Hong Kong Island during the night of 18th/19th December. The crews of these two pillboxes fought gallantly all day against overwhelming odds. The non-walking wounded were put to death in PB2 by the Japanese after the remaining survivors of the two PBs had surrendered. The handful of defenders who surrendered were all to some extent wounded and they were down to their last ammunition. Others had been killed in action at or around the two pillboxes. Some had managed to extricate and continue the fight from elsewhere. The soldiers were drawn from the HK Volunteer Defence Corps and from the Canadian Winnipeg Grenadiers. The area around these two PBs was a battlefield and it seems to me like a desecration or war remains by a government department. No doubt the planner in the Govt. Dept. responsible  for the construction ……...either (1) knew nothing about the military structure and did not bother to enquire, or, (2) did not think it was important. I immediately wrote to the South China Morning Post Letters Page and invited the Water Supplies Department to explain which of course they did not.

PB 2

The pipeline laid right outside PB2

Marring the view and tantamount to a desecration

Construction work outside the PB

Will this be next - the battle scarred PB 1 a little higher up the hillside

The culprits - the Water Supplies Department
Letter published in SCMP dated Saturday 15th October
The letter was published on 15th October. On Monday 17th October I went with an SCMP reporter and photographer to the site of the two PBs. The SCMP produced an  article which was published on Saturday 22nd October.

Article published in SCMP 22nd October 2016
On the same day I launched an on-line petition with a view to collecting a thousand signatures that I thought would be the minimum needed to provide me a mandate to continue and escalate the objection. We quite quickly got to around 600 supporters - there are currently around 620 but well short of the minimum 1,000 targeted. I found that over 2,000 people opened and reviewed the petition,  but a much smaller number signed it, although I understand a lot of people are uncomfortable to put their name in the public domain in this way.  The petition can be accessed by clicking the link below.

water-supplies-department-of-hong-kong-government-stop-construction-of-water-pipeline-at-pillbox-2-a-war-shrine-in-hong-kong

The Water Supplies Dept. have confirmed to SCMP that the pipeline is permanent, they came up with a weak excuse as to why it was not buried i.e, that it might disturb the structures. Actually they don't need to bury it - all they need to do is to move it five metres to the other side of the path. They claim that since it is not less than 2 metres from the pillbox they are within their rights to lay the pipeline in front of the PB. I notice they have not finished the construction, but they are doing work all around this area. I don't know whether they have paused because of the complaint but I doubt it.

On Tuesday 8th November 2016 I accompanied a Chinese press reporter and photographer from Metro Daily to the site and told them the story and hopefully their article will create further support. RTHK have expressed an interest on doing a story on the issue of the PBs.  In a way this is  not just about the two  PBs on Jardines Lookout - its about the disregard for other war structures and for Hong Kong's history and heritage generally. Many of these war structures remain in the rural areas, but in the urban areas most have been demolished. Of those that remain most are overgrown with trees and vegetation and are uncared for. What the government  could be doing is cutting back the vegetation putting up information boards and ensuring the protection of these war sites. I would not advocate, renovating them, painting them or cementing them over.  I think they should be left as they are in their aged and authentic form to be viewed and through information boards better understood.

The crews of these two pillboxes and especially those that died at PB2 deserve better than this.


…………………..



Thursday, 22 September 2016

Mount Davis - A walk among the ruins

Mount Davis is a prominent hill feature situated at the western end of Hong Kong Island. It commands the western approaches to the harbour and not surprisingly it was occupied by the military who first established a coastal defense battery (Fort Davis) in 1912 consisting of five 9.2-inch coastal defense guns.  

Wartime map showing Mount Davis
The close-up below shows the winding military road running up to the fort from Victoria Road. During WW2 there were three 9.2-inch guns at Fort Davis and two 3-inch AA guns. Two of the original five 9.2-inch guns were relocated to Stanley Fort. In December 1941, the 9.2-inch battery at Fort Davis was under the command of Major Eric Anderson 24th Coast Battery, 12th Coast Regiment, Royal Artillery,  and formed part of Western Fire Command.  Western Fire Command had its HQ at Fort Davis. The AA guns were commanded by Lt G. Wedderburn, 17th Heavy AA Battery, Royal Artillery. After the surrender he escaped from POW Camp in February 1942 and made his way to Free China.

Just below Mount Davis on the shoreline was Jubilee Battery armed with three 6-inch guns but far too low and blocked by terrain to be able to fire inland. 

Close up showing the restricted military area in red
One fine September day, I decided to take a stroll up to the fort, having not been up there for some time, and I wanted to take some photographs of the wartime structures and gun emplacements. At the bottom of Mount Davis Road, at the foot of Mount Davis, is a charming long colonial building called Felix Villas. There were originally two blocks on either side of Mount Davis Road. They were built in 1922 and residents enjoyed the leafy surrounds with wonderful sea views and sun sets. They were originally described as flats, but they seem to be what we would call today terraced town houses. They are occupied by tenants who no doubt appreciate the high ceilings, the fire places, the balustrades,  the colonial charm and the long sea views. 

Felix Mansions
Colonial elegance
The blocks were called Felix Villas after the British  property developer  Felix Alexander Joseph who was born in Hong Kong in 1890, son of Saul Albert Joseph also a long term resident of Hong Kong. Felix died in 1950 in France. He was not in Hong Kong during WW2. I noticed there were two or three elderly internees during WW2 with the surname Joseph but I'm not sure if they are related. Felix married Gladys Enid Abelson (1904-1976). The Army commandeered Felix Villas once war started.  It was used as accommodation for the gunners. Mount Davis was one of the most heavily bombed and shelled locations in Hong Kong during the fighting in December 1941.

After walking up the military road I noticed a ruined military structure on the hillside. It could be the guardhouse - although it seemed a bit too low down the hill to be the location of the guardroom and gate to the fort.

Military structure - could this be the guardhouse ?
Further up the road, but before reaching the No. 1 Gun emplacement. There was another set of military structures on the hillside above the road. This fitted more with descriptions I have seen of where the guardroom and gate was located. The photo below shows signs of the original camouflage paint on this structure. This same colour camouflage pattern can be seen on other WW2 structures in Hong Kong.

Wartime camouflage paint pattern still evident
I then came to the ruined and war damaged No.1 Gun emplacement. The view from the gun site  is obscured by the trees. There were no trees on this hillside in 1941 and the gun emplacements and their Battery Observation Posts (BOPs) had an unobstructed view. Just behind the battery hidden on the hillside is what appears to be a BOP with what looks like an a concrete structure for the range finder. 

No 1 Gun Emplacement
No. 1 Gun Emplacement 
The 9.2-inch guns were designed for coastal defense and not for land firing. They were powerful guns that could fire a 350-pound shell more than 20 kilometers. They ensured that the Japanese Navy stayed well out of range. However their normal ammunition consisted of armour-piercing shells for targeting enemy warships. There was a shortage of High Explosive (HE) and shrapnel shells (anti-personnel) that were needed for firing at land targets and Japanese infantry positions. The guns could traverse and fire landwards, and they were used very effectively in this role, although it was not what they were designed for.

Entry to the lower floor of Port War Signal Station
A little way past No. 1 Gun a path leads up to to a two-storey structure which was the Port War Signal Station - operated by the Royal Navy half way up the hillside of Mount Davis. The path leads to the entry portal to the lower storey by way of  a high sided concrete passageway shown above.


Top floor of RN Signal Station
Continuing up the military road I came to the No. 2 Gun emplacement with its high concrete screen.  There is a splinter proof war shelter behind it at road level. 


No. 2 Gun concrete screen

No. 2 Gun Emplacement

No 3 Gun (the "pet" of the battery) 
Battery Observation Post with war damaged collapsed roof.

Battery buildings


Ruins of battery buildings

Fragmentation damage

Wartime fragmentation damage

Battery buildings
The No. 3 gun was the "pet" of the battery because it was the highest gun and was most effective at landward firing. On the 24th of December a force of fifty gunners was assembled from Jubilee and Fort Davis to fight as infantry in Wan Chai as Fortress HQ desperately looked for additional troops for the front line. After the surrender on 25th December the battery personnel remained at Mount Davis continuing to use  Felix Villas for accommodation. The Japanese arrived and took over the fort on 27th December. On 28th December the battery personnel were marched to Victoria Barracks and ferried, then marched, to Sham Shui Po Camp on 30th December. 


………………………...







Tuesday, 19 July 2016

Major-General Christopher Michael Maltby, CB, MC, DL

Christopher Michael Maltby, known as 'Michael', was born 13th January 1891 in Kensington, London. He was educated at Bedford School, and at the age of nineteen he entered the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich as an Officer Cadet. In 1910, as a subaltern, he was posted to the 1st Battalion Royal Sussex Regiment in India. He sailed on the trooper HMT Dongola. In December 1911 he joined the 95th Russell's Infantry a regiment of the British Indian Army. He served with the Indian Army until July 1941 when he arrived in Hong Kong to take up the unenviable job (in hindsight) of being General Officer Commanding (GOC) British Troops in China. He was the military commander of an isolated outpost, which the British were willing to sacrifice, albeit not without a cost, because as Churchill famously acknowledged there was "not the slightest chance" of being able to defend it.

"If Japan goes to war there is not the slightest chance of holding Hong Kong or relieving it.  It is most unwise to increase the loss we shall suffer there.  Instead of increasing the garrison it ought to be reduced.  Japan will think twice before declaring war on the British Empire, and whether there are two or six battalions at Hong Kong will make no difference.  I wish we had fewer troops there, but to move any would be noticeable and dangerous.”  (Winston Churchill in January 1941 to General Hastings Ismay).


Major-General Maltby as Military Commander and Sir Mark Young as Governor and Commander-in-Chief had the difficult task of formally surrendering the Crown Colony of Hong Kong to the Japanese on 25th December 1941. The battle had been short but brutal lasting eighteen days. The photograph below of the surrender formality at the Peninsula Hotel by candlelight shows General Maltby seated to the right. To the left is Lt-Col 'Monkey' Stewart  commanding officer of 1st Bn Middlesex Regiment and seated behind him with the extravagant moustache is Wing Commander Hubert Thomas 'Alf' Bennet. He was a Japanese linguist working with Major Boxer in the Intelligence unit known as Far East Combined Bureau. It was Alf Bennet and Monkey Stewart  who had first walked out, with the flag of truce, to conduct the surrender, but the Japanese had insisted that Major-General Maltby and Sir Mark Young attend in person. Sir Mark is out of the photograph to the left, and may have been speaking, as people are looking in his direction. Sir Mark asked that the photographer be removed, and the Japanese obliged, but already some photographs including this one had been  taken. 

Major-General Maltby at the Surrender 25th December 1941
Major-General Maltby conversing with Brigadier John Lawson in Hong Kong before the war 
In WW1 Lt Maltby continued to serve with the 95th Russell's Infantry Regiment. He was wounded on three occasions, Mentioned in Dispatches thrice, and in 1916 he was awarded the Military Cross (MC) for gallantry in the field.  He served initially in the Persian Gulf and later in Mesopotamia and from 1918 to 1919 he served in Salonika, capital of Greek Macedonia. He had attained the rank of Acting Major by the time the war ended. After the war Maltby attended the Indian Army Staff Course at Quetta in 1923 and the RAF Staff Course at Andover in 1927.


He married Helene Margaret Napier-Clavering in June 1927 at St Mary's Church in Taunton, Somerset. He was aged 36 and she was aged 26 at the time of their wedding. Both families had connections with India and she had been born in India. Maltby continued his service in the Indian Army,  serving twice on the dangerous North West Frontier. He was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel in 1934 and to full Colonel in 1938. In 1939 he was promoted to Brigadier and commanded the 3rd Jhelum Brigade, then the Calcutta Brigade and finally the 19th Indian Infantry Brigade in Deccan before being sent to Hong Kong as GOC in the acting rank of Major-General.

After the surrender Maltby was incarcerated as a prisoner of war in Hong Kong for three and a half years until liberation in August 1945 firstly in Sham Shui Po POW Camp and secondly in Argyle Street Officers Camp. Later  he was moved to Formosa and finally to Manchuria with other senior officers. The photograph below shows Major-General Maltby looking thin and strained but happy following his release from POW Camp.  


Maltby (carrying a Japanese sword) with American soldiers following his release from POW Camp 
Luba Estes sent me a photo of a sketch of Major-General Maltby that her father Lt Alec Skvorzov, HKVDC drew whilst they were incarcerated in Sham Shui Po Camp. 

Drawing by Lt Alexander Skvorzov (Courtesy of Luba Estes) 
Twenty years after the war, in 1965,  Michael Maltby attended an Argyle Street Camp reunion as did Alec Skvorzov and Maltby signed the original sketch.  Many of Alec Skvorzov's sketches of Sham Shui Po Camp can be seen in a compilation of sketches published in 1948 under the title Chinese Ink and Brush Sketches of Prisoner of War Camp Life in Hong Kong.



After being repatriated to UK, Maltby retired from the British Indian Army in June 1946.  He was affirmed in the honorary rank of Major-General, which had been a temporary rank during the war. His Report on Operations in Hong Kong (which went through several drafts) was published in January 1948. He was made Deputy Lord Lieutenant of the County of Somerset and a Companion of the Order of the Bath (CB). He spent his retirement near Taunton, Somerset. He and Helene lived in a modest country cottage called Greenacre, in the village of Shoreditch on the outskirts of Taunton. A search on the internet shows the property. An old cottage with low ceilings, built close to what then was a minor  road, with a large garden at the side and rear.  Michael Maltby returned from a distinguished military career spent in far-off India, having fought in two world wars and numerous skirmishes. Like many British Indian Army officers he  retired to the English countryside and lived quietly. He did not write his memoirs and unlike public figures today he did not charge large sums of money to appear on the lecture circuit.  Helene died in 1974 aged seventy-four. At the time of her death they had been married for forty-seven years. Mike Maltby died aged eighty-nine at Taunton in September 1980.  Michael and Helen Maltby had two daughters Ann Margaret (1928) an Barbara Helen Jessie (1931).

Michael Maltby must have sometimes wondered, did he hold out long enough in Hong Kong, should he have done things differently, did he have the right strategy, but at the end of the day, as he himself said, he and his force had been a "hostage to fortune."


Photo of Major-General Maltby  from "Passport to Eternity" (1956)  by Ralph Goodwin 

…………………………...

Acknowledgements:

James Barnes for additional information sources
Luba Estes for sketch of Michael Maltby drawn by her father Lt A.V. Skvorzov, HKVDC


Further Reading:

Article on Major--General Maltby by Tony Banham in Dictionary of Hong Kong Biography (2012) edited by May Holdsworth and Christopher Munn




Wednesday, 13 July 2016

Walter Fryatt, Winnipeg Grenadiers

Walter Butcher Fryatt was born in York, England on 22nd November 1900. He was the youngest of eight siblings. He was killed in action on 21st December 1941 while serving as Company Sergeant Major (CSM) of 'B' Coy Winnipeg Grenadiers in the Battle for Hong Kong. This is an attempt to put together some details of his life, and through feedback from readers I hope that I can add more to this story. This is also a tribute to a Canadian soldier who died in Hong Kong in the service of his country. 

He married Florence May Firth in 1925 in Barnsley, Yorkshire. They had four children Walter Dennis (1926-1996), Jean Margaret (1927-1933), Robert (1934-2011) and Joan who was born in 1938. Florence May Fryatt died in Manitoba, Canada in 2004 having reached the age of 100 years. She lived on for  nearly sixty-three years after she lost her husband in December 1941. As far as I can see she never remarried. She lost her second born child,  Jean Margaret aged six, in 1933. 

Walter Fryatt joined the King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry (KOYLI) in World War 1. He served with this unit from June 1917 until October 1919. In 1922 he joined the York & Lancashire Regiment until 1925. In 1927 he served with the Green Howards  referred to as the Yorkshire Regiment. He was a Yorkshireman and a soldier.

He emigrated to Canada in 1928. I don't think he had a very happy childhood and he did not keep contact with his remaining family in Yorkshire after he left England.  I found a record of him traveling on the White Star liner  RMS Cedric in August 1928 as part of the Harvesters Scheme for Manitoba in which immigrants were recruited to work as farm laborers in the Canadian farm belt. He sailed from Liverpool to Halifax, Nova Scotia to make a new start for his young family. 

RMS Cedric
I found a record of Florence May traveling in 1930 from Liverpool to Quebec on the White Star Liner Albertic. A beautiful ship but Florence like Walter travelled Third Class. She was traveling with her two oldest children Walter Dennis and Jean Margaret. She had two more children after reaching Canada.

The family settled in Winnipeg, the capital of Manitoba. Walter was later employed as an Operator for the Winnipeg Electric Company. After arriving in Canada Walter joined the Winnipeg Grenadiers which at that time was a militia  unit. His military records show that he completed annual training from 1931 to 1937. On the outbreak of war in September 1939 he re-joined the Winnipeg Grenadiers on a full time or mobilized basis and was quickly promoted  to CSM given his previous military experience. In June 1940 he sailed for Jamaica with the Grenadiers where the regiment undertook garrison duties. He returned to Canada in 1941 just before the Grenadiers were sent to Hong Kong in November 1941.

In Hong Kong he served as CSM of 'B' Coy which was under the command of Major Henry Hook. Three weeks after arriving in Hong Kong war started with Japan. Initially the Canadian troops were based at Sham Shui Po Barracks in Kowloon. When war started the Grenadiers were deployed to their war stations on Hong Kong Island. 'B' Coy were deployed at Pok Fu Lam Reservoir on the south western side of Hong Kong Island.

Many of the splinter proof war shelters that housed the Coy's three platoons and the Coy HQ still remain, with one string of shelters located north of the reservoir, and another string in a ravine to the west of the reservoir.

Pok Fu Lam Reservoir

War shelter across a ravine occupied by 'B' Coy WG in December 1941

'B' Coy WG  shelters as they appear today 

A steel door survives the test of time
The Japanese landed three infantry regiments on the north shore of Hong Kong Island on Thursday 18th December 1941. By Friday 19th December they had captured Mt Parker, Mt Butler, Jardines Lookout, Stanley Gap Road and the police station at Wong Nai Chung (WNC) Gap. Counterattacks were made throughout the 19th, 20th and 21st to try and regain WNC  Gap  but all efforts failed as the Japanese were there in overwhelming strength.

On Saturday 20th December 'B' Coy were ordered to report to Battalion HQ at Wan Chai Gap and thereafter to counterattack WNC Gap by way of Blacks Link, a road track linking WNC Gap and Wan Chai Gap. The attack commenced in the afternoon and the Coy proceeded down Black's Link led by Major Henry Hook, CSM Walter Fryatt and Sgt Ken Porter. Having passed Middle Gap, about one third of the way along Black's Link, they came under attack from a Japanese patrol and incurred a number of casualties.  The Coy withdrew to Middle Gap, and the attack was to resume at dawn the next day. The Coy spent an uncomfortable night in the open with low temperatures and rain.

The Japanese by this time had a large number of troops on Mount Nicholson which overlooked Black's Link and they were able to fire down on Black's Link. Lt Hugh Young and CSM Walter Fryatt were both killed by machine gun fire on Blacks Link whilst trying to press forward to reach WNC Gap during the morning on Sunday 21st December. Florence May Fryatt was not officially notified of Walter's death until 1943. He has no known grave although his name is remembered on a panel at Sai Wan Military Cemetery.

Florence May was survived by two of her children (Robert and Joan). At the time of her death she had eight grandchildren, thirteen great-grandchildren and one great-great-grandchild.


………………..