Wednesday, 12 July 2017

HMS Thanet (Monthly Blog - July 2017)

HMS Thanet was ordered in 1917 from the Tyneside ship builders Hawthorn Leslie, a company established  in 1866 by the amalgamation of A. Leslie & Co. (shipbuilders) at Hebburn-on-Tyne and R & W Hawthorn (locomotive manufacturers) at Newcastle-upon-Tyne. She was one of sixty-seven S-class destroyers ordered for the Royal Navy during WW1. Her keel was laid down in December 1917. She was completed and launched on 5th November 1918 just a week before WW1 ended. She completed her sea trials and was commissioned in August 1919. HMS Thracian, a destroyer of the same class, which fought in the Battle for Hong Kong, and HMS Kelly, commanded by Lord Louis Mountbatten, were also built at Hawthorn Leslie's shipbuilding yard on the Tyne.

HMS Thanet
Thanet displaced 1,075 tons and had a top speed of 36 knots. She was equipped with three quick firing (QF) 4-inch guns, one forward, one amidships (between the funnels) and one astern. In addition she had a pom-pom gun for AA defence, and two sets of twin torpedoes tubes. She had a usual complement of around ninety-six men and six officers. Her pennant number was H29, and her motto in hoc signo vinces, translated from Latin as in this sign you will conquer. After commissioning, Thanet was used for trials of aircraft platforms on warships, presumably with the platform extended over her lengthy stern section. In December 1919 she visited the Isle of Thanet in North East Kent. A British Pathe film clip records the officers and men visiting Ramsgate, at which time time the civic authorities of Thanet, and the three main towns, including Margate and Ramsgate, and presumably Broadstairs, presented the ship with silverware.

After the carnage of the Great War, the League of Nations had been established with the object  of ensuring peace through a combination of dispute resolution, disarmament, and arms control. People thought that the Great War had been the war to end all wars. Troops were de-mobilised, and ships were de-commissioned. HMS Thanet was a brand new warship, but the war was over and she was surplus to needs, and in 1921, Thanet was mothballed and placed in the reserve fleet. I have not been able to find out  how long she spent in the reserve fleet, but  in 1939 she was dispatched to the Far East where she joined the small RN force based in Hong Kong. She was commanded by Lt-Cdr John Mowlam from February 1939 until April 1941, at which time Cdr Bernard Davies took command of the Hong Kong based destroyer. 

  Jaunty caps, well turned out, good drill - the ship's company of HMS Thanet at the march-past in pre-war Hong Kong
By the time the Pacific War started there were three S-class destroyers stationed in Hong Kong. These were HMS Thanet,  HMS Scout and HMS Thracian. There were eight MTBs and four river gunboats. The largest gunboats were HMS Cicala and HMS Moth. They were well armed with two 6-inch guns, one 3-inch high angle (HA) gun, and a pom-pom gun. There were a variety of boom defence vessels, and the minelayer, HMS Redstart, which was used for laying contact mines, remote controlled mines and indicator loops. There were a number of converted launches and tugs, described as auxiliary patrol vessels (APVs) and manned by the HKRNVR. They were used for conducting minefield patrols, minesweeping and war patrols. The APVs were slow and lightly armed and once war started they were of little use militarily.

The main naval and military presence in the Far East was in Singapore. Hong Kong was seen as an isolated outpost and a strategic liability. Churchill knew it could not be defended. It was too close to Japanese aircraft bases in Formosa and Southern China and the Japanese had several divisions across the border. This explains the weakness of the Royal Navy and RAF in Hong Kong in the lead up to war. On the day war started, 8th December, 1941, Thracian, which had been converted into a minelayer role by clearing its rear gun and adding minelaying racks to its stern-quarters, was laying mines in Port Shelter guarded by ThanetScout was in dry-dock at Tai Koo  having its bottom plates cleaned. HMS Moth and HMAPV Margaret were in dry-dock at the RN dockyard. These two vessels never got out, and were later scuttled in the dock, and played no part in the battle.

There was a plan that in the event of war breaking out Thanet and Scout would sail to Singapore and join Force Z, which had arrived in Singapore on 2nd December 1941, and consisted of  the battleship HMS Prince of Wales and the battlecruiser HMS Repulse and their escorting destroyers. This plan had been agreed with the US naval authorities and included a commitment for some US warships to be sent to Singapore.

After nightfall on Monday 8th December Scout and Thanet sailed through the gates of the anti-submarine  boom at Lye Mun. Since Lt-Cdr  Davies on Thanet was more senior than Lt-Cdr Lambton on Scout,  Thanet took the lead as senior ship. Whilst on passage to Manila they spent some time looking for SS Ulysses which had left Hong Kong on Sunday with passengers bound first for Manila and then Singapore. Ulysses had sent a distress signal after being bombed and strafed by Japanese aircraft on Monday. She was undamaged and changed course for Singapore. She arrived safely in Singapore, but was sunk by a U-boat off the Carolinas while on passage to UK. 

After docking in Manila the destroyer crews learnt that Prince of Wales and Repulse had been sunk by Japanese aircraft. The task force had been sent up the east coast of Malaya to intercept Japanese landings but lacked air cover. The new aircraft carrier HMS Indomitable should have been part of Force Z, but was being repaired following a grounding in the Caribbean Sea. The two destroyers then proceeded to Batavia, now known as Jakarta, and thence to Singapore arriving on 13th December.

The two destroyers were involved initially in escort work around the Straits of Singapore. On Christmas Day Thanet was sent out on an SOS mission to pick up the crew of a Catalina that had been shot down by Japanese AA fire. The crew were picked up by a Dutch submarine before Thanet arrived. On 26th January 1942, a Japanese troop convoy was reported to be approaching Endau, on the east coast of Malaya, north of the town of Mersing, and by leap-frogging down the coast by use of troop landings, the Japanese Army were outflanking the British  and getting closer to Singapore.

Map showing location of Endau relative to Singapore
The Japanese vessels and their destroyer escorts were attacked first by nine RAF Lockheed Hudson bombers and twelve Vickers Vildebeests. The Vildebeests were obsolete torpedo bombers with a maximum speed of 100 mph. The attack was not successful and five of the Vildebeests were shot down. 
Lockheed Hudson 

Later that day, on 26th January, HMS Thanet and HMAS Vampire were ordered to sail from Singapore to intercept the Japanese convoy at Endau some eighty miles north of Singapore.  In the early hours of 27th January they sighted a Japanese warship, thought to be a destroyer, and Vampire fired at her with torpedoes, which missed the target. The Japanese vessel turned out to be a minesweeper and the torpedoes probably passed underneath her shallow hull. A short while later they sighted the  Japanese destroyer IJN Shirayuki, and  Vampire fired two more torpedoes which also missed their target. Thanet then launched her four torpedoes, which also missed. The two Allied destroyers then engaged the Japanese vessels with their 4-inch QF guns. Shirayuki was then joined by the Japanese cruiser Sendai. Outgunned and outnumbered, the two Allied destroyers then started to withdraw towards the southeast. At 0400 hours Thanet was hit in the engine room, lost propulsion and was brought to a stop. Vampire commenced laying a protective smokescreen, but it was too late, Thanet was already sinking. The Japanese destroyers, Fubuki, Hatsuyuki, Asagiri, Amagiri, and Yugiri closed in for the kill. Thanet sunk within fifteen minutes of being hit. Vampire was undamaged, but facing a strong Japanese naval force, had no opportunity to assist Thanet by picking up her survivors, and accordingly, she disengaged and sailed back to Singapore.

After the order was given to abandon ship, it is thought there was enough time for most of Thanet's  crew to get off the ship and into the water. Many were able to get aboard Carley floats, others hanging on to anything that could float, they started paddling, and pushing their rafts towards the Malayan coast. Reports suggest that the Shirayuki picked up thirty-one of Thanet's crew members. They were landed at Endau and handed over to the Army. None of these men were seen again and it is assumed they were all executed by the Japanese Army as an act of retaliation for Japanese losses in an ambush with Australian troops. One of the Thanet officers, Sub-Lt R.H. Danger, the ship's Torpedo Officer, remained on Shirayuki, it is not clear why, perhaps he was wounded, perhaps they wanted to interrogate him as to presence of minefields.  He was later interned in Indochina, and he survived the war.

The web site for Force-Z survivors, highlighted below, details some one hundred and thirteen crew members, including some Chinese stewards and cooks, and identifies those that were killed in action on 27th January 1941. There are thirty-seven listed as killed and their details are also shown in Commonwealth War Graves Commissions records. Thirty of those thirty-seven listed as killed on 27th January must have been in the group picked up by Shirayuki and the remaining seven may have perished when the ship sank, or they may have failed to make it ashore and drowned, or a combination of both or died whilst trying to make their way south to Singapore.

Some seventy-six members of the crew survived the sinking, and made it to the shore including the commanding officer. A large number,  I have not found the exact number, but reports suggest more than fifty of the crew made it back to Singapore ahead of the surrender of Singapore on 15th February 1942. Five crew members are listed as having died in POW Camps. I can not find details of how many ended up in POW camps or where the camps were. Some of the POWs may have been caught in Singapore at the surrender, some may have been captured in Malaya whilst trying to escape south to Singapore.

When the survivors reached the shore they were spread out widely, and therefore split in different groups. Few of them had any footwear or much clothing. They all headed southwards immediately determined to get back to Singapore more than eighty miles away. Some went along the jungle shore following the coast. Some found boats. Some went along roads through the jungle towards Johore. They ran into various RAF aircrew who had been shot down and who were also heading south for the relative safety of Singapore with the Japanese advancing behind them. Sgt Charles MacDonald had been shot down in his Vildebeest, most likely in the attack on the same group of enemy landing ships and destroyers at Endau. He recalled coming across a number of Thanet survivors. They joined up and made their way through the jungle to Singapore. Sgt Harry Lockwood had been shot down in a Fairly Albacore. He recalled meeting up with six Thanet survivors who were heading to Singapore. Two RAF officers who had ditched their aircraft north of Mersing, found a boat which they used to cross the Mersing River. They then ran into a group of Thanet survivors. They joined up, and used the boat to go south, rowing at night and sleeping ashore during the day. They were eventually picked up by a coaster and taken to Singapore.  In another incident, RAF pilot John Fleming had ditched in the sea. He swam ashore and started heading south. He swam the Mersing River and after continuing southwards came across a large group of Thanet survivors, some of which he recalled had been badly injured. They found a whaler and used the boat to sail down the coast. At one point they were hailed by another group of Thanet survivors who were with two aircrew from a shot-down Vildebeest. They were taken onboard and they continued down the coast eventually reaching Singapore.

Between fifty and sixty survivors trickled back to Singapore all having made incredible escapes, some by land and some by sea. The Naval Historical Society of Australia web site states that some of the survivors were allocated to HMS Stronghold and HMS Sultan. The former was another S-class destroyer which was sank in March 1942, the latter was the RN shore base in Singapore. Any of the Thanet crew deployed there would have most likely ended up in POW Camp. Other sources state that a number of Thanet survivors together with other Force Z survivors got away on HMS Endeavour which was reportedly one of the last evacuation ships to get away from Singapore before the surrender.

The gallant Thanet (Naval Historical Society of Australia)
It has been difficult piecing this story together, particularly as it relates to the escape to Singapore and the fate of the survivors. As usual I would appreciate any comments, corrections or additional information that I can build into this post. I have a spreadsheet for the crew list which I will add to as I get more information on each crew member. As for the gallant Thanet, she still rests in that watery grave off the east coast of Malaysia. Recreational divers have reported diving on Thanet, lying at a depth of some 20 metres, and stating that she was immediately recognisable, although broken in two, by her three sets of single barrelled 4-inch guns which still stand and still seem to whisper by this sign I will conquer. 



Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Following the route taken by 'D' Coy Royal Rifles of Canada (Monthly Blog June 2017)

Following the route taken by 'D' Coy Royal Rifles of Canada on Saturday 20th December 1941 

It was a wet week in Hong Kong, which had started with a No. 8 typhoon. The nine-day weather forecast predicted nothing but intermittent storms. On Saturday 17th June I set out in the relentless rain to follow the route taken by 'D' Coy Royal Rifles of Canada during an attack made through Repulse Bay View in an anti-clockwise direction around Violet Hill. The annotated war time maps below show the route taken by 'D' Coy, as deduced from reading the battalion war diary combined with on-the-ground re-enactment. Take a close look at these two maps, and then let's follow the route taken by this company along the catchments to the point where they made a surprise attack on a Japanese mobile battery positioned at Gauge Basin in the afternoon of 20th December 1941.

Stage 1:  Stanley View to Repulse Bay View
Stage 2: Repulse Bay View to Gauge Basin
By way of background, the Japanese landed on the north shore of the Island on the night of Thursday 18th and Friday 19th December 1941. The landing force included three infantry regiments (228th, 229th, and 230th) of the 38th Division of the Imperial Japanese Army. Each regiment utilised two of their three battalions. The 3rd battalion initially remaining on the Mainland and under Divisional command. Each battalion consisted of 1,000 men. They landed between North Point and Shau Kei Wan. They were augmented by artillery, engineers, gendarmes and other support troops. They moved quickly inland having overrun the Indian infantry battalion (5th/7th Rajputs) responsible for the defence of that sector of the Island shore. All six infantry battalions converged from different directions on Wong Nai Chung (WNC) Gap, a strategic central point on the Island. The first battalion to arrive at WNC Gap were from Colonel Shoji's 230th Regiment which had landed at North Point and proceeded along Sir Cecil's Ride through the night. One battalion was sent up Jardine's Lookout and one continued to WNC Gap. At dawn on Friday 19th the lead troops had seized WNC Gap Police Station situated on a knoll at the gap, they had surrounded the Advanced Dressing Station (ADS) situated in three splinter proof shelters at the top of Blue Pool Road where it intersected with WNC Gap Road, half way between the police station knoll and West Infantry Brigade HQ. They also captured the AA battery at Stanley Gap. The leading troops had suffered many casualties when PB 1 on the western slopes of Jardine's Lookout had opened fire in the early light of dawn. Later that morning (Friday 19th December) West Brigade HQ found itself on the front line. Brigadier Lawson and his brigade staff were trapped in their cluster of splinter proof shelters north off WNC Gap and facing Jardine's Lookout. At approximately 1000 hours Brigadier Lawson called Major-General Maltby, in his underground bunker referred to as the Battle Box,  to say he was going to try and fight his way out. As he rushed out with a small group of Brigade staff he was shot in the legs by machine gun fire and bled to death in front of his shelters. 

During Friday 19th December a number of counterattacks were made to recapture WNC Gap and to relieve the Brigadier and his HQ not realising that he was already dead. The counterattacks were made by different units from different directions and included Royal Engineers, Royal Navy, Royal Artillery, Royal Scots and Winnipeg Grenadiers. These counterattacks were courageously prosecuted, but were unsuccessful because they were made against well-entrenched Japanese positions who were there in significantly superior numbers. On Friday and Saturday the Japanese had four battalions of infantry at or around WNC Gap.

East Infantry Brigade had spent the whole day on Friday 19th December withdrawing from the eastern sector of the Island in order to avoid being cut off by the rapidity of the Japanese advance. In the process they lost most of their mobile artillery, because the batteries found themselves on the front line and there were no lorries to tow the 6-inch and 4.5-inch howitzers out of their positions and there were no mules to transport the 3.7-inch howitzers. Only one howitzer was successfully withdrawn to Stanley. This was the 3.7-inch howitzer at Tai Tam Fork Battery. The loss of so much of the mobile artillery would have a huge cost in East Infantry Brigade's subsequent counterattacks which were made with inadequate mortar and artillery support. On Friday night the withdrawal to the Stanley perimeter was completed. The next day, on Saturday 20th,  East Brigade would counterattack WNC Gap in an effort to join hands with West Brigade. That was the plan, and now everything depended on Brigadier Wallis and East Infantry Brigade to break through. 

The Brigade advanced early the next morning from Stanley View to Repulse Bay. However what was not known is that time, was that during the night Colonel Tanaka had taken two infantry battalions along the catch-water from WNC Gap Reservoir to Middle Spur. He had also sent troops up and over Violet Hill. In the early hours he had captured Middle Spur which overlooked Repulse Bay and his lead troops had come down paths emerging on Repulse Bay Road. They seized the roadblock at the junction of Repulse Bay Road and Island Road and one unit moved eastwards to Repulse Bay. In doing this, the Japanese had cut the Island in two, and now had a continuous line from the landing grounds on the north shore up Mount Parker Road, down to Gauge Basin, along Stanley Gap Road, and along the water catchment known as Violet Hill Path to Middle Spur and the road junction Repulse Bay Road/Island Road. 

Japanese troops infiltrating into Repulse Bay were spotted by the small garrison at Repulse Bay Hotel and fired on. The Japanese took cover in the hotel garage block, now a Ferrari showroom. As East Brigade arrived at Repulse Bay they were fired on by Japanese troops in the garage block. An 18-pdr field gun from 965 Defence Battery located at Stanley View was utilised to fire on the garage. The garage was retaken and East Brigade continued their advance, but now came under fire from Middle Spur. Wallis ordered Lt-Col Home commanding officer Royal Rifles of Canada to capture Middle Spur and continue the advance up Repulse Bay Road to the gap. Two composite platoons of the Middlesex Regiment were sent up to Violet Hill Path to attack the Japanese troops occupying and digging in at Middle Spur. They were to attack from the east, i.e. in a clockwise direction around Violet Hill. 'D' Coy, Royal Rifles of Canada, were ordered to advance through Repulse Bay View and proceed in an anti-clockwise direction around Violet Hill to Gauge Basin and to press on to WNC Gap. 'D' Coy was commanded by thirty-nine-year-old Major Maurice Parker. He was accompanied by Major Price, Second-in-Command of the battalion, and Flight-Lt Thompson, Brigade Intelligence Officer. A 3-inch mortar detachment  from 'HQ' Coy was assigned to operate under Major Parker's command. 

Major Parker had attended an orders group at Repulse Bay at 0800 hours that morning. His company had spent an uncomfortable night on the rocky crest of Stanley Mound. They came down the path to Stanley View on Saturday morning where they ate their rations, consisting of biscuits and bully beef,  which had been provided the previous day. The advance to Repulse Bay View was made along the water catchment, and the easiest place for an infantry company to access that catchment from Island Road was Stanley View. From Stanley it is a steep but short climb up from the road to the water catchment. Stanley View would have been the  starting point.

Stanley View is a name no longer used, but would have been well known in 1941. It is the area at the junction of Chung Hom Kok Road and what was called Island Road. It may have originally referred to the hill (on the right of the photo immediately below) on which there is a service reservoir. Coming from Repulse Bay it is the first point at which you get a view of Stanley. In 1941 it was a defended area and there are still a number of war time ruins including a military grade toilet block, machine gun pits and various splinter proof shelters. 

The brow at Stanley View - Stanley ahead and Repulse Bay behind.
This view taken from the hillside shows the cutting and road gap at Stanley View
The wartime toilet block - now being devoured by a tree
The 1941 toilet block at Stanley View
A splinter proof shelter (stuffed full of wood) on the hillside south of the road at Stanley View
A cluster of two splinter proof shelters covered by undergrowth at top of Headland Road (Stanley View)
Two destroyed splinter proof shelters on the hillside north of the road near the machine gun pits. These two shelters had been occupied by squatters at some time after the war.
At or around Stanley View, 'D' Coy accessed the catchment path shown below. The water catchment is about 5ft deep,  but gets deeper as it approaches Repulse Bay View where it is about 6ft deep proving good cover for the advancing troops.

It was about here that 'D' Coy accessed the catchwater

In the photo above you can see the hill south of the road (then called Island Road) with the pipeline running up to the small reservoir on the summit. I believe the reservoir may be post-war, but I suspect there was a pre-war reservoir on that site, because references are made in wartime accounts to there being water pipes running up from South Bay Road, beside a path leading to Stanley View.    The advance started at 1100 hours in broad daylight and so the infantry would have moved inside the catch water to avoid their deployment being seen.
As one gets closer to Repulse Bay View you get a view of Violet Hill
The photo above, taken from the catchment, shows Violet Hill in the background. In 1941 there was less forestation and the path along the catchment was more visible than it is today. This stretch shown in the photograph is open and gives an impression of what it was like in 1941. This view taken in 2017 is unchanged from December 1941, except then there was less undergrowth and less trees. The Japanese were on top of Violet Hill and along the path (Violet Hill Path) that runs along the southern slopes of Violet Hill to WNC Gap Reservoir. In the battalion war diary, Major Parker estimates they proceeded along this catch water for about 1,800 yards which was consistent with my observations.  It leads to an intersection of paths referred to in 1941 as Repulse Bay View. This nomenclature is no longer used. Current maps refer to it as Repulse Bay Gap. Most people would know it as the junction of paths at the bottom of the "one thousand steps" on the Wilson Trail leading up to the Twins. There are two sets of splinter proof shelters remaining at this location but they are entirely covered by the undergrowth. One of these is shown in the photo below.
Hidden from view the splinter proof shelter at Repulsec Bay View with the inevitable rubbish and plastic bottles.
There is another shelter higher up the hill. They were used by the platoon  stationed at this gap in the hills. The position was originally manned by Winnipeg Grenadiers and later by No. 2 Platoon No. 1 Coy HKVDC. They had abandoned these shelters when ordered to evacuate to the Stanley Perimeter on Friday 19th. When Major Parker arrived here at around noon on Saturday 30th he wrote in the battalion war diary that they passed "shelters in which conditions indicated that troops had vacated them hurriedly." At this point they had to cross an area of open ground and proceed uphill to another catch-water running parallel to the first one. This catch water runs northeast towards Gauge Basin. The catch-water is much shallower. The troops went past the low knoll on which Tai Tam Bungalow stands. This was a residence for senior Water Works Engineers and their families in pre-war days. It had been used during the battle as Coy HQ for Captain Harry Penn's No. 1 Coy, HKVDC, until they evacuated to Stanley on Friday 19th.

Workmen's Quarters adjacent to Tai Tam Bungalow

The ruins of Tai Tam Bungalow

The second water catchment (much shallower than the first).
The water catchment ends here right next to the road track which led to Stanley Gap Road and WNC Gap
The catchment path comes to an end at this bridge (shown in photo above) which emerges next to the road track that led up to Stanley Gap Road and WNC Gap. On the right hand side is the knoll on which the Gauge Basin 3.7-inch howitzer battery was situated. The guns had been disabled and abandoned on Friday 19th December.

The lead platoon was Lt Simmon's No. 18 platoon.  After going along the catchment for some 1,500 yards they emerged at Byewash Reservoir soon after having gone past the Tai Tam Bungalow.  At this point they came across a Japanese mobile battery with pack mules. This battery had been observed and engaged as it came down from Tai Tam Gap, crossed the lower reservoir and then drove up Mount Parker Road to occupy a position at Gauge Basin. No. 18 platoon was only 100 to 150yards from the battery. They crawled along the shallow water catchment to get into the best firing position. Then they opened fire causing a large number of casualties to the enemy. Mules screeched and ammunition boxes exploded. Lt Power's No. 17 Platoon had been sent up a higher path and observed Japanese troops at and around Gauge Basin battery and joined the action by opening  fire on them. It was clearly impossible to get through to WNC Gap, and with ammunition running low, the Japanese alerted and in pursuit,  the company withdrew along the two catchments back to Stanley View.

An open area on the road that the battery came up from Tai Tam X-Roads. The battery could have been deployed here when they were ambushed by 'D' Coy
Another view of the open area (possible site of the Japanese mobile battery). The path taken by 'D' Coy was on the hillside across the reservoir
George MacDonnell was a Platoon Sgt in No 18 Platoon. In his book One Soldier's Story (2002) he described how as they were preparing to fire on the mobile battery a Japanese staff car pulled up. As the officers disembarked the platoon opened fire. The range was less than 200 yards, they fired from the cover of the catchment, with the sun behind them. As they withdrew down the catchment they  came under fire from Japanese troops on Violet Hill. One Rifleman was wounded by a bullet in the leg as they crossed the open ground area between the two catchments. They arrived at Stanley View in the dark and rain at 2300 hours. They spent the night at the food stores building at Chung Hom Kok two or three hundred yards from Stanley View.

The mobile battery and troop  column had been fired on, that morning, by Bren gun carriers from No. 3 Platoon (Carrier Platoon) No. 1 Coy, HKVDC, as they approached the dam over the lower reservoir and the Tai Tam X-Roads. The battery had fired on Cash's bungalow thinking that was the source of fire. The battery crossed the dam and turned right at the X-Roads driving up to Gauge Basin.  'D'  Coy took them by surprise. The Japanese had no idea that Canadian troops had infiltrated into that area. 'D' Coy had struck back and struck hard, destroying the battery and causing heavy casualties to both men and mules. George MacDonnell wrote that after the surrender the Japanese tried to find out who had led this audacious raid on the battery, and the Japanese positions at Gauge Basin, but that they were met with a wall of Canadian silence.



My thanks to Geoff Moore for posting this pic on FaceBook Page  Battle of  Hong Kong  - the pre-war photograph shows Repulse Bay, Repulse Bay View and the water catchment running from Stanley View to Repulse Bay View and gives perspective. It was taken from the road above Eucliffe.

Monday, 29 May 2017

A Tale of two Batteries - Dungeness, England & Pinewood Battery, Hong Kong (Monthly Blog May 2017)

A tale of two batteries

I was in London in May, and although not related to the Battle for Hong Kong, I thought I would begin with an article about the ruins of a coastal defence battery at Dungeness, in South East Kent, dating back to the Napoleonic Wars, and then finish with a look at the ruins of Pinewood AA Battery in Hong Kong.

Ruins of Napoleonic Battery at Dungeness

Dungeness is situated in the southeast corner of Kent. To day it is well known for the nuclear power station, for its bird life, the two lighthouses and the masses of shingle. There is a sense of windswept desolation. On foggy nights you could hear the blast of the foghorn from the new lighthouse. In bygone years this area was famous for smuggling. It was an important area of defence against continental invasion over the centuries.  There has always been a constant struggle against the sea. In Roman times Romney Marsh was a large shallow bay over which ships sailed to the Roman port of Portus Lemanis. There were sandbanks and shingle spits and in Saxon times these were "inned" and reclaimed from the sea. 

Dungeness Nuclear Power Station
There have been several lighthouses over the years. The shingle spit keeps growing out to sea and the lighthouses gradually became too far from the point. This one (below) is referred to as the old lighthouse.

The old lighthouse 
The new lighthouse
The water at Dungeness is deep and drops away sharply
During the Napoleonic Wars it was this area known as Romney Marsh which was considered a likely landing ground for Napoleon's Army. A military canal was built from west to east along the base of the line of hills that mark the Saxon shoreline. Martello towers (circular forts with a gun on a swivel on top) were built along the coast together with redoubts and batteries. This post is about one of those batteries. No. 1 Battery at Dungeness. There is not much left of it now just a grass covered mound, and brick works, but the road sign nearby gives us a clue as to what that mound and walls once were.

The mound in the background is all that's left of No 1 Battery.  
The remains of Napoleonic ramparts
A swivel for the guns
Ruined battery walls and stonework. 
Surrounded by seaside houses 
Gun emplacement and swivel
Two hundred year old ramparts
Nobody ever goes there, there is no information sign, just the windswept ruins. Old maps of the area show the battery and nearby batteries numbered 1 to 4. In the 1904 map below the inlet can still be seen between Greatstone and Littlestone. This has now been reclaimed but the inlet originally led to the port of New Romney now some two miles from the sea. No. 1 battery was originally built close to the seashore but is now several hundred metres from the high water mark.

The Invasion Coast (1904 map)
1867 map showing the batteries at Dungeness (the Martello towers are numbered 21-27)

Dungeness is derived from the word Denge. The map shows Denge Marsh and Denge Beach.
The word Ness means headland in Old Norse. So Dungeness was once Denge Ness as depicted
on the 1819 map.

Ruins of Pinewood Battery in Hong Kong

Pinewood Battery was an AA Fort equipped with two 3-inch guns. It was built on the north west slopes of the Peak. It was heavily bombed and shelled by the Japanese after war broke out on 8th December 1941.  The photo below shows the battery being shelled and bombed.

Pinewood Battery under bombardement
The battery had to be abandoned because of damage to one of the guns, the emplacements and equipment. The damage is well depicted in the photo below showing one of the wrecked 3-inch guns.

One of the badly damaged 3-inch guns 
One of the two 3-inch gun emplacements
Battery buildings
Blast and fragmentation damage to battery walls
Battery buildings at Pinewood
The battery was originally built/completed in 1905 to house two 6-inch coastal defence guns. In 1936 the two 3-inch AA guns were installed. The battery was abandoned on 15th December 1941 after severe damage.

Further Reading and Photos on Romney Marsh and Napoleonic War fixed defences:

Please click the link below:

Romney Marsh, the English Arcadia and Napoleonic War


Wednesday, 3 May 2017

Ray Jackson, a WW2 soldier's watch found in hills of Hong Kong - Pillbox 315 - Major Douglas Dewe (Monthly Blog - April 2017)

A wrist watch found in the hills of Hong Kong, once owned by a Canadian soldier who was killed in action during the Battle for Hong Kong in December 1941, is returned to his family in Canada 

On Monday 27th March 2017, Dave Willott, one of the military metal detecting group in Hong Kong, was searching the hillside of Stone Hill, near Stanley, when he found and unearthed a wrist watch. There is nothing particularly unusual about finding a watch, except in this case, when he cleaned it, he found engraved on the reverse, the name and rank of a Canadian soldier who had served with the Royal Rifles of Canada (RRC) in the Battle for Hong Kong in December 1941. The watch had once belonged to twenty-one-year-old Rifleman Ray Donald Jackson who served with 'D' Coy RRC.

At noon on Monday 22nd December 1941, two platoons from  'D' Coy had been redeployed to Stanley Mound, from their positions at Chung Hom Kok. At 1700 hours Battalion HQ, at Stone Hill Shelters, ordered the two 'D' Coy platoons to move to Stone Hill in order to strengthen the centre of the battalion front. Rifleman Jackson was part of this force.  Later that evening the 'B' Coy and 'HQ' Coy platoons on Stanley Mound were pushed off the crest by Japanese infantry supported by mortar and artillery. The  crest was re-taken after a Vickers machine gun barrage was opened on the crest of Stanley Mound on Tuesday morning (23rd Dec) from 1/Mx positions in Stanley Village.

Pre-war map showing location of Stone Hill and the Royal Rifles of Canada Bn HQ at Stone Hill Shelters
The 'D' Coy platoons remained at Stone Hill during  the night of 22nd December. Throughout the following day they were involved in fire-fights with Japanese troops. The amount of spent ammunition found on Stanley Mound and Stone Hill testify to the extent of fighting that took place on 22nd and 23rd December on these two hills on the Stanley perimeter. The hills were strategically important  because they overlooked Stanley where British and Allied forces had concentrated and were preparing to fight a last stand. Possession of these hills by the Japanese permitted observed and therefore accurate fire to be brought down on the military positions on Stanley Peninsula.

The Canadian infantry had been in continuous action since the Japanese landed on the Island on the night of 18th/19th December. The  battalion had been seriously depleted by battle casualties, and the men were physically exhausted. A decision was made to withdraw the battalion to the flatter ground around Stanley. At dusk on Tuesday 23rd December, the battalion, withdrew from the hills on the Stanley perimeter, under cover of darkness, to new positions near Stanley Village. A new battalion HQ was established at Bungalow 'A', one of the staff bungalows in the grounds of St Stephen's College, Stanley.

Rifleman Jackson was reported as missing in action and was "last seen on Stone Hill" (source Tony Banham Not the Slightest Chance). He was most probably killed at the spot on Stone Hill, where the watch was found, and this may have occurred during their evacuation under fire in the evening of Tuesday 23rd December, two days before the colony surrendered.

The photograph below, by Stuart Woods shows the reverse of the watch after being cleaned by Leigh Hardwick both members of the military metal detecting group. The engraving reads:  "Pte. Ray D. Jackson B68205." The rank of Pte rather than Rifleman on the engraving denotes that Ray Jackson was in a different unit before joining the Royal Rifles in 1941, although his Army service number was unchanged.

Very often those reported as missing in action have no known grave. However in Ray's case his body must have been recovered because he is buried at Sai Wan Military Cemetery. His grave is shown in the photograph below. He may have been given a battlefield burial by his own troops during the battle, or may have been buried after hostilities ended by Allied burial parties allowed out from initial incarceration at Stanley Fort,  to collect wounded and bury the dead. Such burials would take place at the location where the body was found. Those buried either during hostilities, or after hostilities ended, were exhumed after the war and reinterred in one of the two military cemeteries, which were located at Sai Wan and Stanley. 

Ray Jackson's grave (Courtesy Craig Mitchell)  
Dave wanted to return the watch to the soldier's family and our small group of history enthusiasts rallied round to help. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission on-line records confirmed that Ray Jackson  died on 23rd December 1941, and that his next of kin were George and Charlotte Jackson from Wiarton, Ontario, Canada. Tony Banham's web site contains a list of garrison members, Ray was listed as being in 'D' Coy which fitted with his being killed in action on 23rd December on Stone Hill.

The next step was to contact Jim Trick and Lori Atkinson Smith of the Hong Kong Veterans Commemorative Association in Canada (HKVCA). They worked with Lillian Randall, a researcher in Canada, and within twenty-four hours had discovered a family member. There was no direct descendant as  Ray was killed whilst still a young man, and before he had a chance to marry and have children of his own. It appears he was adopted by George and Charlotte Jackson who were from a farming family in Ontario. I think he may have been adopted within the wider family, as his birth parents  appear to bear the same family name. George and Charlotte Jackson only had one child, a daughter Ida Pearl Jackson born in 1904. She was seventeen years older than her adoptive brother Ray. She married Clifford Burgess in September 1925, when Ray was still a young child. We found that Ray's closest surviving family member is Steve Burgess who is the grandson of Ida and Clifford Burgess. He was astounded to be contacted by HKVCA and told about the watch which had been found on a battlefield in Hong Kong only twenty-four hours earlier.

Ray's Attestation Record (
Leigh Hardwick, a professional modeller, and member our group made a beautiful walnut presentation box to hold the watch with the emblem of the Royal Rifles of Canada engraved on the lid. 

Presentation box made by Leigh Hardwick with photo courtesy Stuart Woods
The HKVCA will present the watch to Steve Burgess in May. It is very rare to find something with a name on it. It is good to think that this personal item that one belonged to a young Canadian soldier, who gave his life in the service of his country, in the hills on Hong Kong Island, is finally going home, after seventy-five years, back to Canada, and back to a member of his family. 


Pillbox 315 Tai Po Road - Pipers Hill

Armed with directions from two FaceBook (FB) friends, Jeff Li and Alexander MacDonald, who are both military history enthusiasts, I set out to find and visit PB 315. The pillbox is situated on a knoll overlooking the Byewash Reservoir and close to the dilapidated ruin of an old colonial house.

1938 Revised Map showing PB 315 & PB 314
The Colonial House
The colonial house looks like a 1930's era building, it is situated beside Tai Po Road below Piper's Hill. It was once used as a family home for senior engineers or senior managers of the Water Supplies Dept, I think referred to at that time, in this area,  as Kowloon Water Works. The main reservoirs were built between 1910 (Kowloon Reservoir), 1931 (Byewash Reservoir) and 1937 (Shing Mun Reservoir). It was apparently occupied until 1970s/1980s. I have seen reference to the house at one stage being occupied by HK Police (Special Branch), but the decor inside is more consistent with family use. There is an outhouse which includes a garage and servants quarters.  

The front entrance  
Side view

The back door was open so I took a look inside. There was parquet flooring, a fireplace, and bathrooms with a 1970s style decor. The hill on which the house is built is sometimes referred to as Monkey Hill. This is an appropriate name because the whole area is home to a large numbers of monkeys, and no doubt they would have been a nuisance to the occupants.
Reception room 
The Pillbox (PB 315)
To reach the PB one has to proceed past the house, and up a path through what must have been the back garden to a knoll where the PB is located overlooking the reservoir below. The PB is approached by a concrete trench which leads to the entrance of a concrete tunnel or passageway which leads into the three-loophole pillbox with two gun compartments. 

 Pillbox 315
The concrete trench leading to the tunnel
One of the gun compartments and machine gun loophole
Passageway with storage compartments and a space for a water tank
Historian Rusty Tsoi advised that the tilted wall in the photograph above may be connected to use of a gas curtain. Rob Weir who is an expert on WW2 Fixed Defences in Hong Kong confirmed that he had long suspected that the PBs on the Mainland had gas curtains. I have also seen reference too gas curtains being used in ARP tunnels.

There are Japanese characters scratched on to the wall of the passageway. Rusty advised that they translate as follows. 

"Captured by xxx squad, 8927 Butai (38 Mountain Gun Battery), 38 Div"
(xxx means unidentifiable)

"Those from Aichi county, good luck on your fightings"

It is not clear who manned this PB, but probably it was2nd Bn Royal Scots ( 2/RS),  as it was near to their Battalion HQ at Filter Beds House. The Bn HQ occupied this position (Filter Beds) after withdrawing from a more forward position, at 6th milestone on Castle Peak Road, on Wednesday 10th December 1941, following the loss of the Shing Mun Redoubt on the night of 9th/10th December. There is no evidence off fighting in this vicinity and no battle damage to the PB. The area to the north was held by 'D' Coy 5/7 Rajput Regt, commanded by Captain  Newton. This Coy were in action on 10th and 11th December. The area to the northeast was held by 'D' Coy 2/14 Punjab Regt, commanded by Captain David Mathers. This Coy was in action on 11th Dec. On Thursday 11th December, two companies ('B' and 'C' Coy) from 2/RS were heavily engaged and not Coy commanders were killed in action. At some stage during the morning these two companies withdrew down Castle Peak Road, as far as the World Pencil Factory, at Lai Chi Kok. Although the resultant gap was plugged to some extent, the weakness exposed on the left flank of the Royal Scots sector,  led to a decision to accelerate the evacuation of the Mainland. The Royal Scots were ordered to break off at dusk and were evacuated to the Island from Kowloon City and the Vehicular Ferry at Yau Ma Tei. The crew of PB 315 would have withdrawn that afternoon/evening. The Japanese Artillery Regiment that captured the position,  probably on 12th December,  would have done so unopposed. 


Major Douglas Dewe, Indian Medical Service, a POW in Singapore and on the Burma Railway

This story, and the subsequent two related posts,  is away from my usual focus on  Hong Kong. This story is about a British Indian Army Medical Doctor serving with the Indian Medical Service in Singapore who was  captured after the Fall of Singapore in February 1942. He was incarcerated at Changi and later on the Burma Railway.

Douglas Dewe was born 17th January 1908 in Somerset. He first married in 1933 at the age of twenty-five to Winnifred Warren. Tragically she died in February 1934, within a year of getting married, as a result of a ruptured appendix. In August 1934 Doulas married Rosanna (Rona) Gorrie Heggie (1912-1972). They lived initially in India and later moved to Taiping and Singapore. They had two children Roderick (1935) and Michael (1940). I became interested to learn more about Major Dewe when I happened to run across an article in the Hong Kong Daily Press dated 19th August 1941. The article reported on the breakdown of  Douglas and Rona's marriage and cited infidelity on the part of Rona with a forty-year-old rubber planter by the name of Oswald  Cutler. 

Hong Kong Daily Press 19th Aug. 1941
Being interested in family history, the article caught my attention, and  I reflected on the fact that war was already imminent and that all three parties, Douglas, Rona, and Oswald would have ended up as POWs or civilian internees. I was curious to find out more. 

After the fall of Singapore on 15th February 1942, Major Dewe was incarcerated initially in the  military POW camp at Changi. Rona and Oswald were interned in the civilian internment camp also located at Changi. Unlike Stanley Camp in Hong Kong, the civilian internees in Singapore were segregated and placed either in a men's camp or a separate women's camp. Rona registered in the name of  Rona Cutler, although  they were not married. I was able to make contact with Major Dewe's youngest son Mike who helped me with much of this information. Mike believes that by taking on the surname of Cutler, Rona may have been able to obtain visitation rights to Oswald. 

The court hearing in August had awarded Major Dewe with custody of his two sons. The marriage having broken down in 1937/1938, Major Dewe had by that time become engaged to Peggy Frampton, a divorcee whose name is mentioned on his POW record (below). In the Japanese POW record sheet, Major Dewe gave his specialisation as gynaecology and obstetrics, although he was in fact a general practitioner with good diagnostician skills and a strong understanding of tropical diseases. Mike thought this was done in order to avoid undesirable postings by his captors, but unfortunately it  was to no avail as he was transferred to the worst location of all - the Burma railway.

In April 1945, Major Dewe was transferred from the Burma railway, together with some 1,000 emaciated POWs to a new camp called Mergui Road in the south of Burma. The POWs were to be used as slave labourers to help build a road south into Thailand as an extrication route for the Japanese Army out of Burma. Major Dewe was both the senior officer in camp and the senior of the six medical officers assigned to this camp. The conditions here were said to be worse than on the Burma railway and over a third of the POWs died under the atrocious conditions.

POW Record (National Archives)
Peggy Frampton returned to India with her daughter, Ray, and with Major Dewe's two sons, Roddy and Mike.  Mike at the time was only sixteen months old, and Roddy was five-years-old. They were able to get out of Singapore on one of the last evacuation ships to leave before the Japanese overran the colony. Peggy looked after both the boys in India, but she must have given up on Major  Dewe, perhaps assuming he was dead, or perhaps unwilling to wait and find out, because she remarried during the war years. The boys, despite their young age, were sent to the famous Bishop Cotton boarding school in Simla, India. After being liberated in 1945, Major Dewe returned to India and collected his sons, and took them with him to Afghanistan where he had been posted as Medical Officer to the British Legation in Kabul. 

Oswald Cutler and Rona's relationship did not last through internment. He married Margaret Bell in February 1946 and returned to Malaya where he resumed his pre-war occupation as a planter. Rona also remarried quite soon after being liberated. This marriage did not last, and later she remarried Colonel Christopher Harold Miskin, and settled in Jersey. She passed away in 1972.

After Indian independence in 1947, Major Dewe retired from the Indian Medical Service and emigrated to Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) with his wife June Fox (nee Martin) who he married in 1947, and his two sons. The marriage to June did not not last, he married again to  Paloma Hone but this marriage only lasted a year or two. In 1954 Douglas Dewe married Barbara Ward, the marriage lasted and they continued to live in Rhodesia until he retired to Pietermaritzburg, South Africa in 1975, where he passed away in 1978.

Major Douglas Dewe had lived on the edge of empire, at a time of change and in a very different world to that which we know today. He had served in India, Malaya, Singapore and Afghanistan, when they were still part of what was the British Empire. He and his fellow medical officers saved countless lives of British and allied servicemen during the brutal incarceration in Singapore and Burma. The Medical Officers had to keep working, despite their own debilitating weakness from malnutrition and the heat of the tropics. They were constantly exposed to diseases like diphtheria and dysentery.  They had to  carry out their work of saving lives with  inadequate medicine and in the absence of medical facilities, improvising where they could with medicines and equipment. The Medical Doctors, like the other POWs were weak, starved, and ill and constantly subject to the brutality of the guards. They were a cadre that received little recognition, much less than they deserved, except from the POWs themselves.


The Indian Army Medical Service was represented in Hong Kong (in 1941) by five officers:
Colonel Ashton-Rose and Captains Evans, Scriven, Strahan and Woodward.


Doctor William Frankland - Prisoner of War (POW) 

I read a recent article in the press about a 105-year-old medical doctor, Bill Franklin. He was born in 1912. He won an exhibition to Queen's College, Oxford and in 1938 qualified as a Medical Doctor at St Mary's Hospital, Paddington. When war broke out he enlisted in the Royal Army Medical Corp, and just months after getting married, he was sent out to Singapore arriving just before war started in December 1941. On arrival, he and a colleague tossed coin to choose between a posting to the British Military Hospital (Alexandra Hospital), or  a posting to the hospital at Tanglin Barracks. Frankland won the toss and chose Tanglin. He chose right, because his colleague was killed at the Alexandra Military Hospital when the Japanese broke in and massacred  patients and medical staff on Valentines Day 1942, the day before Singapore fell. 

Blakang Mati Artillery Barracks in 1948
After the fall of Singapore, Frankland was sent to Changi, where he may have known Major Dewe,  since both were Medical Officers. Later Frankland was transferred to Blakang Mati Island now known as Sentosa where he remained until liberation in 1945. The POWs were held in the former Artillery barracks and after liberation these barracks were used to intern  Japanese troops. In 1945 Bill Frankland was flown from Singapore to Rangoon in Burma where he was due to board a repatriation ship going back to UK. There were three Dakotas, and one off them crashed after running into a storm, Frankland had chosen the right aircraft. In 1946 he resumed his medical career in London. 


Alexandra Hospital  - British Military Hospital, Singapore

In a similar incident to that which occurred at St Stephen's College Temporary Hospital in Stanley, Hong Kong; Japanese troops massacred a large number of patients and medical staff over a two day period on 14th and 15th February 1942. The hospital with a capacity for up to 1,000 patients was built in 1938 and opened in 1940. The new British Military Hospital was an upgrade to the previous main Military Hospital at Tanglin Barracks.

The Japanese were first seen approaching the hospital in the early afternoon on 14th February 1942 (Valentines Day). They numbered approximately one hundred. The hospital was clearly marked with red crosses. The orderlies and medical staff had red cross brassards. A British RAMC officer went out to meet the approaching Japanese stating that it was a hospital. He was fired on by the approaching troops, but was able to get back inside the hospital. Soon after this the Japanese broke in and ran amok stabbing, beating and killing anybody in their path. As in Hong Kong, patients were bayoneted in their beds. It was an orgy of uncontrolled violence  against wounded patients and non-combatant medical staff. At least fifty were killed and many more wounded. One patient was even killed on the operating table. The theatre staff who had surrendered with their arms above their heads were butchered with bayonets.

A number of patients and orderlies were led out to the lawn, they were tied up and marched to some nearby outhouses. Those that could not march because of their wounds, were cut loose and killed. The rest were crammed into small rooms and given no food or water. There was no sanitation and no ventilation. Several died during the night. The next day the Japanese soldiers brought them out in small groups on the pretext of their being allowed to collect water, but instead the Japanese systematically bayoneted them to death. Another one hundred patients and medical orderlies were killed in this gruesome way. Later that day on 15th February Singapore surrendered. 
British Military Hospital - Singapore

Some survived the killing by feigning death, others were simply lucky that their wounds were not fatal, and they lived to tell the tale. I watched a televised interview with one of the survivors, he like many of those that survived, even years later, never forgave the Japanese for such barbarous, inhumane and appalling acts of violence.