Wednesday, 7 May 2014

The Battle of Waterloo (1815) and the 2nd Battalion, Royal Scots in Hong Kong (1941)

The 2nd Bn Royal Scots arrived in Hong Kong from India on 27th January 1938 under the command of Lt-Col Hall. Later that year Hall was posted to a new command in UK and the battalion came under the command of Lt-Col D.J. McDougall, MC. He had fought in WW1 and had been wounded at Ypres, and won the Military Cross whilst serving with the 1st Battalion in Macedonia. In 1941 he was posted as Commandant of the Officer Cadet Training School at Maymyo, Burma and Lt-Col Simon White became the commanding officer of the 2nd Battalion in Hong Kong on the eve of war. He too had won the Military Cross in WW1.

The Royal Scots have a long history established in 1633 they were known as the Royal Regiment, or as the First of Foot. They were the oldest infantry regiment in the British Army.  They have a host of Battle Honours that are listed on their Regimental Colours. The 3rd Battalion Royal Scots had fought under Arthur Wellesley, later to become the Duke of Wellington, in the Peninsular War, and they had the distinction of being the first British Army unit to cross the border from Spain into France in  pursuit of Napoleon's retreating army. They also fought at Waterloo in 1815.

The charge of the Royal Scots Greys at Waterloo -  Scotland forever
The famous painting by Lady Butler will always be associated in my mind's eye with that battle. Reputed to have yelled "Scotland Forever" as they rode down on the French ranks. When reading   about the Battle Waterloo one is minded of those formidable red squares where men stood firm, and faced the onslaught of cavalry - but yet held their ranks and their ground and saved the day.

The thin red line holding firm - deployed in squares to fend off the charge of the French Cuirassiers
I  have always liked that poem by Lord George Byron entitled "The Eve of Waterloo".

There was a sound of revelry by night,
And Belgium's capital had gathered then
Her beauty and her chivalry, and bright
The Lamps shone o'er fair women and brave men.
A thousand hearts beat happily; and when
Music arose with its voluptuous swell,
Soft eyes looked love to eyes which spake again,
And all went well as a marriage bell;
But hush ! hark ! a deep sound strikes like a rising knell !
………Arm ! Arm ! it is -- it is -- the cannon's opening roar !

It was the eve of battle, and the officers took their leave from their hostess at the  Duchess of Richmond's ball and went off to their battle positions, but what you may ask is all this to do with the Royal Scots. The Royal Scots Greys of course had no connection to the Royal Scots,  the former being cavalry and the latter being infantry. However the 3rd Battalion Royal Scots fought at the Battle of Quatre Bras (literally meaning Four Arms or Cross Roads) and at Waterloo.  The bravery of one young officer of the 3rd Bn by the name of Ensign James Grant Kennedy who died carrying the Colours is depicted in the Royal Scots Regimental Museum in Edinburgh.

A Sergeant picks up the wounded young officer still holding the Colours
Ensign Kennedy was carrying the Colours in advance of the battalion, he was shot in the arm but carried on until he was shot again and this time fatally wounded. A sergeant went forward to retrieve the Colours but the  Ensign was holding the Colours so tightly that he could not break his grip. The Sergeant then picked up the young Royal Scots Ensign, carrying him over his shoulder whilst the young officer was still holding the Colours. The French on seeing this withheld their fire. It was a moment of gallantry on the field of honour. Ensign James Kennedy died while carrying the Colours aged only 16, he was the third son of Dr. William Kennedy of Inverness.

The battle commenced around Noon as Napoleon waited for the ground to dry. Wellington's Army held firm despite repeated attacks by the French.

Up Guards and at 'em again 

In the evening Von Blucher arrived with his Prussian army and attacked the French on the right flank.
The attacking French Army was routed and Wellington ordered a general advance on all fronts.

General advance ! 

After the battle thousands of men lay dead or dying and the Duke of Wellington is attributed to have said  that "nothing except a battle lost can be half so melancholy as a battle won". The Duke of Wellington lived to a ripe old age and served twice as Prime Minister. His London home Apsley House had that most exceptional of addresses :   "No 1, London".

No 1 London - the London home of the Duke of Wellington

The Iron Duke
The epithet of Iron Duke has been reflected in Royal Navy ships carrying the name HMS Iron Duke over the years, although the name is said to have been given in a disparaging manner following the erection of iron shutters at Apsley House to prevent rioters from breaking the windows with stones during popular unrest in London in 1832. Whatever the origins like Margaret Thatcher's "Iron Lady" - the "Iron Duke" was taken as a compliment if not originally intended.

I was recently wondering around the Kent coast  and stopped to visit Walmer Castle near Deal.

Walmer Castle - one time home of the Duke of Wellington

The Duke had been given the post of Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports in 1828 and with this came the official residence of Walmer Castle. He spent a good deal of time in this old castle on the Kent Coast enjoying the walks along the sea front. I had not realised that the Iron Duke had died here in September 1852 aged 83 years. On the day I went there - there was nobody around  - I had the castle to myself. I entered the room where he had died and could almost feel his presence. The room had been left pretty much as it was in 1852 - his campaign bed and the armchair in which he died.

The Duke of Wellington's bedroom at Walmer Castle - he died in the arm chair
 I then walked into the next room where his uniform was on display



Also on display was  a bronze death mask - an old soldier who had fought well and found solace by the sea.



The Battle of Quatre Bras in which Ensign Kennedy laid down his life while carrying the Colours, was fought two days before the Battle of Waterloo.  The Colours were used as a rallying point,  when a soldier carrying the Colours fell another would pick them up. Some units would have colour guards of hand picked men to defend the Colours. During the action at Quatre Bras and Waterloo, the Royal Scots lost four officers and one Sergeant Major whilst carrying the Colours.  The men would follow the Colours, and held high they could be clearly seen on the battlefield. The present day ceremony of trooping the Colour on the Queen's Birthday Parade has a long history - the Colours with the Colour Guard, were carried through the ranks at the slow march so that each soldier would know and recognize his regimental Colours.

The Battle of Quatre Bras - defending the Colours 
The Regimental Colours of the 2nd Battalion the Royal Scots in Hong Kong had been presented to the Battalion by King George V in 1911. In 1939 on the outbreak of war the Colours were sent to Singapore for safekeeping.  Hong Kong fell in December 1941 and Singapore in February 1942. However after the Japanese surrender they were spotted in a street market and bought for a dollar and returned to the Royal Scots. The Colours show the battles fought (which can be those lost as well as those won) these are known as battle honours. Oliver Lindsay in his book "The Battle for Hong Kong 1941 - 1945" questions why only the Middlesex Regiment and not the Royal Scots should be awarded  the battle honour  for "Hong Kong."

Im my opinion the Middlesex probably fought better than any other unit in Hong Kong in 1941 - they seldom withdrew, and then only when they had to, for example in their tenacious defense of Leighton Hill.  They were well led, well dsciplined and well trained. Like the Royal Scots they had a long history and had earned the epithet "the Die Hards" in the Peninsular War. Admired by other units in Hong Kong the "Middies" thoroughly deserved the battle honour.

What about the Royal Scots - well I think they deserve it too - although their record was more mixed as I will endeavor to show. They certainly fought hard and well on the Island and 'D' Coy led by Captain Pinkerton fought outstandingly both on the Mainland and on the Island. A large number of Royal Scots gave up their lives in the battle for Hong Kong and in subsequent captivity.

I suppose the reason why they did not get the battle honour was because the General Officer in Command  Christopher Maltby and the Brigadier  in charge of the Mainland Brigade Cedric Wallis blamed them for weakness in 'A' Coy positions around the Shing Mun Redoubt and for the hasty withdrawal on their left flank especially on Castle Peak Road forward of the Pencil Factory (situated at the junction of Castle Peak Road and Tai Po Road).

Major General Maltby was critical of 'A' Coy who were commanded by Capt Cyril "Potato" Jones whose company was responsible for the Shingmun Redoubt a series of Pill Boxes and linked fixed defences on the left flank of the Gin Drinkers Line. This critical position was taken by surprise,  although it must be said that it was inadequately defended by just one platoon. It needed at least a company to properly garrison the redoubt and conduct adequate patrolling. The GOC felt that there had been a lack of adequate patrolling.

In Major General Maltby's Report on Operations published in January 1948 after some modifications he writes:

"It was unfortunate that the enemy captured by surprise the most important Shingmun Redoubt and occupied  the Golden Hill position. These two incidents  were  the direct cause of the rather hasty withdrawal to the (Island).  The gallant action  of their 'D' Coy (Captain Pinkerton)  on the extreme right flank of the Golden Hill position, the later gallant efforts of the whole battalion to recapture  the Wong Nei Chung Gap, and their stubborn fighting in the Mount Nicholson and Mount Cameron areas accomplished much to retrieve their prestige."

On the left flank of the Royal Scots Major Stanford Burn 2 i/c of the Battalion was struggling to lead his men and properly deploy his men. Col Newnham General Staff Officer 1  (GSO-1) from China Command ended up deploying Major Burns troops. In his report on events in Castle Peak Road on the morning of 11th December he writes:

"At about 1000 hrs 11th Dec I visited Kowloon Infantry Brigade HQ in Waterloo Road. Here a very bleak situation was painted to me i.e.  that the Japanese had broken through on the Castle Peak Road and would arrive in Kowloon at any minute.


I telephoned to Kai Tak  for the Bren Carriers which were attached to No 1 Coy HKVDC  and left orders for Capt Penn to send all carriers and men he could get to the junction of Prince Edward and  Waterloo Roads. I then proceeded to the R.V. and after some 20 minutes three carriers arrived  I organised the column including the small car I had with me and set off.

When passing Rear Bn HQ  2/RS at the junction of Taipo and Castle Peak Roads I was surprised to see some men of 2/RS  standing about,  but being in a hurry proceeded direct up to the World Pencil Factory. Here I found some more 2/RS but was unable to get a clear picture of the situation from them but all stated none of their  own troops were in front of them.

I saw an armoured car which I approached and from Sgt Walker HKVDC could obtain no information. I ordered him forward on recce up Castle Peak Road and then returned to the World Pencil Factory where I met Major Burn.  Major Burn was very excited so I took him aside and tried to calm him down. I emphasized the present danger and also the very urgent necessity of holding  present positions in our neighbourhood.

Major Burn had the greatest difficulty in getting any man to obey him and I had again to speak to him and warn him that unless he could give calm orders the men could not possibly work for him. I then went with Major Burn up a path and helped him to start off the occupation of the spur. I put another Sgt of 2/RS with field glasses in the shadow of a hut close by with orders to watch hill 149  very carefully and to report at once if any Japanese arrived there. I saw the platoon move off slowly  up to the spur  and then I returned to World Pencil Factory and gave orders to the carriers. 

I again spoke to Major Burn who was a little quieter and again stressed the urgency of the situation saying “now I put you in command here……... there must be no going back  from this locality under any circumstances”.  I repeated these orders to the Volunteers.

I next visited the Armoured Car which I could see had returned to its former place. Sgt Walker reported that he had patrolled as far as Lai Chi Kok Prison where there was a road block and about 8 men of 2/RS in a field. I told him that was not much of a recce, that he must go back, get the men to remove the road block so as to allow the armoured car to pass through  and to go towards Castle Peak Road for at least one mile definitely to draw the enemy’s fire  and to get information. He was to report results to Major Burn. 

I then came back to the Pencil Factory stopped to say I was on my way to the right flank  and I would guarantee its security  from the high ground and would ensure the position of the Canadians for this special purpose. I went to just short  of the Canadians position and at about 1145 hrs shouted  up the hill side for a Canadian Officer , Captain Bowman came and I explained  the situation on the whole front to him and the important  part he was now called upon to play. His first platoon came tumbling down the hill  before I left. He seemed to have no tactical idea  at all so I recommended  to him to push one platoon forward  to reservoir and one platoon down the spur towards Hill 149  and his third platoon to hold the road bend covering the filter beds.

I returned to Mainland  Brigade HQ at Waterloo Road . Then I found the situation better because information was to hand and the line in general was stabilized. I reported personally by telephone to the GOC and recommended withdrawal  that night in view of the precarious situation on the left flank and the consequent risk of losing guns, and the very disquieting state of 2/RS".

A couple of days later Major Burn took his own life by shooting himself with his service revolver. A rather sad end for an officer who I suppose in some way failed to live up to the expectations of a commander on the battlefield. On his flank he did have to face the Japanese onslaught who came in overwhelming numbers accompanied by heavy and very accurate mortar fire at a time when there was much confusion on the ground

 Oliver Lindsay  writes in "The Battle for Hong Kong 1941-1945" :

"Finally, we come to the controversy  that only the Middlesex Regiment should have the Battle Honour 'Hong Kong', which was denied to the Royal Scots. It is invidious  to compare the fighting ability of each Battalion, but I believe  a grave injustice was done to the Royal Scots. The best part of a Japanese brigade swept down upon their new, malarial , three mile front. No unit could have held such an enemy  on such unfavorable ground for long. On the Island , the counter attacks  fought by the decimated Royal Scots  against two Japanese battalions at the Wong Nei Chung Gap  are what legends are made of. Twenty seven of their 35 officers became casualties, 12 being killed: there was no lack of determined leadership………….a campaign  should be launched in Scotland to get them the Battle Honour they so definitely deserve".


Sources:

Events on Castle Peak Road  - Morning 11th December 1941 by Col L.A. Newnham  Appendix C Hong Kong Despatches.  National Archives

The Battle for Hong Kong 1941-1945   (2005)  Oliver Lindsay

General Maltby's War Diary/Report published in The London Gazette January 1948 

Royal Scots Regimental Museum - Web Site.

Walmer Castle & Gardens - English Heritage Guidebook

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