Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Erinville and Cash's Bungalow

On 21st December Brigadier Wallis, commanding East Infantry Brigade, launched a brigade level counterattack from Stanley along Island Road with the intention of seizing the Tai Tam X-Roads ('First Objective'). Once having reached the Tai Tam X-Roads they were to turn left on Mount Parker Road (now Tai Tam Reservoir Road) into Gauge Basin and drive up past the reservoirs to Stanley Gap Road and thence to Wong Nei Chung Gap ('Second Objective'). The overriding task was to reach and relieve the beleaguered troops of West Infantry Brigade still holding out near West Brigade HQ. 

The counterattack was to  be achieved by utilizing 'D' Battalion (Royal Rifles of Canada), and units of the Hong Kong Volunteer Defence Corp (HKVDC), which included Bren Gun carriers and Motor Bike Combinations, which consisted of a motorbike with a sidecar equipped with a mounted Vickers gun. The main body of the attacking force were to advance along Island Road and a flank party would be sent up to seize the hills (Notting Hill and Bridge Hill) on the left flank.

Albeit with the benefit of hindsight, this was an overly ambitious set of objectives. The second objective could not possibly be achieved. The British command seriously underestimated the number of Japanese troops on the Island. The Japanese had by this time landed thousands of troops and many of these were positioned around Wong Nai Chung (WNC) Gap. They had dug in and were resisting a series of British counterattacks aimed at trying to recapture the all important gap. For the British there were insufficient troops, insufficient mortar and insufficient artillery support. Attacks were put in bravely by different units, but they were rushed and as a result sometimes poorly coordinated, and most of these counterattacks were made against numerically superior Japanese forces who were well supported by artillery and mortar.

By 21st December, the Japanese forces owned the high ground of Mount Parker, Mount Butler, Jardines Lookout, Violet Hill and Mount Nicholson. They controlled the strategic gaps at Tai Tam and Wong Nai Chung. Although at the latter they were being held up by a mixed group of Canadian and British troops who were still holding out at 'D' Coy Winnipeg Grenadiers shelters located opposite West Brigade HQ, near where the cricket club is today. Brigadier John Lawson, who had commanded West Infantry Brigade,  lay dead outside his HQ. He was the most senior officer to be killed in action in the Battle for Hong Kong.

The counterattack by Brigadier Wallis along Island Road failed. They did however succeed in capturing the high ground on the left flank and even today the summits of Bridge Hill and Notting Hill are littered with ammunition and other relics left over from the fighting that occurred that day. The attacking force reached the X-Roads but they were not able to hold the position partly because they never managed to clear the Japanese from Red Hill on their right flank or from area around the Tai Tam X-Roads including a mound to the north-west and the lower slopes of Bridge Hill.  After sustaining heavy casualties and failing to secure the X-Roads, the attacking force was withdrawn and the troops fell back to Stanley - although some including the Bren Carriers were despatched to Repulse Bay with the intention of driving up Repulse Bay Road to attack Wong Nai Chung Gap from the south. 

This story is about two houses which are mentioned in the war diaries relating to the fighting around Red Hill and the Tai Tam X-Roads. One of these was Erinville and the other is referred to as Cash's Bungalow, both these houses ended up on the battlefield, and they have a story to tell. Erinville was located at Turtle Cove and Cash's Bungalow was located on the mound north-west of the cross roads.   The wartime map below shows the area including Red Hill, Island Road, Bridge Hill, Notting Hill, the pumping station and the Tai Tam X-Roads. The second map extract shows the location of these two villas. 

1938 Map showing the Tai Tam X-Roads, the ridge Notting Hill-Bridge Hill  and Red Hill
Map showing location of Erinville and Cash's Bungalow
Erinville was a large and beautiful house built above Turtle Cove. The house was built by Albert and Delores Simmons shortly before the war on the site of a previous building. This was to be their home in retirement, and it was for awhile, until interrupted by war.

Post war photograph of Erinville (Courtesy: Alan Proulx)
Albert Simmons died following a heart attack whilst incarcerated in Stanley Camp in April 1942 at the relatively young age of sixty.  Gwen Dew wrote about his death in her book "Prisoner of the Japs" which was published in 1943 following her repatriation with other US Nationals in the summer of 1942.

"One death in particular made me feel very sad, that of a Mr Simmons, who had been with us on the long trek from Repulse Bay, at the Kowloon Hotel, and then in Camp so he seemed like a part of my whole Hong Kong experience. He would sit on a hillside in camp looking across the bay at his fine home on the opposite hill, which he had built to enjoy in his old age. One morning he got up, looked out the window, sat back on the cot and died. I think he died of a broken heart."

Albert's wife Delores and step-daughter Florence Proulx were released from Stanley Camp in August 1942 with Florence's two children Roger and Michael on grounds of their having Irish (neutral) nationality. They later moved from Japanese occupied Hong Kong to Macau where they remained until the war ended in 1945. Florence's husband Benny Proulx served in the HKRNVR and was stationed at the  Mine Control Station at Chung Am Kok. After the Japanese landings he had telephoned his father-in-law to warn him to  leave Erinville immediately, with the family, and come straight to Repulse Bay Hotel, which they did and not long before the Japanese arrived in that area. Benny later escaped from North Point POW Camp with two Dutch submariners and in his book "Underground from Hong Kong Kong" (1943) he describes sneaking back into his battle scarred home  after his escape but  whilst still at large on the Island.

"Shortly before midnight I left my companions well hidden in a safe place and struck out on an excursion of my own. ... Sneaking through a pet ravine of mine, I came out on a small plateau overlooking a bay. There was a house on the plateau and I gazed at it for a long time in silence for it was my home. It was here that we stayed during the summer months. ... The house was in absolute darkness. ... I crept in behind the garage. ... I walked around to the back door and found it open. ... I walked through my desecrated home and started to go out through the front door. There were several bodies lying on my front lawn in swollen, wry positions like big rag dolls."

After the war the Proulx family must have sold the house, or what was left of it, to Jardine Matheson as a later occupant Janice Anderson recalls that a bachelor from Jardines lived there with his mother and several servants having fled the troubles in Shanghai, and therefore presumably in 1948/49. Bill Anderson who had served in the Signals Coy, HKVDC, during the Battle for Hong Kong bought the house in 1957 from Jardines Group for his company NCR (National Cash Registers). He and his American wife Janice lived at Erinville briefly in the late 1950s.


Erinville in 1960s (Courtesy: Allan Proulx)
The above photograph of Erinville was probably taken  in the late 1960s, not long before the house was finally demolished in the 1970s, and replaced with four or five town houses. In the photo you can see the pipeline, leading from the reservoir on the hill-top, which at the time was under construction. 

Here's a much earlier photograph taken before the war. It's a rather grainy photo but shows the house and grounds before post-war refurbishment.

Pre-war photo of Erinville at Turtle Cove (Courtesy: Alan Proulx)
Janice Anderson and her husband Bill never saw the ghost of a soldier who was killed in the house, but her Chinese servants did see it on the upper floor and one of the maids would not go upstairs. It was supposedly the ghost of a New Zealand soldier, so probably a member of No 1 Coy HKVDC. I wonder if the ghost still haunts the town houses that now stand there.
Bill Anderson relaxing on the verandah at Erinville  in March 1959
(Courtesy: Janice Anderson)
What about the other house referred to and known as Cash's Bungalow and who was Cash ?  I found there was a file held at the National Archives in Kew, and so on a recent trip to London I popped in and had a look at the file which related to his SOE service during wartime. There were other bits of information from which I learnt that Albert Iveson Cash had lived in Hong Kong for some ten years from 1930. 

Albert Cash was born in November 1902 in Birkenhead, Cheshire. At the age of eighteen he joined the  Welsh Guards (1920-1923) rising to the rank of Sergeant in a relatively short time. After leaving the Army in 1923 he joined the Birkenhead Fire Service from 1923 until 1930. He was then posted to Hong Kong as Divisional Officer Hong Kong Fire Service, a role he occupied from 1930 until 1938. He was married to Stella Ada. In 1938 he took on a new role as Inspector of Works in the Hong Kong Public Works Dept. It was then that he lived in the bungalow near Red Hill. In 1940 he was transferred to the Public Works Dept. in Sierra Leone.

Researcher Nicola Davies discovered that he made a return trip to Hong Kong in September 1941, as he is recorded as traveling from Hong Kong to Los Angeles on SS Pleasantville, on the same ship as Ronald Hall, Bishop of Hong Kong, both leaving Hong Kong months before war erupted. Albert Cash spoke fluent Cantonese and although around forty-years-old had applied for military service. On the strength of his Cantonese language ability he was taken on by SOE and posted to  India where he is listed as being a Captain. Nicola found passenger records which show him traveling with Stella between London and Hong Kong in 1948 and 1951. He died in 1988 at  Birkenhead at the age of eighty-five.

Albert Iveson Cash (National Archives Files)
There is a mention of Cash's Bungalow in Evan Stewart's "A record of the Actions of the Hong Kong Volunteers in the Battle for Hong Kong December 1941" 
"Captain Penn took his LGs [Lewis Guns] forward to where he could bring fire to bear on Cash's Bungalow,  from which the enemy were quickly driven."  
Another reference to Cash's Bungalow is found in the Brigade (East Infantry) Diary. 
"The left Platoon of 'D' Bn (Royal Rifles) were working very slowly up Notting Hill. They were coming under fire from Cash's Bungalow".
In a further reference to the counterattack at Tai Tam Brigadier Wallis writes:
 " that he found Major Macauley trying to get his troops on and working hard. He was operating two 3-inch mortars against enemy holding Cash's Bungalow and the X-Roads ".
Rob Weir sent me the 1949 aerial photo showing Cash's Bungalow, which looks like a large property commensurate with Cash's senior position in PWD,  the property itself was most likely owned by PWD. 
1949 Aerial photo showing Tai Tam X-Roads lower centre and the  location for Cash's Bungalow (Courtesy: Rob Weir)
The black line running lower centre to right is the catch-water. The reservoir is in the left lower quadrant. I am not sure what the structure is shown in the upper part of the photo but maybe a tennis court.  The property was situated on a flat area on the summit of the mound with views to the rear  over Tai Tam Harbour towards Obelisk Hill, and to the front the views looked towards Bridge Hill and Notting Hill (see previous map extract).

On Tuesday 21st I went with fellow history enthusiast Stuart Woods to take a look at the site, which is quite overgrown. The photo below shows the same photo orientated north-south, zoomed in and I have added annotations. 
Marked up Photo of Cash's Bungalow (Photo - Stuart Woods)
I knew that the Japanese had been occupying the house on the 21st December when East Brigade tried to break out from Stanley to capture the X-Roads, and then drive up Mount Parker Road to link up with West Brigade at WNC Gap. Only two days earlier, on 19th December, East Brigade had withdrawn from the eastern sector of the Island and fallen back on Stanley and the Stanley perimeter (the line of hills from Stanley View (junction of Chung Am Kok Road and Island Road) to Palm Villa (current location of American Club at Tai Tam). The Japanese also occupied the lower slopes of Bridge Hill, above the X-Roads, and Red Hill including the abandoned British 4.5-inch Howitzer position. They had occupied the pumping station and bayoneted the two British waterworks engineers, Donald Davidson and Jack Flegg. Eyewitnesses said they were shot and bayoneted with their hands tied. They would have been known to Cash. I knew there was a machine gun at Cash's Bungalow that was causing problems for the British and Canadian troops in capturing the X-Roads. I expected not to find much, other than perhaps some Japanese bullet casings, and the ruins of the villa, but I think we found the actual machine gun position that had caused so much trouble on 21st December 1941. We found nearly 60 rounds of Japanese 7.7mm machine gun spent cartridges in one spot. There were too many to pick up. The spent rounds photographed below were left at the site where found. 

Some of the Japanese machine gun rounds fired on 21st  Dec.   
The spent rounds were found by what we think were the ruins of a stone built garden wall. At first we thought they may have been firing outwards (away from the house) in the direction of Obelisk Hill, but soon realised that this could not have been the case, because British and Canadian troops had withdrawn from that area on 19th Dec. The Japanese machine gunner(s) must have been positioned on the outside of the garden wall and in a position to fire (protected by the wall) at Canadian troops going up Bridge Hill and at British and Canadian troops approaching the X-Roads along Island Road from the driveway to Erinville.  It was all starting to make sense, tying the archival research and war diaries to the evidence on the ground  - like a jigsaw puzzle coming together. 

"The left Platoon of 'D' Bn (Royal Rifles) were working very slowly up Notting Hill. They were coming under fire from Cash's Bungalow".  [East Infantry Brigade War Diary]

Here's a view of Bridge Hill taken from the mound near Cash's Bungalow. Bridge Hill is the steep hill in the foreground to the left beyond the reservoir. Notting Hill is out of the photo to the left of Bridge Hill. 

Bridge Hill
In 1941 the hills were unwooded and had low vegetation. The Canadian and British troops going up  Notting Hill and Bridge Hill would have been clearly visible to the Japanese at Cash's Bungalow.  

In 1941 there was a narrow drive which led up to the bungalow from Island Road. Here's Stuart on that overgrown drive.

Stuart on the narrow drive leading to Cash's Bungalow (wide enough for 1941 vehicles)
Further up the drive we came across this rusted steel casing which might have been part of a vehicle. The steel at the bottom and top was thick (like armour plating).

Mystery item. The writer beside the rusted steel casing. 
We came across this brick built structure with air vents in the brickwork and a concrete rectangular  basin at the bottom. The bricks inside were blackened so we thought it might be an incinerator, but if so why build something so elaborate for such a simple function. It was located in what we thought was the garden area.

Unknown structure in the grounds of the former bungalow
The area is very overgrown and inhabited by wild pigs which we heard rather than saw.  The footpath north towards the dam is still evident but clearly seldom used.  There was little left of the ruins of the house, except some bricks and granite blocks as one might find in a stone built house, strewn around the site. Most of the bricks and stone blocks must have been salvaged for use in other construction work.

We spent an afternoon exploring the ruins of a home and discovering a bit more of its history, and we chanced on the position of the Japanese machine gun, found the remains of the garden wall and could ascertain the direction of fire which fitted with the archival research. We picked up machine gun rounds that were last touched in December 1941 and brought history alive for a moment in time.


Acknowledgements:

  1. Alan Proulx for photos of Erinville.
  2. Nicola Davies for research relating to Albert and Stella Cash.
  3. National Archives for info on Albert Cash (including photos).
  4. Bill & Janice Anderson for information relating to Erinville.
  5. Rob Weir for grid reference of Cash's bungalow and aerial photo.
  6. Stuart Woods photos and field work. 



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