Sunday, 26 March 2017

Monthly Blog - March 2017

Marie Gwendoline Paterson 


In December 1941, the Hong Kong Jockey Club grandstand at Happy Valley race course was being used as a Temporary Civilian Hospital. A number of European and Chinese volunteer ANS nurses worked there during the Battle for Hong Kong. As the fighting drew closer the hospital found itself on the frontline of the fighting, and on Christmas morning when Japanese soldiers entered the hospital a number of the terrified nurses were abused and raped. One of the nurses working there was Marie Peterson. She was forty-five years old and worked as a teacher at Queen's College. She managed to escape from the hospital, whilst the abuse of the nurses was going on. She darkened her face, by smearing herself with dirt, and used an Amah's robe and hair covering to disguise herself. Although the colony had surrendered on Christmas Day, the rape and abuse at the Jockey Club hospital carried ion that day and night. In the middle of the night she got out of the building, avoiding the Japanese sentries, and crossed the road into the Colonial Cemetery opposite the Jockey Club stands. She crawled through the cemetery avoiding Japanese patrols and made her way up the steep hillside and eventually reached Bowen Road and the British Military Hospital where she reported to British Authorities what had happened at the hospital. Gwen Dew in Prisoner of the Japs (1942) described her admiration for this brave nurse.
"To this woman who risked death to bring help rather than submit to degradation, I offer my highest homage - Marie Paterson, I commend you to the list of heroines of the war."
Marie is also mentioned by Mabel W. Redwood in her autobiography It was like this (2001). Mabel Redwood was an ANS nurse at the Jockey Club Hospital. She recalls the Japanese entering the hospital on Christmas morning with a hostage who they recognised as a well known Anglo-Indian doctor. 

The Jockey Club Grandstand and the cemetery (Source: Racing Memories HK)
Jockey Club Stands and Cemetery (Source: Pinterest)
Marie Da Roza, a young Portuguese nurse recounted the arrival of the Japanese in a deposition she made after the war.
"I was standing at the Jockey Club entrance when Dr Arculli was brought in at the point of a revolver, the Japanese soldier had tied a rope round his waist and was using him as a shield. We were taken into the tote and guarded at both ends. Japanese soldiers came pounding in, all day they were taking Chinese nurses upstairs on the first and second floors and when the girls came down alone, one by one, they were crying their eyes out, they had been raped. The nursing sisters did all they could to help them but it was impossible to do anything to prevent them being taken up again and again."
Marie Da Roza testified how the European nurses rolled bandages, whilst some carried on nursing, but all were terrified by what was happening in the hospital and dreading that they would be next. She described how one nurse carried a dead baby for hours in the hope that the Japanese would leave her alone. That night being Christmas night several of the European nurses were dragged away and raped. Marie Da Rosa managed to hide under a camp bed and from her hiding position she could see the Japanese shining torches and dragging girls from under the tables. The ordeal lasted all day and all night. As a result of Marie Paterson's escape, the Director of Medical Services, Dr Selwyn Selwyn-Clarke organised, through liaison with the Japanese medical authorities, ambulances to evacuate the hospital including the nurses on 26th December. The nurses were taken to Queen Mary Hospital.  

So who was Marie Paterson and what became of her. I was not able to find out very much, but I discovered she was born in Grenada in the British West Indies. Her parents lived there and I believe her father worked there a medical doctor. She became a school teacher, teaching in Singapore and Hong Kong before the war. She was interned at Stanley Camp until liberation in 1945. In August 1946 she is recorded on passenger lists as travelling from Mombassa to Liverpool. She then appears to have resided in Middlesex from 1946 through to 1953 and appears on electoral rolls during that period. On 31st December 1953 there is a report of her marriage at the Scottish Church in Grenada to war hero, Air Commodore Frederick Laurence Pearce, RAF (Rtd), CBE, DSO, DFC, MiD. He retired from the Air Force in March 1952. She was fifty-seven years old at the time. I believe they settled in Grenada. Frederick Pearce died in December 1975.


John Christian Boldero

I had an email from William ("Bill") Anderson who served as a HKVDC dispatch rider during the Battle for Hong Kong.  He published a book about his life in Hong Kong and China before the war, his experiences in the Battle for Hong Kong, and his post war career with NCR. He later became the CEO of NCR. His book is titled "Corporate Crisis - NCR and the computer revolution" by William S. Anderson with Charles Truax (Landfall Press, Dayton, Ohio 1991). 

After having been liberated from POW Camp in Japan, Bill Anderson was repatriated to UK in 1945.  It was difficult getting back to Hong Kong in 1946, and all such passages were controlled by the Ministry of Transport. Bill eventually took passage on the SS Samsoaring which was a general cargo liner bound for Shanghai from the Port of London. The vessel had room for three passengers. One of these was forty-six-year-old John Christian Boldero, who being the most senior of the three had a cabin to himself.  The other was Donald William Jarrett Clark, an employee of Jardines, heading out to Asia for the first time. 

The SS Samsoaring was a former liberty ship, which were mass produced in wartime and used by the United States and also provided to UK as part of the lend-lease assistance to Britain who needed to replace freighters sunk by German U-boats. Samsoaring was slow with a speed of less than ten knots and Bill describes the journey in his book as being a "slow boat too China."

This prompted me to do some more research into John Boldero. I found he was born on 28th December 1899 in Caterham, Surrey. He was the son of Tempe Stanley Drew and Richard Christian Benedictus Hamel Wedekind who had married in 1897.  Richard Wedekind, died in 1899 without ever seeing his son John who was born in December of that year. Tempe had been married previously to Harold Montague Browne in 1893, but her first husband had  died in 1895. She had one son from this previous marriage. John Boldero was born John Christian Wedekind, but at some stage he and his mother must have changed their name to Boldero which was his mother's grandfather's name on the maternal side.

John Boldero joined the Royal Navy during WW1. He was a sixteen-year-old Midshipman at the Battle of Jutland in May 1916 serving tin the battlecruiser HMS Inflexible.

Battlecruiser HMS Inflexible
In 1921 he married Marjorie Agnes Wise (1899-1994) at Battle, in East Sussex. They had two daughters Cynthia Madeline (1923) and Priscilla Mary (1927). In 1922 as a result of cuts to the services Lt John Boldero left the Royal Navy then aged twenty-two. His naval record is not very complimentary as to his abilities,  but nevertheless he won the DSC at the age of nineteen for his gallantry and leadership during the engagement with the Bolshevik fleet at Kronstadt. 

In 1922 after having been laid-off from the Navy he took passage to Vancouver, Canada where he found work as a skipper on the Vancouver ferry. He returned  to UK in 1924 and then found employment in Shanghai with the Shanghai Waterworks where he was employed from 1926 until 1939 by which time he had become Company Secretary. On the outbreak of war in 1939, at the age of thirty-nine,  he was recalled for service in the Royal Navy in Hong Kong  and given the rank  of Lt-Commander. Initially he was appointed  commanding officer  of the MTB flotilla. In 1941 he lost his right arm in an accident when one of the MTBs collided with the destroyer HMS Thracian. In July 1941 he was appointed as commanding officer of the gunboat HMS Cicala.  This small,  but well armed ship fought very gallantly throughout the battle of Hong Kong until she was sunk by Japanese aircraft. John Boldero survived incarceration and was repatriated back to England after liberation in 1945. 

In 1946 John Boldero received a bar to his DSC. He was demobilised after the war.  Then we see him with Bill Anderson and Donald Clark heading back East in July 1946 on the SS Samsoaring. He  returned to his old job in Shanghai, but not for long as China became involved in a civil war that led to formation of the Peoples Republic of China in 1949. There is a record of him returning to UK in October 1948. He may have remarried as passenger manifests after the war show him travelling with Emily Boldero.  He died in 1984, at the age of eighty-four, near Weymouth in Dorset. 

Boa Vista


The Japanese landed on Hong Kong Island during the night of 18th/19th December 1941. A Canadian platoon (No. 5 Platoon HQ Coy Royal Rifles of Canada) commanded by Lt Gerard Williams was deployed on Boa Vista. I assume this was their pre-arranged war station. Boa Vista is a hill top 846 feet above sea-level and commanding the strategic Tai Tam Gap with its military HQ. The military complex at Tai Tam Gap included East Infantry Brigade HQ and Royal Rifles of Canada Battalion HQ. Boa Vista allowed access along a path to Sanatorium Gap (aka Quarry Gap) between Mount Parker and Mount Butler. On the night of the landings, the Japanese battalion that landed at Aldrich Bay proceeded up the north face of Mount Parker, and  then moved in a north westerly direction, counter clockwise around the upper levels of Mount Parker to arrive at Sanatorium Gap. After overcoming No. 1 Platoon of No. 1 Coy HKVDC they continued uphill to occupy Mount Parker, which was their principal objective. Lt William's Platoon  was ordered up to Mount Parker  from their position on Boa Vista. They followed the  path to Sanatorium Gap where they met up with guides sent from HKVDC positions at Sanatorium Gap. However, when they arrived at the gap there was no sign of the HKVDC, who by that time had been overrun. The Canadian platoon proceeded up Mount Parker only to find the Japanese in occupation and in much greater strength. The platoon was destroyed. A second platoon (No. 9 Platoon) from 'A' Coy Royal Rifles of Canada under the command of Lt Collison Blaver was ordered up to Boa Vista to replace the previous platoon. Blaver's  platoon was later ordered up Mt Parker, where they  ran into entrenched Japanese positions and withdrew after suffering a number of casualties.

Map extract showing Boa Vista, Mt Parker and Tai Tam Gap
Boa Vista was a strategic position, and I had always assumed that there would be some evidence of splinter proof military accommodation shelters for a platoon size force of 25 to 30 men. However I had never found any sign of military structures. I then had a call from my friend Sergio Marcal who had found a military structure at Boa Vista. He had also found a Royal Rifles of Canada cap badge near the wartime military structure.

Cap badge of the Royal Rifles of Canada 
Stuart Woods and I arranged to meet with Sergio Marcal on top of Boa Vista. We climbed up from Tai Tam Gap and Sergio showed us the military structure that must have been used by Lt Williams and later Lt Blaver.

My friend Sergio at the military structure.

The splinter proof shelter on Boa Vista
The steel door and shutters had been hacked off the structure, no doubt long ago and sold for scrap.  A building like this could usually sleep a section of nine men  (three retractable bunks on three walls).    The building is hidden in the undergrowth and not visible from the nearby trail. It seemed to be facing the direction of Mount Parker (northwest). Oddly within 20 metres or so was another structure which was brick built and did not look like a typical WW2 military structure, this remains a mystery.

The brick built structure

Sai Wan Military Cemetery


The most senior Allied officer to be killed in the Battle for Hong Kong was Brigadier John Lawson. He died at his HQ bunker at WNC Gap after having been shot in the legs by machine gun fire, whilst trying to extricate from his surrounded HQ on 19th December 1941. Lawson was given a battlefield burial at WNC Gap, but after the war his body was one of many, with known graves, which were exhumed and given a military burial in one of  the two military cemeteries in Hong Kong. These are at Sai Wan and Stanley. Brigadier Lawson was buried at Sai Wan and I had assumed he was the most senior officer buried there, but I was wrong, there are two Major-Generals buried at Sai Wan Military Cemetery and both were decorated veterans of WW1, who died during WW2.

Firstly there was Major General Lancelot ("Lance") Ernest Dennys. He was an officer in the British Indian Army. He was born at Simla in India in 1890. He won the Military Cross in WW1. The citation records his gallantry in action.
"On 20th September, 1918, he led his company through an intense cross machine gun barrage and took his objective with the utmost determination and dash. His personal gallantry and disregard of danger greatly inspired all ranks. Although severely wounded. he endeavoured to crawl and continue commanding but finally had to be carried back by his orderly."
 General Archibald Wavell & General Lance Dennys (Source: findagrave.com)
He had a distinguished career with the Indian Army between the wars, and in 1941 he was acting as Head of the British Military Mission to China based in Chungking. He died aged 51 on 14th March 1942 when a CNAC DC-2 that he was a passenger in crashed at Kunming.

The other high ranking officer buried at Sai Wan was Major-General Merton Beckwith-Smith. He too was a veteran of WW1 and had been awarded the DSO and MC and Mentioned in Dispatches four times. Like Dennys, he too was born in 1890, and served with the Brigade of Guards. He commanded 1st Guards Brigade in WW2 as part of the British Expeditionary Force. His brigade acted as rearguard in the retreat to Dunkirk in 1940. He was then given command of the 18th Territorial Division and sent out to Singapore with the division. He became a Prisoner of War (POW) when Singapore fell in February 1942. He was transhipped to Formosa (now Taiwan) in August 1942.  Whilst in POW Camp in Formosa, in a weakened state, he was severely beaten by a Japanese guard and became ill as a result. He contracted diphtheria and died in November 1942. 

Major-General Beckwith-Smith
His granddaughter Anne Honor Beckwith-Smith was for many years  (1981 to 1997) Lady in Waiting to Princess Diana.


Vandalism at  Brigadier Lawson's Bunkers


After the evacuation of the Mainland, Brigadier Lawson was placed in command of West Infantry Brigade and Brigadier Wallis was placed in command of East Infantry Brigade. The Japanese landed on the Island on the night of 18th December 1941. The next morning Brigadier Lawson found that his Brigade HQ bunkers had become part of the front line and his HQ was surrounded by Japanese troops who had seized Wong Nai Chung Gap (WNC Gap) earlier that morning. The bomb proof shelters that were used as his HQ still remain beside a petrol station on WNC Gap Road. I often go there because it is part of the WNC Gap "Battle Trail" and I periodically conduct guided battlefield tours along this trail.  For a long time these bunkers were strewn with rubbish and other junk, but the Antiquities & Monuments Office (AMO) have finally got round to tidying up the site. They deserve praise for doing a very good clear-up of this historic site. 

I felt quite outraged to find that the site had been vandalised by teenagers, who are most probably from the nearby French International School. Some of these teenagers hang out at the bunkers leaving litter, beer cans and cigarette ends, but more recently have spray-painted graffiti on some of the internal and external walls including on at least one of the original steel doors. The graffiti is in French and I have seen (and photographed) students from the nearby French International School at this location.  See the vandalised buildings in the photographs below. 


A bomb proof structure that I think may have been a garage. 

What I think was Lawson's bunker protected by the blast wall. 

Spray-painted graffiti which is difficult to remove
The next set of photographs (courtesy of history enthusiast Alexander Macdonald) show the messy state of the site before the Antiquities and Monuments Office  (AMO) clear-up.


The garrage full of junk
Litter and junk filling up the passageway

What a mess and this is a historic site.
What a difference was made after the the tidy up by AMO - see the photographs below marred only by the mindless graffiti and fresh litter.


After the clear-up by AMO

After the AMO clear-up but sadly after the vandalisation
I posted several of these photographs on my Facebook (FB) page and on the Battle of Hong Kong FB page. The Hong Kong Free Press wrote a story about it, and there was quite widespread outrage and protest that these historic buildings, which in someways are like a war shrine because so many died at this spot, had been vandalised in this way.  Brigadier lawson was buried at this site (later exhumed and reburied at Sai Wan military cemetery). Lawson, and those who fought here, and those who died here, deserve better than this. I wrote to the Headmaster of the French International School (FIS) and to the Executive Secretary of the AMO. The French International School and the French Consulate were also appalled, and have been very responsive. The AMO have also responded positively. I am working with FIS and AMO to restitute the damage to these buildings.  I met the Headmaster of FIS and a number of teachers in the history faculty both for French stream and English stream. I met some of the FIS students  who that morning had been across to the site and tidied up the discarded litter. They did this of their own volition. They too were upset by what had happened and also by the negative publicity for their school caused by the thoughtless actions of a very small handful of people who are thought to be involved. The school is anxious to work with AMO to restitute the damage and the AMO is consulting conservators to seek guidance how to remove the spray-paint without damaging the structures.  The school are also looking at adopting the site, which is just across the road from their WNC Gap Road entrance, and keeping it clean and tidy and reporting any damage. This would give the students a sense of ownership of the site and the school have readily agreed to undertake some class-group guided battlefield tours which I will lead around the WNC Gap area i.e. to tell them about the battle and what these war ruins are and what happened there in the vicinity of their school.  Another military historian Bill Lake will do a presentation on WW2 in Hong Kong to the school after the Easter Holidays. I think the publicity may do so some good because it highlights the need to protect and preserve these war ruins that still remains in many places around Hong Kong. It also shows Government departments that people care about these structures and these are locals, expats and people in other countries. Another positive is that  the students at FIS will have a much better understanding of what these buildings are and what happened in the Battle for Hong Kong in the area around their school and hopefully these war ruins will be spared further damage and littering. 


Battlefield Tour

On Saturday 25th March I took a group of around twenty Hong Kong Club members on a guided walk on what I describe as the Stanley Perimeter. We started at Stanley View and went straight up Stanley Mound and then to Stone Hill, Notting Hill and finally Bridge Hill and then down to the Tai Tam X-Roads. It was a rigorous hike all of which was off main trail, and although short in distance, it involved many steep ascents and descents through quite dense undergrowth. I was so impressed with this group for doing such a demanding hike in difficult terrain at a good pace. The whole route including a lunch stop took over five hours. The oldest participant was eighty-one, and walked very energetically and well.  I just hope when I reach that age - I can do a hike like this. 

War Walk - the Stanley Perimeter
There had been fighting on all these hills from 21st to 23rd December. Some of the hills had changed hands a couple of times like Stanley Mound and Stone Hill. We found a number of bullets and spent cartridges which were left in situ. This line of hills from Stanley View to Notting Hill formed a defensive perimeter in front of Stanley and was manned predominantly by the Royal Rifles of Canada.


On the battlefields

During the month we made a number of forays from the ridge path either side of the crest of Jardines Lookout, looking for evidence (Canadian spent rounds and Japanese grenade fragments) of the route taken by 'A' Coy Winnipeg Grenadiers on 19th December 1941, during their fighting retreat towards Stanley Gap. We have found a lot of Japanese spent rounds and chargers on the ridge path area, but we are yet to find large amounts of Canadian rounds in positions which demonstrate the route taken by this Canadian infantry company.  The whole company was destroyed, their commanding officer was killed in action, and their CSM was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross. The company fought from dawn to mid afternoon.  I was accompanied by  military history enthusiasts Stuart Woods and Dave Willott. Each foray was off trail, and involved crashing through thick vegetation. The terrain is difficult and you don't realise until you are in it. There are deep ravines and boulders. The photograph below is taken in one of the less overgrown areas.

Stuart Woods with metal detector - looking for 'A' Coy route
Although we did not find what we were looking for, we did find the rusted remains of a WW2 helmet. Not much of it was a left other than the steel rim around the helmet and the strap holders on the side of (inside of) the helmet. These items we left in situ.

Rusted remains of a helmet (note the steel rim) 
Buckle holding strap to helmet

An intact helmet showing buckle and steel rim  
There are a number of bomb proof WW2 toilets that remain in Hong Kong. The one below is the smallest I have seen. It's a toilet for one with thick reinforced concrete walls. Steps lead down to it from the Command Post at Stanley Gap (near the AA Battery).

Bomb proof toilet, for one,  at Stanley Gap (near Command Post).
Steps lead down to this small splinter proof toilet structure
Dennis Quong, military history enthusiast, on the roof of the Command Post
The splinter proof toilet below is in a different location. It's at Stanley View which was a the meeting point for the HK Club walk described above. This one may be bomb proof but it's not tree proof. The tree is literally devouring and destroying the concrete structure.

Sic gloria transit mundi