Friday, 23 March 2018

Herbert Howell Beddow - killed at Leighton Hill in Hong Kong in December 1941

I first saw his name mentioned in the 1st Battalion Middlesex Regiment War Diary, referring to his death at Leighton Hill
"At about 1430 (16th December 1941) the whole of Leighton Hill was subjected to a very heavy bombardment by high velocity guns which succeeded in setting light to one block which burnt itself out completely, and every other house was hit, Bn HQ miraculously escaping with one casualty RSM Robert Challis. One civilian, a Mr Beddow was blown to bits." 
On top of Leighton Hill were four blocks of government buildings used to accommodate civil servants. To the south of Leighton Hill was Chinese Cemetery Ridge. The pre-war map below shows the four government blocks on Leighton Hill which overlooks Happy Valley Race Course. 


The photograph below shows Leighton Hill probably around 1919 before the building of the government blocks which were completed around 1921.


The photo below courtesy of Victor Li shows Happy Valley, Morrison Hill and Leighton Hill after the government apartment blocks had been built probably around 1922.
A view of Happy Valley, Morrison Hill and Leighton Hill (courtesy Victor Li)
So what was Herbert Beddow doing on Leighton Hill. Perhaps as a civil servant he lived in one of the blocks but Leighton Hill had been taken over by the Army and the 1st Bn Mx had their battalion HQ positioned there. The Mx war diary describes him as being killed on 16th December although other sources for example the Commonwealth War Graves Commission indicate date of death as 17th December. The Island was under heavy bombardment in the week between the military evacuation of Kowloon and the Japanese invasion of the Island on 18th December 1941.

Was he assisting the military in some way, or did he live there, and, was he perhaps going to his apartment to collect personal effects. 

He first arrived in Hong Kong in August 1927. He appears on passenger manifests in 1932 and 1937 going on long leave to UK. Government records show him as being a teacher employed by the Education Department. He had a BSc in Maths from the University of Wales. He taught at Central British School, King's College and had joined Queen's College as Maths Master by the time war broke out. At the time of his death he was 43 years-old having been  born 19th December 1898 in Llanelli, Wales. He does not appear to have ever been married. One reference  suggested he was a member of HKVDC in the rank of BSM,  but he is not listed as such in 1941.

I can picture this, perhaps quiet and unassuming, Maths teacher  who was killed, as a result of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, but what really surprised me when I did a little research is that it turned out he was a Fighter Pilot in the Royal Flying Corp during WW1 and he saw service in 1917-1918 with No. 22 Squadron on the Western Front. He flew Bristol F2-B two-seater fighters, which were armed with a forward synchronised Vickers gun controlled by the Pilot, and a rear Lewis gun controlled by the Observer. What's more it turned out he was an Ace and had been accredited with ten kills in the summer of 1918.

10 Kills

Bristol Fighter 
So not just the unassuming Maths teacher. Anybody who went up in those frail and flimsy fighters and engaged in aerial combat over the Western Front in WW1 - lacked nothing in terms of courage, and on top of that he was an Ace with ten recorded kills............Never mind the square on the hypotenuse.



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Acknowledgements

Victor Li for sharing a photograph of Happy Valley showing first generation buildings on Leighton Hill

Geoff Moore for finding an extract referring to Herbert Beddow in Gwen Stokes "Queen's College 1862-1962.