Sunday, 9 June 2019

What happened to No. 4 Battery at Pak Sha Wan in December 1941

What exactly happened at Pak Sha Wan Battery, on 18 December 1941 which was the night the Japanese Army landed on Hong Kong Island. It has never been very clear. Did the Japanese by-pass the battery as they moved inland to capture Sai Wan AA Fort and Lye Mun Barracks? Was the reported attempted landing at Pak Sha Wan on the night of 15 December a false alarm? During that night the British searchlights were illuminated over the narrow Lye Mun Strait and a British artillery barrage was laid down, but Japanese records do not refer to any attempted invasion on 15 December. What action was the battery involved in? Was the commanding officer a malingerer as suggested in some accounts, or was he a strong leader who fought on until his men were forced to capitulate some two days after the Japanese landings. Did a number of the battery personnel desert their post? What exactly happened there? 

The battery location

The battery was located on the northeast shore of Hong Kong Island directly opposite Devil's Peak Peninsula on the Mainland. The harbour narrowed at this point to form the Lye Mun Strait. The red coloured areas shown in the map were military restricted areas. Pak Sha Wan was a coastal defence battery and formed part of Eastern Fire Command. Its position allowed it to fire on Junk Bay and on the eastern approaches to the harbour. It was also in a position to conduct landward firing. During the battle, it ended up being on the front line.

Pre-war map showing the location of Pak Sha Wan Battery
The photograph below (probably dated between 1947-49), taken from Sai Wan Military Cemetery, shows the battery position relative to Sai Wan Hill and Lye Mun Gap.

Sai Wan Military Cemetery 
History of the Battery

The battery, completed in 1903, was originally designed to accommodate four 12-pounder Quick Firing (QF) guns. These were replaced in 1910 with three 6-inch breech-loading (BL) guns. In 1936/37 one of the 6-inch guns was removed. Dennis Rollo, in The Guns & Gunners of Hong Kong (1991), wrote that the empty emplacement was the middle one (No. 2) but at some point, a wooden dummy gun was installed. The three gun emplacements still exist, and likewise the magazines and Battery Observation Post (BOP). The ruins, especially the BOP, also referred to as the Battery Command Post (BCP), and the blast walls and the gun positions show considerable fragmentation and splinter damage. The ruins are inaccessible to the public as they lie within a closed area of the Coastal Defence Museum compound.

Battery Layout (Source: The Guns & Gunners of Hong Kong - Dennis Rollo)
1912 Plan of the battery (Source: UKNA WO78/5351) 
Post War Photo of No 1 Gun Emplacement ( Source: The Guns & Gunners of Hong Kong - Dennis Rollo)
The military installations at Lye Mun promontory included Lye Mun Barracks which had been built around 1897. New barracks buildings had been added in 1938. The Sai Wan Redoubt had been completed around 1903 at about the same time as Pak Sha Wan Battery. After mobilisation in December 1941, Lye Mun Barracks were mostly empty as the troops had been deployed to their battle positions. One 3.7-inch howitzer manned by the Hong Kong Singapore Royal Artillery (HKSRA) had been moved to the barracks area from Tai Tam Fork Battery and was positioned mid-way between the Barracks and Sai Wan AA Fort. The howitzer had been moved to Lye Mun to conduct fire on Japanese mortar positions and observation posts that had been sighted on Devil's Peak Peninsula. At Sai Wan Fort, the old Victorian redoubt remained but an AA Fort had been built around it consisting of two 3-inch AA guns and various battery buildings most of which still remain today and are fully accessible. Lye Mun Barracks buildings are now part of the Lye Mun Park & Holiday Village and have been well preserved. Day visits can be arranged. Situated close to Sai Wan Hill, there were two howitzer sections each consisting of two 6-inch guns manned by HKSRA. One (the Sai Wan Section) was situated southeast of Sai Wan Hill and the other (Parker Section) was situated off Island Road between Lye Mun Gap and Tai Tam Gap. 'C' Coy, Royal Rifles of Canada, were positioned at and around Lye Mun Gap. The Victorian redoubt on the cliffs at Lye Mun and its attached batteries (West, Central and Reverse Batteries) were no longer in use. Today this structure houses the Museum of Coastal Defence.

Pak Sha Wan Battery in December 1941

The battery consisting of two 6-inch BL guns was manned by No. 4 Battery HKVDC. The battery consisted of three officers and ninety-four men. It was commanded by Captain K. M A. Barnett. Kenneth Myer Arthur Barnett was born in London in March 1911. He was a graduate of King's College, Cambridge where he studied Classics. In 1934, aged twenty-three, he joined the Colonial Service in Hong Kong as a cadet officer. He was sent to Canton for two years to learn Chinese. He had served as a Magistrate at Kowloon Magistracy until 1941 when he was transferred to the War Taxation Office. He joined the HKVDC in 1937 initially as a gunner, and then in 1939, he was selected to serve as a  commissioned officer. No. 4 Battery was mainly comprised of Chinese, Portuguese and Eurasian gunners and NCOs. These included Capt. Barnett,  2/Lt Ronald Sleap, BSM John Delgado and BQMS Ignatius Fernandez. Lt Henry Buxton from No. 2 Battery had been sent, on 17 December, to No. 4 Battery to relieve 2/Lt Sleap. The battery was manned following the announcement of a State of Emergency on Sunday 7 December. The following day the Japanese Army crossed the border into Hong Kong and the war began.
   After the evacuation of British troops from the Mainland was completed on Saturday 13 December the battery, and the surrounding area and the whole of the northeast shore came under increasingly heavy artillery and aerial bombardment. This bombardment was particularly heavy during the day on 18 December as a prelude to the Japanese landings that occurred that night. The whole of the Lye Mun area and the shoreline from North Point to Shau Kei Wan was completely pulverised. The Military commander, Major General C. M. Maltby described the bombardment of the battery in his Report on Operations for 14/15 December.
Pak Sha Wan Battery (Chinese Volunteers) came in for particular attention, being shelled and mortared. Its Battery Command Post and all internal communications were destroyed and the Battery Commander was wounded and evacuated. ... At this juncture owing to an imperfectly conveyed message and an error of judgement of the junior officer left in acting command, the personnel were given the option of going to Stanley. All but two Chinese left; seventeen British and Portuguese stayed. A few British gunners were later sent up as reinforcements. (Report on Operations by Major-General Maltby)
I assume the junior officer was 2/Lt Sleap who was later relieved by Lt Henry Buxton from No. 2 Battery, HKVDC, at Stanley. What was the real explanation for the depletion of the battery personnel? Gunner Maximo Cheng recalled in an interview for the Imperial War Museum (IWM) that a Chinese Sergeant, perhaps acting as a spokesman, stated they could not take much more of the continual bombardment. Cheng recalled that a number of the gunners were marched out and taken to Stanley Fort where No 2 Battery HKVDC was based. He also stated that some of the gunners had deserted. Phillip Bruce, writing in Second to None the story of the Hong Kong Volunteers (1991), refers to a visit by Kenneth Barnet to the ruins of the battery in 1987 at which time he indicated that an arrangement had been made to exchange gunners. The story goes that Barnett had got through to Captain Douglas Crozier, the commanding officer at No. 2 Battery at Stanley. He had advised Crozier that some of the battery personnel were getting jittery from being constantly under shellfire. They had discussed sending battery personnel back to recuperate and replacing them with men from No 2 Battery who had not yet been under fire. Cheng had been part of a searchlight emplacement crew. He recalled that during the bombardment they sheltered in the underground-magazines. He recalled that when he left for Stanley a number of Chinese, Portuguese and British gunners and NCO's remained at Pak Sha Wan Battery. It is not clear whether any of the personnel were switched other than Lt Buxton being sent from Stanley to replace 2/Lt Sleap, nor is it clear whether 2/Lt Sleap did move in time to Stanley, or whether he was still in the battery on the night of the Japanese landings.
   The war diary of the Royal Rifles of Canada states that on 15 December when Pak Sha Wan Battery reportedly came under attack (the attempted landing), a number of the battery personnel withdrew to Island Road at Lye Mun Gap. This must have been the group that Maximo Cheng refers to and the one that Maltby suggests 2/Lt Sleap authorised to withdraw. This decision was made in the absence of his battery commander who was reportedly wounded. Carl Vincent writing in No Reason Why (1981) suggests that Captain Barnett, who is not mentioned by name, may not have been wounded. He sought medical treatment from Captain Banfill, the MO for the Royal Rifles of Canada.
The previous day this same officer, a local magistrate, had been in to see Banfill at the Lye Mun Advanced Dressing Station (ADS). His battery had been shelled or bombed and several of his men wounded. The officer himself had his head and arm dressed but on examination revealed no wounds at all. (No Reason Why p.143)
Perhaps, he had a concussion from the blast effects of the artillery fire, and, perhaps, like many of his men, his nerves were strained from the continual barrage, but he did return to his post.
The night of 15 December

Major-General Maltby wrote in his published report on operations that an attempted landing took place on 15 December.
At 2100 hours, an attempted landing was reported by the Pak Sha Wan Battery (HKVDC). It was ascertained later from several sources that a very bold attempt was made by the enemy who, with small rubber boats and petrol tin rafts for equipment, swam across in fair strength - estimates varied from one to three companies. All were shot in the water, the depleted battery contributing stout defence. (Major-General Maltby)
Brigadier Wallis, at his underground Brigade HQ at Tai Tam Gap, received reports from Pak Sha Wan that an attempted landing was taking place and that the sentry beam had been illuminated. Wallis arranged for East Group Royal Artillery to lay down an artillery barrage in the narrows and on the foreshore of Devils Peak Peninsula. For anybody in the vicinity, it must have looked like a full-scale battle. However, Japanese reports make no reference to an attempted landing on this date. They had sent swimmers across to recce the Island foreshore but had made no attempt at a landing.  The North Point fixed beam was also illuminated that evening and some PB's on the north shore fired red Verey lights indicating enemy sightings. These may well have been Chinese sampans and junks. Major Evan Stewart described the attempted landing in his book Hong Kong Volunteers in Battle (1953).
The No. 2 searchlight of 4th Battery HKVDC was depressed and showed Japanese in considerable numbers crossing the channel, using a junk, small rafts and rubber boats. The battery promptly opened fire and sank the junk, besides doing considerable damage among the rafts. ... The Japanese counter batteries quickly opened ... the searchlight was hit and considerable further damage done to the fort. (Major Evan Steart)
BQMS Charles Barman was at Lye Mun with an ammunition convoy and witnessed the attempted landing.
I saw others from my vantage point ... making the journey in a weird assortment of craft such as small rubber boats, sampans and junks. As this armada arrived at the middle of the harbour the defenders pored a murderous fire into the Japanese. A junk punctuated by hundreds of bullets was holed and sank , sampans were hit and overturned. ... The channel became a dark shambles of shrieking struggling and drowning Japanese. (Resist to the End (2009) p. 35)
There is no doubt for people there, it seemed that they were being attacked and that a major battle was in progress. However, as Carl Vincent and some other writers suggest, it is possible that these were Chinese junks and sampans escaping from the Mainland. There had been many other such false alarms and shootings during that week. The launch Jeannette had been sunk on the night of 12 December when a PB crew thought they were being attacked by a Japanese vessel full of troops. The withdrawal to Stanley by a large number of No. 4 Battery occurred on that night. Later, after the commotion had died down, Major Bishop led a party of riflemen into Pak Sha Wan Fort. 

The night of the Japanese Landings

On the night of 18 December, the Japanese landed six infantry battalions on the north shore. Two battalions from the 230th Regiment landed at North Point and two battalions from the 228th Regiment landed at Quarry Bay/Tai Koo. The two battalions from the 229th Regiment landed at Aldrich Bay and Kung Am. The 3rd Battalion 229th Regiment having got ashore in Aldrich Bay moved quickly inland and ascended the north facing slopes of Mount Parker. The 2nd Battalion of the 229th Regiment landed at Kung Am close to Shau Kei Wan. This battalion seized the Sai Wan AA Fort and overran Lye Mun Barracks.
   Major Evan Stewart writing in Hong Kong Volunteers in Battle (1953) states that the Japanese attacked the battery and that the No. 1 Gun was overrun, but they did not press home the attack. These accounts then suggest that Lt Ken Barnett and a small party of gunners held on in the battery for a further two days before surrendering on 20 December. Japanese tactics often involved bypassing strongly held positions, or simply picketing them, while other more important objectives were achieved.  It seems that the Japanese after having overrun the No 1 Gun continued north to put out the search-light rather than infiltrating the rest of the battery buildings.
   We know that thirty-eight-year-old  Lt Henry Buxton from No. 2 Battery (based at Stanley) was ordered by Major Watson to relieve 2/Lt Sleap at Pak Sha Wan Battery after dusk on 17 December. On the 18 December, Lt Buxton led a party of gunners from Pak Sha Wan Battery and ran into a Japanese patrol making their way through the barracks. The Japanese troops were advancing to the battery with the objective of putting out the searchlight which was illuminating the Japanese landing craft crossing the Lye Mun Straits. In the melee Lt Buxton was killed and his troops killed or dispersed. There was only one survivor, who was able to tell what happened during subsequent incarceration. The Japanese had heard the British troops coming, they prepared an ambush, hailed them in English and then opened fire. Robert Gandt interviewed a Japanese officer Lt Akimasa Kishi whilst researching for his book Season of Storms (1982). Lt Kishi's orders were to proceed to Pak Sha Wan Battery and to attack the battery from the rear and simultaneously destroy the searchlight position. It was Kishi's troops that must have run into Lt Buxton's party. Robert Gandt writes that the battery was overrun by Kishi's unit and that Kishi's sergeant had proceeded to the searchlight with a group of twelve men but had faced resistance from the small group of Royal Engineers manning the searchlight. The  Japanese sergeant had been killed. The searchlight was eventually captured, the commanding officer, Captain Otway, RE,  and an NCO, Corporal Pelham managed to escape the position. At the battery, Captain Barnett, who had earlier ordered his remaining gun to fire at Shau Kei Wan, had been by-passed and remained at the battery until surrendering to Japanese troops on or around 20 December.


The battery was undoubtedly a wretched place to be stationed under an almost continuous barrage from 13 to 18 December. I think many of the Volunteers suffered from the nervous strain of being under such a heavy and continuous bombardment. Captain Barnett was reported as having been wounded although some records suggest that no wounds were found on him at the ADS. However, it could have been bruising and concussion combined with shell shock. We don't know, but we do know he returned to his post.
   It is quite likely that the attempted landing on 15 December was a false alarm. The Japanse would not have tried landing with such a small force in such flimsy boats and rafts. When they did cross the harbour on 18 December they brought six infantry battalions and landed more than 8,000 men.
   2/Lt Sleap may not have had much choice in allowing his Chinese gunners to withdraw to Stanley. If he had not done so they may have deserted. According to Maximo Cheng, some did desert. Maximo Cheng suggested that at least one of the guns was out of action and the Command Post was badly damaged. I think it is likely that the Japanese did by-pass the battery after putting the sentry beam out of action. They had other objectives including an RV at Lye Mun Gap the following morning and to get to Tai Tam Gap, Boa Vista and WNC Gap. It is likely that Captain Barnett did hold on to the battery until 20 December when they surrendered.
   It is not clear whether Lt Buxton was extricating or leading a counterattack towards the barracks, we only know that he and his men were killed by Japanese troops advancing through the barracks. Buxton was thirty-eight-years-old at the time of his death. He had married Alberta Walton (nee Pearce) in 1940. She had a daughter Patricia. Buxton's wife, Alberta, was a military volunteer nurse. She was one of three nurses who were raped, mutilated and killed by Japanese troops when they attacked the temporary hospital at St Stephen's College on Christmas Morning.
   Maximo Cheng was incarcerated firstly at North Point and later at Sham Shui Po Camp. He was released from SSP Camp with other Chinese POWs in September 1942. He then obtained a pass to leave for China and eventually reached Kweilin and from there proceeded to India where he joined the British Regular Army later becoming part of the Chindits and fighting in Burma. He was recommended for Officer Training and commissioned as a 2/Lt.
   Kenneth Barnet was interned initially at Argyle Street and later at Sham Shui Po Camp. In 1944, during a visit by Zindel, the Swiss Red Cross Representative in Hong Hong, he spoke out in French to say they were starving and had no medicines. As a result, he was severely beaten by the guards. He was awarded the MiD after the war for his bravery in POW Camps. He survived the incarceration and remained in Hong Kong after the war serving with the British Military Administration. He resumed his career with the Hong Kong Government until retiring in 1969. He was a linguist and could speak several languages including Mandarin and Cantonese. He married a Chinese lady, Joan Wong Hing-sham in February 1946,  whom he had met prior to the war in Canton. They had an adopted daughter who became a lawyer in the UK.

Members of No. 4 Battery - HKVDC

     Name           Given Names                               No.    Rank      Date of Death

BarnettKen Myer Arthur Capt
Brown Harold Wilson 1708Sgt17-Dec-41
BuxtonHenry  ThomasLt18-Dec-41
CamposHenry Maria4836Gnr18-Dec-41
ChanChi Wing 3492Gunner
ChanAlbert Kam Chuen4088Gunner
ChangWSF  (Bill) 4386Gunner
ChengMaximo Anthony4616Gunner
CheungYan Sing2800Gunner
ChungWah Leung (Leslie)4531Gunner
DelgadoJohn Anthony2508  or 3787BSM
GreavesStanley  E.Gunner18-Dec-41
Ho  Sai KwongGunner
KwokChan Lun2880Gunner
LeeEdward  F4536Gunner
LeonardAlbert  Reginald4271Gunner
LiF XGunner
LimJohn Anthony4343Gunner25-Dec-41
LoKa Mo4272Gunner
PauCharles Francis3436Gunner
Poon Chun Ho 3494Gunner
Rocha Antonio  JoaoL-Bdr18-Dec-41
RochaCarlos   Eduardo3439Gunner
Rocha Frederico Lizola3438Gunner
Schnepel Frederick4217L-Bdr15-Dec-41
SoT.Y. Gunner
TangSik Hung 3481Gunner
XavierAntonio  Maria3820L-Bdr
Officers and Volunteers KIA or DoW
POW at Surrender of Japanese
Released by Japanese 
Did not enter Camp or escaped
N.B.  1.   Lt Henry Buxton was No. 2 Battery but was assigned to No 4 Battery on 17 December 1941
          2.  This is a partial list containing 44 of the 97 members of the battery

Thursday, 3 January 2019

Escape from the Lisbon Maru

2/Lt Douglas Baird left his home in Valparaiso, Chile in June 1940 to travel to the mother country that he barely knew. Many other young men from the Anglo-Chileno community made that same journey responding to Britain's need, in a time of war, when Britain was facing the prospect of invasion and defeat. He joined the Royal Scots, and in June 1941 he was posted to Hong Kong as a subaltern to serve with the 2nd Battalion which had been in Hong Kong since 1938.
   On 8 December 1941, Japan invaded Hong Kong and more or less simultaneously attacked the Commonwealth of the Philippines, Malaya and Singapore. A few hours earlier Japanese forces had attacked the US Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbour. During the brief but brutal battle for Hong Kong, Douglas Baird was in the thick of the action fighting on the Gin Drinkers Line, and at Wong Nai Chung Gap. He was wounded in action by machine gun fire with two bullets going through one of his legs below the knee. The main artery was severed, a tourniquet was applied and he was evacuated to Bowen Road Military Hospital. He recovered from his wounds, and in April 1942 he was released to Sham Shui Po POW Camp. He was later transferred to Argyle Street camp.  
   In September 1942, the Japanese started transferring POWs to Japan to work as forced labourers in mines, docks, factories and foundries. The first draft left in early September with some six-hundred POWs. Baird was assigned to the second draft on a freighter called the Lisbon Maru, together with 1,816 British POWs. Baird was still limping from the wound to his leg, but he was considered by the Japanese to be fit enough to form part of the draft. The draft was mainly comprised of officers and men from the Royal Navy (RN), Royal Artillery (RA), the Middlesex Regiment (1/Mx), Royal Engineers (RE), Royal Army Service Corps (RASC), Royal Corps of Signals (RCS), and the Royal Scots (2/RS). 
   The Lisbon Maru had been completed in 1920. She was a twin-screw steamship with a top speed of around 12 knots. She was armed with deck-mounted guns fore and aft. The POWs were crammed into three holds with four hatches. She was under the command of Captain Kyodo Shigeru.

Lisbon Maru (Wikipedia)
The No. 1 Hold, the foremost hold, contained approximately 300 POWs consisting mainly of RN, personnel. The naval draft in No. 1 Hold was under the command of Lt Joshua Pollock, RN ((Rtd). The No. 2 Hold was located immediately in front of the bridge superstructure. There were two hatches. This hold mainly consisted of the Royal Scots and the Middlesex drafts. Lt-Col Stewart, 1/Mx, was the senior officer. The No. 3 Hold was situated aft of the bridge structure. The hold was occupied by the Royal Artillery. The senior officer was Major William Pitt, RA.
   The after section, behind the superstructure, with three hatches, was used to accommodate some 778 Japanese troops returning to Japan. This area also housed the guard detail which consisted of twenty-five men commanded by Lt Hideo Wada. The holds occupied by the British prisoners of war had been fitted with wooden bunks, one atop the other, and ladders connecting one platform to another. A main wooden stairway with a low bannister connected the upper deck with the bottom of the hold. The Royal Scots were allocated to the lower level of the hold. The officers were allocated a platform immediately below the bridge structure. Each officer was allocated a 50-man working party made up from the other ranks.
   The holds were utterly crowded, and there was little space between the bunks. There were some electric light bulbs which gave a dim light. The toilets were on the upper deck consisting of a long bench or plank built over the ship's side. One plank for the thighs and another to support their backs. A precarious perch especially in rough seas. The freighter lay alongside the jetty at Kowloon Docks for five days before she finally sailed on 27 September 1942. Whilst alongside the jetty the heat in the hold was punishing. 2/Lt Geoffrey Hamilton, 2R/s, noted that about half the men were issued with kapok life belts.
   When the freighter eventually sailed from Hong Kong, the hold hatches were open, and a breeze gave some much-needed ventilation. POWs were allowed on deck, but only ten at a time, to use the latrines and toilets. There was a continuous queue of men up the staircase to use the toilets.  Many of the POWs were in no fit state to make the journey, and many were suffering from dysentery and some from diphtheria. Roll-calls were conducted twice a day by the officers for their respective work-parties. It was whilst Lt Baird was conducting a roll call for his work-party (No. 17 Group) at 0700 hours on 1 October 1942 that a torpedo hit the freighter. He recalled the incident in his diary which was edited by his daughter,  Catherine Baird Williams, under the title Dad's Story.
A terrific explosion shook the ship with such force that it nearly knocked me backwards off the banister. The ships engines immediately stopped and the electric light went out. For a few moments we did not realise what had happened but soon the Japanese on deck were rushing all over the place and the gun on the bow of the ship came into action. (Dad's Story)
Baird returned to the officer's platform where they could see the forward gun firing to starboard and swinging around to fire on the port side. During that first morning following the submarine attack, the POWs were no longer allowed on deck, and no food or water was provided. The torpedo had been fired from an American submarine, the USS Grouper. The submarine had no way of knowing that the freighter was carrying Allied POWs. There were no markings, and the vessel was clearly armed. The American submarine fired six torpedoes. One had reportedly been deflected from the hull of the freighter without exploding. It was the fourth torpedo that hit the stern, holed the hull, and disabled the vessel.
   The POWs were not allowed on deck to use the toilets. The buckets soon became full, and with many men suffering from dysentery, the stench and conditions in the holds deteriorated quickly. No food or water was passed to the prisoners. The Japanese were trying to effect repairs, and trying to tow the vessel, but to no avail. In the evening at about 1930 hours, the prisoners heard a ship coming alongside. The Japanese troops and their equipment were seen to be taken off the Lisbon Maru and transferred to the vessel that came alongside. After this, the Japanese sealed the hatch covers with planks and tarpaulins. As a result, the holds were left in pitch darkness without any ventilation. It was hot and difficult to breath. The ship was increasingly listing to port. Contact was made with the forward hold (No. 1 Hold)  and stern-most hold (No. 3 Hold) by tapping morse code messages on the bulkheads. They discovered that the other two holds had also had their hatches battened down. The rear hold had been put to work on the pumps, and they confirmed that the ship had been hit in the engine room.
   The following morning, 2 October, the vessel developed a heavy list to port. It became obvious to the prisoners in the holds that they were on a sinking ship which was taking in water and because of the list liable to roll over. There was nothing they could do. The Japanese had battened down the hatches initially to prevent any escape, but later to ensure that their wretched prisoners would go down with the ship in retribution for the attack. The Japanese were not interested in saving the prisoners - only in saving the ship. Lt-Col Stewart, 1/Mx, the senior British officer, was assisted by Lt Potter, St John Ambulance Brigade, who spoke some Japanese. He shouted up to the guards asking if they could remove the covers because of the poor air, the heat, and the desperate need for ventilation. The Japanese guards replied they would have to wait. With the ship on the verge of sinking, Lt-Col Stewart gave the word for Lt Hargreaves Howell, RASC, to force an exit using a butcher's knife that one of the POWs had somehow secreted aboard. He was able to remove some of the planks and to cut open the cover providing a gap sufficient for the men to get out. Lt Potter, Lt Howell and a group of soldiers got onto the upper deck, and although some were shot, they managed to overcome the remaining guards who were on the bridge structure. Lt Potter died from gunshot wounds.  2/Lt Hamilton was lightly wounded.

Attempting to tow the Lisbon Maru (Public Records Office)
As soon as the hatch covers had been cut open, the sea started to wash into the hold. There was a rush by the troops to get out of the hold before the ship sank. Baird described the pandemonium as panic took hold.
The gap was increased and men continued rushing out and being shot at from the bridge where the  sentries had gathered to prevent our escape. Soon the sentries were overpowered by our men. The men were scrambling up the stairway in mass disorder trying to reach the gap. The sight from our platform was unbelievable. The stairway was about three deep. Men climbing over others, stepping on their heads and shoulders in the panic to reach the main deck. All of a sudden the banister of the stairway gave way under the pressure of bodies, about a dozen men fell from the top of the ladder down to the bottom of the hold falling on the heads of those trying to reach the stairway. The sight of the bodies flying in mid-air was something never to be forgotten. (Dad's Story)
Those on deck opened the hatches of the other holds. The ship was by this stage already sinking, and water continued to flow into the holds. The vessel was going down stern-first whilst still listing to port. Baird with the other officers on their platform watched, but they were unable to do anything about the initial panic as the men surged up from the hold. The senior Royal Scots officer was forty-one-year-old Major Leighton Walker. He was an older man with greying hair, the son of a Church of England Minister.  He had been called up for service after having served in WW1. He was drowned after having given his lifebelt to another soldier who could not swim.
   The next most senior officer was twenty-four-year-old Captain Norman Cuthbertson, the battalion Adjutant. Douglas Baird recalled Cuthbertson going back into the hold, against the flow of men, and going down to the bottom of the hold which by then was knee-deep in water, and helping the wounded men who had fallen back into the hold. Baird recalled that RSM Goodfellow and Captain Cuthbertson managed to get most of the wounded men up on to the deck.  Lt-Col Stewart gave the order to abandon ship to those still remaining on the stricken vessel. Captain Cuthbertson was one of the last to leave Hold No. 2. He survived the sinking and the journey on another freighter to Japan, but in his weakened state he contracted diphtheria, and he never recovered. He died on 17 October 1942 at Kobe, still only twenty-four years old.
    The upper deck was awash, but Baird recalled that the fresh air, after the conditions in the hold, felt revitalising. It was a sunny and bright day, and he thought it was about 0900 hours. This was some twenty-four hours after the first torpedo had hit the freighter. He could see the stern was already under water and only the forward part of the ship from the bridge superstructure to the bows was above water.  On the port side, he could see a cluster of three small islands. These were the Sing Pang Islands in the Chusan Archipelago off the coast of Chekiang Province, near Shanghai. On the starboard side, there were three or four small Japanese escort vessels. In the sea around the sinking ship was a mass of heads bobbing in the water. Some of the men had lifebelts which had been stored in the holds. Douglas Baird had decided not to take one as he felt it would be easier to swim without the hindrance. Some of the men in the water were making for the Japanese vessels, but others were being carried by the current towards the cluster of islands. Baird thought the islands were too far away even for a strong swimmer and after entering the water, he struck out towards the Japanese escort vessels.
   However, as he neared the vessels, he realised they were not trying to rescue the survivors. Instead, they were shooting at them. Bullets pinged over his head. The Japanese were firing at the defenceless men in the water, perhaps because they had broken out of the holds and over-powered the guards.  They had intended to let the prisoners go down with the ship, and if they had not broken out, they all would have perished trapped in the holds.  Baird changed direction and started swimming towards the islands with bullets still whistling past his head. He had taken off his boots before abandoning ship and was clad only in a pair of shorts. He came across a line of flotsam from the wreck that the current was taking towards the cluster of islands. He was weak because they had had no food for more than 48 hours.
After my great effort to get away from the ships and out of the distance of the bullets I became absolutely exhausted and looked around for something to hang onto. By this time the Lisbon Maru had sunk completely leaving the tops of its masts above water. (Dad's Story)
He hung onto a floating plank but by midday the sun was scorching, and he was both exhausted and sunburnt. He saw a wooden box that resembled a kennel, floating amongst the debris and bodies. He tried to get inside which gave some shelter from the sun, but the 'kennel' kept flipping over. In the end, he went back to hanging on to a plank. The sea became increasing choppy, and the rough surface of the plank rubbed painfully against his skin causing his chest to bleed. The current was no longer taking him and the others towards the islands but instead, they were being taken out to the open sea. His throat was parched, thirsty, hungry and exhausted, his chest cut by the splintered wood was increasingly painful. By sunset, the islands that he had hoped to reach could no longer be seen.
Darkness set in and I felt it was useless to continue this suffering for heaven knows how long and then perishing at the end of it. ... I could not go through a whole night and then if still alive, face another day, so I decided to put an end to my suffering. I let go the plank and went under the water, swallowing all I could. I bobbed up again, and there was the same plank. I hung on again and vomited most of the water that I had swallowed. (Dad's Story)
He tried again and for a third time to drown himself. He swallowed the water into his lungs, but again he bobbed up and vomited the water from his stomach and coughed it from his lungs. He simply could not drown himself - maybe it was just not his time. He then noticed that at the end of the plank were two large nails sticking out of the wood. They were about four or five inches long.  He tried to force them into his chest thinking if they went into his heart he would die. They pierced his chest, but still he did not die. He gave up trying and somehow while still holding on to the plank that had been his torment and his salvation, he succumbed to exhaustion and fell asleep. Then when he woke in the moonlight, he saw a Chinese fishing vessel. He abandoned the plank and swam towards the boat.
When I looked up again the boat was at no more than arm's length from me and two Chinese men were hanging over the side and in no time grabbed me strongly by the arms and hoisted me into the boat. (Dad's Story)
There were a few other British prisoners that had been picked up, equally wretched and equally exhausted. The Chinese fishermen set the sail, and after some hours they landed at one of the islands, which must have been the cluster of islands that he had seen when he abandoned the Lisbon Maru. On the island, there were other survivors in one of the huts. The Chinese gave them tea, and soup and rice. They provided clothing. He, and the other survivors, never forgot the kindness and generosity of these Chinese fishing people who although poor themselves had provided so much. On a high point on the island, there was a mast flying the flag of that part of China, which was under the puppet leader Wang Jingwei who had made peace with the Japanese. Considered by many to be a traitor, he felt it was justified as a way to save Chinese lives in the face of an unwinnable war. Baird knew that they had no sympathy for the Japanese, but it was the only way for them to survive. The following day a Japanese patrol boat arrived and picked up the survivors.  Hamilton recalled that Lt Hargeaves Howell, who had broken out of the hold,  was one of the first to reach the islands. He was able to speak Chinese, and speaking in the Shanghai dialect, he told the villagers that the men in the water were British POWs and not Japanese. The villagers launched their boats and started picking up survivors. Some accounts suggest that the Japanese only started to pick up survivors after they had seen the fishermen from the islands picking up survivors from the sea.  Whilst the Japanese were rounding up the survivors, three men were hidden away, and the villagers later helped smuggle them to the China coast from where they made their way to Free China. 
   For the survivors picked up by the Japanese, the ordeal was not over. They were ordered by the Japanese to return the clothing to the villagers. They were then taken by the patrol boat to a larger vessel with some two hundred other survivors that had been picked up on other islands. The survivors sat on the open and exposed deck,  most with little clothing and this in the cold October temperatures of those Northern China latitudes. They were on this boat for two days and two nights before landing in Shanghai. No food was provided apart from hot watered-down milk in small quantities. Some men died from exposure, and their bodies were simply thrown overboard. In Shanghai, they were reunited with other survivors, but from the original draft of 1,816 men, there were only 970 that answered the roll. They were put on board another ship, the Shinsei Maru, and taken to the port of Moji in Japan to begin their forced labour. Many men succumbed to dysentery and diphtheria, and a further five died on the way to Japan. The Shinsei Maru docked at Moji on 10 October 1942. A number of men were sent to a hospital, the rest were moved to POW camps at Kobe and Osaka.
   Following liberation in August/September 1945, Douglas Baird returned to England by now a Captain. In March 1946 he married Ann Mary Roddam Shield who he had first met before leaving for Hong Kong. 

The wedding in March 1946
Douglas and his new wife sailed for Santiago de Chile in June 1946. They had a son and two daughters. Douglas passed away in 2011 at the age of ninety-four. He survived the battle, he survived his wounds, he survived the brutal incarceration in both Hong Kong and Japan, and he survived the tragic sinking of the Lisbon Maru. A remarkable man and a remarkable story.


I am most grateful to Douglas Baird's daughter Catherine Baird Williams for her help with this story, and for letting me have access to her father's diary Dad's Story. It had been written in a series of exercise books and bits of paper and was painstakingly typed up by Catherine, and a small number were printed and distributed to members of the family to preserve her father's memories.

Principal Sources:
Dad's Story by Douglas Baird (Edited by Catherine Baird Williams)
The Sinking of the Lisbon Maru Britain's Forgotten Wartime Tragedy (2006) by Tony Banham
The Sinking of the Lisbon Maru (1966) by Geoffrey Hamilton