Wednesday, 3 May 2017

Monthly Blog - April 2017

A wrist watch found in the hills of Hong Kong, once owned by a Canadian soldier who was killed in action during the Battle for Hong Kong in December 1941, is returned to his family in Canada 

On Monday 27th March 2017, Dave Willott, one of the military metal detecting group in Hong Kong, was searching the hillside of Stone Hill, near Stanley, when he found and unearthed a wrist watch. There is nothing particularly unusual about finding a watch, except in this case, when he cleaned it, he found engraved on the reverse, the name and rank of a Canadian soldier who had served with the Royal Rifles of Canada (RRC) in the Battle for Hong Kong in December 1941. The watch had once belonged to twenty-one-year-old Rifleman Ray Donald Jackson who served with 'D' Coy RRC.

At noon on Monday 22nd December 1941, two platoons from  'D' Coy had been redeployed to Stanley Mound, from their positions at Chung Hom Kok. At 1700 hours Battalion HQ, at Stone Hill Shelters, ordered the two 'D' Coy platoons to move to Stone Hill in order to strengthen the centre of the battalion front. Rifleman Jackson was part of this force.  Later that evening the 'B' Coy and 'HQ' Coy platoons on Stanley Mound were pushed off the crest by Japanese infantry supported by mortar and artillery. The  crest was re-taken after a Vickers machine gun barrage was opened on the crest of Stanley Mound on Tuesday morning (23rd Dec) from 1/Mx positions in Stanley Village.

Pre-war map showing location of Stone Hill and the Royal Rifles of Canada Bn HQ at Stone Hill Shelters
The 'D' Coy platoons remained at Stone Hill during  the night of 22nd December. Throughout the following day they were involved in fire-fights with Japanese troops. The amount of spent ammunition found on Stanley Mound and Stone Hill testify to the extent of fighting that took place on 22nd and 23rd December on these two hills on the Stanley perimeter. The hills were strategically important  because they overlooked Stanley where British and Allied forces had concentrated and were preparing to fight a last stand. Possession of these hills by the Japanese permitted observed and therefore accurate fire to be brought down on the military positions on Stanley Peninsula.

The Canadian infantry had been in continuous action since the Japanese landed on the Island on the night of 18th/19th December. The  battalion had been seriously depleted by battle casualties, and the men were physically exhausted. A decision was made to withdraw the battalion to the flatter ground around Stanley. At dusk on Tuesday 23rd December, the battalion, withdrew from the hills on the Stanley perimeter, under cover of darkness, to new positions near Stanley Village. A new battalion HQ was established at Bungalow 'A', one of the staff bungalows in the grounds of St Stephen's College, Stanley.

Rifleman Jackson was reported as missing in action and was "last seen on Stone Hill" (source Tony Banham Not the Slightest Chance). He was most probably killed at the spot on Stone Hill, where the watch was found, and this may have occurred during their evacuation under fire in the evening of Tuesday 23rd December, two days before the colony surrendered.

The photograph below, by Stuart Woods shows the reverse of the watch after being cleaned by Leigh Hardwick both members of the military metal detecting group. The engraving reads:  "Pte. Ray D. Jackson B68205." The rank of Pte rather than Rifleman on the engraving denotes that Ray Jackson was in a different unit before joining the Royal Rifles in 1941, although his Army service number was unchanged.

Very often those reported as missing in action have no known grave. However in Ray's case his body must have been recovered because he is buried at Sai Wan Military Cemetery. His grave is shown in the photograph below. He may have been given a battlefield burial by his own troops during the battle, or may have been buried after hostilities ended by Allied burial parties allowed out from initial incarceration at Stanley Fort,  to collect wounded and bury the dead. Such burials would take place at the location where the body was found. Those buried either during hostilities, or after hostilities ended, were exhumed after the war and reinterred in one of the two military cemeteries, which were located at Sai Wan and Stanley. 

Ray Jackson's grave (Courtesy Craig Mitchell)  
Dave wanted to return the watch to the soldier's family and our small group of history enthusiasts rallied round to help. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission on-line records confirmed that Ray Jackson  died on 23rd December 1941, and that his next of kin were George and Charlotte Jackson from Wiarton, Ontario, Canada. Tony Banham's web site www.hongkongwardiary.com contains a list of garrison members, Ray was listed as being in 'D' Coy which fitted with his being killed in action on 23rd December on Stone Hill.

The next step was to contact Jim Trick and Lori Atkinson Smith of the Hong Kong Veterans Commemorative Association in Canada (HKVCA). They worked with Lillian Randall, a researcher in Canada, and within twenty-four hours had discovered a family member. There was no direct descendant as  Ray was killed whilst still a young man, and before he had a chance to marry and have children of his own. It appears he was adopted by George and Charlotte Jackson who were from a farming family in Ontario. I think he may have been adopted within the wider family, as his birth parents  appear to bear the same family name. George and Charlotte Jackson only had one child, a daughter Ida Pearl Jackson born in 1904. She was seventeen years older than her adoptive brother Ray. She married Clifford Burgess in September 1925, when Ray was still a young child. We found that Ray's closest surviving family member is Steve Burgess who is the grandson of Ida and Clifford Burgess. He was astounded to be contacted by HKVCA and told about the watch which had been found on a battlefield in Hong Kong only twenty-four hours earlier.

Ray's Attestation Record (Ancestry.com)
Leigh Hardwick, a professional modeller, and member our group made a beautiful walnut presentation box to hold the watch with the emblem of the Royal Rifles of Canada engraved on the lid. 


Presentation box made by Leigh Hardwick with photo courtesy Stuart Woods
The HKVCA will present the watch to Steve Burgess in May. It is very rare to find something with a name on it. It is good to think that this personal item that one belonged to a young Canadian soldier, who gave his life in the service of his country, in the hills on Hong Kong Island, is finally going home, after seventy-five years, back to Canada, and back to a member of his family. 


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Pillbox 315 Tai Po Road - Pipers Hill

Armed with directions from two FaceBook (FB) friends, Jeff Li and Alexander MacDonald, who are both military history enthusiasts, I set out to find and visit PB 315. The pillbox is situated on a knoll overlooking the Byewash Reservoir and close to the dilapidated ruin of an old colonial house.

1938 Revised Map showing PB 315 & PB 314
The Colonial House
The colonial house looks like a 1930's era building, it is situated beside Tai Po Road below Piper's Hill. It was once used as a family home for senior engineers or senior managers of the Water Supplies Dept, I think referred to at that time, in this area,  as Kowloon Water Works. The main reservoirs were built between 1910 (Kowloon Reservoir), 1931 (Byewash Reservoir) and 1937 (Shing Mun Reservoir). It was apparently occupied until 1970s/1980s. I have seen reference to the house at one stage being occupied by HK Police (Special Branch), but the decor inside is more consistent with family use. There is an outhouse which includes a garage and servants quarters.  

The front entrance  
Side view

The back door was open so I took a look inside. There was parquet flooring, a fireplace, and bathrooms with a 1970s style decor. The hill on which the house is built is sometimes referred to as Monkey Hill. This is an appropriate name because the whole area is home to a large numbers of monkeys, and no doubt they would have been a nuisance to the occupants.
Reception room 
The Pillbox (PB 315)
To reach the PB one has to proceed past the house, and up a path through what must have been the back garden to a knoll where the PB is located overlooking the reservoir below. The PB is approached by a concrete trench which leads to the entrance of a concrete tunnel or passageway which leads into the three-loophole pillbox with two gun compartments. 

 Pillbox 315
The concrete trench leading to the tunnel
One of the gun compartments and machine gun loophole
Passageway with storage compartments and a space for a water tank
Historian Rusty Tsoi advised that the tilted wall in the photograph above may be connected to use of a gas curtain. Rob Weir who is an expert on WW2 Fixed Defences in Hong Kong confirmed that he had long suspected that the PBs on the Mainland had gas curtains. I have also seen reference too gas curtains being used in ARP tunnels.

There are Japanese characters scratched on to the wall of the passageway. Rusty advised that they translate as follows. 

"Captured by xxx squad, 8927 Butai (38 Mountain Gun Battery), 38 Div"
(xxx means unidentifiable)

"Those from Aichi county, good luck on your fightings"

It is not clear who manned this PB, but probably it was2nd Bn Royal Scots ( 2/RS),  as it was near to their Battalion HQ at Filter Beds House. The Bn HQ occupied this position (Filter Beds) after withdrawing from a more forward position, at 6th milestone on Castle Peak Road, on Wednesday 10th December 1941, following the loss of the Shing Mun Redoubt on the night of 9th/10th December. There is no evidence off fighting in this vicinity and no battle damage to the PB. The area to the north was held by 'D' Coy 5/7 Rajput Regt, commanded by Captain  Newton. This Coy were in action on 10th and 11th December. The area to the northeast was held by 'D' Coy 2/14 Punjab Regt, commanded by Captain David Mathers. This Coy was in action on 11th Dec. On Thursday 11th December, two companies ('B' and 'C' Coy) from 2/RS were heavily engaged and not Coy commanders were killed in action. At some stage during the morning these two companies withdrew down Castle Peak Road, as far as the World Pencil Factory, at Lai Chi Kok. Although the resultant gap was plugged to some extent, the weakness exposed on the left flank of the Royal Scots sector,  led to a decision to accelerate the evacuation of the Mainland. The Royal Scots were ordered to break off at dusk and were evacuated to the Island from Kowloon City and the Vehicular Ferry at Yau Ma Tei. The crew of PB 315 would have withdrawn that afternoon/evening. The Japanese Artillery Regiment that captured the position,  probably on 12th December,  would have done so unopposed. 


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Major Douglas Dewe, Indian Medical Service, a POW in Singapore and on the Burma Railway

This story, and the subsequent two related posts,  is away from my usual focus on  Hong Kong. This story is about a British Indian Army Medical Doctor serving with the Indian Medical Service in Singapore who was  captured after the Fall of Singapore in February 1942. He was incarcerated at Changi and later on the Burma Railway.

Douglas Dewe was born 17th January 1908 in Somerset. He first married in 1933 at the age of twenty-five to Winnifred Warren. Tragically she died in February 1934, within a year of getting married, as a result of a ruptured appendix. In August 1934 Doulas married Rosanna (Rona) Gorrie Heggie (1912-1972). They lived initially in India and later moved to Taiping and Singapore. They had two children Roderick (1935) and Michael (1940). I became interested to learn more about Major Dewe when I happened to run across an article in the Hong Kong Daily Press dated 19th August 1941. The article reported on the breakdown of  Douglas and Rona's marriage and cited infidelity on the part of Rona with a forty-year-old rubber planter by the name of Oswald  Cutler. 

Hong Kong Daily Press 19th Aug. 1941
Being interested in family history, the article caught my attention, and  I reflected on the fact that war was already imminent and that all three parties, Douglas, Rona, and Oswald would have ended up as POWs or civilian internees. I was curious to find out more. 

After the fall of Singapore on 15th February 1942, Major Dewe was incarcerated initially in the  military POW camp at Changi. Rona and Oswald were interned in the civilian internment camp also located at Changi. Unlike Stanley Camp in Hong Kong, the civilian internees in Singapore were segregated and placed either in a men's camp or a separate women's camp. Rona registered in the name of  Rona Cutler, although  they were not married. I was able to make contact with Major Dewe's youngest son Mike who helped me with much of this information. Mike believes that by taking on the surname of Cutler, Rona may have been able to obtain visitation rights to Oswald. 

The court hearing in August had awarded Major Dewe with custody of his two sons. The marriage having broken down in 1937/1938, Major Dewe had by that time become engaged to Peggy Frampton, a divorcee whose name is mentioned on his POW record (below). In the Japanese POW record sheet, Major Dewe gave his specialisation as gynaecology and obstetrics, although he was in fact a general practitioner with good diagnostician skills and a strong understanding of tropical diseases. Mike thought this was done in order to avoid undesirable postings by his captors, but unfortunately it  was to no avail as he was transferred to the worst location of all - the Burma railway.

In April 1945, Major Dewe was transferred from the Burma railway, together with some 1,000 emaciated POWs to a new camp called Mergui Road in the south of Burma. The POWs were to be used as slave labourers to help build a road south into Thailand as an extrication route for the Japanese Army out of Burma. Major Dewe was both the senior officer in camp and the senior of the six medical officers assigned to this camp. The conditions here were said to be worse than on the Burma railway and over a third of the POWs died under the atrocious conditions.

POW Record (National Archives)
Peggy Frampton returned to India with her daughter, Ray, and with Major Dewe's two sons, Roddy and Mike.  Mike at the time was only sixteen months old, and Roddy was five-years-old. They were able to get out of Singapore on one of the last evacuation ships to leave before the Japanese overran the colony. Peggy looked after both the boys in India, but she must have given up on Major  Dewe, perhaps assuming he was dead, or perhaps unwilling to wait and find out, because she remarried during the war years. The boys, despite their young age, were sent to the famous Bishop Cotton boarding school in Simla, India. After being liberated in 1945, Major Dewe returned to India and collected his sons, and took them with him to Afghanistan where he had been posted as Medical Officer to the British Legation in Kabul. 

Oswald Cutler and Rona's relationship did not last through internment. He married Margaret Bell in February 1946 and returned to Malaya where he resumed his pre-war occupation as a planter. Rona also remarried quite soon after being liberated. This marriage did not last, and later she remarried Colonel Christopher Harold Miskin, and settled in Jersey. She passed away in 1972.

After Indian independence in 1947, Major Dewe retired from the Indian Medical Service and emigrated to Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) with his wife June Fox (nee Martin) who he married in 1947, and his two sons. The marriage to June did not not last, he married again to  Paloma Hone but this marriage only lasted a year or two. In 1954 Douglas Dewe married Barbara Ward, the marriage lasted and they continued to live in Rhodesia until he retired to Pietermaritzburg, South Africa in 1975, where he passed away in 1978.

Major Douglas Dewe had lived on the edge of empire, at a time of change and in a very different world to that which we know today. He had served in India, Malaya, Singapore and Afghanistan, when they were still part of what was the British Empire. He and his fellow medical officers saved countless lives of British and allied servicemen during the brutal incarceration in Singapore and Burma. The Medical Officers had to keep working, despite their own debilitating weakness from malnutrition and the heat of the tropics. They were constantly exposed to diseases like diphtheria and dysentery.  They had to  carry out their work of saving lives with  inadequate medicine and in the absence of medical facilities, improvising where they could with medicines and equipment. The Medical Doctors, like the other POWs were weak, starved, and ill and constantly subject to the brutality of the guards. They were a cadre that received little recognition, much less than they deserved, except from the POWs themselves.

Addendum

The Indian Army Medical Service was represented in Hong Kong (in 1941) by five officers:
Colonel Ashton-Rose and Captains Evans, Scriven, Strahan and Woodward.


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Doctor William Frankland - Prisoner of War (POW) 

I read a recent article in the press about a 105-year-old medical doctor, Bill Franklin. He was born in 1912. He won an exhibition to Queen's College, Oxford and in 1938 qualified as a Medical Doctor at St Mary's Hospital, Paddington. When war broke out he enlisted in the Royal Army Medical Corp, and just months after getting married, he was sent out to Singapore arriving just before war started in December 1941. On arrival, he and a colleague tossed coin to choose between a posting to the British Military Hospital (Alexandra Hospital), or  a posting to the hospital at Tanglin Barracks. Frankland won the toss and chose Tanglin. He chose right, because his colleague was killed at the Alexandra Military Hospital when the Japanese broke in and massacred  patients and medical staff on Valentines Day 1942, the day before Singapore fell. 


Blakang Mati Artillery Barracks in 1948
After the fall of Singapore, Frankland was sent to Changi, where he may have known Major Dewe,  since both were Medical Officers. Later Frankland was transferred to Blakang Mati Island now known as Sentosa where he remained until liberation in 1945. The POWs were held in the former Artillery barracks and after liberation these barracks were used to intern  Japanese troops. In 1945 Bill Frankland was flown from Singapore to Rangoon in Burma where he was due to board a repatriation ship going back to UK. There were three Dakotas, and one off them crashed after running into a storm, Frankland had chosen the right aircraft. In 1946 he resumed his medical career in London. 


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Alexandra Hospital  - British Military Hospital, Singapore

In a similar incident to that which occurred at St Stephen's College Temporary Hospital in Stanley, Hong Kong; Japanese troops massacred a large number of patients and medical staff over a two day period on 14th and 15th February 1942. The hospital with a capacity for up to 1,000 patients was built in 1938 and opened in 1940. The new British Military Hospital was an upgrade to the previous main Military Hospital at Tanglin Barracks.

The Japanese were first seen approaching the hospital in the early afternoon on 14th February 1942 (Valentines Day). They numbered approximately one hundred. The hospital was clearly marked with red crosses. The orderlies and medical staff had red cross brassards. A British RAMC officer went out to meet the approaching Japanese stating that it was a hospital. He was fired on by the approaching troops, but was able to get back inside the hospital. Soon after this the Japanese broke in and ran amok stabbing, beating and killing anybody in their path. As in Hong Kong, patients were bayoneted in their beds. It was an orgy of uncontrolled violence  against wounded patients and non-combatant medical staff. At least fifty were killed and many more wounded. One patient was even killed on the operating table. The theatre staff who had surrendered with their arms above their heads were butchered with bayonets.

A number of patients and orderlies were led out to the lawn, they were tied up and marched to some nearby outhouses. Those that could not march because of their wounds, were cut loose and killed. The rest were crammed into small rooms and given no food or water. There was no sanitation and no ventilation. Several died during the night. The next day the Japanese soldiers brought them out in small groups on the pretext of their being allowed to collect water, but instead the Japanese systematically bayoneted them to death. Another one hundred patients and medical orderlies were killed in this gruesome way. Later that day on 15th February Singapore surrendered. 
British Military Hospital - Singapore

Some survived the killing by feigning death, others were simply lucky that their wounds were not fatal, and they lived to tell the tale. I watched a televised interview with one of the survivors, he like many of those that survived, even years later, never forgave the Japanese for such barbarous, inhumane and appalling acts of violence. 




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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