Wednesday, 29 March 2023

Robert & Marjory Grindley

I received an email at home in Stanley, Hong Kong, from Peter West, the Museum Manager at the Eastchurch Aviation Museum located on the Isle of Sheppey in Kent. He described how a set of medals awarded to one Robert John Vaughan Grindley had been passed to the museum. I immediately recognised the name and was able to confirm that Robert Grindley had been a prison officer in Hong Kong and had served in the Stanley Platoon of the Hong Kong Volunteer Defence Corps (HKVDC). 

During the battle in December 1941, he had taken part in the close quarter fighting in and around Stanley Village and the road approaching the prison. He and his wife, Marjory Betsy Grindley, a volunteer nurse, were interned at Stanley Civilian Internment Camp (a Japanese run prison camp) from January 1942 until the Japanese surrender in August 1945. In the mid-1950s they retired and settled in Minster, on the Isle of Sheppey. It seems firstly at 110, Wards Hill Road and later at No. 2 Seaside Avenue. The medals were found in a faded brown envelope in the attic of a house in nearby Cliff Gardens in 2018. The medals had been recently passed to the museum who were interested in identifying whether there were any direct descendants, children or grandchildren to whom they could pass the medals.

The War Medals - courtesy Peter West (Eastchurch Aviation Museum)

The medals from left to right consist of:

1939-1945 Star, 

the Pacific Star,

the Defence Medal

1939 - 1945 War Medal

Hong Kong Efficiency Medal 

The two star-medals have Robert Grindley's name engraved on the reverse and the other three medals have his name engraved on the rim. This is unusual as WW2 campaign medals issued to members of the British forces were not named (engraved or impressed). Peter Weedon, a war medal enthusiast, advised me that some recipients of such medals had their names privately engraved. Apparently Boots, the high street store, offered this engraving service at that time. It was only because the medals had been engraved that they could be  linked to their original owner.

The reverse of the medals - courtesy Peter West (Eastchurch Aviation Museum)

So who were Robert and Marjory Grindley. We know a bit more about Marjory because in 1980, six years after her husband's death she recorded an oral history interview for the Imperial War Museum (IWM) about her wartime experiences during the battle and her recollections of life at Stanley Internment Camp. 

Robert John Vaughan Grindley was born 9 December 1904 in Coventry. He shared the same name as his father who was born in 1877 and died in 1968. At the age of 16, in 1920, he served in the Royal Navy. His service record shows a history of good conduct and details the warships he served on. He discharged himself, by purchase in 1934, while serving on HMS Tamar the base ship in Hong Kong. He then joined the Hong Kong Prison Service.  Many of the European prison officers were ex-servicemen. 

Marjory Grindley (I have not yet discovered her maiden name) was born in March 1917 in Luton a suburb of Chatham. She was brought up in Gillingham. In 1922, aged five, she went to Hong Kong for a period of 3 years while her father a civilian working for the Royal Navy was assigned there. They returned to Gillingham in 1925. After leaving school, she went to secretarial college and after graduating worked for a firm of solicitors. In 1936, her father was assigned again to Hong Kong as an inspector of stores. Marjory, eighteen years old at the time went with him. She quickly got a job as a stenographer working for the Hong Kong Government. As a government employee, she was exempt from the compulsory evacuation of British women and children that took place in June/July 1940. She enrolled as a volunteer nurse in the Auxiliary Nursing Service (ANS). She lived in Gap Road and enjoyed the better life style of an expatriate in Hong Kong compared to life in the UK at that time. They had a Chinese servant and enjoyed the vibrant social life. As a single lady she had ample invitations to dances and other social events. 

She met and married, the former Royal Navy sailor, Robert Grindley. I have not been able to establish the date of their wedding but it must have been between 1937 and 1940. Robert was thirteen years older than Marjorie. There is no record of there being any children from the marriage. After their wedding she and Robert moved into the European Married Quarters (EMQ) in the Stanley Prison Compound. Her parents returned to UK before the outbreak of war in Hong Kong. Robert as with most of his colleagues joined the Stanley Platoon of the Hong Kong Volunteer Defence Corp (HKVDC). The HKVDC was a militia made up of civilians including British, Portuguese, Chinese, Russian and many other nationalities. The Stanley Platoon was made up of Prison Officers most of whom had military experience. 

During the Battle for Hong Kong, Robert was fighting around Stanley Village and the road leading to the prison. Marjory described in the IWM interview how he and Captain Chatty were at the Prison Officers Club 'picking off the Japanese as they came down the road'. Chatty was the former adjutant of the 1st Battalion of the Middlesex Regiment. He had been serving a prison sentence at Stanley having been found guilty of sexual assault on a Chinese youth in King's Park Kowloon after a night of heavy drinking and opium taking. He had been released on the outbreak of war and had fought gallantly having been restored to the rank of temporary captain. Marjory was still living in their flat at the EMQ and working as an ANS nurse at the temporary hospital known as Tweed Bay. Before the war, the hospital had been used to accommodate Indian single prison officers who had dormitory style accommodation. The former accommodation block converted to a hospital was originally designed for civilian  casualties but as the fighting drew closer to Stanley the casualties were mainly military. There were three hospitals at Stanley. The temporary military hospital at St Stephen's College, the temporary civilian hospital at Tweed Bay and the purpose built, albeit small, hospital in the Prison. As the flats were increasingly machine gunned and hit by artillery fire, Marjory moved into the hospital at Tweed Bay with another lady and her baby who had been billeted in her flat in the EMQ. At the hospital, Marjory recalled the number of amputations being carried out by Dr Hackett, the Prison Doctor. She also described the burials with the graves being hastily dug by Cannon Martin, the Headmaster of the adjacent St Stephen's College.

After the battle ended, during the evening on Christmas Day, Robert and Marjory were allowed to move back into the prison along with most of the Stanley Platoon. It is not clear whether they were already wearing their wardens uniforms or whether they were in military uniform. If the latter they no doubt made a quick change into their prison officer uniforms. In late January they were moved from the prison to Stanley Internment Camp. The camp consisted of the grounds and buildings at St Stephen's College and the prison compound (except the prison itself which the Japanese continued to use as a prison). The prison officers accommodation blocks were used as part of the internment camp. The camp housed some 3,000 British, American and Dutch civilians. 

Robert and Marjory were initially billeted in the Indian Quarters (IQ). These red-brick blocks (shown in the background of the photograph below) originally accommodated married Indian prison wardens and their families. Robert and Marjory shared a small flat with nine internees, four in one room and five in the other room.  At the beginning they slept on the concrete floor. The only bedding was the blankets they had brought in from the prison. One of her room-mates a married prison officer stole tinned food that Marjory had kept in a suitcase. She never spoke to him again. After the Americans were repatriated in July 1942 as part of a civilian prisoner exchange, Robert and Marjory, were re-billeted at the Prison Officer's Club. Finally they had a room to themselves and eventually obtained a mattress.  Most internees suffered from malnutrition as a result of the poor diet and diseases like beri-beri and dysentery were common. 

The Prison Officer's Club, the IQ in the background and the Dutch Block to the left

A the end of the war, Marjory was repatriated first. She recalled being taken by an aircraft carrier to Colombo and then by passenger ship to UK. Robert stayed on to help re-establish the prison and returned later to the UK. After repatriation leave they returned to Hong Kong and Robert resumed his career in the prison service, now called Correctional Services. 

They retired in the mid-1950s to Minster, near the sea, in the Isle of Sheppey. Robert died aged 69 in 1974.  Marjory lived on for a further forty years, until 2014 when she died at the grand old age of 96. As far as I can tell she continued to live in Seaside Avenue with its bungalows and neat gardens. From her garden gate you can see the sea. How the medals ended up at Cliff Gardens is still a mystery. Perhaps given to someone by Marjory. The important thing is that the medals have been found and identified. They tell the story of one man's service in the Royal Navy, his career as a prison officer in Hong Kong, his marriage to Marjory, the close quarter fighting during the battle for Hong Kong and the hardship they both endured during internment and then finally a peaceful retirement near the sea at Minster reflecting on days gone by.


Peter West

Peter Weedon

Eastchurch Aviation Museum

Imperial War Museum (Sound Tape No. 4653). Available on the IWM web site

Sunday, 12 March 2023

The Surrender at Singapore

The former Ford Motor Factory at Bukit Timah was the location for the ignominious surrender of British and Commonwealth troops on Sunday 15 February 1942. The British commander was Lt General Arthur Percival, General Officer Commanding (GOC) British troops in Malaya (which included Singapore). The Japanese 25th Army was led by Lt General Tomoyuki Yamashita who became known as the 'Tiger of Malaya'. The surrender was  ignominious because Percival surrendered an army consisting of some 85,000 British, Australian, Indian and Malay troops to a smaller Japanese army of  around 35,000 men. Yamashita's forces had out-manoeuvred and out-fought the British in Malaya. They had moved with great speed through the peninsula towards the all-important goal of Singapore. This was part of the grand plan of the Japanese high command to capture what they called the southern resources area which provided access to rubber, oil and other raw materials in the Dutch East Indies and Malaya. The Japanese army crossed the Johor Straits that separated Malaya from Singapore on 8 February and a week later they captured the bastion of British military strength in the Far East. Singapore had been seen as the 'Gibraltar of the East' impregnable fortress.

Winston Churchill described the defeat and subsequent capitulation as 'the worst disaster and the largest capitulation in British history'. One would have to go back to 1781, to the Battle of Yorktown in the American War of Independence or even to the Battle of Hastings in 1066 to find another such calamitous defeat. The loss of Singapore is sometimes described as a national disgrace and Percival is generally blamed by historians for lack of leadership, and for surrendering rather than fighting on. The British and Commonwealth soldiers that were subsequently incarcerated as POWs in South East Asia suffered terribly and many thousands died during their captivity in Japanese prison camps and labour camps. 

...............but has history been fair to Percival ? or could it be, at least in large part, that he was not given the tools to complete the task. The Japanese had both air and sea superiority. Percival had insufficient aircraft many of which were antiquated and obsolete like the Vickers Vildebeest and the Brewster Buffalo. Some Hawker Hurricanes arrived late in the battle but there were not enough. The Imperial War Museum describes how the Japanese had 600 aircraft and the British  had only 158. The Japanese had 200 tanks whereas the British had twenty-three. Percival had asked for more tanks but none were sent. They were needed elsewhere. He had the manpower but insufficient aircraft, warships and armour. The loss of the battleship, HMS Prince of Wales and the cruiser HMS Repulse was catastrophic. The two capital ships with their escorting destroyers had no air-cover because the aircraft carrier, HMS Indomitable, which should have been part of their task force (Force Z) had run aground in the Caribbean Sea. 

The Former Ford Motor Factory in March 2023

The Ford factory, built in art deco style, was completed and opened in October 1941 just weeks before the war started with Japan on 8 December.  The Japanese used the factory as Battle HQ during the fighting around Bukit Timah, a high point on the island.  Today the factory is a national monument and  home to an excellent museum. 

The factory as it looked at its opening in 1941

The surrender party arrives at the Ford Factory (above) artist rendition (below)

The four British officers were from left to right: Major Cyril Wild, interpreter, bearing the white flag, Deputy Adjutant General, Brigadier Thomas Newbigging, bearing the union flag, Brigadier Kenneth Torrance and Lt General Arthur Percival. The interpreter carrying the white flag (a task no-one wanted) is caught by a Japanese cine camera casting away the white flag with an air of disgust. Brigadier Newbigging appears to admonish him. The surrender formality took place at the factory.

Artist rendition of the surrender negotiation

Signing the surrender at the Ford Factory

Percival had expected an attack on the northeast shoreline rather than the more swampy northwest coast. He put the main component of his defence force in this sector. The Japanese carried out a decoy assault on the NE sector but their main force came ashore and quickly overwhelmed the defenders on the northwest shore. Percival was forced to withdraw his troops and form  a perimeter around the city. When the Japanese captured Bukit Timah, they secured possession of the reservoirs and the water supply. In fact, the Japanese did not turn off the water supply but water shortages were caused by numerous broken water mains resulting from the aerial bombing and artillery bombardment. The moral of some of the defenders was poor. They had been beaten and pushed back through Malaya to Singapore and now their backs were to the sea. The RAF had withdrawn to Sumatra and Java and the Royal Navy had lost its two main surface ships. The Japanese had achieved full control of the skies and the seas. The ammunition for the AA guns and the field guns was close to running out. Moreover the water supply was expected to extinguish within 24 hours. The victorious Japanese  army were at the gates to the city with its large civilian population. Churchill had ordered the Governor and Commander-in-Chief,  Sir Shenton Thomas, and by extension the army commander, Lt General Percival, to fight to the last man. However, Percival realised that there was no longer any useful military advantage to be gained by fighting on. In order to save lives, both civilian and combatants, the time had come to capitulate. He had sought permission from General Archibald Wavell to surrender when he felt the limits of military endurance had been reached. Wavell had encouraged Percival to fight on but on Sunday 15 February he sent a telegram which whilst still exhorting him to continue to resist it gave him the discretion to capitulate once the situation on the ground warranted it.

Ford Factory during the Japanese occupation

Lt General Arthur Percival 

H.E. The Governor Sir Shenton Thomas

Having received Wavell's assent giving Percival the discretion to cease fighting, Percival and his commanders and staff at the Battle Box made the painful decision to surrender the garrison. Percival explained that the choice was either to counter-attack Bukit Timah and recapture the water supplies and food depots - or to capitulate immediately. A successful counter-attack was not deemed feasible. It was clear that the battle had been lost - it boiled down as to whether to surrender now or surrender later.  Later that morning Brigadier Newbigging, a senior staff officer,  Major Cyril Wild as interpreter and Hugh Fraser,  the Colonial Secretary drove out along the Bukit Timah road to Japanese lines to negotiate terms. The Japanese gave the party a large Japanese flag with orders that the flag must be flown from the roof of the Cathay Building, the tallest building in Singapore. The flag should be displayed for at least ten minutes and would signify that Percival had agreed to meet Yamashita that evening at the Ford Factory. The British delegation then returned to Fort Canning with the Japanese demands. 

Percival and the surrender party, drove to the Japanese front line and were then conveyed to Yamashita's HQ at the Ford Factory. They were shown to a meeting room with a conference table. At around 6:45 pm Lt General Yamashita arrived with his staff officers. The Japanese general extended his hand to the British officers. Yamashita opened the negotiation by stating that the Imperial Japanese Army will consider nothing but unconditional surrender. Percival wanted more time to consider and suggested that they respond the following day. Yamashita in a raised voice insisted they accept unconditional surrender there and then and if not the firing would resume that evening. The Japanese General stated that they cannot accept any further British resistance. It must end now.  Percival asked Yamashita not to permit the Japanese Army to enter Singapore city until the following day. He would return to his HQ and give the orders to cease firing and disarm. Yamashita then told Percival that they would need to take into their custody the senior British officers and the Governor as a sign of good faith. Percival appeared shocked. Yamashita continued to berate Percival until at 7:40pm Percival assented to the Japanese demand for unconditional surrender.  He had little choice. He did not know that the Japanese army was smaller than his and that they were over-extended and at the end of their supply line. Had he fought on it would only have delayed the inevitable defeat which had effectively already occurred with the capture of most of Malaya and Singapore and Percival's army pushed back to a defensive ring around the city. It was agreed that the British forces would be notified of the capitulation and all firing would cease by 10 pm. The troops would disarm and a thousand would retain their arms to preserve law and order. Percival  asked only that the Japanese protect the British women, children and civilians caught up in the battle. Yamashita agreed and Percival signed the instrument of surrender.


Percival was imprisoned at Changi until August 1942 when with other senior officers he was moved to Japanese occupied Formosa an later to Manchuria. After release in 1945 he was invited to witness the Japanese surrender in the battleship USS Missouri. He was also invited to attend the surrender of Japanese forces in the Philippines led by Yamashita. Yamashita was tried and found guilty of war crimes. He was sentenced to death by hanging. Percival returned to UK and lived in Hertfordshire with his wife and two children.  He retired from the Army in 1946. He became Lord Lieutenant of the county in 1951. He was President of the Far East POW Association. He died aged seventy-eight in 1966.

Monday, 13 February 2023

Archibald and Frances Cook - their story of a family separated by war

In December 1941, forty-three year old Scotsman, Archibald (Archie) Cook was employed as the captain of the Hong Kong-Canton steamer the SS Fatshan. He had been working on the China coast for some twenty years. He was married to Frances, an American from a missionary family who had been born in Shantung and spent much of her life in China. The family lived at Felix Villas near the intersection of Mount Davis Road and Victoria Road on Hong Kong Island. The outbreak of war in the Pacific would see the family split up. The three oldest children, Calvin (14), Luther (13) and Athene (10) were in Chefoo northern China where Frances's mother lived. The three youngest children, Clyde (6), Celene (5) and Van Dyke, still an infant born in 1941, were in Hong Kong. Frances and her three youngest children were interned at Stanley Camp. Archibald Cook had sailed his steamer up to Canton and was there when war began. His vessel was seized and he was placed under house arrest. The family survived the battle and were eventually reunited again in Lourenco Marques in August 1942. Their reunion was all too brief because Archibald Cook, a master mariner, was called back for sea-service in the South Pacific. This was at a time when merchant navy officers were in short supply. This is their story of war and separation on the China Coast against the backdrop of the Pacific War.

SS Fatshan plying the river route from Hong Kong to Canton (Source: Wikipedia)

Captain Archie Cook (Source:

Archie Cook's Story
The sabre rattling and tension between Japan and the West (USA and UK) increased in November/December 1941. In November Canadian reinforcements, consisting of two battalions and a Brigade HQ, arrived in Hong Kong. Brigadier Wallis, commanding the Mainland Infantry Brigade, had his three infantry battalions in their battle positions on the Gin Drinkers Line by mid-November. During Archie Cook's sailings up and down the Pearl River he  had seen the extent of Japanese military and maritime movements. He realised that war was imminent although many in Hong Kong still thought that the Japanese were blustering. After Cook arrived back in Hong Kong from Japanese occupied Canton on 3 December 1941 - he enquired from his employers, China Navigation Company, whether given the increased tension, he should sail as planned for Canton on Saturday 6 December. He was told that the Royal Navy  would decide on commercial sailings in and out of Hong Kong. The Royal Navy movements officer approved the sailing and Cook left his home at Felix Villas early on Saturday 6 December to take the SS Fatshan up river to Canton. As the steamer sailed out of the harbour, passing Mount Davis, he could see his family waving from the verandah at Felix Villas. The next day, Sunday 7 December, a state of emergency was declared in Hong Kong and on Monday morning while the Fatshan was still at Canton the Pacific War began. 

As the ferry approached Japanese controlled waters she passed a Japanese gunboat riding at anchor. The Fatshan, in keeping with maritime practice dipped her ensign and the gunboat returned the salute. The Japanese gunboat then weighed anchor and followed the British vessel up river. At 1100 hours they entered the narrows known as the Boca Tigris Channel (the Mouth of the Tiger). Here, as usual, they embarked a Japanese military harbour-pilot to take them up river to Canton. Further upstream they stopped and anchored for standard quarantine and health checks. On Monday 8 December, Archie Cook was up at the crack of dawn. He noticed a grey naval launch with Japanese marines aboard heading out towards his ship. He guessed that this meant that war had started. In a matter of minutes the launch drew alongside and an officer and a party of marines boarded the vessel.

"I went to meet the boarding party and stop any possible incidents. Our Indian anti-piracy guard of six Sikhs immediately threw a cordon around me. They were willing to give their lives, if necessary, to save me. I motioned them aside and told them not to interfere with the Japanese. The boarding party was led by a Naval Reserve officer, a former Nippon Yusan Kaisha (NYK) Captain of a merchant man." (1)

The Fatshan was taken into Japanese custody and marines were posted as sentries at various points around the vessel. The passengers, mainly Chinese, but with some foreigners, were disembarked.  They were transferred to a barge and taken to Shameen. The Chinese were released and the European passengers including Archie Cook were corralled in the gardens of the British Consulate, registered and assigned to various residences on Shameen Island. Archibald Cook was assigned  to a house with Lytton Bevis Wood, a partner in Deacon & Co, a long established trading company. Wood had been on the ferry from Hong Kong. They were held under house arrest at Lytton Wood's place of residence for a period of four months. In March 1942, all the foreigners (British and American), were ordered to leave their place of residence/business and assemble at the nearby Victoria Hotel which acted as a temporary internment centre. 

In April 1942, a group of fifty British and American civilians were taken on a Japanese coaster to Shanghai to await a repatriation vessel as part of a civilian internee exchange. In May 1942, Archie Cook was repatriated and first went to Shanghai. On 5 August he sailed out of Shanghai on the repatriation ship Tatsuta Maru accompanied by a second repatriation ship, the Kamakura Maru. The Tatsuta Maru had started her voyage at Yokohama on 30 July. In Japan, she took aboard some 60 British internees including Sir Robert Craigie, the former British Ambassador and his diplomatic staff. The passengers included  diplomats from a number of other countries including the Belgian Ambassador and the Australian and Dutch Charge d' Affairs. The two repatriation vessels made port stops at Saigon and Singapore taking on a few more civilian refugees at each port. The two vessels were carrying nearly a thousand repatriates each but they were the lucky ones as most British internees remained in concentration camps until the Japanese capitulation in August/September 1945. The Tatsuta Maru arrived in Lourenco Marques in Portuguese East Africa on 27 August. The British and other repatriates were disembarked and exchanged for Japanese mainly diplomatic repatriates from UK, Australia and India. The British and other non-Japanese repatriates boarded the SS El Nil and the SS Narkunda bound for Liverpool. The Tatsuta Maru left carrying the Japanese internees loaded with 48, 818 Red Cross Parcels for Allied prisoners of war and civilian internees. Some ten days after Archie Cook arrived in Lourenco Marques on the Tatsuta Maru, the SS City of Canterbury arrived from Melbourne carrying Japanese internees  including Kawai Tatsuo the Japanese Ambassador to Australia. The Ambassador carried four small white boxes in which were the remains of crew members of the Japanese midget submarines that were involved  in the attack on Sydney Harbour. 

Archie Cook's family had been separated for some nine months. The three oldest children at boarding school in Chefoo had boarded the Kamakura Maru in Shanghai. Frances and the three youngest children, Clyde, Celene and Van Dyke had been interned at Stanley Camp. They were repatriated with the American nationals from Hong Kong in July 1942 on the Asama Maru. Lytton Wood heard  from a British diplomat at Lourenco Marques that Frances and the three children had arrived several weeks earlier and were still in town. After leaving the ship and heading for the agent's office Archibald ran into Frances and the children on the street. At the shipping agent's office there was a cable from the shipping line in London waiting for Archie and ordering him to take passage to Sydney and report for sea service in the southwest Pacific. 

Frances Cook's Story
Frances recalled that on Saturday morning, 6 December, the family rushed to the verandah to wave to Archie as the SS Fatshan sailed by heading for the Pearl River. It was a beautiful sunny day as the steamer sounded its siren. It had been a hurried good-bye that morning when Archie left home. Frances caught a glimpse of him on the bridge and that was the last they saw of each other  until August 1942 when they were reunited in Portuguese East Africa. Their home at Felix Villas was below Mount Davis with its battery of three 9.2-inch coastal defence guns. The battery became one of the most bombarded locations in Hong Kong. When there was a break in the bombing the two older children would collect the bomb splinters and sometimes the propaganda leaflets dropped by Japanese aircraft. Their neighbour was a French lady by the name of Germaine. Her husband was a doctor who had just passed his medical examinations. The bombing and shelling around Mount Davis eventually forced them to leave and she stayed with her friends Doctor Harry and Mrs Winifred Clift at their home near the university. On 20 December 1941, Frances decided to make a trip to Felix Villas to bring back some of their possessions. Their home was a mess with all the window panes smashed and the floors covered with dirt and debris. When Frances heard of the Christmas Day surrender she could hardly believe it. 

We had been repeatedly told we would not surrender, but fight street by street. We were also told by radio every day that the situation  remained unchanged. The power station was latterly put out of action. There were no telephones or radios, but the news sheet was still printed and the news here was the same. The following day we saw the Japanese flag  flying from the Peak.

An old sea captain who returned to his home at Felix Villas told me in the internment camp... that at first  he had managed to live without much interference but later armed Chinese  looters came in hordes and he was forced to leave his home to them.

Our neighbour Germaine returned on December 26 and later her body was found on the road and taken to hospital for identification. Her husband, who had just passed  his final medical examinations in December, was killed at his post. Whether either knew the other was dead I do not know. They had been married about a year. (2)
On Monday 5 January 1942, all 'enemy nationals' were instructed to report for registration and internment at Murray Parade Ground. They were initially interned in various short stay hotels and boarding houses.  Mrs Clift, Frances and the children  were interned at Nam Ping Hotel. She recalled there were some 150 internees staying  in the hotel.They were joined by another lady, Molly Tyrell, in a room about 12 square feet on the third floor of the building. They were lucky because their room had a toilet and bath. On 21 January they were moved  by boat to Stanley internment camp. Although American, because she was married to a British citizen, she was interned with the British rather than the better accommodation enjoyed by the American internees. She and the three children moved into one of the staff bungalows at St Stephen's College. She was included in the US repatriation in July 1942.  She shared a third class cabin on the Asama Maru with thirteen other occupants. The exchange of prisoners took place at Lourenco Marques and the American repatriates boarded the SS Gripsholm a Swedish vessel. Frances and her three children were given permission to remain in Lourenco Marques to await the arrival of her husband and three older children on the Tatsuta Maru and Kamakura Maru respectively. 

The SS Fatshan
The vessel was built at Tai Koo Dockyard for the China Navigation Company a subsidiary of the Swire Group. She was named after the city of Foshan. The vessel with a displacement of 2,639 tons was completed in 1933. I believe she tied up at the Sheung Wan dockside which was not very far from the Coook's family home at Felix Villas. The Japanese, having commandeered the Fatshan and renamed her the Kota Maru and used her to make the round trip between Hong Kong and Canton under a Japanese flag. After the Chinese revolution in 1949 ships were barred from making port calls at Canton and the Fatshan sailed between Hong Kong and Macao. In 1971, she was sunk in a typhoon with eighty-eight lives lost and only four survivors. It is interesting to note from Archie's account that as late as 1941 she still carried an anti-piracy squad of armed guards.

Felix Villas
They were originally two low blocks of terraced houses on Mount Davis Road close to the junction of Mount Davis Road. They were built in the 1920s and named after the developer Felix Alexander Joseph. Felix Joseph was born in Hong Kong in 1890. He had UK nationality and died in 1949. A brother, Joseph Edgar Joseph was briefly in Stanley Camp but released to town (possibly guaranteed out).  The upper of the two blocks which comprised Felix Villas had ten terraced houses and the lower block which still survives had eight terraced homes. The upper block was demolished in 1995. The blocks were on either side of Mount Davis Road. There was a murder in December 1930 of a Chinese servant at the home of French national Rene Ohl the Manager of Messageries Maritimes. Rene Oil lived at  No 9 Felix Villas when the murder occurred  He later moved to No 2 Felix Villas. It is not clear who was the French neighbour (Germaine) living next door to the Cook family and how she died. Felix villas were used by the Royal Artillery at Mount Davis for accommodation after the Battery Plotting Room had been destroyed by Japanese artillery and again for accommodation after the surrender.

Residents of Felix Villas in 1941
Archibald & Frances Cook (House No. n/k)
Cyril & Mollie Blake No. 15.  (Interned at Stanley Camp with infant daughter)
George& Marguerite Boulton (House No. u/k)   (Interned at Stanley Camp)
Ernest William Charles Simmonds No. 6  (Interned at Stanley Camp)

(1) When You Were Absent (2002). by Frances Wight and Archibald Cook (P. 76)  Biola University Publications

(2) When You Were Absent (2002). by Frances Wight and Archibald Cook (P. 15)  Biola University Publications

Steven K. Bailey 
Biola University Web Site
Clinton Chong  (for "When you were absent" by Frances and Archibald Cook)


UKNA file on movement of Fatshan (Courtesy of Dr Steven K. Bailey)

UKNA file on movement of Fatshan (Courtesy of Dr Steven K. Bailey)

Wednesday, 1 February 2023

Captain Cyril (Potato) Jones , 2/RS

Captain Cyril Ramsay Jones, 2/RS, was a colourful and controversial character. When the battle started he was the commanding officer of 'A' Coy 2nd Battalion Royal Scots. He was blamed by many for the loss of the strongpoint  known as the Shing Mun Redoubt on the Gin Drinkers Line (GDL). He is often portrayed as a flamboyant and party-going type of officer. He was known as 'Potato' Jones and more disparagingly as 'Pansy' Jones. Was he to blame for the loss of the redoubt? Why was he known as 'Potato'? and what happened to him after the war? This post is an effort to find out more about this controversial officer. After the war he disappeared from view and did not turn up at regimental reunions. What did he do after the war ended and what became of him? Was he negligent in the defence of the redoubt or was he a victim of inadequate manning.  

Cyril Jones was born 18 January 1910 in Edmonton, North London. His parents, Henry Brereton Jones and Louisa Carlisle Ramsay, were born in Montevideo, Uruguay of British parentage. His father, Henry Jones (1869-1924), graduated from Cambridge University and entered the clergy in 1892. He was attached to various churches in London. University records state that had been a 'partial cripple' since childhood and that he was 'more and more hampered by his infirmity but always showed great courage and refused to allow it to hinder his work'. He was the Vicar of St James's Church, Upper Edmonton from 1909 to 1924. He died aged 54 at St James's vicarage. It was here that Cyril Jones spent his formative years. The 1911 census shows nine residents at the vicarage. These included one year old Cyril Jones, his parents, an aunt and two house guests. The household also included three servants, a cook and two housemaids. Today the church has been deconsecrated and converted into flats and I think the same fate may have befallen the vicarage.

Cyril Jones was the eldest of three siblings, Keena Mary Jones (1911-1999) and Edward Brereton Jones (1913-1941). Cyril was sent to Marlborough College where he served as a lance corporal in the college cadet corps. After leaving school he graduated from Oxford University. Information is sketchy but he is said to have worked as a journalist. He married Agnes Mary Marr (1908-1966) at Marylebone in October 1937. Jones was twenty-seven when he married Agnes whose family lived in Edinburgh. Two years later a notice in the London Gazette dated June 1939 announces his commission as a 2/Lt in the 8th Battalion Royal Scots which I believe was a territorial battalion. His commission seems to have been helped by his service in the Marlborough College Cadet Contingent. The war started a few months later in September 1939 and sometime between 1939 and 1941 Cyril Jones was posted to the 2nd Battalion Royal Scots who were based in Hong Kong. 

In the pre-war (1941) photograph above - Captain Jones (probably then a lieutenant) is seen standing in the back row at centre. He is wearing battle dress and a tam o shanter (headdress) which replaced the red and white checked glengarry in 1941. He stands out because of his height. He was six foot four inches. Thirty-one year old Jones must have been glad to be assigned to Hong Kong. The war had not come to Hong Kong. The lights were on and the bars and restaurants were full. It was a city known for its sports activities and its vigorous social and night life. Although the threat of a Japanese invasion of the colony had lingered since 1938 when Japanese troops arrived in South China. Jones reputation for hard drinking and party-going did not enamour him to Brigadier Cedric Wallis, his brigade commander. Wallis said of Jones: 'I formed my opinion of Captain Jones as a weak Company Commander prior to the outbreak of hostilities particularly during the training and from personal observation'. (UKNA CAB 106/166).

Emily Hahn, the feisty American Author and writer for the New Yorker describes how she met Jones, then a lieutenant, at a party at J. J. Paterson's home in Fan Ling. She writes in China to me (1944)  that Doctor Tony Dawson-Grove arrived 'while I was being entertained by one Lt Jones of the Royal Scots, who at the age of thirty was getting a reputation as a character'. Dawson-Grove greets Jones,  'How are you Pansy'. Dawson-Grove and Jones had been at Oxford together.  

Jones assumed command of 'A' Coy in October 1941. On 11 November his company occupied their war stations on the western flank of the GDL. Jones established his Coy HQ in the Artillery Observation Post (AOP) at the rear of the redoubt. The AOP was large with plenty of space for his ten-man HQ. He shared the AOP with the Royal Artillery personnel consisting of  Lt Wilcox, RA, and four British and Indian other ranks who manned the AOP. From the AOP the Royal Artillery personnel could observe fall of shot and direct the fire onto the respective target area. The platoon defending the redoubt, known as the Shing Mun Platoon, was commanded by 2/Lt Jack Thomson. This was one of three platoons that made up 'A' Coy. The platoon consisted of twenty-six men. Not enough to cover this large complex of tunnels, and inter-connected pillboxes, trenches and firing bays. 

A Royal Scots officer in 1941 on the Gin Drinkers Line

The redoubt was attacked on the second night of the battle (Tuesday 9 December 1941). Jones,  Thomson and Wilcox were surrounded inside the AOP together with some seventeen other ranks. They were unable to get out through the grill gate at the bottom of a flight of steps leading from the kitchen area  (known as the Strand Palace Hotel) located close to the tunnel entrance. The gate had been locked by Private Wylie. Wylie took the key with him when he went down to meet Mike Kendall, from a special operations unit, who wanted to brief Jones on enemy movements he had observed during the day. However the redoubt was attacked before Wylie could escort Kendall to Jones's HQ in the AOP.  This left the trap door in the roof as the only point of egress. A few other ranks were able to get in by way of the trap door, but by the time Jones and Thomson tried to get out and take command of the Shing Mun Platoon the AOP had been surrounded and each time the trap door lid was lifted it brought down rifle and machine gun fire. The next day the Japanese used explosives to force an entry. Jones had no choice, the AOP had been breached, and he surrendered the position. 

Captain  Jones (bottom left) taken prisoner at the Shing Mun Redoubt 10 December 1941

In the-photograph above we see Jones, his hair neatly parted, moustachioed and marching ram-rod straight with other Royal Scots and Royal Artillery gunners captured at the redoubt. The soldier with a patch over his eye is 2/Lt Thomson partially blinded by grenade shrapnel when the AOP was breached. After interrogation at Japanese HQ  at Tai Po the prisoners were held in a villa at Fan Ling. The villa was used as a temporary internment facility. The villa had been the home of William Stanton and Elsa, his wealthy American wife. When Jones entered Sham Shui Po Camp three weeks later he was remembered for striking a dramatic poise as he strode in wearing a ladies expensive fur coat which he had purloined from Elsa Stanton's wardrobe.

The loss of the redoubt, resulted in the line being compromised in that Japanese troops occupying the redoubt could fire down on the rest of the line  extending from the redoubt to the sea.  The line had to be moved back to the ridge running from Golden Hill to Lai Chi Kok. This was steep and difficult terrain and most importantly it was unprepared. There were no slit trenches, no barbed wire and no minefields.  The Royal Scots gave ground and a decision to evacuate the Mainland was made on 11 December. Brigadier Wallis was furious that the redoubt had been captured and his Mainland Brigade had to be evacuated earlier than planned from the Mainland. A Court of Enquiry was convened in May 1942 at Argyle Street Officers Camp to look into the culpability of the loss of the redoubt. 

Brigadier Wallis, who considered Jones to be a weak officer, stated that he considered objecting to Jones being promoted to company commander with the responsibility for the redoubt.  However, in the end he decided not to override his battalion commander. He wanted the battalion commander, Lt Col Simon White, to be free to command and fight his battalion as he thought best. During a visit before the battle with Major General Maltby and Col Newnham (senior staff officer) he had stressed the importance of the men being in slit trenches above ground and only using the PBs for shelter during aerial or artillery bombardment. The PBs could be used for storage and for long shoots utilising their fixed mountings.  He had stressed the importance of patrolling forward. 'A' Coy had three platoons. One based at the Redoubt under Lt Thomson and one based at Pineapple Hill, a flat-topped hill on the west side of the reservoir near Pineapple Dam, with the third platoon occupying the area south west of Pineapple Dam. 

Jones was criticised for the lack of listening posts (static patrols). If he had placed a listening post  near the dam - they would have heard the deployment of two Japanese battalions. The Japanese commander, Colonel Doi, used two companies of his third battalion to attack the redoubt. To do this his men crossed the main dam to reach the redoubt. Another Japanese battalion was deployed in the Shing Mun River gorge ready to attack Smuggler's Ridge once the redoubt had been captured. The remaining battalion was held in reserve. Static patrols or forward fighting and recce patrols would have come across these Japanese deployments. It is true that Lt Thomson had just returned from a patrol but he had patrolled laterally along Smugglers Ridge to 'D' Coy Rajputs HQ rather patrolling forward. The main dam was the critical point and had been left unguarded. It was a mixture of incompetence and lack of manning. The twenty-six men that made up the Shing Mun Platoon was not enough to defend the redoubt which covered 250 yards north-south and 350 yards northeast-southwest.  At least a company would have been needed to properly man the redoubt and conduct sufficient  static and mobile patrols. Even if a company had been deployed and proper patrolling had been implemented it would only have delayed the inevitable capture of the strongpoint. The Japanese were able to concentrate their force.  Colonel Doi had three battalions at his disposal each consisting of one thousand men. Wallis recognised that a single platoon was not desirable but more troops were simply not available. Lt Douglas Baird, 'B' Coy positioned on Pineapple Ridge between 'C' Coy and 'A' Coy recalled that there was a half mile gap between the platoon on his left and that on his right. 

The Court of Enquiry never completed its task. It was adjourned and left in abeyance and finally dropped. The transcript of the proceedings was buried in Argyle Street Camp with the intention of recovering it after the war. It was, however, never found. After Lt-Col Simon White died in the 1950s it transpired that he had kept a copy of the proceedings perhaps in order to defend the good name of his battalion. He had kept the copy concealed throughout his incarceration. It was lodged in the National Archives and access was restricted for 50 years until 2008.

Robert Gandt, the author of Season of Storms (1982) wrote that 'in camp he (Captain Cyril Jones) achieved dubious fame as a willing lecturer on any and all subjects. At the war's end, instead of boarding the troopship home with other POWs, he, characteristically, hitched a ride aboard a submarine. After a brief post war career as a journalist, Potato Jones dropped from sight, still controversial.' 


Wednesday, 23 November 2022

Josef Abosch and family in Stanley Internment Camp

On the Stanley Camp Register of Civilian Internees, held at the Imperial War Museum in London,  the first three names are Mr Josef Abraham Abosch , his wife Rosa and their son Ralph Frank. 



Given Names

Date of Birth

Date of Death

Camp No.



Joszef (sic) Abraham




Block 13/Room 73








Ralph Frank






I am always interested in the personal stories. Who were they and what happened to them ? I set out to do a bit of investigation. I found that they were Jewish and of Polish nationality. Josef (sometimes written as Jozef or Joszef) appears to have been born in Berlin and likewise Rosa. 

How long had they been in Hong Kong ? Were they escaping persecution with the growth of extremism in Germany and with Poland under threat of German invasion ?

Why were they interned  given they were not  British, American or Dutch ? Were other Poles in Hong Kong interned ?   

The Prison Officers' Club in late 1945 with the Indian Quarters at the rear

The Abosch family were billeted in Block 13 part of the Indian Quarters.  They occupied Room 73 which they had to themselves, at least at the time the register of internees was compiled.  Not everybody wanted to share a room with a toddler and Ralph Frank was barely two years old. 

Block 12 and 13 of the Indian Quarters as they appear today

Josef describes himself as a 'merchant' or salesman working for an import/export firm called A. Vago. In another document he describes himself as a medical attendant. Was he involved in Civil Defence during the battle ? Was medical attendant his wartime role? When did he first come to Hong Kong? and what was the company referred to as Vago? Did he form it in Hong Kong or was he posted to be the agent in Hong Kong. So many questions and so few answers.

Josef Abosch 

The fact that they were billeted in the Indian Quarters, together with their high camp number, suggests that they came into camp with the so-called Peakites. The Peakites were residents or people billeted or otherwise staying with Peak residents. They were lucky in that they avoided the initial incarceration in the cheap short-stay brothel hotels in the western area of town where most others were initially interned before moving to Stanley. They were unlucky, as late comers to Stanley Camp, to be allocated the least preferred accommodation at the Indian Quarters. 

During the battle, Mrs Rosa Abosch was listed as being admitted to Matilda Hospital on 23 December 1941 with Ralph, her infant son. Mothers with infants were being given shelter there. The Matilda Hospital being situated on the Peak, also provides further credence that she was staying on the Peak - perhaps billeted there rather than a resident of the expensive and exclusive Peak District.

After liberation in September 1945, the family were given passage to the UK on the Empress of Australia. The ship, carrying many former civilian internees, arrived at Liverpool on 27 October 1945. Josef Abosch appears to have got a job as an interpreter (I assume German/English) with the US Army in postwar Britain and Germany.

In April 1947 he married Ruth Cocklin, a US Army nurse stationed in Europe. They married in Hendon, Middlesex. Did he and Rosa get divorced and what happened to Rosa and Ralph ?  In July 1947, Josef Abosch migrated to the United States to start a new life, perhaps facilitated by his work with the US Army and his having, by then, an American wife.  The couple appear on the manifest of the Sobieski sailing from Cannes and arriving in New York in July 1947.  They had taken a holiday in France before proceeding to the United States.

Josef settled in the United States but he and Ruth were soon divorced (I don't have a date but I think after 1950 as the 1950 census shows them still under the same roof). At that time he was working as a furniture salesman. Around this time he  appears to have married Anna Deutsche. He passed away in 1976 in Baltimore, Maryland. His grave (sourced on records his wife as Anna ('Kiki') Abosch (22/9/1911 - 3/4/1981). There is of course no mention of Rosa, Ralph or Ruth. 

The memorial stone

Perhaps, somebody, possibly a family member, will know the story and help to fill in some of the blanks by commenting below or emailing the author at:


Addendum 1 (24 November 2022):

I contacted a family member (Ruth Cocklin's family) who informed me that Ruth and Josef were indeed married in 1947 but they divorced and Ruth never or seldom spoke of him after that and she never re-married. The family member thought that she (Ruth) felt she had been hoodwinked. A sad story in itself. There is still a mystery over what happened to Rosa and her son. Did they return to Hong Kong ? The third wife, Anna, was mother to four children. Were the four children from a previous marriage as she would have been nearly 50 when she married Josef Abosch. There is at least one resident in Hong Kong bearing the name Abosch - I wonder whether related to Josef and Rosa. I am trying to contact him ......but I already feel like an intruder. I try not to be judgemental but I suppose history and research can become an intrusion even long after the events in question. 

Wednesday, 23 March 2022

ML 310 - Escape from Singapore - February 1942

In February 2017, I wrote a post on my blog about Major Douglas Dewe, a Medical Doctor serving with the British Indian Army based in Singapore during the battle. I fell into the story by chance rather than by design. I was browsing old Hong Kong newspapers when I came across an article in the Hong Kong Daily Press dated 19 August 1941 concerning the divorce of Major Dewe from his wife Rona. They had married in 1934 following the death of Major Dew's first wife.

Major Dew's marriage to Rona broke down in 1938 at about which time Rona had struck-up a relationship with a forty-year-old rubber planter in Malaya by the name of Oswald Cutler. In the August 1941 hearing, the court granted custody of the two children to Major Dewe presumably on account of his wife's infidelity. By August 1941, Major Dewe had become engaged to a charming divorcee by the name of Mrs Peggy Frampton. 

The war started in December 1941, a few months after the court hearing. Major Dewe, his ex-wife Rona and Oswald Cutler all ended up in Japanese prison camps for the duration. Peggy Frampton was in Kuantan on the east coast of Malaya at the time of the Japanese invasion. She quickly collected Major Dewe's two sons and her daughter, Rae, and drove in a black Humber all the way to Singapore. Not long  after Peggy's departure the Japanese landed at or around Kuantan. As Peggy Frampton drove south, the road bridges were being demolished behind her. She reached Singapore with the three children and got out on one of the last evacuation ships leaving Singapore. Peggy took the children to India where she resided during the war. Her fianc√©, Douglas Dewe, survived the prison camps in Singapore and Burma. On release he found Peggy had re-married in India. Perhaps she had assumed that he had died during the battle or during  the subsequent incarceration.  

While updating the article on Major Dewe, I discovered a little bit more about his erstwhile fianc√©, Peggy Frampton. Her husband, from whom she had divorced was Commander Pendarvis Lister Frampton. I found an old newspaper article reporting their wedding in April 1935. She is referred to as Mrs Peggy Fischer (nee Jeffries) the owner of the Garter Club in Mayfair. The couple were married at Marylebone Registry Office. When WW2 commenced Commander Frampton was assigned to HMS Sultan the shore establishment in Singapore. During the Battle for Singapore Frampton served as a  Staff Officer reporting to Rear Admiral Ernest Spooner, the Senior Naval Officer in Singapore and Malaya.

Rear Admiral Spooner, Commander Frampton and Air Vice Marshall Conway Pulford were ordered to leave Singapore (just before the Fall) and re-convene at Batavia in the Dutch East Indies. Frampton  and the two senior officers escaped from Singapore on  the Fairmile-class motor launch ML 310. They left Singapore on Friday 13 February two days before the Fall of Singapore. They never made it to Batavia. All three senior officers died a few months later on a malarial infested island off the east coast of Sumatra. This is their story,  their last story and the last voyage of His Majesty's motor launch ML 310.

Captain P. G. Frampton & Mrs Peggy Frampton (British Newspaper archive)

Lt Richard Pool, RN, remembered waking up that Friday 13 February to the sound of the guns. The loudest being the British 15-inch and 9.2-inch coastal defence guns. The guns were designed to fire on naval targets at sea and as a result they mostly had armour-piercing shells and lacked HE and shrapnel shells more suitable for the landward firing they were by then engaged in. There had been continual air-raids and shelling. The Japanese had already landed on Singapore Island and had established a bridgehead. The Japanese had complete air dominance. The defence of Singapore had disintegrated into chaos. The evacuation of civilians and key military personnel from Singapore had been taking place in greater urgency as the Japanese advanced on the island. It resembled a mini-Dunkirk style operation with boats or every shape and size being utilised. 
That afternoon Rear Admiral Spooner called a meeting in his office at Fort Canning. He told us that the decision that Singapore could not hold out had been taken and orders for all remaining Naval and Air Force personnel, as well as selected Army technicians, to leave Singapore had been given.  (Lt Pool) 
Lt Pool was ordered by Rear-Admiral Spooner to be ready to take him and Commander Pendarvis Frampton to Batavia in the Dutch East Indies by motor launch that night. Their party would also include Air Vice Marshal Pulford, acting as Air Officer Commanding, Far East. Spooner was married to Megan Foster a highly acclaimed soprano. She had been evacuated a few days earlier on 10 February 1942.

Rear Admiral Ernest Spooner with his wife Megan Foster 

Lt-General Arthur Percival, General Officer Commanding British Troops in Malaya allowed Lt Ian Stonor, his ADC, to leave that same evening with Spooner and Pulford.  Lt Stonor, Argyle & Sutherland Highlanders, left the Battle Box at Fort Canning with Wing-Cdr Atkins, Pulford's senior staff officer, and proceeded to the dockyard by way of Clifford Pier. They boarded the Fairmile (ML 310). Spooner, Pulford and Frampton were already aboard.

The Fairmile class motor launches were naval patrol boats armed with a 3-pdr Hotchkiss quick firing gun and deck mounted machine guns. The boats had a length of 112 ft and a displacement of 85 tons. The had twin screws and could produce a speed of 20 knots. ML 310 sailed at around 11:00 p.m.

Fairmile-class motor launch (internet)

The commander of ML 310 was Lt Jonny Bull, RNZNVR. The boat's crew consisted of eighteen men which included two officers (Lt Bull and Sub-Lt Henderson, RANVR) and Li Teng, the boat's Chinese cook also known as Charlie. In addition to the crew there were some twenty-seven military  passengers making a total forty-five men aboard the ill-fated ML 310. 

The twenty-seven military passengers included:

Rear-Admiral Spooner, RN
Air Vice Marshall Pulford, RAF
Commander Frampton, RN
Wing Commander Atkins, RAFVR
Lt Stonor, A&SH
Lt Pool, RN
Sgt Hornby and five Royal Marines
Two RAF other ranks.
Three Royal Engineers other ranks
Sgt Wright and four Military Police
Five RN ratings

They headed south and left Singapore in flames, ruins, disorder, and facing the bleak prospect of inevitable defeat. Shortly after leaving Singapore ML 310 developed a steering problem and later ran aground. Lt Pool, feeling responsible for Spooner and Pulford's safety, decided to go over the side in a dinghy and examine the propellors and shaft to ensure they had not been damaged in the grounding. As he came back aboard the ML  his hand was badly crushed between the dinghy and the side of the launch by the strong tide. 

Shortly before dawn, the tide rose sufficient for the launch to float off the reef. A few hours later they anchored close inshore at a small group of islands. The plan was to lay up during the day to avoid being spotted by Japanese warships or aircraft. They put up camouflage netting to conceal the boat. That night, 14 February they continued south and by dawn on 15 February they were approaching the Banka Straits off the coast of Sumatra. Once again they laid up during the daylight hours on 15 February. Lt Pool's injury had worsened and his whole arm was swollen. Spooner and Pulford decided to head to Muntock, a small port on Banka Island, to get medical attention for Pool's injury. Having seen few aircraft they decided that afternoon to break cover and continue in broad daylight rather than wait for nightfall.

Air Vice Marshal Pulford

While heading towards Banka Island, they were spotted by a squadron of Japanese warships including cruisers and destroyers.  One of the warships opened fire  and another sent off a seaplane which dropped bombs which fell astern of the launch. The launch sped towards nearby Tjebia Island with the aim of putting the island between them and the Japanese ships. The launch ran aground on a reef close inshore to the island. A Japanese destroyer was sent to intercept ML 310. They tried to re-float the vessel but to no avail. Lt John Bull, the boat's captain, Sub-Lt Henderson, the first lieutenant, Lt Pool and Wing-Cdr Atkins remained onboard, the rest of the personnel were ordered by Spooner to wade or swim ashore and conceal themselves in the jungle. 

Map showing Singapore, Batavia (now Jakarta), Banka Island and Tjebia

The Japanese destroyer hove to and fired serval shots only one of which hit the launch causing minor damage. The Japanese lowered a boat with a boarding party consisting  of an officer and a party of armed sailors. They came aboard the launch cuffing and hitting the four officers left onboard. The launch was already damaged but the boarding party made sure it could not be re-floated. Having finished disabling the boat, the Japanese boarding party made a semi-circle around the four captives. Their guns raised and the officer holding his sword. They were about to be shot. The officer, however, decided to spare them and allowed the four men to paddle their dinghy ashore. As they struck out towards the shore, they were expecting to be shot before they reached the beach, but the Japanese got into their own tender and returned to the destroyer. 

It was a small island, about a mile long and a quarter of a mile wide with thick foliage and white sand beaches. The island was surrounded by a rocky reef. There was hill in the northern part of the island on which there was a Dutch Army radio station manned by a dozen Javanese military personnel. There was a small sparsely populated village. The few inhabitants made a living from fishing and gathering Copra. Many of the occupants had left for Banka Island. The remaining inhabitants, concerned about Japanese reprisals for harbouring British military personnel soon left the island. They took the only seaworthy fishing boats. Lt Stonor went up the hill to the radio station.  The station crew had seen the launch and heard the gunfire and assumed that they were being attacked by the Japanese They had then destroyed the radio. The ML 310 passengers and crew were marooned without any form of communication.

The group decided that a party led by Lt Bull, would repair one of the fishing boats that had been left as unseaworthy, and then try and reach British forces in Batavia to alert them of the presence of the senior officers Spooner and Pulford and the rest of the group at Tjebia. The Island may have looked idyllic, like a Robinson Crusoe Island, but it was far from it. The fishermen called it 'fever island'. The island was malarial and the group of marooned servicemen were plagued by thick swarms of mosquitoes. 
The air was so thick with mosquitos that we could hardly breath without getting them up our noses  or into our mouths ; their vicious whine as they hovered round us was unceasing, as were their bites. Outside the hut, the chirping of millions of crickets and croaking frogs mingled with the hum of other tropical insects. (Lt Pool)
On the evening of 20  February Lt Bull, the coxswain, one RN rating, and two Javanese one of whom was the radio station commandant left in the repaired  prahu for Java. Sailing and paddling at night and laying-up in the daylight they eventually reached Batavia. The naval authorities were informed and an American submarine USS S-39 was dispatched to rescue the stranded group, but although the submarine sent a party ashore they found nobody on the island. This is still a mystery, but perhaps they were on the wrong island or were not sufficiently diligent in their search.

The remaining group on the island had access to three months supply of tinned food salvaged from the wreck of ML 310. They also had access to rice that had been left behind by the villagers. There were banana, coconut and papaya trees on the island. There was water availability through wells and streams. The tinned food was rationed out. They had food but not enough of it and what they had lacked sufficient nutrients and many later developed beriberi, pellagra and other malnutrition related illnesses.

Rear Admiral Spooner was the senior officer out-ranking Air Vice Marshal Pulford. Lt Pool described Spooner as active and forceful. He had commanded HMS Repulse  before being promoted to flag rank. Pulford was quiet and  somewhat withdrawn. Pool described Frampton as 'a rather large, florid' man who had left the Navy and then been recalled on the outbreak of war in 1939. George Atkins was a 'quiet reflective man' who had been living in Malaya as a civilian before the war and spoke reasonable Malay. Like Frampton he had been recalled to the service. Richardson was a Warrant Officer Boatswain. Pool described him as 'old and tough'.

After Lt Bull's party had left for Batavia, the two Royal Engineer sergeants worked with Frampton to repair one of the abandoned boats. Frampton was obsessive in his determination to get off the island and sail to Batavia. After two weeks on the island, and having carried out the repairs, Frampton decided the boat was ready to be launched. They tried to launch it without sufficient rollers, but the boat fell to one side damaging and cracking the hull. It was after this setback that Frampton got ill.
Commander Frampton  completely lost heart in the venture. A few days later he developed a bad chill, with violent shivering fits. With no doctor in the party, we could only suspect malaria. From this moment on, he appeared to lose all interest in the life and work on the island. (Lt Pool)
Around the end of February, there were three additions to the group.  The first was Pte Docherty, Gordon Highlanders, who was found by Pool and Stonor on the west beach. He had been on another vessel that had escaped from Singapore on 13 February. The second one washed up on the same beach was a naval rating, Stoker Scammell. A few days later another survivor, Aubyn Dimmitt, an Australian civil engineer working at the naval dockyard was found on the west beach. He had been drifting in a small dinghy. All three men had been on an RAF auxiliary craft the Aquarius. The vessel had been sunk in the Banka Straits by Japanese aircraftAll three of these subsequent arrivals later died on Tjebia Island. 

Commander Pendarvis Frampton died on 7 March, three weeks after landing on the island. It was later determined that he died from cerebral malaria. The absence of rescue which had been expected within a few weeks of Lt Bull's departure and the death of Frampton  lowered the morale. More of the survivors got sick. There was quinine powder left on the island but some of the group were reluctant to take it because of the awful taste and the side effects like loss of hearing. Three days after Frampton's death Air Vice Marshall Pulford died. The survivors were struggling with the heat, lethargy and depression. Sub-Lt Henderson took to his bed and would not get up. He just lay there until he died.  PO Keeling was on lookout duty when he developed a sore throat. His throat became so swollen that he could not swallow. He died within 24 hours. The group were suffering from a variety of illness including dysentery, malaria, beriberi and pellagra. The Javanese crew of the radio station were also effected and by this time three of their crew had died. The food stocks were running low. They estimated they had enough to last  until the end of April. 

Charlie, the Chinese cook, asked to go with a Javanese fishing prahu to Daboe, the principal town on Singkep Island. He claimed he had contacts there and could arrange for a fishing junk to pick up the survivors left on Tjebia. The understanding was that he would be back within a week. He reached Singkep, but did not alert anyone to their plight and he never returned. At about this time, two Royal Engineers, S/Sgt Lockett and S/Sgt Ginn left for Banka Island on a fishing prahu manned by two, apparently unsavoury-looking, Javanese. The two Royal Engineers were never seen again. It was thought they had been killed by the two Javanese boat men. 

In April, Rear Admiral Spooner died. He had been a tower of strength and provided strong leadership to the marooned group. His death was sudden and unexpected.  He had always appeared to be one of the fittest, but death was not discriminating. The Javanese radio station crew had suffered several deaths and the survivors had managed to get off the island probably on a Javanese prahu. Those still fit enough from the ML 310 group on Tjebia repaired another Prahu. They realised that they either got off the island or  they would die on it. On 15 May, three months after they first landed on Tjebia they sailed the repaired prahu to Saya, an island between Tjebia and Singkep. The crew consisted of Atkins,  Pool, Oldnall, Stonor,  Johncock and Tucker. Warrant officer Richardson stayed with the sick and a few healthy men to handle the chores like the collection of water. The prahu was wrecked on the rocks of a small island near Saya. They were picked up by a fishing boat and taken to Singkep where they were held by the Javanese police and then passed to the Japanese as prisoners of war. The rest of the group on Tjebia were picked up and the group were all returned to Singapore. They arrived at Clifford Pier on 23 May 1942 and were then moved to Changi POW Camp. 

Nineteen died on that forsaken fever struck island, the first of which was forty-six-year-old Pendarvis Frampton. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission cite his wife as Peggy Winifred Frampton. Perhaps she was not yet legally divorced, albeit engaged to Major Dewe. After the war the bodies of  the nineteen men buried in shallow graves on Tjebia Island were exhumed and reburied at Kranji War Cemetery. 

Kranji War Cemetery

Appendix 1


19 died on Tjebia Island including the three survivors from the RAF  Auxiliary vessel Aqarius

1 died in Singapore

3 sailed to Batavia and survived

2 sailed to Banka Island and were missing presumed killed

1 deserted

22 of the original 45 on ML 310 were incarcerated at Changi in early June 1942
48 Total (excluding Dutch Army radio station crew).

Appendix 2

Execution of a Spy

Captain Patrick Stanley Heenan, 16th Punjab Regt, was convicted of treason after being caught spying  for the Japanese during the Malayan campaign in December 1941 and January 1942. Peter Elphick and Michael Smith in their book Odd Man Out (1988) postulate that he was shot by Corps of Military Police (CMP) guards on 13 February 1942 - two days before the Fall of Singapore. This may have been ordered by Rear Admiral Spooner or by Air Vice Marshal Pulford. It is possible, that the detachment led by a sergeant (Sgt Reg Wright) consisting of four other Military Police were given the task of shooting the alleged traitor. This was done by the harbour-side with his body allowed to drop into the water. Spooner and or Pulford may have then ordered  the CMP detachment to join the evacuation in ML 310.

Appendix 3

The Admiral's Wife

Rear Admiral Ernest John Spooner (22/8/1887 - 15/4/1942) married Megan Foster (1898 -1987) in 1926. She was a well-known soprano. She accompanied her husband on his last posting to Singapore as Read Admiral Malaya. HMS Scout had departed Hong Kong on 8 December 1941 with HMS Thanet. Scout was alongside the dock at Keppel Dockyard on 9 February when the First Lieutenant, Christopher Briggs, observed a car pulling up alongside the ship. It was carrying Mrs Megan Foster Spooner. Lt Briggs recalled that she was accompanied by the Admiral's steward and the Admiral's coxswain. The admirals wine cellar was brought aboard as a gift for the wardroom. 'We put Mrs Spooner in Lambton's cabin [Captain's cabin]. He had his sea cabin under the bridge. We set off as soon as it was dark, our orders were to proceed to Tanjock Prior, the port of Batavia. .... As soon as we had anchored, a boat arrived to collect Mrs Spooner and the staff. She was taken straight over to a ship, the SS City of Bedford which was sailing for Australia'. (Source: Farewell Hong Kong (1941) (2001) Christopher Briggs.

Appendix 4

Crew and passengers of  ML 310  ( Source: Lt Stonor & Lt Pool)


R/Adml Ernest John Spooner, RN - Died (Rear-Admiral Malaya)

AVM Conway Pulford, RAF - Died (Air Officer Commanding)

Cdr Pendarvis Frampton, RN - Died

W/Cdr George Atkins, RAF - Survived

Lt Richard Pool, RN - Survived.

Lt Herbert Bull, RN - RNZNVR - Sailed for Batavia (CO of ML 310)

Lt Ian Stonor, A&SH - Survived (ADC to Lt-Gen Percival)

Sub-Lt Malcolm Henderson, RANVR - Died (First Lt on ML 310)

WO Boatswain  Richardson, RN - Survivor. (Commissioned WO)

Other Ranks

PO Charles Fairbanks, RN - Survived (ex HMS Prince of Wales) 

PO Ralph Keeling, RN - Died.  (Ex HMS Repulse) 

L/S Andrew Brough, RN - Sailed to Batavia with Lt Bull (ML 310 crew)

A/B Leonard Hill, RNZNVR - Sailed to Batavia with Lt Bull (ML 310 crew)

A/B Bert Gibson, RN - Died

A/B Jack Haywood, RNZNVR - Died (ML 310 crew)

A/B Robert Flower, RN - Died. (ML 310 crew)

A/B James Russell, RN - Died (ML 310 crew)

A/B Herb Oldnall, RNZNVR Survived

AB Ronald Johnson, RN - Survived (ML 310 crew)

AB Alfred Robinson  RN - Died (ML 310 crew)

Sto Arthur Bale, RNZNVR - Died  (Rear-Admiral's driver)

StoPO Edwin Towsend, RN - Died (ML310 crew)

Sto John Little, RN - Died

Sto Edward Tucker, RN - Survived (ML 310 crew)

Sto William Paddon (ML 310 crew)

PO MMecc H S Johncock, RN - Survived   (Senior Rate on ML 310)

OrdTel Hector Smethwick, RN -Survived

OrdTel Alan Tweesdale, RN - Survived (ML310 crew)

Sgt Edward Hornby, RM - Died

Cpl Samuel Sully, RM - Died

Pte James Robinson, RM - Survived

Pte James Robinson, RM - Survived

Pte Charles Davy, RM - Survived

Pte James Sneddon, RM - survived

S/Sgt James Ginn, RE - Sailed to Batavia with Javanese (Missing)

S/Sgt John Luckett, RE - Sailed to Batavia with Javanese (Missing)

S/Sgt Richard Davies, RE - Died

Sgt Reg Wright, CMP - Survived

Cpl Stan Shieff, CMP - survived

Cpl Henry Shrimpton, CMP - Died in Singapore two days after return.

Cpl   Reg Stride CMP - Survived

Cpl Jack Turner, CMP - Survived

AC Arthur Bettany, RAF - Survived

AC Norman Smith, RAF - Survived

Cook Li Ting - Deserted (Referred to as Charlie) (ML 310 )

Joined group on Tjebia Island

Pte James Doherty, Gordon Highlanders 

Sto Leonard Scammell, RN

Aubyn Dimmitt Civilian civil engineer working at naval dockyard

Archive sources:

Report by Wing Cdr George Atkins, RAFVR  (UKNA  WO 344/362/2)

Report by Lt Ian Stoner, A&SH (UKNA)

Book sources:

Course for Disaster Richard Pool

Singapore's Dunkirk Geoffrey Brooke

Internet Sources: 


Lt-General Arthur Percival