Friday, 1 June 2018

The Tai Wai Bunkers

One of my Facebook (FB)  friends, Kei Fu, posted a  message on the FB site "Battle of Hong Kong" showing a contour map with a location point labelled the "Tai Wai Bunkers." In his post he was wondering how to get access to these bunkers which had become incorporated into a major building site. The development which will be a 15-storey residential apartment block will be called The Met.Acapella. The  artists impression show a very attractive development close to the amenities of Tai Wai and surrounded by the hills and countryside. Another FB friend, Victor Li, helped to pinpoint the location with photographs and map extracts. Kwong Chi-man, a history professor, advised on the FB site that he had been in contact with Civil Engineering & Development Dept (CEDD) and Antiquities and Monuments Office (AMO) regarding the importance of protecting these WW2 bunkers. Chi-man posted a photograph which showed a very substantial bunker ("the long bunker"). I had not heard of these bunkers before, but immediately wondered given the size of the long bunker and the presence of four other splinter proof shelters, and proximity to Tai Po Road, whether this could be the site of the Advanced Battalion HQ of the 2nd Battalion of the 14th Punjab Regiment.  The battalion was commanded by Lt-Col Gerald Ralph Kidd who was killed in action during fighting at Shouson Hill on the Island.

There were three possibilities as to who may have occupied these surviving WW2 military structures:

1. Advanced Bn HQ 2/14 Punjabs.

2. 'D' Coy HQ 2/14 Punjabs.

3. Battery HQ for Forward Guns of the Hong Kong Singapore Royal Artillery (HKSRA) positioned in Tai Wai locality.

Any one of these three usages are possibilities, and the site could have been a combination of any two, or even all three.

On the declaration of a State of Emergency on Sunday 7th December 1941 six howitzers were deployed to forward locations in the vicinity of Tai Wai. These included two 3.7-inch and two 4.5-inch howitzers from 2nd Mountain Battery, and two 6-inch howitzers from 25th Medium Battery. The two 3.7-inch guns were transported by pack mules and were probably positioned furthest forward. The 4.5 and 6-inch guns needed to be towed by lorries and would therefore have been deployed close to the Tai Po Road. Other guns (3.7-inch howitzers) were deployed at Customs Pass, on the right flank of the Gin Drinkers Line (GDL), whist others were positioned to the rear of the GDL at Main Filters, located at the southern end of Tai Po Road,  and the Polo Ground near Prince Edward Road. Nearby AOPs were manned at Sandal Wood, Crown Point, Golden Hill, Shing Mun Redoubt, Texaco Peninsula and Crown Point. Mainland Royal Artillery had their HQ in splinter proof shelters adjacent to those occupied by Mainland (Kowloon) Infantry Brigade at the northern end of Waterloo Road. 

The map extract from the war-time map below shows the 5 1/2, 6 1/2 and 7 1/2 milestones (MS) along the Tai Po Road. It also shows the approximate position of the Tai Wai Bunkers which seem to be located very close to the 71/2 MS.  

The Mainland Brigade War Diary and the Royal Artillery war diaries, and and the 2/14 Punjab War Diary mentions no exact location of Battalion HQ, or 'D'  Coy HQ or Forward Batteries HQ.  'D' Coy 2/14 Punjabs was occupying the  left flank of the Punjab sector from Tai Po Road towards Shatin Pass. When the Mainland evacuation (of troops)  began on Thursday 11th December, 1941, Captain David Mathers, commanding 'D' Coy, 2/14 Punjab writes in the war diary section pertaining to 'D' Coy that the company was was ordered to RV at the 51/2 MS. From the 51/2 MS they took the catch water path (marked in white on the map above).

At 1100 hours  on 11th December, 'D' Coy's forward troops fired their Boys anti-tank rifles at two Japanese light tanks seen on Tai Po Road near the Shatin level-crossing, probing the Punjab defences.
Dec. 11th 1215 hours:
"Last troops left forward positions. I met the CO at Advanced Battalion HQ and proceeded to 51/2 MS. On arrival found that 'D' Coy had been posted in position above the catchment . Spent next four hours walking along the catchment, up Railway Pass, round Beacon Hill locating Coy positions."
Dec. 11th 1830 hours:
"Withdrew Coy along the catchment up Shatin Pass, down Jats Incline to Devil's Peak Pier."
We know that Rear Bn HQ commanded by Lt James Flynn was located at Whitfield Barracks in Kowloon.  The Advanced Bn HQ was on or close to Tai Po Road, but was it at the Tai Wai Bunkers which were close to  the 71/2 MS or was there another set of bunkers at the 61/2 MS now demolished?  The reason for posing this question, is that the Diary of Events for Rear Bn HQ written by Lt James Flynn refers to the 61/2 MS HQ
Dec. 10th 2400 hours:
"Reported to CO at 6 1/2 MS HQ".
This could be an error, and perhaps 71/2 MS was meant, but this seems unlikely. We are then back to the possibility of there once having been more military structures at the 61/2 MS. Perhaps a reader may know. The 61/2 MS must have been close to where Shatin Heights is now situated. At the  71/2 MS there is  a small park named after the milestone and in which there is a replica of the 7 1/2 MS. 
71/2 MS Rest Garden
Replica of MS
The building site for The Met.Acapella is a short distance from the replica MS. I wanted to see these shelters, but the problem arose as to how to get there. I would not be allowed to walk in to the building site without permission and without supervision and health and safety requirements like a  hard-hat, but I thought I might be able to reach the bunkers from the hillside above. So I trekked up the road leading to the Po Leung Kuk hospital located at the end of a cul-de-sac and overlooking the building site. I explained to the security guard that I was hiking down the hill from outside the perimeter fence. I then proceeded to work my way around the outside of the permitter fence until I reached a pylon a little way down the slope. I passed under the pylon and made my way downhill and slightly to the right. The vegetation was not too thick and the slope was not too steep and by holding into the trees I was able to make my way down to building site.

Source: Po Leung Kok YC Cheng Centre web site
I emerged above the building site and to the rear of the site. The slope had been protected by slope work and a large steel wire netted fence had been erected to catch any rock-fall. 

My route from the hospital to the back of the building site 
I spent some time going along the lower slope expecting to find the bunkers, but soon realised the only way to see them was to get into the building site. I entered the site at the rear and made my way past the swimming pool, which was under construction, and followed the northern perimeter of the building site where I found the string of WW2 bunkers. 

Splinter proof shelter
The same shelter looking west towards the rear of the site 
The long bunker looking east towards the entrance to the site 
Entrance portals at the long bunker 
The long bunker looking west towards the rear of the site
Entrance to one of the splinter proof shelters
Standard design splinter proof shelter. 
Set of two splinter proofs 
Since I was in a building site without permission - I took photographs hurriedly, and walked out the main entrance of the site. Nobody questioned me and it was a preferable to walk out the main entrance than retrace my path up the hill to the Po Leung Kuk hospital facility. After I posted my photos on FB Battle of Hong Kong site a number of other photos were posted showing the Tai Wai Bunkers in better condition, and including some internal photos of the bunkers taken before the area became a building site. The long bunker had two or three portals but no apertures. The splinter proof shelters had apertures that had been bricked up. 

Rob Weir informed me that the site was used at one time during the 1960s/1970s as a Riding School.  Victor Li advised me that before and during the war the site was part of the Kai Kee poultry farm.

Damaged map showing four sets of splinter proofs and the long bunker (Courtesy: Victor Li)
The map extract above shows the former Shatin Riding School, and the set of four splinter proofs (labelled Bunker No. 2), and the long bunker (labelled Bunker No. 1). The photograph below from the on-line marketing brochure for the development shows what the residence will look like when finished. 

The Met.Acapella
The red line, marked on the photo above, shows the approximate line of bunkers. The major concern of history enthusiasts is that the bunkers, which are already overgrown and dilapidated, are likely to be further damaged due to the proximity of a major construction site. The only way to see the bunkers now is from the building site. When the building is completed there is concern about public accessibility. I suspect these bunkers will be very inaccessible and neglected in future. Colin Blackwell posted a copy of the Summary of the Land Grant which requires the developer not to damage the military structures.

There is still a question mark as to who used these bunkers. Was it the site of the Forward Artillery, was it Advanced Bn HQ for 2/14 Punjabs, or was it HQ for 'D' Coy 2/14th Punjabs, or a combination of the three. To many people, and perhaps to some of the future residents of the Met.Acapella, these are just unsightly ruins, but to an increasing number of people, these are seen as a precious link to our wartime history and the defence of Hong Kong in December 1941. They are historic buildings and they deserve to be better cared for. 



Colin Blackwell
Kei Fu
Kwong, Chi Man
Victor Li

Tuesday, 1 May 2018

Group Captain Thomas Horry Commanding Officer RAF Kai Tak

Thomas Stanley Horry was born in Boston, Lincolnshire on 21st May 1898. He was the Commanding Officer of the RAF station at Kai Tak immediately before the start of war. He was given a new assignment with RAF, Singapore and left Hong Kong on the ill-fated SS Ulysses, bound for Singapore by way of Manila. He handed over command of the RAF station in  Hong Kong to Wing Commander Humphrey ("Ginger") Sullivan, he had a farewell function on Saturday, and left for Singapore on Sunday 7th December. The next day Japan attacked Hong Kong, Malaya, Philippines and the US Fleet at Pearl Harbour and the Pacific War began.

There is a reference to Horry in Major Munro's private papers held at Imperial War Museum. John Monro was Brigade Major, Royal Artillery, based at the military HQ known as China Command or referred to as the Battle Box. On Saturday 6th December, Monro had gone to Kai Tak for a flying lesson. His instructor was Pilot Officer N.L. Baugh, RAF.
"I thought it went rather well and was very disappointed with Baugh for not letting me go solo. After it got dark we went into the bar and met some of the CNAC pilots. They had about a dozen planes leaving for Nam Yeung that night. The first two Douglasses went off at about 7:15 and were expected back shortly after 9 pm. Baugh and I intended going out together to dine. First of all we went up to his mess for a wash. When we got there we found there was a flap in progress. A message had just been received from RAF Singapore putting them on a No. 1 state of readiness. "Horrid" Horry rang up Newman [GSO-1 at China Command] to find out if he had heard any further news, but was told that headquarters far from having had any fresh cause of alarm, were thinking of relaxing their precautions. There was an air of expectancy and excitement in the mess where I stayed to dinner as Baugh was now confined to barracks. As I went home after dinner everything seemed quiet and normal. There were the usual Saturday night crowds in the main streets and on the ferries. Hong Kong was illuminated as usual. This morning  [Sunday 7th December] when I went to the office, I found the situation had worsened. I don't really believe that anyone thinks that it will come to anything. We have had so many flaps and lived in a state of tension for so long that we have become blasé. We live only for the day when the rather annoying precautions that interfere with our private amusements are once more considered unnecessary." (IWM Doc. 17941)
Group Captain Horry was probably not sorry to be leaving Hong Kong. The RAF station only possessed five aircraft all of which were obsolete and were no match for Japanese aircraft. There had been talk that a squadron of Buffalo Brewsters would be sent up from Singapore to augment the three RAF Vildebeests and two Walrus amphibians. Most of the RAF aircraft, and several civil aircraft, were destroyed during air raids on the first day of the war. The RAF aircraft played no part in the battle and their loss made no difference to the outcome of the battle. 

One day out of Hong Kong, whilst Ulysses was on passage to Manila, Captain James Russell heard on the ship's radio that war had begun, and that Manila was already under attack. He ordered the ship to turn south and head for Singapore. She was spotted by Japanese aircraft and bombed and strafed on two different occasions. The ship reached Singapore and sailed on to Australia and through the Panama Canal and was later sunk by a U-Boat off the coast of South Carolina. Group Captain Horry disembarked at Singapore to take up his new assignment. I have not been able to discover what that was, or what became of him during the battle, except that he became a POW after the Fall of Singapore on 15th February 1942.

In conducting research and trying to find out more about him I discovered that Thomas Horry had fought in WW1, and that in 1917, aged nineteen, he had obtained the Aviators Certificate issued by the Royal Aero Club, a prerequisite for Army Officers, or others, wanting to join the Royal Flying Corps. Further research confirmed that  he had been an Ace and that he had been accredited with eight kills in the last month of WW1. 

Fl Lt Thomas Horry 1917
He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) in 1919. The citation reads:
"An officer of exceptional courage and daring. In the face of driving rain and low clouds, he led his patrol into enemy territory in order to engage enemy troops and transport that were retiring. Reaching his objective he attacked the enemy with  vigour, causing heavy casualties. He has in all destroyed three enemy aircraft and driven down another, out of control, and has, in addition, taken a leading part in the destruction of six others."
He remained in the  Royal Air Force the successor to the Royal Flying Corp and was awarded the Air Force Cross (AFC) in 1928.

But what of his personal life ? I was not able to find out much except that he married at the age of 37 to Lola Erben aged thirty-four, in March 1936.  It was her second marriage and  as far as I could see see there were no children. If Horry was a POW in Singapore his health would most likely have deteriorated and this may explain his early death. He died aged sixty-one in 1960. Lola lived on until 1991 when she passed away in Victoria, Australia aged ninety, thirty years after her husband had died. A man who had fought in two world wars, a WW1 Ace, the holder of the DFC and AFC and who had served in Hong Kong on the eve of battle and who had served in Singapore, survived the battle and the brutal incarceration that followed.  


Monday, 16 April 2018

Major John Johnstone ("JJ") Paterson

JJ Paterson was born in 1886 at St. Andrews, Edinburgh, Scotland. He was the oldest son of William Paterson (1844-1914), a partner in the trading company Jardine Matheson, which had commenced business on the China Coast in 1832 and later became known as the "Princely Hong." Hong being the name given to the large trading companies operating out of Canton and later Hong Kong. William Paterson was a descendant of William Jardine's sister Jean. William Paterson passed away in 1914. His son, JJ Paterson, served in the County of London (Westminster Dragoons), a Territorial Army unit, and in the Camel Corps during WW1. He had marched into Baghdad with General Allenby, had been promoted from Sergeant  to Lt, and had been Mentioned in Despatches (MiD) six times.  After completing his military service, JJ joined Jardines in 1919. He married in 1926, aged thirty-nine, to Marjorie Hyland, aged twenty-nine, an American lady from California. The marriage took place in Jiangsu, China. 

By the early 1930's he had risen to become Managing Director, or Taipan, of Jardine Matheson. He was Chairman of Hongkong & Shanghai Banking Corporation on three occasions between 1932 and 1941.  Throughout the 1930s he served as Member of the Legislative Council (LEGCO), and from 1936, as a Member of the Executive Council (EXCO). 

JJ Paterson (Source: Wikipedia and "The Thistle and the Jade"
He had a large bungalow in Fan Ling from where he could enjoy his passion for shooting and for playing golf. On weekends he would host house parties. Emily Hahn, writing in China to Me (1944) describes one such house party. 
"Charles (Boxer) and I went out for a weekend to J.J. Paterson's place at Fan Ling. ... JJ is a famous taipan who had been in China all his life, and who preferred to live miles from town. ... He is a large red-faced man with a sense of humour well above the average. Once in a while, when his chosen mode of living all alone palled on him, he sent out invitations to everyone he liked, and had a real bang-up party."
In 1941, aged fifty-five, he commanded a special guard unit of the HKVDC whose war station was to defend the Hong Kong Electric power station at North Point. The unit was known as the Hughes Group or the Hughesliers after their founder A. W. Hughes. The unit recruited predominantly from members of the British business community who were over the combatant age limit of fifty-five. Many of them had seen service in WW1 and in the Boer War. The oldest of this unit to be killed was Private Sir Edward De Voeux who was killed in action aged seventy-seven. The defenders from the Hughes Group, together with a handful of Rajputs and the survivors of a mobile platoon from 1/Mx fought off units from two battalions of Japanese infantry that had landed in the North Point area on Thursday night 18th December. The garrison had been subjected to aerial bombing and point blank artillery fire, but held out until the afternoon of Friday 19th December 1941. JJ was held initially in North Point Camp and then Argyle Street Camp and later Sham Shui Po Camp. He survived the brutal incarceration, and after the war, in 1947, he retired to Kenya. He passed away in Nairobi in 1971, and his wife Marjorie passed away the following year. He received an MiD for his actions at North Point. His seventh MiD.

Colonel Shoji commanding 230th Infantry Regiment landed to the east of North Point. His troops picketed the power station, and moved inland establishing an HQ at what Shoji described as a large lake, but which was in fact Braemar Reservoir. The site is now occupied  by Braemar Hill Mansions and is close to the Chinese International School. From here, during the early hours of Friday 19th,  Shoji's two battalions set out along Sir Cecil's Ride for Wong Nai Chung Gap ......and a date with destiny.

North Point (with Braemar Reservoir top right) 

Artillery fire directed at the HKE power station at point blank range

The HKE power station at North Point.


Sunday, 15 April 2018

Lt-Col Eustace Levett, Chief Signals Officer - China Command

Eustace Oliver Levett was born 6th June 1893 near Thetford in Norfolk. His family later moved to Sussex. He joined the Territorial Army at the age of seventeen in 1910. In 1913, he transferred to the Regular Army serving as a Private with the Army Ordnance Corps (AOC). On the outbreak of WW1 he was posted to France. He transferred from AOC to the infantry serving with the 2nd Battalion Grenadier Guards. In 1917, he was selected to undertake officer training. After having been commissioned as a subaltern, he was posted to the Royal Sussex Regiment, and returned to the Western Front. He was taken prisoner in March 1918, and was incarcerated until the Armistice in November 1918. He remained in the Army after WW1 serving with the British Army of Occupation on the Rhine. He transferred to the Royal Corps of Signals (RCS) when it was established in 1920. The Royal Corps of Signals can trace its origins back to 1870 when a Telegraph Troop, known as 'C' Troop, was formed as part of the Royal Engineers. They were responsible for communications by telegraph, visual signalling and despatch riding, initially by horse and later by motorcycle.

Dispatch Rider
Laying field telephone cable
 Field Telephone Exchange from No. 1 Coy HKVDC HQ at Taitam Bungalow
(Courtesy: Dave Willott)
Levett served in India from 1924 until 1929, after which he returned to Britain.  He was posted to Hong Kong in 1937, and in 1940 he was promoted to Chief Signals Officer, China Command. In this capacity, during the fighting in December 1941, he served with Major-General Maltby and other General Staff Officers (GSOs) in the deep underground bunker that was known as the battle box.

He married twice. Firstly, in 1919, to Bertha Winifred Lockwood (1894-1962) who predeceased him, and secondly in 1966, to Hilda Mona Worthington Newton (1903-1994). Eustace and Bertha had two sons one born in 1926, and the other born in 1935. Bertha and her youngest son, six-year-old John Kay Levett, were evacuated from Hong Kong to Australia in July 1940.

Levett was awarded the OBE (Military) in 1945. He retired from the Army in 1946, aged 53, after thirty years service. He had served in both world wars and had been a prisoner of war in each. After retiring from military service he then became a Bursar at a school in Eastbourne. He retired aged 65 in 1958. He passed away, aged 79,  in Eastbourne  in 1972. He was recommended for the OBE by Major-General Maltby. Whose citation was as follows:
"Outstanding ability in organising and controlling the Royal Corps of Signals during a very tense period. Damage caused by enemy shell fire, mortars and air bombardment was severe and incessant yet repairs were always carried out and no call made on the Corps was ever disregarded or unaccomplished. He was always cool, cheerful and prepared to undertake  at short notice any demand upon him. His personal example was an inspiration to his whole Corps."
His private war diary, and a type-written memoir, is held at the Imperial War Museum in London. The personal diary was compiled whilst he was a POW in Sham Shui Po and Argyle Street Camps. The cover is made from a khaki drill (KD) shirt. The diary and memoir were given, after his death, to his former comrade in arms, Lt-Col Montague Truscott, RCS, by his his widow Mrs Hilda Mona Levett. The Truscott family must have passed it to the Imperial War Museum. The diary has a hand-drawn emblem of the symbol for Yin and Yang. Underneath the symbol he has written the following lines:
"And when the great scorer comes
To mark against your name
He cares not whether you won or lost
But how you played the game."
I viewed the official war diary at the Royal Signals Museum in Blandford Camp, Dorset.  I got the impression that Lt-Col  Levett was a popular officer, a sympathetic man who cared for his men and demonstrated strong leadership.

At the outbreak of war on 8th December 1941, the Royal Corps of Signals were comprised of 6 officers, 175 Other Ranks (ORs), augmented by 33 Canadian Signallers and 15 Volunteers and 96 civilian linesmen.

Chief Signals Officer:                   Lt-Col Eustace Levett

Hong Kong Signals Company

O.C. Company:                             Major Leonard Hayes
No. 1 Operating Section:              Lt Cyril Bucke
No. 2 Maintenance Section:         Lt Harry Spong
No. 3 Infantry Brigade Section:   Lt Charles Brown
No. 4 Section:                               Sgt. George Somerville
Area Signals Officer:                    Captain Peter Gracey

Total:       6  Officers, 175 ORs, and 96 civilian employees.

Kowloon Infantry Brigade Signals Section

OC Section:                                   Captain George Billings

Total:        1 Officer and 32 ORs (Canadian Signals)

Fortress Signals Coy - HKVDC

OC Company:                                 Major John Sherry
2 i/c                                                 Captain Walter Clark

Total:         2 Officers, 26 ORs

The Royal Corps of Signals had a very high casualty rate with more than 97 men either killed in action, or died of wounds or died during incarceration.  A 54% death rate. The Canadian detachment lost 9 killed out of 33 All Ranks. A 27% death rate. The HKVDC (Signals Section) lost 6 men killed (a 21% death rate). The Hong Kong Signals Coy lost 50 men killed in the sinking of the Lisbon Maru.

Communications is the life blood in battle, without effective communications there is only chaos, confusion, and individual actions by units. Although there was some wireless communications, most communication was by telephone with cables usually laid in a ditch or a shallow trench. In battle conditions the cable would be laid along the ground. The telephone cable was easily broken by artillery, mortar and aerial bombing. When this happened linesmen were sent out to repair the cables which often had to be done under fire. Without telephone communications commanders had to revert to runners and dispatch riders, who were often killed before they could deliver a message.


Friday, 23 March 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

10 Kills

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


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

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

Wednesday, 21 February 2018

Xmas at the Penn's - December 1938

It is Christmas Day 1938, and Arthur Harry Aeroux Penn, known as Harry, and his wife Irene, known as Rene, were hosting a Christmas party at their home, 195 The Peak. The property is shown on the 1938 road map of the Peak District as Kenlis, but to the Penn family it was simply known as 195, The Peak. It was situated on Mount Kellett Road, close to both the Matilda Hospital and the War Memorial Hospital. Harry Penn was Managing Director of The Bank Line (China) Ltd with responsibility for the operations of the shipping company in Hong Kong and China. The house, a two storey house, with high ceilings and fine views belonged to The Bank Line and was used to accommodate the family of the incumbent Managing Director in Hong Kong. The house had a flat roof, the original peaked roof having been demolished, following typhoon damage during the previous year (1937).  

1938 Xmas Party (courtesy of Strellett family)
The photograph below shows a view of Mount Kellett in the 1930s. The track leading uphill is the driveway to Eredine. Like the house, Mount Kellet once had a peaked top, as shown in the photograph. The crest was removed some years after the war to accommodate the construction of a covered reservoir. The site of the Penn's old home was until recently occupied by two town houses which still carried the old name The Kenlis. The two town houses have recently been demolished and the site cleared for construction. On the upper right you can make out the old War Memorial Hospital which was demolished long ago, and on the upper left the Matilda Hospital, which still remains. 

Mount Kellett in 1930s (Flicker)
The map extract shown below is from a road map of the Peak District dated 1938 and shows 195 (just above the wording for Kellett in the centre of the map). It also shows the old name of Kenlis.

Road map of the Peak District (Govt Maps Office)
The photograph below shows Mount Kellett, taken from the same angle as the 1930s photograph, but as it is today, in February 2018. The construction site, on what was once the plot occupied by 195, The Peak can be seen in the photograph.

Mount Kellett as at 15th February 2018 (PGC)
Let us return to the original photograph. It is a moment time, it is 3pm on Christmas Day, in pre-war Hong Kong. It was nine months before war began in Europe and three years before the Battle for Hong Kong erupted in December 1941. Who are the people in the photograph I wondered, and what happened to them during the war and afterwards. One of them died in battle, several of them fought in the battle for Hong Kong, some of the wives and children were evacuated, several of those pictured were incarcerated in brutal Japanese internment camps. This is an attempt to briefly tell their story.

Numbered Photograph with identification key (Strellett family)
1. John Collis. 2. Marian Gordon. 3. Allister Sommerfelt. 4. Gladys Collis. 5. Aki Bowker. 6. William Simmons. 7. Keith Valentine. 8. Rene Penn. 9. Harry Penn. 10. Ralph (?) 11. Edith Sommerfelt. 12. Vyner Gordon. 13. Patricia Penn. 14. John Penn. 15. Bruce Valentine. 16. David Sommerfelt. 17. Judith Ann Collis.  Photographer: David Strellett.

Dramatis Personae

John Richard Collis
He was a born in West Ealing, in the county of Middlesex on 10th October 1898. In 1917, during WW1, he served as a Pte in the Honourable Artillery Company (HAC). I am not sure when he came to Hong Kong, but he appears on a Jurors List for 1924, and at that time was an Assistant Manager for The Bank Line (China) Ltd. In 1924, Harry Penn, his host at the Xmas party fourteen years later in 1938, was Sub-Manager, and they both gave an address of the Peak Hotel. John Collis married Gladys Emma Isaac in 1932. They had a daughter Judith Ann Collis who was born in 1933. Gladys and Judith can be seen in the 1938 photograph. At the time of the photograph in 1938, and when war began in 1941, John Collis was Company Secretary of the Hong Kong subsidiary of The Bank Line. He joined the HKVDC, and may have served with Harry Penn, his boss at The Bank Line, who was a Captain and commanding officer of No. 1 Coy, HKVDC. Gladys and Judith were evacuated in 1940 to the Philippines, and from there returned to UK. The family returned to Hong Kong after the war. In 1953, John Collis served as Chairman of the Hong Kong Club. He retired to UK in 1956, and passed away after a long retirement in 1989, at the age of 90. Judith married Derek Pearce, a banker with HSBC, in 1954. She predeceased her husband, and passed away in 2014. 

Allister Sommerfelt
Allister Sommerfelt was born 23rd July 1899 in Birkenhead. His father was a Norwegian national. They were formally naturalized as British citizens in 1900. In WW1 Allister served as a 2nd Lt in the Royal Flying Corps, before the RFC and the Royal Naval Air Service were amalgamated to form the Royal Air Force. He was an observer and rear gunner in an RE-8-biplane when his aircraft was shot down over France in 1918.

RE-8 Pilot and Observer/Gunner (IWM)
RE-8 briefing (IWM)
He was captured on or close to his 19th birthday and became a prisoner of war. The Germans apparently presented him with a bottle of champagne following his capture to celebrate his birthday on 23rd  July 1918. He was  repatriated in December 1918.

After completing his military service, he at some stage trained as a Chartered Accountant. We know  that at the age of 25 he took passage to Hong Kong where he worked initially for the Union Insurance Society of Canton Ltd. Bill Anderson, who served as a Dispatch Rider in the HKVDC during the war, wrote to me after reading this article, to say that he recalled that Allister Sommerfelt worked for the firm of Linstead & Davis, Chartered Accountants. Allister worked under Henry Russell ("Rusty") Forsyth, a partner in the firm, and the commanding officer of No 2 Coy HKVDC. It was when Allister was called up in 1939 for service in the HKRNVR  that Bill Anderson was invited to join the firm of Linstead & Davis. The firm were auditors to Honkong Shanghai Banking Corporation before the war.

In October 1926  Allister married Edith Dorothy Lillian Birchall at St John's Cathedral, Hong Kong. The wedding is reported in the Hong Kong Telegraph for 6th October 1926. They took their honeymoon at Fan Ling. Their son David, who is shown in the photograph was born in 1931. Allister Sommerfelt joined the Hong Kong branch of the RNVR (HKRNVR) and was mobilised in 1939. He served as a Paymaster Lt-Commander, which must have been a natural fit given his profession as a Chartered Accountant. When war broke out in Europe in 1939, Allister sent Edith Dorothy (known as "Dolly") and David back to UK. Allister never saw Edith again because she contracted pneumonia and passed away in Lyme Regis in March 1945, whist David was only thirteen, and whilst Allister was still incarcerated in POW camp. After release from a brutal internment in 1945 and repatriation to UK, Allister married forty-five-year-old Edith Louisa Grave, known as "Judy", in Chelsea in 1946. She had previously worked as a Nursing Sister at the War Memorial Hospital, and was in Hong Kong during the battle and subsequent Japanese occupation. She had been interned at Stanley Camp where she was billeted in the European Married Quarters block, and shared a room with four others, three of whom were nurses at the War Memorial Hospital. 

Allister Sommerfelt served on the HKRNVR base ship HMS Cornflower which was moored alongside the north wall of the RN Basin. After war started with Japan on 8th December 1941, Cornflower and the auxiliary patrol vessels (APVs), manned by HKRNVR crews, were moved first to Aberdeen Harbour and then to the naval anchorage at Deep Water Bay. The HKRNVR moved to a shore base in a house overlooking Middle Island. The Japanese landed on the north shore of Hong Kong Island during the night of 18th/19th December. In the early hours of Friday 19th, Major Marsh, 1/Mx, at Shouson Hill, asked Commander Vernall, commanding officer of HKRNVR, to send an armed naval patrol to a house called Postbridge to investigate a report of possible Fifth Columnist signalling coming from the house. Allister joined the party with a dozen other HKRNVR officers and one or two senior ratings. Allister drove the truck carrying the naval patrol, there had been no shortage of volunteers, all were anxious to play a part in the battle. Postbridge was the home of George Tinson, a solicitor and partner with the law firm Johnson Stokes & Master. His home had been occupied by the Hong Kong Singapore Royal Artillery who were using it as an Administration HQ. In the early hours of that same morning, the Japanese seized the nearby police station at Wong Nai Chung (WNC) Gap, the nearby Advanced Dressing Station (ADS), the AA battery at Stanley Gap, and West Brigade HQ was already surrounded.

The naval party, on finding the house was occupied by the Army, decided to check another house, called Holmesdale, which was situated across the road. The house still remains today, now known as No. 4 Repulse Bay Road. As they left the house they came under machine gun fire and grenades were thrown at them. They returned to the house which was put into a state of defence. The house found itself on the frontline and heavily attacked throughout the day. The garrison  at the house consisting of the HKRNVR party, and the Royal Artillery group, were joined by some of the RN contingent from Aberdeen who had been ambushed whilst driving up to WNC Gap to reinforce West Brigade HQ. George Tinson, the homeowner, was shot and died in his home from his wounds. A number of the garrison, both Army and Navy were killed in action whilst defending the house. The house was destroyed by explosives, and the surviving members of the garrison escaped down a steep slope at the back of the house.  After escaping from the besieged villa, Allister Sommerfelt and other members of HKRNVR were deployed to fight as infantry in the hills behind Aberdeen and in the Shouson Hill area. Allister passed away in 1989 in Yeovil, Somerset aged 90. Edith Louisa (Judy) passed away in 1994. Allister's son David passed away in November 2012.

Arthur Cecil Irvine ("Aki") Bowker
He was known as Aki because of his initials ACI. He was a 2/Lt serving with the 5th AA Battery, HKVDC, and was second-in-command of the battery. The battery was commanded by Captain Lawrence ("Lolly") Goldman. The battery operated two 3-inch AA guns on Sai Wan Hill. Aki Bowker died at Bowen Road Military Hospital, whilst a prisoner of war in October 1942, as a result of intestinal complications. Fellow history enthusiast, Mike Hennessy, found from a  review of Jurors Lists that he joined Dodwells in 1924 and remained with them until 1940 with an absence, possibly a transfer, between 1926 and 1929. His address was given as 167, The Peak from 1931 to 1937 and afterwards as "on premises." The China Mail for 19th May 1925, refers to his cricketing prowess in a match between the Hong Kong Cricket Club and the Shanghai Cricket Club. Throughout the 1930s there are regular newspaper reports referring to Aki in the context of cricket. According to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission records, he  was married to a Mrs E. Bowker from Camel, Somerset, who is listed as next of kin. However, so far I have not been able to find out her first name or any other detail about her. They had no children and she does not appear to have lived in Hong Kong or travelled to Hong Kong. Perhaps a reader can help  shed more information. 

William Simmons 
William Frederick Simmons, known as Simmie, was Company Secretary of Hong Kong Tramways. He was born in 1900. There is a record of him departing UK in July 1923, aged 23, to take up a job with Hong Kong Tramways. In the 1924 Jurors List his address is given as the Peak Hotel and he is listed as being an Assistant Manager at Tramways. He later became Company Secretary. After the war he succeeded Leonard Bellamy as General Manager of the company. During the war he was interned at Stanley Camp. He was billeted in the Indian Quarters. One report indicated he was kept out of Stanley Camp initially, as was the case with the bankers and some other technicians, in his case to assist with the continued operation of the trams. These reports suggest he came into camp in November 1942. He returned to UK several months after liberation in 1946. He never fully recovered from the privations of internment camp and died in January 1950 at the early age of 49. He was survived by his wife, Winifred, and his daughter, Audrey. 

Robert Keith Valentine (known as Keith)
He served as a Captain in the HKVDC, and was commanding officer of No. 4 Rifle Coy (Chinese). No. 4 Coy consisted of 4 officers and 74 men and were deployed at Victoria Peak and Mount Kellett. In civilian life he had worked for Dodwell & Co. Keith had a brother, Douglas who was a medical doctor in Hong Kong. Dr Douglas Valentine, was married to Nina, and they were both incarcerated in Stanley Internment Camp. Keith was incarcerated in Sham Shui Po Camp. He was born in Shanghai in 1897. He was known by his middle name of Keith. He married Aimee Talbot Haslett at St John's Cathedral, in Hong Kong, on 22nd October 1927. They had two children, Malcolm Keith Talbot Valentine (1929) and Geoffrey Bruce Valentine (1933), known as Bruce. Bruce is shown in the photo.  Aimee and their eldest son Malcolm were not in the photograph, but I discovered from passenger manifests that they were in England,  having arrived there on 14th December 1938.  Keith Valentine passed away in 1984 and Aimee in 1985. Bruce Valentine followed his father into Dodwell,  and worked for the company in Hong Kong and Japan. At a later stage in his career he joined the Wharf Group. After retiring he lived between Australia and Hong Kong. He passed away in Brisbane, Australia in 2017. His ashes were scattered at Big Wave Bay in Hong Kong, and a group of friends gathered at the Hong Kong Club to remember him. His elder brother, Malcolm became a medical doctor and settled in the United States.

Vyner Reginald Gordon
Vyner servved in No 2 Coy (Scottish), HKVDC. He was given an emergency commission on 17th December, and thereafter served as a 2/Lt in the 2nd Battalion Royal Scots. He was wounded in the counterattack on WNC Gap Police Station on 19th December, and subsequently died of wounds at Queen Mary Hospital on 6th January 1942. He left a wife Marion Fleming Gairdner, shown in the photograph. She had been evacuated to Australia in 1940 with her two sons Gavin Macnair Gordon (October 1936) and Collin Vyner Gordon (February 1940). After their evacuation in August 1940, Vyner visited Marion and their two sons in 1941 during a medical leave granted to him following a bout of appendicitis. Sadly when he returned to Hong Kong they were not to see each other again.

Vyner was born in Scotland in 1904. On passenger lists for 1938 he gives his occupation as company secretary. In the 1941 Jurors List he is listed as employed by the Secretary's Office of Hong Kong Tramways where he was Assistant Company Secretary. He was, therefore at the Penn's party with his boss William Simmons who was Company Secretary. Marion had originally worked as a nurse at King's College Hospital in London. She came out to Hong Kong following the opening of the War Memorial Hospital in 1931. There is a record of her travelling on the SS Lancaster from Southampton to Hong Kong in February 1931. She was born in Ayrshire in Scotland. She and Vyner married in 1935 and Patricia Penn, (aged six), was a Bridesmaid at their wedding. Marion passed away in 1993, leaving two sons, one living in UK, and one in Canada.

No. 10 in the photograph is a mystery. David Strellett, who took the 1938 photograph, has written Ralph, which is likely to be first name, but could also be a surname. There is an annotated note that he worked for the Education Department, possibly a school teacher. A search of the government year books provided no elucidation. Perhaps a reader might recognise him from the photograph and solve the mystery, of who he is and what became of him.

David Louis Strellett
David Strellett (DLS), not actually in the photograph, but the man behind the camera, was born 25th December 1891 in London. In 1915 he joined the Army serving initially in the Army Service Corps (Motor Transport). After serving on the  Western Front, he was transferred to the 1st Battalion Connaught Rangers who at the time were based in Bangalore, India. He was selected for officer training and commissioned into the British Indian Army serving with 21st Punjab Regiment.

As an officer in the Great War (Strellett Family)
He served on the North West Frontier and also in Mesopotamia. He was wounded and evacuated back to India. After the war he continued with his career as a solicitor. He moved to Hong Kong where he worked for Brutton & Co. He married Evelyn (Eve) Rosa Cammell Jacobs in September 1925 at the Holy Trinity Church in Brompton. They spent their honeymoon staying at the Rembrandt Hotel in Knightsbridge. They returned to Hong Kong, living at Peak Mansions. Their two daughters were born in Hong Kong, Jane Eva Mary Cammell Strellett was born in 1926 and Diana Susan Strellett (known as Susan) was born in 1933. DLS sent his family to UK before the outbreak of war. Once war started in Europe the family moved to Canada. They went to Victoria, British Columbia to be as close as possible to Hong Kong. They remained in Canada until the war ended, when they were reunited with DLS, emaciated and recently liberated from internment camp.

DLS as an ex-Army officer was quick to join the HKVDC, and he became a Captain with the Army Service Corp (ASC) Company. The photograph below shows DLS, standing at left, with the Acting Governor Lt-General Felix Norton and other senior Army officers, mostly from HKVDC.

Captain Strellett standing at left (Courtesy Strellett family)
The photograph was taken during a visit by the Acting Governor to a HKVDC training camp probably around 1940.

Rear Row (left to right): Capt. David Strellett, (ASC Coy), Capt. Cedric Blaker, (ASC Coy), Lt Cyril Jones (2/RS) and Capt. Fred Flippance (ASC Coy)

Front Row: (left to right): Capt. Sydney Batty-Smith, (ADC to Governor), Lt-Col Black, (Field Ambulance), Lt-Col Felix Norton (Acting Governor), Lt-Col Mitchell, (Second-in-Command HKVDC), Capt. Eric Thursby, (Adjutant, HKVDC), Lt Thomas Parkinson, (Quartermaster, HKVDC)

DLS was awarded the MBE (Military) for his services and conduct during hostilities. The citation refers to his organising the movement of RASC stores and equipment from the heavily bombarded North Face of the Island to the RASC depots at Deep Water Bay (DWB) Golf Course and Shouson Hill. The RASC depot, under the command of Lt-Col Frederick, was ordered to evacuate the golf course and the workshops at Shouson Hill on Friday 19th December. They were ordered to proceed   to the Dairy Farm in Pok Fu Lam and await further orders. They were to be used as a mobile reserve, and to fight as infantry. During the night of 18th/19th December, the Japanese had landed thousands of troops on the north shore of the Island between North Point and Shau Kei Wan. The Japanese moved quickly inland seizing the high ground of Mt Parker, Mt Butler and Jardine's Lookout. During the early morning on 19th December the Japanese captured the police station at WNC Gap. Throughout the day a series of counterattacks were made to try and dislodge the Japanese from this critical position in the centre of the Island. However, the Japanese were there in overwhelming strength, and the counterattacks although gallantly prosecuted, proved unsuccessful in dislodging the Japanese.

Lt-Col Frederick was ordered to proceed to the Aberdeen naval base, which had been established at the Aberdeen Industrial School, and augment the RASC contingent with any available troops from the naval base. He formed a composite company, consisting of some two hundred RASC, RN, RAF and other unattached troops. They were deployed to defend both Bennet's Hill, directly behind Aberdeen, and the water catchment running from Bennet's Hill to Deep Water Bay Road. The catchment emerged on Deep Water Bay Road about a kilometre from Wong Nai Chung (WNC) Gap. During the evening they were ordered to attack WNC Gap. They proceeded in trucks up Repulse Bay Road stopping at the Ridge,  a cluster of five houses on a spur facing WNC Gap and about 1 km south of the gap. The five houses had been commandeered by the Royal Army Ordnance Corps (RAOC) who were using the Ridge as a depot. Having arrived at the Ridge they were ordered to counterattack WNC Gap at dawn the next day (20th December). These orders were then countermanded and they were ordered by Lt-Col Andrews-Levinge, the Commander RASC, to reoccupy the RASC workshops at Shouson Hill.

At dawn on the 20th December the RASC contingent left the Ridge in trucks and some in marching column. DLS and Captain Fred Focken were with the marching ranks. However, earlier that morning, the Japanese had seized the road junction (Repulse Bay Road/Island Road) near to a house called Overbays. The RASC were ambushed at the junction and forced to withdraw back to the Ridge.  DLS and Capt. Focken came under fire around the entrance drive to Overbays.  During the next two days the Ridge came under heavy fire from mortars and machine guns. The Japanese were able to fire from a water catchment running above the Ridge on the slopes of Violet Hill. On the 21st a Canadian rifle company under the overall command of Major Templer, Royal Artillery, attempted an attack on WNC Gap.  This was unsuccessful and the Canadian  troops joined those at the Ridge and at an adjacent house called Altamira, close to the Ridge on Repulse Bay Road. All this time the Ridge was heavily besieged. On the night of 22nd/23rd December, an effort was made by troops at the Ridge to attack and seize both the road junction, and the water catchment that the Japanese were using as a main supply route. Troops at the Ridge were divided into three companies. One remained at the Ridge, which included DLS, these troops were commanded by Lt-Col Macpherson, RAOC, and the others two companies were designated to attack the road junction and the catchment.

The attack failed, and many of the troops took refuge at Overbays which was soon surrounded.  That evening Major Templer gave orders for the troops at the Ridge and at Overbays to try and reach Repulse Bay Hotel before midnight. The military garrison at the hotel were planning to evacuate the hotel that night and make their way to Stanley. DLS left the Ridge with a party that included Major Flippance and Cpl Charles Colebrook. Their group went down a nullah at the back of the Ridge which led down to Repulse Bay Road. They spent the night avoiding Japanese patrols, but were unable to get through to Repulse Bay Hotel. As dawn broke on 23rd December, they saw a Japanese flag flying from the hotel. The garrison had left during the night allowing the civilians to surrender the hotel that morning. DLS, and the  group he was with, made their way to a villa called Twinbrook which had been used as a Naafi Store, and was full of supplies including chocolates and cigarettes. Colebrook recalls that the first thing DLS did was to get a razor and have a shave. The next morning, 24th December, they found the house was surrounded, the Japanese shouted out to them to surrender, they had no choice other than to comply. They were lucky because other troops captured in that area were killed either where found, or at Eucliffe, a house built like a castle at Repulse Bay, where many were held before being executed by firing squad or bayonets.

During the day on 22nd, Lt Col Macpherson decided to surrender the position at the Ridge which was now completely surrounded. The officers and senior NCOs were less willing to surrender and unhappy about the commanding officer's decision. House No. 5 occupied primarily by Canadian troops  had been heavily mortared and the Canadian troops had gone outside to fight it out.  Colonel Macpherson ordered a ceasefire and went out with a white flag, but was fired on. DLS hoisted the flag on a pole out of a window, but it was shot at. DLS left it dangling from the window. Macpherson ordered the front door to be opened at House No 1, as a further sign of their intent to surrender. During a lull in the firing Macpherson went out with the intention of hailing the Japanese. He was shot at and badly wounded in the leg. The Japanese were simply not willing to accept a surrender. When the Ridge was evacuated that evening, 22nd/23rd, the wounded including Macpherson remained behind and when the position was overrun by the Japanese the next morning (23rd December), the wounded were all put to death by bayonets and rifle butts.

In POW Camp DLS, a self-taught pianist, was able to entertain his fellow prisoners and bring some light relief to what was a very brutal incarceration. There was a shortage of food and medicine. Prisoners of war suffered from malnutrition and from infectious diseases from which so many died.   DLS remained in Sham Shui Po Camp until liberation in August 1945. He was repatriated to Canada where he was reunited with his wife Eve and his two daughters Jane and Susan, from whom he had been separated for so long. He returned to Hong Kong in May 1946, aged 54, and resumed his work as a solicitor and as the Senior Partner in Brutton & Co in Hong Kong. The family lived at Hillcrest on the Peak. His personal interests included philately and photography and he was very involved in charitable work. He was one time President of the Rotary Club, a Director of the Anti-Tuberculosis Association, Chairman of the Building Committee for the Grantham Hospital in Aberdeen, Chairman  of the Street Sleepers' Shelter Society, and a member or advisor on several other such committees. In 1953 he was appointed Chevalier in the Order of Orange-Nassau for his services to the Dutch community in Hong Kong. He was legal adviser to the Dutch Consulate. DLS could trace his family origins to Poland and later to Holland before they migrated to England in the late 19th century.  The SCMP photograph showing DLS wearing the insignia of the Order of Orange-Nassau captures  Harry Penn in the background.

DLS  to mark his investiture in the order of Orange-Nassau 
After retiring, DLS stayed in Hong Kong for a few years before returning to UK. He left Hong Kong in December 1962 and settled in Pevensey, Sussex, spending the winters in the warmer climes of Gibraltar. DLS passed away at the age of 83 in November, 1974 and Eve passed away in July, 1988.

Arthur Harry Aeroux Penn
AHA Penn (AHP) was born 10th June 1898 in Surrey. He was always known by his second name of Harry. He joined the shipping company, founded by Andrew Weir (later Lord Inverforth), known as The Bank Line, and worked in the London office until joining the Army in June 1916 following the outbreak of WW1. He initially joined the East Surrey Regiment as a Private. He was later selected for officer training, and subsequently commissioned as a 2nd Lt in the Royal Berkshire Regiment. He fought on the Western Front with the 5th Battalion, and was wounded in action on the Fleurbaix sector.
Harry Penn as an Infantry Officer in WW1
He was demobbed in 1920 and resumed his career with The Bank Line. In 1922 he was offered the opportunity to work for the company in Hong Kong. He appears on the Jurors List for 1922 as Sub-Manager of The Bank Line (China) Ltd, and his address is given as the Peak Hotel. He went back to London on long leave in 1926. It was then that he met Irene (Rene) MacPherson Fisher. She was private secretary to Andrew Weir. They married at St George's Church, Georgetown, Penang in 1928. They had two children Patricia (1929) and John (1935).

Fast forward ten years to the Xmas party in 1938. At that time Harry Penn was Managing Director  of The Bank Line (China) Ltd, and a Captain in the HKVDC. He was commanding officer of No. 1 Coy. The following year the Penn family went on long leave, arriving in UK on SS Chitral in May 1939. Whilst they were in UK the war in Europe started in September 1939. AHP hurriedly tried to arrange a  passage back to Hong Kong whilst the Suez Canal still remained open. This he was unable to do and instead took passage to Canada on the SS Duchess of Richmond. In Canada he was able get a passage across the Pacific to Hong Kong. He was anxious to get back to look after the interests of the Bank Line in Asia and because of his responsibilities as commanding officer of No. 1 Coy.

The following year, on 24th June 1940, Rene, John and Patricia left UK to join Harry in Hong Kong, by this time the Suez Canal was closed, so they sailed across the Atlantic to Montreal on the SS Duchess of Bedford. They then went by rail to Vancouver with the intention of taking passage across the Pacific to Hong Kong. However, by the time they reached the west coast, the Compulsory Evacuation Ordinance had been issued. This required women and minor children, other than women employed in essential services, to evacuate Hong Kong. Those that were evacuated were sent first to Manila and then to Australia. As a result of the ordinance they would not have been  able to land in Hong Kong. The family, therefore remained in British Columbia still hoping to be able to return to Hong Kong at some later stage. Once war started in the Pacific in December 1941, this became impossible, and the family moved  to Toronto on the east coast, in the summer of 1942, hoping to find passage back to UK.

Rene, John and Patricia Penn in Canada
They remained in Toronto until December 1943 when they secured a passage to Liverpool arriving in early 1944. John was sent to boarding school in Eastbourne, and Patricia was sent to school in Hastings. The family remained in UK until Harry returned from Hong Kong in December 1945. It was the first time Harry had seen Rene and the children since September 1939, a period of just over six years. John recalled that first meeting with his father who he had not seen for so long.
"Eastbourne broke up on 19th and my mother collected me. We eventually arrived back at Belmont Station late that evening, and were approached on a very dark platform by a man who said 'may I carry your bags madame' - AHP ! A complete stranger to me!"
AHP's infantry company was in the thick of action in the Battle for Hong Kong. Initially his two infantry platoons and the Bren gun carrier platoon were deployed around Kai Tai airfield. The Bren gun carriers and Medium Machine Gun (MMG) sections were ordered to facilitate the withdrawal of the Royal Scots on the left flank of the Gin Drinkers Line following the decision to effect the military evacuation of the Mainland. After the withdrawal from the Mainland, AHP had one platoon deployed at Repulse Bay View and one platoon deployed to defend Sanatorium Gap. The carrier platoon was based at Windy Gap on the Shek-O Road. AHP established his Coy HQ at the Tai Tam Bungalow located on a knoll at Gauge Basin. On the night of the Japanese landings, AHP went up to Sanatorium Gap to join his No. 1 Platoon. The platoon had a section of men defending pillbox (PB) No.  45 on the north facing slope of Mt Butler. The rest were located at the gap, forming a line running east to west. The platoon defending PB 45 and Sanatorium Gap ended up being in the path of two Japanese battalions. They were involved in a fierce firefight before being pushed back to Gauge Basin. The Japanese troops having overrun the defences continued straight up the path to the crest of Mount Parker. What was left off No. 1 Platoon formed a defensive line around the howitzer battery at Gauge Basin. In mid-morning on 19th December all troops in the eastern sector of the Island were ordered to withdraw to the Stanley Perimeter.

AHP's company was involved in the battle around Notting Hill, Red Hill and the Tai Tam X-Roads on 20th and 21st December. During a brigade counter attack on the Tai Tam X-Roads on 21st December AHP was shot in the face whilst engaging enemy troops on Red Hill. He was taken to St Stephen's College Hospital at Stanley, but he discharged himself and re-joined No. 1 Coy. He discharged himself just before the massacre of patents and medical staff by Japanese soldiers which  occurred on 25th December at St Stephen's College Hospital. He survived the period of brutal incarceration and stayed on in Hong Kong after liberation to get the Bank Line's Hong Kong office up and running. AHP was repatriated by air to UK  flying in an RAF Dakota.

Following repatriation leave, demobilisation, and having spent some time at The Bank Line's Head Office in London, AHP and Rene returned to Hong Kong in 1946.  In 1948 AHP became Chairman of the Hong Kong Club and Steward of the Royal Hong Kong Jockey Club, a position he retained until he left Hong Kong in 1963. He enjoyed golf and captained the Royal Hong Kong Golf Club for two periods. He retired from The Bank Line in 1957, but stayed on in Hong Kong for a few more years, finally leaving for UK in 1963. They settled at Effingham in the picturesque Surrey Hills. Harry passed away in 1972 and Rene in 1982. John Penn followed in his father's footsteps into the shipping business, and like Harry worked in Hong Kong for many years. John and Patricia currently live in Australia.



Tony Banham
Mike Hennessy
Ann Hutson
Susan Lange
John Penn
Tom Sommerfelt